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A peek behind the curtain: Blogging with a full-time gig

One of the great things about blogging is that your blog gives you a cathartic outlet. Have a bad day? Write about it on the blog. Shocked by something an employee said? Write about it on the blog. Remember something your boss did that made you roll your eyes so hard it gave you a migraine? You got it – write about it on the blog.

Funny thing is…that’s kind of hard to do when you’re a working girl. Well, not THAT kind of working girl. I bet they have the BEST blogs.

I’m talking about folks who have a full-time job in corporate America. You know, the people who work 9-to-5 (what a way to make a living). It’s not that we don’t have enough material. Goodness knows it’s not that.

The challenge lies in the fact once people at the office find out you write a blog, they tend want to read it. Which is actually pretty awesome. Until they start trying to figure out if the topic about which you’ve written is about them. Or the company. Or the CEO.

Here’s the thing. Yeah. I probably did write a blog post about you. But not specifically about you, more about the situation. Or you said something that triggered a thought about a scenario I read in another article that made me think, “Huh. I wonder if that’s a trend I should write about.”

Except for that one time. That was TOTALLY about you.

It’s a challenge to not translate everything at work into a blog post. I try to weigh the relevance for a wider audience and if it fits into the general leadership theme of my blog. I mean, it’s my blog so I’ll go off topic from time to time, but you get the idea. I also try to decide if it’s a lasting issue or if it’s a weird one-off that may never happen again.

Most of all, I have to weigh whether or not someone I know will try too hard to read between the lines and make assumptions about the topic and try to assign meaning that isn’t there. My views truly are my own. But it’s not that hard to figure out where I work (or have worked), and because of that, I try to be careful.

I suspect that many bloggers who have a corporate gig take the same care. In fact, there are several who use an alias because they are worried their content will anger the powers that be. The struggle is real, people.

So I wait months to bring up a “hot” topic. I change names. I allude to past organizations or use the time-honored “a colleague of mine.” I’m not above throwing in a “studies show” now and then, either. Sometimes I wait 3+ months to write about something because it is too raw and close to what reality is. Hence the occasional dry spell in content. Well, that and writer’s block.

If I do work with you and you read my blog, hi! And thank you. I think that’s cool. Just please don’t try to figure out if I’m talking about something at work, because by the time I write about it, it happened so long ago that it doesn’t even matter anymore.

If I don’t work with you and your read my blog, hi! And thank you. Feel free to make any wild conjecture that makes my blog more exciting to you. If it helps to picture bear juggling knives while balancing on a unicycle, I’m okay with that.

Ultimately, I write on this blog because I enjoy it and only when I feel like I have something to say that others may find interesting. Every once in awhile, I might take someone specific to task, but only when they deserve it and they’re a national story. (Or if there’s an in-joke that will make us both laugh.)

Would I write more freely if I didn’t work a corporate gig? Yes. Does it keep me from writing anyway? No.

And it never will.


You fail only if you stop writing. 

– Ray Bradbury

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Broadway musicals and the lessons of succession planning

Recently, the producers of Dear Evan Hansen announced that its Tony Award-winning lead, a ridiculously talented Ben Platt, would be vacating the role on November 19. Platt originated the role through read-throughs, workshops, previews, and finally, a year on Broadway.

The show is a runaway hit, pulling in $1.5M a week and already providing its investors with a complete return on their investment (in a very short period of time for a small theatre on Broadway). While the show seems like it will be fine with a new lead, its continued success is uncertain and there has been no announcement of who will be taking over the lead.

For another show on Broadway, the continued success is known – it will not have any. Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 (heretofore known as The Great Comet because that name is just WAY too long) was nominated for 12 Tony Awards (3 more than the big winner Dear Evan Hansen). It starred Josh Groban, he of velvety-voice-with-little-inflection-but-everyone-loves-him fame. It was a rousing good time. It got a huge boost from the Tonys performance.

And then Josh Groban left the show.

Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowa (who originated Hercules Mulligan/James Madison in Hamilton) took over the role. People loved him, he had a wonderful debut. And about 3 weeks into his run, rumors started flying that Mandy Patinkin (Broadway royalty/Inigo Montoya) would take over the role. It was officially announced. And the backlash was loud and accusatory because Oak is black, Mandy is white, and the callousness of the move was jarring. Turns out, Mandy was horrified at what happened, and refused to take the role because of what happened to Oak – Mandy had been told Oak was cool with it…and Oak did not appear to be cool with it. Mandy’s out. Oak refuses to go back.

And now the show is closing less than a year after it opened because they have no “name” lead and advance sales plummeted.

So why would I spend nearly 400 words on the drama of a Broadway show’s missteps?

Because that could be your organization.

If you have talented, charismatic, AMAZING leaders in your organization and you haven’t planned for what happens when they leave, you could be The Great Comet.

Don’t be The Great Comet.

Because I’m an unabashed theatre nerd and have decided to run this metaphor into the ground, here are some lessons about succession planning you can learn from Broadway:

  • It’s not the actor, it’s the show:  If you rely on one person’s performance for your company’s success, you will fail. Make sure the team’s/unit’s/company’s work and systems are strong enough to stand on its own, regardless of who is in charge. You want that leader to enhance, not overtake, the work that is already being done. Hamilton, the cultural juggernaut that will probably play forever and ever, is able to survive cast changes all the time – because the book, music and staging is just SO DAMN GOOD. New cast members join in service to the show, and while you see their spin in the performance, it’s not about them. It’s about the outcome of the show.
  • Acknowledge that the original star can never REALLY be replaced and adapt: Having seen Ben Platt perform live, I am fairly confident that NO ONE will ever play that role to that level ever again. It is astounding. That doesn’t mean the next person will not be good. It just means they won’t be Ben. If they’re smart, they’ll try to find someone who can create the role in their own image, and adapt the show to that person’s strengths. Your company should do the same thing. If the last leader was well loved and well liked, acknowledge that. Then give them the opportunity to build and move on in their own image without changing the script.
  • Consider staggering your exits: If you know you have a cohort of leaders who might be leaving around the same time – whether it’s retirement or a spin-off or something else – you might negotiate with them to stagger their leaving (assuming you like their style). This will allow you to have stability throughout the transition, helping onboard the new leaders while providing consistency for the organization. Hamilton used this approach. Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) announced he was leaving. Then Leslie Odom, Jr. (Burr) left (apparently to do Nationwide commercials). Then others in the lead roles left. But never all at once. It helped preserve the spirit of the show and passed on the cast’s culture to the next actors to join. That could work for you.
  • Have a long-term plan: Everyone leaves a company – whether they quit, get fired, or die. It’s the role of a leader to prep his/her replacement and plan that exit from the day they join. Lin Manuel Miranda has a group of trusted performers that he knows he can turn to take over roles. Javier Munoz was Lin’s understudy and replacement for In the Heights, and the same thing happened in Hamilton. Smooth transition. Who is YOUR Javier Munoz?
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: One of the biggest myths in succession planning is that you pick ONE person to be your replacement and you’re done. This is known as “pre-selection” and will bite you in the ass. You want to be sure that person can actually do the job, so you want to make sure you’re developing them. But even more pressing is the fact that someone who is high-potential enough to be identified as your successor may not want to wait in your shadow until you leave – they could jump to another opportunity. On Broadway, many understudies are working on originating one role while backing up another (like with Dear Evan Hansen’s Colton Ryan). There is no guarantee they’ll be around to take over full time. Or life gets in the way – Javier Munoz has had two health issues (thankfully, he’s okay). The point is, identify a potential pool of successors and develop their skills. It gives the company more options at the time of transition.
  • Communicate appropriately: That whole Mandy/Oak thing? Totally could have been avoided if all the right players met at one point to talk long-term goals, communication strategy, and impact to Oak. People get nervous when their boss changes. Having a good communication plan can help alleviate that. Additionally, if you DO have multiple people who could potentially take the job, think about how you let those who did NOT get the position know. What feedback can you give? What career options can you share? And…are you prepared for the reality that they may leave because of it? Whatever the case might be, the last thing you want to do is have a communication issue that results in NO ONE taking the role.

There you have it – lessons from Broadway on how you might approach succession planning within your organization.

See? The arts DO apply to the “real world.” (Support the arts!!!)

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2017 in culture, Decision Making

 

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Crowdsourcing, best practice, and the reality of work

There’s a lot of chatter out there these days about the benefits of crowdsourcing and use of best practice.

On the one hand, this is a good thing. Technology has helped us shrink the world, allowing us to connect to each other more easily. Because of this, we can learn from each other through case studies, experiences, and measured benchmarks.

On the other hand…just because we can, does it really mean we should?

The answer to this question is best illustrated by a a post on LinkedIn that I’ve been following (and commented on). The post’s subject isn’t terribly important – someone shared that they’d had a unique request from a potential applicant and wanted to know if anyone had ever had the same thing happen to them. What is fascinating to me, though, is the variety of responses and the emotional investment some respondents displayed. Some thought the request was normal, others didn’t. And some were VERY judgemental about a potential candidate having the gall to make such a request. If you do read the comments in the LinkedIn post, pay attention to the language used – it’s incredibly eye-opening. And I can’t imagine it was very helpful for the person who posted the question in the first place.

This example is not unique. You’ve all probably heard similar examples of people looking for input to figure out the best thing to do. Industries regularly publish benchmark data on all sorts of KPIs. Experts write whitepapers. Speakers deliver keynotes about their success. But for every published benchmark is a person saying benchmarks make you average. For every whitepaper on “best practice,” there’s a pundit calling you behind the times for going after those. And for every keynote talking about their personal success, there’s me saying, “I’m glad that worked…FOR YOU.” The noise of opinion is loud and contradictory.

So what is a person to do? Honestly, it kind of depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in your business.

Are you just starting out in a certain area? Benchmarks and best practices may help you set a baseline from which you measure your progress. It may also help provide a framework for you as you build out your process and dashboard. The trick is to make sure you know the limitations of benchmarks and understand what they’re actually telling you. If you don’t understand a number or what the best practice results in, ask questions or don’t use it. Simply hitting a number because it’s a “benchmark” may not get you anywhere.

Are you being challenged on the prevalence of a certain problem, or are looking for anecdotal evidence of an emerging trend that hasn’t hit research yet? Crowdsourcing within trusted groups can be a helpful approach. Just be aware that the quality of answers is only as good as the group from which you seek input. Throwing a question out on Twitter will get you a MUCH different response than asking a closed group of experts on Facebook. Yes, both methods run the risk of sarcastic responses, but honestly that’s just spice that keeps the flavor in your life.

My point is, you’re going to get potentially crappy data no matter what approach you take. The key is understanding what it is you’re trying to accomplish with this data – what works for YOU in YOUR business RIGHT NOW? If you can’t define those parameters, you probably shouldn’t even be asking the questions in the first place.

 

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Why I cringe when people say “hire for fit”

Companies are constantly looking for differentiators. In the first tech bubble, it was all about stock options and perks like kegs in the breakroom. In the second tech bubble, it’s been all about….stock options and kegs in the breakroom. Huh. I thought we’d come further than that. Moving on…

What you hear about more and more now, though, is “culture.” Culture is the great differentiator. It will make or break your company! It will make you productive! It will cure cancer! (Okay, I made that last one up.)

Listen, I’m a big fan of being intentional about the culture you’re allowing to develop in your workplace. It DOES impact the way people work, their ability to be successful, and how your customers view you. Whether or not you personally like Southwest Airlines (and I love them, so there), you can’t argue with their success in a tough industry. And they attribute it to their “culture” – from how they operate, to how they hire, to how they make, spend, and save money.

It’s the “how they hire” piece that I think people screw up all the time. (And I’m not the only one who thinks that!)

Too many companies who are concerned about their culture focus on hiring as the way to “fix it.” They think that by hiring the “right people,” they’ll magically get the culture they’re looking for. They focus on pre-hire assessments like personality tests and quirky questions and conversations about “passion.” And the next time the employee survey results come back, employees still say they don’t like the culture and turnover proves it.

At this point…I’m over “hire for fit.” Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s important that an employee aligns with core elements of the organization whether it’s the work they do, the people they work with, the values experienced, or what the company represents. But I think we’re going at it wrong. And here’s why:

ILLUSION #1 : Hiring for fit = a cure for all our ills: Every organization I’ve ever worked at that struggles with a “challenging culture” focuses on hiring as the fix. Why? Because it’s the easiest process to change. You add a couple of assessments, change some interview questions, and voila! All done.  

REALITY:  Hiring’s not your problem: Culture consists of EVERYTHING within your workplace, not just the people. It’s your systems, your processes, your location, your parking habits, the industry, your policies, your leadership practices, the behaviors of managers, communication….get the point. If you’ve got issues with your culture, it’s going to take more than just hiring people who SEEM to be part of the culture you want. You have to be willing to dissect the WAY you work. If you’re not wiling to do that, all those “new culture” people you hired are going to leave as soon as they can.

ILLUSION #2: Culture is about attitude, so we’ll ask about that: After all, we want to make sure people share our “values” so let’s make sure the questions are all about how they feel and what they like and dislike. That way we’ll know that they’re the right person to match our culture.

REALITY: Culture is about activity, not attitude: When you read about how Southwest (and other strong “culture” organizations – like Disney) hire people, you’ll see that they focus on BEHAVIORS, not feelings. That’s because behaviors are measurable and you can see how they impact work. Disney records how candidates interact with others, how they treat the receptionist, their inherent curiosity when sitting in a room…all behaviors. Southwest asks candidates how they handled a tough customer situation, looking for examples of the actions taken and the results of those actions. If you want a “culture fit” hire, find people who embody the culture through action, not words.

ILLUSION #3: Our managers are skilled enough to decide if someone is a good fit: We gave them a set of questions and told them to follow the law, they should be fine. Besides, these people have been here FOREVER and totally know what a good hire would look like.

REALITY: At best, they’re guessing. At worst, they’re using “not a fit” as an excuse for discrimination: If you don’t require interview training and calibration before a person is allowed to interview candidates, you have little to no assurance they know what they’re doing. Even then, you’ve got unconscious bias that no amount of training can overcome. By allowing “not a fit” to become the reason a qualified, promising candidate doesn’t get hired, you’re making it okay for managers to make snap judgments. If you can say “not a fit because of x,y,z examples of behaviors,” you’ve got a better chance. Also…DO YOU EVEN REALLY KNOW WHAT YOUR CULTURE IS? Probably not. You think you know. But unless you’ve done a valid assessment, you’re just describing what YOU think the culture is. 

ILLUSION #4: Same is good: Companies believe that if everything acts the same, thinks the same, and looks the same, then the culture will be fabulous and the company will be 100% successful.

REALITY: Diversity is good: You need diversity of backgrounds, thought, experience, age, race, gender…all of it. It breeds innovation. It pushes the company forward. It helps reduce that unconscious bias that gets us into trouble. It’s not the friction that’s the problem – it’s how you function with friction that’s hurting you. Include and celebrate differences and learn to leverage that friction in a way that’s beneficial to the organization.

In a perfect world, I would want companies to share openly enough of who they are and how they operate so that potential candidates can make the educated choice about whether or not they might be a “fit.” There are also tools out there that can help identify alignment with company values/behaviors in such a way that both allows the candidate to decide if they want to proceed AND helps the hiring manager identify questions that will get at the heart of whether full alignment is good or if the team needs that friction.

So please….stop acting like all  you really need to do is “hire for fit.” There are bigger issues at stake. Tackle those and then MAYBE you can start hiring for fit.

Maybe.

 

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Use Your Brain #SHRM17

[This post first appeared on the SHRM Blog on June 20, 2017]

I’ve had the opportunity to go to a lot of different conferences, and I see a lot of keynote speakers who are considered experts in their fields. They are successful because enough people think enough of what they’re saying makes sense and support it. They’re also successful because they are engaging speakers who connect with their audience and make everything sound brilliant.

The thing is…you’re not required to agree 100% with what these speakers are saying. Some of them cite research. Some of them share what they’ve done that worked. Some of them just share what they think SHOULD work. Are all valid ways to share an idea.  All can either be right or wrong.

Whether it’s Laszlo Bock’s suggestion that hiring managers not have the final say of a hire, or Patrick Lencioni’s suggestion that if you REALLY want to know if a person is a good hire you should take them shopping, it’s up to you as to whether or not that suggestion makes a lick of sense.

I go into every session with the attitude that I am going to learn something, because nothing bothers me more than a conference attendee who claims they didn’t learn anything. I may not agree with the speaker, but I bet I learned something about WHY I didn’t agree with them. That speaker’s point of view triggered an internal reflection – “Does that make sense? No, that doesn’t make sense. Why doesn’t it make sense?” By questioning another’s point of view, I’m forced to critically consider my point of view.

Notice the words I’m using – “reflection,” “critically consider.” I’m doing this on purpose because there’s a difference between thoughtful disagreement and a kneejerk reaction against something new.

So as you finish up your conference sessions, or plan future conference attendance, I ask that you use your brain. Listen to what the speakers are saying – not necessarily how they are saying. Then decide whether or not you agree with it. Only then will you be ready to apply what you were exposed to at #SHRM17.

 
 

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Take a chance on talent (from #SHRM17)

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

The Monday of any SHRM conference is usually jammed packed and high energy. It’s the first full day of sessions. People are excited to check out the sessions they mapped out for the day, and they aren’t yet exhausted from talking to the 18,000 attendees at #SHRM17.

One of the themes I noticed in the sessions I attended – whether it was Laszlo Bock’s general session or Jennifer McClure’s excellent session on disrupting HR – centered around taking a chance on talent. They challenged HR to stop putting up so many artificial barriers to hiring the best performers; you know, barriers like degree requirements or minimum years of experience. These barriers only serve to weed out people who may have excellent potential, ensuring you hire people who were successful in one system but not necessarily in yours.

This concept most likely rubs a lot of HR professionals the wrong way. After all, minimum qualifications are the bread and butter of job postings everywhere (particularly in the public sector and highly regulated industries). But research is beginning to support this stance. Recently, Ernst and Young announced they would no longer require degrees as entry criteria because their research showed a degree was NOT a predictor of success at their organization. Other organizations, like Xerox, found that experience didn’t matter either. It was better to build than buy, because work will outpace skills at a faster pace and you better be able to train your folks up if you want to stay competitive.

I like this trend. I hate artificial barriers in hiring, and have often said some of my best hires were people I hired on potential rather than track record. One of these people is sitting on a panel at this very conference.  Sam joined my team with limited experience in learning and development. He had been working for a bank and had made some job aids…and that’s about it. But he clearly had an eye from problem solving, a creative mind, and a work ethic like no other. I always asked candidates to prepare a presentation on leadership for my hiring process, and Sam’s was incredibly well-researched, coherent, interesting, and definitely helped the audience learned. So I hired him. And he was amazing.  Today, Sam is the Director of Training at Chipotle – a role he created from nothing after starting with them as a contractor.

If I had followed the job description and minimum requirements, I never would have hired Sam. I shudder to think that I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to hire Sam if anyone really looked closely at his background. And that would have been a damn shame because I would have missed out on a chance to watch a person find their path and become a success. (As you can tell, I’m ridiculously proud of Sam and try not to embarrass him, but I did it anyway, so there.)

So if you take anything back with you to your workplace, take the idea that it’s time to stop putting ridiculous requirements on your job descriptions. Challenge your hiring managers on their desire for degrees, certifications, and years of experience. Point-factoring isn’t how we do comp anymore – it shouldn’t dictate how you define a job. If you don’t push back, if you don’t consider potential and growth, you risk missing out on some incredible hires.

Go out there and find your Sam. And prepare to be amazed.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Conference Posts

 

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Not every hero wears a cape

Sometimes you hear a story about a person that makes you stop in your tracks and think, “Whoa. I could never do what that person is doing.”

Last night, I saw a story on the news about Darius Matsuda, a soon-to-be sophomore in high school who is visiting local middle schools to tell his story about growing up with autism. He shares with the students his experiences – including being forced into a circle with another boy while the others chant “Fight! Fight! Fight!” He explains what it’s like to live with autism – how it impacts your sensitivity to sound, light, and your ability to make friends.

It’s a powerful, personal story, and he’s already told it nine times to kids not that much younger than he is. All in the hopes that kids learn a little compassion for their fellow students, and understand that just because someone is different doesn’t mean they’re lesser than. Darius is going for Eagle Scout, and this is his service project.

This kid is amazing. Talk about putting yourself out there.

I bet that if we look hard enough, we all have someone like Darius around us. Someone with a story to tell, who has learned lessons in their life and are willing to share them. Not because it will help them…but because it will help those who come after them.

These are the heroes in your community and in your workplace. Listen to their stories. Learn their lessons.

Nice work, Darius.

 

If you want to learn more about autism and how to get involved, visit the Autism Society website

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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