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Category Archives: culture

Even “bad” cultures get some things right

There is a noticeable focus on “culture” lately, whether the topic is recruiting, engagement, development, retention, what have you. It’s all good stuff to discuss. I mean, it’s been around for a REALLY long time, but I’m glad to see intentionality around something that is going to happen anyway.

The prevailing theme I’ve noticed is the idea that culture will make or break your organization; that if your culture isn’t right ain’t NOTHIN’ in your organization is right.

I’m here to say….kind of.

Even in the most challenging of cultures, there are things that an organization might be doing really, really well. Just like in a good culture, there are things an organization might be crashing and burning on. I think culture buys grace and benefit of the doubt – a good culture means employees are slightly more understanding when an implementation or initiative goes wrong. It’s not a get out of jail free card, though. Organizations still need to focus on the right things across the board to help their employees contribute their best selves at work.

I’m reading Patty McCord’s book Powerful, recommended through the HR Book Club (check out the book club here!). If the author sounds familiar, it’s because she was one of the co-authors of the famed Netflix Culture Deck. This (pretty long) document has evolved over the years and is often cited as an example of how that company just “gets it.” McCord has gone on to become an in-demand consultant, helping organizations with their cultures and growth. Whether or not you think Netflix is a company you want to emulate (and there are those who question some of their tactics), Powerful outlines some very relevant points about how to be intentional about the organization your building – from the culture to employee engagement. Much of the advice goes beyond traditional “HR” or “talent” suggestions – which I appreciated.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think that while the intent of the book is to imply only “good” cultures follow, I’ve worked in organizations that did many of the things in the book…yet had a reputation for being a “bad” culture. This was a helpful realization – it reminded me that even in the most challenging of environments, you can identify positive elements to take with you. 

I’ve jokingly referred to a past organization in past posts (rhymes with fish), and while yes…it was a very tough culture to work in, I learned a lot while I worked there. I also truly appreciated some of the business practices that leadership followed that I have missed in other organizations, including ones highlighted in McCord’s book.

Here are some of the things that were done in this “bad” culture:

  • Quarterly all company updates: Every quarter, the executive leadership team would hold a virtual “all hands” meeting – at corporate, it was live; in other locations, it was broadcast on our internal channels. At this meeting, employees heard from the CEO, CHRO, General Counsel, COO, CFO, CMO, and any business leaders spearheading a major initiative. The CFO update in particular was excellent – we learned how the company measured financial success, how to read a basic P&L, and what variable costs employees could help control in their jobs. Lesson: You want employees to learn how a business makes, saves, and spends money? Tell them.
  • Field visits: We used to call them “ride alongs.”  Basically, if you worked in corporate, you were encouraged (and at director and above, required) to do a quarterly visit in the field. This would include a day spent with an installation tech and a day spent with a call center agent – preferably, in a market other than your own. It was a great way to talk to employees in their own environment, and to give them a chance to brag about their jobs…and share their concerns about corporate. Lesson: Think HQ is too much in an ivory tower? Make people leave it.
  • Visibility to all parts of the business: Because not all employees could go on ride alongs, new employees learned about the business in new hire orientation. The group was given an overview of operations and asked to manage a budget spit amount R&D, field ops, call centers, corporate, and people; and based on the budgeting, they saw the impact spending had on other parts of the business and had to learn to think through business decisions strategically (or as strategically as you can as a new employee). In the high potential development program, we took participants to other locations and gave them a chance to learn more about a new business unit. Lesson: You want people to think like an owner? Let them see what they’re making decisions about.

There are countless other examples that occurred on a daily basis that helped me understand fully what the business was trying to do and why. Being in HR, I often saw more than the average employee about how and why decisions were made – it wasn’t always pretty, but it was fairly transparent. I cut my teeth on corporate America there and have carried those lesson with me throughout my career. And even though it may not have been seen as a “good” culture, it was definitely an “aligned” culture – we knew who we were and didn’t shy away from it. For those who loved the environment, it was a great place to work. For others…it was a great place to learn from and move on.

This post is meant to remind you that there is something to learn from every business…but it’s also a cautionary tale. Just because you check off a bunch of “culture positive” initiatives you read in a book doesn’t mean you’ll automatically create a positive culture. It comes down to the people who execute those initiatives and the daily interactions that happen among leadership, employees, and customers. It’s about the intention and morality of those people. It’s about what you reward and tolerate in your organization.

All hope is not lost, though. It’s still worth the effort to lay a good foundation and build from there. Even the toughest cultures can inspire employees to take the lessons they’ve learned and be better leaders. So don’t dismiss a “bad” culture outright – sometimes there are diamonds in that rough.

Have you worked in a “bad” culture that did some things right? I would love to hear about it! Share in the comments or connect with me online. 

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in culture, General Rant about Leading

 

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Representation and Women in HR Tech

The first half of the first day was dedicated to the Women in HR Technology conference. First of all, I greatly appreciate the fact that the role of women in technology was highlighted – not just from an end-user perspective, but from the leadership in creating and driving the innovation of the technology. I also appreciated seeing so many men attending sessions. Highlighting women doesn’t mean exclusion of men – it means raising everyone’s awareness, and it takes all of us to be more inclusive.

The sessions were good – smart, thought-provoking, data-driven, focused, actionable. I was sad I couldn’t attend all of them based on the Twitter stream I read. As I sat listening to the opening and closing keynotes, as well as some of the sessions, I was stuck by how the topics were intertwined by cause and effect.

Rita Mitjans, the Chief Diversity Officer at ADP, shared data highlighting the importance of diversity for innovation and success in a business. She also shared that while woman and people of color are entering the workforce at decent numbers, they are not advancing in the workforce. Later in the day, Jenny Dearborn, EVP, Human Resources and Global Head of Talent, Leadership & Learning at SAP, shared data around the skills gaps in tech, highlighting the challenges of filling roles in technology. Perhaps the solution is right in front of us.internet of women

Think about it – we know bias is a real thing in hiring. It’s also a real thing in promoting employees, and this problem perpetuates itself in businesses because promotion is more about visibility than ability. Yet within businesses, women tend to be less visible – they are called upon to do fewer presentations to the C-Suite, they are talked down in meetings, they sit in the background rather than at the head of the table. These small actions add up to real consequences. Earning potential drops. Women leave the corporate world. The talent pipeline dries up. And Jenny Dearborn has to do keynotes about the challenges of filling tech roles in Silicon Valley.

This made me think about the importance of representation. If there were more women in tech leadership, there would be more women in tech. Period.

A personal story:

When I was picking a college to attend, I targeted one that would allow me to be a physics/music double major. I assure you – there are not many. A visit to the University of Denver convinced me they were a good fit. The Physics Department had respected scientists, the music program was top notch (a little too focused on classical opera singing, but that was fine), and I liked the student to teacher ratio. After enrolling, I downgraded the music to a minor just for sanity’s sake, but loved being able to do both. Freshman and sophomore years were challenging but great – I had terrific classmates in my physics classes. Each of us had different strengths in thinking through problems, so we complemented and learned from each other. But most of those classmates were either chemistry or pre-med majors and the first two years of physics for them were just prerequisites. For me, it was my future.

Flashforward to junior year. I was the ONLY physics major at DU. That meant it was me and professor in all my advanced classes. And all of my professors were men – not just in my physics classes, but also in my advanced math classes. On the surface, that’s not that big of a deal. After all, a lot of professors are men. But I never once had a mentor in math and science who was a woman. I lost my support group of fellow students. I faced professors who had been doing these classes for years and didn’t know how to interact with a single female student in class. They insisted on leaving the door open for all classes, regardless of how loud it was outside the classroom. I understood why – but it impacted my learning. Halfway through my junior year, I opted to change my major, and graduated with a major in history, and minors in physics and music.  

Would I have stayed in physics if there had been more representation of women? Maybe, maybe not. Intro to Complex Variable was hard, yo. I do know that it shook my confidence right at the time when I needed to believe in myself the most. Now, there are several female astrophysicists and other scientists represented on television, talking about science and making it cool to be smart AND a girl. I love them for that. I watch them and cheer them. And I make sure I tell girls about them and encourage them to love science and technology.

I tell this story because I believe in representation. I believe it impacts a company’s success. I believe it builds strong talent pipelines. I believe it builds strong, confident women who refuse to take a lower salary because they should just be grateful they got the job. I believe it continues to help women realize they should never ever apologize for their success, nor should they be considered rare and magical when they show up at a conference and share their knowledge like the badasses they are.

So thank you, HR Tech Conference, for giving women in HR technology the visibility they deserve. We’ve always been there. Now it’s time you see us.

 

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Conference Posts, culture, Uncategorized

 

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The “problem” is not the problem

I apologize to those of you out there looking for a return to the leadership content I often post here. This post is fairly HR-centric…although there are definitely leadership underpinnings, because doesn’t everything have leadership underpinnings? That’s just a fancy way of saying I want to share some thoughts that may or may not pertain to you. Also, the title comes from a quote from Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean: “The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”

So here we go.


The online HR community has been growing, which is a good thing. In the early days, there was a handful of HR pros out on social media, blogging, tweeting, doing their thing. That number has grown exponentially, resulting in a wider network for people to connect with others who are doing the same work and facing the same problems. There are more bloggers, more tweeters, more voices out in the universe sharing their thoughts. Not everyone agrees with everyone else, and I think that’s a good thing. Healthy conflict drives innovation. Let’s do it.

Then there was a hashtag.

When the #HRTribe hashtag first appeared, some people loved it, some people were indifferent, and some people were really bothered by it. In the early days, though, it wasn’t really talked about openly. It was sort of a “meh, whatever” situation. Hashtags come and go, no skin off anyone’s nose.

A little time goes by and some folks begin to voice their discomfort with the term. The reasons are varied – the idea of the need for any label at all is a bit off-putting; there’s an “us vs them” exclusionary mentality growing; the word “tribe” itself holds a specific meaning and is being misused in this context. Like I said…a lot of variety in those reasons.

For the record, I’m not a huge fan of the term. I’m hovering somewhere between uncomfortable with the word “tribe” and “why do you need a label” in my reaction to it. I’m not militant about it. I just don’t use the hashtag. Early on in the growth of it, I suggested that if people really wanted to make it “inclusive,” maybe they should stop tagging specific folks on Twitter because it was sending a different message than was intended. That seemed to be good. I moved on, once gain – not using the hashtag, but not getting all up in arms about it, either.

But then hrmemes (a satirical instagram/twitter account, by the way – sort of like The Onion) posted a fairly funny image about the #HRTribe stuff:

(Seriously – this is funny.)

The resulting discussion on Facebook was…enlightening. Suddenly, people who had stayed quiet about the issue started speaking out, and frankly, I was surprised at the number of folks who shared they had felt excluded because of the hashtag. That they felt like there was a wall put up between them and those who would use it. And that they were somewhat afraid to speak out because they didn’t want to “stir the pot.”

Huh.

Look, I’m okay with people wanting to feel like they are part of a community. If a hashtag helps you feel connected, great. Godspeed. #blessed. Whatever.

But there are things I’ve seen and heard that bother me. And it’s primarily around how those who are pro-hashtag are responding to those who have said they don’t like it.

This is what I said on the Facebook discussion, and I stand by it:

Here’s an observation from seeing the discussion on HR Tribe usage across all social media platforms. I keep seeing those who like the term dismiss the experiences or views of those who dislike the term. When specific examples of exclusion are given, they tend to be dismissed because the intent isn’t exclusionary. 

I get that.

And yet, here we are, a bunch of HR professionals who are supposed to listen to people’s stories and meet them where they are in their experiences…telling them they’re wrong. 

I’m bothered by that.

Regardless of how you feel about the use of the term, it’s the reaction of those around it that is starting to rub me wrong. Replace “I felt excluded” with “I felt harassed” and suddenly it takes on a different flavor, doesn’t it? 

No…HR Tribe is NOT an earth-shattering thing that we should lose our collective shit over. But maybe the way we’re talking about it should be.

Notice the focus – it’s not on the hashtag. It’s on the way we are talking about the hashtag.

I am disappointed that there are HR professionals dismissing the concerns of their peers in a manner that is disrespectful. I am bothered that some are HR professionals trying to convince someone who has shared their discomfort that it’s the other person’s fault that they misread the intention and that if they just tried it they would like it. I am seriously rolling my eyes when I see HR professionals reacting passive aggressively or rudely when someone has shared that they feel excluded because of the term.

How people are talking about this reflects how they would handle any controversial topic in the workplace. We are supposed to be a group of people that employees can go to and share their concerns. If someone came to you and said, “Ted from Accounting is making me feel uncomfortable,” should the response be, “Oh, Ted doesn’t mean anything by it. He’s just a friendly guy. You just misunderstood what he was doing”? I would hope not. And PLEASE don’t come at me and argue that a meme isn’t the same as harassment – yeah, I know. But it’s not a giant leap in logic, either.

Frankly, I’m shocked at the amount of passion and emotion around this thing. Some people have really doubled-down on their viewpoint. It’s a freaking hashtag. Yet it apparently has triggered some discussions that need to happen.

To be clear, there have been a number of people who love the hashtag who have said, “I get what you’re saying. Thanks for sharing. I’m still going to use it, but I will be more aware of how it makes people feel.” I love that. There are people listening, reflecting, and then making a conscious choice for a specific reason. There are also a number of people who have reached out and said, “I am glad someone said it. The tribe thing has bothered me for a long time but I didn’t want to say anything.” I love that, too. It means people want to have the conversation.

If we are going to be a profession that claims we can be a safe space for employees to bring forward their #metoo moments, or anything else that breaks the law, then we need to prove it. As Dominique Rodgers said during a Twitter conversation: If a group of kind, educated professionals can’t have this slightly awkward conversation, our nation has no hope for the much bigger awkward conversations that need to happen. Please don’t retreat. We value all perspectives. Promise. 

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2018 in Authenticity, culture, Uncategorized

 

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