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Category Archives: Engagement

I hate your sunshine.

During a recent #Nextchat, the conversation turned to making sure current employees were honest about what life was like at the company when talking to candidates. I think I said something clever like, “Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows at any org, no matter how great it is.” Then Anne Tomkinson (a co-host of the chat) said something even MORE clever, “And you also never know what is positive or negative to someone. They might hate your sunshine.”

And while my life goal is to now have a situation in which I can turn to someone and yell, “I HATE YOUR SUNSHINE!”, I also love what Anne said. Because she’s right. Something you find fantastic at work, another person may hate.

Let’s take open floor plans.

Some people love them – they think they foster creativity, collaboration, and create a bright, open atmosphere that makes the office great to be in. And then there are normal people who just want to be able to close a door and get some damn work done every once in awhile.

See? Someone hated your sunshine.

Leadership styles aren’t immune from this, either. You may think a hands-off approach is the best way to work. All employees want a manager who stays away until needed, right? Believe it or not, there ARE employees out there who want a little more direction and guidance on their day-to-day work and wouldn’t see it as micromanaging. They’d see that as support.

Sunshine hated once again.

As leaders, we have to be careful that we aren’t forcefeeding sunshine to our employees. We have to be aware of the different preferences in our workforce. We can’t always accommodate them (sorry, you can’t really wear pajamas all day…), but we can at least stop trying to get them to love the same things we do. Be realistic, for goodness’ sake.

That whole credibility issue leadership seems to have in so many organizations can be tied to our inability to recognize how our people actually feel about things that are going on at work. It’s OKAY for you to think it’s awesome that the cafeteria is moving to healthy food only. You can even tell people that you think it’s awesome. But don’t try to persuade people who hate the idea. Just say, “I get it. It’s not for everyone.” And move on.

Sunshine is subjective. As soon as leadership recognizes that, we’ll be in a better position to build trust and credibility with our teams.

And that should bring a little sunshine to all of us.


Author’s Note: If, like me, you immediately started singing Len’s Don’t You Steal My Sunshine upon reading this article’s headline, I truly apologize. It will take you roughly 72 hours to remove it from your brain. 

 

 

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Everyone needs a Jerry

Early in my HR career, I worked for a large Fortune 200 organization that sold pay TV.  We were geographically dispersed – call centers, field technicians, and a big ol’ headquarters filling two rather large office buildings.

The culture at this place was…I’ll say challenging. It didn’t win a lot of fans, that’s for sure. But the company knew exactly who it was and didn’t try to pretend to be something else, which I appreciated. And many days, most people really liked their job – awesome people to work with, cool projects, access to leadership, super fast career development.

From a Christmas video the company shot. OF COURSE you needed Jerry singing!

There were some days, though…I mean, seriously. Walking into the building was physically difficult. For a lot of people. You’d see their footsteps slowing down, the smile disappearing from their face, their shoulders slumping. It was going to be a grind.

Then you walked through the door and at the front desk was Jerry. And you couldn’t help but smile.

Jerry was one of the main front desk security guards whose job it was to greet visitors, hand out security passes, and generally make sure the folks walking into the building were supposed to be there. But Jerry always took it a step further. He would stand at the desk saying, “Good mornin’. good mornin’, good mornin'” to every person walking in. He’d ask you about your weekend. He’d tell you to have an “awesome, awesome” day. (Always awesome. Twice.)

Jerry was the best.

He saw his job as more than “just a” security guard. He saw himself as an ambassador of the organization. He loved his job and he wanted to make sure you loved it, too. And even if you didn’t, he made sure you had at least one smile that day. Visitors to the building loved him. Regular visitors would worry if he wasn’t at the front desk because he was on break (“Did something happen to Jerry?”). Everyone loved Jerry. Even our sometimes-not-the-most-personable CEO. Jerry could make ANYONE smile.

The CEO recognized Jerry’s worth to the organization because he honored him with a very prestigious award at an all hands meeting, broadcast to all our facilities. This award was typically given to people who had made the company a lot of money, or created a new product, or some other business-y reason. Jerry got it for being himself and helping others.

Everyone needs a Jerry – whether it’s in your organization or in your life. A Jerry helps you set the right tone for your day, or helps bring you out of a gloom on your way home. A Jerry is the face of your company who makes people feel welcomed and valued. A Jerry is this janitor, giving high fives to students as they walk in the door.

Jerry was definitely one of my favorite things about working at that organization. On my last day, when I handed him my badge, he gave a huge hug and said good luck. And a few years later, when I went back to the building to meet with some former co-workers…he recognized me and gave me another hug and said it was great to see me. Who wouldn’t want a Jerry????

As far as I know, Jerry is still being Jerry. I didn’t write this because something sad happened to him or anything. I was just reminded of him when I saw the story about the janitor high fiving students, and I thought, “How cool would that be to get that walking into work every day? Oh wait…Jerry did that.” And thus I wrote about him.

I hope you have a Jerry. And, more importantly, I hope you can be someone’s Jerry.

Because a Jerry is awesome, awesome.

 

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2017 in Authenticity, culture, Engagement

 

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Who is your feedback for…really?

Last night, I sang in a holiday concert with my local community chorus. I love singing, especially Christmas music, and especially with other people who love it, too. We’re not professional or anything, but we have a great time and typically, that’s all that matters.

After the concert, one of the audience members came up to tell me he thought we did great and he liked my solos (I had solos. I’ve got a music background, but that’s not super relevant to this post). I thanked him and said I hope he enjoyed the concert. He then proceeded to tell me that I should really pin my hair back because it’s distracting. And then walked off.

Um…thanks?

This incident wasn’t horrible – I think the guy thought he was giving helpful advice. And he really did enjoy the concert. It just sounded too much like other “feedback” I’ve gotten in my career, especially as a speaker. I’ve yet to speak anywhere (at a conference, as a facilitator internally, etc.) where appearance wasn’t brought up in the feedback. That could be shoes, clothes, whatever. And then there are the comments of “I didn’t learn anything new.”

I bring this up not to rant, nor do I begrudge those folks their right to share their thoughts. After all, I ask for that feedback, right? I bring it up because leaders and employees talk about feedback all the time but I don’t think it’s working. not-listening

Employees say they want feedback, then get surly when they get the truth.

Leaders say they give feedback, yet so often it’s either too vague or too “nice” to make a difference.

Feedback doesn’t work when it’s done with the wrong intentions. Employees who ask for feedback only if it’s positive are just looking for an ego stroke. Leaders who give vague feedback are just trying to check a box without having to have the difficult conversations. Even worse are the leaders who give only negative (please don’t try to call it “constructive” all the time) feedback because they feel threatened by a strong employee.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about asking for and/or giving feedback:

  • Be specific about what you’re looking for: a blanket request for feedback results in all manner of crazy responses. Instead, give the responders some context. “I’m trying to improve my eye contact in meetings. How did I do?” Or “In my last project, I felt like I struggled a bit with organization. How might I get better at that?”
  • Make the feedback actionable by the recipient: When you’re giving feedback to someone, make sure it’s something they can control. Telling someone the lights were bad in the ballroom doesn’t help. They don’t do the lighting. Nor is it helpful to give feedback about the way the finance department handled the hand-off to them in their project. Unless they run the finance department, they can’t really do anything about that. Instead, you can give them suggestions on how to better prepare the materials so that finance is ready to accept the handoff.
  • Find the trends in the feedback: We’re human beings – we like to think we’re AMAZING. And perfect. And special unicorns. So when we get feedback that stings, we look for reasons to reject it.  We think that person doesn’t like us, or they don’t know us, or they don’t know what they’re talking about. But when 5 people tell you similar things about your performance or behavior, you might want to take it to heart a bit. Look for the repeated themes and take the feedback with an open mind.
  • Check yo-self: Why do you want to give someone feedback? Is their behavior a career-limiting issue? Or are they just doing something differently from how YOU would do it? Really think about the intent of your feedback. It should be about helping the other person reach their full potential – not to make you look and/or feel better.

When you can ask for and receive feedback without ulterior motive, and with a pure heart, you will have reach feedback nirvana. Until then, just keep an eye on your motivation.

You may be surprised by how well the feedback works.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2015 in Clarity, Engagement

 

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When things go wrong, will your people do right?

Today was the kind of day that business travelers tell horror stories about.

I’m speaking at two conference this week (MNSHRM and WISHRM), and today was the first day of a week of travel. It was supposed to be easy. I had just gotten my TSA Pre-Check, so security wasn’t a problem. And I was flying Southwest Airlines with a good boarding position (A 31 – not too shabby).

How hard could it be?

My husband dropped me off at the airport one hour and forty minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off. I figured I’d drop off the bag, breeze through security and grab a little breakfast.

And then I encountered this:

line_southwest

A line to end all lines. And it was even worse inside.

Turns out, Southwest had a massive computer system outage today. They couldn’t print boarding passes from many of the service desks. They couldn’t print baggage claim tickets.

They had to do EVERYTHING by hand – check in, boarding, manifest clearing – everything.

And you know what? They did it with a smile.

The skycaps worked quickly. They had their process down and did what they could to keep the mood light. (I got through that ridiculous line in 35 minutes.)

The boarding gate agent was funny and handled the craziness with some humor.

The flight crew acknowledge the challenges, kept the passengers informed, and did what they could to ensure everyone on the flight made it – even when security was backed up (seriously…get TSA pre-check).

It wasn’t just in my hometown where the employees did what they could to make the best of a terrible situation. Check out these employees in Las Vegas, handing out cold drinks to folks stuck in the hot sun:

SW_2

Was everyone happy? Of course not. It was stressful for everyone involved. Not everyone saw exemplary service from Southwest employees, but overall, they have handled the ongoing problems pretty well.

In the event of this kind of crisis, how would YOUR employees perform? And what can you do to best ensure you’re ready to respond?

  1. Have a plan: The Southwest employees weren’t using sticky notes to process baggage. They had printed tags designed for manual checking. The gate agent had a protocol to process mobile and paper passes without computer access. If you don’t have a Plan B for your business process, you’ll have even more problems.
  2. Hire the right people: Southwest is very explicit about their culture and expectations for their employees – but they also make a pledge to do right by their people. (The “To Our Employees” clause…) By taking time to find the right people to carry out your organization’s work, you increase the likelihood that they will be able to respond to a challenge the way you want them to.
  3. Balance process with humanity: I can’t imagine the level of complexity Southwest faced with this system outage. Between the sheer number of passengers, Homeland Security requirements, and airport regulations, they could have chosen to approach this with a very command-and-control approach. Instead, I saw employees empowered to make decisions. I read examples of employees given the freedom to hand out cold drinks. I saw a flight crew take time to alleviate a passenger’s concern about a connecting flight when we took off late. Are you willing to let go in times of pressure and put the trust in your people to do the right thing?

They say that adversity does not build character, it reveals it.

What character will your people reveal?

[Disclaimer: I’m sure a LOT of people had a horrible travel day today, and many of them are annoyed and frustrated still. My experience may not be the same as others. If you had a bad start to your day, I really hope it got better!]

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2015 in Engagement, Teamwork

 

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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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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.

 

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Apparently your cat hates you…and your employees might, too

You may have seen it online or in the news lately – there’s a study that claims your cat hates you, or at the very least, doesn’t really care if you’re there or not.

My first thought upon reading the article…you needed a study to learn this?  Seriously, just own a cat.  [Full disclosure: I’m a dog person.  But cats have been in my life from time to time.  Hence the dog. :)] The level of disdain even the most “loving” cats have for their owners is remarkable.  Awe-inspiring, even.

Shortly after that, I thought how similar this behavior can be to employees.  I’m inclined to believe that employees also have an “anxious avoidant” attachment style – they really don’t care if their leader is present or not present.  Not in a positive way, anyway.  Sure, employees may care to avoid an abusive or incompetent leader.  But just like a cat who snubs the owner who feeds them and gives them a loving home, employees may turn their nose up at a leader who cares about his/her employees.

grumpy_cat

If you don’t know Grumpy Cat, you are missing out!!

Leaders, try not to take it personally.  There are a number of factors that play into this dynamic:

  • Employees are hard-wired to hate “The Man”: Well, maybe not hate.  Perhaps “intense distrust” is a better term.  By and large, authority figures have it rough in the workplace.  Ask any popular employee who was promoted and then spurned as a pariah – it can be tough to be the king.
  • Leaders kinda feel the same way about their employees: Just like employees are hard-wired to hate “The Man”, there are a number of leaders who look at the privilege of leading with a sort of resignation.  They know it’s important, it’s just….tiring sometimes.
  • Leaders struggle with boundaries: There are many leaders out there who just don’t get the balance between BFF and hard ass.  This can lead to credibility issues with the team that cause employees to wish “the man” wasn’t around.
  • Most employees don’t really need a manager: Of course, teams need a manager.  They need someone to help run interference, be their champion, set the vision, etc.  But on a day-to-day basis, not so much.  Think I’m wrong?  Next time your manager is out of the office, take note of how much work you get done.

 

So what do you do to combat this indifference?  We might be able to learn a lot from cat owners:

  • Don’t try too hard: Most cat owners know that when the cat wants to interact with you, he/she will do so.  Create an environment that is conducive to interaction, exercise some patience, and see what happens.
  • Catnip works: In this case, catnip can be rewards and recognition.  Make your employees’ interactions with you positive and you may see them more often.  Figure out what motivates your employees, help them achieve that, and you should see an improvement in your relationships.
  • Know what baggage they bring to the table: As anyone who has ever adopted a shelter cat knows, some of these guys come with serious issues.  Sometimes employees do, too.  Maybe they had a crappy manager 3 jobs ago and you’re paying the price.  Patience, positive reinforcement, and a good dialogue can help overcome that.
  • Some people just aren’t cat people: If it really bothers you that your employees don’t like you, or don’t think you’re cool, or don’t want to hang out with you…maybe you aren’t the leading kind.  Re-examine your motives for getting into a leadership position in the first place – if they are still pure and you just need an attitude adjustment, do it!  If not, that’s okay, too.  Just don’t subject your employees to a non-leadership ready leader.

Do you have any advice for the leader whose employees are a little too cat-like in their attachment?  Share in the comments below!

I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.
– Neil Gaiman

 

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