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Fight the good fight

Let’s face it – no matter what our aspirations, most of us leaders will never ascend beyond middle management. That’s because unless we are a CEO of a company without a board (or we are ALSO the board chair), we all answer to somebody.

This perpetual state of “rock, meet hard place” means that leaders are constantly being asked to implement ideas, policies, projects, and other shenanigans they absolutely do not agree with. And even more, they know their employees will not agree with them, either.

The challenge is always knowing when to fight and when to support. In general, the rule of thumb has always been “fight up, complain across, support down.” Which…mostly works. It’s important that leaders know how to pick their battles and when to gain and spend political capital.

On the other hand…

There are times when your team really needs to see that you’re fighting for them. They need to believe you, their leader, has their back when they aren’t around to see it. They need to see that you are human, that you recognize when a policy from the higher ups seems contrary to the organization’s stated values, and that you are willing to stick your neck out for something that’s important.

Leaders, you won’t win on these. Most of the time the decision has already been made and you’re basically just fighting a whirlwind. You’ll be told you have your marching orders and that it’s happening with or without you, so it might has well be with you.

How you decide to react to that statement is up to you.

What I can tell you is that your team notices when you fight for them and with them. They know most of these issues are a losing battle. They know you’re putting your neck on the line. And because of that, they will be in that battle with you.

That means you have to be smart. That means you fight when it matters, not when you’re feeling petty. That means you explain why you’re fighting – so make sure the reason is worthy.

Being a leader means finding a balance in that gray area of supporting the organization’s mission and purpose and railing against anything that seems to be against the mission and purpose. Being a leader means knowing you will fight many times, and you will lose.

But being a leader also means showing your employees that with power comes responsibility, and being a manager sometimes means pushing back on authority now and then when the issue is important. It shows your employee you support them…and you expect them to also push back when the issue is important. Because informed dissent breeds innovation, and permission to dissent respectfully builds trust.

Yes, leaders. You will lose the occasional battle. But you just might win the war.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in General Rant about Leading

 

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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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Leaders, remind your people they have value (no matter what those laws say)


NOTE: This post might be interpreted as “political.” That’s cool. Remember, my opinions are my own. And goodness knows…I have opinions.


You know which laws I’m talking about. This one. And this one. Thankfully, this one got vetoed.

There is plenty of material out there discussing the laws, the impact it will have on local communities (Paypal and Bruce Springsteen put their money where their mouths are…with more to come, I’m sure). I’ll leave the social discussion and moral outrage to others who can articulate it with such dexterity (like this incredible post by Jay Kuhns).

Through all this, I started thinking about everyday employees who had to hear that message from their government. And when Ed Tsyitee tweeted “HR people in Mississippi and North Carolina must be doing a collective facepalm right now,” I realized…he’s right. How messed up is this? Here we are – a nation of businesses supposedly obsessed with employee engagement, now confronting a message that we care about our people…as long as our people are exactly like we say they should be.

What a tough pill to swallow. valueadded

Employees are just trying to make a living. They want to live their lives. They want to fit in in a way that feels right to them. For god’s sake, they just want to go to the bathroom.

Leaders (true leaders) know how important it is to allow people to be authentic. And no…I don’t mean they have license to be assholes. I mean that people have the right to live as they are – male, female, gay, straight, furry, LARP-er, Star Wars nerd, Star Trek geek – whatever makes them who they are. Leaders sometimes face ridicule (or worse) for supporting their zany crew. These leaders are simply trying to keep their team motivated to do the work the business needs to do.

For those leaders of employees who face this challenge on a daily basis, here are some things you can say to impacted employees:

You matter.

You make a difference in the organization. You a person worthy of respect. You are a human being – with the same strengths, flaws, quirks, foibles, and greatness as everyone else.

You will be held to the same standard of work as others. You will be praised when you knock it out of the park. You will get a talking to when you goof up. After all – we have a job to do.

You can share who you are with this team, because we support you. And you are free to hum the theme song of ‘Dallas’ when the spirit moves you (unless it’s during a presentation to the executive team – that could be bad).

I’m so glad you’re on the team.

You. Are. Valued.

No matter what the outside world throws at your employees, you have the power to remind them they are PEOPLE first. They are YOUR people. They are the lifeblood of your team. They are the reason your business gets things done.

Leaders – you can set an example for others. You can show the fearful people that “different” isn’t something to punish. We’re all different.

And we all have value.

 

 

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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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Development as partnership (when leaders and employees get it)

Last week, I had the opportunity to both attend and speak at the Illinois state conference for the Society of Human Resource Management (henceforth referred to as ILSHRM, ’cause that’s way too much to type out).

Hundreds of HR professionals descended upon the Holiday Inn and Convention Center in Tinley Park, IL for a couple of days of networking, socializing, eating far too many carbs, and yes…learning.

I love being able to talk to people from around the country about what they do, what they struggle with, and how they are trying to make their workplace – and themselves – better. And these folks are from Illinois, so they’re chatty Midwesterners who are open, honest, and a lot of fun to boot.

Dancing_Cats

What struck me as I talked to the fine folks of ILSHRM is that we all have similar challenges – high state of change, evolving business demands, disengaged employees, managers who don’t always get it, legal shifts, work-life balance, etc. And what impressed me is that despite all the challenges, these people were determined to find a way to fix it. They believed that by advancing their skills, learning from others, and challenging their own thinking, they might be able to take something from ILSHRM back to their workplace, apply it, and make a difference.

Naive? Maybe. Optimistic? Probably.

Impossible? No.

I say it’s not impossible because all those people attending ILSHRM had the support of their organizations and/or their boss.  Maybe it was a “check the box” exercise to prove the company supports development. Who cares – they got to go. Most were there because their boss/leadership had specific problems and trust their HR team to go find a solution that will work for them.

This conference reaffirmed the fact that when leaders and employees are both devoted to development, good things can happen. Heck, I was there because my boss was willing to let me go spread our brand and bring new ideas back. (Thanks, Gail!)

And for the cynics out there, you’re right – some people attend conferences to get their credits to avoid retaking a test, for the carb overload, for a couple of nights away from the kids. But tell that to the fun folks I had lunch with from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District – all 10+ of them. This was a group determined to get something out of the conference…and have a fun time while they learned. And tell that to the young HR professionals who asked incredibly powerful, insightful questions in all the sessions they attended. They weren’t content to listen and leave – they wanted to explore, to learn from the collective experience from the folks in the room.

The reality is that this only works if everyone involved is willing to MAKE IT WORK. (Tim Gunn shout out!) Developing employees is more than signing up for a class or a conversation about career goals now and then. It’s about employees stating what they need for their development and leaders supporting them in that endeavor.

It takes two to tango.

Leaders, employees, customers and companies all benefit when development is supported. So I challenge each of you – whether you are a manager or individual contributor – to do what you can to partner for development. You’ll get so much more out of it than what you put into it.

I know I do.

 

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Managing Up, Personal Development, Skillz

 

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Ride into the Danger Zone (stepping out and taking a risk)

This week I am attending the WorkHuman 2015 Conference in Orlando, Florida. The goal of this conference is to help companies find ways to create a community of support and positivity that brings greater meaning to everyone’s work lives.  I’ll share what I learn here and on Twitter (@mkfaulkner43 #WorkHuman). 


 

If you’re going to make a mistake, make a mistake of passion.
–  Dr. Montgomery, jazz teacher

If I had a pick a word for Day One of WorkHuman, I would say it’s Balance.

Day Two, I would pick Risk. As in, take more of them.

I like this word. In fact, I LOVE this word. Risk. It’s a good one and it reminds all of us that innovation and greatness doesn’t come from sitting on our ass waiting for someone to tell us the best way to do things. We have to go for it.

All the keynote speakers so far today – Rob Lowe (yes, he IS that pretty in real life) and Nilofer Merchant (FOLLOW HER) – pushed the idea of stretching your comfort zone, taking big risks, not being afraid to fail, to BE WEIRD.

We are so hard-wired to stay in our boxes, follow the rules, conform. It’s time we embrace the fact that danger is a necessary ingredient to realizing our full potential.

We all work with and for people who never look outside of the four walls of their particular business, who believe the experience they have and the way they have always done things is exactly the right and best way to do it.

And you know what? It might be. For them. In that system. In that industry.

But for the rest of us? We need to be bold. We need to show courage. We need to stop thinking and start doing.

As employees, this means sharing our ideas and making proposals that we think are smart. Yes – there is a very real chance that it will get shot down the first, second, tenth time. But if you don’t believe in your idea enough to keep reworking it, getting more data, and trying again, why do you think anyone else would believe in it? The approval of others isn’t the only measure as to whether or not you have a good idea. Just because they don’t see it and get it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

danger_zone_-_kenny_loggins_2

As leaders, it means stopping our incessant need to “protect” – to protect what we have, to protect what our teams have, to protect some perceived notion of security. Leaders are EXACTLY in the right position to rock the boat – and rock it a lot – in order to move their business forward. Leaders have the influence, the knowledge, and the audience to be able to take real risk and make a difference. Leaders will set the example that risk-taking – and potential failure – is okay, encouraged, and ultimately, valued because of the impact it can have on the organization.

It doesn’t mean you get to be stupid about it.

It means you believe in the validity of an idea so much that you want it to succeed.

It means you believe in yourself enough that you know you are someone worth taking a risk for.

Risk taking is contagious. It breaks the status quo and challenges our assumptions about what we do, how we do it, and most importantly, why we do it. Risk taking made Rob Lowe a star and made Nilofer Merchant a successful businesswoman and author. They embraced their drive, embraced their beliefs, embraced a dream. And that’s why they’re standing on a stage telling the rest of us how to take risks – because they’ve already done it.

Embrace the danger. Move the business forward. Move yourself forward.

Take a risk.

 

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
– T. S. Eliot

 
 

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HR is burned out…why leaders should care

This week I am attending the WorkHuman 2015 Conference in Orlando, Florida. The goal of this conference is to help companies find ways to create a community of support and positivity that brings greater meaning to everyone’s work lives.  I’ll share what I learn here and on Twitter (@mkfaulkner43 #WorkHuman). 


Any time you go to an HR-related conference, you meet amazing people, are exposed to new (and old) ideas, and get a sense of what life is like in others’ work worlds.

You also inevitably hear complaints.

This is not unique to an HR conference. Get any two people who work for a living together and they will start complaining about their office, or their boss, or some process they hate. It’s human nature to vent, and conferences are a breeding ground for it because this is a new group of people who has never heard our stories before. And we love a fresh audience.

What does strike me at the more recent HR conferences I’ve been to is that the stories have moved away from the “You won’t believe what this employee did” variety to more of the “I don’t think I can do this anymore” variety. HR professionals are feeling stretched thin, trying to juggle the ongoing demands of changing regulations and administration with the increased pressure to be strategic and bring value, and oh, by the way – plan the company picnic.

In short – HR is burned out.Oxygen Mask

They are sick of hearing about how they are the problem. They are sick of hearing about how employees are their problem. They are sick of employees complaining about their bosses, and they are sick of hearing managers complain about their employees.

They’re also tired. HR people don’t always get a full night’s sleep.

So why does this matter to leaders? Why should you care if HR is burned and cranky?

Because that HR person needs to have your back. They need to help advise you on the right decisions to make. They need to help you balance dollars and humanity. They craft the strategy that helps attract and retain your talent, and they hold you accountable to those promises you made during that all team meeting. They also help you deliver difficult messages with grace, keep egg off your face (if you let them), and have some pretty great ideas about how to help the business reach the next level of awesomeness.

And if HR is burned out…they may be less inclined to do those things for you. Sure, they’ll make sure the employees are paid and legal, but you won’t get all the extras that you take for granted.

In a morning keynote, Arianna Huffington spoke elegantly about the power of renewal – of putting the care of ourselves first so that we can facilitate the care of others. She compared it to: “In case of emergency, place your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” It results in better health, better innovation, better creativity, and better productivity.  It results in RESULTS.

HR is often the worst at taking its own advice. We work through lunch. We come in early and on weekends, we stay late to meet with employees afraid to meet during business hours. We respond to emails at all hours of the night because an executive forgot to tell us something that we really need to know before that meeting in the morning. We do this because many of us are martyrs who think we have to. And we do this because we care that things are done to expectations.

This comes at a cost.

Leaders – don’t take HR for granted. Help them set the example that the rest of the organization can follow. Tell them to go home on time. Tell them to stop responding to emails. Don’t enable their need to please. Help them set boundaries…and then allow them to KEEP those boundaries. No one gets to break that rule. No one.

In the end, you will have more effective HR, more effective employees, and a more successful business.

And HR conferences will be filled of fun stories again, instead of good people at the end of their tether.

 

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2015 in Self-Awareness, Teamwork

 

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