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The way we win matters

What’s that? ANOTHER movie reference in a blog post? Hell yes. Buckle up, buttercup. Let’s do this.

It’s no secret that I love science fiction (and science fantasy, where I firmly place Star Wars, but that’s a discussion for another time). I started reading Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison at a very young age. Which explains a lot, really. What I appreciate about the genre is that it is such a mirror of who we are as a society – and who we want to be. Some sci-fi is post-apocalyptic and depressing, some is unnaturally cheerful and optimistic. (You can probably guess what kind I tend to watch.) All of it acts as a social commentary for the time in which it was made.

One story I experienced first as a movie and then as a book is Ender’s Game. Regardless of what you think of the book’s author, the story and world building is brilliant and engaging. Years ago, Earth was invaded by an alien species and barely survived. Since then, society has been obsessed with preparing for the next attack, training children to be the leaders of the battle because their brains can process the multitude of data faster.

Ender, so-called because he is a third child in a society that limits most families to two, is unique among his peers. He is the perfect combination of aggression and compassion, believing that the best way to defeat his enemy is to love them, because only then do you understand them. When confronted by bullies at his school, he gravely injures the toughest boy – an apparent over-reaction to the situation. When questioned why later, he replies that he wasn’t fighting to win that battle – he was fighting to win all future battles, too. (Seriously, go watch the movie and read the book – so good.)JALWS Letterhead I

One line in particular has stuck with me. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Near the end of the story, Ender and his unit have been undergoing simulation after simulation to defeat the Formics (insect-like aliens). In the final simulation, they risk nearly everything to defeat the entire race of Formics. Ender sacrifices thousands of (he thinks) simulated lives to achieve victory. Following the simulation, the adults cheer…it turns out, the simulation was the real battle. Colonel Graff (played by Harrison Ford) explains they didn’t tell Ender because they didn’t want him to hesitate…that they needed him to do what was necessary. Graff insists Ender will be remembered a hero. “We won,” Graff proclaims. “That’s all the matters.” Ender fires back, “No. The way we win matters.

This line says so much. It embodies so much of our humanity…or lack of it.

How many times have leaders claimed winning is the only option? How many organizations sacrifice values, integrity, dignity because they tell themselves the ends justify the means? Win at all costs. No holds barred. You have to play the game to win the game.

How many times do people regret that approach? In the long term, I hope it’s all of them. Because you give up something vital when you tell yourself that it doesn’t matter how you won. In the short term, it might seem like the smart play, but ultimately, history judges us all. It exposes the lies we tell ourselves and lays bare our mistakes.

Right now, American society is at a crossroads. We have an administration that values “winning” and loyalty over all else. We have a majority party in Congress that is willing to “win” no matter what the cost. We have organizations that are choosing to align themselves with a president who has been accused of sexual assault, and then turn around and speak about the dangers of #metoo. We live in a world where the number of  impressions and Twitter followers appear to be more important than values and critical thinking.

Is this what winning looks like?

I’d like to believe we’ll right this ship; that we’ll realize that attention isn’t the same as regard. That small “victories” are meaningless if we lose the larger battle. That sacrificing what we believe for the sake of a photo op means more than a slight PR hit. The decisions we make moving forward as leaders – as human beings – say more about us than short term gains. Are we willing to admit that sometimes the right thing to do IS the hard thing to do? Do we have the courage to turn down what looks good in favor of what IS good? Are we willing to speak up when our leaders can’t? Or won’t?

I hope so.

THE WAY WE WIN MATTERS.

 

 

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Do you suffer from MBSO?

MBSO: Management By Shiny Object

Symptoms:

  • Tendency to assign action items based on the last meeting you had
  • Forwarding every article on the latest management fad to your entire team
  • Inability to complete a project
  • Forgetting who you actually assigned as owner of a project
  • Vigorous head-nodding when something is suggested by the higher ups

Side Effects:

  • Frustrated team members
  • Lack of planning
  • Eye rolling in meetings
  • High turnover
  • Low engagement

Diagnosis:

  • Can usually be made within two (2) face-to-face meetings
  • Observe email syntax – probable lack of continuity; may also display needless repetition
  • Ask for a priority update on Monday…then as the same question Wednesday to see if there are massive changes

Treatment (to be administered by those around the MBSO sufferer):

  • At the next staff meeting, stage an intervention. “Joe, we love you very much. And we want you to be successful…”
  • Airing of grievances
  • Dead-eye stare at the afflicted member of your team
  • Finding a new job

MBSO can be stopped, but it takes awareness.

Don’t be that manager.

 

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Courage and being human: Dispatches from #WorkHuman

Still at the WorkHuman conference, sponsored by Globoforce. Lots of cool stuff going on, so I’m writing about it whilst I’m here.


So when I woke up this morning, I had this great idea about a blog post, highlighting some of the things I saw yesterday that tied into the theme of “courage.” You had Brene Brown (who has a little ‘ over the e, but I can’t get WordPress do to it) talking about the relationship between joy and fear, between vulnerability and courage. You heard from Salma Hayek Pinault share her #metoo story and why she felt she needed to speak up after not doing so for so many years. Her personal story – of always being an immigrant, of doing more as a Latina than others had but still being ignored – was impressive and moving. She’s amazing.

And then this morning, we had the opportunity to see Adam Grant moderate a #metoo panel of giants – Tarana Burke (my new personal hero), Ronan Farrow, and Ashley Judd. It was an in-depth, meaningful discussion about the #metoo movement with people who helped make it viral (even through Tarana Burke launched it long ago). The panel discussed how the conversation needs to move from “can I hug women” to “treat all people like human beings, dammit” and was a real look at what comes next.leap-before-you-think

And throughout all of this, the concept of courage kept coming up – the courage of victims sharing their stories; the courage of allies supporting and not making it about them; the courage of employees saying “we aren’t going to tolerate this at our company”; institutional courage and individual courage.

What struck about this is that all people are capable of courage and it doesn’t always need to be on an epic scale. For every Salma Hayek or Ashley Judd article, there’s a person struggling with anxiety who manage to go into work every day and say hello to their coworkers. For every Tarana Burke taking over the world, there’s the HR professional standing up to her CHRO for non-values based behavior. For every Steve Pemberton overcoming his childhood to become an author and executive, there’s the person who sits down next to a stranger to make a connection.

I am in awe of the courage I see every single day.

One of my takeaways from this conference will be to find ways to celebrate and support displays of courage. I want to make room for the courageous – to provide a space that amplifies the messages to be amplified. Like Tarana Burke said, I want to center on the marginalized and let their stories drive the change.

I’m not sure how – but I’m going to try. We all need to.

We owe it to the courageous.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2018 in Conference Posts, Uncategorized

 

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Shout out to the staff: Dispatch from #WorkHuman

A reminder that I am attending the WorkHuman conference put on by Globoforce this week in Austin.


The first day of any conference is typically about getting your bearings. You wander through the conference space, figuring out where all the rooms are, how to find the expo hall, and – most importantly – where the afternoon snacks and coffee will be, and WILL THERE BE DIET COKE????

There are typically some pre-conference sessions, too. And while some may be tempted to skip them, the ones held yesterday were PACKED. Cy Wakeman kicked it off with her guidance on eliminating drama from the workplace; Steve Pemberton (Globoforce CHRO) followed with his remarkable personal story of resilience and triumph; and David Rock brought home Pre-Day (can we call it Day One? I don’t know!) with information on feedback and why we’re struggling so much with it. (Full disclosure: while I love David Rock’s work and like him as a speaker, I went back to my room to take a nap. I got up WAAAAAAY too early for a flight. Sorry, David! Heard it was great!)

Prior to all of this, though, was registration. You know, pick up your badge, get your conference schedule, conquer the world. Normally this is a pretty sedate process – people come in little packs, but seldom descend as one. Except for yesterday. When we descended like a pack of locusts upon an unsuspecting group of WorkHuman helpers. It seemed every attendee decided to pick up their badge RIGHT BEFORE Cy’s talk. As you can imagine, it overwhelmed the staff. People got a little fussy. People were worried about missing the speakers. People don’t like not getting stuff IMMEDIATELY. (People are weird.)

I bring this up not to admonish the staff but to congratulate them for their perseverance. Two workers (one from Ireland, one from Denmark) went up and down the line, talking with folks and offering to get water or hold their place if they needed to step out for a moment. They made the choice to allow people into the sessions without their badge so no one would miss content. They extended the check-in hours to alleviate pressure. They stayed positive. They stayed focused. They stayed friendly.

At a conference focusing on the human side of work, this was refreshing. Attendees weren’t super jerky. The staff stayed strong. There was a collective realization that the world won’t end if you don’t get your badge. The time spent in line was time spent connecting. People were able to reframe and no one got yelled at.

How about that? We can be nice – even when inconvenienced.

So shout out to the people who are helping make this conference happen. It’s hard to coordinate this many moving parts. And shout out to the attendees who remembered why they’re here – to connect and to slow down a bit and to remember we are all just people trying to make it work in this crazy world.

I’m looking forward to today’s sessions. And I look forward to high-fiving some hard-working staff who keep a smile on their face and do what they can to make this conference memorable. Let’s all try to make sure THEY have a good conference, too!

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2018 in Conference Posts

 

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Customer service shouldn’t stop at middle management

I’m in Vegas this week for the Ultimate Connections 2018 conference and it’s at a VERY big hotel conference center (the Wynn/Encore, if you must know). I like to wander around a little bit the night before to try and get the lay of the land, which is a good idea when things are spread out like they are here. I stopped in front of a map to orient myself when one of the hotel maintenance workers noticed me and asked if I needed help figuring out where I was. He then helped me find some shortcuts to get around the property and made sure I was good before he continued on his way. I’m so mad I didn’t catch his name – he was so helpful. And he did it without anyone watching to make sure he did.

This, to me, was customer service at its finest. A person recognized a guest needed assistance and he gave it. It could be this person is just naturally helpful and friendly. It could also be that the Encore has a really good hiring and onboarding program. I think any service industry town like Vegas would try to focus on good customer service. My Lyft driver from the airport – Rodrigo (5 stars) – also works in one of the Strip hotels and he must have mentioned 3-4 times that it’s important you treat guests and people in general the right way. He got it. 

These two interactions got me thinking about how companies are always emphasizing the need for customer service – both internal and external customers. It seems to me that most front line employees totally get it – the interact with customers face-to-face (or phone-to-phone, even chat-to-chat), so there’s immediate feedback about their level of customer service. Then I think about the frontline supervisors – they’re typically on the ground with their people, so their customer service focus is usually pretty good, too.

 

But what about middle and upper leadership? How is THEIR customer service, typically? If you’re like me, your experience has been mixed – some are good, but so many seem to throw customer service (particularly with INTERNAL customers) completely out the window when they “need” something. How many of us have been working on a project for weeks, only to have the parameters change drastically at the last second because some executive had a thought? How many of us have witnessed inappropriate behavior at the middle to upper management level – whether it be unprofessionalism or outright bullying and harassment – only to hear it excused as “leadership ambition”?

None of this is okay.

If your organization says customer service is important, than it’s important at EVERY level with EVERY kind of customer. Don’t put all the pressure on your frontline employees – they’ve already got it. And if they don’t, they’re fired.

Maybe it’s time we hold our leadership – and ourselves – to the same standard.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2018 in culture, General Rant about Leading

 

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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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