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WorkHuman: It’s not just about work

I am staring down the barrel at my fourth WorkHuman conference. I’ve been there since the beginning and continue to love it. I have been fortunate enough to be asked to help spread the word about the conference, its themes, the speakers…all of it.

The conference has doubled in size every year since its inception – at some point, it seems like it has to stabilize, but so far it keeps growing. This is a good thing, although sometimes I miss the intimacy and shared experience of the first conference. What this growth tells me, though, is that people are ready to start looking beyond the traditional ways of working; to find new ways to help people make the time they spend at work better.

It goes beyond the workplace, though. In my opinion, WorkHuman has been bringing together the worlds of work and life to try and enrich both. Is it a work conference? Of course it is. In fact, almost everything you see will touch on people in the workplace – from performance, to recognition, to anniversary awards, etc. But there will also be sessions on how to foster respect, encourage healthy conversation, and further understanding of individual standards for work-life whatever-you-want-to-call-it. The keynotes reflect this. There’s Brené Brown, Shawn Achor, Simon Sinek and Amal Clooney – all with fascinating research and experiences to share.

What strikes me this year is a focus on bigger issues. Adam Grant will be moderating a panel on the #MeToo movement, featuring Ashley Judd, Tarana Burke and Ronan Farrow. This panel is very much anticipated by those of us familiar with the conference. We all acknowledge the importance of the discussion – #MeToo got so much press. How do we turn that into action? To some, the panel may feel like an attempt to capitalize on a movement. To that I say…yes, maybe. Isn’t that that point? We have an opportunity to hear from those who are directly involved in something that is near and dear to not only HR professionals, but human beings in general.

The presentations on stage will only be the start of it. While I want to hear from the big names in the main room, I’m more interested in talking to and listening to the conference attendees. What did they think? How did the talks impact them? What will they take away? Will it make a difference back home? These are the conversations I want to have.

Join us at WorkHuman for a different kind of conference. I’ll be there – sharing my observations, talking to the attendees, writing about what I see and learn. I’d love to see you there. Come for the keynotes – stay for the talking.

 

If you’re interested in attending, go to http://bit.ly/2xOC3QZ – use referral code WH18INF-MFA for a discount!

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2018 in Conference Posts

 

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You’re never too big to care about people

Almost every day, my delightful Mumsie Poo starts her morning by going to her local neighborhood Starbucks for a cup of coffee (grande in a venti cup – the woman likes her cream), chats with the baristas and some of the customers, and then continues on with the day’s activities. The agenda for these activities are usually sent to me in a daily text; I assume that’s so I can find her when she’s kidnapped for ransom money due to her secret royal status. Or because deep down she’s an arch nemesis and her texts are tiny daily monologues about how she will take over the world. Still figuring that one out.

Actual cake baked by Mumsie Poo for her Starbucks friends.

Anyway…Mumsie Poo celebrated her birthday on December 13th. In her daily text the next day, she told me that the Starbucks folks all chipped in to buy her a new coffee tumbler and paid for a month’s worth of free coffee for her. She was so tickled by that. She even baked them a cake to say thank you.

The thing is, this Starbucks has ALWAYS done great things for my mom. She’s a retired lady on a very fixed income, so going to buy a daily cup of coffee is a bit of an indulgence. She does it to get out of the house and to say hi to the friends she’s made at that shop. And they repay her – they “accidentally” forget to charge her for her coffee one day. Or they recharge her Starbucks card “just ’cause.” They know her by name and always ask her how her day is going. In return, Mumsie Poo bakes them birthday cakes, brings them Christmas cards, and gets too involved in the stories of their personal lives. (You can take the woman out of Chicago….)

They have built a wonderful little community at that Starbucks. On the times I’ve gone with Mumsie Poo, they all tell me how much they love my mom and what a great baker she is. They are incredibly nice to everyone who walks in, but are especially nice to their regulars. They really do go above and beyond to make Mumsie Poo feel welcome and comfortable. And they give her a hard time when she deserves it, so they get extra points for that.

My point in sharing all this is not to brag about my mom’s local Starbucks. It’s to point out that even though Starbucks has almost 14,000 locations IN THE US ALONE, they are able to create an individual connection with a customer. It’s not about profits, and it isn’t about marketing (although the word of mouth doesn’t hurt). It’s because they genuinely like what they’re doing and like their customers. And they understand they are making a difference in one person’s day.

There’s a lesson in all this for businesses and leaders alike.

Connect on a human level. Be generous. Care.

That’s all you really need to do to make a difference, no matter how big you are.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2017 in Authenticity

 

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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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Why I cringe when people say “hire for fit”

Companies are constantly looking for differentiators. In the first tech bubble, it was all about stock options and perks like kegs in the breakroom. In the second tech bubble, it’s been all about….stock options and kegs in the breakroom. Huh. I thought we’d come further than that. Moving on…

What you hear about more and more now, though, is “culture.” Culture is the great differentiator. It will make or break your company! It will make you productive! It will cure cancer! (Okay, I made that last one up.)

Listen, I’m a big fan of being intentional about the culture you’re allowing to develop in your workplace. It DOES impact the way people work, their ability to be successful, and how your customers view you. Whether or not you personally like Southwest Airlines (and I love them, so there), you can’t argue with their success in a tough industry. And they attribute it to their “culture” – from how they operate, to how they hire, to how they make, spend, and save money.

It’s the “how they hire” piece that I think people screw up all the time. (And I’m not the only one who thinks that!)

Too many companies who are concerned about their culture focus on hiring as the way to “fix it.” They think that by hiring the “right people,” they’ll magically get the culture they’re looking for. They focus on pre-hire assessments like personality tests and quirky questions and conversations about “passion.” And the next time the employee survey results come back, employees still say they don’t like the culture and turnover proves it.

At this point…I’m over “hire for fit.” Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s important that an employee aligns with core elements of the organization whether it’s the work they do, the people they work with, the values experienced, or what the company represents. But I think we’re going at it wrong. And here’s why:

ILLUSION #1 : Hiring for fit = a cure for all our ills: Every organization I’ve ever worked at that struggles with a “challenging culture” focuses on hiring as the fix. Why? Because it’s the easiest process to change. You add a couple of assessments, change some interview questions, and voila! All done.  

REALITY:  Hiring’s not your problem: Culture consists of EVERYTHING within your workplace, not just the people. It’s your systems, your processes, your location, your parking habits, the industry, your policies, your leadership practices, the behaviors of managers, communication….get the point. If you’ve got issues with your culture, it’s going to take more than just hiring people who SEEM to be part of the culture you want. You have to be willing to dissect the WAY you work. If you’re not wiling to do that, all those “new culture” people you hired are going to leave as soon as they can.

ILLUSION #2: Culture is about attitude, so we’ll ask about that: After all, we want to make sure people share our “values” so let’s make sure the questions are all about how they feel and what they like and dislike. That way we’ll know that they’re the right person to match our culture.

REALITY: Culture is about activity, not attitude: When you read about how Southwest (and other strong “culture” organizations – like Disney) hire people, you’ll see that they focus on BEHAVIORS, not feelings. That’s because behaviors are measurable and you can see how they impact work. Disney records how candidates interact with others, how they treat the receptionist, their inherent curiosity when sitting in a room…all behaviors. Southwest asks candidates how they handled a tough customer situation, looking for examples of the actions taken and the results of those actions. If you want a “culture fit” hire, find people who embody the culture through action, not words.

ILLUSION #3: Our managers are skilled enough to decide if someone is a good fit: We gave them a set of questions and told them to follow the law, they should be fine. Besides, these people have been here FOREVER and totally know what a good hire would look like.

REALITY: At best, they’re guessing. At worst, they’re using “not a fit” as an excuse for discrimination: If you don’t require interview training and calibration before a person is allowed to interview candidates, you have little to no assurance they know what they’re doing. Even then, you’ve got unconscious bias that no amount of training can overcome. By allowing “not a fit” to become the reason a qualified, promising candidate doesn’t get hired, you’re making it okay for managers to make snap judgments. If you can say “not a fit because of x,y,z examples of behaviors,” you’ve got a better chance. Also…DO YOU EVEN REALLY KNOW WHAT YOUR CULTURE IS? Probably not. You think you know. But unless you’ve done a valid assessment, you’re just describing what YOU think the culture is. 

ILLUSION #4: Same is good: Companies believe that if everything acts the same, thinks the same, and looks the same, then the culture will be fabulous and the company will be 100% successful.

REALITY: Diversity is good: You need diversity of backgrounds, thought, experience, age, race, gender…all of it. It breeds innovation. It pushes the company forward. It helps reduce that unconscious bias that gets us into trouble. It’s not the friction that’s the problem – it’s how you function with friction that’s hurting you. Include and celebrate differences and learn to leverage that friction in a way that’s beneficial to the organization.

In a perfect world, I would want companies to share openly enough of who they are and how they operate so that potential candidates can make the educated choice about whether or not they might be a “fit.” There are also tools out there that can help identify alignment with company values/behaviors in such a way that both allows the candidate to decide if they want to proceed AND helps the hiring manager identify questions that will get at the heart of whether full alignment is good or if the team needs that friction.

So please….stop acting like all  you really need to do is “hire for fit.” There are bigger issues at stake. Tackle those and then MAYBE you can start hiring for fit.

Maybe.

 

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The world IS wide enough

I am an unabashed Broadway nerd. I’m not the most knowledgeable, and I have some very controversial views on Cats (Spoiler Alert: I can’t stand it.), but what I lack in knowledge, I more than make up for my love of certain shows. And one of my greatest loves is Hamilton. (Going out on a limb there, I know.)

The show overflows with themes, just pick one – love, ambition, politics, the disconnect between men who cried freedom but not really for all. In relistening to the soundtrack recently, another theme really stood out to me – the idea that there is enough room for more than one success story.

Too many of us think the only way for one person to rise is for another person to fall. That the key to protecting what you have gained is to ensure no one else has that same chance. This can be especially true among groups who have historically struggled to gain power – women, minorities, LGBTQ, the poor, the undereducated, the disadvantaged. 

I watch the dialogue happening in our country today and I’m struck by this theme returning again and again. And it troubles me because it seems we are approaching success like a zero-sum game, which is bad for society at large. Fair isn’t equal…but do we really think a zero-sum game is fair?

We see this play out on a smaller scale in our workplaces. We make some strides in diversion, but fall down with inclusion. We talk about “culture fit” without acknowledging it could easily be code for “look, think, and BE like me.” We subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) place a limit on how many of the “other” are allowed to be successful, and we create a system that ensures the few “other” who do succeed participate in keeping the new status quo to protect what little gains they’ve achieved.

How did we get here? And more importantly, how do we move on from here?

Maybe it’s as simple as realizing the world IS wide enough; that success is NOT a zero-sum game; that, in fact, when we support each other and help each other succeed, we raise ALL ships. We need to celebrate the honestly gained success of others, not knock them down. We need to stop comparing ourselves to an impossible standard we see online because so much of it is a lie anyway. We need to set a path that makes sense for us, and then support others who are seeking their own path.

At the recent WorkHuman conference, Former First Lady Michelle Obama and Steve Pemberton spoke about the Maasai tribe’s custom of asking not “how are you?” but “how are the children?” In their culture, if the children are well, then everyone is well. This resonated with me (and not because I like children – I’m not exactly maternal). It resonated because it’s another way of saying, “The world is wide enough.” Give every child a chance to succeed, and they will continue to expand the borders of our world as we know it.

There is so much room for success in this world. There is so much potential to be realized.

How will you help others expand their world?

Now I’m the villain in your history
I was too young and blind to see…
I should’ve known
I should’ve known
The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me

– Aaron Burr, Hamilton: The Musical

 

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Small talk and the decline of practically everything

There is a lot of chatter out there.

On any given day, millions of ideas are shared via the internet, via Twitter, LinkedIn, articles, this blog, etc. Lots of one liners, jokes, snarky comments; but also inspirational quotes, videos of baby goat yoga, lists of “life hacks” (whatever the hell those really are), etc. In fact, every minute on the internet sees, among other things, a minimum of 2.4 MILLION Google searches, 347,222 tweets on Twitter, and 972,222 Tinder swipes (may you all find love).

This is the age of Big Data [insert dramatic music here].

And yet, most of what is out there is little more than a tasting menu of ideas. It’s a one-way sharing of thoughts, feelings, observations, and/or ego. We dip our toe into the pool of discourse, but we don’t stay too long lest we get dragged into a debate, get attacked by trolls, or – lord forbid – have to participate in an honest-to-god CONVERSATION.

What happened to our ability to sit down and actually talk to people?

In high school and college, people were all about having deep, philosophical conversations about life, death, and everything in between. Yeah, they got pretty annoying sometimes, but it was good practice in identifying where you stood in the world. You were able to frame your argument, consider counterpoints, and share your own counterarguments. It was a great way to apply debate skills and decide what you may or may not believe in.

Granted…I did not have Twitter or Facebook when I was in college. We barely had the internet. #Iamnotold #dammit

Today, communication is built to be quick, witty, and shallow. I actually resisted Twitter for a LONG time because I do not believe 140 characters is enough room to communicate meaningfully. I now accept it for what it is, but still throw it the side-eye now and then because I think it’s part of the problem.

People don’t really talk anymore.

I am as guilty of this as anyone. As an affirmed introvert, I LOVE the fact that I can do so much “communicating” online, in writing, without actually have to see someone face to face. I hate talking on the phone voluntarily. I avoid networking events like the plague. Give me a chance to interact virtually and I will take it every single time. And it probably makes me less effective as a coworker/boss/friend/human being.

It’s easy to just stop typing when you’re not happy with the way a conversation is going. You can just block someone if they get a little too obnoxious. Or you just throw a hashtag out there (#micdrop) and act like you won.

Real world conversations take vulnerability. They take concentration. They take commitment.

I’m going to try to do better at this. I’m going to try and have better conversations with the people I actually see in real life.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be quick, witty, and shallow on the internet. Are you kidding?! That’s way too much fun. I’m just going to…try harder. I hope you do, too.

What’s the worst that could happen?

 
 

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