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Courage and being human: Dispatches from #WorkHuman

Still at the WorkHuman conference, sponsored by Globoforce. Lots of cool stuff going on, so I’m writing about it whilst I’m here.


So when I woke up this morning, I had this great idea about a blog post, highlighting some of the things I saw yesterday that tied into the theme of “courage.” You had Brene Brown (who has a little ‘ over the e, but I can’t get WordPress do to it) talking about the relationship between joy and fear, between vulnerability and courage. You heard from Salma Hayek Pinault share her #metoo story and why she felt she needed to speak up after not doing so for so many years. Her personal story – of always being an immigrant, of doing more as a Latina than others had but still being ignored – was impressive and moving. She’s amazing.

And then this morning, we had the opportunity to see Adam Grant moderate a #metoo panel of giants – Tarana Burke (my new personal hero), Ronan Farrow, and Ashley Judd. It was an in-depth, meaningful discussion about the #metoo movement with people who helped make it viral (even through Tarana Burke launched it long ago). The panel discussed how the conversation needs to move from “can I hug women” to “treat all people like human beings, dammit” and was a real look at what comes next.leap-before-you-think

And throughout all of this, the concept of courage kept coming up – the courage of victims sharing their stories; the courage of allies supporting and not making it about them; the courage of employees saying “we aren’t going to tolerate this at our company”; institutional courage and individual courage.

What struck about this is that all people are capable of courage and it doesn’t always need to be on an epic scale. For every Salma Hayek or Ashley Judd article, there’s a person struggling with anxiety who manage to go into work every day and say hello to their coworkers. For every Tarana Burke taking over the world, there’s the HR professional standing up to her CHRO for non-values based behavior. For every Steve Pemberton overcoming his childhood to become an author and executive, there’s the person who sits down next to a stranger to make a connection.

I am in awe of the courage I see every single day.

One of my takeaways from this conference will be to find ways to celebrate and support displays of courage. I want to make room for the courageous – to provide a space that amplifies the messages to be amplified. Like Tarana Burke said, I want to center on the marginalized and let their stories drive the change.

I’m not sure how – but I’m going to try. We all need to.

We owe it to the courageous.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2018 in Conference Posts, Uncategorized

 

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Shout out to the staff: Dispatch from #WorkHuman

A reminder that I am attending the WorkHuman conference put on by Globoforce this week in Austin.


The first day of any conference is typically about getting your bearings. You wander through the conference space, figuring out where all the rooms are, how to find the expo hall, and – most importantly – where the afternoon snacks and coffee will be, and WILL THERE BE DIET COKE????

There are typically some pre-conference sessions, too. And while some may be tempted to skip them, the ones held yesterday were PACKED. Cy Wakeman kicked it off with her guidance on eliminating drama from the workplace; Steve Pemberton (Globoforce CHRO) followed with his remarkable personal story of resilience and triumph; and David Rock brought home Pre-Day (can we call it Day One? I don’t know!) with information on feedback and why we’re struggling so much with it. (Full disclosure: while I love David Rock’s work and like him as a speaker, I went back to my room to take a nap. I got up WAAAAAAY too early for a flight. Sorry, David! Heard it was great!)

Prior to all of this, though, was registration. You know, pick up your badge, get your conference schedule, conquer the world. Normally this is a pretty sedate process – people come in little packs, but seldom descend as one. Except for yesterday. When we descended like a pack of locusts upon an unsuspecting group of WorkHuman helpers. It seemed every attendee decided to pick up their badge RIGHT BEFORE Cy’s talk. As you can imagine, it overwhelmed the staff. People got a little fussy. People were worried about missing the speakers. People don’t like not getting stuff IMMEDIATELY. (People are weird.)

I bring this up not to admonish the staff but to congratulate them for their perseverance. Two workers (one from Ireland, one from Denmark) went up and down the line, talking with folks and offering to get water or hold their place if they needed to step out for a moment. They made the choice to allow people into the sessions without their badge so no one would miss content. They extended the check-in hours to alleviate pressure. They stayed positive. They stayed focused. They stayed friendly.

At a conference focusing on the human side of work, this was refreshing. Attendees weren’t super jerky. The staff stayed strong. There was a collective realization that the world won’t end if you don’t get your badge. The time spent in line was time spent connecting. People were able to reframe and no one got yelled at.

How about that? We can be nice – even when inconvenienced.

So shout out to the people who are helping make this conference happen. It’s hard to coordinate this many moving parts. And shout out to the attendees who remembered why they’re here – to connect and to slow down a bit and to remember we are all just people trying to make it work in this crazy world.

I’m looking forward to today’s sessions. And I look forward to high-fiving some hard-working staff who keep a smile on their face and do what they can to make this conference memorable. Let’s all try to make sure THEY have a good conference, too!

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2018 in Conference Posts

 

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When tech and HR combine: What I saw at #UltiConnect

I had the opportunity to speak at and attend the Ultimate Connections conference put on last week by Ultimate Software. This is the Little User Conference That Could – growing to a mighty 3,000+ attendance by those interested in learning more about how an HCM software solution can help them with their business, specifically the HR function.

As a speaker and Influencer at the conference, I got to talk to all sorts of people – product development, customers, potential customers, smart HR people, etc. Others have written some great posts already about what they saw coming out of the conference (like this one, or these). What I focused on more was how technology was impacting those who were just now starting to implement an enterprise solution. And what I learned was eye-opening.

Many of the customers I talked to were relatively new to having an HCM to help them with what they do on a regular basis. They were managing everything through disparate systems, or through no systems at all. There was a lot of talk about Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, and paper…so much paper. Now, you might think that what made everyone excited was the UltiPro Perception module that uses natural language processing to help you know what your employees are really thinking. Or Xander, the AI platform Ultimate Software has been developing to help managers make more informed people decisions. Or the ad-hoc reporting capabilities that allow HR departments to create their own reports and finally do analytics to run their business more effectively. And don’t get me wrong – these things are indeed exciting and cool, and people DID talk about them. But what I heard mentioned over and over again wasn’t really any of these things.

It was Payroll and Time and Attendance. 

Having a system that relieves the administrative burden for something so simple and so basic was a game-changer for these organizations. It meant employees could get paid accurately and on time. It meant timecards were correct and (fingers crossed) completed when they should be. It meant employees could finally go to one place – their dashboard – and know how many PTO days they have left for the year.

This is a big damn deal, people.

It made me realize that no matter how many bells and whistles technology may have, if people can’t and don’t use it, it doesn’t matter. And if the technology can’t do the basic things like payroll and timecards, HR doesn’t want it. So yes, advanced functionality is all well and good, but if it’s not grounded by a solid, simple solution to HR’s problems, it’s useless to them

In HR, we often talk so much about moving away from administration and to a more strategic role…and we need to. But the daily work in the organization needs to get done, too – things like paychecks and vacation and leave management and all the little things that employees take for granted because good HR people word darn hard to make sure they happen, no matter how manual the process may be. But the more manual the process, the less time available to be strategic. Now, these nice people I met will have TIME to cool work, and the TOOLS to start measuring the impact of that work. And they were so excited to start.

So next time you hear someone grumbling that HR is being to administrative, dig a little deeper – do they have what they need to get the blocking and tackling done efficiently? If not, then cut them some slack. And help them find a better way.


Author’s note: This user conference had some pretty amazing keynotes, and I’m sure I’ll revisit many of the themes I saw – from the humble CEO to the moving John O’Leary. And I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to have been asked to be a part of the Women in Leadership Panel. Originally conceived by Janine Truitt to be a discussion around women in the workplace, diversity and inclusion, and how HR can move businesses forward, it became an honest, open, and sometimes raw conversation with the women who came to be a part of the session. Thank you so much to all of those who shared, and thank you to Janine, Jason, Maren, Kate, and Micole who let me be a part of it. A recording of the live stream of the session can be viewed here

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2018 in Conference Posts

 

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Customer service shouldn’t stop at middle management

I’m in Vegas this week for the Ultimate Connections 2018 conference and it’s at a VERY big hotel conference center (the Wynn/Encore, if you must know). I like to wander around a little bit the night before to try and get the lay of the land, which is a good idea when things are spread out like they are here. I stopped in front of a map to orient myself when one of the hotel maintenance workers noticed me and asked if I needed help figuring out where I was. He then helped me find some shortcuts to get around the property and made sure I was good before he continued on his way. I’m so mad I didn’t catch his name – he was so helpful. And he did it without anyone watching to make sure he did.

This, to me, was customer service at its finest. A person recognized a guest needed assistance and he gave it. It could be this person is just naturally helpful and friendly. It could also be that the Encore has a really good hiring and onboarding program. I think any service industry town like Vegas would try to focus on good customer service. My Lyft driver from the airport – Rodrigo (5 stars) – also works in one of the Strip hotels and he must have mentioned 3-4 times that it’s important you treat guests and people in general the right way. He got it. 

These two interactions got me thinking about how companies are always emphasizing the need for customer service – both internal and external customers. It seems to me that most front line employees totally get it – the interact with customers face-to-face (or phone-to-phone, even chat-to-chat), so there’s immediate feedback about their level of customer service. Then I think about the frontline supervisors – they’re typically on the ground with their people, so their customer service focus is usually pretty good, too.

 

But what about middle and upper leadership? How is THEIR customer service, typically? If you’re like me, your experience has been mixed – some are good, but so many seem to throw customer service (particularly with INTERNAL customers) completely out the window when they “need” something. How many of us have been working on a project for weeks, only to have the parameters change drastically at the last second because some executive had a thought? How many of us have witnessed inappropriate behavior at the middle to upper management level – whether it be unprofessionalism or outright bullying and harassment – only to hear it excused as “leadership ambition”?

None of this is okay.

If your organization says customer service is important, than it’s important at EVERY level with EVERY kind of customer. Don’t put all the pressure on your frontline employees – they’ve already got it. And if they don’t, they’re fired.

Maybe it’s time we hold our leadership – and ourselves – to the same standard.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2018 in culture, General Rant about Leading

 

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WorkHuman: It’s not just about work

I am staring down the barrel at my fourth WorkHuman conference. I’ve been there since the beginning and continue to love it. I have been fortunate enough to be asked to help spread the word about the conference, its themes, the speakers…all of it.

The conference has doubled in size every year since its inception – at some point, it seems like it has to stabilize, but so far it keeps growing. This is a good thing, although sometimes I miss the intimacy and shared experience of the first conference. What this growth tells me, though, is that people are ready to start looking beyond the traditional ways of working; to find new ways to help people make the time they spend at work better.

It goes beyond the workplace, though. In my opinion, WorkHuman has been bringing together the worlds of work and life to try and enrich both. Is it a work conference? Of course it is. In fact, almost everything you see will touch on people in the workplace – from performance, to recognition, to anniversary awards, etc. But there will also be sessions on how to foster respect, encourage healthy conversation, and further understanding of individual standards for work-life whatever-you-want-to-call-it. The keynotes reflect this. There’s Brené Brown, Shawn Achor, Simon Sinek and Amal Clooney – all with fascinating research and experiences to share.

What strikes me this year is a focus on bigger issues. Adam Grant will be moderating a panel on the #MeToo movement, featuring Ashley Judd, Tarana Burke and Ronan Farrow. This panel is very much anticipated by those of us familiar with the conference. We all acknowledge the importance of the discussion – #MeToo got so much press. How do we turn that into action? To some, the panel may feel like an attempt to capitalize on a movement. To that I say…yes, maybe. Isn’t that that point? We have an opportunity to hear from those who are directly involved in something that is near and dear to not only HR professionals, but human beings in general.

The presentations on stage will only be the start of it. While I want to hear from the big names in the main room, I’m more interested in talking to and listening to the conference attendees. What did they think? How did the talks impact them? What will they take away? Will it make a difference back home? These are the conversations I want to have.

Join us at WorkHuman for a different kind of conference. I’ll be there – sharing my observations, talking to the attendees, writing about what I see and learn. I’d love to see you there. Come for the keynotes – stay for the talking.

 

If you’re interested in attending, go to http://bit.ly/2xOC3QZ – use referral code WH18INF-MFA for a discount!

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2018 in Conference Posts

 

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Life and leadership lessons from Frank Oz

When I was a kid, The Muppet Show was constantly on. Whether it was Roger Moore’s rendition of “Talk to the Animals” while fighting spies with laser guns, or Lynda Carter just being awesome, I loved watching. My most enduring memories of several songs are the version I saw on The Muppet Show – “In the Navy” (Viking pigs singing); “Time in a Bottle” (one of the more poignant versions rendered); “The Gambler” (old ghost gambler guy!); and “Grandma’s Feather Bed” (one of several collaborations with John Denver).

Even better than the guest stars and music were the muppets themselves. Scooter had dreams and a work ethic. Sam the Eagle suffered fools. The Swedish Chef was…well, Swedish. And I’m pretty sure Statler and Waldorf are related to me. When I started to learn more about the craft underlying the creation of The Muppet Show – and later all the movies – I was amazed by the talent and dedication of the people who brought my favorites to life.

Other than Jim Henson (who created the whole thing), the puppeteer who shined brighter than them all for me was Frank Oz. He created Animal, Fozzie Bear (Wakka! Wakka! Wakka!), Sam the Eagle, and others. On Sesame Street, he was responsible for Grover, Cookie Monster, and Bert. And lest we forget…he created Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back – a role for which George Lucas campaigned for an Oscar nomination.

Beyond puppeteering, Frank Oz is an acclaimed director – Little Shop of HorrorsDirty Rotten ScoundrelsWhat About Bob?, well…you can look up the rest on IMDB. He even occasionally made a cameo in movies – including that riveting prison clerk scene in Blues Brothers (sacred viewing in my childhood household).

I bring all this up because I want you to really understand what Frank Oz has accomplished throughout his career. This child of puppeteers who grew up to be so instrumental in so many lives.

And now – Frank Oz is on Twitter. And I adore him. 

Joining Twitter in December 2017 and using the handle @TheFrankOzJam, Oz has been authentically interacting with people in a way that’s both delightful and stunning. He shares thoughts as he goes about his day. He loves talking with fans, asking them where they’re from and admitting he can’t possibly talk to everyone because he still needs to talk to his wife!

Frank Oz on Twitter is a master class of humility – that most elusive of leadership traits we all claim people need, but often secretly dismiss as weakness when we see it. Since he’s been on Twitter, I’ve been glued to his feed and I think there are some things we can all learned from this man:

  • Remember the team: Oz nearly ALWAYS mentions everyone he’s worked with on just about every project. When complimented for his performance as Yoda, his response was it only worked so well because Mark (Hamill) interacted with Yoda like a real person. He throws credit to his collaborators far more than he accepts credit for himself.
  • Be honest and open: One of the more honest tweets came from Oz asking everyone which character the public thought he most identified with. After some guesses, he said, “There have really been wonderful guesses. Thanks! Okay. So. I most identify with Grover and Fozzie. Grover because he’s pure, Fozzie because as a kid I really wanted to be in show biz too. I shouldn’t have put Yoda in the mix. He is way deep inside me, but I’m not that wise.” Later he said, “Yes I identified most with Grover and Fozzie, but there are bits of me in all of my characters. Me being boring is Bert, me pure is Grover, me obsessed-Cookie, me neurotic-Piggy, me insecure-Fozzie, me uptight-Sam, me crazed-Animal. I’m a bit like each of them. And so are you.”
  • Know that luck is real: He very much acknowledges the opportunities he’s had, and knows how lucky he’s been. “I don’t know how I got here. I was this kid with low self esteem and a bit of talent. But a lot of people have talent and haven’t “made it.” Why did the planets line up for me? Why didn’t other talented people get their Jim Henson as a mentor? I don’t think I’ll ever know why.” When a follower mentioned his obvious “passion,” Oz replied, “No. Not true. I wasn’t passionate. I just had fun with Jim and my fellow performers. And I never struggled to find work. Jim always found it and I just delivered. Others have had to struggle.”
  • Don’t forget what work looks like: Frank Oz knows how weird it is that he makes a living through entertainment. He thinks about it a lot. “I’ve always believed the world is lopsided. I get attention & money while others do far more important things to keep our world going: Yes, those who work with their hands, as my father did, but also from teachers to mental health workers. Thank you all for keeping us afloat.” And them he immediately followed it with, “I’m not being humble. What i’ve done in my work life has given value or you wouldn’t be reading this. But what I truly believe is that the lesser known and lesser paid people are the ones holding up the world. So please give kudos to them. I’m doin’ fine here.”
  • Believe in the potential of others: “There are hidden artists among us. A really good short order cook is one. Bacon’s on the griddle, bread in toaster, slice bagel, orders shouted, crack eggs, flip bacon, grab toast, hands moving, body in motion. All rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. A beautiful thing to watch. An artist.” Seriously.
  • Cherish your elders and those who paved the way: Oz often thinks about the older folks he sees in his travels and encourages us to learn from them. “In my twenties, (mid 1960’s) I bought a video camera with a VERY heavy battery case and huge camera. Before they became too old, I recorded hours of footage of my mom and my dad telling me their life’s stories. They are gone now. But I have their stories. Don’t wait too long.”

If you struggle with how to interact with others, follow Frank Oz on Twitter and study his language use, approach, openness, and humility. He’s the internet hero we didn’t know we needed. He is the balm to all the anger in the world right now. If we could just try to lead with curiosity and listen for understanding, maybe we’d be a step closer to being the people we hope we can be.

I view kindness as a weapon. Not the kindness that is paternal or condescending or platitudinous. I mean the kindness that comes from true empathy; that gently acknowledges another’s travails and so makes her/him feel less alone. For me, there’s no stronger weapon. 

Frank Oz, 12/31/2017

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Authenticity, Executive Presence

 

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My Left Ear (a story in two parts): Part 2

In Part One, I shared the story of what actually happened to my ear. Here’s the rest of the story (with apologies to Paul Harvey).


What I Learned Through This 

I’ve been dealing with the whole left ear thing for about 6 months now, and I’ve learned a few things in that time:

  1. SSHL can hit anyone at anytime: One of the ways I’ve always handled situations is to get as educated as possible about the topic, so I’ve read a LOT about SSHL and know there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it. It just happens. So sleep well tonight, everyone!
  2. Hearing loss has been tied to accelerated mental decline: This was surprising to me, but after reading about it, it makes sense. I notice I’m more withdrawn in group situations, and I still have one great ear! Imagine having almost no hearing. Experts think that the gradual withdraw from all social situations impacts brain stimulation, which can accelerate dementia. They aren’t sure yet, but the National Institute of Health has a study that will be completed in the next few years that should shed some light on it.
  3. Hearing aids are wicked expensive and seldom covered by insurance: My hearing aids will cost more than $3,000. If I was under 18, they’d be covered by insurance. For adults, there is very limited support. Even Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids fully (if at all). I’m lucky to be in a position where I can afford them (as well as the constant purchase of batteries). The fact they aren’t covered, and yet may help those suffering from cognitive decline, really bothers me. Luckily, Costco and other discount offerings are available for some models. [Note: In a kind of cosmic circle of life, my mom reminded me that my late Uncle Billy had multiple patents on hearing aid technology. It would be kind of cool if his work ended up in my ears.]
  4. Diagnosis and treatment took a lot: All told, I had 1 urgent care appointment, 3 specialist appointments, 1 MRI, 1 CT-Scan, and 1 hearing aid fitting. Oh, and I still need to actually GET my hearing aids, then do a follow up, and get yearly checkups. All of these appointments have happened at different times and at very different locations (opposite ends of town). Because I have good insurance and a job where I’m allowed to leave for doctors’ appointments, this wasn’t (much of) a problem. My out of pocket was negligible (yeah – even with an MRI and CT-scan). I can’t imagine what I would have done if I was in an hourly position trying to juggle childcare and no sick time, making $11/hour with a high deductible healthcare plan. We really need to work on this as a society and not make basic healthcare something that can threaten someone’s job and/or financial security just because they need to go to the doctor.
  5. The reactions of others were surprising: When I started sharing the diagnosis and ultimately the prognosis and need for hearing aids, I got different reactions. Some people chose to make a joke (note: probably not a good idea to make a “what?” joke to a person who just told you they are now deaf in one ear). My guess is these people didn’t know how to respond. Other people reacted like I told them I had a serious disease. I appreciate their sympathy and concern, but felt like it was out of place. I’m not dead. I’m not kept from doing what I like to do. I’m going to be okay. Really.
  6. It’s still pretty freaking annoying: If anything, my left ear is an inconvenience to me. I get frustrated sometimes – I can’t sleep on my right side and hope to hear anything, like an alarm, so I have to be aware of my sleep position. And the tinnitus gets annoying sometimes, but I’ve already adjusted somewhat. It’s tiresome to have to use my right ear for phone calls because now I have to hold the phone with my left hand but write with my right hand, which means I drop the phone. A lot. This may be one of the things I’m most looking forward to fixing with hearing aids. It’s the little things.

    Another “lend me your ears” joke. I clearly have a problem.


Why I Shared This Story:

A few reasons. It’s a quick way for me to update people I know but don’t see on a regular basis. It’s a way to help people understand why I may not have been paying attention to them in a crowded setting. I didn’t find much shared from people who experience SSHL, so maybe this will help someone else who finds themselves in this situation. Sharing my story is also a way to help people realize that health stuff hits people anytime, anywhere, for no real reason. So if you’re one of those people who blame people for their health problems, you’re likely to hear from me…and it won’t be pleasant.

I also thought it would be good to shed some light on the challenges of ongoing healthcare for a non-life threatening issue. Loss of hearing in one ear is hardly comparable to cancer, MS, ALS, or any of the other thousands of health issues facing millions of people every day. It does require treatment, though, which includes follow-up care. Does the fact that you can’t immediately notice I can’t hear out of my left ear impact the way you’d react to my requests for time to see the doctor? It could. Do you have an employee who misses a lot of time for doctors’ appointments? Do you find it suspicious? I bet someone in the office has made a joke about job hunting about that person (or even me, for that matter). Our health issues are supposed to be confidential, but make no mistake – people who are managing health issues KNOW others are judging them and often share details they’d rather not share just to avoid the ongoing bullshit and side-eye they get from their coworkers or boss.

I also shared this story because I was surprised at what I learned about hearing loss and mental decline, particularly in the elderly. I hope the National Institute of Health’s study points to some tangible actions we can take to help mitigate this and maybe throw some damn funding towards helping more people get GOOD hearing aids who need them. Technology has improved tenfold (my hearing aids will have an iPhone app), but prices have not come down. Yes, technically you’re getting more for your money now, but that money is a pretty high amount, especially for those on a limited income.

I hope to get my hearing aids fitted some time in January 2018. I’ll keep you posted on what that process is like and how they impact my day-to-day.

In the meantime, sorry if I was only half-listening to you the last time we spoke.

At least I have an excuse. 😉

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2018 in Authenticity

 

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