Friday, June 30, 2017

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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.