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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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A skeptic’s view of happiness at work

The Intro Bit

If you know me, follow me on social media, or just make up a fake backstory about me (please make me a pirate), you probably realize that while I like to laugh and have fun, I’m not a particularly “up” person.

What I mean by that is I am not a Pollyanna who looks on the bright side of things and always believes things are all going to work out. I tend towards realism with a dose of cynicism. (And a side of eyeroll for good measure.)

So when the whole “happiness” thing started hitting the internet, I was skeptical.  It sounded like just another way of talking about work without having to have any data or research behind it beyond a Cosmo quiz. And deep down, I suspected Pharrell had something to do with it.

Therefore, I did what every good skeptic does. I researched it so I could debunk it.

The Sorta Science-y Bit

Here’s the thing – while some of the “science” out there is a little sketchy (or…a LOT sketchy), there is some really compelling evidence that happiness at work makes a difference to the success of an organization. The iOpener Institute has developed a happiness measure and released some findings in the Wall Street Journal – happy employees stay twice as long, are more likely to help their colleagues, are less likely to be absent, and are more efficient. (For more info, read this white paper.)

Basically, happy employees perceive themselves to be more connected to their organization and are therefore more likely to stay on task and are more likely to choose to be engaged at work than non-happy employees.I_want_to_believe5

The Skeptical Bit

While certain research points to some strong correlation between happiness and connection to business, there is no predictive model between happiness and business performance indicators.

Also, happiness sounds suspiciously like “satisfaction” to me – and you can have satisfied employees who are completely happy to do as little as possible at work. In fact, some research even suggests that job satisfaction has a NEGATIVE impact on productivity. So I’m curious to see more about additional research into this area.

The ‘Here’s How to Make it Work’ Bit

While still preliminary, there’s enough out there to point to definite benefits to supporting happiness at work. As leaders and HR professionals, you are in the perfect position to help employees make the choice to be happy, thereby gaining some positive outcomes for the workplace.  As employees, no matter what your role, you have the power to decide about your own happiness at work.

Some things to keep in mind as you embark on the journey to Work Happyland:

  • Happiness is unique to each person: One of the reasons a predictive model is so hard to find is because “happy” means different things to different people. Watching this video of a tiny horse trotting makes me ridiculously happy. Other people prefer NASCAR. So you have to be willing to adapt to the needs of your team and organization.
  • The pressure to be happy can bum you out: One psychological experiment reported by the Harvard Business Review suggests that the increased expectation of employees to build an “upbeat” workplace can lead to resentment – having the opposite effect on the workplace. Don’t force your people to smile all the time. Create environments where happiness can happen organically.
  • Sometimes, it’s okay to work angry: Some people are more focused, able to detect deception, and negotiate WAY better when they have a little edge. Keep in mind that sometimes happiness can hurt productivity and quality, so don’t be worried if someone isn’t giddy all the time.
  • Help folks set boundaries: We continue to blend work and life more and more – and it’s stressing people out. By making it okay for your employees to leave home at home and work at work, you give them permission to save their best selves for when they need it most.

The research in this area is still emerging, so I am keeping my eyes and ears open as we learn more about happiness at work. I also reserve my right to roll my eyes every now and then if you try to tell me it’s a standalone metric, or if you try to be all obnoxious about it.

On the other hand, my inner skeptic wants to be believe. After all, we spend A LOT of time at work. So why not at least try to make it a happy place to be?


 

Want to join me in learning more about happiness and other good stuff in the workplace? Come to the WorkHuman 2016 Conference in Orlando, May 9-11, 2016. To register, go to  and use promo code WH16MF300 for $300 off.  THAT should make you happy!

 

 

 

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