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Category Archives: Decision Making

Doing the “correct” thing isn’t always right

Recently I read a story about a restaurant manager who received complaints about a mother and her autistic child. Policy would have dictated that he move the duo to another part of the restaurant, away from the other patrons who were being disturbed. But after one question from the mother, he decided not to. He told them to have an awesome day. He high fived the child. He went back to work.

In his words: Sometimes doing the right thing does not make everyone happy; just the people who need it the most.

Good for you, Tony Posnanski. You rock. You recognized the needs of this mother who had been through this before but just wanted a normal experience with her child. That’s what we call managerial courage – you didn’t hide behind a policy or the bottom line. You assessed the situation and made a judgement call.

justice

This is what leadership looks like. It looks like a person who is aware of policy and procedures. Who listens to the needs of ALL customers. Who assesses things on a case-by-case basis, makes an “executive” decision and stands by it.

We need more leaders like that.

Policies and procedures have their place, but they’re no match for the human touch. People need to reach out to people and engage with them on a one-to-one basis. As my friend Steve Browne often says, you have to meet people where they are. And sometimes that means breaking policy and doing something that just makes sense.

Lord forbid we do something that makes sense.

We all have something in our handbook that HAS to be there because we think we can’t trust employees and managers to make the right decision in the moment. Sometimes it’s dress code. Sometimes it’s bereavement leave. Imagine a world where we let it slide that an employee is in a pair of jeans because there’s 2 feet of snow out but they still busted their butt to be in the office that day. Or we let an employee take bereavement leave for a dear family friend who was like a parent, but gosh darn it, that relationship isn’t listed as covered in the policy.

So as you go about your day-to-day at work, don’t be so quick to say “no,” or “we aren’t allowed to do that.” Think about the person you’re dealing with – the PERSON – and respond in kind. After all, policies and procedures keep us sane, keep us legal, keep us on the right side of compliance.

But our empathy and adaptability makes us human.

 


Think we need more humanity in the workplace? Join me at the WorkHuman 2016 Conference in Orlando, May 9-11, 2016. To register, go to  and use promo code WH16MF300 for $300 off.  

 

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Don’t like policies? Then control yourself

I’ve worked in HR for a long time, which means I’ve heard pretty much every complaint out there about why people don’t like the human resources department (or personnel, if you’re of a certain age).

While some reasons are downright creative – even colorful – the most common one I hear about is that HR always says no. Or that HR is the “Policy Police.” Or that HR won’t let you do anything.

*sigh*

Listen, people. It’s not HR who isn’t letting you do something. It’s YOU – leaders and employees alike. Actually, let me amend that – it’s US. We all contribute to this issue.

If human beings weren’t so jerky from time to time, we wouldn’t have to have all these stupid rules. If we could act like adults with integrity, we wouldn’t have to worry about nepotism, inappropriate conduct, approval levels, complicated oversight, internet and computer usage, etc. meatdress

But we’re people. So we do stupid things. And we make stupid decisions. And we act like it isn’t our fault. Hence…personnel policy manuals.  We like to be able to point to something and say, “Hey, not our idea. It’s in the policy.” When the tough conversations come up, we like to be able to say, “I didn’t want to, but HR made me.”

This is a total rule of thumb, but I’ve noticed that the thicker the rule book, the more unhealthy the culture. (There are exceptions, but still.) When employees can’t make smart, informed, mature choices, you see more and more of the decision-making taken away and replaced by a policy.

Is that how you roll? Do you WANT to lead that way?

I know I don’t. And I don’t like having to practice HR that way, either. I like to be able to work with leaders and employees to find the best solution for the situation they are currently in. It needs to be legal. It needs to be consistent with previous situations. But we all need the flexibility to make good decisions for the circumstances.

So what’s the answer?

Don’t be a doofus. And tell your peers and employees to not be a doofus. If integrity is a value to you, then LIVE IT, don’t just point to a banner on the wall. Do the right thing, especially when there isn’t a policy telling you what to do.

We all have the power to change the system. Believe me – most HR pros would LOVE to rip up the policy manual and just talk it out.

Help us help you.

 

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Slow or fast, we’re all in the same race (lessons from the driver’s seat)

No, this isn’t going to be an introspective look at the fleeting immediacy of life. I mean, that’s a real thing and you should really think deep profound thoughts about it, but I’m not in the mood.

I’m in the mood to talk about driving.

As readers of this blog know, I always wanted to be a stunt car driver. I don’t really remember why that was something I wanted to do. It just looked like a lot of fun, and the drivers were badass.

I’m not a stunt car driver (yet), but I have gotten a chance to live like one for a few hours. It’s called autocross – and if you’ve never gotten to do it, I highly recommend it. It’s so choiceIMG_2998

Basically, autocross is a giant parking lot or other paved area with a course laid out in cones. It might be a hairpin turn, followed by a slalom, followed by a 90-degree turn, etc. You get a series of runs throughout the day, each one timed. If you hit a cone, you get a time penalty. If you miss a “gate” or go off-course, you officially get a DNF (did not finish), but unofficially you still get to drive the rest of the course like a baller.

This was the second such event I’ve had a chance to do and, like a lot of people in my line of work, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities to the workplace.

Someone else may lay out the course, but you choose how you attack it.
In autocross, like a lot of jobs, there are a series of obstacles/tasks you have to tackle. The cool thing is that we get to choose the way to get through them. In autocross, you see people who go as fast as they can, slamming on their brakes to course correct, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Ultimately, though, they learn from their mistakes and do better next time. Some people start very slowly and tentatively, afraid to make mistakes, learning the course. And as their confidence grows, they get faster and better. Your job is the same way. You can go fast and furious, or go slow and cautious. Each approach teaches different lessons, and the “driver” (employee) can either choose to learn from them and improve, or get the lesser result.

Most mistakes are minor. Don’t freak out. Keep going.
If you hit a cone in autocross, you get a 2 second penalty. And people might give you a hard time. If you miss a gate or something, a corner worker makes a big X with their arms and you get a DNF for the run…but you get to keep driving and you learned something. Most work mistakes are similar. Did you send out an email with a minor typo? Okay, you goofed up. Own it and learn from it. Did you forget to staple ALL the packets? Nobody died. Don’t be afraid to make minor mistakes. (And if you’re a leader, realize your people will make them!) The important thing is to learn from it.

Some mistakes ARE a big deal. Recognize when it could happen.
In these types of driving events, you don’t drive all that fast. But cars do sometimes spin out and go flying off the course. If you’re working a corner, you need to be alert and position yourself in a place that will minimize your risk of getting hit. Not all jobs are life and death, but SOME ARE. Inattention can and does get people killed. Whether you’re the person doing the dangerous activity, or the support person watching that activity, be alert and do what you can to ensure safety protocol is followed. We all want to get to the finish line in one piece.

People doing the same thing at the same time have SOMETHING in common. Work with that.
People who do autocross events have all different types of cars and come from a variety of backgrounds. In a generic social setting, it’s doubtful that any of them would hang out. But put them in this situation and suddenly they are best friends, trading driving tips and encouraging each other to improve each run. Your coworkers may not be people you’d choose to socialize with. In fact, people are socializing with coworkers less and less these days. And it may be impacting our work experience. So while you don’t have to be a best friend or anything, it’s okay to loosen up and talk like people now and then.

Have a good time.
You’re driving a car through a crazy course. OF COURSE YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE FUN. Granted, work isn’t going to be a super fun autocross event every day. But hopefully parts of it are. And if it isn’t, try to find ways to make it a good time. You’re there for too many hours in your life.

Whatever you do – in your “real” life or your “work” life – it’s important to remember that while we all have different approaches, we are all still just trying to finish the race.

Start strong, stay strong, and finish strong by always remembering why you’re doing it in the first place.
– Ralph Marston

 
 

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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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You are who you THOUGHT you were! (a question of identity)

If you’re like most people, your life has been one identity crisis after another.

  • When you’re a little kid, you might have wanted to be astronaut, a doctor, a firefighter, a police officer….a stunt car driver.
  • When you’re in high school, you freak out because you’re a freshman – bottom of the social ladder.
  • When you’re a senior, you feel invincible – because you aren’t those puny freshman anymore.
  • When you’re in college, you decide you’re going to major in chemistry…no, pre-med…wait, art history…aw, screw it – business.

And then you start your working life for real, and you realize you’ve been answering the question, “What do you want to be?”, instead of, “What do you want to do?”

139580 green

He knew what he was talkin’ about.*

In our culture, we have learned to equate our job/career with who we are.  You can argue the rights and wrongs of this approach, but it’s a fact of life for most people in the working world.  I’m not here to debate pros and cons.  I’m more interested in honestly facing the impact our identity obsession has on our career decisions, and how acknowledging that fact can help us make better ones.

  • The Company: Whether it’s when you’re first starting out or are 20 years into your career, the name of the company on your business card can influence your choice. Do you join Google, even though the job sucks?  Or do you join ABC, Inc. – a relative nobody, but a nobody who will challenge and engage you on a daily basis? Easy money says you take the cooler sounding company because you know you have the opportunity to grow in an awesome organization.

    And yet…companies like Google are targeted by recent college grads, but not because of their job now, but because it will help them get a better job later. [Note: Peter Cappelli shared this thought in a presentation I saw 6 years ago – still searching for the link!]  Be honest about whether this choice is a destination or a stepping stone to something else.

  • The Path: At some point, you may be faced with the choice between remaining an individual contributor or angling for the management track.  A lot of people have no desire to lead others.  They like what they do, the challenge of the work.  The idea of dealing with the drama of others makes some people break into a cold sweat.

    And yet…some people think if they don’t achieve manager status, they have some how failed.  Is it enough to be “just” an expert in your field, or do you feel like you have to “prove” something…and maybe give up a piece of what makes you happy?

  • Title: Those in the know will claim title doesn’t matter, just what you do; and that truly happy employees are unconcerned with such trivial things as what’s on their business cards.  Plenty of us in HR and recruiting have rolled our eyes at the “Manager of Accounts” title that amounts to little more than a glorified salesperson.

    And yet…how many of us have faced those same recruiters and had to answer ridiculous questions about why you “took a step back” just because a title isn’t as cool sounding as as the responsibilities you have?  (Seriously, recruiters – you know better than to assume every company uses the same title structure!) It would be disingenuous to not acknowledge the influence that title has on our decisions.

  • Industry: My background has been in a lot of different industries – some exciting (VOIP, startups, alternate energy) and some not thought of as innovative (event planning, insurance, utilities).  Each industry I’ve worked in has taught me fascinating things and challenged me in ways I didn’t anticipate.

    And yet…there have been times in my past where I have hesitated to share what industry I worked in because it wasn’t the “hot new thing.”  If your identity is tied to being forward-thinking, envelope-pushing, and an all-around rabble-rouser, there can be some cognitive dissonance around the industry you choose to work in.

Each of us has made at least one decision (or more) in our career based on how we’ll answer the question “what do I want to be?” If we think we aren’t considering the coolness factor of a particular opportunity, and the way others might react when we’re talking at cocktail parties, we’re just fooling ourselves.

The ultimate sign of confidence and self-actualization may be the ability to simply share what you do when talking about your job…and being who you truly are.

We know what we are, but not what we may be.
-William Shakespeare 

 

*Because it never gets old to watch Dennis Green do this.

 

 
 

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Ode to #teamfaulkner (or, the one with the Hoosiers reference)

Not too long ago, I wrote about the importance of having a support network to keep you on track.

I have my own group – #teamfaulkner.

The concept was born out of the idea of having a personal board of directors.  (I don’t remember where I first heard about it, but this HBR article is a good overview.)  I had hit a point in my life and my career where I wanted to start thinking about the long-term, “what do I want to be doing for the rest of my career” questions, and I knew I wasn’t equipped to figure that all out on my own.  I figured I’d put together an advisory committee of people who knew me from various aspects of my life, and I would use them to explore what I might be when I grow up.  There wasn’t a timeline attached – it was basically an exploratory committee.  I figured I had lots of time.

Reality had other ideas, and my job went away as part of a restructure.

It happens.  It sucks when it happens, but it happens.  The good news is that I already had a ready-made support team as I contemplated my next move.

hoosiers#teamfaulkner helped keep me grounded after the surprise of the reorg.  They offered support and acted as a sounding board for different options.  They connected me to some amazing people who shared their thoughts on the state of HR and helped me explore various career paths.  They made me laugh (a lot).  They listened to me in my whiney moments.  They took time to reach out individually as needed.  They let me bounce ideas off them, sharing opinions on various interviews and job options.  They told me what they thought while still leaving room for me to think it through.  And they supported me when I decided on where to land.

They were great.  They’re still great.

One of the #teamfaulkner members asked what I thought about the whole process.  I asked for a little time to think about it, and this person said I should answer on my blog.  So I am. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • I reached out to the right people: When I thought about putting this “board of directors” together, I wanted to pick people who knew me from a variety of viewpoints – people I’ve worked with, people who at one time worked for me, people I know primarily through the online community, consultants, practitioners, professors, all that stuff.  This variety of perspectives has been invaluable to me; almost like a short-hand for debating all sides of an argument.  Depending on the topic, they share a spectrum of opinions from conservative to “why the hell not?”
  • It’s okay to disagree with the #team: I wanted feedback, not an owner’s manual.  So when someone on #teamfaulkner suggests something I don’t really agree with, it’s awesome because even though I’m not going to take that particular piece of advice, I had to think about why and articulate that “why” to someone else, thereby thinking through the decision-making process much more thoroughly.
  • It’s better to be specific in my requests: I have found it most helpful when I ask specific questions or am more precise in describing what my issue is.  Shockingly, just saying, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!!!” doesn’t elicit the most useful feedback.  I am also planning to ask #teamfaulkner to challenge me a little more.  Part of it could have been the circumstances (no one wants to kick a person when they are down), and part of it could have been the way I framed the questions.
  • It’s not just about me: Ostensibly, #teamfaulkner is all about me (after all, it’s named after me).  But what various folks have shared is that the group was helpful for them as well – whether it was practice coaching, learning from the advice of others, or being exposed to a new way of thinking through things.
  • I was unprepared for how much people would be willing to reach out and help: I’m a pretty independently-minded human being, which means I typically figure things out on my own.  (Some people would say I’m ‘stubborn’…but I don’t talk to those people any more. Haha.  Sort of.)  When I reached out to a cross-section of friends from different walks of life, I figured I’d get a post now and then…maybe a “like” on my Facebook group.  What I got was an amazing amount of support – thoughtful comments, emails, phone calls, texts, all that cool stuff.  I am still in awe of, and incredibly touched by, the level of personal outreach I’ve received from #teamfaulkner. (This is for you.)

Now that I’ve started my next adventure, a couple of folks asked whether that was the end of #teamfaulkner.  The answer – HELL NO.  I will continue to rely on this group to guide me in my career and personal development.   I want to keep making them visit the Facebook group and read silly posts.  I want to keep learning from this amazing group of people.   I want the group to continue to learn from each other.  I want to tell them when I think they’re full of crap, and I want them to tell me when I’m full of crap (which they totally will).

In short, I want to keep in touch.

#teamfaulkner started as an experiment in leveraging my network, and it has grown into more.  And I will continue to reach out to my team for as long as they will have me.  It’s been an interesting process for me, and one I recommend for others who are looking to gain insight into their development.  Who knows?  There may be a book in it one day.  (If the team is okay with it.)

It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.
~Napoleon Hill

 

 

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I got 99 problems but failure ain’t one

Jason Lauritsen wrote this thought-provoking post on how we approach the concept of failure and why it has such a stigma in our society.  He argues that failure doesn’t need to be something we fear – we should embrace it and move forward from it.  (It’s a good post – go read it!)

This got me thinking about how we as a society in the US approach failure in general….particularly in the newer generations of workers. You hear the jokes about “everyone gets a trophy” or soccer games where no one keeps score.  Because we don’t want our precious children to feel the sting of defeat “too soon”.  Unfortunately, “too soon” easily turns into “ever”…and helicopter parents who earned an indulgent chuckle when their children are in kindergarten solicit anger and frustration from bosses who see the results in their employees. (Kathy Caprino expertly addresses the parenting aspect of business in this article on Forbes.com.)

jenga-fail-jenga-cat-epic-fail-1290113932

Consider these things THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED IN A REAL COMPANY.  WITH ADULTS.

  • A mother calls her 25-year-old son in sick at work, “because he needs his sleep.”
  • Parents of an intern call the HR department to ask what clothes they should buy their 21-year-old daughter for her summer at the company, even though the information was sent to the intern.
  • An employee calls his mother in the middle of a meeting with an HR manager to talk about what is going on…not once, but TWICE. (Seriously.  This one amazes me.)

These rather extreme examples are a moment in the life of a person who has not yet learned how to cope with the demands of a corporate environment.  But the fallout extends beyond these one-off situations, and it’s not just the Millennials displaying an inability to handle failure.  Do any of these sound familiar?

  • A senior manager refuses to “rock the boat” and speak out against an initiative that he knows will damage the culture because he’s afraid of risk.
  • A vice president insists on full consensus for every single decision she makes because she doesn’t trust her own judgement.
  • A CEO yells and screams at his executive team when the stock goes down because he’s surrounded by idiots who can’t do anything right (or so he thinks).
  • An entry-level employee hates her job because she doesn’t get a promotion in the first 6 months.

We are a society of instant gratification.  We are a society of limiting risk (unless we know we have substantial backup).  We are a society that lacks perseverance in the face of repeated adversity.  We are a society of people who think “Failure is not an option” is a rallying cry.

I’m here to tell you – failure is ALWAYS an option.  Without failure, we would never be able to celebrate success.  Without failure, we would never appreciate a job well done.  Without failure, we would never be motivated to better ourselves. Without failure, we would never learn anything.

Failure drives us forward – but only if we approach it correctly.  Here are some thoughts on how managers and employees (and yes, parents!) alike can harness the power of failure:

  • Acknowledge failure WILL happen: The idea that if you can go without a mistake for 60 seconds, you can go forever without one is ridiculous.  Accept that failure at some point will occur and give yourself (and others) permission to fail.
  • Talk about failure: Talking about something helps to remove the stigma of that thing.  By talking openly about failure, you help to create a culture where such transparency is expected and welcomed.  There is nothing more powerful than a leader who admits his/her vulnerability, shares his/her failures, and then shares what he/she learned from it.
  • Bring options to the table: If you goof up, figure out how you’re going to make it better.  Don’t just wallow in self pity (or freak out and hide).  Start a dialogue about the situation so you can move on. Own up, share what you think contributed to the mistake, offer some options to rectify the issue, and solicit ideas from your stakeholder.
  • Fail once – and learn from it: While failure is a part of the process, repeated failure can be a sign of something else.  I don’t mind an employee who keeps trying new things, isn’t 100% success the first time, but applies what he/she has learned to the next thing.  I do mind an employee who makes the same mistakes over and over again and blames others for his/her inability to change.

If you spend any time in the working world, you’re going to experience failure, from either your actions or the actions of others.  And some of those failures are gonna be doosies.  Failure is not a problem to solve.  It’s a lesson to learn.  Our reaction to failure is what ultimately drives  success.  So will you seize failure as an opportunity?  Or will you hide behind your inability to embrace what failure can do for you?

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.
– Michael Jordan

[Author’s Note: I know there are a lot of people who DO handle failure well.  And that we all know of someone who has persevered, regardless of the odds.  And to those people, I say “you rock.”]

 
 

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