Monday, November 7, 2016

Come Together

Cat videos.  I can’t believe that the best we can do with the power of the internet is fill it with cats in various poses and outfits.  I did, however, see a video recently where a cat who was raised on a show horse farm trotted along the property as if she were in competition.  This cat would raise her knees high and keep her head forward.  It was pretty remarkable to see how much she was influenced by her environment.

Consequently, it got me thinking about our ability to assimilate.  And while this has nothing to do with show horse competition (my knees don’t raise as high as they once did…darn long jump), it has everything to do with influence.  The cat in that video did not have to be instructed to mimic the horses in training.  She observed and assimilated her behavior to match.  There is likely not a need that this cat is filling with such training, other than a social media desire for a million likes, but there is a lesson for us.

Assimilation can be both a positive and a negative.  Consider peer pressure.  It is usually delivered in a negative context.  Parents want to keep their kids from those that would lead them down a negative or wrong road.  We want them to avoid those situations where peer pressure takes over, leading to drinking, drugs, crime, etc.  We want them to choose well.  Perhaps having a friend group that wants to pursue the same type of good choices is a sort of peer pressure opportunity.  When one of that group wants to choose poorly, their friends motivate, tease and remind them of why that choice is dumb.  Peer pressure can work both ways.

In our work environments, isn’t this true as well?  Staff assimilate to their surroundings.  If there is a “don’t work too hard” mentality that most staff follow, then a new addition to the team, however awesome the work history had been, is likely to assimilate to the unspoken request of co-workers.  It’s observed.  It is understood that this is just how things are. 

Understand, too, that assimilation does not have to mean a forfeiting of individuality.  The creative contribution, personal experiences and innovative outlets that each person brings should be shared and used.  That can be the mark of what it means to assimilate in your organization - everyone has made a commitment to offer, invest and engage in the community for the good of the whole.  The Rat Pack, for example, didn't minimize each individual's giftedness, but rather they found a way to affirm strengths and assimilate as one cohesive entertainment experience.  The difficulty of the social environment in terms of race, religion and heritage did not thwart their ability to engage the public.  In many ways, the Rat Pack caused their audiences to assimilate to a new reality, at least during their performances.  The display of such an integration isn't going to be the same for each group of people, but the overall commitment to it should be similar.

Our leadership can and should drive change in this area.  It’s not a pipe dream or a warm & fuzzy movement, but rather a business necessity.  Turnover may very well be connected to a poor environment that an individual cannot assimilate to.  The assimilation may have much to do with an inability to make a difference or a contribution of substance.  Certainly someone can move one stack of papers to another stack.  The tasks may be basically completed, for instance, but the drive for more is not explored and encouraged.  By and large, people will rise to the expectation that’s laid out.  If we don’t lay out something bigger, then don’t be surprised that the culture feels sluggish or entitled.

Assimilation needs to start with a few.  Gather a couple to yourself and pour into them.  If something is wrong with the environment, a memo to all won’t cut it.  Think of it like a diet.  Just holding yourself accountable to what not to eat isn’t enough; it’s a matter of understanding and holding yourself accountable to what you should eat.  Offer the alternative and maintain that offering.  Behavior will change through that consistency.  It will become habit and influence the environment.

An assimilation to healthy culture, process and contribution is a positive. Helping them see how they fit, how they contribute and how the team functions cohesively through it are worthy goals.  That's an assimilation.  It’s something that you can start to do today by rallying those few around these goals.  It’s a conquerable task.  Be visual about it to your team.  Let them join you in painting a picture of the end game.  

Maybe even video best practices.  Let those few help to start a momentum through various creative media outlets.  I mean, we could always use more cat videos, right?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Colour My World

Know your audience.  I can’t tell you how many times that advice has come out of my mouth.  Very often, people get too comfortable too fast.  Quick rapport development is an appealing quality, to be sure, but not at the sacrifice of the demeanor of the formation.

Lots of locker room talk consideration over the past couple of weeks in light of the Donald Trump hot mic bus recordings being released.  He and Billy Bush quickly established a “buddy” relationship.  And while, the majority of response has been to condemn the words along with sentiment and systemic treatment of women, it would be unwise to consider it in such a small context.  Trump’s words have been repeated in locker rooms since I was old enough to change for gym class right up through board rooms since I was experienced enough to have an executive role. 

Period movies and television shows from the 50’s and early 60’s show the dichotomy of family life and business life.  The male character is a member of the 1st Baptist or Presbyterian church in town with his wife and kids; they raise their kids to be good Americans, respectful students and to be seen and not heard.  At work, that same male may participate in an affair with his secretary, in shady business dealings to undercut another within the company, and in drinks at 3PM to discuss work and women with his boss.  Very stereotypical, I know, but much of the content and context in those period dramas.

Our audience is no longer known by look alone.  White boys chatting it up about a woman’s anatomy and ability to score isn’t an inclusive strategy for corporate culture.  You cannot make a decision just based upon look as our workplace is no longer a homogeneous pool.  And further, those who do look the same as you aren’t necessarily coming from the same background as you.  It’s a whole new world.  And whether it’s Donald Trump on a bus or Bill Clinton on a golf course, any commentary based upon those assumptions is more than unwise; it’s deadly to our culture.

In the small kingdoms we manage in our workplaces, we may not be able to change the world, but we can influence one sphere.  Of course, the liability around harassment is evident.  It’s not okay to allow language that demeans and cheapens another, whether based on sex, race, religion, medical history, orientation or age, to permeate a workplace.  It’s illegal, if not federally, then likely on a state level.  You have a responsibility to protect the company you represent.  Work for change to minimize such liability.

And yet, as people we may have a deeper responsibility than merely the law.  What are we telling the future about us?  Our ability to engage at this level is just what a role in management and in human resources should be focused upon.  Process improvement, sales objectives and growth planning are necessary and the core duty for some of you.  Don’t disregard those needs.  Yet, those strategies and duties can be offered in a better context. 

The drum beating for employee engagement is loud.  To what are we asking them to engage?  Our company?  OK.  So, what is our company like?  Do you really want them to be engaged in and to it?  Think of it as you might a romantic relationship.  As things progress, your love interest gets to see your quirks about washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.  This person, also, experiences you more fully, warts and all.  That relationship will likely require you to change some things – maybe you need to make the bed, to put your dishes in the dishwasher instead of the sink, to throw out your porn.  Whatever you need to do, you may do to make the environment for your relationship bloom and grow more. 

Those same considerations at the workplace should occur (If you have porn at the workplace…yikes.  Let’s talk offline).  What is the willingness of the executive team to sacrifice to allow the relationship of the company and its employees to bloom and grow?  If it’s locker room talk that needs to be addressed, then let it go.  Don’t make excuses for it.  Uncover biases and systemic limiters, and then remove them.  Inclusivity is a popular term, and a respectable one, but to what are we including people?  Once they see it, they may not want to be included.  What a sad possibility.  But it’s correctable.

It’s important to remember that this is not about politics.  That may have been the most recent context we’re seeing, but it’s not the only environment where such a lack of care about people is evident.  Our workplaces may be run by locker room talking, “real housewives” attitude-mongering, bulldozing leaders.  Confront it.  Categorizing people or a person in an unhealthy or demeaning manner is unacceptable.  Act upon it and work for change.

My life is full of strong women, Christians, disabled individuals, gay men, multi-cultural heritages and races.  I like them each individually.  And though I may look like you, please don’t come to me to share in a negative view or a demeaning approach regarding any of them or what they “represent.”  It’s not funny.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

More Than Words

Rating people is tough when you've got to put it on paper.  It's one thing to talk about someone, especially when behind his/her back.  So-and-so stinks at such-and-such a task.  But if you're in charge of reviewing someone, those words matter as they translate onto a page.  Ask yourself about context as much as content.

When Lucy and Ethel go to work in that classic chocolate-making production episode, their rating was pretty poor.  They over-exaggerated their abilities, they could not keep up with the line, they ate product while working and they tried to cover up their errors.  They were fired on their first day.  

From a television rating perspective, this episode started Season 2 with a bang.  It capitalized off of the ground-breaking work of the first season and set the tone for television sitcoms for decades to come, to this day.  The ratings for their work was at the highest levels.

So how do you give thought around context in order to frame the content?  A relevant evaluative process is more likely to give credibility to the results in the eyes of the employee, even when those results are less than excellent. 

Tactical - What is the hands on level of engagement into the organization's health?  Look at how the employee puts his/her time and talents into the company.  And, then be able to point to the result of such tactics.  Is there an organizational influence?  And while business bottom-line is the easiest metric to use, it limits our view.  For example, a survey might reveal that most employees feel comfortable in the workplace.  Find out why.  It may be because the front desk receptionist greets everyone warmly and genuinely.  It might be that he/she acknowledges others specifically for achievements, birthdays, tough times, etc. That person contributes to organizational health, despite the lack of a straight line to net profits.  That person has a line.  Look harder.

Experiential - How has the employee involved himself/herself in the company?  What have they experienced, either voluntarily or involuntarily?  Consider both causes.  Just because someone volunteers to do something, doesn't mean it was good for anyone involved (and yes, you can fire someone from a volunteer role...).  Maybe there are new processes initiated by an employee's willingness to try.  As such, they've been added to a workflow or perhaps replaced a previous workflow.  But just as important, maybe an employee rallied his/her department to participate in a walk for a particular disease-fighting organization.  Those experiences should not be lost if they don't fit into a clean bucket for the company's review pattern.  Go back to considering what those experiences have done for the organization.

Emotional - Odd, right?  We have so many emotionally-stunted people working in our industries that it's important to think through this.  Listen, hugs and kisses aren't what's really meant by emotional (although, I have been a good receiver of that type of love for years...don't stop!).  Emotion is tied to communication, critical thinking and behavior.  Do they not matter in a consideration of performance?  There is a great deal of teasing regarding millennials and their lack of consistent approach. "There's a stop sign ahead, but if you don't feel that the stop sign applies to you, then do what you think you should do.  Don't stop if you don't feel you should.  It's okay."  That perspective is not exclusive to one generation.  I still talk to some 60 year-old business executives who haven't figured out emotional health and they struggle to connect well with staff.  That's not good for business.

Social - How has community been fostered by this employee?  So many companies talk about how they're a family.  That invokes an employee's context about family.  What if my family is a bunch of narcissistic, inconsiderate, selfish jerks? (This is just an example, it's not a reflection on anyone in my family so please, Mom, don't text me and send me angry-faced emojis).  The consideration should be about fostering supportive, interpersonal relationships for the movement of the organization and for the building up of others.  Look at how an employee engages with his/her teammates.  Speak to dynamism, collaboration and group ingenuity.  That takes risk for each employee willing to be engaged at that level and we should be mindful of that healthy impact.

Of course, I know, that you have a performance review form that has many more areas to consider. But maybe, those other areas should be considered in this expanded context.  Haven't you heard, "But you don't know" from employees defending themselves from a manager's perspective?  Sure you have.  So, why is it that we don't know?  Looking holistically as well as specifically takes time, I get it, but it's the best way to consider talent.

Quite frankly, we don't have an never-ending supply of ready-to-wear talent. This type of consideration will enhance how we can better setup our staff for success through skill development, knowledge management and attitude improvement while reducing our turnover.  

If your manager sat with you to review your performance and began to share a limited view of your impact, you would want to say, "But you don't know."  Think about your staff saying that to you and be ready to offer the fuller context in light of the above areas.  Let them know that you do know.

Friday, September 23, 2016


The phrase "jump the shark" came into existence in 1977.  For those of you unfamiliar with this phrase, it is used to explain when something goes beyond the normative of the story line by adding unrealistic events or plot lines and is usually accompanied by a decline in quality.  The phrase is based upon the "Happy Days" episode where cool-guy water-skiing Fonzie jumps a shark while wearing his leather coat.  Seriously?  So bad.

Lots of shows have been categorized by their "jumping the shark" moments.  Often, you’ll notice the decline based upon set changes, character additions or subtractions, character job changes, etc.  A common approach is when an unexpected birth or addition of a child occurs in an effort to add years to a show.  As a kid, a string of this thinking occurred: Oliver from "The Brady Bunch", Sam from "Diff'rent Strokes", Andy from "Family Ties", Chrissy from "Growing Pains"...need I go on?  You would be hard-pressed to find a time when this has worked well for a show.

Similarly, you would be hard-pressed to find it working for companies.  For example, when companies decide that their products need to have a "smart" feature, is it just so that it connects to our phones and therefore is relevant?  Why do I need to check my phone to see if the pan I've placed on the stove is hot enough? Seriously, that's a thing.  In an effort to seem relevant, companies will sometimes gravitate blindly towards trends.  This does not make a company viable.  In fact, it might lead to the opposite (and often does).

And within some of our companies, we’ve jumped the shark.  The life support has been turned on for a department within your organization.  How did we get to this place?  HR, for example, often lives in fear that their department will be cut in some way.  And while it is not uncommon for HR to be one of the departments to experience a RIF if the time comes, does it happen because of a self-fulfilling prophecy?  If I think no one will ask me to the prom, I am likely walking around as if no one will ask me to the prom.  Those sad people will end up home on prom night sulking and eating a half gallon of ice cream while watching The Notebook on demand (this is what I’ve heard happens…I did not experience this, I swear).  HR can suffer from such an esteem issue.

Perhaps our department is trying to add more to what we do out of desperation for our leadership to see us as relevant.  We don’t sit home and eat ice cream, but rather, we explode into employee engagement – incentivizing, surveying, programizing.  We believe that this is the level of visible relevance we need to show.  See, we’re busy and we matter.  Can we get a contract for another 12 episodes, please?  Longevity does not mean impact.  This is a hard reality.  We believe, deep down, that if we last, we’re relevant.

That is not true.   

Our relevance comes from true, measurable impact in our organizations.  What is it we actually offer and fulfill?  What is the business bottom line that we're impacting?  What's been our effect on process, service or sales?  And while the latest and greatest may not be the route to go, how do you know?  Study the trends.  Understand fit.  Consider philosophy.  Take action.  

The challenge of knowing our people well - skills, aptitudes - is a vital offering that we can bring.  Proactively look for ways to make that priority happen.  From there, you can reference those results against the performance outcomes.  Measuring process and results are a universal language that require no posturing.  

Shake off the demons of feigned relevance.  They don't define success, nor do they define you.  Start attacking the work in front of you with passion and use the skills that have been dormant for a bit.  Assess what's working, what's not, develop a plan, gather resources and act out of greatness.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Managers grumble about the state of their employees from time to time (shocking, I know).  And while there might be lots to complain about, consider for a moment that the road you’re on is a two-way street.  The grumbling is traveling up and down both sides of the highway.  What are your employees saying about you? Some grumbling going on?

Well, of course, if that’s happening, then those employees are idiots.  Clearly.  I mean, you slave over work, you show up early, stay late, do jobs that no one notices…you’re a good man/woman.  Don’t these ungrateful leeches see that?

And therein, is the rub.  Maybe they don’t see it anymore, if ever.  Maybe it’s what you used to do, but you’ve become as complacent as you accuse your team of being.  It’s often subtle.  You don’t wake up one morning and decide to be less dedicated.  Rather, you might have allowed the tiredness of the path traveled to dictate your next moves.  And while it was only to be for a day, it’s now three months or three years later and the effects are being felt by your team.  They are now responding to what they’re experiencing.

My long time love, Molly Ringwald, in Pretty in Pink sits on her bed with Duckie (Jon Cryer).  She shares with him her hope that she’s not the only one who knows how incredible he is.  Duckie’s sad response is “Well, at this point in time, I’m afraid you are, honey.”   

It’s easy to blame you, right?  I mean, you’re the manager and everything stops with you.  Your boss barges into your office and demands results and explanations.  Your staff has been barging in demanding resources and complaining about you, the team, the work, etc.  You have it tough.  But you know what?  That comes with the territory.  You’re a manager.  Manage it.

Strong words, but necessary. 

Advancement is desired.  The mainstream talent management conversation is about succession planning and doing it quickly.  26-year old employees are looking to be CEO next year, if you believe every article written about it, and you can’t let that time get away from you to make it happen.  Removing the tongue from the cheek, an active, vibrant talent culture is one of collaboration, constant improvement and competency assessment and utilization.  Bringing less than our “A” game opens a door for staff to look outside of the department, at the very least, if not outside of the company. 

And while, this perspective is one for a three-day conference, a realistic first step is to sit down and ask yourself what you’ve done for your team lately.  Don’t allow rose-colored glasses of past sacrifices and engagements to color what you’re doing (or not doing) today.  I know you were the hero for the team in 2014, but it’s two years later.  That’s plenty of time to be forgotten, or at least, to be less impactful.

Every day is a day to crush it.  That’s not a pithy slogan.  That’s a business imperative.  The list is long and depressing of those companies that have closed or are a shell of what they used to be due to poor management and leadership.  And for almost all of them, what occurred was not a one-day issue.  The choices (or lack thereof) made did not align with the business mandate and were not delivered in a context for staff to understand.

Manage messaging as much as process and output.  Think about what you’re doing and act upon it.  While thinking is very important, it isn’t always a visible example to the team.  You sitting at your desk may not equate to an employee observing to self, “Oh, look at my awesome manager.  She is sitting at her desk looking at her computer.  I bet she’s considering staff morale and process improvement.  She’s so awesome.  I’m lucky to have her.”  Truth be told, it’s possible that’s what the manager might be doing at that moment, but it’s hard to know it as an observer.  Balance obnoxious bragging with informed considerate disclosure in conversation with your team.  Fill them in and deliver on what you’ve been contemplating.

The success of the past is just that.  It’s in the past.  Today, deliver something else.  The responsiveness from your staff will become what you desire it to be.  You’ll be setting a new tone or recovering a tone that once was.  The highway of complaining is replaced by one of vibrant complimenting.  Talent will know what can be done, who can do it and how it helps the whole.

Get up, hit the video below, shake your groove thing and think through a plan for yourself.  Today is that day.  As Janet says, “Soap opera says you’ve got one life to live.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Don't Dream It's Over

When summer wraps up, there is something tangibly ending in our lives.  So much effort and energy are spent prepping for this season.  Not all of us live in the eternal sunshine states of Florida, California and the like, so summer is a big deal!  As an east coast resident, the three months of summer are gold.  Lots of effort goes into how to best spend those 3 months (really, it’s 2.5, but I’m rounding up!).  Day trips, evening patio dinners, weekend excursions, 7-day vacations, etc. are scheduled.  We don’t want it to end.

Danny and Sandy spent their summer swimming (Sandy almost drowned!), holding hands, staying out late and making out (Sandy tells it differently than Danny on this point).  Their weeks of summer were the best ever, but alas, summer ended and school was upon them.  Sandy had to go back to her faraway home and Danny back to his T-Birds.

In the business community, it’s easy to romanticize our off-site meetings or team getaways.  We build them up like the summer days that Danny and Sandy had. We set that time as the goal.  And just as those crazy love bird teens found out, the destination isn’t the goal.  For our organizations, the destination can be the annual sales celebration meeting in the Bahamas or the executive leadership team getaway to the Cayman Islands.  Those are amazing destinations and they are certainly more appealing than a frozen tundra (unless you prefer freezing your tookus off). 

Listen, get me on that plane! But the trip doesn’t last.  For some of us, we know better.  We get that the location is valuable, but it’s not the end.  We, instead, focus on what we’ll do once we’re there.  We redo mission statements; we plan incredible team building exercises; we bring in fabulous speakers to encourage and motivate our teams.  Those are great things!  So much planning goes into them and the hope for a return is desired.

And yet, therein may be the rub.  When we get back to work, what happens?  Is the pattern of normal living returned to?  When Danny went back to Rydell High School, he donned his leather jacket, put the cigarette in his mouth and entertained the ladies.  The “time of his life” that he experienced over the summer was a memory.

Perhaps much of the effort should be put into what the outcomes will be.  Yes, make the time memorable, but the post-trip time should be just as memorable. 

This applies to on-site excursions, too.  Those fantastic programs you put together.  The speakers you’ve brought in.  The launch event that marketing spent weeks on.  All of that is valuable, but it's not the end.  The leadership for the company, or at least for the division, should be involved in planning for post-trip.  More than one person will need to hold people accountable to the application or implementation from the event.  The team should be decided ahead of time upon the objectives as well as how to measure them.  This is effort, yes, but it's effort that justifies the ROI of such programs.  

Think about marriage.  So much time is spent planning for the wedding day.  Dress, flowers, photographer, venue, etc.  It’s all so important.  Months of planning are done.  What if that were it?  What if at the end of the reception or honeymoon, the newly married couple says, “That was fun.  We should plan another one of these again.  Take care and hope to see you soon.”  Each of them returns to his/her walk of life prior to being married.  As observers, we would likely think that they’re crazy.  They just got married…it’s more than a wedding.

That same logic holds true to the programs, events and conferences we help organize.  Think long-term for your team.  Don’t be enthralled with the “wedding” alone.  Think of the “marriage.”   The event won’t have to end; it will live on in its application.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Can't Stop the Feeling

Standing firm in an opinion is admirable.  Standing firm in an opinion is foolishness.  Which is right?  I’ve had managers defend their stance to me in various contexts and situations.  And there are times I’ve agreed with them and there are times I’ve not.  There are times I’ve had to ask them what they were thinking (a question I have regretted asking upon occasion because they’ve told me).

Whose perspective gets to win out and why? Is it just based upon how we’re feeling? If so, that has to stop.  

Often, the person with the most power gets to win.  The executive, the c-suite, the board of of them can pull ahead in the winning viewpoint rather easily.  The trick might just be to work with this level in understanding the winning perspective as well as influencing it. 

Remember that freshman year of Psych 101?  One of the many classic truths taught was that people want to be heard and validated.  Our need to belong and to contribute runs deep.  When people, especially when they sit on the decision-making team, don’t feel that they can do or be these things, they leave, attack or, perhaps the worst, die inside.  We can influence someone who is ready to settle for one of these options.

Perhaps it might be a worthy exercise to provide some case studies to the executive team, leaving out the resolution, in order to foster discussion between them.  Why wait until there is a real situation to find out which opinion will win?  And from here, understand and influence such an opinion, where appropriate. 

If someone has the opportunity to share his/her perspective and to be heard in a safe environment, then the defenses are lowered.  A time for conversation and for consideration is easier to foster.  It’s here that those details which are illegal or morally questionable can be vetted thoroughly by those decision-makers.  It’s here that previous experiences can be shared to offer clarity around a particular perspective.  It’s here that the cause of the organization can be upheld stronger so that the decisions made are broader in context.

The natural question that arises here is, “Who decides who is right?”  Well, that’s where the forum matters so much.  Our ability to foster dialogue is crucial; however, if we cannot do this in an environment where the sharing of thoughts can happen, it will not produce the desired results.  Our impact is based upon the results that come from such a time.  With the end in mind, it behooves us to ensure that the environment is healthy for dialogue.  Remember, just being able to express a view and for it to be heard clearly is a large part of the battle. 

But, it must be understood, that there may be a divide between positions.  There will have to be an ultimate decision made.  Respect for the next steps of those individuals on the opposing side should be offered.  If someone feels so strongly about an opinion that he/she needs to leave the organization, then that’s okay.  You’ve established an environment for that person to share the different view, as well as to be heard.  Being heard is not the same as full agreement.  We help cultivate maturity through situations like this.

This is not wishful thinking, by the way.  I’ve sat in board meetings where perspectives and opinions were being shared.  People were being heard, but these people were also the hearers of others’ expressed opposite viewpoints.  It’s not about making everyone think the same.  Group think has lots of issues to contend with, too.  This is about readying your team to act when it needs to.  This is about ensuring a path towards an appropriate response in situations.  This is about allowing each other to find out where the edges have to be smoothed out or where they need to be left sharp.

In Mommie Dearest, Faye Dunaway portrays Joan Crawford.  It’s an ugly look into the movie star’s life and her influence on her children.  There is one ancillary scene towards the end of Joan’s life where her husband, Al Steele, has died and left her with his seat on the board for Pepsi Cola.  She attends the first meeting afterwards only to be patronized by the remaining all-male board and “kindly” offered to be excused.  It was the first time a woman had been on the board.  The men did not know how to respond and had not worked through it ahead of time.  They were made to feel ridiculous and she offered a solid perspective on it that they could not dispute, but only to welcome her onto the board.

And while there are laws today which would prevent what Joan Crawford went through, there are still plenty of perspectives out there.  Someone has to listen to them, to understand them, to challenge them, even if it’s just to be prepared with a response as to why it’s the way it is.  Oh, and “because I said so” is not a thoughtful response or position.  Just in case that’s what your plan was.

Friday, July 22, 2016


The challenge of negativity isn’t new.  We fight it everyday.  When we are faced with it, what is our normal response?  Walk away?  Join in?  Yikes.

Kit, the pitcher in A League of Their Own, is negative throughout most of the movie.  Manufacturing sympathy for her is tough.  She is a whiner.  She brings down those around her.  She is frustrated with the sister who seems to have everything.  She is obnoxious to her teammates.  She is negative about her life and wants to bring others down around her.

Think about how critical the pitcher is to the team.  What does it do to the team to have someone like this at the mound?  How many of these people work with or for us?  And while you might want to fight this person, just as happens in one scene of the movie, work policy is likely to prohibit you from doing so. 

Confrontation is appropriate.  You do not need to allow this person to monopolize your time or to jeopardize the flow of the rest of the team due to such negativity.  It is not okay.

Make the business case first.  Log the hours given in support of this negative person, to try to move him/her beyond the perceived issues.  Log the hours given in support of correction of the frustrated team communication.  Log the hours given in conversation with other team members who struggle to work with that negative person.  Those hours have a cost, with very little ROI. 

Often the pattern for a manager is to have all of these conversations, but the functional team dynamic remains the same.  The cycle of engagement is not impacted and the status quo returns a day after addressing the issue.  Management does little usually to course-correct the department.  The symptom gets address – frustration, lack of communication, hurt feelings – but the cause – the negativity of a person – is left because we don’t know what to do.

Sit with Mr./Ms. Negative and share the logged hours.  Show him/her how much time has been spent because of him/her.  Let the time be a factual example that the behavior has caused.  You’re not saying the classic, “I spend so much time dealing with your stuff.”  That’s too general and will likely cause the negative employee to be remorseful for a moment but with no lasting repercussion.  When management is specific to the time, a line can be drawn in the sand to say enough.

A manager should further make the business case regarding lack of productivity.  In all of the hours spent by the manager in dealing with the situations caused by the negativity, rest assured it’s about the same for the team members involved.  They are not on task because of having to address the related issues of the negativity.  And every member of the team is valuable.  It should be very easy to show the negative employee that the team is not here to deal with these issues; it’s not part of their job description.  The cost of lost productivity is real and can be shared as an amount based upon time, hourly rate, cost of goods, and other operational & production costs.  

Giving the negative person truth and fact is the most respectful way to engage.  It will allow the conversation to move away from feeling, which is the default position, and rest purely on fact.  Management must engage on a level that moves the negative person out of his/her own perspective and into one that includes the company’s purpose.  Often, the negative individual sees his/her role as unappreciated at the company.  By sharing factual information, the negative person is offered a different (and more correct) view of how the company sees him/her.  When confronted with such information, management can be deliberate about the path of engagement moving forward.

Management will need to follow through on this.  If we’re serious that the waste of time is enough, then we must act upon that.  No more resources of time, team members and operational productivity will be wasted on such negativity.  Everything isn’t terrible, everything isn’t against you and everything isn’t about you.  Clearly act on this.

And while management may feel that the negative person is too tough to handle, a better view is to think about the team members that aren’t receiving such attention despite the great work being done.  The squeaky wheel getting the grease isn’t a long-term strategy for success.  Affirm the right behaviors more than the wrong; look at the time you’re spending on the wrong and make corrections.

Keep in mind, too, that this negative person can follow the path that Kit did.  She got traded.  Don’t wait too long to trade your Kit.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Can't Take My Eyes Off of You

Tenacious resolve.  Boy, it can be annoying.  Once or twice a week, I am on a train.  When I hop a train to New York City, I find a person or two with this tenacity around seating.  These people would sooner cut you than have you sit next to them.  They put their briefcase or purse on the seat next to them.  Fearful people walk by the open seat for fear of reprisal from the presumed bold person who would dare hold the seat with baggage.  I have watched a passenger stand by the seat, look down at the purse, look over at the owner seated next to it (who never looks up, to the right or to the left), and then walk on.  Where is the resolve? 

For those who’ve traveled with me, you could attest to the fact that I am of the type to board the train, pick up the baggage on the open seat, hand it over to the owner and sit happily for the remainder of the ride.  Only once did I have the baggage owner say something to me.  I did not look up, to the left or to the right.  I consoled myself with the thought of throwing momma from the train (probably the only positive context I can offer from that movie).  I exude resolve in that kind of circumstance.

This trait is not found in all people naturally.  It is, however, something that can be learned.  Tenacity is grown from a response to a core belief.  In the previous example, fairness is violated.  If fairness or justice or a sense of right and wrong matter to you, that can be built upon to develop tenacity around defending such a position or offering active engagement to its display.  It’s a manifestation of your belief system.

Think about your goals for this year.  It’s halfway through the year.  Do you still believe in them?  Take some time to measure where you’ve gotten with them and what’s needed to accomplish these goals.  But also, assess the tenacity with which you’ve approached the path towards those goals.  Do you fight for them?  Is your resolve deep around them?

Goals are important.  For as much as they’ve been over-complicated in creation, the point of them remains strong.  Goals serve as a beacon.  They are to drive the daily strain.  They allow for mile-markers of celebration on the path towards them.  They are the driving force of an organization.  If you don’t know where you want to go, then where are we going?

Being strong in our resolve towards these goals takes an unapologetic position.  Unapologetic is not the same as mean.  Be tenacious in protecting those goals, even if there is an alteration that has to happen to them.  Updating goals based upon new information is healthy.  If the new information is that you’re tired or it’s too hard, that is not healthy.  Goals should be designed to stretch you.  Easy to say, yes, but the point is to work hard to get this challenging objective. 

If you want to increase sales by 50%, calls will have to be made, networking will be expanded, pitching product and services will have to increase 100%, etc.  All of this takes great effort.  If you are not committed to the goal, then tenacity around it won’t develop.  Come back to goal creation.  Where do you want to get to and why?  Answer that clearly and create objectives to get there.

For those who are privileged to lead a team, work with each individual to develop strong resolve around the goals set.  Help them to know how to get to where they’d like to be.  Avoid the common issue of goals being set to paper, and then little else.  You have a great chance to enhance and develop skill sets for your team.  And then the celebration around accomplishment is even sweeter when it’s a collaborative effort of support and encouragement.

Fight more for the goals you’ve set.  Don’t cower.  Stand up and move towards accomplishment of those goals.  Remain laser-focused.  If someone has put a piece of luggage in your seat, move it.  You paid for your ticket.  You were up early to get the train.  You have a goal to get to the destination ahead.  See?  Think about goal-pursuit in simpler ways; it will help to foster tenacity.  And once you have the resolve behind the goals, watch out world!

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Starting over sounds like fun.  Remember when Billy Madison got to do all 12 years of school over again?  He challenged his father to let him redo each grade from 1st to 12th for two weeks per grade.  The goal was for Billy to show that he can work hard on his own, and therefore, be qualified to take over the family business.  And as a gibberish-speaking, Nintendo-playing, flaming bag of doggie poo lighting, raging drunk, that was going to be quite a feat.

Now perhaps you work for such a company owner.  Maybe, like Billy, your leader beat the odds and somehow ended up in the leader seat, despite having to wear loafer or Velcro shoes only due to an inability to tie a shoelace.  Maybe you’re wishing for your own do-over, or least the quickest escape. 

We both know that repairing the mistakes of others is an uphill climb.  It’s exhausting and it’s deflating to the soul.  Better would be to have a prevention plan in place and work from proactivity.  But this is for another blog….

What stands out from this is a positional consideration.  It’s very true that being at the ready with a dust pan and brush stinks, but consider using different tools and a different context.

If you’ve been positioned as a janitor, despite being hired for what you thought was a different role, act like you’re working in the position you were hired for.  Stop taking on only a cleaning role, but more, stop letting others think that is your role.  You can’t always quit your job and just start over somewhere else.  It’s not that easy.  Enact subtle changes now to re-position yourself into the role you were hired for originally.

What if, instead of loathing the company owner described above, you chose to be a partner?  Put yourself on his/her schedule for breakfast or lunch.  Ask about his/her hopes for the company.  Ask how he/she hopes to get that done.  Ask how he/she sees the organization needing to change or bend to make that happen.  Put down the broom and pick up a pen (or iPad).  Have a couple of meals together to unpack these questions and the ones they’ll lead to.  Take notes.  You’ll see the small ways you can insert your expertise and ideas into the conversation.  You can begin to change the view of your role in that leader’s eyes.

Come back to mission and vision.  Plan, in your second to fourth meal time, to bring up what you understand the mission to be.  How does your manager see it?  Are there connections to the expressed hopes for the organization?  You’re now moving into an analytical posture with your leadership.  That’s an attractive position because it opens the door wider for analysis of the organization.

Look at the team around you, too.  Where are strengths being used?  Where are they lacking?  And is the right person doing the right thing?  You already know that your role has mutated unhealthily, so don’t be surprised that others are suffering in the same way.  Put down the dust pan and pick up a conductor’s baton.  Pull them out of it and put them in places to showcase the hirable skills originally displayed.  And if there are tasks that need to be done, get them done, but be smart about assigning them.  Look to see where those tasks make the most sense.  Remember, you can then speak to your manager about this thoughtfulness and restructuring in the context of the conversations you’ve been having with him/her.

That alignment is a display of giftedness meant for your role.  Granted, clean-up is important, especially when you first get to a company.  However, don’t stay in that posture.  Just because you can clean up doesn’t mean you should always do it.  And if there is that much going on, something is broken and you can fix it.

A stumble along this new path may occur.  You might find that the last week has put you back into clean-up mode only.  It’s okay.  You’re re-training yourself as well as others.  A step back is not uncommon.  Just make a course correction.

You can start over right where you are.  Make weeks into escapades rather than preparation to escape!  You don’t need to go back to first grade to prove you have something valuable to offer.  But, if you start seeing giant penguins running around the office, the pressure has definitely gotten to you.  Time to use some PTO.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Are We Ourselves?

Assertive versus Aggressive.  Confidence versus Conceit.  As a leader, we might display one over the other.  There was a guy I knew in high school who parlayed confidence into conceit on a regular basis.  He annoyed the crap out of me, but I found myself swimming in his lane to fight back.  I had become that rude jerk.  I was merely trying to be an assertive alpha male (my skinny frame didn't make it so easy to do....stupid track team), but it didn't translate that way to others.

While an assertive person channels and promotes good communication, the slide into aggression parlays that into interruption and talking over people.  It's a subtle slide.  There are characteristics that start healthy enough but then become twisted and contorted by a shifting foundation.

Is there something more lurking just a little deeper?  A lack of self-esteem may be at play.  It's not to say you don't have any self-esteem, but rather it's development might be askew.  Dr. Michael Miller, former editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, says, “It’s more likely that self-esteem will come as a result of accurate self-understanding, appreciation of one’s genuine skills, and the satisfaction of helping others.”  As managers, is this our stance?

Observations for years show me how much management often find their identity in the work they do.  This becomes the basis for self-worth and self-esteem.  And this is a simple recipe for disaster.  When we base our esteem upon shifting sand, such as a particular organization, the work being done or even the people we work with, the foundation is based upon change.  People leave, we leave, the work changes and organizations are sold, merged, restructured or altered.  If we live for the company, we will be disappointed.

Our audience, however, might be receiving management poorly based upon the dilemma of assertive/aggressive or confidence/conceit.  Again, if it's a matter of self-esteem, your staff can easily identify the difference.  When a manager is over-the-top or a micro-manager, the talk among employees will start rather quickly.  It sets a tone for response that's based upon someone's individual needs (in this case, the manager) rather than the good of the whole.  Staff begin to look for ways to avoid the wrath of a manager or even seeing the manager at all.  These goals supersede the goals of the department in the work to be done.

Such a backwards setup.  We short-circuit the efforts towards our department's goals by the way in which we struggle to handle ourselves and the workload, for instance.  Help is an okay option.  It's not a sign of weakness, despite the possibility that your employer may think so.  And while I know your job is important to you (your finances, for example!), it cannot be that you should become less of the person you are or are meant to be.  Simple to say, right?  But what does it profit you to be aggressive, struggling with self-esteem or self-worth and not meet the goals you've set for work?  Right the ship.  Take the time necessary to unravel what's been going on.

Typically, managing the esteem of a manager is not on a job description, yet we see it happen.  Don't be the manager putting employees in this situation.  Get grounded outside of the work.  Then, when work needs to be done, it is a matter of how to best do it, apart from it fulfilling some esteem needs.  And while I am far from a self-help guru, I do know enough that there is truth that a person must discover for himself/herself that is separate from work, from a person or from status.  Take the time to examine yourself and find out what's true about you.

In human resources, we can find ourselves giving so much to others, which is a part of our job, that we tax our own foundation.  We must be sure to connect inwardly.

Pushing the envelope is worth it.  Don't fear being assertive.  It does matter in driving the goals of your department.  However, it is meant to be done with a specific goal in mind for the organization, not for your esteem.  If work defines you, take a small step back and look at the bigger picture.  Your role needs you to be as with it as possible.  You are the one in the role for a reason.  Get back to you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Don't Worry, Be Happy

There are almost 92,000 books being sold on right now that contain the word "happy" in the title.  This does not necessarily include all of the books that are actually about happiness.  Nor the ones that are about satisfaction, contentment or peace.  

#WorkHuman was a conference recently held by +Globoforce in Orlando. And while it was a conference founded upon recognition thoughts and strategies, there was a push towards happiness that I found refreshingly interesting.

From a scientific approach, the concept of happiness was explored by Shawn Achor.  What benefit is there to happiness in the workplace?  Of course, we would rather people be happy than sad at work.  It's not likely that any of us looks to see a line of sad people outside of our door that we need to convert to happy ones.  However, there is something to be said about our ability to promote a happier culture.  +JetBlue VP of People Michael Elliott shared how it's the job of HR, for example, to sell the success stories of the company.  Preach the ways we shine.  We have an opportunity to support the core values and encourage the mission of our organizations through a pursuit of happiness.

Consider, however, the concept of joy.  Happiness tends to be an emotional consideration, and while there are fuller perspectives, joy is more of a state of being.  What can we do to foster this level of consideration?  How can pursuing the right perspective of such a state of being impact workplace culture?
  • Where does the joy come from? - Look for ways to push those around us to consider self-awareness.  Not necessarily in the metaphysical sense, but think of it in light of the wellness and mindfulness initiatives available to us.  Grounding people is a gift.  Very often, we get ensnared by the busyness of our roles.  We need to motivate ourselves to do our work because it's an expression of who we are.  Look to align the joy being cultivated in you around the functional roles of existence.  If it's out of line, you'll sense it clearly.  Adjust this in a timely manner and, then, recalibrate.
  • What can the joy do for others? - In addition to the ways joy brings a stability to self, the joy one has can serve as a beacon to those looking to secure their own.  Reflecting the active nature of joy will inspire others, but will be done as a genuine by-product.  Manufacturing a trite or programmatic approach to this will be apparent to others observing, and the initiative will fail.  The honesty that joy gives is infectious and truthful.  There is something so attractive about someone who is naturally full of joy.  If you have known someone like this, think about how he/she made you feel.  Don't hide the joy at work; live it fully and others will observe it.
  • What will work be like in light of joy? - A study in Britain showed that providing happiness outlets, even in small doses, could increase productivity by as much as 12%.  12%?!  Think about that.  That could be tens of thousands to hundreds of millions for our companies.  Amazing to think that encouraging happiness could lead to such results.  And the feeling of happiness leads to an openness to joy, contentment and satisfaction.  When workplaces cultivate this type of depth, talent does not look to leave as willingly, especially those who've worked in other environments.  There will be a great appeal to remain connected and committed to who and what the company is.
None of this is meant to cover up the difficulties that come along with living.  Sickness, financial strain, divorce, death...all of this and more vie for our attention and steal our joy.  We should not look to be smiling idiots or attempt to gloss over the pain that others might have.  We're still people, People!  

The thoughts here are reflective of the measurable affect that happiness can bring to the workplace.  While at this conference, +The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research founder was on-hand to share his perspective on life.  To hear someone who could have become rather bitter and jaded at the unfairness of life, share that he loves his life, is humbling.  The gripes about work - the amount to do, the managers that annoy and the lack of variety of coffee flavors - find a better context and become minimized in light of such a perspective.  Michael J. Fox shared his heart and his joy.  The lesson for all of us is to do the same.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Love Yourself

Almira Gulch.  What a name.  It's fraught with constipation and furrowed eye brows.  And while it wasn't her idea to be named that, she found a way to fulfill the name's intent.  Wait?  You don't know who Almira Gulch is?  Really?  You might know her by her stage name - The Wicked Witch of the West.  In The Wizard of Oz, Almira is the black and white version of her technicolor green self.  And she delivers deliberate cruelty and fear across the spectrum of color.  And while Dorothy ultimately destroys her (she liquidated her, according to the Wizard), there is a scene prior to the trip to Oz that is symbolic of HR.

Auntie Em, the perennial calling card for home, is face to face with Almira Gulch.  Em has the perfect opportunity to tell Almira off.  Ms. Gulch has come to take away Toto (not Toto!), and it's crushing to the young Dorothy.  Em's maternal instinct kicks in and she's ready to take on this brash lizard of a woman.  And what does she say?  "Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn't mean that you have the power to run the rest of us. For twenty-three years, I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now... well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it!"  NO!

Why didn't she say it?  We're all there with her.  We want Em to haul off and deck her, honestly, and instead she leads us up to the finish line and then falls down just prior.  So frustrating.  We tend to do the same in HR.  

Think about terminations.  There are some that bring great joy to our hearts, admit it.  We're thrilled to see this slug of a human being exit our organization.  This person has been the bane of our existence for too long.  We've spent hours on this person and the situations created as a result.  And while there was hopefully some good that came through it all (management training, refinement of the discipline process), it is still a huge sigh of relief that he/she is gone.

Far be it from me to get my Philly on and ask you to just tell the person off on his/her way out (If you need that help, though, my mom is available for a reasonable cost...she's fantastic at it).  However, there is a truth to be shared.  In terminations, for example, it is helpful to the person for us to share what he/she can take from the experience in prep for the next role.  Frankly, we preach that formal reviews should contain nothing that hasn't already been shared with the employee.  So, sitting with the person on the way out to remind him/her of the progression shouldn't be new news.  What it is though is an honest recap of truth.

Haven't you hired someone and three months later think, "How did this person ever hold a job?"  And yet, they've worked for ten years' previous.  Likely, managers were just glad to see them go and didn't share much to help that person transition to the next role. 

And don't wait for a termination.  Give honest perspective throughout.  Are you afraid of being sued?  Seriously?  Anyone can sue any company for any reason.  Why fear what can happen no matter what?  I've watched companies get served lawsuits that are baseless and untrue, and yet still have to settle.  I don't think I am bitter in this, but rather, I take it as constructive freedom.

Please don't lose your basic HR communicative flow.  Frame your words, be thoughtful and encourage dialogue.  Ask perspective questions of the employee.  Be knowledgeable of the situation and prepared to discuss.  And tell the truth.

I would love to tell off a million people, give or take a thousand, but that's not ultimately for their benefit.  However, don't swing the pendulum too far the other way.  Don't live in fear and therefore not share enough.  Give people constructive feedback in an honest framework.  And if you need the release, go outside, behind the building and lose your mind.  And then come in, visit security, watch the video footage and crack yourself up.  You'll be back in the right frame of mind afterwards.