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.”