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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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WorkHuman 2019: The journey continues

Okay, yes. That’s a super cheesy blog post title. But cut me some slack – I’ve been writing about WorkHuman for a really long time! The first post I wrote about it was in 2015, which feels really long ago. I’ve been to all of the WorkHuman conferences (here’s a quick overview of the history). I really like them. I’ve attended as a speaker, a moderator, a member of the social media team, and as a mere participant (who also still wrote and tweeted because I apparently can’t attend a conference without doing that).

So why do I keep going back to WorkHuman?

Well, for one thing – they invite me. 🙂 I really appreciate that. There are a lot of people out there who can write and tweet about a conference, and I am grateful they see a value in bringing me back each year to help the promote the event. And I also appreciate the fact that while I do receive some compensation for promoting the event, I have never once been directed about what I should say or how I should say it. They have always let the conference speak for itself and ask people to be open and honest about the experience. I can’t say enough about the team that puts on the event – they are fantastic people who love what they do, and it shows.

Every year, the conference is a different experience because the team experiments with different set ups to encourage as much human interaction as possible. It’s much different than most conferences I’ve been to. Last year in Austin was really amazing – a large space for downtime, networking conversations, indoor food trucks, gratitude trees, coffee bars. It was a fantastic set up and I can’t wait to see what they do this time!

I also go because I get to see so many people who want to learn more about how to work differently. The topics at WorkHuman aren’t focused on compliance or laws (although the conversation DOES come up). Most speakers talk about the importance of making a human connection, and the attendees really respond to the message. People are frustrated at work. The lines between work and home continue to blur. The more we acknowledge the social nature of human beings (yes, even introverts), the more we recognize the need to change how we approach our interactions. The people at WorkHuman are there to learn from the speakers’ sessions and I love talking to them throughout the conference.

And let’s talk a little bit more about those speakers. When you look at the roster of speakers that WorkHuman has gotten over the years, it’s mindboggling – Arianna Huffington, Adam Grant, Shawn Achor, Simon Sinek, Michael J Fox, Brene Brown, Salma Hayek, MICHELLE FREAKING OBAMA – just to name a few. All the keynote speakers brought unique perspectives and research and experiences to the conference, challenging the attendees to see the humanity in everyday life. And last year, WorkHuman featured a spotlight on the #metoo movement, with a memorable panel featuring Tarana Burke, Ashley Judd, and Ronan Farrow. This year promises to bring even more amazing speakers to the forefront – Viola Davis, Brene Brown (back again!), George Clooney (Amal Clooney spoke last year), and others – including me!

So I’m counting down the days until I get to join all my friends at WorkHuman – this time in Nashville, TN. I hope to see you there!

There is still time to register! Use discount code WH19INFMFA when you sign up here.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2019 in Conference Posts

 

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The step teams forget

Anyone who knows me (or at least reads this blog) knows that group work is something that can destroy my soul. Part of that is due to my introverted tendencies, part of is it my control issues (self-awareness will set you free), but I think a big part of it is how ridiculously ineffective it can be. I mean…picking a team name alone takes a good 20 minutes of ideas and recriminations.

Collaboration is good. Hopelessly stumbling through a forced group activity is excruciating – and is not very good business.

The reality is, teamwork IS a vital component of work. None of us can be successful by ourselves. We rely on the expertise, time and effort of those around us. Different tasks and different projects require teams to come together and break apart all the time. Remember Tuckman’s stages of group development?  With the pace some businesses run, there often isn’t even time to name all four, let alone move through them. And it’s exactly this frenetic pace that can sabotage the success of teams.

You’ve probably noticed that some teams are remarkably successful and others are a trainwreck from the first meeting. And while there are many variables that factor into the success or failure of a group, there is one thing teams can do shift the odds in their favor:

Talk about how the team will work with each other.

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Think of it as establishing the rules of engagement – how you’ll communicate, how you’ll make decisions, how you’ll disagree with each other, how you’ll resolve conflict. Everytime I see a team take as little as 5 or 10 minutes to have a quick conversation about this, I have seen that team do well.

My belief in the importance of this step  is solidified whenever I see teams go head-to-head in some way. What follows are two examples – one from real life, and another from “reality” TV:

Real Life: I’ve facilitated a team-building/communication exercise a number of times that involves the recreation of a Tinker Toys sculpture. Each member on the team is only allowed to do a specific thing in this exercise and talk to only certain people. It’s quite convoluted feeling and teams get frustrated because the person who can see EVERYTHING is not allowed to share anything – they can only answer yes or no questions. The twist is that anyone on the team at any time can call a team meeting so they can talk about HOW the team is working together. Every single time I’ve facilitated this exercise, the team who takes the time to establish – and review – how they will work together successfully completes the sculpture. The team that does not do this descends into frustration and passive-aggressive sabotage.

Reality TV: I absolutely adore Face Off, a special effects makeup competition show that is now, sadly, ended. Depending on the season, the challenges change week to week in being either individual or team competitions. Sometimes the teams are chosen, but more often than not, they are randomly assigned. Time and again, the teams that take a few minutes at the beginning to establish how they’ll make decisions and are intentional about sharing their thought process out loud so the others understand it win the challenge. It shows in the final product.

While both of these examples are from an artificial environment, I have seen this play out in business projects time and time again. Think about the BEST project you’ve ever been a part of. chances are you had clarity in communication cadence, clearly defined decision-making authority, and the understanding that disagreements could be aired in team meetings without people taking it personally.

 

So the next time you find yourself on a team – ad hoc or otherwise – focus on the step that will make the biggest difference.

And no…picking a team name doesn’t fit that bill.

 

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2018 in Clarity, Decision Making, Teamwork

 

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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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Happy John Jorgensen Day!

Every once in awhile, the blogger community likes to get together and say nice things about a person who sits behind the scenes, unheralded for their contributions to what’s going on.

Today, we celebrate the ultimate “behind the scenes” guy – John Jorgensen.

Who the heck is John Jorgensen, you ask?

John is an ardent SHRM volunteer, he teaches certification preparation, he is heavily involved in the ILSHRM state conference, and he will passionately discuss and defend anything HR.

John is a citizen of Joliet, IL (thereby firmly connecting him to the Blues Brothers), a Chicago Blackhawks fan (I actually had to look up Chelsea Dagger to understand what the heck he kept posting on Facebook!), a proud Iowa Hawkeyes alum (and unabashed fan), and loves all things college football – posting his picks every week on Facebook. He does pretty darn well, too. Anyone who knows John knows of his love of history, particularly centered around Gettysburg (seriously, just take the test already so you can be a guide, John!). John is a music fiend, sharing his musical loves across social media. And John has ALSO qualified for Jeopardy, which explains why his beloved Wednesday Trivia Team tends to do pretty darn well week after week.

But most importantly – John is a friend. He supports and promotes his circle of friends on social media, sharing links and opinions. He’ll call out people he thinks are making an ass of themselves. He reaches out and connects with folks all over the country, maintaining relationships in an age where shallow social connections are the norm. John has helped many fledgling speakers to the stage, recommending them for state conferences and being the ultimate cheerleader once you get there.

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I love this picture. Heather Kinzie is about the only person who can ALMOST get John to smile for a picture.

Now, John doesn’t “cheer” in the conventional sense. There’s a running joke that you can never get a picture of John where he’s smiling. A few folks have come close – you can see a little twinkle in his eye! But don’t be fooled by that curmudgeonly exterior, for within beats a loyal heart. You only need to watch John at a conference to understand the depths of the friendships he’s forged. Hugs come from all sides. Long-time friends swap stories and jokes. Many a tasty lunch is shared.

John has made an impact to the HR community – one we may not always notice, but one we always appreciate.

So, John – happy YOU day. Thank you for your continued friendship.

And try to do a little better on those football picks, will ya?

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2018 in Authenticity, Teamwork

 

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Representation and Women in HR Tech

The first half of the first day was dedicated to the Women in HR Technology conference. First of all, I greatly appreciate the fact that the role of women in technology was highlighted – not just from an end-user perspective, but from the leadership in creating and driving the innovation of the technology. I also appreciated seeing so many men attending sessions. Highlighting women doesn’t mean exclusion of men – it means raising everyone’s awareness, and it takes all of us to be more inclusive.

The sessions were good – smart, thought-provoking, data-driven, focused, actionable. I was sad I couldn’t attend all of them based on the Twitter stream I read. As I sat listening to the opening and closing keynotes, as well as some of the sessions, I was stuck by how the topics were intertwined by cause and effect.

Rita Mitjans, the Chief Diversity Officer at ADP, shared data highlighting the importance of diversity for innovation and success in a business. She also shared that while woman and people of color are entering the workforce at decent numbers, they are not advancing in the workforce. Later in the day, Jenny Dearborn, EVP, Human Resources and Global Head of Talent, Leadership & Learning at SAP, shared data around the skills gaps in tech, highlighting the challenges of filling roles in technology. Perhaps the solution is right in front of us.internet of women

Think about it – we know bias is a real thing in hiring. It’s also a real thing in promoting employees, and this problem perpetuates itself in businesses because promotion is more about visibility than ability. Yet within businesses, women tend to be less visible – they are called upon to do fewer presentations to the C-Suite, they are talked down in meetings, they sit in the background rather than at the head of the table. These small actions add up to real consequences. Earning potential drops. Women leave the corporate world. The talent pipeline dries up. And Jenny Dearborn has to do keynotes about the challenges of filling tech roles in Silicon Valley.

This made me think about the importance of representation. If there were more women in tech leadership, there would be more women in tech. Period.

A personal story:

When I was picking a college to attend, I targeted one that would allow me to be a physics/music double major. I assure you – there are not many. A visit to the University of Denver convinced me they were a good fit. The Physics Department had respected scientists, the music program was top notch (a little too focused on classical opera singing, but that was fine), and I liked the student to teacher ratio. After enrolling, I downgraded the music to a minor just for sanity’s sake, but loved being able to do both. Freshman and sophomore years were challenging but great – I had terrific classmates in my physics classes. Each of us had different strengths in thinking through problems, so we complemented and learned from each other. But most of those classmates were either chemistry or pre-med majors and the first two years of physics for them were just prerequisites. For me, it was my future.

Flashforward to junior year. I was the ONLY physics major at DU. That meant it was me and professor in all my advanced classes. And all of my professors were men – not just in my physics classes, but also in my advanced math classes. On the surface, that’s not that big of a deal. After all, a lot of professors are men. But I never once had a mentor in math and science who was a woman. I lost my support group of fellow students. I faced professors who had been doing these classes for years and didn’t know how to interact with a single female student in class. They insisted on leaving the door open for all classes, regardless of how loud it was outside the classroom. I understood why – but it impacted my learning. Halfway through my junior year, I opted to change my major, and graduated with a major in history, and minors in physics and music.  

Would I have stayed in physics if there had been more representation of women? Maybe, maybe not. Intro to Complex Variable was hard, yo. I do know that it shook my confidence right at the time when I needed to believe in myself the most. Now, there are several female astrophysicists and other scientists represented on television, talking about science and making it cool to be smart AND a girl. I love them for that. I watch them and cheer them. And I make sure I tell girls about them and encourage them to love science and technology.

I tell this story because I believe in representation. I believe it impacts a company’s success. I believe it builds strong talent pipelines. I believe it builds strong, confident women who refuse to take a lower salary because they should just be grateful they got the job. I believe it continues to help women realize they should never ever apologize for their success, nor should they be considered rare and magical when they show up at a conference and share their knowledge like the badasses they are.

So thank you, HR Tech Conference, for giving women in HR technology the visibility they deserve. We’ve always been there. Now it’s time you see us.

 

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Conference Posts, culture, Uncategorized

 

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The way we win matters

What’s that? ANOTHER movie reference in a blog post? Hell yes. Buckle up, buttercup. Let’s do this.

It’s no secret that I love science fiction (and science fantasy, where I firmly place Star Wars, but that’s a discussion for another time). I started reading Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison at a very young age. Which explains a lot, really. What I appreciate about the genre is that it is such a mirror of who we are as a society – and who we want to be. Some sci-fi is post-apocalyptic and depressing, some is unnaturally cheerful and optimistic. (You can probably guess what kind I tend to watch.) All of it acts as a social commentary for the time in which it was made.

One story I experienced first as a movie and then as a book is Ender’s Game. Regardless of what you think of the book’s author, the story and world building is brilliant and engaging. Years ago, Earth was invaded by an alien species and barely survived. Since then, society has been obsessed with preparing for the next attack, training children to be the leaders of the battle because their brains can process the multitude of data faster.

Ender, so-called because he is a third child in a society that limits most families to two, is unique among his peers. He is the perfect combination of aggression and compassion, believing that the best way to defeat his enemy is to love them, because only then do you understand them. When confronted by bullies at his school, he gravely injures the toughest boy – an apparent over-reaction to the situation. When questioned why later, he replies that he wasn’t fighting to win that battle – he was fighting to win all future battles, too. (Seriously, go watch the movie and read the book – so good.)JALWS Letterhead I

One line in particular has stuck with me. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Near the end of the story, Ender and his unit have been undergoing simulation after simulation to defeat the Formics (insect-like aliens). In the final simulation, they risk nearly everything to defeat the entire race of Formics. Ender sacrifices thousands of (he thinks) simulated lives to achieve victory. Following the simulation, the adults cheer…it turns out, the simulation was the real battle. Colonel Graff (played by Harrison Ford) explains they didn’t tell Ender because they didn’t want him to hesitate…that they needed him to do what was necessary. Graff insists Ender will be remembered a hero. “We won,” Graff proclaims. “That’s all the matters.” Ender fires back, “No. The way we win matters.

This line says so much. It embodies so much of our humanity…or lack of it.

How many times have leaders claimed winning is the only option? How many organizations sacrifice values, integrity, dignity because they tell themselves the ends justify the means? Win at all costs. No holds barred. You have to play the game to win the game.

How many times do people regret that approach? In the long term, I hope it’s all of them. Because you give up something vital when you tell yourself that it doesn’t matter how you won. In the short term, it might seem like the smart play, but ultimately, history judges us all. It exposes the lies we tell ourselves and lays bare our mistakes.

Right now, American society is at a crossroads. We have an administration that values “winning” and loyalty over all else. We have a majority party in Congress that is willing to “win” no matter what the cost. We have organizations that are choosing to align themselves with a president who has been accused of sexual assault, and then turn around and speak about the dangers of #metoo. We live in a world where the number of  impressions and Twitter followers appear to be more important than values and critical thinking.

Is this what winning looks like?

I’d like to believe we’ll right this ship; that we’ll realize that attention isn’t the same as regard. That small “victories” are meaningless if we lose the larger battle. That sacrificing what we believe for the sake of a photo op means more than a slight PR hit. The decisions we make moving forward as leaders – as human beings – say more about us than short term gains. Are we willing to admit that sometimes the right thing to do IS the hard thing to do? Do we have the courage to turn down what looks good in favor of what IS good? Are we willing to speak up when our leaders can’t? Or won’t?

I hope so.

THE WAY WE WIN MATTERS.

 

 

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