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.

 

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

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.