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Five Years

Five years ago today, I started this blog.

First of all…seriously?! Five freakin’ years?! Wow. I’m getting old.

Anyhoo….

This blog was created because the universe decided that Jennifer McClure and I should meet under bizarre work circumstances. Because of that meeting, Jennifer began to insist that I should really write a blog post about topics we discussed. Or that I should tweet a witty observation I made. (The witty is my descriptor, not hers.)

In short, this blog is all Jennifer’s fault.

five

It’s been an interesting 5 years. We’ve seen a lot of things happen in the world of work and the world of life. I’ve had opportunities opened because of this blog. I’ve had an outlet to post random thoughts and observations because of this blog. Because of this blog, I find myself far more engaged in what is going on in leadership and HR across all industries, which helps satisfy my natural curiosity.

I’m grateful to the online writing community for welcoming me into their ranks, even when they patently disagree with what I have to say. I’m grateful to all of you who take the time to read my posts (when I finally get around to writing them). It’s nice to know someone out there thinks something I wrote is interesting or helpful.

Most of all, I am actually grateful to Jennifer for insisting I start sharing my voice. While I call this blog her fault, it’s only because it was her belief in me that convinced me I should put myself out there.

So, thanks, Jennifer. I never would have even considered this if if hadn’t been for you (my number one balcony person).

Now go apologize to the world for what you’ve done. 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Not a joiner? Join the club*

*Author’s Note: See what I did there? 

There’s been a lot written about the challenges of being an introvert in a workplace that tends to value the behaviors of extroverts (see: Susan Cain). From open floor plan workspaces to “collaborative” work styles (e.g., we all sit in a room and stare at the same document until magic somehow occurs), to a belief that you must speak up in meetings or you’re not adding value – the preferred work style of introverts seems contrary to how corporate America seems to want to operate.

Despite this clash of styles, introverts are doing (mostly) okay. Exhausted and fussy at times, but mostly okay. We’ve been figuring out how to adapt to, and influence, our work environments to find a way to not only exist but thrive. We have also made headway in busting the myth that introverts are anti-social heathens who hate people. (That’s only a few of us.) Most introverts actually like people…but individually, and for short periods of time. Or through social media, because this means we can meter the intensity of our interaction to match our energy. Which is nice. Slowly but surely, we’ve started to change the perception that you have to be “outgoing” to be a good leader.

Then out of the blue…someone asks you to join their “group.”

Maybe it’s a bowling league. Maybe it’s a work committee. Or maybe someone tries to throw you into a generalized reference to a “them” when telling a story.

If you just read that and felt your heartbeat climb and your anxiety increase, chances are you are NOT a joiner.

It’s okay…I’m one of you. (Which really is kind of funny when you think about it, because now we’re a group but we don’t really WANT to be a group, and now we hate ourselves for being part of a group. Ugh.)

I know I started this post talking about introverts, but I want to point out that extroverts can be “anti-join,” too. I think anyone who hates being labeled or put into a box (particularly by others) aren’t really a “joiner.” Because introverts recharge individually, though, maybe they’re more prone to not wanting to join the club. (I have no research to support this, but it seems like research doesn’t change people’s minds anyway, so let’s pretend I told a really emotional story and got you on my side on this one.) (And yes, I’m aware of the irony that I just used research to prove that research won’t change your mind.)

Anyway, back to not wanting to be a joiner.

The problem with not being a joiner at work is that it somehow puts a mark on you. People who don’t want to join the club are often labelled as difficult, or maybe they “aren’t a culture fit,” which is often code for “not like us.”  Unfortunately, that mark can be tough to shake. Most people want so desperately to belong, so it’s hard to understand why someone wouldn’t want to belong in a very public, assimilated way.

And that’s where the challenge lies – never try to tell a non-joiner they HAVE to join. They will become stubborn, angry, and most likely will act directly opposite from what you’re trying to get the group to buy into. (At least that’s what my mom says I do. I think she’s lying out of spite.) They will feel put upon, and more importantly, they will feel even more like an outsider because you have put their otherness on display. And now they will never join you.

This is a damn shame, too, because here’s the thing – non-joiners actually do join things. They just tend to be much more selective and only join things that really speak to them – causes, activities, awesome snacks at club meetings. Don’t think of them as non-joiners. Think of them as the Discerning Joiner.

Discerning Joiners recognize they only have so much time and tolerance for meetings, get togethers, busy work, etc. They focus instead on things that they care about. And when they decide to join that “club,” the Discerning Joiner is a juggernaut. They will devote time, energy, attention, resources – anything they need to do in order to make sure their decision makes a difference for someone.

You WANT Discerning Joiners – you just don’t realize it yet. They tend to be the people who can make a real difference in society. They see something they don’t like and refuse to “join the club.” Instead, they make a conscious decision to evaluate the situation and do something to turn people’s heads and make them uncomfortable. It could be something as simple as sitting in someone else’s “spot” in a meeting to break up the monotony. Or it could be something as public as kneeling. Whatever action they take, though, they take intentionally. Don’t discount the power of that. Harness it. Encourage it. See what you can do to create an environment that allows that to happen positively.

And if you ARE a Discerning Joiner, stay strong. Stay principled. Don’t feel pressured to join the crowd. Join when it makes sense. Feel comfortable in being an individual, too.

USE YOUR POWERS FOR GOOD.

Even if you do it alone.

 

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.
– Charlotte Bronte

 

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2017 in Authenticity, Personal Development

 

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A peek behind the curtain: Blogging with a full-time gig

One of the great things about blogging is that your blog gives you a cathartic outlet. Have a bad day? Write about it on the blog. Shocked by something an employee said? Write about it on the blog. Remember something your boss did that made you roll your eyes so hard it gave you a migraine? You got it – write about it on the blog.

Funny thing is…that’s kind of hard to do when you’re a working girl. Well, not THAT kind of working girl. I bet they have the BEST blogs.

I’m talking about folks who have a full-time job in corporate America. You know, the people who work 9-to-5 (what a way to make a living). It’s not that we don’t have enough material. Goodness knows it’s not that.

The challenge lies in the fact once people at the office find out you write a blog, they tend want to read it. Which is actually pretty awesome. Until they start trying to figure out if the topic about which you’ve written is about them. Or the company. Or the CEO.

Here’s the thing. Yeah. I probably did write a blog post about you. But not specifically about you, more about the situation. Or you said something that triggered a thought about a scenario I read in another article that made me think, “Huh. I wonder if that’s a trend I should write about.”

Except for that one time. That was TOTALLY about you.

It’s a challenge to not translate everything at work into a blog post. I try to weigh the relevance for a wider audience and if it fits into the general leadership theme of my blog. I mean, it’s my blog so I’ll go off topic from time to time, but you get the idea. I also try to decide if it’s a lasting issue or if it’s a weird one-off that may never happen again.

Most of all, I have to weigh whether or not someone I know will try too hard to read between the lines and make assumptions about the topic and try to assign meaning that isn’t there. My views truly are my own. But it’s not that hard to figure out where I work (or have worked), and because of that, I try to be careful.

I suspect that many bloggers who have a corporate gig take the same care. In fact, there are several who use an alias because they are worried their content will anger the powers that be. The struggle is real, people.

So I wait months to bring up a “hot” topic. I change names. I allude to past organizations or use the time-honored “a colleague of mine.” I’m not above throwing in a “studies show” now and then, either. Sometimes I wait 3+ months to write about something because it is too raw and close to what reality is. Hence the occasional dry spell in content. Well, that and writer’s block.

If I do work with you and you read my blog, hi! And thank you. I think that’s cool. Just please don’t try to figure out if I’m talking about something at work, because by the time I write about it, it happened so long ago that it doesn’t even matter anymore.

If I don’t work with you and your read my blog, hi! And thank you. Feel free to make any wild conjecture that makes my blog more exciting to you. If it helps to picture bear juggling knives while balancing on a unicycle, I’m okay with that.

Ultimately, I write on this blog because I enjoy it and only when I feel like I have something to say that others may find interesting. Every once in awhile, I might take someone specific to task, but only when they deserve it and they’re a national story. (Or if there’s an in-joke that will make us both laugh.)

Would I write more freely if I didn’t work a corporate gig? Yes. Does it keep me from writing anyway? No.

And it never will.


You fail only if you stop writing. 

– Ray Bradbury

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Broadway musicals and the lessons of succession planning

Recently, the producers of Dear Evan Hansen announced that its Tony Award-winning lead, a ridiculously talented Ben Platt, would be vacating the role on November 19. Platt originated the role through read-throughs, workshops, previews, and finally, a year on Broadway.

The show is a runaway hit, pulling in $1.5M a week and already providing its investors with a complete return on their investment (in a very short period of time for a small theatre on Broadway). While the show seems like it will be fine with a new lead, its continued success is uncertain and there has been no announcement of who will be taking over the lead.

For another show on Broadway, the continued success is known – it will not have any. Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 (heretofore known as The Great Comet because that name is just WAY too long) was nominated for 12 Tony Awards (3 more than the big winner Dear Evan Hansen). It starred Josh Groban, he of velvety-voice-with-little-inflection-but-everyone-loves-him fame. It was a rousing good time. It got a huge boost from the Tonys performance.

And then Josh Groban left the show.

Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowa (who originated Hercules Mulligan/James Madison in Hamilton) took over the role. People loved him, he had a wonderful debut. And about 3 weeks into his run, rumors started flying that Mandy Patinkin (Broadway royalty/Inigo Montoya) would take over the role. It was officially announced. And the backlash was loud and accusatory because Oak is black, Mandy is white, and the callousness of the move was jarring. Turns out, Mandy was horrified at what happened, and refused to take the role because of what happened to Oak – Mandy had been told Oak was cool with it…and Oak did not appear to be cool with it. Mandy’s out. Oak refuses to go back.

And now the show is closing less than a year after it opened because they have no “name” lead and advance sales plummeted.

So why would I spend nearly 400 words on the drama of a Broadway show’s missteps?

Because that could be your organization.

If you have talented, charismatic, AMAZING leaders in your organization and you haven’t planned for what happens when they leave, you could be The Great Comet.

Don’t be The Great Comet.

Because I’m an unabashed theatre nerd and have decided to run this metaphor into the ground, here are some lessons about succession planning you can learn from Broadway:

  • It’s not the actor, it’s the show:  If you rely on one person’s performance for your company’s success, you will fail. Make sure the team’s/unit’s/company’s work and systems are strong enough to stand on its own, regardless of who is in charge. You want that leader to enhance, not overtake, the work that is already being done. Hamilton, the cultural juggernaut that will probably play forever and ever, is able to survive cast changes all the time – because the book, music and staging is just SO DAMN GOOD. New cast members join in service to the show, and while you see their spin in the performance, it’s not about them. It’s about the outcome of the show.
  • Acknowledge that the original star can never REALLY be replaced and adapt: Having seen Ben Platt perform live, I am fairly confident that NO ONE will ever play that role to that level ever again. It is astounding. That doesn’t mean the next person will not be good. It just means they won’t be Ben. If they’re smart, they’ll try to find someone who can create the role in their own image, and adapt the show to that person’s strengths. Your company should do the same thing. If the last leader was well loved and well liked, acknowledge that. Then give them the opportunity to build and move on in their own image without changing the script.
  • Consider staggering your exits: If you know you have a cohort of leaders who might be leaving around the same time – whether it’s retirement or a spin-off or something else – you might negotiate with them to stagger their leaving (assuming you like their style). This will allow you to have stability throughout the transition, helping onboard the new leaders while providing consistency for the organization. Hamilton used this approach. Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) announced he was leaving. Then Leslie Odom, Jr. (Burr) left (apparently to do Nationwide commercials). Then others in the lead roles left. But never all at once. It helped preserve the spirit of the show and passed on the cast’s culture to the next actors to join. That could work for you.
  • Have a long-term plan: Everyone leaves a company – whether they quit, get fired, or die. It’s the role of a leader to prep his/her replacement and plan that exit from the day they join. Lin Manuel Miranda has a group of trusted performers that he knows he can turn to take over roles. Javier Munoz was Lin’s understudy and replacement for In the Heights, and the same thing happened in Hamilton. Smooth transition. Who is YOUR Javier Munoz?
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: One of the biggest myths in succession planning is that you pick ONE person to be your replacement and you’re done. This is known as “pre-selection” and will bite you in the ass. You want to be sure that person can actually do the job, so you want to make sure you’re developing them. But even more pressing is the fact that someone who is high-potential enough to be identified as your successor may not want to wait in your shadow until you leave – they could jump to another opportunity. On Broadway, many understudies are working on originating one role while backing up another (like with Dear Evan Hansen’s Colton Ryan). There is no guarantee they’ll be around to take over full time. Or life gets in the way – Javier Munoz has had two health issues (thankfully, he’s okay). The point is, identify a potential pool of successors and develop their skills. It gives the company more options at the time of transition.
  • Communicate appropriately: That whole Mandy/Oak thing? Totally could have been avoided if all the right players met at one point to talk long-term goals, communication strategy, and impact to Oak. People get nervous when their boss changes. Having a good communication plan can help alleviate that. Additionally, if you DO have multiple people who could potentially take the job, think about how you let those who did NOT get the position know. What feedback can you give? What career options can you share? And…are you prepared for the reality that they may leave because of it? Whatever the case might be, the last thing you want to do is have a communication issue that results in NO ONE taking the role.

There you have it – lessons from Broadway on how you might approach succession planning within your organization.

See? The arts DO apply to the “real world.” (Support the arts!!!)

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2017 in culture, Decision Making

 

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Words fail

For past two weeks, I’ve had a lot of ideas about blog posts to write – whether it was on the dangers of leaders failing to have self-awareness, the challenges of navigating your career, or the friction between similarity bias and our desire for inclusive hiring and working practices.

But then someone does something stupid in the real world and I don’t write anything, because it’s either too close to what I was going to write about and I didn’t really want to write specifically about that incident (*cough* Google *cough*), or the situation was so messed up and terrifying, all I can think is, “What the holy fuck?!” (*cough* pretty much everything from the White House *cough*)

So here’s what I’m going to write about.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of your coworkers.

Make sure you’re there to listen if they need to share. Make sure you’re okay respectfully ending a conversation if you realize you no longer want to engage with a toxic worldview.

Acknowledge people are feeling feelings and give them room to do so – as long as it isn’t harmful to others.

Encourage people to seek help if they need it (EAPs are there for a reason). Remind employees they have PTO if they can use it.

Don’t be afraid to laugh and be silly. The problems of the world are still going to be there after you take 5 minutes to watch a video compilation of cats in cute costumes. If someone tells you you’re taking the eye off the prize when you do that, you say, “Damn straight I am. Now look at Pirate Cat.”

Know your rights. Know the rights of people you disagree with. Understand what the First Amendment actually means in the workplace. Understand your state’s laws about worker protections for non-work activity.

But most of all, keep going. Look for the good. Look to the light.

Words can wait.

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Crowdsourcing, best practice, and the reality of work

There’s a lot of chatter out there these days about the benefits of crowdsourcing and use of best practice.

On the one hand, this is a good thing. Technology has helped us shrink the world, allowing us to connect to each other more easily. Because of this, we can learn from each other through case studies, experiences, and measured benchmarks.

On the other hand…just because we can, does it really mean we should?

The answer to this question is best illustrated by a a post on LinkedIn that I’ve been following (and commented on). The post’s subject isn’t terribly important – someone shared that they’d had a unique request from a potential applicant and wanted to know if anyone had ever had the same thing happen to them. What is fascinating to me, though, is the variety of responses and the emotional investment some respondents displayed. Some thought the request was normal, others didn’t. And some were VERY judgemental about a potential candidate having the gall to make such a request. If you do read the comments in the LinkedIn post, pay attention to the language used – it’s incredibly eye-opening. And I can’t imagine it was very helpful for the person who posted the question in the first place.

This example is not unique. You’ve all probably heard similar examples of people looking for input to figure out the best thing to do. Industries regularly publish benchmark data on all sorts of KPIs. Experts write whitepapers. Speakers deliver keynotes about their success. But for every published benchmark is a person saying benchmarks make you average. For every whitepaper on “best practice,” there’s a pundit calling you behind the times for going after those. And for every keynote talking about their personal success, there’s me saying, “I’m glad that worked…FOR YOU.” The noise of opinion is loud and contradictory.

So what is a person to do? Honestly, it kind of depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in your business.

Are you just starting out in a certain area? Benchmarks and best practices may help you set a baseline from which you measure your progress. It may also help provide a framework for you as you build out your process and dashboard. The trick is to make sure you know the limitations of benchmarks and understand what they’re actually telling you. If you don’t understand a number or what the best practice results in, ask questions or don’t use it. Simply hitting a number because it’s a “benchmark” may not get you anywhere.

Are you being challenged on the prevalence of a certain problem, or are looking for anecdotal evidence of an emerging trend that hasn’t hit research yet? Crowdsourcing within trusted groups can be a helpful approach. Just be aware that the quality of answers is only as good as the group from which you seek input. Throwing a question out on Twitter will get you a MUCH different response than asking a closed group of experts on Facebook. Yes, both methods run the risk of sarcastic responses, but honestly that’s just spice that keeps the flavor in your life.

My point is, you’re going to get potentially crappy data no matter what approach you take. The key is understanding what it is you’re trying to accomplish with this data – what works for YOU in YOUR business RIGHT NOW? If you can’t define those parameters, you probably shouldn’t even be asking the questions in the first place.

 

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The world IS wide enough

I am an unabashed Broadway nerd. I’m not the most knowledgeable, and I have some very controversial views on Cats (Spoiler Alert: I can’t stand it.), but what I lack in knowledge, I more than make up for my love of certain shows. And one of my greatest loves is Hamilton. (Going out on a limb there, I know.)

The show overflows with themes, just pick one – love, ambition, politics, the disconnect between men who cried freedom but not really for all. In relistening to the soundtrack recently, another theme really stood out to me – the idea that there is enough room for more than one success story.

Too many of us think the only way for one person to rise is for another person to fall. That the key to protecting what you have gained is to ensure no one else has that same chance. This can be especially true among groups who have historically struggled to gain power – women, minorities, LGBTQ, the poor, the undereducated, the disadvantaged. 

I watch the dialogue happening in our country today and I’m struck by this theme returning again and again. And it troubles me because it seems we are approaching success like a zero-sum game, which is bad for society at large. Fair isn’t equal…but do we really think a zero-sum game is fair?

We see this play out on a smaller scale in our workplaces. We make some strides in diversion, but fall down with inclusion. We talk about “culture fit” without acknowledging it could easily be code for “look, think, and BE like me.” We subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) place a limit on how many of the “other” are allowed to be successful, and we create a system that ensures the few “other” who do succeed participate in keeping the new status quo to protect what little gains they’ve achieved.

How did we get here? And more importantly, how do we move on from here?

Maybe it’s as simple as realizing the world IS wide enough; that success is NOT a zero-sum game; that, in fact, when we support each other and help each other succeed, we raise ALL ships. We need to celebrate the honestly gained success of others, not knock them down. We need to stop comparing ourselves to an impossible standard we see online because so much of it is a lie anyway. We need to set a path that makes sense for us, and then support others who are seeking their own path.

At the recent WorkHuman conference, Former First Lady Michelle Obama and Steve Pemberton spoke about the Maasai tribe’s custom of asking not “how are you?” but “how are the children?” In their culture, if the children are well, then everyone is well. This resonated with me (and not because I like children – I’m not exactly maternal). It resonated because it’s another way of saying, “The world is wide enough.” Give every child a chance to succeed, and they will continue to expand the borders of our world as we know it.

There is so much room for success in this world. There is so much potential to be realized.

How will you help others expand their world?

Now I’m the villain in your history
I was too young and blind to see…
I should’ve known
I should’ve known
The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me

– Aaron Burr, Hamilton: The Musical

 

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