Wednesday, October 29, 2014

You Make Me Wanna

I had the opportunity to attend a RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Association) summer program during high school.  It was hosted on a college campus where about 75 local students were exposed to leadership development skill building, team dynamics and effective organizational tools; it was not exactly Meatballs with Bill Murray, but it was a good time.  The chaperones were non-existent and a bunch of juniors in high school were left to run the “social” programs for the week.  Ah, youth.

What stands out to me is that I was not invited by my high school to be considered for RYLA.  For whatever reasons, the Guidance Department did not initially invite me to interview with local Rotary members for the opportunity to attend.  There were to be only four students selected for consideration – two guys and two ladies.  When I saw my friends get invites to miss a class in order to interview, I walked out of class and went to the guidance office.  A couple of my friends ran out after me and told me not to worry about it.  They asked me what the big deal was.  The rejection, the lack of ask, made me want to do something to change the perception that was obviously there.

As you might imagine, I was mad.  So, I shared with the Director of Guidance my feelings about the circumstances.  She apologized and said they had decided to exclude me because they thought I wouldn’t be interested.  What?  A free vacation without my parents and you thought I wouldn’t be interested?  What about me says “not interested”?  That conversation took longer, but needless to say, I secured an interview slot and kicked butt in the interview.

Assumption is an interesting reality for management.  I have heard on many occasions, “Oh, Joe (insert your own name of choice) would never agree to that.  He won’t do that work.  He isn’t interested in projects.  He doesn’t like the company so he wouldn’t do it.”  The reasons might be one or many, but managers use their observations to determine a response from a staff member without ever asking the employee.  Not only was the Guidance Department sure I wouldn’t be interested, but they about fell over when the Selection Committee chose me as one of the finalists.

Those with authority in your organization might only see glimmers of a person’s responsiveness or work output.  From a distance, it might seem to say something to them.  Those who are on the ground more might have a different perspective.  To be sure, there is something quite rich about opening a door for consideration with the individual employee directly.

Simply asking the employee whether he/she is interested in working on this extra project or handling a particular situation has great merit.  The response from the employee might surprise you.  The employee himself/herself might be surprised that you would think to ask.  As a result, work performance could increase or mature.  Understanding that the “company” is watching him/her should motivate, or at least, shock him/her back into right work habits.  The value comes in the results of asking.

If I had not been selected for the RYLA opportunity, I would have been disappointed; however, my disappointment in my high school leadership was greater.  Winning allowed me to shove it in their faces, but it did not remove the fact that they didn’t think it was for me.  What was I showing them?  What about me categorized me as a “just get by” kind of kid?  I had excelled in so much, well, at least in my mind.  The lack of the “ask” opened my eyes to see that my perspective on others’ view of me was flawed.   

Ask your team to step up.  Ask them to engage in special projects.  Ask them to lead a team to accomplish a certain production goal.  Ask them to train others.  Do it clearly and consistently.  Avoid assumptions.  When someone turns you down, then your view is based on fact rather than an assumption.  Allow an employee to own his/her future.  Declining opportunities to lead, to grow, to engage by an employee allows you to determine long-term involvement by that employee.  You can then move on to cultivate those that really want to immerse themselves in service to the organization. 

The “ask” has great value.  Be willing to ask people to engage.  There is nothing wrong with doing so.  Just do not assume the answer first.  Let the adult employee answer for himself/herself.  Actions taken as a result of the answer then have context.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

All Together Now

(by +Victorio Milian

A few months ago I went out and invested in myself--I bought a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. It had been something that I wanted for a while, and I was finally in a position to take the plunge, so to speak.
Picture of a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera
My new camera.
I'm enjoying it. This camera is a big leap forward from snapping pictures using my phone. It's also more sophisticated than any camera I ever had. While fairly simple to use, the options available (to control and manipulate various settings, for example), make it an item that will test my abilities, in addition to my patience. It makes me excited and nervous to own. My wife points out that I need to "grow into it." How do I do that? Learning how to use this camera reminds me of a number of job roles I've taken on throughout my career as a Human Resources professional. Some were newly created, others were such where I replaced a previous HR practitioner with the understanding that I revamp or enhance the function. In all cases I started as someone who needed to "grow into" the role. I had to quickly assess the function's strengths and weaknesses, as well as its allies and resources. I was important to gain a clear understanding of priorities--what institutional "fires" that needed to be put out, what goals needed to be met, and when--so that I could organize my time and energy as effectively as possible. At its core, to fully embrace the challenge of being in a new and unfamiliar position I had to be willing to commit to doing the work necessary, to literally and figuratively rolling up my sleeves. Without that it would have been easy to become overwhelmed. Here are a few more tips on how a person can grow into a job role:
  • Humble yourself. Be realistic about your capabilities, commitment levels, and your goals. Come to terms with the idea that you will fall on your ass. Going back to my recently purchased camera, I'm doing my best not to get flustered when I take a bad shot (and I've been taking plenty of them!). I use them as examples of what's not working, and I adjust.
A photo that is not well shot. The subject is blurry.
An example of an awful picture taken with my camera.
  • Take note of your successes and failures. With my camera, I've been taking notes of the different settings I've tried, paying attention to which ones are resulting in good photos. In my professional work, I purchase a notebook whenever I start a new role or work with a client. I write everything in it, allowing me a place to store (in one place) all relevant information and thoughts. Not only does this method help me to stay organized, it allows me to note progress over time. This is important, because it helps to provide perspective, particularly when you (or clients) may believe that adequate progress isn't being made.
  • Pace yourself. The temptation to work long hours in order to get acclimated to your new role is not uncommon. Be careful; something that was expected to be a temporary solution (working extra hours, taking work home, etc.) can turn into the norm if you're not mindful. My advice--create an action plan, one that factors in when and how long you may need to put in extra time and effort in order to accomplish a particular goal.
  • Use your resources--digital, human, and other--to figure out how to get the most out of the role. To better learn how to use my DSLR camera, I'm turning to a variety of resources, which includes:
    • YouTube
    • Friends
    • Family
    • Classes (e.g., YMCA)
    • Pinterest
    • Discussion forums
    • the camera's User's Manual
    This can be applied to learning a new job role, also. From a workplace point of view, you have colleagues, subject matter experts (SMEs), and groups (such as professional associations) which represent sources of information and support. Use them--that's what they're there for!
  • Celebrate your successes. In spite your best efforts, it may seem as if progress isn't being made. Perhaps you're not making headway on a particular project. Or colleagues are frustrating. Whatever the case, when something does go right, acknowledge it! Sometimes it's the small wins that help to highlight progress, or that your work is having an impact. When it comes to my new camera, when I take a decent picture utilizing the manual settings, I get very excited!
A photo of a cup and a figurine.
A photo I'm proud of.
At one point or another, a person is faced with a job that they will seem new, unfamiliar, or bigger than they've previously encountered. Understanding the challenges and opportunities in that scenario will help increase the odds of success in that role. Humble yourself, be organized, pace yourself, use your resources, and celebrate success--these are some ways in which to grow into a job role.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Got 'til It's Gone

“Noooooooooooooo!”  That shout when one of your key employees gives his/her resignation.  Two weeks, of course.  Confusion, fear, frustration and panic set in.  What will we do?  Why is he/she leaving us?  Who is responsible for making this person quit?  Let’s find that person so that we may substitute one separation from the company with another!

It’s no fun, but it happens.  Besides the knee-jerk reaction, there are important questions that should be asked:

1 – What led up to this person’s departure? – There were warning signs, even subtle ones.  Longer lunches to perhaps squeeze in an interview?  Wearing nicer ensembles to work? A definite change to communication patterns?  Less willingness to do that little bit extra?  Think back.

While reflection may not change the outcome, it is important to become better at identifying the signs for the future.  Being oblivious is not okay when it comes to talent management.  In the full picture, it’s critical to manage your talent effectively, which includes observation and action.  Asking yourself, “What should I have done?” is fine, but asking, “What can I do now?” is better. 

2 – How effective has support and accountability been? – Odd question, perhaps.  Truthfully, it’s often the case that someone leaves because he/she feels like so much work and effort has been done by him/her without reciprocity from other team members.  Accountability keeps everyone honest.  It also keeps dialogue going regarding areas of drop-off.  Support and re-structure can be offered once those details are known.

3 – How will we get the knowledge about processes, systems, compliance, etc. out of his/her head and into someone else’s in the organization? – I often joke with a new employee when introducing him/her to a seasoned veteran of the company that the veteran has probably forgotten more than the new employee will ever know.  There is truth to this, though.  If someone has been with the organization for years and is truly a key employee (not just dead weight that has been allowed to fester for decades because no one is brave enough to do something about it…ouch!), then the knowledge along with the nuances of history are hard to replace.

Effort needs to be put into mentoring and coaching opportunities regularly.  To try to get all of the knowledge out of someone’s head who just gave his/her two weeks’ notice is silly.  It won’t happen.  By establishing it as a normal business practice avoids panic and an unreasonable  burden of “data dump” between the leaving and the staying employees.

4 – Is the position needed? – Nothing says “Don’t let the door hit you….” then when you realize you haven’t needed that role for some time and have no intentions of filling that role.  But it’s true!  Out of our busyness or sheer laziness, we haven’t looked at role effectiveness.  Perhaps a resignation is a gift (for a variety of reasons, I know) in this vein because we can be forced to look at structure and process.  Does this role push the mission for the organization?  Is there overkill in the management level of the org chart?  Or, the real kicker, measure the results of that position.  If it’s not acceptable, was that because of the person in the role? Or because you don’t need the role?

5 – What will the ripple effect be, if any? – “Who’s with me?” For those of you who’ve not seen the movie “Gung Ho,” watch it.  Besides the datedness and the stereotypes, it deals with productivity and cultural issues.  A rallying of the troops as a result of someone leaving can be crushing, of course.  Walk outs or just a couple more resignations can affect morale deeply.  Repair won’t be overnight.

Proactively engaging a couple of layers of managers and directors will thwart one person from having such power.  Even if a key employee leaves, the communication channels would have been open to more than merely that supervisor.  If I can approach my manager, my director, my CEO as well as my team, then the departure of that manager won’t seem as “end of the world” as if he/she was the only superior who knew I existed.  Be visible, be communicative, be real.

Overall, it’s wise to care for all employees.  It’s very wise to care for those key employees.  Know what they need.  Know why they need it.  Know how support can be given.  BUT, measure effectiveness, too.  We’re not prisoners.  We don’t have to be held hostage by a key employee.  Figure out why and how to get the information out of his/her head and into others’ heads.

And to be truthful, a healthy resignation can do wonders for a company, too.  Jus’ sayin’.