Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Is it really?  I heard a woman severely curse off a Walmart Customer Service representative, while the woman’s 2 year-old child was in tow listening to every word.  I have had quite a few people tell me this is the worst time of year.  I have seen more than the usual amount of birds being flipped out of car windows on the highway.  And I have observed a toddler lose their mind on the streets of NYC because his mother wouldn’t buy him the toy he needed.  Ah, the holidays.

And when I walk through the halls of companies, I see employees devoid of emotion going through the task-management of the holiday season with no connection to one another or to the joy of the season.  I see managers with scowls, associates with the faintest hint of a fake smile and HR people stressed out of their minds due to W2’s, ACA 1095’s, compliance reporting, labor law updates, minimum wage changes and the list goes on.

Know what I say?  Enjoy the time.  Embrace the thrill of the season.  Go to a department store or mall and watch the little kids excitedly get on Santa’s lap.  Find those who have not yet been jaded by life and have learned to hate this time.  Change the vantage point you’re working from.

True followers of behavioral modification will tell you that change happens now.  Just make the change, that’s the easy part.  Stop with the frown and get on with the smile.  And yet, the trick in behavioral modification is sustainability.  What can be done to keep behavior changed?  How does the decision I’ve made today last longer than just today?

For all people, it comes down to the same decision being made every day.  Today may be the first day, but there are more days to consider and decide on.  I know for me that today has enough troubles of its own, so I don’t need to travel too far down the road of what might be in days to come.  Focus on today first.  What am I doing and why?

For those with real pain that seems to pierce the veil during the holiday season, I hear you.  Take courage because there are many in the same boat.  Find each other and decide to be a reason for joy for him/her.  Look for ways to serve others and watch how much the burden lifts from you.  It’s not idealistic; it’s psychological. 

My friend +Steve Browne often speaks of being positive in HR.  One of the best ways to do it is to foster deliberate and simple steps to think differently.  We don’t have to have our Master’s degrees or 300 letters after our names to be able to affect change in thought and dynamic.  We have to inspire others to make healthy decisions for themselves and, in turn, for the organization.  Our culture is impacted greatly by such an attitude in staff.

When I watch “Elf” each season, I am always struck by the forced conformity placed upon Buddy by his father and the world around him.  His overly enthusiastic self is asked to be buttoned down into a suit and tie.  He rebels, puts back on the elf suit and reconnects with Santa.  The rebellion is based upon a decision.  He decides to return to the positivity of what he knows.  We, too, have the choice to return to the positivity of what we know.  You're always going to have a new law to adhere to; we always do so don't stress.  Get the elf suit on and enjoy this time of year!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


People management as a career carries with it many necessary skill sets.  A bit of counseling, a dash of conflict management, a hint of patience and a strong dose of listening skills blend together to ensure that the staff you serve know they are heard and valued.  The management of people is not a natural ebb and flow for most; it’s a dance mastered through practice, research and observation.  Curious, I don’t see much of it taught on the university level.  Management courses on business development, organizational development and finance (and their off-shoots) fill the curriculum for collegiate study.

I recall taking an interpersonal skills course in college, and there were seven of us on day one.  By day two one had dropped as the size of the class was already too uncomfortable for him.  So, the six of us plowed through various psychology and communicative styles in order to appreciate other approaches and develop our own more deeply.  It was thoroughly challenging and incredibly vulnerable.

So much of what was emphasized was basic response-oriented training.  When someone walks into a room, acknowledge that person - say hello, ask them to have a seat, ask if you can help them.  Body language, verbal cues and facial expression are a functional part of managing people.  Further, and more likely for many these days, the tonality and inflection of the voice on the phone, and the sentence construct on a text or email, set the stage for an appropriate conversation with an employee.

As our work in the human resources field continues to move in a metric-oriented discipline, which has great merit, it is vital that we not lose our people management skill set.  And if you’ve never had a people management skill set, then it is time to work on it. 

When people come to you, there has already been a story playing for them.  Pain or anger may have taken root, depending on the situation.  Broken relationships cut deep – whether breakups, divorces or death.  Our job is to get to the heart of it.  We’re not counselors, understood, but if an employee is walking into your office, then bet your bottom dollar that whatever the issue is will distract that person from work.  It is now a work consideration.

Basic coping mechanisms may be extended to the person, and sometimes that happens naturally just by having someone on whom to unload.  The skill sets of the employee could be clouded, but our act of listening and providing visual cues of such attention might move those clouds.  The ability to jump back into the swing of “normal” functioning may be as simple as that.  Yet, when the door is consistently closed and the email goes unanswered, an employee dives deeper into his/her issue, making it more difficult to un-cloud.

Everyone has a story.  There is no one free from baggage.  Everyone wants more time.  Everyone has regrets (or would like a do-over on some things).  Everyone has lost their way for a bit.  Remember this as a people manager.  Those we manage do look to us.  What do they see?  Of course, depending on the situation, there are likely to be more steps after listening, but the first step sets the right tone.

Answer the phone, respond to the email, open your door.  Engage with your people.  It doesn’t need to be seen as an employee engagement objective.  It should be seen as being a person.  A person who can support another person.  And sometimes we’ll have quite a heavy burden to share in with this employee.  We can manage the road together.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I Fought the Law

Try to watch “Law and Order” as if you’ve never seen an episode before.  Pretend like those two Bum-Bumps are the first time you’ve heard them.  It’s fascinating to watch the entire hour and see how the two detectives process the investigation which typically leads to the court case.  I used to watch the original “Law and Order” religiously.  Yes, I know that there are SVU, CI, SUV and hybrid versions, but I was a fan of the original.  The course of action taken by the detectives is methodical, a bit stale and thorough, but it works.

For the employee who comes to the HR department with a complaint, inquiry or charge, there is an expectation for answers and investigation.  HR loves the answers, but perhaps to a fault.  Our ability to provide solution to the complaint may not really handle the issue at hand.  The employee can feel his/her issue has been minimized as he/she leaves your office (or cubicle area or working table or Segway mobile office).  Are we satisfied with just an “answer” or do we need to spend time trying to understand where this issue comes from?

Honestly, there are times that a simple answer is all that is needed.  Let’s not make a mountain out of molehill.  If someone comes to complain about not being off for Arbor Day, that may be a very quick conversation.  Something like, “I’m sorry that you’d like the company to be closed for Arbor Day, but if you have PTO available to you, perhaps you could plan on using some in order to spend time planting trees to honor the day.”  Smile sincerely and usher them out.  Close the door and reflect on why you’ve chosen the career you have.  After a few minutes, you’ll be back at it!

But what about the ones that take a bit more?  If an employee asks about hours not paid on a paycheck, then perhaps a quick look at the time system, finding where the data was corrupt or not transferred into payroll will prevent the occurrence in the future.  Perhaps there is a bit of management training needed.  Perhaps the employee needs a reminder on the time clock.  Perhaps it’s a one-time Gremlin in the system.  All it would take is a little bit of research mixed with a little bit of conversation and/or training.

And then, there are the ultimate investigations, such as harassment, discrimination or theft.  A process for this investigation should be in place.  What will it take for the company to handle the claims presented?  Is there a path to follow?  No? 

There are components of good investigation that are universal.  Try to work within a flow of process in those components in order to gather the information needed.  An investigation is serious and it does require professionalism in approach.  If you are the HR person who would lead or conduct the investigation, have you established yourself in the company as someone capable of such work?  If you’ve been relegated or allowed yourself to be relegated to the party-planning HR person or the gossip-laden HR person, then it’s not likely that you’ll gather all of the data necessary in your investigation.

Staff may not be able to draw a line between the “Buddy HR” person and the “Detective HR” person you’re trying to be.  That is a tall order.  As such, determine whether outside help might be needed.  Does your process allow for this possibility?  Between the HR role played, the characters in the investigation and the subject matter involved, an outside expert might be the most beneficial for the organization.  Be okay with letting someone in.  It’s not about dirty laundry but about ascertaining the truth and finding solution, however difficult that may be.

Be clear, too, in the fact that you will need to speak with others.  When an employee starts his/her complaint to you with “Please don’t say anything, but…”, you can be sure that you’re likely going to need to say something to someone else.  A true investigation will need facts and accounts from all parties named and involved.  Keeping this between us is not possible, let alone the matter of law that may be in play.  Disclosure may be required.  Consult your counsel if you have questions in any of these areas.  Likely an attorney will tell you that you cannot promise to keep what’s shared only between you two.

There are great resources available to you to help with investigation.  Take the time to research and develop a plan prior to needing a plan.  You will be able to approach plan development with less stress and with more clarity of thought.  Talk to your senior team, your counsel, your HR colleagues in other companies, your SHRM group…anyone who has been through developing a process.  Learn from their victories and hiccups.

And while it may not be the wisest to wear a badge around the office as if you’re the cop on duty, you should establish yourself as being an integral part of the investigative process at your company.  Just pin the badge on the inside of your suit coat or sweater.  You can know it’s there.  Bum-Bump.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Boss

Managing people is a skill. Yes, there are attributes that come easier for some which allow them to manage easier, but the use and refinement of those attributes is what makes it right.  The guilt some feel about not being a good manager is often a result of comparison to one of these “naturals.”

Are you a natural?  Do you find yourself easily speaking with your team?  Do you find that there is an ability to connect with people that just flows from you?  That’s wonderful! But, it doesn’t mean that you’re managing people.  It could mean that you are a great friend, a great listener, or a great motivator, but it doesn’t mean management is natural.  Being the boss is meant to be categorized by effectiveness, best use of talent and profitability, to start, not merely being the "fun" manager.

Think about a boss you’ve had that you liked. Perhaps the reason you liked him/her is because of the great manner with which your department was led.  You liked that he/she took the reigns, presented as a resource for the team and kept everyone focused on the mission.  You like that.  You crave good direction.  You desire knowledgeable people to take seriously their role.  Perhaps.

Or perhaps it was because you connected with him/her relationally.  You had common interests.  You shared a passion for sports, for a hobby or for beer (maybe beer is a hobby?).  You got to know each other’s families.  You shared time outside of work being social.  Did that make the person a great manager?  Or merely a great friend?

I am not suggesting that every manager become a Miranda Priestly and remain clearly unfriendly and distant.  However, I am suggesting that swinging the pendulum too far the other way might make managing just as a difficult.  Hone in the skill sets needed to manage effectively and use those skills as you rally your team together.

Time – There is a skill involved in planning and in the usage of time.  If you are someone that just lets things “get away from you” then you aren’t managing.  Time needs to be managed.  Haven’t we all looked at the clock during the work day and thought, “How can it be 3PM? I haven’t gotten done what I needed to today.”  Be competent in time management and help your team to pursue a similar goal.  Efficiencies to process are certainly business-centric and are worth the effort.

Material Knowledge – What do we make, how do we make it, why do we make it.  If it’s a service-related industry, follow the same pattern – what do we do, how do we do it, why do we do it.  You’ve got to know this backward and forward, and be able to translate it well to your team.  They will look to you to see how seriously they should know the answers to those questions.  If it’s just a job for you, then don’t be surprised when it’s just the same for your team.  Be passionate about the ingredients, materials, resources used to get done what you are tasked to get done.

Communication – “Hey, Bud, how ya doin’ today?” should not serve as the moniker of your relational investment.  What does that communicate?  Likely, you are a necessary person in my life and I can’t avoid it.  Intentionality in communication is necessary.  Plan what needs to be said; don’t hope you remember.  Know what and why things have to be shared, the time it will take to do so and the opportunities for that communication to be collaborative. 

Of course, there are more elements than this, but deciding to become proficient in these areas will certainly impact the team being managed.  Once there is a mastery in skill development and process, then begin to attack the next step.  It will become second nature.

The effort matters.  A manager who is deliberate in seeking to refine those skills or to develop new ones sets a stronger tone in his/her department right away.  Your staff will recognize that you’re not there to be everyone’s best friend, but to be a developer of talent by taking seriously your own development.  It also communicates a belief that not everyone is a “natural.”  It’s okay to work at it.  Think about the impact on the team you lead if they see you studying, practicing and exercising these skills.  You will be encouraging them to do the same in their areas of functional responsibility and soft skill development.

There were many days were I would have liked to do a “Devil-Wears-Prada-Throw-My Jacket-On-The-Head-Of-An-Employee” moment, but I didn’t.  I had to make the decision that the proactive development of my management style would be compromised by either creating a too-friendly demeanor or a too-mean demeanor.  So, hold onto your jacket as you walk in and hang it up yourself!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Digging Your Scene

Dance, baby, dance.  Get up and move.  Shake your thing.  That’s it, make it groove.  Use your hips.  Get down into the floor.  Arch your back more.  Work it!

Those are various performance phrases used in the dance world to encourage excellence in the performer.  Uncomfortable?  Did it make you think I’d finally snapped?  (Don’t answer that).  A dancer needs to have his/her performance graded early on so that he/she can make corrections to the movement in the dance.  If a choreographer has developed a sequence of movement to tell a story and thoughtfully chosen a piece of music to compliment the story, it’s vital that the dancer perform the movement exactly to match the intention of the story.  Real time performance review is necessary.

In the case of the dancer, the choreographer is there teaching the dance.  He/She can then provide timely feedback, such as listed above, and encourage the dancer to move differently or with more precision when working to execute the story through dance.  Travis Wall, one of the best current choreographers, has to be unyielding in seeing his vision executed and so has to watch his dancers often and provide commentary.  A dancer then adjusts in real time.  And when the performance is shared with an audience, the efforts are displayed, and in Travis’s case, usually without flaw.

Intentionally taking the time to watch the scenes of performance that our employees create is a responsibility of management.  It is not to sit in an office and hope they are doing what they should be.  It’s not just looking at numbers at the end of a day or week, and then make grandiose decisions about staffing and product or service implementation.  The repetition of bad choices made in this context overflows into poor corporate culture, low gross sales, inferior candidates and frustrated management. 

Watch what’s happening in the “dance” scenes you’re creating at work.  Give feedback.  It does not need to be done via the official performance review annual form.  It doesn’t have to be a quarterly review.  It CAN include those things, but that’s not all it is.

As a kid, when I was doing my homework, my mom would look over my shoulder every so often to check.  If the writing was rushed and sloppy, she would tell me to erase it and write it again.  The longer she took to check in on me left open the possibility that I would have more to erase.  If she caught me after only doing a few, it was more manageable to correct the behavior and the remaining work was done neater.  It’s the same for management.  Observe often.

Micromanagement, by the way, is not the same as observing often.  A course correction is the responsibility of the manager by knowing why and how staff are travelling a certain road.  A micromanager is telling staff how to move their left foot forward, and then the right foot, and then the left again, and then the right and so on.  Travis can dance the choreography he creates himself, but the point is to take that vision and entrust it to the skill sets demonstrated in the dancers he works with regularly.  The cause is spread to a wider circle and therefore a wider impact.

Give staff the opportunity to perform.  Tell them the objectives and watch what they do.   And along the way, affirm what’s working and advise on what should look or be different.  Keep coming back to the mission or purpose of the work.  Managers have to be involved in what their teams are doing, with consistency and investment.  Come up alongside those employees who are working to make the mission happen and encourage them.  Praise and critique are encouraging, if it comes from an involved, invested perspective.  Do your staff see you that way?

The surprise in good performance review is that it seems very much like conversation.  It feels very much like smart people sitting together to get better at the responsibilities they have.  It opens the door for a deeper understanding of the support, tools and practice needed.  And it also allows for honest dialogue, due to the consistency of review, regarding who can do what’s needed.  Sometimes staff will even call themselves out to say that they don’t have the full skill set required.  And those are employees you want to keep for a long time, even if it means a role change.

Like me, for instance.  I know that in my mind, I dance with as much passion and skill as Alex Wong and could absolutely handle the choreography of Travis Wall.  And though I have been known to “get down”, the vision in my mind won’t make it a reality.  When I leap around the house with my daughters, they remind me, too, that I might not quite have the skills to dance or to choreograph.  Seriously? Have you seen me do the Cha-Cha Slide? Breathtaking. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Respect (by +Victorio Milian)

95 years ago women earned the right to vote on a national level in the United States. On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment of the US Constitution was ratified. This Amendment prohibited United States citizens from being denied the right to vote based on their gender.

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

95 years. It seems like a long time ago, and yet... not really. In the cooperative (co-op for short) where I live there are numerous neighbors of that age or older. The co-op itself was built in the 1920's, so many of its first residents knew what is was like to live under both sets of legal circumstances. Also, that's roughly two generations removed from me. My grandmothers were kids when this went into effect, possibly making them the first women in their respective families to be able to vote. That makes this (in my mind at least) more tangible, and more horrifying as well.

It probably seems like a no-brainer now, but denying people the right to be full participants in what's considered to be a democratic republic was considered normal and proper at one time. And just because it was ratified doesn't mean that further resistance had to be overcome in order for the Nineteenth Amendment's intended purpose to be fully realized. Enacting a law doesn't necessarily mean it won't be challenged in some way, as evidenced by the use of discriminatory Black Code laws to circumvent legal protections afforded to African Americans following the Civil War.

Image of African American woman and child underneath a sign which says, "Colored Entrance."
Photo by Gordon Parks

Social justice, like any large scale change management process, is imperfect. It requires perseverance, the ability to convincingly articulate the need for change, and thick skin to deal with doubters (and worse). It involves successes (both big and small), and set-backs. It also requires building coalitions amongst those looking to achieve similar goals. Unfortunately, coalition building is easier said than done.

As important as all of these qualities are, successful change on the scale of an organization or larger requires enough people aligned around the change in question. With regards to the woman's suffrage movement (the driving force behind the Amendment's passage), it took more than the well known efforts and profiles of figures such as Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to achieve success. It required the efforts, large and small, of people from many backgrounds who believed in the main purpose of the change in question.

Large scale change can be daunting work. Consider then what the potential impact will be. In the case of the Nineteenth Amendment, it meant that legally, women can now be fully engaged in the American voting process. That change also meant that they could also participate in the economic growth and development of the country. For example, according to a 2011 report published by McKinsey and Company, between 1970 and 2009, women went from holding 37% of all jobs to nearly 48%. This increase in workforce participation contributes to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Giving people the ability to be heard can also impact bottom line results.

For business leaders looking to make (or may be reluctant to make) deep organizational changes, consider what was accomplished on August 18, 1920.

What sort of impact are you seeking to make?

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Simple: When you do something wrong, say you’re sorry.  Whether that action was purposeful or accidental, a sincere apology should be offered to those affected by the action(s).  It’s very simple.  Yet, the truth is that it’s hard to do. 

We love to watch others mess up, though, don’t we?  We are outraged at public figures who make mistakes – small and large – and then have to apologize in public ways.  Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, Michael Phelps, Ariana Grande, Charlie Sheen, Kanye West, Hope Solo, Mel Gibson, Michael Vick, etc. have all had to do it.  We hunker down to watch TMZ show us all of the dirt that lead to the apology and then listen to interviews of “professionals” who diagnose the apologies offered.  We are sick people.

On an individual basis, we don’t like being wrong.  Usually, it’s because we really don’t think we’re wrong.  We choose to put our efforts into defending our position, outlining the course of events that lead to the repercussions and to bringing up the twelve previous wrongs of the “offended” party.  We’d rather keep the truth of our wrongdoing to ourselves.

Consider this: How many people do you think do wrong things daily?  Even if 75% of those doing wrong do so on purpose, there are still 25% of those who’ve done wrong without intention.  Why should it be hard for 25% of the population to apologize when a mistake is made?  FYI – that would be about 1.75 billion people.  There would be media coverage and interviews due to the buzz of apology.

In our businesses, why is the act of apology disproportionate?  Specifically, why is it difficult to have senior leadership own their shortcomings?  News flash: There are qualified individuals in senior leadership roles who make mistakes.  Think about the first time you held a new position.  Not just with a new company, but the position itself was new to you.  You’d never been a manager before.  A director, a VP, or a CEO before.  It had to be the first time at some point.  Why would anyone think that someone in a new role would get it all right all of the time?  Apologies should be expected to come.

And pride?  Please.  You’re going to make mistakes.  Own them.  Your pride can handle it, and if you think it can’t, you shouldn’t be working where you work, or in the role you have…or with people.  Own it and say you’re sorry.  You cannot really think that you are the first to make an error, do you?  You think because you’re a CEO, you will damage your reputation or status as a leader by owning mistakes?  Think about what you’re doing to your reputation by not owning the mistakes you’ve made.  Everyone knows already; your screw-ups aren’t a secret.

The other side of the coin is not right either.  Don’t you know someone who often begins sentences with, “I’m sorry”?  Stop apologizing for so much.  When you say you’re sorry all of the time, it’s like crying wolf.  It loses its punch and sincerity.  What about when you really need to apologize?  Won’t it seem like every other sentence?

Offering the apology is appropriate when something was done wrong.  Offering the apology is appropriate when something was received wrongly.  Of course your intention is important, but it may not overshadow the way others took what you said/did.  The apology, too, does not negate the consequence that may come from your actions.  It does, however, set the tone for the consequence and it just might allow others to support you more willingly as you travel that road.

You may have noticed that the apology is one-sided.  Offering it does not mean the response you’d like will come.  You may apologize and that offended party may not forgive you.  That is not something you can fix.  The other party may need time, may need to work things out, may never come around.  That’s not your responsibility.  Yours is to genuinely say you’re sorry. 

Our staff and leadership need to know they can make mistakes, offer an apology, correct the errors and choose differently moving forward.  If the same errors keep happening, even though apologies are offered, it might not be the best role for the person.  Repetition is a great teacher both for the individual and the community.  Giving people room to learn means mistakes.  Giving people room to consistently repeat the same mistakes is foolishness. 

Again, saying your sorry is tough.  It’s uncomfortable and awkward.  It’s dynamically opposed to our natural inclination.  It’s a reminder to us that we’re not perfect.  Just remember that we’re all in the same boat.  That will help us to offer the apology from a right frame of reference…and maybe to receive it rightly, too. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Bad Blood

Questions get asked of me often.  Various employees will call, email or walk in and ask, “Do you know that other companies give their employees as much vacation as they want?”  Or perhaps, “What’s our policy on filing a complaint against a manager? I’m just curious.”  Or a classic favorite of mine, “John, will you be a reference for me as I look for a new job? I love working with you, but I hate it here.”  We could share for days all of the various questions we’ve been asked, and trust me that there are some great ones to come still!

One question that’s a bit heart-breaking to be asked by an employee is, “How is it that the people who do the wrong thing (or nothing) get promoted?”  This is an unfortunate question for a few reasons.

First off, what if the person who is promoted is actually a great employee?  The perception of this person being less than stellar is shameful, but not necessarily the asking-employee’s fault.  Why weren’t the successes of the promoted employee heralded previously?  Why didn’t others know of his/her accomplishments or connection to the whole?  It’s a sad state of affairs to be good at your work, but not be seen as such.

Secondly, what if the person promoted hasn’t demonstrated his/her ability clearly?  It may not be a matter of poor PR, but rather a matter of hesitancy.  What if he/she is able but saw that the climate of the workplace is such that doing your job well would mean scrutiny by others?  I have been in workplaces where achievement was frowned upon as it upset the status quo.  It was very middle school in its mob mentality, but it was real nonetheless.  To show others up (which is how it was taken) was the kiss of death and a very clear hit was put out on you.  Other employees would snub you or somehow “forget” to include you in key decisions that affected your workload or process.  Sadly, this is more common than you might realize.

Thirdly, what if the person promoted really is terrible?  Is it a matter of sucking up that got this person the promotion?  How could this occur?  When I was younger in my career, a colleague once told me that “the flakes get promoted to the top.”  What a sad statement!  Such a phrase doesn’t come from one or two incidents.  Who are the people promoting these “flakes” and why do they do it?  It’s frustrating to have to deal with the repercussions of such decisions, and it’s usually HR that has to handle the fallout.

So, how do we handle this?  It’s happening right now and is likely to continue to happen in the companies we serve, so our thoughtfulness around an answer is better to consider now.  Is it okay to simply say, “I don’t know”?  Maybe, but more likely that if this is our answer, we won’t hear from the asking-employee any time in the near future.  Why would he/she be inspired to come to us again when we clearly don’t know what’s going on? 

And let’s not forget about tone.  Answering “I don’t know” with a sharp or sarcastic tone will minimize our leadership, the leadership of the company as well as the mission of the organization.  What kinds of people run this show?  Ones that make crappy decisions, who don’t consult HR, who don’t care about the promotee’s influence on work product or culture to date, and who seem to be living in an ivory tower without a connection to what’s really going on.  Yup, we can translate all of that in one sarcastic response or disgusted look.  We don’t need to add to any bad blood that’s already creeping into relationships.

It’s important to not be thrown by the question.  Someone made this decision.  An employee coming to you to ask is correct.  Where would you want them to go?  It should be you, HR.  You should have an idea as to why someone has gotten a promotion.  It’s not about justifying it to the asking employee, but more about you portraying confidence.  If you know, then you aren’t searching for how to feel about it while in front of this employee.  It’s not about agreeing with the decision but about knowing.  The time for agreement should have already occurred.  If it didn’t, then that isn’t a response that should be shared with the asking-employee.

I, too, have been in that office when I was asked about someone’s promotion and I had no idea what he/she was talking about.  Promoted? Who?!  But the trick is to step back and formulate how to approach this.  I could be dismissive about the manager who has been making these bad decisions.  I could cut down those involved.   I could, but I would be very dumb to do so.  Rather, I should look for ways to build a bridge.

Fix what’s wrong in the process.  Take initiative, be bold and introduce solutions.  Then, when the next question comes, you’ll know how to respond.  You can focus back onto the asking-employee and inspire that person in what’s needed to move forward.  Many times, the asking-employee just wants to know where he/she fits; it’s not so much about the promoted employee.  By knowing what it takes to contribute stronger to the whole and thereby be promoted, allows you to be a resource towards advancement.  The questions will continue so make sure the answers flow, too.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Closer to Fine

When Ross and Rachel “took a break,” the reality that the relationship might not last started to sink in.  For all of the ways in which Ross had shown his love for Rachel since she was in high school (and caused the world to love him back) and for the progress that Rachel made in understanding her feelings for him, a major setback was occurring.  Could the relationship really be the fairy tale again?

Uncertainty has its place in relational advancement.  Whether it’s a marriage, a career, a church or a team, doubt about your fit for the future is real.  This might be unnerving for some, but it’s true.  Haven’t you sat back and thought, “Is this the job for me?”  Asking the question is healthy. Consideration in areas of usefulness, connection and advancement make sense.  Is this company able to utilize me in the ways I would like to, or do I want to give more of myself (time, talents, and treasure) to this company’s mission?   The giftedness of the individual and the purpose of the organization should be reviewed for alignment regularly.

However, it does not mean that it’s a negative position.  We have gotten too used to this type of consideration ending in break-up.  As such, we’ve believed that even asking the question means it’s over.  Ross and Rachel aren’t real, but their relationship (at least as we know) ended in a commitment to each other.  Is it only on television that it’s possible?  I hope not. 

In our companies, there are daily issues that arise – conflict over management style, turnover, gossip, etc.  Professionals should sit back and consider what’s going on.  The issues that rise to the top after investigation are addressable.  True that one of the ways to address this situation might be termination, but it is not the only option.  Sometimes a person has a bad day.  Sometimes expectations were not clearly shared.  Sometimes there are outside elements to the formula for success that we cannot control.  A machete to the relationship is not usually the right answer.

It is awful to worry when walking into work that Ross or Rachel might ask you for a break.  No one seeks this.  And yet, it might just be the consideration of future relationship that helps aright a ship’s course.  Neither Rachel as a spoiled brat nor Ross as an awkward, self-centered goof was the exclusive reason for the consideration.  It added to it, but the deeper questions were ones of support and commitment.  These are the same questions employees and employers have for one another.

As an employee:
  • Am I valued?
  • How does the company really know what I do or who I am?
  • Am I being taken advantage of? Is that the company’s fault or mine?

As an employer:
  • Do my employees get why we have the mission we have?
  • Is compensation the only way my employees receive affirmation? Have we allowed this to be true, if so?
  • Am I holding back on resources because I fear my employees will leave?

Of course, there are more questions to ask on either side of the table, but these catch some of the initial consideration that should happen.  Relationships, whether between two people or between a person and his/her company, take thought.  Think through why you might not be connecting as you once had.  Termination, as divorce or resignation, is the swifter option, but may be the less than ideal long term response.  Step back and question.

The uncertainty ought to lead to clarity.  Results from the clarity might vary, but the confidence to follow through will be stronger.  Having been through the questioning process will give you peace knowing that you really thought through this, which is confidence-producing.  Uncertainty has a particular nuance of excitement to it as it offers the opportunity to relent to “not knowing” what to do.  If your response were to be perfect each time, where are the opportunities to learn?  By having the uncertainty, we get to step back and research our companies, our relationships, and ourselves.

Ross and Rachel didn’t corner the market on relational uncertainty.  It’s been appealing to us as viewers of movies and television, as readers of novels, as writers of stories.  Plot lines revolve around relationships and have for centuries.  Turn off the “Friends” reruns and pick up a Shakespeare play…any will do.  Wherefore art thou, Ross?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now

Disappointment is a tough emotion.  There isn’t a way to avoid it.  If you’re going to work for a living, attend school or have any kind of relationship, then disappointment will come. 

I recently saw a story about a boy, Walker, who broke his arm and was in the hospital to address the situation.  When Walker awoke, he saw that he broke a bone.  Instead of dread and disappointment, Walker couldn’t get over his excitement in having a cast.  He began to ask everyone in the room if they’d seen his cast.  He was elated in the difficulty (okay,, the drugs helped, but...).  How much is Walker teaching us about approaching annoyance, inconvenience, frustration?

In human resources, we’re asked to deal with many annoyances.  We are to point others to a better (not bitter) way of handling emotion and its impact on work.  This isn’t to belittle the true feelings that someone may have, but rather to enable a healthy perspective.  The disappointment felt can be crippling to some.  We can draw on our own experiences to help guide others.

When a new problem enters my life, do I ask others in pure joy if they see this opportunity given to me, as Walker did with his arm?  Do I present it as a privilege?  This isn’t about positive self-help crappola (that’s Italian for “crap”).  It’s about dealing with two realities – people and opportunities to grow.

Growth is easier.  Think about the disappointments that you’ve experienced in life – lost jobs, bad relationships, financial struggle, even death.  What did you learn from each of those experiences?  While I don’t wish any of those situations on anyone, I am sure that there was an opportunity to grow in action, consideration and relationship. 

A proactive approach to an unwelcome reality takes discipline and effort.  I can choose not to learn anything from the situation in front of me.  I can choose to sit in a corner and weep.  I can choose to remain in that corner for days, weeks, even if not literally.  My spirit sits crushed inside of me and I accept the victimization.  Well-intentioned people get hit with life and all that it has to offer.  I have watched some rise to the occasion and some fall to the wayside. 

In business, I have sat with executives who’ve lost everything.  I have cried with staff that I had to reduce.  I have packed boxes for companies that had to close.  I have been to the funerals of co-workers who died suddenly, leaving young families behind. 

Expectation setting is one of the hardest mechanisms against disappointment.  This is where the people component comes into play.  I know that I have disappointed others and I know I am not done disappointing.  It’s not that I intend to do so, but the expectations of others are not ones that I can control.  Some have expected me to fail, and I didn’t.  Some have expected me to soar, and I didn’t.  In both situations, disappointment was there.

Am I adding to that disappointment by fueling such expectations that others have for me?  Is it okay for me to address what I think others expect?  If you want to mitigate disappointment, then absolutely yes.  Walk into a team meeting and let others know what you’re sensing for expectations around a particular situation.  If they always think you’re to be the hero, is that fair?  Is that pressure yours to hold?  Aren’t you exhausted by all of the balls in the air?

Understand that the personal nature of some of this is very relevant in business.  We project personal feelings of disappointment on others.  When I work with a company that’s being sued by its own employees, it hurts.  There is no denying that, but does that business want to stay in business?  If so, then it cannot wallow in pity and despair.  Get up, understand that the expectations you had for that handful of employees was off, and work to make the company better today.  Direct your energies towards things that will give a return; don't settle for pure emotion. 

Listen, I am a crier (shocking to some, I know, but true).  I am a sucker for an emotionally charged commercial…where are the tissues?  My sensitive heart busts through my chest sometimes.  But that emotion may not be just about sappy sentiment, but also real disappointment and anger based on what I am seeing.  Previous experiences get brought to the surface based upon that movie, show or commercial.  I make connections in my mind.

These emotions and responses are mine to control.  Similarly, in work, I cannot expect a positive outcome if I project my disappointment on others. “Oh, if only so-and-so wasn’t here. It would so much easier to deal with work.”  Really?  Why give this person so much power in your life?  Why did you think you could expect a certain behavior from “so-and-so”?  Whose fault is that?

You should not desire to be a stumbling block to anyone, but know that it is likely to happen, as it has previously.  Intention is fine, but the reality as to how others respond cannot be overlooked.  Disappointment is going to happen.  It’s about how you will deal with it and what it does to your life.  Existing is no way to live.

Manage your expectations of others and know that there are certain things in life which are going to happen.  Death, taxes…and disappointment.  Rise above and use it to fuel health in all facets of your life.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Rocky Mountain High

There has to be a better way to handle inspiration.  Doesn’t it seem that at times we ride this escalator to the top of the mountain only to tumble back down from a strong gust at the summit?  The efficacy of the inspiration stalls; it’s predicated upon circumstance which we know changes frequently. 

How many Hoosiers, Miracle, Rudy, (insert one of a zillion other movie greats) speeches can we give?  Those speeches are delivered at a moment in time.  Our desire is to make that moment last when we know it cannot.  That’s why it’s a moment.  It’s why The Mighty Ducks 3 isn’t as inspiring as the first (C’mon, you weren’t inspired by the first one?)

Effective inspiration consists of a deliberate balance between moments and the cultural training that occurs as a result of those moments.  Cultural training?  Yes!  Everyday, leadership instills an understanding of how things are, ought to be and will be.  Leaders deliver unspoken words of “don’t touch, don’t ask, don’t even think about it” as much as they deliver “please do, please ask, please engage.”  The context becomes clearer to employees as to when those messages are applied.  A culture then develops through the understanding of what can be and who is demonstrating “right” behavior. 

When we deliver inspiring thoughts and a call to action, we do so in the context of the culture.  If we say “Let’s go get ‘em” enough but are unable to “get ‘em” then we deliver a message that cannot be met.  Failure is okay; repeated failure means it can’t be done or you’re not the one who can do it.  And so, culturally, if we tell our team to keep going despite the inability to reach, we show that we don’t know our people, process or product.  The inspiring words are foolishness.

I find myself consistently saying “Know your audience.”  Inspiration is lost on those who’ve heard it before and seen no action.  If, as a leader, you don’t realize the attitude in your culture, then no one is following you.  How are you a leader?  There is no influence happening.

Our intention to motivate is real.  Ultimately, we want employees to be inspired to greatness (if you don’t, you should seriously think about changing careers or changing your attitude, bearing in mind that changing roles still brings your attitude with you).  We have a workforce that wants to be the hero.  We can inspire them to that with messaging, tools and process that set them up for success. 

Inspiration becomes emotionally charged very easily.  That trap is attractive.  It’s feelings-oriented and it presents itself as effective in that moment.  We’ve all done it in our attempt to encourage and push. 

Let’s change the perspective and work to change culture through appropriate cultural impact.  Are competencies there?  Are processes ready to handle the effect of inspiration?  Is messaging consistent and thoughtful?  Simply, again, are we setting others up for success?  That’s what is truly inspiring and will give a return for quite some time.  Go Ducks!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

(You Better) Think

"Looking back, the thing that's really impressive is that here were these leaders running the Civil War, and people...had time to meditate on the day's events...They weren't multi-tasking; they had time to reflect. It's a luxury many leaders just don't have today, and that's a real loss."
The above quote is by Doris Kearns Goodwin, author and historian, in the April 2009 edition of the Harvard Business Review. The entire article is great and this quote struck me in particular.

I'm a knowledge worker. My job involves utilizing large amounts of information and making decisions that support the goals of the organization I work with. Some are straightforward while others requires a fair amount of analysis and consideration.

When it comes to strategic initiatives, it can be all too easy to go with what worked in the past, without considering how it may impact the present. This is where the danger lies. Considering the fast paced world most of us live in it's important that we take the time to reflect on what we do and did, both professionally as well as personally.

It's also important that these reflections be recorded. I know that sounds obvious but think about it--how much of your organizational member's unique knowledge is accessible--to other staff, vendors, and partners?

For example, in a former role I managed the annual update to the employee handbook. My partners and I made policy decisions that impacted thousands of employees. It was also my responsibility to communicate what changes had been made and why. Part of the strategy in accomplishing this was by saving the previous drafts of employee manuals that were created over the years, along with a supporting notes and communications generated. As a result, we became much better at determining which policies were effective and which weren't.

Having these reflections on record also help to preserve and perpetuate an organization's unique culture, which is often underrated and should not be taken lightly. I know that many people argue that a job's a job, but all things being equal, people tend to choose organizations that reflect their professional or personal values.

Another way to look at it is like this--if your top talent got killed tomorrow would their best practices, leadership decisions, etc., die along with them? It's morbid, I know, but I'm trying to make a point. This is why when Steve Jobs took a leave of absence in 2009 people started to wonder if it signaled an end of an era at Apple (as well as rattle shareholder confidence). When employees who represent the best of a company's values and vision leaves it can have an effect on morale and productivity. Preserving their output for others to access helps to minimize the loss of critical resources.

Here are a few suggestions on being better at self reflection:
  • Set aside (idle) time for yourself. Too often we use what little free time we have to do more stuff. Give yourself time and permission to do nothing, within reason. And stick to it the same way you stick to your other commitments.
  • Stay healthy. Numerous medical studies show that a good diet and regular exercise have a positive impact on brain functions. It also helps with stress management, making it easier to think more clearly.
  • Write it down! This is the one I struggle with the most. I'll have a great idea and by the time I'm ready to implement it I've forgotten the most crucial elements (Doh!). So now I carry around a pen and a notepad to jot things down in the moment. It damages my street cred but it preserves my thoughts.
  • Promote and utilize collaborative tools within your organization. Wikis, blogs, and intranets are some of the tools that may be used by organizations for capturing its members knowledge. It's important that they're easy to use and are supported by top management.
  • Share. Aside from colleagues, you should try to speak with those outside your normal comfort zone. Remember, you're responsible to all stakeholders. Being able to effectively explain yourself to them (and vice-versa) will only benefit you.
If you want to continue to make quality decisions then take the time to reflect and share this insight with others. Without it you could be missing important opportunities for yourself and your organization.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Tuesday nights at 8:30, you would find me on the living room floor, eating a bowl of cereal, watching “Laverne & Shirley.”  That was my routine for years as a kid.  That show would crack me up.  These two women would find themselves in all sorts of situations, that were often caused by them.  The remainder of the show would be about how they would unravel the trouble.  The classic misunderstandings, assumptions, over-promising and poorly defined expectations filled most of the plotlines. 

Sound a bit like work?  Think of the trouble caused by misunderstanding, to start.  Often, I hear the following:
  • I didn’t know that was what he was asking me to do
  • Wait, you meant for me to do that this week?
  • I think my boss is trying to make me look bad on purpose
  • How can I be expected to do anything more? No one knows all of what I do

Lack of clarity around process, personnel and results often find themselves into our daily  “issue board.”  You know, that growing list of concerns or problems brought up by misunderstanding.  Think of the extra meetings you’ve had to bridge the gaps towards understanding.  Lots, right?

I recall one particular time where I calculated 15 hours of my 40-hour work week spent on meetings I had not planned on having in order to mediate the trouble that was brewing surrounding misunderstanding, unrealized expectations and a general lack of grace towards each other.  That was 37.5% of my work week.  Productive?  Maybe.  Could it have been avoided to begin with?  Much of it could have been.

I know that there is much to learn through situations like this.  The “a-ha” moments usually come when someone, who has worked himself/herself into a tizzy, finds out that the “facts” he/she thought were off and it causes a reconsideration of how information is gathered and processed.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.  And yet, if you find yourself in multiple situations like that, doesn’t that show more of a systemic issue?

Trouble is a difficult culture to break through.  There are some companies that love it.  They thrive on unhealthy relationships, difficult processes and a sloppy organizational design.  That’s not a dramatic statement.  Considering the amount of books, articles and workshops on dealing with toxic co-workers, difficult bosses and a separatist board of directors, it’s very reasonable to see that many companies must swim in this description and many of us deal with this on a regular basis.

As leaders, we ought to be proactive to thwart trouble before it begins.  We can offer direction on process, wisdom in relational dealings and passion behind seeking resolution directly.  It’s not meant to be emotionless, but it’s often the case that a culture allowed to be too emotional can end up being crippled by those emotions and fall short of the mission.  We can encourage folks to move beyond such short-sightedness.  The feeling is not where the prize is found; it’s in reaching the goal.

Consider marriage.  The wedding itself is a fun day.  It’s a party!  There is much to love and feel good about; however, the marriage itself is the goal.  Emotions won’t be in the same sphere each day as compared to the wedding.  If the marriage is based on the desire to feel the way they did on the wedding day, the marriage is doomed.  And so it is with business.  Not every day is the first day of work; not every day is the first sale made; not every day is the holiday party.  In between are days where a lack of clarity, issues around process and general trouble can occur.  Taking a proactive stance to thwart such problems and to add value to the communicative process so that others can perform it without you is our job.

Open the dialogue, call others to a higher standard and bring issues out into the open with the purpose of educating, diffusing and moving on.  Trouble festers if left unattended.  Don’t let it happen.  You can make such an impact.  I mean, if Laverne and Shirley were able to do it in a 30-minute time slot, I have faith that you can get it done in a timely manner.  Sclemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated to all!