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Survivor: Meetings Edition

If you clicked on this link because you thought it would be a thoughtful look at how to structure a meeting to ensure success, then you have come to the wrong place.

I am at the point where I no longer think it can be done on a consistent basis. Yes, you will have the occasional meeting where decisions are ACTUALLY made and people leave feeling like they accomplished something. But let’s be honest…those are few and far between. And do we REALLY think one more article reminding everyone to have an agenda and desired outcomes is going to make a difference?survivor

I didn’t think so.

And so, for your edification and general sanity, I present the following tips for surviving meetings:

  • Bring your smartphone: Seems pretty basic, right? But how else are you going to stay occupied during the update you’ve heard in 4 other meetings? And besides, if someone calls you out, you can say you were just pulling up the email with the attachment the person was talking about. (Hint: have that pre-loaded. Just in case.)
  • Bring a notebook: This is essential. It’s low tech. It doesn’t rely on good signal. And no one can accuse you of not paying attention because it looks like you’re taking notes…even if you’re just doodling, jotting down a grocery list, or finally writing that novel you’ve always known you had inside you.
  • Choose your seat carefully: It’s good to sit next to someone you like so you can exchange meaningful glances when something goofy is said. If that’s not possible, then sit across from that person so you can silently laugh when appropriate. There’s always an opportunity to text that person from afar as needed. (See “bring your smartphone.”)
  • Pretend the person who drones on and on is monologuing: This is straight from The Incredibles. At some point, the villain ALWAYS monologues. This is your chance to dream up your amazing escape! I’m sure lasers will be involved somehow. There should be lasers. But not capes. For obvious reasons.
  • Play Devil’s Advocate: This one is more about amusement than survival, but whatever. Some people believe the Outlook meeting is the required time to hold the meeting, so they’re not going to end early if they can help it. Why not spice up the festivities with a little, “Just playing devil’s advocate?” For example, the group is talking about ways to increase customer service. You can pipe in with a, “Just playing devil’s advocate here, but is the customer REALLY always right? I’d hate for us to go down a certain path on a false premise.”
  • Fake a sneezing fit: Coughing works, too. Anything that requires you to inarticulately point at your face and make a beeline for the door.

If you find yourself relying on one or more of these on a regular basis, your company has a problem with meetings. Now you have a choice – either perpetuate the issue or take a stand and stop going unless you know why the meeting is taking place. It only takes one strong voice to question the recurring meeting, and it only takes one smart question to find out why 10 people are sitting in a room.

Or you can fake sneeze. Because that makes you look like an adult.

What have YOU done to liven up your awful meetings? I want to hear from you!

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2017 in culture, Teamwork

 

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Questions about your culture? Check your travel policy

Okay, it doesn’t necessarily need to be your travel policy, but I think it’s particularly useful for this exercise.

Allow me to explain.

Culture has lots of different definitions. Feel free to Google them if you’re a completist. For me, I look at culture as how work gets done in an organization. That encompasses a lot of stuff, and many tend to think solely of the people component – attitudes, values, behaviors, etc. Those are all part of it, so I’m glad people consider it!  Some also think about culture in terms of reward and recognition, employee perks, stuff like that. Also part of it, so keep that on the list!

The piece that is often missed, though, is process and policy. You know, the nuts and bolts of how you enable (or disable) work to be done within your organization. We forget this part of our culture because it’s in the background. Shit gets done regardless, and we fail to think about the mechanisms that we put in place unless legislation forces us to take a look at it. But it’s having one hell of an impact on your corporate culture whether you realize it or not.

In the FABULOUS book Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnus Nutter, WitchCrowley (“An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards”) ruminates on some of his greatest accomplishments of demony on Earth. He’s frustrated by the old school demons who think one soul at a time. Crowley puts in place entire systems that ratchet up stress just enough for a person to take it out on another person who would then take it out on another…well, you get the idea. Traffic jams from a poorly designed highway is one example. The resulting negative psychic energy from poorly designed systems poisons the world and primes it for the appearance of the AntiChrist.

Which brings us to the travel policy.paperstack-292x300

If you could design the optimal travel policy, what would it look like? Let’s assume that you have to cap spending and all that fun stuff. Good chance that you might say, “Okay, you can get a flight that works for you and your family – as long as it’s not unnecessarily pricey (e.g., first class all the time). And go ahead and book it on the airline’s web site and use your corporate card so it’s not too complicated. Pick a hotel that comfortable, safe, and near the facility where your visiting. You know, don’t stay at the Ritz, but you don’t need to hit the Motel 6. Oh, and for your food and transportation? Here’s a per diem. You spend that as you see fit.” Doesn’t that sound lovely?

I sort of doubt you’d create one with overly complicated rules about which flights you can book, or require you to use a centralized travel site that doesn’t work 40% of the time, or make arbitrary cutoff points about how long a flight has to be in order to pay for early seating or business class. You wouldn’t set a spend limit on each meal ($10 breakfast, $10 lunch, $20 dinner), or require use of public transportation. You certainly wouldn’t limit the amount of tip someone was allowed to leave for a waitress. And surely you wouldn’t then force your employees to spend hours entering receipts into an overly complicated and antiquated computer system.

Now, if reading the previous paragraph made your blood boil or scoff in disbelief, imagine working under that sort of policy. Because that is a real thing. This policy exists in the world today. (I won’t say where. BUT YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.)

No matter how much you talk about the value of people, or how much you want your culture to be one of trust, or how much you want to be an employer of choice, a policy like the one above undermines all of it. It tells your employees that saving a little money is WAY more important than your employees’ time. Or that you don’t trust them to spend money like it’s their own.

It’s hurting your culture because sometimes, employees want to spend $25 at breakfast and then eat a protein bar for lunch. Or sometimes, they just want to take the 2 hour earlier flight to see their kid after a long trip. Or they want to stay an extra night in the hotel because they want to be able to visit their internal customers without feeling like they have to sneak in a key meeting. They don’t want to feel like their work is overly burdensome.

Before you get all, “But, Mary…” on me, yes, I know you need to have some controls in place – not just to ensure good spending practices, but for risk management compliance. I’m not saying you get rid of everything. Just get rid of the stuff you don’t need. (And you don’t need a lot of it.)

So if you’ve got “culture” in any form on you list of organizational initiatives this year, don’t forget to look at your travel policy. In fact, look at all your policies. And your systems. And your workflows.

You may be surprised at how much impact you can have on that always elusive “culture improvement.”

 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2017 in culture

 

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Always Be Curious (with apologies to Glengarry Glen Ross)

As you probably know, I have a day job. Yes, I actually work in human resources. For a real company and everything!

But I’m also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak at a handful of conferences and other events throughout the year. I enjoy doing this – it’s a great chance for me to visit other states and talk to fellow HR professionals about the struggles they’re facing and to share my experiences in the hopes we all walk away with a fresh perspective and some new ideas to try.

Well, that’s the idea, anyway.

The reality is that not everyone attends a conference with the intent to learn. Some are there just for the recertification credits. Some are there to hang out with their HR friends and hit the expo floor. Some are there to finally get a few days away from the kids so they can watch some RHONJ in peace, dammit! It’s not necessarily what the conference planners intended, but honestly, they’re pretty happy if people pay, show up, give the keynotes some attention, and fill out the feedback forms.

Speakers have a love/hate relationship with feedback forms. We do want to hear from our audience – we want to get better, we want to know what was meaningful to you, we want to hear that we’ve changed your life because you finally understand the new overtime regulations. (Okay, that last one was a bit tongue in cheek.) But seriously…we want some sort of validation that the time we spent building the presentation, practicing, traveling to the conference, and delivering the content was useful for someone. And most comments are very kind. You get the random comment about room temperature (sorry, we can’t control that) or the fact that someone doesn’t like the color of your dress (which is why I usually wear pants), but for the most part, it’s good feedback.

For the most part.abc

Inevitably, no matter what presentation I deliver or at what conference, there is at least ONE person who writes the comment: “I didn’t learn anything new.”

Really? Not a single thing? At all?

Listen, as a speaker, I’m usually a tough audience. Speakers end up seeing a lot of different sessions with different types of presenters, so you can get a little jaded. I admit it. But I walk into every session with the intent of taking away at least ONE thing I’ve learned from that person. Hell, if nothing else, I learned their name and what they do for a living.

But not this person. This person just says, “I didn’t learn anything new.”

This depresses me. Not because I worked hard to do research to include a lot of value-added data (which I always do), or because I shared my experiences in other orgs in hopes it helps (which I also do). It depresses me because a comment like that indicates that this person is not curious. They walk into every situation assuming they know everything and that there is nothing that anyone could possibly teach them.

Who wants to live life like that?

BE CURIOUS. Be open to new ideas and new experiences. Be open to new data. Be open to the fact that your carefully crafted world view might not be 100% accurate.

I’m not asking you to agree with everything you hear. In fact, I want you to question it, challenge it. That shows me you are thinking about it and are curious about how it ties into what you’re currently doing. It shows me you’ve internalized the idea and are considering it and may decide to reject it. At least you cared enough to hate it instead of dismissing it as “nothing new.”

So this is my challenge to you from now until the end of the year. Instead of dismissing something outright, think about it. Question it. Be curious about it. You might actually learn something new.

God forbid.

 

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A word about workplace clothing…

As a diehard fan of the now gone What Not To Wear, I fully accept the power of clothing to impact the way a person is perceived, but more importantly…how a person feels.

We’ve all had a moment where we put on a new pair of pants or a kickass blazer and thought, “I will OWN this day. Boom.”

We’ve all had that day where we put something on that we’re not super excited about and then spend the rest of the day fussy about how it fits, how it looks, how it feels.

And for some of us, we have an article of clothing that we absolutely love that’s slightly different from the mainstream – it could be shoes, it could be a button-down shirt, it could be socks, etc. Whatever it is, it is somehow magical and we love it. And we don’t really care if you love it, but we kind of hope you do because how could you not? IT’S AMAZING.blog

Then we run into coworkers who somehow feel like it’s their job to make comments about what you’re wearing. And those coworkers may think they’re being funny…but they’re not. They make you second guess what you look like and now you never feel like wearing that awesome tie again. Because now you’re that “tie guy.”

Look, I get that we all have different tastes. We all grew up with different backgrounds and socioeconomic levels – this impacts the way we dress and what we think looks fabulous. Shouldn’t we be celebrating this instead of judging it?

Here’s a rule of thumb: NEVER comment on something someone is wearing unless it’s to compliment them. Here are some examples of what that might sound like:

“That color looks great on you!”
“I like your tie.”
“I want to steal your shoes, they’re so cute.”
(That last one might just be something I tend to say…)

See? Not once did someone make a joke about the color, print, cut, or otherwise about what someone was wearing.

Do people sometimes show up in the office looking horrific in your eyes? OF COURSE THEY DO. Remember, we all have different tastes – one person’s treasure is another person’s nightmare. I, for one, don’t get shoulder pads. Then again, I have the shoulders of a football player and have never needed them. (The early 90s were a tough time for me.) But I don’t comment on it – why ruin someone’s happiness about how they look?

Unless someone’s dress is unsafe, unallowed, or impacting their ability to be successful – don’t worry about it. Compliment them, or just shut the hell up.

The world won’t end because someone wore white socks with black shoes.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2016 in Authenticity, Skillz, Teamwork

 

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Help is not a four-letter word

The more I see articles about how busy we all are or stressed we are or upset we are, and how it’s become some sort of weird badge of honor, the more I’m convinced Americans (because I live and work here) have a core problem.

We don’t know how to ask for help.

We like to think we are a resilient bunch, forged by the wilderness, every person for him/herself. We don’t need the support of others – we’re independent, dammit! After all, we left Europe because we wanted to do things OUR way. We fought the British because they wouldn’t recognize our rights to representation, so screw them! We’ll declare ourselves sovereign.Then we fought, scratched and hornswaggled (that’s a fancy way of saying tricked or lied) our way to the West Coast. There’s that “can do” attitude!

You hear it whenever people proclaim with pride they are “self-made.” You sense it when people keep it quiet that they’ve relied on public assistance or the kindness of strangers. And you see it when confused kids don’t raise their hands in school to ask a question.

It’s very bizarre to me, because while we ARE a nation of independent go-getters with a can-do attitude who like to pretend they can do everything themselves; we are also a nation of incredibly community-minded folks who band together to help those in need. Don’t believe me? Check out GoFundMe or CaringBridge and marvel at the capacity of humans to want to help others. But that makes us feel better because we’re OFFERING help, not really ASKING for it. I mean, look at how many of those sites are set up by someone other than the person who needs the help.

When you look around our society right now, it’s clear there are those who need help. It might be because of the floods in Baton Rouge (just because it stopped raining doesn’t mean their need is gone); maybe recent events have shaken them and they don’t know how to talk about it; maybe their water heater went out and they just can’t afford a replacement; maybe they deal with violence in their own home; maybe they suffer from depressionhelp

Take a look at the people you work next to every day. Do you know what they are dealing with? Would you know how to help them if they asked? Would they even ask? Now take a look at yourself. Chances are, you’re dealing with something. It could be as serious a cancer scare. Or it could be as simple as feeling overwhelmed by projects. Would YOU ask a coworker for help?

There are so many reasons we refuse to ask – ego, fear of losing credibility at work, cultural concerns about appearing weak, worried about putting others in an uncomfortable situation, honest belief that we can “handle it.” While these all feel valid in the moment, the reality is that none of them will kill you. It might make you and others feel awkward for a couple minutes, but that will pass.

If you work with people you think need to ask for help but don’t seem to be willing to do it, try one of the following techniques:

  • Ask for help first: I know, right?! So flipping obvious. And yet we don’t do it. This is especially powerful for leaders because it makes you vulnerable and proves to the team that asking for help is TOTALLY OKAY. In fact, it’s encouraged.
  • Shut up and listen: Your coworkers might be asking for help without saying the actual words. Maybe their complaints about being tired or stressed have increased. Maybe they’ve dropped some hints about deadlines. Pay attention to changes in how they talk and act.
  • Don’t make it about you: We LOVE to share stories about our own problems. We do it for (mostly) altruistic reasons; we’re trying to show “we’ve been there.” Guess what – they don’t care. Unless they point blank ask you if you’ve been in the same situation, don’t start talking about how tough it was when you had a hangnail, so you TOTALLY get why open heart surgery would be scary.
  • Specifically offer to help: Some people just aren’t going to ask for help. They think it’s somehow rude. Offer to help a very specific step in the process. “I can print out those reports and deliver them to the project team.” “I’ll go to this meeting and that will give you time to catch up on emails.” “How about I bring your family some dinner this Thursday so you can run to the hospital and see your grandfather?” This keeps the person from getting overwhelmed and keeps them from feeling like they’re putting you out because YOU offered.
  • Respect their wishes: Demonstrate your willingness to help through action, not words. If someone approaches you, give them your attention. If someone looks upset, just stay by them. If they say they want to be alone or don’t want to talk about it, tell them it’s okay…but you’re just down the hall if they need you. Everyone processes things differently – give them room to do that. But…
  • Don’t believe them when they say “I’m fine,” and they obviously aren’t: People in the midst of crisis may be in denial. If you see someone who is really struggling (disheveled appearance, changes in behavior), reach out. Take them to lunch. Let them know they are not alone…and they don’t have to be.

You can be independent, feisty, sassy, brilliant, powerful, successful…and still ask for help. You can be confused, frustrated, out of your depth, upset, angry, exasperated…and still OFFER help. That’s the beauty of being a human being. We are a walking contradiction. We are complicated. We are a mess. We are amazing.

We can all ask for help. We can all offer help.

You just have to do it.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and then allows you to learn something new. ~ Barack Obama

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2016 in Personal Development, Self-Awareness, Teamwork

 

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Everybody lies


lie [lahy]
noun

1. a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.

2. something intended or serving to convey a false impression; imposture.

I loved the TV show House. Well, the first few seasons of it, anyway.

I’m a nerdy Sherlock Holmes fan, so when the creators of House took the general DNA of Sherlock Holmes and put it into the character of a grumpy addict who also happened to be a brilliant doctor, I was sold. (Plus, Hugh Laurie is a genius as Dr. Gregory House. Go listen to his actual voice – you’re freaked out he’s not American, right?! Because it sounds wrong? But I digress.)

One of the basic tenants of House’s belief system is that everybody lies – particularly patients. In fact, it’s a quote: It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what. The reason why he’s able to diagnose the craziest diseases (but not vasculitis; it’s never vasculitis) is because he doesn’t allow his patients to hide behind the white lies that they tell out of embarrassment or unwise desires to keep something a secret from a loved one.

While most characters on the show think it’s a pathetic way to live, it seems to serve House well. I mean, he’s miserable and all that (addict!), but in terms of being a successful diagnostician – it’s the only way to go.

Part of the reason why House hhouseas his worldview is because he lies to himself constantly. By projecting his tendency to lie to himself unto other people, he therefore justifies his actions and can wallow in his misery.

Other characters get mad at House about his worldview because it so often turns out to be true and makes them question their beliefs. They lie to themselves by pretending a situation or person is a certain way, and then are disappointed when the picture they’ve painted in their minds is the opposite.

So why do I bring up House?

I bring this up because people in the working world need to accept the fact that everybody lies. Not to the extent that House believes, but it’s there. In varying degrees…it’s there.

  • We lie about what happened on a project: “I have no idea who approved that approach, but it doesn’t sound like something I would say.”
  • We lie about our motivations: “I’m taking that job to make a difference! Oh, does it pay more? I had no idea.”
  • We lie about leaving a horrible job: “Next time she says something like that, I’m gonna quit!.” [she says something like that] “Next time…”
  • We lie about why we rated an employee too high: “It has NOTHING to do with the fact I think they deserve a higher raise.”
  • We lie about why we rated an employee too low: “It has NOTHING to do with the fact that this employee proved I was wrong about something.”
  • We lie about employment decisions: “HR said I had to fire you. If it were up to me, I would never do that….”

We lie to cope with tough situations. We lie to cover our butts. We lie to spare feelings or soften the blow. We lie to connect to others. We lie to look smarter than we are. We lie to look dumber than we are. We lie to get ahead at work. We lie to pick our battles.

We lie. We lie. We lie.

I want to make this next point loud and clear, okay: THERE ARE DEGREES OF LYING AND LYING 100% OF THE TIME IS A DICK MOVE, SO DON’T DO IT. I do not, in any way, condone a sociopathic narcissist who lives his/her life telling one lie after another.

Got it? Good.

Some lies make it necessary to live in a society. If we were 100% transparent all the time, it might work – but only if we could tell the truth about never taking anything personally. And we know how much of a lie that can be, right? On the flip side, society can’t survive if we lie 100% of the time either. That’s why we all walk a tightrope. Most of the time, we don’t even realize we’re lying.

I am not a miserable, paranoid person. I don’t think everyone is out to lie every time they open their mouth. I am constantly awestruck by our ability as humans to show compassion, love, support, selflessness – all of it. I tend to think overall, humans are pretty damn cool and have the capacity to be amazing. And we also have the capacity to lie. A lot. About lots of things – most of them tiny, stupid things that don’t matter at all. (Hell, I could be lying right now – how would you know?)

So how do we deal with all the pretty little liars out there? Do we give up and start lying more? Of course not.

Try this. Give people some grace. Give yourself some grace.

When you catch someone in a lie, find out why. Have you created a safe environment? Or do people feel like they have to lie in order to survive around you? Do you fail to reward truthiness? Do you only award people who tell you what they want to hear? Are you, yourself, as truthful as you could be? Are you honest with others? Are you honest with yourself?

And if a person continues to show a pattern of lying despite the work you’ve done to establish trust, then get them out of your life. You are under no obligation to lie to yourself to condone constant lying that hurts you or your organization.

Everybody lies.

The best way to survive and thrive is to acknowledge that…and then move on from there to build relationships with people who matter so they tell the truth when it’s most important.

The most common lie is that which one lies to himself: lying to others is relatively an exception.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Truth begins in lies.
~ Gregory House, MD

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Clarity, Self-Awareness

 

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It’s never too late to try something new

In January this year, we took my mom (whom I refer to as Mumsie Poo) to Las Vegas as part of her Christmas present. (It was a really fun trip. You should all take my mom to Las Vegas.)

Mumsie Poo has been a firm believer that she does NOT need a smart phone, that she can get along with a flip phone just fine, thank you very much. I clandestinely took a picture of her on the rental car shuttle as she was 9-key texting a message to my aunt.

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To get the full experience, imagine the beeping turned up to high. And feel free to imagine the talking to herself as she tries to figure out why she hit the wrong key and how to delete it. (To be fair…she is pretty fast on that 9-key.)

Recently, her flip phone started acting weird and it was time to get her a new phone. Shockingly, it’s really hard to get a flip phone these days (weird, right?) and we thought it was time my mom embraced the technology of today, which she agreed to. Mostly because we wouldn’t buy her another flip phone. (Seriously. The beeping….)

So we took her to the local AT&T store and got her set up on an iPhone SE.  Our sales rep, Nichelle, did a PHENOMENAL job of walking her through the process of getting her phone set up, making sure my mom typed everything in so she could learn the interface, recognizing when the keyboard was frustrating and getting a stylus for my mom (yes, we bought it) and transferring Mom’s contacts into her new phone.

This is Mumsie Poo at the store, figuring out her new phone (note the rockin’ hot pink stylus):

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Since this picture was taken, my mom has gone to the Apple store to learn how to set up her wireless network on her phone and took a free class on how to use all the features. All on her own with no prompting from us. She also inadvertently called me 4 times and left 2 voicemails of people talking in the class, but that’s not the point.

The point is that this woman, who swore she would NEVER have a smart phone, has embraced it and is proactively learning how to make the most of the features.

I think too many of us think we can’t possibly try something new because it would be too hard to learn a different way. We think our HRIS system is just fine because it would be too hard to learn a new navigation system. We think our management style will do because it’s too hard to change who we interact with our employees. We think we don’t have to change the way we behave at work because “that’s just the way we are.”

Well, poppycock.

I don’t care where you are in your life or your career. There’s always time to learn how to do something differently. There’s always time to embrace the advances of our civilization. There’s always time to reconsider our long held beliefs.

This week, thousands of HR professionals descend on Washington, DC for the annual SHRM conference. They will attend sessions, visit the Expo floor, and talk to their peers across the world. Some are here to learn, many are here to get recertification credits, and some are here because it’s a chance to go to DC.

Whatever the reason for being here, I implore all attendees to approach the experience with an open, curious mind.

Be like Mumsie Poo. Whether you step willingly into something new, or you’re pulled kicking and screaming into the unknown, learn to embrace it. See it as an opportunity, not a curse. If you don’t like it, that’s okay. At least you tried something new, and you just may have learned something.

And how cool is that?

 

[Note: My mom doesn’t know I put her in a blog post with her picture. She says she reads my blog, so if so….Hi, Mom!!!]

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2016 in Personal Development, Skillz

 

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