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Use Your Brain #SHRM17

[This post first appeared on the SHRM Blog on June 20, 2017]

I’ve had the opportunity to go to a lot of different conferences, and I see a lot of keynote speakers who are considered experts in their fields. They are successful because enough people think enough of what they’re saying makes sense and support it. They’re also successful because they are engaging speakers who connect with their audience and make everything sound brilliant.

The thing is…you’re not required to agree 100% with what these speakers are saying. Some of them cite research. Some of them share what they’ve done that worked. Some of them just share what they think SHOULD work. Are all valid ways to share an idea.  All can either be right or wrong.

Whether it’s Laszlo Bock’s suggestion that hiring managers not have the final say of a hire, or Patrick Lencioni’s suggestion that if you REALLY want to know if a person is a good hire you should take them shopping, it’s up to you as to whether or not that suggestion makes a lick of sense.

I go into every session with the attitude that I am going to learn something, because nothing bothers me more than a conference attendee who claims they didn’t learn anything. I may not agree with the speaker, but I bet I learned something about WHY I didn’t agree with them. That speaker’s point of view triggered an internal reflection – “Does that make sense? No, that doesn’t make sense. Why doesn’t it make sense?” By questioning another’s point of view, I’m forced to critically consider my point of view.

Notice the words I’m using – “reflection,” “critically consider.” I’m doing this on purpose because there’s a difference between thoughtful disagreement and a kneejerk reaction against something new.

So as you finish up your conference sessions, or plan future conference attendance, I ask that you use your brain. Listen to what the speakers are saying – not necessarily how they are saying. Then decide whether or not you agree with it. Only then will you be ready to apply what you were exposed to at #SHRM17.

 
 

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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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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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Finding your voice (or…writer’s block sucks)

Full disclosure: I’ve started and stopped about 5 different posts today.

I come up with a title, write a sentence or two, and then stare at the computer.  Or my phone. Or the TV (Chopped is on, people!). It sucks. It’s frustrating. I hate it.

Rather than fight through and try to write a post that refuses to be written, I hit “save draft,” open a new window, and start writing a new post.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I take this approach because forcing words down on the page results in a crappy product.  Stephen King once said that you should first write for yourself, then worry about the audience. He also says that you need stick to your own style because that’s the only way you’ll have truthiness – and I think he’s right.  I have to write in a way that feels true to my voice and my weird perspective on things or else the story and meaning falls flat.Stephen King

And so I keep changing my approach, trying on different topics to see if one “fits” better today so I can write the whole darn thing.

Writer’s block in leadership is sort of like this, but instead of trying to write a post that just won’t be written, you end up unable to lead –  saying the same things over and over again to your employees the exact same way and then end up surprised that they STILL aren’t changing their behavior.

You can break your “leader’s block” by following Stephen King’s advice. Rather than trying to go “by the book” and follow someone else’s leadership model or process to the letter, you need to first lead for yourself…then worry about your employees. Find your own voice and perspective – and the employees will respond.

Ask yourself:

  • Why am I a leader? Do I like being a leader?
  • Assuming I DO like being a leader, what do I like about it?
  • What do I think a leader’s job IS? Am I doing that job?
  • What are some aspects of other leaders I admire? How can I incorporate it into my personal style?

None of these questions is a cure for leader’s block on its own. It’s the equivalent of practicing your writing until your own perspective shines through. Leaders grow through experience, through trial and error. You owe it to yourself – and your employees – to break through your block and find your voice. Keep trying; keep leading; keep exploring.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself. – Stephen King

 

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The best part about being a manager

There are hundreds – nay, thousands – of blog posts about how hard it is to be a manager, the struggles one faces, the challenges we deal with.  I’ve contributed to that number.  Heck, this whole blog was created on the premise that it’s difficult to be a leader, as well as to be led.

None of that has changed. It’s hard out there for a pimp, yo.

But we focus so much on negativity that I thought it would be good to take a moment to talk about the best part about being a manager – employees.

Yes, employees are the best part about being manager. (Some of them are the worst part, but that’s another story.) Unless you are ready to work with your employees to help them be successful, you shouldn’t even consider being a manager – I don’t care what the compensation rate is.  You need to WANT to develop people. Because it’s hard work and can lead to heartache.

It can also lead to moments of incredible joy and pride.you da best

I’ve had the opportunity to manage a lot of different people in a lot of different situations in my career – some good, some bad.  While every single one is one of God’s special creatures in their own way, there have been a few that stood out because of what they accomplished.  And let’s be clear…they are the reason they are successful.  I was just lucky to be there.

I don’t want to publicly embarrass any of them, so I won’t go into great detail about their circumstances (Sam, Steven, Jim, others…you know who you are).  I worked with all of them when they were individual contributors – some in mid-career, some at the very beginning. All of them loved challenge, hated me from time to time, and have moved on to build training organizations of their own, to manage people, or to find the job that brings them happiness. And they did it because they are awesome.

There was no secret ingredient to helping them.  Really, it was about having high expectations, having their back, letting them fail from time to time, challenging them when I thought they were selling themselves short, and then getting the hell out of their way.

Whenever I have a chance to interact with these former employees, I’m always in awe of what they have been able to accomplish in spite of me.  It’s always a shame when a great employee moves on, but that’s tempered by the knowledge that they have done so much more than what they could have done if they had stayed my employee. And I learned far more from them than they did from me.

So, yeah…there are times when I hate being a manager; when I wish all I had to do was sit down, do work, and not be responsible for anyone else. But all that (well, most of that) goes away when I see an employee succeed.

Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.
 – Jim Goodnight, CEO SAS

 

Do you have a great employee success story? ARE you a great employee success story? Share in the comments!!!

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2015 in Self-Awareness, Teamwork

 

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So, you’re a crappy employee. Now what?

Okay, maybe you’re not really a crappy employee.  Maybe you’re just a misunderstood genius.  A tortured artist whose brilliance is unappreciated by the rest of us.

Right.

Or maybe you really are an employee who just isn’t very good at your job.

Hey, it happens. Sometimes responsibilities change and you don’t have the necessary skills.  Sometimes you take a stretch job and you’re in over your head. Sometimes you get a new boss you just don’t get along with.  Sometimes you just run out of gas.

Whatever it is, you probably know you’re not doing your best, and it bothers you. A lot.

Nobody likes being bad at their job. And contrary to popular belief, most employees know when they are struggling.  We don’t always admit it…but deep down, we know.

never_said_incompetent

The real question is – what do you want to do about it? Well, you have a few choices:

  • Decide if you want to stay in your current job: Maybe you like your job.  Maybe you don’t like your current job but need it.  Or maybe you really hate it and have the freedom to walk away.  Figure out the answer to that question and act on it.
  • If you want to leave, leave: Don’t be one of those people who quits but keeps coming in every day. It hurts your reputation, hurts your teammates, and never turns out well.  If you’ve decided to leave, do it sooner rather than later. But leave like a grown up, okay? No mic drops needed.
  • If you want to stay, fight for it: Acknowledge that you are not performing up to expectations. Get some help.  Ask for for honest, specific feedback from your manager, stakeholders, teammates – anyone who can give you some suggestions on how to turn things around. And don’t settle for “just do better.”  Ain’t nobody can act on that advice.
  • Own it: Maybe someone else was the spark for your troubles at work, but you’re the one who controls your actions. Admit you own your performance and the outcomes.  It’s the only way you will be able to make the necessary changes.
  • Get your head on straight: If you’re having trouble at work, you’re probably not the happiest person right now. It’s easy to work yourself into a downward spiral with negative self-talk and a crappy attitude. Take some time to reflect on how you got to where you are. Confide in a friend, a group of friends, a therapist, your dog – whoever you need in order to help you work on your outlook.
  • Keep checking in: It didn’t take you a day to turn into a crappy employee, so give yourself some time and keep the dialogue with your manager open.  Course correct as needed and keep moving in the right direction.

Whatever you decide to deal with your current situation, don’t forget to celebrate the wins. When you’re in a tough situation, you can forget how awesome success can feel. Whether you quit a job you hate or decide to take control of your current performance – you deserve a little pat on the back. It takes courage to take action when you feel beat up.

You might be a crappy employee now, but there’s no excuse to STAY a crappy employee.

You can do it. I believe in you. After all…you’re a misunderstood genius.

Just like the rest of us.

 

Failure is good as long as it doesn’t become a habit.
~ Michael Eisner

 

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2015 in Personal Development, Self-Awareness, Skillz

 

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Control Yourself (or face the Wrath of Dilfer)

It’s funny how Trent Dilfer keeps saying things that relate to being a person in the modern workplace.

And people say sports analogies are overused. (They are, but stick with me here.)

In his post-game analysis of the “game” between Green Bay and Chicago, Trent Dilfer referenced the fact that an athlete can’t control who they play, when they play, or the conditions in which they play.  But they CAN control three things:

  • Their attitude
  • Their effort
  • Their energy

After dropping this knowledge bomb, Trent went on to rip into the Bears.

Regardless of your feelings about football, the Packers, the Bears, or even Trent Dilfer, the point he made is incredibly applicable to each of us working in the corporate jungle.

control

We don’t always have full control of with whom we work, the environment in which we work, the traffic in which we drive, the customers we serve, or the load of craziness that gets dumped on our desk every single day.

We do, however, have control over how we respond to it.

How you choose to control what you can control is up to you.  The point is…CONTROL it.  You won’t always be successful, but at least you won’t have any excuses.  Don’t set yourself up for embarrassment.  (I mean, 6 TDs in the first half, guys?? For shame, Bears.)

So my challenge to each of us as we make the final push towards the holidays and year end is to make our New Year’s Resolutions early.

I will check my attitude at regular intervals throughout the day, and ensure I’m controlling it and not the other way around.

I will put forth the appropriate effort in my work. If I’m working too hard on unimportant things, I will fix it.  If I’m not working hard enough on important things, I will figure out why…and I will fix it.

I will take care of myself to ensure I have the energy for both work and home, and I will prioritize my energy for the things that matter most.

Stay focused.  Keep control.  Do your best. Own the outcomes.

And don’t give Trent Dilfer a reason to make this face.

TD_frown

 

 

 
 

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