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.