RSS

Category Archives: Context

Crowdsourcing, best practice, and the reality of work

There’s a lot of chatter out there these days about the benefits of crowdsourcing and use of best practice.

On the one hand, this is a good thing. Technology has helped us shrink the world, allowing us to connect to each other more easily. Because of this, we can learn from each other through case studies, experiences, and measured benchmarks.

On the other hand…just because we can, does it really mean we should?

The answer to this question is best illustrated by a a post on LinkedIn that I’ve been following (and commented on). The post’s subject isn’t terribly important – someone shared that they’d had a unique request from a potential applicant and wanted to know if anyone had ever had the same thing happen to them. What is fascinating to me, though, is the variety of responses and the emotional investment some respondents displayed. Some thought the request was normal, others didn’t. And some were VERY judgemental about a potential candidate having the gall to make such a request. If you do read the comments in the LinkedIn post, pay attention to the language used – it’s incredibly eye-opening. And I can’t imagine it was very helpful for the person who posted the question in the first place.

This example is not unique. You’ve all probably heard similar examples of people looking for input to figure out the best thing to do. Industries regularly publish benchmark data on all sorts of KPIs. Experts write whitepapers. Speakers deliver keynotes about their success. But for every published benchmark is a person saying benchmarks make you average. For every whitepaper on “best practice,” there’s a pundit calling you behind the times for going after those. And for every keynote talking about their personal success, there’s me saying, “I’m glad that worked…FOR YOU.” The noise of opinion is loud and contradictory.

So what is a person to do? Honestly, it kind of depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in your business.

Are you just starting out in a certain area? Benchmarks and best practices may help you set a baseline from which you measure your progress. It may also help provide a framework for you as you build out your process and dashboard. The trick is to make sure you know the limitations of benchmarks and understand what they’re actually telling you. If you don’t understand a number or what the best practice results in, ask questions or don’t use it. Simply hitting a number because it’s a “benchmark” may not get you anywhere.

Are you being challenged on the prevalence of a certain problem, or are looking for anecdotal evidence of an emerging trend that hasn’t hit research yet? Crowdsourcing within trusted groups can be a helpful approach. Just be aware that the quality of answers is only as good as the group from which you seek input. Throwing a question out on Twitter will get you a MUCH different response than asking a closed group of experts on Facebook. Yes, both methods run the risk of sarcastic responses, but honestly that’s just spice that keeps the flavor in your life.

My point is, you’re going to get potentially crappy data no matter what approach you take. The key is understanding what it is you’re trying to accomplish with this data – what works for YOU in YOUR business RIGHT NOW? If you can’t define those parameters, you probably shouldn’t even be asking the questions in the first place.

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Efforts vs. Results: Do employees know the difference?

I recently read an article  day that referenced an infographic featuring the following statistic:

Nearly half (49 percent) of employees in a survey revealed that they would leave their current job for a company that recognized employees for their efforts and their contributions.

Really.  Nearly HALF of all employees would leave their job.

I know I’m cynical, but that seems awfully high, especially in a volatile economy.  So I reframed that statement (because I’m in HR and I know what reframing is), and I started thinking about whether or not the average employee would define recognition-worthy effort the same way management would.  I came to the following conclusion…

I don’t think they would.

In my career, I’ve been a part of many a performance review process, helping managers and employees alike understand why we do them, how we do them, and what the different ratings mean.  And it never fails that there is a severe disconnect between what the employee sees a extra effort and what the manager would call DOING YOUR JOB.

entitlement1024

Here’s a quick reminder for employees about the difference:

DOING YOUR JOB:

  • Showing up on time every day
  • Completing your work by the assigned deadline and in a quality manner
  • Being a decent human being to coworkers


EXTRA EFFORT:

  • Teaching others to do their jobs better
  • Identifying a more efficient way to do a task
  • Going above and beyond for a customer

Really, it’s about the difference between EFFORT and RESULTS.  Effort is good – managers want to see effort.  It’s an indicator that employees give a damn.  But guess what – results pay the bills, which means managers are more likely to recognize employees whose efforts yield results.  As an employee, I need to be aware of what will benefit the business and ensure my work is truly “value add.”  And I also need to communicate what I’m doing to my manager to ensure I’m aligned with his/her expectations.

Managers, you’re not off the hook for this one.  If your employees feel like you don’t notice their efforts, that’s on you.  It’s your job to give clear expectations for results and to provide meaningful feedback to your employees year-round. Too often managers are afraid to have a difficult conversation, telling employees “that was a a darn good try” all year…only to rate them lower in the annual review because nothing got done.  On the other hand, things come up that are out of the employee’s control that can keep their efforts from yielding the expected results.  So be a human being and acknowledge that.

Lack of recognition by managers is a real problem in many organizations, and it CAN lead to employees wanting to leave for a better job.  I also think misconstrued ideas of what recognition should look like leads to unrealistic employee expectations.

What do you think? Are employees being greatly unappreciated? Are managers being unfairly maligned for not rewarding employees for just showing up?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on August 18, 2014 in Clarity, Context

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Snark is the New Cool…and that may not be cool

One of the things you may not know about me is that I’m a bit of a musical theater nerd.  What this really means is I tend to be a singing snob.  Yeah…I’m one of those people.  It doesn’t mean I think I can do it better than other singers, I just get annoyed when singing isn’t done correctly. (Note to teachers of young singers – STOP MAKING THEM SING OUT OF THEIR NOSES!!!!!  Thank you.)

So when a live broadcast of The Sound of Music was announced with Carrie Underwood, I wasn’t terribly excited.  Nothing against her voice – I’m just not a country fan and I think sometimes she can be a little wooden in her performance.  And I love Julie Andrews.  Therefore, I chose not to watch.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t read a bunch of the comments made on social media on the interwebs.  Seriously, y’all got creative.  And some of you were funny.  And a little mean.

snark1

I was listening to Seth Speaks on my satellite radio (On Broadway channel – enjoy!) and Laura Benanti was a guest (she played the Baroness on the NBC broadcast, and starred as Maria in the Broadway revival…and she is amazing).  She was sharing some backstage stories and such, and Seth asked her what she thought about the comments made against Carrie.  And Laura threw down on the haters.

“Snark,” Laura says, “is the new cool.”   She pointed out that here was a person with the courage to try something she’d never done before…live…in front of 18 million people.  Instead of applauding her for it, and celebrating the fact that a major network took a chance to bring a new, younger audience to Broadway and music, the Twitter-verse used it as a chance to show off how clever it is.

No snark?
This stuck with me.  I love snark.  I enjoy the heck out of reading it, and I tend to engage heavily in the dishing out of said snark, too.  But Laura has a point – snark can get in the way of what you’re really trying to accomplish.  It can shut down people’s willingness to take a chance.  It can break down the feeling of “team”.  A lot of people who give snark can’t take it, so then you get a whiny snarker.  And while snark might be funny or make you look clever, is it adding anything of value to fix the perceived issue?  In short, snark can be extremely damaging.

What to do?
I’m not going to advocate going snark-free.  A little snark is like good satire – it points out that the emperor has no clothes and uses humor and shock to heighten awareness about a situation.  Matt Charney’s Snark Attack blog  is great!  So is Television Without Pity (spare the snark, spoil the network).  That snark IS cool.  And funny.  And thought-provoking. And change driving.

So if you consider yourself a snark aficionado (and who doesn’t, amiright?), use the next 30 days to pay attention to how and when you use it.  If your intent is pure and you’re working towards a greater good, snark away.  And a little snarkiness amongst friends can be fun!  But if you’re employing snark to put someone else down because it makes you feel better about yourself and you think it makes you look clever, stop it. You’re just being an asshole.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Honey badger don’t care…and why you’d better hope your people do

Ahhhh, the honey badger.  This wily little mammal nestled itself in our pop culture consciousness through the use of clever narration over a documentary film.  I love the honey badger.  But you know what?  Honey badger don’t care.  He doesn’t need my love.  Honey badger just doesn’t give a shit.

The thing is, most of us are NOT honey badgers.  We care a LOT about things…some are important (like the safety of loved ones), some aren’t (like the jerk who cut you off in traffic).  Human beings are an emotional species that tends to act on those emotions.  That’s why we’re always talking about “finding our passion” and “following our bliss” and other fluffy stuff that telegraphs  the fact that we tend to only work hard at something when we give a damn about it.

Call it whatever you want – be engagement, mojo or flow – but really what it comes down to is caring.  Engagement studies from BlessingWhite and TowersWatson (why don’t these firms ever have spaces anymore?) provide analysis around attraction and retention drivers, and basically all of them fall into two buckets – what’s in it for me? and why should I care?  (I’ll break these buckets down in a future post.)

honey_badger

Engagement definitions almost always include the concept of “discretionary effort”, or going above and beyond what is expected.  And companies need employees who are willing to give discretionary effort because they’re the ones who typically move a project over the finish line, get a company unstuck, and generally make the workplace better.

What I’m talking about is flat out EFFORT.  Do employees CARE enough to do the bare minimum of their jobs? Are they willing to work a full day at an acceptable level of effort and intensity?

Think about your workplace (or a past workplace).  What are most of the people doing most of the time?  If you have employees who CARE, you’ll hopefully see competent people doing their jobs, coming in on time and also leaving right when they are supposed to.  Occasionally you’ll see the over-achievers and ultra-engaged burning the midnight oil.

But what if employees don’t CARE?  I don’t mean the fully disengaged, out to bring down the company people.  Just…folks with jobs who don’t particularly worry about how well or what they’re doing. People wander in a few minutes late every day; they linger over longer lunches; they “sneak out” a couple of minutes early.  These seem like minor offenses…but what can they lead to?

    • Box-checking projects through the company because “it’s above their pay grade” to question its value
    • Incredibly quiet, low energy workspaces
    • A gradual erosion of morale
    • A culture of mediocrity
    • An exodus of A players
    • Dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!!

It’s hard to be fanatically engaged ALL the time.  People need to take a break now and then, and that’s okay.  But hopefully in their downtime, they still give a darn about what they do.  They ask the right questions, push back when appropriate, and make good decisions based on critical factors – not because they are highly engaged, but because they care about the company, their job, and doing the right thing.

So while engagement is important and helps drive your business and retention of talent, don’t forget about the simplicity and power of having employees who simply CARE.

The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.

– Peter Gibbons

How do you get your employees to care? How do you know your employees care?  Do YOU care?  Leave a comment below.  HONEY BADGER WANTS TO HEAR FROM YOU!!! 

 

 

 
3 Comments

Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Authenticity, Clarity, Context, Skillz, Teamwork

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

10 (really!) things leaders do that make me happy…or at least not cry

In my last post(s), I shared a number of things that leaders do that make me cry.  I figured it would only be fair for me to spread a little love into the universe and share some of the good things that leaders do (believe it or not, good things DO happen in the workplace).

I’ll admit…it was tough to not just write the opposite of the last list.  So I tried to think of some unique behaviors that positively impact the business and its people.  Don’t agree with them?  Think I’m missing a few?  Let me know in the comments!!

  • Has the team’s back: A lot of times, all an employee wants to know is that their manager went to bat for them.  When a leader fights for their team (whether it’s to stand up for an idea, speak up against a questionable policy, or push back when someone else tries to throw an employee under the bus), the team notices.  It makes a difference…and it shows that a leader understands the impact he/she can have on the team.
  • Collaborates across departments: So much of climbing the corporate ladder seems to stem from building an empire and then protecting your little fiefdom.  That’s why it’s so refreshing to see leaders who throw all that aside and work for the betterment of the entire company by reaching out across functional lines and work together towards a common goal.  (*sniff* I promised myself I wouldn’t cry!)
  • Challenges their people…the right way: Since a big part of what I do focuses on people development, I am always so happy when I see a leader willing to take a chance and give an employee a stretch assignment with the right amount of support.  It shows the leader believes in the employee, and it also shows that the leader isn’t willing to let an employee settle for “okay”.  Yay, leader!
  • Listens more than they talk: This is so hard for most people.  We like to talk about ourselves and listen to how darn smart we are.  So a leader who has learned how to wait and truly listen is one worth knowing.  When you listen as a leader, you encourage creativity, build morale, and make yourself smarter becausehappy_kitty you’re allowing your brain some time to process the input it’s receiving.  It’s AMAZING how different a team meeting is when the leader shuts up.
  • Hires people smarter than they are: It’s often said that Bill Gates wasn’t the smartest guy in the room…but he was pretty darn smart at surrounding himself with people who were better than he was at certain things.  (Ballmer it NOT this.  Just so we’re clear.)  A leader who hires smart people shows he/she is knowledgable about his/her limitations and is comfortable with them.  It’s about success…not ego.
  • Has a personality: Sometimes it feels like somewhere along the way it was decided that “executive presence” means being boring.  How wonderfully inspiring – you’re going to bore your people to death, but gosh darn it, didn’t you do it professionally?  I like a leader who isn’t afraid to show you who they are.  It gives others the permission to do the same, and helps build an important rapport and trust that will get a team through the tough times.  So fly a little freak flag now and then!
  • Sets boundaries: Showing personality doesn’t mean hitting every happy hour with the crew and posting buddy pics on Instagram.  I have worked with a number of managers who I call my friend…but while we worked together, there were definite boundaries around what was on or off limits in discussions about work and/or liberties taken.  I respected the heck out of these people while I worked for them (and still do) because their ability to set boundaries protected both them AND me – I knew they wouldn’t try to exploit our friendliness for their gain, just as they knew that I would understand why they couldn’t share everything.
  • Knows the difference between ‘fair’ and ‘the same’: Some of the most effective leaders I’ve seen understand this.  ‘Fair’ means considering each situation on its own merits, and acting accordingly.  ‘The Same’ means managing to the lowest common denominator.  Yes – consistency is important (I think about 1000 HR ladies just fainted, so I need to be clear about this).  But is it fair to make some exceptions now and then for an outstanding employee who has always gone above and beyond and works 55 hours a week without complaint?  I think so.  And here’s a hint: smart leaders seem to instinctively know how to set expectations and hold people to them BEFORE making exceptions.  Interesting, don’t you think?
  • Shows humility: Remember when Barry Sanders (RB for Detroit, for those of you who actively avoid sports) would score a touchdown?  He handed the ball to the official and then walked to the sidelines.  He acted like he’d been there before, would probably be there again…and understood that getting a touchdown meant he was doing his job – no more, no less.  (For more on Barry’s approach, here’s a great article from ESPN.)  Leaders can learn a lot from a guy like Barry Sanders.  Yes, celebrate your wins!  You and your team both deserve a moment of rest and reflection.  But the best leaders are ones who thank those who did the leg work, appreciate those who lent support, and acknowledge that sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time.  Just be authentic when you do it, okay?  False humility can do more damage than outright boasting.
  • Brings cupcakes and/or other assorted snacks: People like food.  ‘Nuff said.

So there you have it.  An ACTUAL list of 10 things that leaders do that make me happy.  Agree?  Disagree?  Got something to say?  Share it in the comments!

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.
~Theodore Roosevelt

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

You da man! (whether you like it or not)

Once upon a time (1993), back when Charles Barkley was known better as a professional basketball player and not an analyst with a bad golf swing, he famously declared that athletes shouldn’t be role models.  Nike even made a commercial about it.  And while many people agreed with the underlying point the Round Mound of Rebound was making, the comment left a bad taste in the mouths of the public because the reality is that it doesn’t matter if you WANT to be a role model – sometimes you just are.

It’s the same for leaders.  You may think you were hired for your business acumen, or your ability to set a vision for the company and produce results.   Okay, you’ve got me there – you were hired for those reasons.  But there is another line in your job description that may or may not be explicitly stated.  As Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility.  And that responsibility is  to be a role model to your organization.

superherokid

This idea – “the shadow of the leader” –  has been around for a long time, but was first studied in business organizations in Larry Senn’s 1970 doctoral dissertation (and his company Senn Delaney is still rocking the concept).    Remember when you were a kid and you used to dress up like a super hero?  Employees are kind of like that kid – they emulate the people they look up to, or who have control over them.

Here’s another way to think of it:

Think of a family tradition that has been passed down generation after generation.  It might be a phrase that everyone uses, a certain way you cook something, game night, anything. For example, when I make a pizza, I always cut it into squares.  Why?  Because that’s the way my dad always did it.  There is no real reason to cut a pizza into squares – in fact, some would argue it’s very inefficient.  But that’s how pizza was cut in my house, and so that’s how I cut it.

In your organization, you’re the one cutting the pizza into squares.

The leader of an organization casts a shadow that influences the group culture.  This shadow may be weak or powerful, but it always exists.  Whole organizations often take on aspects of the personality of a strong leader (think Apple, Microsoft, Southwest, Virgin, etc.).  It’s not so much that leaders force their style and values on others, but that employees tend to look upwards for clues as to what is important, how to get ahead in the organization, and how to fit in.

This is the power of the shadow in action – the power to shape and influence the character of an organization.  Do you know what kind of shadow you’re casting?

One of the best things about the shadow of the leader is that you have the power to control it – you can take specific actions that will help you cast the shadow you want in order to create the culture you want.  Below are some questions you can answer to help you be the leader you want people to emulate:

  • What are the elements of your shadow, both strengths (things you like) and challenges (things you dislike)?
  • What values, beliefs, and standards are in place within your organization because of these elements? Is that what you want?
  • What behaviors are you seeing in your employees as a result of these elements? Do you like them?
  • What elements of your shadow come from your desire to emulate a leader you had at one time?  Did you mean to make that choice?

Once you’ve answered those questions, you are ready to create an action plan for change, thereby taking control of your shadow.  Complete these sentences to create your action plan:

  • The elements I want to change in my shadow are…
  • It’s important to change this behavior because…
  • I will monitor my behavior by…
  • I will know I’ve been successful when…

If you don’t like the shape of your shadow, change it.  If you don’t like the shadow of the person above you, step out of it and create your own.  Whatever you do, be mindful of your actions – because (despite what Sir Charles might think) people are copying what you do, whether you like it or not.

We don’t choose to be role models, we are chosen.  Our only choice is whether to be a good role model or a bad one.

– Karl Malone (well said, Karl!)

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Context, Executive Presence

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

If you don’t like the culture, it’s probably your fault

Once upon a time, I had a chance to work with a vendor with a really cool product that enabled you to measure the culture of your organization (they’re called RoundPegg – look them up, as they are awesome). At one point in the process, we had an option to decide to test the entire company and get a true measure of our culture, or handpick people we felt “represented” our culture. This was kind of a big deal, especially given where I was working at the time.

There was an unspoken concern that the results would tell us nasty things about the culture…things some of us acknowledged and wanted to fix. These were the same things that others chose to view as our “uniqueness”. Basically, we had to decide what reality we were willing to confront. Ultimately the decision was made to pick those who exemplified the aspirational culture and assess them.

I think this was a cop out, and I hope you do, too.

I will always remember the gist of what Natalie (one of the RoundPeggers) said about culture. In essence, she said that culture is made up of everyone and every interaction in the company. If it’s happening at your business, it’s a part of your culture. No amount of stacking the deck, wishing, words, or banners can change this. You have to accept the good, the bad, and the ugly of what you’ll find because only then will you know what you’re dealing with. And only then can you make the choice to change it.

20130507-212315.jpg

Like water eroding sand, every action we take reinforces the path we have chosen. It’s simple neuroscience – the more we reinforce neural pathways, the stronger those connections become and the easier it is to perform those activities we regularly engage in. What paths have been reinforced in your world?

Because culture is made up of the people in the company, each of us has a responsibility to create the culture we want to work in. As employees, we can choose what behaviors we exhibit, being mindful of the impact we’re making. As leaders, we have an obligation to model the behaviors of the culture we want to build.

If the culture where you are isn’t what you want it to be, think about how you’re impacting that culture. Are you reinforcing the positive, or strengthening the negative? Every choice you make contributes your culture. So if you don’t like it, do something about it. Be proactive. Refuse to engage in gossip. Build relationships across functions. Tell a good joke. Host a two-minute dance party.

For goodness’ sake, do something.

But don’t blame anyone else. We’re all in this together.

A company’s culture is often buried so deeply inside rituals, assumptions, attitudes, and values that it becomes transparent to an organization’s members only when, for some reason, it changes.

Rob Goffee (1952–), US writer, consultant, and academic

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Authenticity, Context

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: