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The Right Side of History: Musings from Workhuman

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


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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, yeah…what about George Clooney?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to be on the right side of history.


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

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2019 in Conference Posts

 

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Even “bad” cultures get some things right

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

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

I’m here to say….kind of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The power, and danger, of being liked

There’s a scene in Rush in which the F1 drivers are arguing whether or not they should race the Japan Grand Prix. The weather is questionable…but it’s the last race of the season and the points for the championship are very close. Niki Lauda (played brilliantly by Daniel Bruhl) calls an all-driver meeting to discuss the cancellation of the race. His justifications are reasonable and logical – it’s not worth the danger to continue in the race. James Hunt (played equally brilliantly by Chris Hemsworth) steps in and sways the crowd, arguing that Niki only wants to cancel the race because it will clinch the championship for him. He uses emotion and charisma against logic and fact. The vote is taken – the race is on.

As Hunt walks out of the room, he leans over to Lauda and says: “You know, Niki, every once and a while, it does help if people like you.”


James Hunt is right – it does help if people like you. You’re more likely to get hired if you’re likeable. You make friends more easily. Likeable sales people tend to have higher close rates. Hell, some people argue that Hillary would have won, if only she were more likeable. (And we can unpack THAT little statement another time.) In general, likeable people seem to go through life with a little extra verve and a little less friction.

Being likeable means being relatable to people. If someone feels like they can go and have a beer with their leader or coworker, it humanizes the person, highlighting commonality and empathy. It’s an important trait to cultivate if you’re trying to influence and lead. The grumpy, no nonsense boss of the past only gets so far. Same with the person who is always right and lets you know it. Look around your organization at who gets promoted – is it the charismatic leader that motivates people, or the sharply intelligent person who rubs folks the wrong way now and then in pursuit of truth?


If the above paragraph made you think, “Wait…there are a lot of charismatic douchebags who got promoted at my company and they can’t do shit…” then congratulations! You’ve found the danger of being liked. Too often, being liked is valued over being smart or thoughtful. Being liked can be addictive. People crave it and will sacrifice anything – logic, values, integrity, partnerships – as long as they keep that likeability. The need to be liked can lead to awful business decisions and really, really crappy leadership. Managers who want to be liked have a really hard time telling their employees that they aren’t doing a good job…because what if the employees don’t like that manager anymore???

I’ve seen too many teams struggle with artificial harmony because they think debate means someone doesn’t like them, and the thought of not being liked is TERRIFYING. Fear of not being liked too often keeps mouths shut or breeds defensiveness during serious conversations. It causes people to use gossip as currency and undermines relationships. Chasing likeability will hurt you in the long run – especially if it’s obvious that you’re trying too hard (see aforementioned charismatic douchebags).


So what to do? Be the jerk who is sure you’re always right? Be the charmer everyone loves even though deep down, you aren’t always making the best choice?

I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. If people “like” you, it usually means that they trust you on some level. Personally, I’d rather be trusted than liked. I’d rather people think I have character and competence over popularity. In truth, I suspect I’m more like Niki Lauda than James Hunt. But I recognize the power of likeability and want to spend its value wisely.

You get some grace when making mistakes because people trust you’ll do right by them. If you’re always going by “gut instinct” and never consider logic and facts in your decision-making, you’re apt to lose that grace fairly quickly. On the flip side, people who rely entirely on logic and facts are typically seen as cold or non-empathetic. Despite the fact they’re often right, people don’t trust it because they aren’t seeing the human side of the decision-making. Tempering logic with likeability and balancing charisma with critical thinking can go a long way.

Next time someone gives you feedback that you need to be more “likeable,” consider what that means. Do you need to be more open to feedback? Do you need to be more approachable? Do you need to build more relationships? These are all good things to work on. But if they use “likeable” to mean you need to be more outgoing and smile more, feel free to keep on keeping on.

After all, James Hunt only won one F1 championship. Niki Lauda won three.


[Author’s note: Ironically, even Lauda liked Hunt. Despite the way their rivalry was presented in the film, Hunt and Lauda were good friends. Lauda said Hunt was one of the very few he liked, a smaller number of people he respected and the only person he had envied.] 

[Author’s note, Part 2: I really like that movie.]

 

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It’s been a tough week…

Lots happened this week.

Many people are reeling.

Here’s a picture of a kitten in a car.

Take care of yourselves, everyone.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Some thoughts before #SHRM18

The big one – SHRM National – is coming up next week in Chicago. Over 15,000 HR professionals from across the world will be there to learn, talk, listen, and eat (hey, it’s Chicago).

There have been a number of fabulous blog posts written about the upcoming conference – you can find them here.  The posts highlight speakers, vendors, tips on navigating the conference, and great sights to see in Chicago.

Since those posts already exist and are really good, I thought I’d share some random thoughts as I prepare to attend – both as a speaker and a member of the SHRM Blogger Team.bros_0

  • The keynotes this year are all over the map in terms of political and social outlook. Mark Fogel wrote this terrific piece over on Fistful of Talent about the spectrum of speakers. My challenge to attendees is to listen critically and not be afraid to ask tough questions of leaders – if not at SHRM, then back in our workplaces.
  • There are people I only see once a year at national SHRM, yet I keep in touch with them all year long. With all the dangers and demons social media brings with it, I will always appreciate its ability to help me maintain long-distance connections.
  • Speaking of social media – GET ON TWITTER. It’s an imperfect tool, but it’s great for conferences. And start tweeting. Participate. We all start somewhere!
  • Attendees range from bright-eyed first-timers to jaded veterans. It’s important that we who have attended a lot of conferences remember that not everyone has “heard it before.” First-timers – ask questions. Engage with those around you. Veterans – be patient and remember you were once bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, too.
  • Speakers work hard to get share their content with you. It’s more than just having the idea and sharing the content. It’s about bringing things we think will be meaningful to the audience. It’s about making it interesting AND informative. So when it comes time to share feedback – share MEANINGFUL feedback. A speaker may get 1000 positive comments, but it’s the one dismissive or mean one that sticks with them. Maybe you could have looked up the reports online, but the speaker actually DID do the research, put together a slide deck, practiced it, and put themselves out there for the sake of our profession.
  • I’m going to seek out topics and speakers I don’t necessarily know. I think it’s good to expand horizons and learn about new areas of HR. I’m also going to be okay with skipping a session or two to recharge. This is your experience – own it.
  • I did this in Chicago last time I was there.
  • Portillo’s. That is all.

So there you have it – a stream-of-consciousness sharing of thoughts about #SHRM18. Follow the hashtag on Twitter. Tweet some content yourself! There’s a #NotatSHRM18 group out there, too. And the SHRM Blogger Team will be posting content throughout the conference! (I’ve been known to live tweet like crazy.) Plenty of opportunities to be a part of the event. You’re only as disconnected as you choose to be.

I’ll see you in Chicago!

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2018 in Conference Posts

 

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Network or nepotism: where do we draw the line?

“Work your network.”

“Employee referrals are the best way to find talent.”

“Oh, I have a great person I can recommend for that.”

“It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.”

Depending on your point of view, you either think these statements are helpful and motivating, or the embodiment of everything that’s wrong in society today.

This eternal debate is at the heart of my frustration with “hire for fit” or requests from conference planners for recommendations of speakers. On the one hand, it is important to find people who don’t necessarily “match” but certainly “go” – they complement the business in ways that moves the organization forward rather than fights for fighting’s sake. On the other hand, you can end up with a whole lot of same.  – the same thinking, the same looking, the same people, the same faces.

I struggle with this because I’ve benefited from my network. I’ve been afforded opportunities I wouldn’t have because the people in my circle of trust have recommended me for things, or have hired me for gigs, or have introduced me to people who then helped me do cool things. I am grateful to my network and humbled they think to recommend me for anything. And I really love the opportunity to refer someone I know because they are smart, talented, capable, all that stuff.

fowl-storm

And yet…

I recognize that someone else who had some mad skillz may not have gotten the opportunity because they don’t know the right people. And that it’s really hard to break into a new industry or group or company when you’re new and sometimes the “old guard” circles the wagons a little too much.

In hiring, data suggests employee referrals are the “best” – they tend to be sticky and because an employee is putting his/her reputation on the line, the referrals aren’t usually awful. For those of you who work among those with particularly niche skill sets (IT, OD, Legal,, etc.), you recognize the fact there are typically six (or fewer) degrees of separation between you and any possible candidate because we all keep referring the same people over and over.

What do we do about it? Throw out referrals all together? Avoid going to our network to ask about who should be a part of an event? Refuse to hire someone we’ve worked with before?

Yeah, maybe.

Or maybe not.

Maybe we just need be a little more aware of who we reach out to. Maybe we need to be intentional about the balance of referrals to new voices when it comes to giving opportunities. Maybe we need to take a chance now and then because it’s exciting to meet/hear/see/hire someone new.

Think of it this way – Marvel movies are great. The MCU has done a fantastic job of weaving together multiple storylines and breathing new life into old characters (you know Ironman was a secondary title, right?). But deep down, every once in awhile you kind of want to see something original. There’s a reason Greatest Showman had legs in the box office (and only part of it can be attributed to Hugh Jackman). It doesn’t take anything away from Marvel and movies you love. But it does give you glimpse of something different that you might not have wanted to watch.

So here’s my challenge for you – for every person who is your “go-to” referral for something, try to also refer someone new. It will grow the network at large and offer opportunity to those who may not have the reach that others do.

Plus, when that person turns into a star, you can always say you discovered them.

 

The currency of real network in not greed, but generosity.

~ Keith Ferrazzi

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2018 in Authenticity, 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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