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Don’t you dare forget… (From #SHRM17)

[This post first appeared on the SHRM Blog on June 19, 2017]

Today saw the beginning of #SHRM17 in New Orleans, where 18,000 HR pros have descended upon the city for learning, fun, and reconnecting with old friends.

The shenanigans kicked off early in the morning with pre-conference workshops, but the sessions began in earnest after lunch, with concurrent sessions and SmartStage speakers. But the main event REALLY kicks off late in the afternoon, with the appearance of Juana Hart and our first keynote of the conference.

You have probably heard of Kat Cole – she worked at Hooters and learned the operations side of the business when the cook disappeared. Her hard work and inherent business sense led to her recommendation to be sent to Australia to launch restaurants there.  She became a Vice President at 26, and then moved over to Cinnabon to become President of the company at the age of 33. Her story is remarkable. She is remarkable.

Ms. Cole’s keynote was impressive – no slides, no teleprompter, just a woman telling her story and the lessons learned along the way. There were so many inspiring tales in the keynote. I have no doubt my fellow SHRM bloggers will cover many of them. There was one in particular, however, that stood out to me.

She had just finished sharing a major mistake she made early on at Cinnabon, and shared how that mistake led to lasting success. And then, she talked about how her mom keeps her grounded. Every day on her birthday, Ms. Cole’s mother sends her a card with the following reminder: Don’t you dare forget where you came from, but don’t ever let it solely define you.

This hit me on a personal level. Everyone carries the memories of where they come from with the through life. These experiences shape who we are and how we approach adversity. Some choose to overcome them and never look back. Others wallow in those experiences, using them as an excuse to stay stuck. Ms. Cole’s message from her mother is striking because it illustrates the power of remembering what got you through adversity, and then using it to move forward.

When we refuse to look back at who we were in the past, we fail to acknowledge the lessons we learned on that path. We don’t honor the person who made it through the wilderness. We pretend it didn’t exist. But that’s not really the case, is it? That person is always looking over our shoulder, whispering in our ear, holding us back or pushing us forward. It would be disingenuous to believe we aren’t still holding on to a part of the past, even as we look towards the future.

So why focus so much on this aspect – especially when it comes within the context of Human Resources? There are two reasons – one external, the other internal.

First, the external – we need to remember that each of the employees and leaders we work with are bringing their pasts to work. We have an opportunity to be that voice that says, “Yes, you ARE that person who dealt with a not-so-great past. But that doesn’t have to be who you are forever.” We can help these people move forward by reminding them of their strengths and working with leadership to recognize when humility and courage come together to make real change.

Second, the internal – HR needs to listen to that advice. For too long, we have wallowed in the belief that we have no influence. That no one will let us do anything. That we have fought like hell to get where we are today and it just doesn’t seem like it’s that far at all. And yet…look at how far we have come. We are no longer “personnel.” We have the ear of our CEOs. We may still struggle at times, but CHRO is a position that actually EXISTS in business – and it didn’t always. We have struggled and we will continue to struggle…but we have so much potential.

So my advice to you, #SHRM17 HR professionals – don’t forget where you came from….but DON’T YOU DARE let that solely define you.

Be more. Do more. Dare more.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Authenticity, Conference Posts

 

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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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The power of connection

After Day Two of the WorkHuman conference, I’m struck by how many people have walked up to me and said, “I wanted to meet you! We tweet at each other all the time!”

And the other person is right! We totally tweet at each other all the time. And we laugh together. And we end up having a lot in common, or many not that many things in common, but at least we get each other’s movie references…which totally counts.

I’ve gotten to meet so many fantastic people I’ve only known online – like Tamara Rasberry (my sister-cousin) – or reconnect with people I see only sporadically at conferences – like the Canadian contingent of Bonni Titgemeyer, Pam Ross, Kristen Harcourt, and Rob Caswell. And of course, I get to see the incomparable Victorio Milian (but I didn’t bring the good camera!). This is just a short list of the amazing people I connected with at this conference.

All around me, I saw people meet, engage in meaningful conversation, realize they “know” each other from social media, and share a good laugh. To me, this reaffirms that connection – no matter how it’s made – is a powerful thing.

I firmly believe I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have now without my online community of friends. I have built friendships over Twitter and Facebook without having to meet the person face to face. And I don’t feel like these connections are any less powerful or meaningful than ones that would have been made at a networking event in my hometown. I even had a chance to meet Adam Grant face to face because of online interactions we’ve shared. (I try not to fangirl too much, but this was DEFINITELY a highlight of the conference.)

So my point is this – don’t discount a connection you make, no matter how virtual it may be. Cultivate your relationships if they are meaningful to you…even if it’s long distance or online or both. You ARE building relationships, even if you don’t have a chance to see that other person for another 12 months. The power of those connections don’t fade. In fact, they may grow stronger because you appreciate just how special they can be.

If I had a chance to connect with you in real life – THANK YOU! If I didn’t have a chance to meet you, but we connected online – THANK YOU! Let’s make these connections count.

Because THAT’S what it means to “work human.”

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2017 in Personal Development

 

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More than a conference – WorkHuman 2017

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

Well…yeah, it kind of is.

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

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

WorkHuman was a little different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

robot

We love you, WorkHuman Robot.

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

 

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Doing the “correct” thing isn’t always right

Recently I read a story about a restaurant manager who received complaints about a mother and her autistic child. Policy would have dictated that he move the duo to another part of the restaurant, away from the other patrons who were being disturbed. But after one question from the mother, he decided not to. He told them to have an awesome day. He high fived the child. He went back to work.

In his words: Sometimes doing the right thing does not make everyone happy; just the people who need it the most.

Good for you, Tony Posnanski. You rock. You recognized the needs of this mother who had been through this before but just wanted a normal experience with her child. That’s what we call managerial courage – you didn’t hide behind a policy or the bottom line. You assessed the situation and made a judgement call.

justice

This is what leadership looks like. It looks like a person who is aware of policy and procedures. Who listens to the needs of ALL customers. Who assesses things on a case-by-case basis, makes an “executive” decision and stands by it.

We need more leaders like that.

Policies and procedures have their place, but they’re no match for the human touch. People need to reach out to people and engage with them on a one-to-one basis. As my friend Steve Browne often says, you have to meet people where they are. And sometimes that means breaking policy and doing something that just makes sense.

Lord forbid we do something that makes sense.

We all have something in our handbook that HAS to be there because we think we can’t trust employees and managers to make the right decision in the moment. Sometimes it’s dress code. Sometimes it’s bereavement leave. Imagine a world where we let it slide that an employee is in a pair of jeans because there’s 2 feet of snow out but they still busted their butt to be in the office that day. Or we let an employee take bereavement leave for a dear family friend who was like a parent, but gosh darn it, that relationship isn’t listed as covered in the policy.

So as you go about your day-to-day at work, don’t be so quick to say “no,” or “we aren’t allowed to do that.” Think about the person you’re dealing with – the PERSON – and respond in kind. After all, policies and procedures keep us sane, keep us legal, keep us on the right side of compliance.

But our empathy and adaptability makes us human.

 


Think we need more humanity in the workplace? Join me at the WorkHuman 2016 Conference in Orlando, May 9-11, 2016. To register, go to  and use promo code WH16MF300 for $300 off.  

 

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Expanding horizons

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

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

That they try to improve the processes they work within.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That they win with humility.

That they lose with grace.

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

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

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

That they want to build, not destroy.

That they learn that success comes in many forms.

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

It’s about us.

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

 

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Self-fulfilling prophecies and the danger of labels

Read through the following scenario and pay attention to how you interpret it:

An employee, Shaun, shows up very late on a Friday morning. Shaun typically isn’t a morning person and has been a couple of minutes late once or twice in the past – but never like this. He is bleary-eyed, disheveled, and appears to be having trouble concentrating. He is in his early 20s, the same as a group in the office that likes to go out and party on Thursday nights. When you ask Shaun what’s going on, he is evasive, fumbling for answers that would make you happy. 

A week ago, you had a similar incident occur in which the employee actually had a hangover and had accidentally deleted an important spreadsheet and was trying to cover it up. And there have been a lot of system issues lately that you believe are caused by your employees not knowing what they’re doing and creating extra records that don’t need to be there.

Know how you’d react? It wouldn’t be surprising if you assumed Shaun is just like the other employees of his generation. After all, you’ve read all about their work-life balance YOLO lifestyle. You’re in the know. Time to act – right?

But there’s more to the story:

When pressed, Shaun tells you that he knew that the system slowdown was affecting everyone’s productivity, and he decided to stay late on Thursday to remove the extraneous records that were slowing down the system. It took longer than he thought it would, and he didn’t want to get in trouble for not telling you.

Dang it – your label failed you.

The Power of Labels

In 1968, third grade Iowa schoolteacher Jane Elliott wanted to teach her students about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King and the dangers of racism – the worst kind of labeling. How do you get children to understand such a high level concept? By letting them experience LABELS. She started the day by explaining that blue-eyed children are smarter, prettier, and all around better than brown eyed children. After lunch, she changed it and and explained it turns out that brown-eyed children are smarter and better.

The speed with which these children accepted the roles into which they were assigned – aggressor and victim – is terrifying. It is even more terrifying when you consider that Jane Elliott was completely transparent about what she was doing with the children. She explained it’s an exercise. She explains what she wanted them to learn. And yet, the labels were SO strong, the children’s performance in learning exercises went DOWN when they were the “dumb” group. [Watch A Class Divided for the entire documentary. It’s amazing and well worth your time.]

label-maker1

So why do I bring this up?

Because labels are powerful – and we use them ALL THE TIME.

We talk about generations (Do you know how to recruit Millennials? Are you ready for the ennui of Gen X? Do you care what Generation Z will do???). We talk about high potentials. We talk about “difficult people.” We talk about A Players, B Players, engineers, IT, HR, “leaders”, “followers” – all of them labels. And each of these labels comes with preconceived notions about the person who has that label can and cannot do.

Listen, I get that labels can help. We have to categorize things in order to process the amount of information we encounter every day. But we also have to be aware of the impact our labels have.

Words Matter

As a leader, the labels you place on your employees are especially powerful, and are most often given within the first day of meeting a person. A “promising employee” or “hard worker” tends to get more benefit of the doubt than a “slow worker” or “troublemaker.” It’s even worse when an executive labels an employee they’ve met once. I’ve known an employee who carried the label of not being terribly smart because on her very first day, an executive asked her a question about a process she didn’t know the answer to. ON HER FIRST DAY. This employee was very smart, and very capable – and every talent discussion we had to combat the baggage of a label given after a 5 minute interaction.

Sadly, the leader’s reaction to an employee based on a label is nowhere near as dangerous as the employee’s reaction to the label the leader applied. Just like the children in A Class Divided, employees who have been labeled high potential often perform better (or fade under the pressure of expectation), while “difficult” employees make more errors, because others interpret their actions differently – or because the employees themselves believe they are the label you’ve given them*.

The same goes for employees labeling leaders. “She’s mean” or “He’s a pushover” colors the behavior of leaders because it shades the way others perceive the leader. With the prevalence of 360s in today’s business world, these labels gain more and more power, impacting the leader’s self-confidence – or potentially reinforcing BAD behavior – as each cycle of feedback simply reinforces the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Think

Labels are going to be with us for a long time. They helped us survive as we evolved (this berry = good, sharp pointy teeth = bad). They allow us to thin-slice data. Unfortunately, they also allow employees and leaders alike to be lazy – to apply labels rather than get to know the people they interact with.

Leaders, when you go back to your teams take an honest look the expectations that you hold for each of your employees. Employees, take a hard look at the way you talk about your leader.  And ask yourself, am I responding to a person?

Or to a label?

[*For more on the power of suggestion and stereotypes, read Dan Ariely’s work.]

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2015 in Self-Awareness

 

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