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.

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.)

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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!!! 

 

 

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