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The Right Side of History: Musings from Workhuman

Disclosure: I am compensated for attending Workhuman and sharing my thoughts and commentary on the conference. No one at Workhuman directs what I am supposed to write or how I cover the conference – I am simply invited to share my impressions of the experience. 


Last week, I had the opportunity to attend my FIFTH Workhuman conference. The conference was started by Globoforce to highlight not only its recognition platform, but because the company believed there was a better way to work. The first event was, shall we say, “intimate” – not a lot of people, but a lot of buy-in around the idea of treating employees like human beings and acknowledging that they bring more than their productivity to the workplace.

The buy-in was so strong that the conference has grown 600% since that first gathering, and Globoforce has since changed its name to Workhuman, outwardly reflecting the commitment to an idea that has been internally held all along; and the conferences shall henceforth be known as Workhuman Live.

Enough about the backstory. How was the conference, Mary?! 

In short, the conference was really good. Through the years, the event has experienced some growing pains, particularly in the area of registration and picking up your badge. The image that comes to mind is locusts on a field of wheat with a couple of people waving their arms around to try and calm the masses…but that might be a bit dramatic. What really happens is everyone arrives about the same time, and when you have pre-conference sessions that people what to get to in a short period of time, it can get crowded. Add to that an unfortunate technical issue with a badge printer, and you get some long lines. But as always, the conference staff handled it well – apologies, smiles, and handing out water to the people waiting in line.

It’s hard to sustain a unique event experience year after year. At some point, conferences get so big that you have to scale your logistics in proven (read: “traditional”) ways – keynotes, breakouts, etc. Workhuman continues to set itself apart by limiting the “expo hall” (which they call Workhuman Central) to a few product demo areas, one or two partner booths, and a focus on connection. The Gratitude Bar (where attendees can use the Workhuman platform to recognize others) took center stage, and for every recognition shared, Workhuman contributed to three local charities. The Studio Sessions offered smaller, conversational style discussions on topics, and everywhere, there were places for attendees to sit, rest, connect, recharge.

Yeah, yeah…what about George Clooney?

Yes, Workhuman does a very good job of booking speakers. And many of you may wonder, “What the hell does Gary Hamel/George Clooney/Kat Cole/Geena Davis/Brené Brown/Viola Davis/etc. have to do with working human?!”  (Okay, maybe Gary Hamel, Kat Cole and Brené Brown make sense. And they were phenomenal. And I got to meet Kat Cole, so there.) Aside from the obvious star power that these names bring to the conference, I am always impressed at how Workhuman identifies speakers who live the values the event espouses. I was struck by the humility and humanitarian focus of each of the speakers. Yes…George Clooney is impossibly charming and every inch the movie star…and he uses his platform to do good things. Humanitarian efforts are personal to both George and Amal Clooney – they put in the time and work. It’s not just a cause they donate money to. Geena Davis has established a foundation called the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which engages film and television creators to dramatically increase the percentages of female characters — and reduce gender stereotyping — in media made for children 11 and under. Viola Davis speaks TRUTH – she uses her success and visibility to challenge all of us (not just Hollywood) to do better in how we think about and act on diversity and inclusion. None of these speakers were scripted – these are issues they speak about with passion and a real belief that we have an obligation to use our abilities to help others.

Any takeaways? Or are you just going to keep describing the conference?

That last piece – the obligation to use our abilities to help others – is my chief takeaway from Workhuman 2019.

Each of us has an obligation to use whatever influence/power/gifts/resources/whatever to make the world a better place – for all humans. George Clooney (I know, I know…but he was really good!) shared the values his family instilled in him early on, the importance of helping others who need it. He spoke about the role of luck in his life and acknowledged the help he’s had along the way. Most of all, he expressed his belief that those who have need to help those who have not.

Perhaps the quote that has stuck with me the most is this: “You are never on the wrong side of history when your aim is progress.” Progress is helping others. Progress is a hand up, not a hand out. Progress is teaching empathy. Progress is vulnerability and learning from mistakes. Progress is making a workplace that is welcoming and safe for all people. Progress is representation – in investing, in community, in movies, in the boardroom, in life. Progress is using your platform to advance society forward, not move it backwards.

We all may define progress differently, but this is the definition of progress I want to see and promote.

I want to be on the right side of history.


Workhuman Live (the new conference name) will take place in Denver in 2020.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2019 in Conference Posts

 

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Even “bad” cultures get some things right

There is a noticeable focus on “culture” lately, whether the topic is recruiting, engagement, development, retention, what have you. It’s all good stuff to discuss. I mean, it’s been around for a REALLY long time, but I’m glad to see intentionality around something that is going to happen anyway.

The prevailing theme I’ve noticed is the idea that culture will make or break your organization; that if your culture isn’t right ain’t NOTHIN’ in your organization is right.

I’m here to say….kind of.

Even in the most challenging of cultures, there are things that an organization might be doing really, really well. Just like in a good culture, there are things an organization might be crashing and burning on. I think culture buys grace and benefit of the doubt – a good culture means employees are slightly more understanding when an implementation or initiative goes wrong. It’s not a get out of jail free card, though. Organizations still need to focus on the right things across the board to help their employees contribute their best selves at work.

I’m reading Patty McCord’s book Powerful, recommended through the HR Book Club (check out the book club here!). If the author sounds familiar, it’s because she was one of the co-authors of the famed Netflix Culture Deck. This (pretty long) document has evolved over the years and is often cited as an example of how that company just “gets it.” McCord has gone on to become an in-demand consultant, helping organizations with their cultures and growth. Whether or not you think Netflix is a company you want to emulate (and there are those who question some of their tactics), Powerful outlines some very relevant points about how to be intentional about the organization your building – from the culture to employee engagement. Much of the advice goes beyond traditional “HR” or “talent” suggestions – which I appreciated.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think that while the intent of the book is to imply only “good” cultures follow, I’ve worked in organizations that did many of the things in the book…yet had a reputation for being a “bad” culture. This was a helpful realization – it reminded me that even in the most challenging of environments, you can identify positive elements to take with you. 

I’ve jokingly referred to a past organization in past posts (rhymes with fish), and while yes…it was a very tough culture to work in, I learned a lot while I worked there. I also truly appreciated some of the business practices that leadership followed that I have missed in other organizations, including ones highlighted in McCord’s book.

Here are some of the things that were done in this “bad” culture:

  • Quarterly all company updates: Every quarter, the executive leadership team would hold a virtual “all hands” meeting – at corporate, it was live; in other locations, it was broadcast on our internal channels. At this meeting, employees heard from the CEO, CHRO, General Counsel, COO, CFO, CMO, and any business leaders spearheading a major initiative. The CFO update in particular was excellent – we learned how the company measured financial success, how to read a basic P&L, and what variable costs employees could help control in their jobs. Lesson: You want employees to learn how a business makes, saves, and spends money? Tell them.
  • Field visits: We used to call them “ride alongs.”  Basically, if you worked in corporate, you were encouraged (and at director and above, required) to do a quarterly visit in the field. This would include a day spent with an installation tech and a day spent with a call center agent – preferably, in a market other than your own. It was a great way to talk to employees in their own environment, and to give them a chance to brag about their jobs…and share their concerns about corporate. Lesson: Think HQ is too much in an ivory tower? Make people leave it.
  • Visibility to all parts of the business: Because not all employees could go on ride alongs, new employees learned about the business in new hire orientation. The group was given an overview of operations and asked to manage a budget spit amount R&D, field ops, call centers, corporate, and people; and based on the budgeting, they saw the impact spending had on other parts of the business and had to learn to think through business decisions strategically (or as strategically as you can as a new employee). In the high potential development program, we took participants to other locations and gave them a chance to learn more about a new business unit. Lesson: You want people to think like an owner? Let them see what they’re making decisions about.

There are countless other examples that occurred on a daily basis that helped me understand fully what the business was trying to do and why. Being in HR, I often saw more than the average employee about how and why decisions were made – it wasn’t always pretty, but it was fairly transparent. I cut my teeth on corporate America there and have carried those lesson with me throughout my career. And even though it may not have been seen as a “good” culture, it was definitely an “aligned” culture – we knew who we were and didn’t shy away from it. For those who loved the environment, it was a great place to work. For others…it was a great place to learn from and move on.

This post is meant to remind you that there is something to learn from every business…but it’s also a cautionary tale. Just because you check off a bunch of “culture positive” initiatives you read in a book doesn’t mean you’ll automatically create a positive culture. It comes down to the people who execute those initiatives and the daily interactions that happen among leadership, employees, and customers. It’s about the intention and morality of those people. It’s about what you reward and tolerate in your organization.

All hope is not lost, though. It’s still worth the effort to lay a good foundation and build from there. Even the toughest cultures can inspire employees to take the lessons they’ve learned and be better leaders. So don’t dismiss a “bad” culture outright – sometimes there are diamonds in that rough.

Have you worked in a “bad” culture that did some things right? I would love to hear about it! Share in the comments or connect with me online. 

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in culture, General Rant about Leading

 

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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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