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Development as partnership (when leaders and employees get it)

Last week, I had the opportunity to both attend and speak at the Illinois state conference for the Society of Human Resource Management (henceforth referred to as ILSHRM, ’cause that’s way too much to type out).

Hundreds of HR professionals descended upon the Holiday Inn and Convention Center in Tinley Park, IL for a couple of days of networking, socializing, eating far too many carbs, and yes…learning.

I love being able to talk to people from around the country about what they do, what they struggle with, and how they are trying to make their workplace – and themselves – better. And these folks are from Illinois, so they’re chatty Midwesterners who are open, honest, and a lot of fun to boot.

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What struck me as I talked to the fine folks of ILSHRM is that we all have similar challenges – high state of change, evolving business demands, disengaged employees, managers who don’t always get it, legal shifts, work-life balance, etc. And what impressed me is that despite all the challenges, these people were determined to find a way to fix it. They believed that by advancing their skills, learning from others, and challenging their own thinking, they might be able to take something from ILSHRM back to their workplace, apply it, and make a difference.

Naive? Maybe. Optimistic? Probably.

Impossible? No.

I say it’s not impossible because all those people attending ILSHRM had the support of their organizations and/or their boss.  Maybe it was a “check the box” exercise to prove the company supports development. Who cares – they got to go. Most were there because their boss/leadership had specific problems and trust their HR team to go find a solution that will work for them.

This conference reaffirmed the fact that when leaders and employees are both devoted to development, good things can happen. Heck, I was there because my boss was willing to let me go spread our brand and bring new ideas back. (Thanks, Gail!)

And for the cynics out there, you’re right – some people attend conferences to get their credits to avoid retaking a test, for the carb overload, for a couple of nights away from the kids. But tell that to the fun folks I had lunch with from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District – all 10+ of them. This was a group determined to get something out of the conference…and have a fun time while they learned. And tell that to the young HR professionals who asked incredibly powerful, insightful questions in all the sessions they attended. They weren’t content to listen and leave – they wanted to explore, to learn from the collective experience from the folks in the room.

The reality is that this only works if everyone involved is willing to MAKE IT WORK. (Tim Gunn shout out!) Developing employees is more than signing up for a class or a conversation about career goals now and then. It’s about employees stating what they need for their development and leaders supporting them in that endeavor.

It takes two to tango.

Leaders, employees, customers and companies all benefit when development is supported. So I challenge each of you – whether you are a manager or individual contributor – to do what you can to partner for development. You’ll get so much more out of it than what you put into it.

I know I do.

 

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Managing Up, Personal Development, Skillz

 

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Expose yourself…appropriately

Leadership is difficult.

You are surrounded by people (those you manage and those who manage you) who want to tell you how to do your job. And then you have all those people out there producing content to teach you how to be a leader using this model or that model. And make sure you keep up on the latest and greatest in your industry. Slacker.

To survive, leaders go into lockdown mode and use what the “know” will work. They form opinions – both about themselves and others – and use those opinions to make decisions.

Stop it.

Lockdown mode will help you survive the short-term. And will make you irrelevant in the long-term.image

I’m at the 2014 Annual SHRM conference in Orlando, surrounded by HR leaders who are either here to reinforce their lockdown mode…or find ways to break out of it.

It’s hard to break out. It’s icky feeling. It’s scary. It’s filled with the unknown.

And it’s awesome.

I am here to challenge all of you to start looking at things in different ways. Expose yourself to people who think the opposite of how you think. Listen to a speaker you disagree with…and then find value in something that speaker says.

Employees can’t learn from a person who won’t entertain a different point of view, and leaders cannot grow if they surround themselves only with like-minded people.

Seek out the different. Expose yourself to it. You may not agree with it, but you WILL learn from it.

“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”
― Voltaire

 
 

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I got 99 problems but failure ain’t one

Jason Lauritsen wrote this thought-provoking post on how we approach the concept of failure and why it has such a stigma in our society.  He argues that failure doesn’t need to be something we fear – we should embrace it and move forward from it.  (It’s a good post – go read it!)

This got me thinking about how we as a society in the US approach failure in general….particularly in the newer generations of workers. You hear the jokes about “everyone gets a trophy” or soccer games where no one keeps score.  Because we don’t want our precious children to feel the sting of defeat “too soon”.  Unfortunately, “too soon” easily turns into “ever”…and helicopter parents who earned an indulgent chuckle when their children are in kindergarten solicit anger and frustration from bosses who see the results in their employees. (Kathy Caprino expertly addresses the parenting aspect of business in this article on Forbes.com.)

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Consider these things THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED IN A REAL COMPANY.  WITH ADULTS.

  • A mother calls her 25-year-old son in sick at work, “because he needs his sleep.”
  • Parents of an intern call the HR department to ask what clothes they should buy their 21-year-old daughter for her summer at the company, even though the information was sent to the intern.
  • An employee calls his mother in the middle of a meeting with an HR manager to talk about what is going on…not once, but TWICE. (Seriously.  This one amazes me.)

These rather extreme examples are a moment in the life of a person who has not yet learned how to cope with the demands of a corporate environment.  But the fallout extends beyond these one-off situations, and it’s not just the Millennials displaying an inability to handle failure.  Do any of these sound familiar?

  • A senior manager refuses to “rock the boat” and speak out against an initiative that he knows will damage the culture because he’s afraid of risk.
  • A vice president insists on full consensus for every single decision she makes because she doesn’t trust her own judgement.
  • A CEO yells and screams at his executive team when the stock goes down because he’s surrounded by idiots who can’t do anything right (or so he thinks).
  • An entry-level employee hates her job because she doesn’t get a promotion in the first 6 months.

We are a society of instant gratification.  We are a society of limiting risk (unless we know we have substantial backup).  We are a society that lacks perseverance in the face of repeated adversity.  We are a society of people who think “Failure is not an option” is a rallying cry.

I’m here to tell you – failure is ALWAYS an option.  Without failure, we would never be able to celebrate success.  Without failure, we would never appreciate a job well done.  Without failure, we would never be motivated to better ourselves. Without failure, we would never learn anything.

Failure drives us forward – but only if we approach it correctly.  Here are some thoughts on how managers and employees (and yes, parents!) alike can harness the power of failure:

  • Acknowledge failure WILL happen: The idea that if you can go without a mistake for 60 seconds, you can go forever without one is ridiculous.  Accept that failure at some point will occur and give yourself (and others) permission to fail.
  • Talk about failure: Talking about something helps to remove the stigma of that thing.  By talking openly about failure, you help to create a culture where such transparency is expected and welcomed.  There is nothing more powerful than a leader who admits his/her vulnerability, shares his/her failures, and then shares what he/she learned from it.
  • Bring options to the table: If you goof up, figure out how you’re going to make it better.  Don’t just wallow in self pity (or freak out and hide).  Start a dialogue about the situation so you can move on. Own up, share what you think contributed to the mistake, offer some options to rectify the issue, and solicit ideas from your stakeholder.
  • Fail once – and learn from it: While failure is a part of the process, repeated failure can be a sign of something else.  I don’t mind an employee who keeps trying new things, isn’t 100% success the first time, but applies what he/she has learned to the next thing.  I do mind an employee who makes the same mistakes over and over again and blames others for his/her inability to change.

If you spend any time in the working world, you’re going to experience failure, from either your actions or the actions of others.  And some of those failures are gonna be doosies.  Failure is not a problem to solve.  It’s a lesson to learn.  Our reaction to failure is what ultimately drives  success.  So will you seize failure as an opportunity?  Or will you hide behind your inability to embrace what failure can do for you?

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.
– Michael Jordan

[Author’s Note: I know there are a lot of people who DO handle failure well.  And that we all know of someone who has persevered, regardless of the odds.  And to those people, I say “you rock.”]

 
 

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