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Monthly Archives: June 2015

Ninjas in our midst: in praise of undercover leaders (dispatch from #SHRM15)

Note: This week I am at the Annual National SHRM Convention in Las Vegas, NV. And in case you’re wondering if it it’s hot in Las Vegas in July, the answer is HELL YES. The heat…my god, man, THE HEAT.

Not everyone likes to go to conferences.

There are a lot of people. Vendors looks desperate. There are too many sessions that seem to look the same, and if you have to get on one more shuttle bus, you may burst into tears.

Now multiply that by about 15,000.  Because that’s how many HR professionals have descended upon Las Vegas for the annual SHRM National Convention.

They come for a variety of reasons – some come to get their recertification credits, some to see specific speakers, some to raid the Expo Hall, and yes…some come just because they want a company-sponsored trip to Vegas. (Don’t judge – you’re just mad you didn’t think of it.)

I would argue, however, that the vast majority come to reconnect with others who share their experience, skills, and intereninja2sts. They come because they want to meet the people they’ve connected with over the years. They come because they want to learn from others.

And they come because so many of these HR professionals are LEADERS.

No, they don’t have the fancy title. In fact, many of them don’t even think of themselves as leaders. They are HR folks doing the best they can to help their organizations be successful. And in the process, they prove their leadership.

These folks ask good questions in sessions. They stay behind to challenge the speaker on points made during a session. They engage with their peers on the Expo Floor or while waiting for the shuttle. They ask how the conference is going when riding the elevator down to the lobby each morning. They challenge the thinking of those around them, aren’t afraid to call something bullshit when it is exactly that, yet they don’t tear down – they help build.

This wouldn’t surprise the people who know them, because back in the office, these same HR professionals nudge and influence, support and coerce the employees and leaders working in their organizations. They keep the trains running AND challenge the status quo – all without calling attention to themselves. It’s about the outcomes, silly.

They are leadership ninjas. You don’t even realize they were there – but you feel their effects long after they’re gone. (And some of them are partial to black. No idea why.)

Are you noticing the “ninjas” in your organization? Are you willing to recognize leadership based on actions, not words? Are you able to empower based on behaviors, not title?

Don’t underestimate the power of these covert leaders…because I guarantee there are others in the organization who notice their influence and rely on their leadership capabilities.

When these HR professionals return to their organizations, eager to share what they experienced and itching to try some new things, give them some grace. Leaders DO. Leaders ACT. Leaders TRY. The worst thing you can do is look at them like they’ve grown a second head because these people want to implement something new.

So be quiet. Stand back.

You may be surprised what a ninja can do.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2015 in Authenticity, Personal Development

 

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Ride into the Danger Zone (stepping out and taking a risk)

This week I am attending the WorkHuman 2015 Conference in Orlando, Florida. The goal of this conference is to help companies find ways to create a community of support and positivity that brings greater meaning to everyone’s work lives.  I’ll share what I learn here and on Twitter (@mkfaulkner43 #WorkHuman). 


 

If you’re going to make a mistake, make a mistake of passion.
–  Dr. Montgomery, jazz teacher

If I had a pick a word for Day One of WorkHuman, I would say it’s Balance.

Day Two, I would pick Risk. As in, take more of them.

I like this word. In fact, I LOVE this word. Risk. It’s a good one and it reminds all of us that innovation and greatness doesn’t come from sitting on our ass waiting for someone to tell us the best way to do things. We have to go for it.

All the keynote speakers so far today – Rob Lowe (yes, he IS that pretty in real life) and Nilofer Merchant (FOLLOW HER) – pushed the idea of stretching your comfort zone, taking big risks, not being afraid to fail, to BE WEIRD.

We are so hard-wired to stay in our boxes, follow the rules, conform. It’s time we embrace the fact that danger is a necessary ingredient to realizing our full potential.

We all work with and for people who never look outside of the four walls of their particular business, who believe the experience they have and the way they have always done things is exactly the right and best way to do it.

And you know what? It might be. For them. In that system. In that industry.

But for the rest of us? We need to be bold. We need to show courage. We need to stop thinking and start doing.

As employees, this means sharing our ideas and making proposals that we think are smart. Yes – there is a very real chance that it will get shot down the first, second, tenth time. But if you don’t believe in your idea enough to keep reworking it, getting more data, and trying again, why do you think anyone else would believe in it? The approval of others isn’t the only measure as to whether or not you have a good idea. Just because they don’t see it and get it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

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As leaders, it means stopping our incessant need to “protect” – to protect what we have, to protect what our teams have, to protect some perceived notion of security. Leaders are EXACTLY in the right position to rock the boat – and rock it a lot – in order to move their business forward. Leaders have the influence, the knowledge, and the audience to be able to take real risk and make a difference. Leaders will set the example that risk-taking – and potential failure – is okay, encouraged, and ultimately, valued because of the impact it can have on the organization.

It doesn’t mean you get to be stupid about it.

It means you believe in the validity of an idea so much that you want it to succeed.

It means you believe in yourself enough that you know you are someone worth taking a risk for.

Risk taking is contagious. It breaks the status quo and challenges our assumptions about what we do, how we do it, and most importantly, why we do it. Risk taking made Rob Lowe a star and made Nilofer Merchant a successful businesswoman and author. They embraced their drive, embraced their beliefs, embraced a dream. And that’s why they’re standing on a stage telling the rest of us how to take risks – because they’ve already done it.

Embrace the danger. Move the business forward. Move yourself forward.

Take a risk.

 

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
– T. S. Eliot

 
 

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HR is burned out…why leaders should care

This week I am attending the WorkHuman 2015 Conference in Orlando, Florida. The goal of this conference is to help companies find ways to create a community of support and positivity that brings greater meaning to everyone’s work lives.  I’ll share what I learn here and on Twitter (@mkfaulkner43 #WorkHuman). 


Any time you go to an HR-related conference, you meet amazing people, are exposed to new (and old) ideas, and get a sense of what life is like in others’ work worlds.

You also inevitably hear complaints.

This is not unique to an HR conference. Get any two people who work for a living together and they will start complaining about their office, or their boss, or some process they hate. It’s human nature to vent, and conferences are a breeding ground for it because this is a new group of people who has never heard our stories before. And we love a fresh audience.

What does strike me at the more recent HR conferences I’ve been to is that the stories have moved away from the “You won’t believe what this employee did” variety to more of the “I don’t think I can do this anymore” variety. HR professionals are feeling stretched thin, trying to juggle the ongoing demands of changing regulations and administration with the increased pressure to be strategic and bring value, and oh, by the way – plan the company picnic.

In short – HR is burned out.Oxygen Mask

They are sick of hearing about how they are the problem. They are sick of hearing about how employees are their problem. They are sick of employees complaining about their bosses, and they are sick of hearing managers complain about their employees.

They’re also tired. HR people don’t always get a full night’s sleep.

So why does this matter to leaders? Why should you care if HR is burned and cranky?

Because that HR person needs to have your back. They need to help advise you on the right decisions to make. They need to help you balance dollars and humanity. They craft the strategy that helps attract and retain your talent, and they hold you accountable to those promises you made during that all team meeting. They also help you deliver difficult messages with grace, keep egg off your face (if you let them), and have some pretty great ideas about how to help the business reach the next level of awesomeness.

And if HR is burned out…they may be less inclined to do those things for you. Sure, they’ll make sure the employees are paid and legal, but you won’t get all the extras that you take for granted.

In a morning keynote, Arianna Huffington spoke elegantly about the power of renewal – of putting the care of ourselves first so that we can facilitate the care of others. She compared it to: “In case of emergency, place your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” It results in better health, better innovation, better creativity, and better productivity.  It results in RESULTS.

HR is often the worst at taking its own advice. We work through lunch. We come in early and on weekends, we stay late to meet with employees afraid to meet during business hours. We respond to emails at all hours of the night because an executive forgot to tell us something that we really need to know before that meeting in the morning. We do this because many of us are martyrs who think we have to. And we do this because we care that things are done to expectations.

This comes at a cost.

Leaders – don’t take HR for granted. Help them set the example that the rest of the organization can follow. Tell them to go home on time. Tell them to stop responding to emails. Don’t enable their need to please. Help them set boundaries…and then allow them to KEEP those boundaries. No one gets to break that rule. No one.

In the end, you will have more effective HR, more effective employees, and a more successful business.

And HR conferences will be filled of fun stories again, instead of good people at the end of their tether.

 

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2015 in Self-Awareness, Teamwork

 

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Finding sanity with a bit of sunshine

This week I will be attending the WorkHuman 2015 Conference in Orlando, Florida. The goal of this conference is to help companies find ways to create a community of support and positivity that brings greater meaning to everyone’s work lives. This conference is unique in that it’s not just about keynote speakers. The days start with yoga or a run, there are breaks during the day to connect with people, there are interactive discussions. It’s helping us practice what we preach. I’ll share what I learn here and on Twitter (@mkfaulkner43 #workhuman). 


We live and work in a world where there is no “off” switch. We come to work early, we leave late, we don’t take breaks, we eat lunch at our desk. And for this, we feel like we don’t get any work done.

When stress is high and achievement is low, it affects employees. People get stressed. People get fussy. When people get stressed AND fussy, there is no end to the drama. There’s a sour buzz in the air. People don’t want to give others the benefit of the doubt. Dumb mistakes get made. Fingers get pointed. All because we think we have to BE SEEN doing work – putting in the extra hours, toiling away at our desks so we can brag/complain about all the time we worked this week.

What the hell is wrong with us, people??!!!

First of all, we’re not solving the world’s problems by working that many hours. In fact, it makes us less productive. So good job, we’re costing the company money AND not getting good work done.

Second of all, we’re not the lone sufferers we seem to think we are. Research shows only 1 in 5 American workers take a lunch. Those people are blissful and happy and know what the weather is outside without having to check their weather app. Everyone else eats like crap at their desk because some how they think that they’ll get extra credit for being a fricking martyr.942472-work-holiday

I’m guilty of “eat at desk” syndrome. Most of the time it’s because my lunch hour is usually the only “free time” I have to catch up on emails or do actual work. But that’s no excuse. I know it impacts my creativity and ability to think critically. It also make me cranky if I’m inside all day when the sun is shining after weeks of non-stop rain. (Seriously. We’re done for now.)

And so, one day this week, I decided I didn’t want my sensible Progresso Light Soup (I’m partial to the Chicken Corn Chowder, in case you’re picking some up). I wanted fish and chips. And I wanted to eat it outside on a patio. So a group of us went and did exactly that. We got away from the office and sat in the fresh air and ate like crap (okay that part didn’t change). But what DID change is that we were able to reset for the rest of the day, and in same ways, for the rest of the week. It was like a mini-vacation. I even got a little sunburn. It was glorious.

So what did we learn from our impromptu luncheon adventure?

We learned that lunch breaks are there for a reason. That being an exempt employee does NOT mean being exempt from lunch breaks. And that eating fish and chips outside on a patio in the bright sunshine is an essential part of surviving the rat race.

The next time you find yourself approaching burnout, or snapping at your colleagues a little too easily, or struggle to write more than 4 words in a row that make sense – stop and think about the last time you had a lunch break. Then stand up and walk outside. You won’t get fired. You won’t get yelled at.

You earned that break, dammit.

So take it.

 

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2015 in Decision Making, Self-Awareness

 

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Self-fulfilling prophecies and the danger of labels

Read through the following scenario and pay attention to how you interpret it:

An employee, Shaun, shows up very late on a Friday morning. Shaun typically isn’t a morning person and has been a couple of minutes late once or twice in the past – but never like this. He is bleary-eyed, disheveled, and appears to be having trouble concentrating. He is in his early 20s, the same as a group in the office that likes to go out and party on Thursday nights. When you ask Shaun what’s going on, he is evasive, fumbling for answers that would make you happy. 

A week ago, you had a similar incident occur in which the employee actually had a hangover and had accidentally deleted an important spreadsheet and was trying to cover it up. And there have been a lot of system issues lately that you believe are caused by your employees not knowing what they’re doing and creating extra records that don’t need to be there.

Know how you’d react? It wouldn’t be surprising if you assumed Shaun is just like the other employees of his generation. After all, you’ve read all about their work-life balance YOLO lifestyle. You’re in the know. Time to act – right?

But there’s more to the story:

When pressed, Shaun tells you that he knew that the system slowdown was affecting everyone’s productivity, and he decided to stay late on Thursday to remove the extraneous records that were slowing down the system. It took longer than he thought it would, and he didn’t want to get in trouble for not telling you.

Dang it – your label failed you.

The Power of Labels

In 1968, third grade Iowa schoolteacher Jane Elliott wanted to teach her students about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King and the dangers of racism – the worst kind of labeling. How do you get children to understand such a high level concept? By letting them experience LABELS. She started the day by explaining that blue-eyed children are smarter, prettier, and all around better than brown eyed children. After lunch, she changed it and and explained it turns out that brown-eyed children are smarter and better.

The speed with which these children accepted the roles into which they were assigned – aggressor and victim – is terrifying. It is even more terrifying when you consider that Jane Elliott was completely transparent about what she was doing with the children. She explained it’s an exercise. She explains what she wanted them to learn. And yet, the labels were SO strong, the children’s performance in learning exercises went DOWN when they were the “dumb” group. [Watch A Class Divided for the entire documentary. It’s amazing and well worth your time.]

label-maker1

So why do I bring this up?

Because labels are powerful – and we use them ALL THE TIME.

We talk about generations (Do you know how to recruit Millennials? Are you ready for the ennui of Gen X? Do you care what Generation Z will do???). We talk about high potentials. We talk about “difficult people.” We talk about A Players, B Players, engineers, IT, HR, “leaders”, “followers” – all of them labels. And each of these labels comes with preconceived notions about the person who has that label can and cannot do.

Listen, I get that labels can help. We have to categorize things in order to process the amount of information we encounter every day. But we also have to be aware of the impact our labels have.

Words Matter

As a leader, the labels you place on your employees are especially powerful, and are most often given within the first day of meeting a person. A “promising employee” or “hard worker” tends to get more benefit of the doubt than a “slow worker” or “troublemaker.” It’s even worse when an executive labels an employee they’ve met once. I’ve known an employee who carried the label of not being terribly smart because on her very first day, an executive asked her a question about a process she didn’t know the answer to. ON HER FIRST DAY. This employee was very smart, and very capable – and every talent discussion we had to combat the baggage of a label given after a 5 minute interaction.

Sadly, the leader’s reaction to an employee based on a label is nowhere near as dangerous as the employee’s reaction to the label the leader applied. Just like the children in A Class Divided, employees who have been labeled high potential often perform better (or fade under the pressure of expectation), while “difficult” employees make more errors, because others interpret their actions differently – or because the employees themselves believe they are the label you’ve given them*.

The same goes for employees labeling leaders. “She’s mean” or “He’s a pushover” colors the behavior of leaders because it shades the way others perceive the leader. With the prevalence of 360s in today’s business world, these labels gain more and more power, impacting the leader’s self-confidence – or potentially reinforcing BAD behavior – as each cycle of feedback simply reinforces the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Think

Labels are going to be with us for a long time. They helped us survive as we evolved (this berry = good, sharp pointy teeth = bad). They allow us to thin-slice data. Unfortunately, they also allow employees and leaders alike to be lazy – to apply labels rather than get to know the people they interact with.

Leaders, when you go back to your teams take an honest look the expectations that you hold for each of your employees. Employees, take a hard look at the way you talk about your leader.  And ask yourself, am I responding to a person?

Or to a label?

[*For more on the power of suggestion and stereotypes, read Dan Ariely’s work.]

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2015 in Self-Awareness

 

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