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Broadway musicals and the lessons of succession planning

Recently, the producers of Dear Evan Hansen announced that its Tony Award-winning lead, a ridiculously talented Ben Platt, would be vacating the role on November 19. Platt originated the role through read-throughs, workshops, previews, and finally, a year on Broadway.

The show is a runaway hit, pulling in $1.5M a week and already providing its investors with a complete return on their investment (in a very short period of time for a small theatre on Broadway). While the show seems like it will be fine with a new lead, its continued success is uncertain and there has been no announcement of who will be taking over the lead.

For another show on Broadway, the continued success is known – it will not have any. Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 (heretofore known as The Great Comet because that name is just WAY too long) was nominated for 12 Tony Awards (3 more than the big winner Dear Evan Hansen). It starred Josh Groban, he of velvety-voice-with-little-inflection-but-everyone-loves-him fame. It was a rousing good time. It got a huge boost from the Tonys performance.

And then Josh Groban left the show.

Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowa (who originated Hercules Mulligan/James Madison in Hamilton) took over the role. People loved him, he had a wonderful debut. And about 3 weeks into his run, rumors started flying that Mandy Patinkin (Broadway royalty/Inigo Montoya) would take over the role. It was officially announced. And the backlash was loud and accusatory because Oak is black, Mandy is white, and the callousness of the move was jarring. Turns out, Mandy was horrified at what happened, and refused to take the role because of what happened to Oak – Mandy had been told Oak was cool with it…and Oak did not appear to be cool with it. Mandy’s out. Oak refuses to go back.

And now the show is closing less than a year after it opened because they have no “name” lead and advance sales plummeted.

So why would I spend nearly 400 words on the drama of a Broadway show’s missteps?

Because that could be your organization.

If you have talented, charismatic, AMAZING leaders in your organization and you haven’t planned for what happens when they leave, you could be The Great Comet.

Don’t be The Great Comet.

Because I’m an unabashed theatre nerd and have decided to run this metaphor into the ground, here are some lessons about succession planning you can learn from Broadway:

  • It’s not the actor, it’s the show:  If you rely on one person’s performance for your company’s success, you will fail. Make sure the team’s/unit’s/company’s work and systems are strong enough to stand on its own, regardless of who is in charge. You want that leader to enhance, not overtake, the work that is already being done. Hamilton, the cultural juggernaut that will probably play forever and ever, is able to survive cast changes all the time – because the book, music and staging is just SO DAMN GOOD. New cast members join in service to the show, and while you see their spin in the performance, it’s not about them. It’s about the outcome of the show.
  • Acknowledge that the original star can never REALLY be replaced and adapt: Having seen Ben Platt perform live, I am fairly confident that NO ONE will ever play that role to that level ever again. It is astounding. That doesn’t mean the next person will not be good. It just means they won’t be Ben. If they’re smart, they’ll try to find someone who can create the role in their own image, and adapt the show to that person’s strengths. Your company should do the same thing. If the last leader was well loved and well liked, acknowledge that. Then give them the opportunity to build and move on in their own image without changing the script.
  • Consider staggering your exits: If you know you have a cohort of leaders who might be leaving around the same time – whether it’s retirement or a spin-off or something else – you might negotiate with them to stagger their leaving (assuming you like their style). This will allow you to have stability throughout the transition, helping onboard the new leaders while providing consistency for the organization. Hamilton used this approach. Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) announced he was leaving. Then Leslie Odom, Jr. (Burr) left (apparently to do Nationwide commercials). Then others in the lead roles left. But never all at once. It helped preserve the spirit of the show and passed on the cast’s culture to the next actors to join. That could work for you.
  • Have a long-term plan: Everyone leaves a company – whether they quit, get fired, or die. It’s the role of a leader to prep his/her replacement and plan that exit from the day they join. Lin Manuel Miranda has a group of trusted performers that he knows he can turn to take over roles. Javier Munoz was Lin’s understudy and replacement for In the Heights, and the same thing happened in Hamilton. Smooth transition. Who is YOUR Javier Munoz?
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: One of the biggest myths in succession planning is that you pick ONE person to be your replacement and you’re done. This is known as “pre-selection” and will bite you in the ass. You want to be sure that person can actually do the job, so you want to make sure you’re developing them. But even more pressing is the fact that someone who is high-potential enough to be identified as your successor may not want to wait in your shadow until you leave – they could jump to another opportunity. On Broadway, many understudies are working on originating one role while backing up another (like with Dear Evan Hansen’s Colton Ryan). There is no guarantee they’ll be around to take over full time. Or life gets in the way – Javier Munoz has had two health issues (thankfully, he’s okay). The point is, identify a potential pool of successors and develop their skills. It gives the company more options at the time of transition.
  • Communicate appropriately: That whole Mandy/Oak thing? Totally could have been avoided if all the right players met at one point to talk long-term goals, communication strategy, and impact to Oak. People get nervous when their boss changes. Having a good communication plan can help alleviate that. Additionally, if you DO have multiple people who could potentially take the job, think about how you let those who did NOT get the position know. What feedback can you give? What career options can you share? And…are you prepared for the reality that they may leave because of it? Whatever the case might be, the last thing you want to do is have a communication issue that results in NO ONE taking the role.

There you have it – lessons from Broadway on how you might approach succession planning within your organization.

See? The arts DO apply to the “real world.” (Support the arts!!!)

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2017 in culture, Decision Making

 

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Survivor: Meetings Edition

If you clicked on this link because you thought it would be a thoughtful look at how to structure a meeting to ensure success, then you have come to the wrong place.

I am at the point where I no longer think it can be done on a consistent basis. Yes, you will have the occasional meeting where decisions are ACTUALLY made and people leave feeling like they accomplished something. But let’s be honest…those are few and far between. And do we REALLY think one more article reminding everyone to have an agenda and desired outcomes is going to make a difference?survivor

I didn’t think so.

And so, for your edification and general sanity, I present the following tips for surviving meetings:

  • Bring your smartphone: Seems pretty basic, right? But how else are you going to stay occupied during the update you’ve heard in 4 other meetings? And besides, if someone calls you out, you can say you were just pulling up the email with the attachment the person was talking about. (Hint: have that pre-loaded. Just in case.)
  • Bring a notebook: This is essential. It’s low tech. It doesn’t rely on good signal. And no one can accuse you of not paying attention because it looks like you’re taking notes…even if you’re just doodling, jotting down a grocery list, or finally writing that novel you’ve always known you had inside you.
  • Choose your seat carefully: It’s good to sit next to someone you like so you can exchange meaningful glances when something goofy is said. If that’s not possible, then sit across from that person so you can silently laugh when appropriate. There’s always an opportunity to text that person from afar as needed. (See “bring your smartphone.”)
  • Pretend the person who drones on and on is monologuing: This is straight from The Incredibles. At some point, the villain ALWAYS monologues. This is your chance to dream up your amazing escape! I’m sure lasers will be involved somehow. There should be lasers. But not capes. For obvious reasons.
  • Play Devil’s Advocate: This one is more about amusement than survival, but whatever. Some people believe the Outlook meeting is the required time to hold the meeting, so they’re not going to end early if they can help it. Why not spice up the festivities with a little, “Just playing devil’s advocate?” For example, the group is talking about ways to increase customer service. You can pipe in with a, “Just playing devil’s advocate here, but is the customer REALLY always right? I’d hate for us to go down a certain path on a false premise.”
  • Fake a sneezing fit: Coughing works, too. Anything that requires you to inarticulately point at your face and make a beeline for the door.

If you find yourself relying on one or more of these on a regular basis, your company has a problem with meetings. Now you have a choice – either perpetuate the issue or take a stand and stop going unless you know why the meeting is taking place. It only takes one strong voice to question the recurring meeting, and it only takes one smart question to find out why 10 people are sitting in a room.

Or you can fake sneeze. Because that makes you look like an adult.

What have YOU done to liven up your awful meetings? I want to hear from you!

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2017 in culture, Teamwork

 

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Questions about your culture? Check your travel policy

Okay, it doesn’t necessarily need to be your travel policy, but I think it’s particularly useful for this exercise.

Allow me to explain.

Culture has lots of different definitions. Feel free to Google them if you’re a completist. For me, I look at culture as how work gets done in an organization. That encompasses a lot of stuff, and many tend to think solely of the people component – attitudes, values, behaviors, etc. Those are all part of it, so I’m glad people consider it!  Some also think about culture in terms of reward and recognition, employee perks, stuff like that. Also part of it, so keep that on the list!

The piece that is often missed, though, is process and policy. You know, the nuts and bolts of how you enable (or disable) work to be done within your organization. We forget this part of our culture because it’s in the background. Shit gets done regardless, and we fail to think about the mechanisms that we put in place unless legislation forces us to take a look at it. But it’s having one hell of an impact on your corporate culture whether you realize it or not.

In the FABULOUS book Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnus Nutter, WitchCrowley (“An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards”) ruminates on some of his greatest accomplishments of demony on Earth. He’s frustrated by the old school demons who think one soul at a time. Crowley puts in place entire systems that ratchet up stress just enough for a person to take it out on another person who would then take it out on another…well, you get the idea. Traffic jams from a poorly designed highway is one example. The resulting negative psychic energy from poorly designed systems poisons the world and primes it for the appearance of the AntiChrist.

Which brings us to the travel policy.paperstack-292x300

If you could design the optimal travel policy, what would it look like? Let’s assume that you have to cap spending and all that fun stuff. Good chance that you might say, “Okay, you can get a flight that works for you and your family – as long as it’s not unnecessarily pricey (e.g., first class all the time). And go ahead and book it on the airline’s web site and use your corporate card so it’s not too complicated. Pick a hotel that comfortable, safe, and near the facility where your visiting. You know, don’t stay at the Ritz, but you don’t need to hit the Motel 6. Oh, and for your food and transportation? Here’s a per diem. You spend that as you see fit.” Doesn’t that sound lovely?

I sort of doubt you’d create one with overly complicated rules about which flights you can book, or require you to use a centralized travel site that doesn’t work 40% of the time, or make arbitrary cutoff points about how long a flight has to be in order to pay for early seating or business class. You wouldn’t set a spend limit on each meal ($10 breakfast, $10 lunch, $20 dinner), or require use of public transportation. You certainly wouldn’t limit the amount of tip someone was allowed to leave for a waitress. And surely you wouldn’t then force your employees to spend hours entering receipts into an overly complicated and antiquated computer system.

Now, if reading the previous paragraph made your blood boil or scoff in disbelief, imagine working under that sort of policy. Because that is a real thing. This policy exists in the world today. (I won’t say where. BUT YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.)

No matter how much you talk about the value of people, or how much you want your culture to be one of trust, or how much you want to be an employer of choice, a policy like the one above undermines all of it. It tells your employees that saving a little money is WAY more important than your employees’ time. Or that you don’t trust them to spend money like it’s their own.

It’s hurting your culture because sometimes, employees want to spend $25 at breakfast and then eat a protein bar for lunch. Or sometimes, they just want to take the 2 hour earlier flight to see their kid after a long trip. Or they want to stay an extra night in the hotel because they want to be able to visit their internal customers without feeling like they have to sneak in a key meeting. They don’t want to feel like their work is overly burdensome.

Before you get all, “But, Mary…” on me, yes, I know you need to have some controls in place – not just to ensure good spending practices, but for risk management compliance. I’m not saying you get rid of everything. Just get rid of the stuff you don’t need. (And you don’t need a lot of it.)

So if you’ve got “culture” in any form on you list of organizational initiatives this year, don’t forget to look at your travel policy. In fact, look at all your policies. And your systems. And your workflows.

You may be surprised at how much impact you can have on that always elusive “culture improvement.”

 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2017 in culture

 

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Everybody lies


lie [lahy]
noun

1. a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.

2. something intended or serving to convey a false impression; imposture.

I loved the TV show House. Well, the first few seasons of it, anyway.

I’m a nerdy Sherlock Holmes fan, so when the creators of House took the general DNA of Sherlock Holmes and put it into the character of a grumpy addict who also happened to be a brilliant doctor, I was sold. (Plus, Hugh Laurie is a genius as Dr. Gregory House. Go listen to his actual voice – you’re freaked out he’s not American, right?! Because it sounds wrong? But I digress.)

One of the basic tenants of House’s belief system is that everybody lies – particularly patients. In fact, it’s a quote: It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what. The reason why he’s able to diagnose the craziest diseases (but not vasculitis; it’s never vasculitis) is because he doesn’t allow his patients to hide behind the white lies that they tell out of embarrassment or unwise desires to keep something a secret from a loved one.

While most characters on the show think it’s a pathetic way to live, it seems to serve House well. I mean, he’s miserable and all that (addict!), but in terms of being a successful diagnostician – it’s the only way to go.

Part of the reason why House hhouseas his worldview is because he lies to himself constantly. By projecting his tendency to lie to himself unto other people, he therefore justifies his actions and can wallow in his misery.

Other characters get mad at House about his worldview because it so often turns out to be true and makes them question their beliefs. They lie to themselves by pretending a situation or person is a certain way, and then are disappointed when the picture they’ve painted in their minds is the opposite.

So why do I bring up House?

I bring this up because people in the working world need to accept the fact that everybody lies. Not to the extent that House believes, but it’s there. In varying degrees…it’s there.

  • We lie about what happened on a project: “I have no idea who approved that approach, but it doesn’t sound like something I would say.”
  • We lie about our motivations: “I’m taking that job to make a difference! Oh, does it pay more? I had no idea.”
  • We lie about leaving a horrible job: “Next time she says something like that, I’m gonna quit!.” [she says something like that] “Next time…”
  • We lie about why we rated an employee too high: “It has NOTHING to do with the fact I think they deserve a higher raise.”
  • We lie about why we rated an employee too low: “It has NOTHING to do with the fact that this employee proved I was wrong about something.”
  • We lie about employment decisions: “HR said I had to fire you. If it were up to me, I would never do that….”

We lie to cope with tough situations. We lie to cover our butts. We lie to spare feelings or soften the blow. We lie to connect to others. We lie to look smarter than we are. We lie to look dumber than we are. We lie to get ahead at work. We lie to pick our battles.

We lie. We lie. We lie.

I want to make this next point loud and clear, okay: THERE ARE DEGREES OF LYING AND LYING 100% OF THE TIME IS A DICK MOVE, SO DON’T DO IT. I do not, in any way, condone a sociopathic narcissist who lives his/her life telling one lie after another.

Got it? Good.

Some lies make it necessary to live in a society. If we were 100% transparent all the time, it might work – but only if we could tell the truth about never taking anything personally. And we know how much of a lie that can be, right? On the flip side, society can’t survive if we lie 100% of the time either. That’s why we all walk a tightrope. Most of the time, we don’t even realize we’re lying.

I am not a miserable, paranoid person. I don’t think everyone is out to lie every time they open their mouth. I am constantly awestruck by our ability as humans to show compassion, love, support, selflessness – all of it. I tend to think overall, humans are pretty damn cool and have the capacity to be amazing. And we also have the capacity to lie. A lot. About lots of things – most of them tiny, stupid things that don’t matter at all. (Hell, I could be lying right now – how would you know?)

So how do we deal with all the pretty little liars out there? Do we give up and start lying more? Of course not.

Try this. Give people some grace. Give yourself some grace.

When you catch someone in a lie, find out why. Have you created a safe environment? Or do people feel like they have to lie in order to survive around you? Do you fail to reward truthiness? Do you only award people who tell you what they want to hear? Are you, yourself, as truthful as you could be? Are you honest with others? Are you honest with yourself?

And if a person continues to show a pattern of lying despite the work you’ve done to establish trust, then get them out of your life. You are under no obligation to lie to yourself to condone constant lying that hurts you or your organization.

Everybody lies.

The best way to survive and thrive is to acknowledge that…and then move on from there to build relationships with people who matter so they tell the truth when it’s most important.

The most common lie is that which one lies to himself: lying to others is relatively an exception.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Truth begins in lies.
~ Gregory House, MD

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Clarity, Self-Awareness

 

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Learning a new way to work

I’ve always been drawn to challenges. I build, I don’t maintain. I like to push, rock the boat, innovate, break down silos. I’ve worked at organizations that were built that way. I’ve also worked for organizations that weren’t built that way…but needed a kick in the butt anyway.

If I don’t have interesting work to do, I get bored. And when work is interesting, I like to keep working until it’s done. I’m online all the time, I check email all the time, and I never seem to be able to turn off my brain.

Sound familiar?

While it can be a very fun way to work, it’s also a pretty tiring way to work, and leads to high levels of burnout. Those who worked through the 2008 economic downturn know that while headcount was slashed, work expectations never changed. And as the economy recovered a bit, those job were never replaced – businesses figured they could continue working “lean,” thereby helping the bottom line.

But at what cost?

Engagement is still extremely low and don’t appear to be going up any time soon.. And according the Bersin by Deloitte: “Employees are overwhelmed with technology, applications, and a constant flood of information.” Employees are overwhelmed and it shows. While the rise of the gig economy has been overstated, there are more people who are looking to scale back, take a break, or start a new, low-stress career.

We can do better.workhuman

This is why I’m in Orlando, FL this week, attending the WorkHuman conference sponsored by Globoforce. WorkHuman is based on the premise that there has to be a balance between work and life, between happiness and career, and that businesses can create an environment that encourage a healthier approach to work. It’s about helping employees set boundaries and avoid the stress of trying to be “on” all the time.

The conference has sessions on mindfulness, optimism, recognition and will feature CHROs sharing how they are trying to create the “human workplace.”

This is so not how I’ve approached work in the past. I’ve been the one in the back row snorting at the idea of “mindfulness” and “happiness” and other such topics. But resilience is something that resonates with me – and we are starting to learn more about how things like optimism and positivity (mixed with realism) help build resilience.

So I’m here to learn. To hear the research behind these topics and take what makes sense back to my workplace and try to be part of the solution and not the problem.

Not all of what is shared at this conference will resonate with me. I reserve the right to snort from time to time. (After all, I’m the skeptic.) But last year’s conference was pretty darn good and I got a lot out of it. I’m excited to be here.

You’ll see a lot of me on social media the next few days. In fact, there are a lot of great people here to learn new things and share what they’re learning with folks who can’t be here. Track the conference on Twitter under #WorkHuman.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2016 in Personal Development, Skillz

 

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We’re failing our people

The Society for Human Resource Management – or SHRM – recently released some very interesting surveys around employee engagement and talent acquisition. Both reports have some very interesting information, so I highly suggest you download and give them a read.

As a leader and an HR professional, there were a few stats that stood out for me:

  • 88% of US employees reported overall satisfaction with their current jobs
  • 45% of US employees reported they were likely or very likely to look for a job outside their current organization within the next 12 months
  • 32% is the average turnover rate in the first 6 months for new employees
  • 26% of jobs are filled from internal candidates

Now, I’ve been known to find patterns and connections that are tenuous at best (don’t call me a conspiracy theorist…it’s really more of a hobby). But when I see these stats together, I’m inclined to make some leaps of logic, such as:

  • People are “satisfied” but would happily jump ship because they think there’s something better out there (read: “it’s all about the benjamins”)
  • 3/4 of our jobs have to be filled externally because we didn’t plan ahead
  • We’re doing a pretty crappy job of selecting the right people and/or onboarding them properly

In short, we seem to be failing our people as leaders. the-office-quotes-12-main

Yes – I’m pointing the finger at leaders right now. We’re the ones making the decisions. We create comp structures that incent employees to leave within two years (or is it three years) or lose earning power. We make lazy hiring decisions – either waiting too long to make a decision and thus lose the best candidate, or we settle for someone who isn’t really qualified because we just need a warm body.

And why are we making those lazy hiring decisions? Because we haven’t invested in employee development for a long time. The recession of 2007/2008 (and beyond) helped us justify cutting costs for developing our people – even though we know it would improve their performance, commitment and our bench strength. Oh, and it would also improve our managers, who impact our employees’ day-to-day lives. But hey…we really needed to save that $300,000 at the time. Right?

And so, we are playing catch up. Our workforce is facing a retirement wave. Yes, it was delayed by a down economy as people stayed in the workforce longer, but now people are leaving to enjoy their hard-earned retirement. So we have to hire external people to fill the leadership or more senior roles we should have been developing internally. And yes – a healthy mix of internal to external hires is preferable. But do you think it’s 25% to 75%? Really? Because our current employees see this happening and decide that there is no future for them at their current company…so they start looking.

We can make it better.

We can look at our employees’ development and decide to invest in them.

We can build Total Rewards programs that actually reward people. AND keep up with market increases. You don’t want to build base salary? Fine. Offer incentives/bonuses/whatever you want to call them. Build in some flexibility, too.

We can have conversations with our employees about their career goals, and then try to help them reach those goals. Will they always be at the current company? No. But that employee will remember you did that for them and share that story. And now you have an employer brand to be proud of.

You’ve all seen this old chestnut:

CFO asks CEO: What happens if we spend money training our people and then they leave?

CEO: What happens if we don’t and they stay?

Now replace “training” with “developing” or “investing in” or “caring about” our people. And realize that the CEO in this quote doesn’t need to worry.

The reality is, they won’t stay. They’ll find an organization that values them enough to invest in their future. And they’ll leave angry and bitter rather than inspired and grateful. And they won’t be our problem any more. And the cycle will repeat.

This is your call to action. This is your chance as a leader to use your voice and your influence to change the system. Show the business you mean business. Show your people you care.

Turn failure into success.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2016 in General Rant about Leading

 

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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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