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WorkHuman 2019: The journey continues

Okay, yes. That’s a super cheesy blog post title. But cut me some slack – I’ve been writing about WorkHuman for a really long time! The first post I wrote about it was in 2015, which feels really long ago. I’ve been to all of the WorkHuman conferences (here’s a quick overview of the history). I really like them. I’ve attended as a speaker, a moderator, a member of the social media team, and as a mere participant (who also still wrote and tweeted because I apparently can’t attend a conference without doing that).

So why do I keep going back to WorkHuman?

Well, for one thing – they invite me. ūüôā I really appreciate that. There are a lot of people out there who can write and tweet about a conference, and I am grateful they see a value in bringing me back each year to help the promote the event. And I also appreciate the fact that while I do receive some compensation for promoting the event, I have never once been directed about what I should say or how I should say it. They have always let the conference speak for itself and ask people to be open and honest about the experience. I can’t say enough about the team that puts on the event – they are fantastic people who love what they do, and it shows.

Every year, the conference is a different experience because the team experiments with different set ups to encourage as much human interaction as possible. It’s much different than most conferences I’ve been to. Last year in Austin was really amazing – a large space for downtime, networking conversations, indoor food trucks, gratitude trees, coffee bars. It was a fantastic set up and I can’t wait to see what they do this time!

I also go because I get to see so many people who want to learn more about how to work differently. The topics at WorkHuman aren’t focused on compliance or laws (although the conversation DOES come up). Most speakers talk about the importance of making a human connection, and the attendees really respond to the message. People are frustrated at work. The lines between work and home continue to blur. The more we acknowledge the social nature of human beings (yes, even introverts), the more we recognize the need to change how we approach our interactions. The people at WorkHuman are there to learn from the speakers’ sessions and I love talking to them throughout the conference.

And let’s talk a little bit more about those speakers. When you look at the roster of speakers that WorkHuman has gotten over the years, it’s mindboggling – Arianna Huffington, Adam Grant, Shawn Achor, Simon Sinek, Michael J Fox, Brene Brown, Salma Hayek, MICHELLE FREAKING OBAMA – just to name a few. All the keynote speakers brought unique perspectives and research and experiences to the conference, challenging the attendees to see the humanity in everyday life. And last year, WorkHuman featured a spotlight on the #metoo movement, with a memorable panel featuring Tarana Burke, Ashley Judd, and Ronan Farrow. This year promises to bring even more amazing speakers to the forefront – Viola Davis, Brene Brown (back again!), George Clooney (Amal Clooney spoke last year), and others – including me!

So I’m counting down the days until I get to join all my friends at WorkHuman – this time in Nashville, TN. I hope to see you there!

There is still time to register! Use discount code WH19INFMFA when you sign up here.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2019 in Conference Posts

 

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Life and leadership lessons from Frank Oz

When I was a kid,¬†The Muppet Show was constantly on. Whether it was Roger Moore’s rendition of “Talk to the Animals” while fighting spies with laser guns, or Lynda Carter just being awesome, I loved watching. My most enduring memories of several songs are the version I saw on¬†The Muppet Show – “In the Navy” (Viking pigs singing); “Time in a Bottle” (one of the more poignant versions rendered); “The Gambler” (old ghost gambler guy!); and “Grandma’s Feather Bed” (one of several collaborations with John Denver).

Even better than the guest stars and music were the muppets themselves. Scooter had dreams and a work ethic. Sam the Eagle suffered fools. The Swedish Chef was…well, Swedish. And I’m pretty sure Statler and Waldorf are related to me. When I started to learn more about the craft underlying the creation of¬†The Muppet Show – and later all the movies – I was amazed by the talent and dedication of the people who brought my favorites to life.

Other than Jim Henson (who created the whole thing), the puppeteer who shined brighter than them all for me was Frank Oz. He created Animal, Fozzie Bear (Wakka! Wakka! Wakka!), Sam the Eagle, and others. On Sesame Street, he was responsible for Grover, Cookie Monster, and Bert. And lest we forget…he created Yoda in¬†The Empire Strikes Back – a role for which George Lucas campaigned for an Oscar nomination.

Beyond puppeteering, Frank Oz is an acclaimed director –¬†Little Shop of Horrors,¬†Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,¬†What About Bob?, well…you can look up the rest on IMDB. He even occasionally made a cameo in movies – including that riveting prison clerk scene in¬†Blues Brothers (sacred viewing in my childhood household).

I bring all this up because I want you to really understand what Frank Oz has accomplished throughout his career. This child of puppeteers who grew up to be so instrumental in so many lives.

And now РFrank Oz is on Twitter. And I adore him. 

Joining Twitter in December 2017 and using the handle @TheFrankOzJam, Oz has been authentically interacting with people in a way that’s both delightful and stunning. He shares thoughts as he goes about his day. He loves talking with fans, asking them where they’re from and admitting he can’t possibly talk to everyone because he still needs to talk to his wife!

Frank Oz on Twitter is a master class of humility – that most elusive of leadership traits we all claim people need, but often secretly dismiss as weakness when we see it. Since he’s been on Twitter, I’ve been glued to his feed and I think there are some things we can all learned from this man:

  • Remember the team: Oz nearly ALWAYS mentions everyone he’s worked with on just about every project. When complimented for his performance as Yoda, his response was it only worked so well because Mark (Hamill) interacted with Yoda like a real person. He throws credit to his collaborators far more than he accepts credit for himself.
  • Be honest and open: One of the more honest tweets came from Oz asking everyone which character the public thought he most identified with. After some guesses, he said, “There have really been wonderful guesses. Thanks! Okay. So. I most identify with Grover and Fozzie. Grover because he‚Äôs pure, Fozzie because as a kid I really wanted to be in show biz too. I shouldn‚Äôt have put Yoda in the mix. He is way deep inside me, but I‚Äôm not that wise.” Later he said, “Yes I identified most with Grover and Fozzie, but there are bits of me in all of my characters. Me being boring is Bert, me pure is Grover, me obsessed-Cookie, me neurotic-Piggy, me insecure-Fozzie, me uptight-Sam, me crazed-Animal. I’m a bit like each of them. And so are you.”
  • Know that luck is real: He very much acknowledges the opportunities he’s had, and knows how lucky he’s been. “I don’t know how I got here. I was this kid with low self esteem and a bit of talent. But a lot of people have talent and haven’t “made it.” Why did the planets line up for me? Why didn’t other talented people get their Jim Henson as a mentor? I don’t think I’ll ever know why.” When a follower mentioned his obvious “passion,” Oz replied, “No. Not true. I wasn’t passionate. I just had fun with Jim and my fellow performers. And I never struggled to find work. Jim always found it and I just delivered. Others have had to struggle.”
  • Don’t forget what work looks like: Frank Oz knows how weird it is that he makes a living through entertainment. He thinks about it a lot. “I’ve always believed the world is lopsided. I get attention & money while others do far more important things to keep our world going: Yes, those who work with their hands, as my father did, but also from teachers to mental health workers. Thank you all for keeping us afloat.” And them he immediately followed it with, “I’m not being humble. What i’ve done in my work life has given value or you wouldn’t be reading this. But what I truly believe is that the lesser known and lesser paid people are the ones holding up the world. So please give kudos to them. I’m doin’ fine here.”
  • Believe in the potential of others: “There are hidden artists among us. A really good short order cook is one. Bacon’s on the griddle, bread in toaster, slice bagel, orders shouted, crack eggs, flip bacon, grab toast, hands moving, body in motion. All rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. A beautiful thing to watch. An artist.” Seriously.
  • Cherish your elders and those who paved the way: Oz often thinks about the older folks he sees in his travels and encourages us to learn from them.¬†“In my twenties, (mid 1960’s) I bought a video camera with a VERY heavy battery case and huge camera. Before they became too old, I recorded hours of footage of my mom and my dad telling me their life’s stories. They are gone now. But I have their stories. Don’t wait too long.”

If you struggle with how to interact with others, follow Frank Oz on Twitter and study his language use, approach, openness, and humility. He’s the internet hero we didn’t know we needed. He is the balm to all the anger in the world right now. If we could just try to lead with curiosity and listen for understanding, maybe we’d be a step closer to being the people we hope we can be.

I view kindness as a weapon. Not the kindness that is paternal or condescending or platitudinous. I mean the kindness that comes from true empathy; that gently acknowledges another’s travails and so makes her/him feel less alone. For me, there’s no stronger weapon. 

Frank Oz, 12/31/2017

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Authenticity, Executive Presence

 

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Words fail

For past two weeks, I’ve had a lot of ideas about blog posts to write – whether it was on the dangers of leaders failing to have self-awareness, the challenges of navigating your career, or the friction between similarity bias and our desire for inclusive hiring and working practices.

But then someone does something stupid in the real world and I don’t write anything, because it’s either too close to what I was going to write about and I didn’t really want to write specifically about that incident (*cough* Google *cough*), or the situation was so messed up and terrifying, all I can think is, “What the holy fuck?!” (*cough* pretty much everything from the White House *cough*)

So here’s what I’m going to write about.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of your coworkers.

Make sure you’re there to listen if they need to share. Make sure you’re okay respectfully ending a conversation if you realize you no longer want to engage with a toxic worldview.

Acknowledge people are feeling feelings and give them room to do so – as long as it isn’t harmful to others.

Encourage people to seek help if they need it (EAPs are there for a reason). Remind employees they have PTO if they can use it.

Don’t be afraid to laugh and be silly. The problems of the world are still going to be there after you take 5 minutes to watch¬†a video compilation of cats in cute costumes. If someone tells you you’re taking the eye off the prize when you do that, you say, “Damn straight I am. Now look at Pirate Cat.”

Know your rights. Know the rights of people you disagree with. Understand what the First Amendment¬†actually means in the workplace.¬†Understand your state’s laws about worker protections for non-work activity.

But most of all, keep going. Look for the good. Look to the light.

Words can wait.

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Not every hero wears a cape

Sometimes you hear a story about a person that makes you stop in your tracks and think, “Whoa. I could¬†never do what that person is doing.”

Last night, I saw a story on the news about Darius Matsuda, a soon-to-be sophomore in high school who is visiting local middle schools to tell his story about growing up with autism. He shares with the students his experiences – including being forced into a circle with another boy while the others chant “Fight! Fight! Fight!” He explains what it’s like to live with autism – how it impacts your sensitivity to sound, light, and your ability to make friends.

It’s a powerful, personal story, and he’s already told it nine times to kids not that much younger than he is. All in the hopes that kids learn a little compassion for their fellow students, and understand that just because someone is different doesn’t mean they’re lesser than. Darius is going for Eagle Scout, and this is his service project.

This kid is amazing. Talk about putting yourself out there.

I bet that if we look hard enough, we all have someone like Darius around us. Someone with a story to tell, who has learned lessons in their life and are willing to share them. Not because it will help them…but because it will help those who come after them.

These are the heroes in your community and in your workplace. Listen to their stories. Learn their lessons.

Nice work, Darius.

 

If you want to learn more about autism and how to get involved, visit the Autism Society website. 

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Always Be Curious (with apologies to Glengarry Glen Ross)

As you probably know, I have a day job. Yes, I actually work in human resources. For a real company and everything!

But I’m also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to¬†speak at a handful of conferences and other events throughout the year. I enjoy doing this – it’s a great chance for me to visit other states and talk to fellow HR professionals about the struggles they’re facing and to share my experiences in the hopes we all walk away with a fresh perspective and some new ideas to try.

Well, that’s the idea, anyway.

The reality is that not everyone attends a conference with the intent to learn. Some are there just for the recertification credits. Some are there to hang out with their HR friends and hit the expo floor. Some are there to finally get a few days away from the kids so they can watch some RHONJ in peace, dammit! It’s not necessarily what the conference planners intended, but honestly, they’re pretty happy if people pay, show up, give the keynotes some attention, and fill out the feedback forms.

Speakers have a love/hate relationship with feedback forms. We do want to hear from our audience – we want to get better, we want to know what was meaningful to you, we want to hear that we’ve changed your life because you finally understand the new overtime regulations. (Okay, that last one was a bit tongue in cheek.) But seriously…we want some sort of validation that the time we spent building the presentation, practicing, traveling to the conference, and delivering the content was useful for someone. And most comments are very kind. You get the random comment about room temperature (sorry, we can’t control that) or the fact that someone doesn’t like the color of your dress (which is why I usually wear pants), but for the most part, it’s good feedback.

For the most part.abc

Inevitably, no matter what presentation I deliver or at what conference, there is at least ONE person who writes the comment: “I didn’t learn anything new.”

Really? Not a single thing? At all?

Listen, as a speaker,¬†I’m usually a tough audience. Speakers end up seeing a lot of different sessions with different types of presenters, so you can get a little jaded. I admit it. But I walk into every session with the intent of taking away at least ONE thing I’ve learned from that person. Hell, if nothing else, I learned their name and what they do for a living.

But not this person. This person just says, “I didn’t learn anything new.”

This depresses me. Not because I worked hard to do research to include a lot of value-added data (which I always do), or because I shared my experiences in other orgs in hopes it helps (which I also do). It depresses me because a comment like that indicates that this person is not curious. They walk into every situation assuming they know everything and that there is nothing that anyone could possibly teach them.

Who wants to live life like that?

BE CURIOUS. Be open to new ideas and new experiences. Be open to new data. Be open to the fact that your carefully crafted world view might not be 100% accurate.

I’m not asking you to agree with everything you hear. In fact, I want you to question it, challenge it.¬†That shows me¬†you are thinking about it and are curious about how it ties into what you’re currently doing. It shows me you’ve internalized the idea and are considering it and may decide to reject it. At least you cared enough to hate it instead of dismissing it as “nothing new.”

So this is my challenge to you from now until the end of the year. Instead of dismissing something outright, think about it. Question it. Be curious about it. You might actually learn something new.

God forbid.

 

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Doing the “correct” thing isn’t always right

Recently I read a story about a restaurant manager who received complaints about a mother and her autistic child. Policy would have dictated that he move the duo to another part of the restaurant, away from the other patrons who were being disturbed. But after one question from the mother, he decided not to. He told them to have an awesome day. He high fived the child. He went back to work.

In his words: Sometimes doing the right thing does not make everyone happy; just the people who need it the most.

Good for you, Tony Posnanski. You rock. You recognized the needs of this mother who had been through this before but just wanted a normal experience with her child. That’s what we call managerial courage – you didn’t hide behind a policy or the bottom line. You assessed the situation and made a judgement call.

justice

This is what leadership looks like. It looks like a person who is aware of policy and procedures. Who listens to the needs of ALL customers. Who assesses things on a case-by-case basis, makes an “executive” decision and stands by it.

We need more leaders like that.

Policies and procedures have their place, but they’re no match¬†for the human touch. People need to reach out to people and engage with them on a one-to-one basis. As my friend Steve Browne often says, you have to meet people where they are. And sometimes that means breaking policy and doing something that just makes sense.

Lord forbid we do something that makes sense.

We all have something in our handbook that HAS to be there because we think we can’t trust employees and managers to make the right decision in the moment. Sometimes it’s dress code. Sometimes it’s bereavement leave. Imagine a world where we let it slide that an employee is in a pair of jeans because there’s 2 feet of snow out but they still busted their butt to be in the office that day. Or we let an employee take bereavement leave for a dear family friend who was like a parent, but gosh darn it, that relationship isn’t listed as covered in the policy.

So as you go about your day-to-day at work, don’t be so quick to say “no,” or “we aren’t allowed to do that.” Think about the person you’re dealing with – the PERSON – and respond in kind. After all, policies and procedures keep us sane, keep us legal, keep us on the right side of compliance.

But our empathy and adaptability makes us human.

 


Think we need more humanity in the workplace? Join me at the WorkHuman 2016 Conference in Orlando, May 9-11, 2016. To register, go to  and use promo code WH16MF300 for $300 off.  

 

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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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