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Category Archives: Managing Up

Development as partnership (when leaders and employees get it)

Last week, I had the opportunity to both attend and speak at the Illinois state conference for the Society of Human Resource Management (henceforth referred to as ILSHRM, ’cause that’s way too much to type out).

Hundreds of HR professionals descended upon the Holiday Inn and Convention Center in Tinley Park, IL for a couple of days of networking, socializing, eating far too many carbs, and yes…learning.

I love being able to talk to people from around the country about what they do, what they struggle with, and how they are trying to make their workplace – and themselves – better. And these folks are from Illinois, so they’re chatty Midwesterners who are open, honest, and a lot of fun to boot.

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What struck me as I talked to the fine folks of ILSHRM is that we all have similar challenges – high state of change, evolving business demands, disengaged employees, managers who don’t always get it, legal shifts, work-life balance, etc. And what impressed me is that despite all the challenges, these people were determined to find a way to fix it. They believed that by advancing their skills, learning from others, and challenging their own thinking, they might be able to take something from ILSHRM back to their workplace, apply it, and make a difference.

Naive? Maybe. Optimistic? Probably.

Impossible? No.

I say it’s not impossible because all those people attending ILSHRM had the support of their organizations and/or their boss.  Maybe it was a “check the box” exercise to prove the company supports development. Who cares – they got to go. Most were there because their boss/leadership had specific problems and trust their HR team to go find a solution that will work for them.

This conference reaffirmed the fact that when leaders and employees are both devoted to development, good things can happen. Heck, I was there because my boss was willing to let me go spread our brand and bring new ideas back. (Thanks, Gail!)

And for the cynics out there, you’re right – some people attend conferences to get their credits to avoid retaking a test, for the carb overload, for a couple of nights away from the kids. But tell that to the fun folks I had lunch with from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District – all 10+ of them. This was a group determined to get something out of the conference…and have a fun time while they learned. And tell that to the young HR professionals who asked incredibly powerful, insightful questions in all the sessions they attended. They weren’t content to listen and leave – they wanted to explore, to learn from the collective experience from the folks in the room.

The reality is that this only works if everyone involved is willing to MAKE IT WORK. (Tim Gunn shout out!) Developing employees is more than signing up for a class or a conversation about career goals now and then. It’s about employees stating what they need for their development and leaders supporting them in that endeavor.

It takes two to tango.

Leaders, employees, customers and companies all benefit when development is supported. So I challenge each of you – whether you are a manager or individual contributor – to do what you can to partner for development. You’ll get so much more out of it than what you put into it.

I know I do.

 

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Managing Up, Personal Development, Skillz

 

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Get To vs. Have To: The employee’s dilemma

I’m writing this on a Sunday evening while watching playoff hockey waiting for Game of Thrones to start and trying to figure out why our dog has become endlessly fascinated by a piece of paper on an end table. In short, it’s a lovely evening and I’m happy that I get to do this.

I bring this up because as the weekend winds down, people are lamenting the fact that they “have to” go to work tomorrow. (Don’t believe me? Check your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feeds.) And thus we are confronted by the dichotomy all employees deal with at work – what they “get to do” vs. what they “have to do.”

“Have to” is all the work employees tend to complain about – answering emails, attending recurring meetings, data entry, making phones calls, paying invoices…all the tasks that fulfill the basic functions of their job descriptions.

“Get to” is the work that employees say they want – stretch goals, new projects, visibility, variety, excitement…all the things that a new and different from the day-to-day. swivel chair

In short, “have to” is the work we get paid for, “get to” is the work that engages us.

What’s interesting is how quickly the “get to” turns into “have to” for so many employees. What was once new and exciting gets absorbed into the background as just another thing you work on in your job.

This phenomenon is known as the hedonic treadmill (or hedonic adaptation, if you must be specific) and refers to our singular ability to return to a relative level of happiness (or unhappiness) following a positive or negative event in our lives. Basically, if you’re a happy person, you’ll still be a happy person even after undergoing a setback. But if you’re a negative person, you’ll still be a negative person even if you win the lottery.

Let’s apply this to work. If you (generally) like your job, the “have to” doesn’t bring you down too much. The “get to” is a nice perk, but you don’t really need it because you’re already in a good place.  Chances are, you’re probably more engaged (or at least satisfied – NOT THE SAME THING) than the average person. If you (generally) chafe against your job, the “get to” won’t be enough to change your tune.

So if you are more of a Grumpy Cat than an Oprah (The Secret), how do you maximize the “get to” moments at work?

  • Keep your eye on the prize: Work will feel less “have to” if you find ways to help you reach your long term goals. Working an office day job but really want to be an agent? Look at your internal relationship building as honing your networking skills.
  • Take control of your “have to”: Be efficient and work your way through your “have to” list every day so it doesn’t weigh on you. Talk to your boss about restructuring your “have to” if you’re approaching burnout. One of the reasons “have to” brings us down is because we don’t have control over it. Try to get some.
  • Think of the “get to” as a reward, not a right: Remember, “get to” is development and growth. It’s not something that you should take for granted or sit back and wait for it to come to you. Be proactive and ask for the “get to”. Now it’s something you’ve earned, which can extend your happiness about the “get to.”
  • Check your attitude: Granted, people will land somewhere on the spectrum between Pippi Longstocking and Chicken Little, and it’s okay to know who you are. But if you find yourself unable to appreciate the “get to” in your life, find out why. Maybe you need more sleep, maybe you need some perspective, maybe you need therapy. Whatever it is, figure it out.

The reality is that the “have to” work will never ever go away. The trick is to find enough “get to” work to keep it interesting.

And try to have a good week, everyone!

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2015 in Managing Up, Self-Awareness

 

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Be careful what you wish for…your voice WILL be heard

As employees, we have a list of grievances – or demands, if you prefer – that we carry in our heart and in our head at all times.

  • No one ever asks me what I think.
  • I never get to work on the big projects.
  • The executives don’t even know who I am!
  • My boss is constantly checking on me. Just leave me alone and let me do my job.

Sound familiar?

Complaining is the lifeblood of the American worker.  If we didn’t have work to complain about, we’d be forced to deal with something else. Like our unhealthy addiction to Laffy Taffy (don’t judge me).

So let’s say you had the opportunity to speak up. And I’m talking about a leadership team who really wants to hear your feedback and input (not some snarky attempt to check off the “listen to your people” box).green_soapbox

Someone finally asks you what you think.  Someone looks to you for some big ideas. Someone gives you free reign to propose a solution to all the problems you’ve been pointing out for so long.

Are you ready to respond? Because you may only get one shot at this.

It can hurt your credibility when you’re not able to rise to the occasion. Responding from a place of emotion rather than giving specific examples of what has happened that negatively impacts the organization, the focus is no longer on the issues – it’s squarely on you. And if you don’t respond AT ALL, you risk never being asked for your opinion again.

No one is looking for a perfectly formed 12 point plan to address the issues.  Your leaders are just asking you to articulate your concerns in a way that shows you have thought about the problem…you know, beyond how much it impacts you personally. Leaders KNOW it impact you. That’s why you keep bringing it up. So what are you gonna do about it?

If you want a voice and have a say in formulating a solution to the issues your team faces, try the following:

  • Self-monitor: Take note of how often you complain and how you might be perceived by others. What others might agree with in the beginning might become background noise in the long run.
  • Listen to others: Issues may not impact others the same way they impact you. And others may lend perspective that you don’t have.  So hush up and see what they have to say.
  • Stick to the facts: Emotions can run high, particularly if a group feels like no one has been listening to them up to this point.  Leaders tend to shut down the instant employees argue emotion rather than factual impact.
  • Be honest without being mean: Leaders want candor. They don’t want anger. Don’t let the message be lost in the way you deliver it. Attack the issue, not the person. You CAN be respectful and be frank.
  • Be solution-focused: We all vent. A lot. It’s pretty easy to point out all the things that are wrong. Leaders ask for your opinion because they want to hear from the people on the front-lines. Use your day-to-day knowledge to suggest solutions no one in leadership would think of.

So the next time you complain that no one ever listens to you, don’t be surprised if leadership starts asking for your opinion.

Will you be ready?

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2015 in Managing Up, Teamwork

 

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‘Do you want to play Questions?’ (your secret weapon)

Have you ever read/saw Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead?  It’s an amazing play turned into a very good movie about two of the throwaway characters in Hamlet whose claim to fame is that they are outwitted by the brooding prince and executed in England.

In one scene, the two play a game called “Questions” – they must, not so surprisingly, only speak in the form of questions. Hesitation, statements, or non sequiturs are not allowed.  If someone goofs, the other person scores a point (or forfeits, or however you want to play it).

In the play, the scene is meant to further illustrate the limits of language and futility in seeking existential knowledge.  But what it also does is remind us of the POWER of asking questions.

As leaders and as employees, we can benefit from playing our own version Questions when holding important conversations or when confronted with a potentially sensitive situation.  These conversations are filled with potential land mines – your innocent statement or observation could set the other person off because you didn’t know where they were coming from.If-you-ask-cp1weq

Forcing yourself to focus on questions rather than statements has a number of benefits.  You signal you’re willing to listen. Good questioning invites the other person in.  Questioning indicates you’re seeking understanding, rather than imposing your interpretation of events. When you ask questions, you actually have to listen to what the other person is saying, so that your next question makes sense in the context of the conversation.  And an added bonus, asking questions increases the chance that the other person might find their own solution.

There is, however, an art to using the questioning technique effectively.  After all, simply asking “How did that make you feel?” or “So you’re saying that customer was rude to you?” can sound condescending if that’s all you say.  Just follow the Questions rules:

  • No statements: Move the conversation forward with a question rather than your own statement. [And yes, I know that you will have to use SOME statements.  Just try to minimize them.]
  • No repetition: Stay engaged, pay attention.  If you find yourself repeating the other person’s words back to them, or ask the same question over and over, RE-ENGAGE.
  • No synonyms: It’s just a fancy way of repeating.  Show off.
  • No rhetoric: The intent of the questions is to seek clarity, not to stump the other person.  Does this mean every question you ask will be answered? No. But you should give them a fair chance.

So the next time you are in a scenario that could get messy, try following Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s example.  Give yourself a deduction every time you break the rules and see how it turns out.  You might be surprised that all it took to defuse the situation was a few good questions.

“Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.”
― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Clarity, Managing Up, Self-Awareness, Skillz

 

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How can you afford your Whac-A-Mole lifestyle? (hint: you can’t)

You’ve seen them.

Running from place to place.  Conducting drive-bys at every cube, leaving unclear action items in their wake – and frustrating employees everywhere.

These are the Whac-A-Moles. And they are hurting your business.

In case you’ve never been to a midway, Whac-A-Mole is an entertaining game in which the player (you) get to use a giant soft mallet to smack (whac) moles that pop out of holes at random intervals.  It’s oddly satisfying.

That little moment of happiness you feel when you bonk that mole on the head in a game is the same feeling that the Whac-A-Mole Leader gets when they run around the office reacting to every little thing.  I mean…I assume that it’s the same because I can’t imagine why you would want to work that way.  It sounds exhausting.

Just as exhausting as it sounds to BE a Whac-A-Mole Leader, it can be even worse to be AROUND the Whac-A-Mole Leader.  Any attempts at prioritizing your day goes out the window.  You rejoice when the Whac-A-Mole is out of the office or in an all day meeting (though you dread the next day when they’re back with action items).  It can make for a very frustrating work environment.

Think about the costs of Whac-A-Mole Leadershipwhac-a-mole-new-version

  • Lost Efficiency: When managers rush in and demand immediate action, the employees who receive that demand have to stop what they’re doing and respond.  Once they’re done, they then have to figure out where they were, which costs time and brain power.
  • Lost Vision: A manager who reacts may think they have a vision, but really they are just reacting to things that happen.  By reacting to everything happening rather than having a plan, Whac-A-Mole Leaders abdicate their strategic vision to the will of others.
  • Lost Credibility: Think about it. If you’re a Whac-A-Mole Leader, your team has no time to do their normal work and are forced to rush through the “emergencies,” and you don’t have your own vision – how much credibility do you think you’d have? Your team will think you have no real leadership of your own, and your peers will take advantage of you because they know you will whac any mole they throw at you.

There is hope for you yet

It is possible to break the Whac-A-Mole cycle, but you have to commit to it.  

FIrst, admit you have a problem.  Seriously.  If you think you DON’T have a problem or have been told you do by a couple of people and don’t believe it, ask to have a 360 feedback survey conducted.  That should give you enough perspective to realize how pervasive the issue is.

Next, wean yourself from the need to react to everything. Stop reacting and start thinking – about your vision, about your team’s priorities, about the true needs of the business.

Because if you continue to react to everything, the last thing you’ll react to is the fact you got fired.

Are you a reformed Whac-A-Mole Leader?  Did you survive one?  Share your stories in the comments!!

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2014 in Executive Presence, Managing Up, Skillz

 

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A little disruption is good for the soul

In Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle In Time, she shares the story of the Murry family – specifically Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their quest to find their missing scientist father.  I won’t recount the entire plot here (if you need a summary, here it is.  Seriously, just go read the book!), but there are two important things I want to point out – Meg struggles to fit in, and Meg is challenged to save her brother from the powerful IT…whose one power is the ability to make EVERYONE fit in.

In the story, Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace travel to the planet Camazotz, a picture of conformity:

Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns.  The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray….In front of all the houses children were playing….As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball.  As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes.  Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical.  Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers.

Not to get all dramatic about it, but the truth is that many companies are like Camazotz.  The denizens of Corporate America are all too happy to allow someone else “to assume all the pain, all the responsibility, all the burdens of thought and decisions.”  Unsurprisingly, Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace are unnerved by all the sameness.  To them, it’s creepy and unnatural. Why?  Because if everything is the SAME, how would you know if something is good or bad? 

That which moves us forward requires a lack of conformity.  Progress, by its very nature, is disruptive.  It interrupts the status quo.  It challenges us to bounce the ball to a different rhythm from everyone else.  Without disruption, we would be drones.

It’s hard to embrace our inner disruptor, though.  We are surrounded by people who will defend their right to a boring, thought-free, risk-free existence.  And, like IT, these people are often in leadership roles. Why? Because the more you have, the harder you will work to defend it.evolution-change

At one point, Meg and Charles Wallace see a little boy who bounces his ball out of rhythm – you know, as a little boy would play with a ball.  Rather than this being seen as a natural thing, it’s considered an Aberration:

The door of his house opened and out ran one of the mother figures.  She looked wildly up and down the street, saw the children and put her hand to her mouth as though to stifle a scream.

When you have chosen to trade your free will to avoid responsibility, it would appear you have also chosen to live in fear.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to work with people whose default setting is “don’t rock the boat.”  That doesn’t mean I’m an anarchist – it means I value individuality, risk taking, and looking forward.  I believe that what got us here won’t get us to the next level.  Gosh darn it, I’m a disruptor.

To further disruption in your environment, keep the following in mind:

  • Know your currency: Charles Wallace, intuitive genius that he is, is eventually seduced by the power of IT – not because he doesn’t want responsibility but because IT flatters his intelligence.  Many of us have trigger points or other elements that we hold dear and will defend to the (metaphorical) death. Be aware of yours and establish your personal boundaries so you don’t automatically go into defensive mode when you should be embracing a challenge.
  • Use frustration to your advantage: In the book, Meg says, “When I’m mad I don’t have room to be scared.” She uses one strong emotion to give herself courage to ignore her fear.  We all run into frustrations at work.  We get angry.  Would you rather sit and stew? Wouldn’t it be better to use that anger and frustration to give yourself the courage to try something new?
  • Understand WHY disruption is needed:  Meg saves Charles Wallace because she knows IT doesn’t understand love – her motive was purse, her cause just, her disruption a necessity.Change for change’s sake isn’t necessarily a good thing.  It should be intentional.  WHY do you disrupt?  Is it to encourage new thinking and behaviors?  Or are you just being a contrarian? True disruptors use their powers for good, not evil.
  • Keep trying: Disruptors understand that success doesn’t always happen on the first try.  It takes persistence, adaptability, influence, charm, support, help, failure, learnings, repetition, new leadership…all of it.  But it’s worth it.

We keep talking about the importance of authenticity, letting your freak flag fly, being yourself at work.  If you believe in that, be open to a little disruption now and then.  It’s good for you.

“Maybe I don’t like being different,” Meg said, “but I don’t want to be like everybody else, either.”
– Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Think disruption sounds cool? Want to explore your inner disruptor? If you are in the Denver area, join us for DisruptHR Denver – a FREE event on April 9, 2014, exploring new was to think about people and talent.  Visit www.disrupthr.co/denver for more information and to RSVP!

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2014 in Authenticity, Managing Up

 

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Missed opportunities, or what if you spent $4M and no one cared?

[Editor’s Note: Due to the horrible performance by this author’s team, the game itself shall not be discussed.  I mean, seriously – what the heck was that?!]

Every year, the Super Bowl audience breaks down to two camps – those who care about the game and those who care about the commercials.  Ever since Apple’s ‘1984’ ad aired, the Super Bowl has risen in prominence as THE place for companies to make a marketing impact.  With the increase of on demand entertainment, live sporting events on the level of the Super Bowl offer one of the few places where millions of eyes will be watching at the same time.  And given the mythical status some Super Bowl ads attain, this is one of the few times that people WANT to watch the commercials. So you would think companies would do their best to make the most of this moment.

Sadly, this year’s crop fell short.  In fact, recent years have revealed some lackluster attempts to get our attention.  We long for the days of EDS’s “herding cats” or the CareerBuilder chimps. Instead, we get a Maserati ad that everyone hoped was a horror movie trailer and others that made Joe Namath’s coat the highlight of the evening. [Ed. Note: The Budweiser Puppy/Clydesdale ad was still awesome.  Because….puppy.  Duh.]  Not exactly everyone’s idea of $4M well spent.

missed_opportunities

We’ve all had situations in which we had a great opportunity to make a positive impression…and fell flat on our face.  Or worse, made no impression at all.  By examining the possible mistakes made by this year’s Super Bowl ad companies, it’s possible you can avoid a similar problem when provided a high visibility stage upon which to make a statement:

  • Playing it safe:  A lot of the ads toyed with audacity, but couldn’t quite get there.  That $4M price tag might have kept companies from wanting to go too far out of the norm.  As a result, there was a lack of creativity.  And I’m not the only one who thought so.
    What it means to you: When you get a chance to play on the big stage, decide whether or not you want to swing for the fences.  If you’re going to take a risk, take a real risk.  A jazz instructor I knew once said, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make a mistake of passion.”
  • Not managing the message: If you followed the Twitter feed for Super Bowl ads, you saw a wide range of negative comments – some deserved (and funny), some bizarre and intolerant. As a result, the ad’s message was lost in the aftermath.
    What it means to you: It’s not possible to anticipate all reactions to the content, but it’s good to have a backup plan. When you take your moment in the sun, consider the audience, the possible response, and how you’ll handle any backlash.
  • Losing sight of the goal: This one can also be thought of as “Letting the size of the stage dictate your message”.  Bud Light, who has had some winners in the past, decided to feature a regular guy who doesn’t know he’s in a commercial – and not just any commercial, a Super Bowl Commercial.  So you ended up with Don Cheadle and a llama, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in inappropriate shorts.  And how is this about beer? Or even about the Bud brand?
    What this means to you: Just because you’re in a high visibility situation, it doesn’t mean you should forget why you’re there.  Whatever message you want to send, keep the core of that message.  What do you want people to remember – you and your message, or the fact that you had a dancing bear introduce you?

Chances are, your stage isn’t as big as what we saw on Sunday.  But every single time you have a chance to make an impression, you should think of it as your personal Super Bowl.  Seize the opportunity to tell your story, share your message, and be memorable – in a GOOD way.  Don’t spend the social equivalent of $4M just so people can say, “meh.”

 Do you have a story about how a time you made an impression on the big stage?  Share in the comments?

 

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