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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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More than a conference – WorkHuman 2017

I know what you’re thinking: Ugh. ANOTHER ‘come to this conference because it’s so freaking great’ post. 

Well…yeah, it kind of is.

But it’s more than that! It’s a confession of sorts.

See, I usually end up going to conferences because either I’m speaking and they asked me to be there by paying my way, or because I know a bunch of cool people who are going to the conference and I really, really want to see them. I seldom go to a conference simply because it looks “interesting.”

WorkHuman was a little different.

I’ve been going to this conference since the very first one (you know…3 years ago). I had seen teasers about it and knew it was going to have some great speakers, including Shawn Achor, Nilofer Merchant, Ariana Huffington, and Adam Grant. I had seen Adam Grant speak in Denver and I just loved his book, so I thought, “Gee, what a cool looking conference. Oh well, no chance to go, I’ll just watch from afar.”

As fate would have it, I had a chance to attend because I knew people. (See? NETWORKING PAYS OFF. Go do it.) I got to see some friends I knew, but more importantly, I got to experience a conference that was unlike any other. The format was unique. The setting was far more intimate than most conferences. And more swanky. (Note to conference planners: you’ll never go wrong with choosing swanky.) And it felt more like a good conversation among friends because it wasn’t frenetic. Rather than piling on the concurrent sessions, WorkHuman had a keynote, then a few breakouts, and then another keynote, and a few more breakouts, etc. What resulted was a shared experience that allowed attendees to discuss the speakers, pay attention to the content, and not worry that they were missing something else in a session down the hall. I loved it.
workhuman

I got a chance to go back to the second one and write about it while I was there. This time, the conference was bigger with more sessions (but still swanky. Seriously…go for swank.). The venue was slightly less intimate, but the speakers were again top notch, and while there were more sessions, the conference let you sample several ideas with 15 minute power sessions, collaborative conversation spaces, and fascinating topics. And did I mention Michael J. Fox spoke? No? Well, he did. And it was fantastic.  (I also got called out to meet Globoforce CEO Eric Mosley because of something I tweeted during his session. Smart guy. Super nice. Good chat.)

And I get to go back this year – once again to write about the conference, but even better…I get to speak. YES. I am one of the 15 minute power sessions you can choose to avoid so you can see the other people talk about cool things! I’m incredibly honored and excited to be part of this conference. I love the concept. I love the theme. I love the swanky locales. (Clearly.)

But most importantly, I love the people. And I’m an introvert. So for me to say that after spending 3 days at a conference with so many people, that’s really saying something.

I got to meet some fabulous human beings at WorkHuman. I met John Baldino (who will be a fellow speaker this year) at the pool the day before the conference started. Of course, I had no idea that’s who he was (but the lack of hair probably should have been a clue), so I just talked to him like he was some random friendly guy at the pool. Thankfully, I didn’t say anything too embarrassing (I think), but he has seen me in a swimsuit, so I feel like that makes us family. I saw a bunch of people I don’t get to see nearly enough in real life (Tim Sackett, Kris Dunn, Kristen Harcourt, Robin Schooling, and so many more). I met the mind behind WorkHuman Robot. And because of the conference, I started following many of the speakers on Twitter…and they actually interact with you. Like people! (Amy Cuddy and Adam Grant are especially nice on Twitter. You guys are the best!) So I guess what I’m saying is…even though I went to that first WorkHuman thinking it was just another conference, I walked away with a new appreciation for how a conference that focuses on old topics a new way can really change the way you look at things.

So join us there and say a quick “hi.” Need help convincing your leadership it’s a good idea? Here’s a resource. In fact, since money runs the world, if you register and use the promo code WH17INF-MFA and you’ll save $200 on the registration fee!

WorkHuman helps you CONNECT – to your purpose, to your work, to other people, to new ideas. It’s fun. It’s fresh. It’s a good time.

Hope to see you there!

robot

We love you, WorkHuman Robot.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2017 in culture, Personal Development

 

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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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Expanding horizons

This is my plea that everyone – employees and leaders alike – learns how to think outside of themselves.

That they look beyond their personal role to see how they impact the world around them.

That they try to improve the processes they work within.

That they reach out to those they work with to offer support when needed.

That they reach out to those they work with to offer a kick in the butt when needed.

That they step back and think about how the offhanded comment they made in a crowded room might have been interpreted.

Earth_GlobeThat they realize that they made a positive difference in the lives of the people they interact with.

That they see their value in the world and know it spreads beyond those who see them every day.

That they recognize their power to influence…and use their power for good.

That they learn how to say “no” so that others say, “I understand.”

That they win with humility.

That they lose with grace.

That they never lose their love of learning – or that they discover it in the first place.

That they remember that every single person they interact with is going through something in their lives that others don’t know.

That they see the potential of the team, organization, and community that they are a part of – and want to help everyone reach that potential.

That they want to build, not destroy.

That they learn that success comes in many forms.

It is my hope that everyone – employees and leaders alike – realize it’s not all about them.

It’s about us.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2015 in Authenticity, Clarity, Self-Awareness, Teamwork

 

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When things go wrong, will your people do right?

Today was the kind of day that business travelers tell horror stories about.

I’m speaking at two conference this week (MNSHRM and WISHRM), and today was the first day of a week of travel. It was supposed to be easy. I had just gotten my TSA Pre-Check, so security wasn’t a problem. And I was flying Southwest Airlines with a good boarding position (A 31 – not too shabby).

How hard could it be?

My husband dropped me off at the airport one hour and forty minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off. I figured I’d drop off the bag, breeze through security and grab a little breakfast.

And then I encountered this:

line_southwest

A line to end all lines. And it was even worse inside.

Turns out, Southwest had a massive computer system outage today. They couldn’t print boarding passes from many of the service desks. They couldn’t print baggage claim tickets.

They had to do EVERYTHING by hand – check in, boarding, manifest clearing – everything.

And you know what? They did it with a smile.

The skycaps worked quickly. They had their process down and did what they could to keep the mood light. (I got through that ridiculous line in 35 minutes.)

The boarding gate agent was funny and handled the craziness with some humor.

The flight crew acknowledge the challenges, kept the passengers informed, and did what they could to ensure everyone on the flight made it – even when security was backed up (seriously…get TSA pre-check).

It wasn’t just in my hometown where the employees did what they could to make the best of a terrible situation. Check out these employees in Las Vegas, handing out cold drinks to folks stuck in the hot sun:

SW_2

Was everyone happy? Of course not. It was stressful for everyone involved. Not everyone saw exemplary service from Southwest employees, but overall, they have handled the ongoing problems pretty well.

In the event of this kind of crisis, how would YOUR employees perform? And what can you do to best ensure you’re ready to respond?

  1. Have a plan: The Southwest employees weren’t using sticky notes to process baggage. They had printed tags designed for manual checking. The gate agent had a protocol to process mobile and paper passes without computer access. If you don’t have a Plan B for your business process, you’ll have even more problems.
  2. Hire the right people: Southwest is very explicit about their culture and expectations for their employees – but they also make a pledge to do right by their people. (The “To Our Employees” clause…) By taking time to find the right people to carry out your organization’s work, you increase the likelihood that they will be able to respond to a challenge the way you want them to.
  3. Balance process with humanity: I can’t imagine the level of complexity Southwest faced with this system outage. Between the sheer number of passengers, Homeland Security requirements, and airport regulations, they could have chosen to approach this with a very command-and-control approach. Instead, I saw employees empowered to make decisions. I read examples of employees given the freedom to hand out cold drinks. I saw a flight crew take time to alleviate a passenger’s concern about a connecting flight when we took off late. Are you willing to let go in times of pressure and put the trust in your people to do the right thing?

They say that adversity does not build character, it reveals it.

What character will your people reveal?

[Disclaimer: I’m sure a LOT of people had a horrible travel day today, and many of them are annoyed and frustrated still. My experience may not be the same as others. If you had a bad start to your day, I really hope it got better!]

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2015 in Engagement, Teamwork

 

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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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Slow or fast, we’re all in the same race (lessons from the driver’s seat)

No, this isn’t going to be an introspective look at the fleeting immediacy of life. I mean, that’s a real thing and you should really think deep profound thoughts about it, but I’m not in the mood.

I’m in the mood to talk about driving.

As readers of this blog know, I always wanted to be a stunt car driver. I don’t really remember why that was something I wanted to do. It just looked like a lot of fun, and the drivers were badass.

I’m not a stunt car driver (yet), but I have gotten a chance to live like one for a few hours. It’s called autocross – and if you’ve never gotten to do it, I highly recommend it. It’s so choiceIMG_2998

Basically, autocross is a giant parking lot or other paved area with a course laid out in cones. It might be a hairpin turn, followed by a slalom, followed by a 90-degree turn, etc. You get a series of runs throughout the day, each one timed. If you hit a cone, you get a time penalty. If you miss a “gate” or go off-course, you officially get a DNF (did not finish), but unofficially you still get to drive the rest of the course like a baller.

This was the second such event I’ve had a chance to do and, like a lot of people in my line of work, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities to the workplace.

Someone else may lay out the course, but you choose how you attack it.
In autocross, like a lot of jobs, there are a series of obstacles/tasks you have to tackle. The cool thing is that we get to choose the way to get through them. In autocross, you see people who go as fast as they can, slamming on their brakes to course correct, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Ultimately, though, they learn from their mistakes and do better next time. Some people start very slowly and tentatively, afraid to make mistakes, learning the course. And as their confidence grows, they get faster and better. Your job is the same way. You can go fast and furious, or go slow and cautious. Each approach teaches different lessons, and the “driver” (employee) can either choose to learn from them and improve, or get the lesser result.

Most mistakes are minor. Don’t freak out. Keep going.
If you hit a cone in autocross, you get a 2 second penalty. And people might give you a hard time. If you miss a gate or something, a corner worker makes a big X with their arms and you get a DNF for the run…but you get to keep driving and you learned something. Most work mistakes are similar. Did you send out an email with a minor typo? Okay, you goofed up. Own it and learn from it. Did you forget to staple ALL the packets? Nobody died. Don’t be afraid to make minor mistakes. (And if you’re a leader, realize your people will make them!) The important thing is to learn from it.

Some mistakes ARE a big deal. Recognize when it could happen.
In these types of driving events, you don’t drive all that fast. But cars do sometimes spin out and go flying off the course. If you’re working a corner, you need to be alert and position yourself in a place that will minimize your risk of getting hit. Not all jobs are life and death, but SOME ARE. Inattention can and does get people killed. Whether you’re the person doing the dangerous activity, or the support person watching that activity, be alert and do what you can to ensure safety protocol is followed. We all want to get to the finish line in one piece.

People doing the same thing at the same time have SOMETHING in common. Work with that.
People who do autocross events have all different types of cars and come from a variety of backgrounds. In a generic social setting, it’s doubtful that any of them would hang out. But put them in this situation and suddenly they are best friends, trading driving tips and encouraging each other to improve each run. Your coworkers may not be people you’d choose to socialize with. In fact, people are socializing with coworkers less and less these days. And it may be impacting our work experience. So while you don’t have to be a best friend or anything, it’s okay to loosen up and talk like people now and then.

Have a good time.
You’re driving a car through a crazy course. OF COURSE YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE FUN. Granted, work isn’t going to be a super fun autocross event every day. But hopefully parts of it are. And if it isn’t, try to find ways to make it a good time. You’re there for too many hours in your life.

Whatever you do – in your “real” life or your “work” life – it’s important to remember that while we all have different approaches, we are all still just trying to finish the race.

Start strong, stay strong, and finish strong by always remembering why you’re doing it in the first place.
– Ralph Marston

 
 

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