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Small talk and the decline of practically everything

There is a lot of chatter out there.

On any given day, millions of ideas are shared via the internet, via Twitter, LinkedIn, articles, this blog, etc. Lots of one liners, jokes, snarky comments; but also inspirational quotes, videos of baby goat yoga, lists of “life hacks” (whatever the hell those really are), etc. In fact, every minute on the internet sees, among other things, a minimum of 2.4 MILLION Google searches, 347,222 tweets on Twitter, and 972,222 Tinder swipes (may you all find love).

This is the age of Big Data [insert dramatic music here].

And yet, most of what is out there is little more than a tasting menu of ideas. It’s a one-way sharing of thoughts, feelings, observations, and/or ego. We dip our toe into the pool of discourse, but we don’t stay too long lest we get dragged into a debate, get attacked by trolls, or – lord forbid – have to participate in an honest-to-god CONVERSATION.

What happened to our ability to sit down and actually talk to people?

In high school and college, people were all about having deep, philosophical conversations about life, death, and everything in between. Yeah, they got pretty annoying sometimes, but it was good practice in identifying where you stood in the world. You were able to frame your argument, consider counterpoints, and share your own counterarguments. It was a great way to apply debate skills and decide what you may or may not believe in.

Granted…I did not have Twitter or Facebook when I was in college. We barely had the internet. #Iamnotold #dammit

Today, communication is built to be quick, witty, and shallow. I actually resisted Twitter for a LONG time because I do not believe 140 characters is enough room to communicate meaningfully. I now accept it for what it is, but still throw it the side-eye now and then because I think it’s part of the problem.

People don’t really talk anymore.

I am as guilty of this as anyone. As an affirmed introvert, I LOVE the fact that I can do so much “communicating” online, in writing, without actually have to see someone face to face. I hate talking on the phone voluntarily. I avoid networking events like the plague. Give me a chance to interact virtually and I will take it every single time. And it probably makes me less effective as a coworker/boss/friend/human being.

It’s easy to just stop typing when you’re not happy with the way a conversation is going. You can just block someone if they get a little too obnoxious. Or you just throw a hashtag out there (#micdrop) and act like you won.

Real world conversations take vulnerability. They take concentration. They take commitment.

I’m going to try to do better at this. I’m going to try and have better conversations with the people I actually see in real life.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be quick, witty, and shallow on the internet. Are you kidding?! That’s way too much fun. I’m just going to…try harder. I hope you do, too.

What’s the worst that could happen?

 
 

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Can you change your industry if you don’t consult?

It happened again. One of those The 25 Most Influential Whatevers Changing the Industry lists. The ones that inevitably have the same core group of names you see on every other list in the same industry. And the ones that seem to consist solely of consultants.

I’m not saying those people don’t deserve to be on those lists. The folks who make those lists have clearly gotten their message to a wider audience and are typically looked to as an expert in their field. And they work hard to earn that recognition.

What I am saying is that you almost never see an in-house person on those lists, what might be referred to as a “practitioner.” Oh, you see folks who own their own businesses and do it well, so it’s not like they aren’t working their butts off in “corporate America,” but they still tend to be on the outside looking in.

There are a lot of reasons why this might be the case, none of them nefarious; it’s just the nature of the work you do as a practitioner. First, let’s look at why consultants tend to make lists more often:

  • Consultants depend on getting their name, brand and messaging out there on a regular basis to build their business. You have a day job, the basic need of getting your name out there for a paycheck isn’t as strong.
  • Consultants are a third-party voice, and as such they get the “fresh eyes” credibility boost. Remember when you were new at your company and everyone thought you were brilliant? It’s the same effect sometimes for consultants.
  • Consultants know that they need to stay current to stay credible, so they do their homework on the latest and greatest stuff that’s going on. Also, a lot of them tend to be invited to speak at conferences, which means they see the most recent products and research…and it raises their visibility in the field.

So that begs the question – can you be recognized as an industry trailblazer when you’re working a 9-5?

Pigeons. In holes. Get it?

 

The short answer is yes…it just takes a lot more work.

First, figure out WHY you want to change your industry. Is it for personal glory? Or do you really think there’s got to be a better way to do it? If it’s personal glory….well, feel free to promote yourself out there and see how long you last. But if you really think there is a better way to do work within your industry, there are a few things you might consider doing on your way to trailblazer status:

  • Be a Mad Scientist: Your current organization is a great testing ground for new ways to do things within your industry. Think of it as your own little laboratory. When you get some interesting results, start sharing it with people in your industry.
  • GET ON SOCIAL MEDIA: I know, I know…EVERYONE is on social media. You know why? Because it’s a great place to network with other people who do your job, too! You can talk to people, ask them how they’re handling certain issues, share your expertise. And you don’t have to go to awkward after-work happy hours to meet them, either. It’s like an introvert’s dream.
  • Put yourself out there: This is sort of related to the social media one, but has a broader focus. If you want to impact your industry, you need to see more of your industry. Go to conferences (if you can). Volunteer locally if there is an industry membership group nearby. Reach out to similar organizations and see if you could visit to learn a little more about what they do. Don’t bury yourself in your bubble and assume you’re a rock star because you have figured out your company’s system. You need to find out about other systems before you can help change the industry.
  • Publish your findings – successes and failures: Publishing might seem kind of formal, but depending on your industry, it could be the way to go. Or, you know, you could start a blog. Or maybe apply to speak at some of those industry conferences you’ve heard so much about. Sharing what you’re doing with people outside of your organization is the best way to get feedback on what you’re doing AND to help influence what is going on in the industry.

Does that sound like a lot of work? It can be. You’ve got a day job, and a lot of this may need to happen at lunch breaks, evenings and weekends. No one said change was easy, but if you really want to impact your industry, you may need to burn the midnight oil every once in awhile.

Oh, and one last thing you might think about as you embark on this quest….

  • Be okay with making YOUR company better: Sometimes it’s enough to make a difference at your own place of business. Not every change will be industry-changing – often, it’s enough to know you’ve made work better for the people around you. And really…isn’t that the best kind of change?
 
 

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Fight the good fight

Let’s face it – no matter what our aspirations, most of us leaders will never ascend beyond middle management. That’s because unless we are a CEO of a company without a board (or we are ALSO the board chair), we all answer to somebody.

This perpetual state of “rock, meet hard place” means that leaders are constantly being asked to implement ideas, policies, projects, and other shenanigans they absolutely do not agree with. And even more, they know their employees will not agree with them, either.

The challenge is always knowing when to fight and when to support. In general, the rule of thumb has always been “fight up, complain across, support down.” Which…mostly works. It’s important that leaders know how to pick their battles and when to gain and spend political capital.

On the other hand…

There are times when your team really needs to see that you’re fighting for them. They need to believe you, their leader, has their back when they aren’t around to see it. They need to see that you are human, that you recognize when a policy from the higher ups seems contrary to the organization’s stated values, and that you are willing to stick your neck out for something that’s important.

Leaders, you won’t win on these. Most of the time the decision has already been made and you’re basically just fighting a whirlwind. You’ll be told you have your marching orders and that it’s happening with or without you, so it might has well be with you.

How you decide to react to that statement is up to you.

What I can tell you is that your team notices when you fight for them and with them. They know most of these issues are a losing battle. They know you’re putting your neck on the line. And because of that, they will be in that battle with you.

That means you have to be smart. That means you fight when it matters, not when you’re feeling petty. That means you explain why you’re fighting – so make sure the reason is worthy.

Being a leader means finding a balance in that gray area of supporting the organization’s mission and purpose and railing against anything that seems to be against the mission and purpose. Being a leader means knowing you will fight many times, and you will lose.

But being a leader also means showing your employees that with power comes responsibility, and being a manager sometimes means pushing back on authority now and then when the issue is important. It shows your employee you support them…and you expect them to also push back when the issue is important. Because informed dissent breeds innovation, and permission to dissent respectfully builds trust.

Yes, leaders. You will lose the occasional battle. But you just might win the war.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in General Rant about Leading

 

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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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If I were king of the forest: in praise of managerial courage

I’m one of those people who lacks a strong natural filter.

I know – shocking, right?

I mean, I can have a filter – a damn good one. I’m very good at spinning a story to make it seem like it’s a good idea, or at the very least, not a horrible one. I’ve worked in tech startups, for crying out loud. I had to write press releases to make a letter of intent sound amazing even though we didn’t really have a product that worked. And I’ve work in Human Resources, for crying out loud. Do you know how many times I’ve had to “sell” a new policy or change in benefits? I can filter, dammit. It just takes effort.

king-of-the-forest

With a woof and a woof and a royal growl – woof.

 

So why am I talking about filters when I so clearly stated in the headline that I’d be talking about managerial courage? Because I think that filters sometimes overtake our willingness to be bold. We are so concerned with not ruffling feathers or rocking the boat or saying the wrong thing or looking a little silly that we turn the filter up to 11 and refuse to speak up and let things happen that shouldn’t. [I used ‘and’ a lot in that sentence. Oops.]

Leaders should exhibit managerial courage if they want to be successful. I’ve got reasons:

  • Innovation doesn’t come from being meek: Change happens because someone stands on a desk – metaphorically or otherwise – and yells they are MAD AS HELL AND AREN’T GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE. Courage means sometimes you have to do something unpopular to move forward.
  • Feisty managers can instill pride in a team: Employees know when bullshit is going down. They might not have the best spin detectors in the world, but they know enough to be able to tell when a bad idea is implemented. Managers who speak up appropriately against the craziness in their world show their teams that not every leader accepts the crap that rolls downhill. (You’ll notice I said ‘appropriately’ – that’s important.) Teams like a manager who stands up for what’s “right” – whatever that looks like.
  • Speaking out can foster healthy conflict: Not enough organizations know how to fight. Too many people seem to think debate = anger = personal attack. Can we stop thinking this? Seriously. Managerial courage requires leaders to accept the momentary discomfort of conflict and start an exchange of ideas, which leads to better decisions because people have learned to talked about the issue and not each other. Healthy conflict – good. Artificial harmony – bad.
  • Safe is boring: Ever heard the line Fortune favors the bold? No? Well, now you have. If you have ambition to move up in an organization or want to gain influence with your stakeholders, you’ll need to speak up. It creates opportunities for you to be viewed as a thinker – as someone who thinks big and isn’t afraid to share their big ideas. I don’t mean that you should naysay everything. Then you’re just an asshole. I mean you should accept a little risk in order to gain a bigger reward.
  • You learn how to fail: Not every episode of managerial courage will end with you draped in glory. In fact, you’ll most likely fail more often than not – especially early on. Each time you will refine your timing, target your message, and fine tune your approach. The powers that be will start listening, and even if you don’t change their minds this time, you’re depositing influence for a later discussion. It’s kind of like when a star player argues a foul call or a called strike. They know they won’t reverse the call…but it just might get the ref to lean towards their point of view the next time.

Being a leader is exhausting. You often feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle and all you get is blame and you never get the recognition. You’re responsible for a team of people who may or may not trust you, and may or may not care to be engaged at work. Oh, and if you’re like most people, you’re a “working leader” – meaning you have a whole bunch of deliverables due, too.  I think that’s why so many leaders shut down and decide to go along to get along – they just don’t have the energy to fight anymore.

Well, I say – fight, dammit. Step up to the plate and display your courage. You’ll energize yourself. You’ll energize your team. You’ll energize your organization.

Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
– Winston Churchill

 
 

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We’re failing our people

The Society for Human Resource Management – or SHRM – recently released some very interesting surveys around employee engagement and talent acquisition. Both reports have some very interesting information, so I highly suggest you download and give them a read.

As a leader and an HR professional, there were a few stats that stood out for me:

  • 88% of US employees reported overall satisfaction with their current jobs
  • 45% of US employees reported they were likely or very likely to look for a job outside their current organization within the next 12 months
  • 32% is the average turnover rate in the first 6 months for new employees
  • 26% of jobs are filled from internal candidates

Now, I’ve been known to find patterns and connections that are tenuous at best (don’t call me a conspiracy theorist…it’s really more of a hobby). But when I see these stats together, I’m inclined to make some leaps of logic, such as:

  • People are “satisfied” but would happily jump ship because they think there’s something better out there (read: “it’s all about the benjamins”)
  • 3/4 of our jobs have to be filled externally because we didn’t plan ahead
  • We’re doing a pretty crappy job of selecting the right people and/or onboarding them properly

In short, we seem to be failing our people as leaders. the-office-quotes-12-main

Yes – I’m pointing the finger at leaders right now. We’re the ones making the decisions. We create comp structures that incent employees to leave within two years (or is it three years) or lose earning power. We make lazy hiring decisions – either waiting too long to make a decision and thus lose the best candidate, or we settle for someone who isn’t really qualified because we just need a warm body.

And why are we making those lazy hiring decisions? Because we haven’t invested in employee development for a long time. The recession of 2007/2008 (and beyond) helped us justify cutting costs for developing our people – even though we know it would improve their performance, commitment and our bench strength. Oh, and it would also improve our managers, who impact our employees’ day-to-day lives. But hey…we really needed to save that $300,000 at the time. Right?

And so, we are playing catch up. Our workforce is facing a retirement wave. Yes, it was delayed by a down economy as people stayed in the workforce longer, but now people are leaving to enjoy their hard-earned retirement. So we have to hire external people to fill the leadership or more senior roles we should have been developing internally. And yes – a healthy mix of internal to external hires is preferable. But do you think it’s 25% to 75%? Really? Because our current employees see this happening and decide that there is no future for them at their current company…so they start looking.

We can make it better.

We can look at our employees’ development and decide to invest in them.

We can build Total Rewards programs that actually reward people. AND keep up with market increases. You don’t want to build base salary? Fine. Offer incentives/bonuses/whatever you want to call them. Build in some flexibility, too.

We can have conversations with our employees about their career goals, and then try to help them reach those goals. Will they always be at the current company? No. But that employee will remember you did that for them and share that story. And now you have an employer brand to be proud of.

You’ve all seen this old chestnut:

CFO asks CEO: What happens if we spend money training our people and then they leave?

CEO: What happens if we don’t and they stay?

Now replace “training” with “developing” or “investing in” or “caring about” our people. And realize that the CEO in this quote doesn’t need to worry.

The reality is, they won’t stay. They’ll find an organization that values them enough to invest in their future. And they’ll leave angry and bitter rather than inspired and grateful. And they won’t be our problem any more. And the cycle will repeat.

This is your call to action. This is your chance as a leader to use your voice and your influence to change the system. Show the business you mean business. Show your people you care.

Turn failure into success.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2016 in General Rant about Leading

 

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A skeptic’s view of happiness at work

The Intro Bit

If you know me, follow me on social media, or just make up a fake backstory about me (please make me a pirate), you probably realize that while I like to laugh and have fun, I’m not a particularly “up” person.

What I mean by that is I am not a Pollyanna who looks on the bright side of things and always believes things are all going to work out. I tend towards realism with a dose of cynicism. (And a side of eyeroll for good measure.)

So when the whole “happiness” thing started hitting the internet, I was skeptical.  It sounded like just another way of talking about work without having to have any data or research behind it beyond a Cosmo quiz. And deep down, I suspected Pharrell had something to do with it.

Therefore, I did what every good skeptic does. I researched it so I could debunk it.

The Sorta Science-y Bit

Here’s the thing – while some of the “science” out there is a little sketchy (or…a LOT sketchy), there is some really compelling evidence that happiness at work makes a difference to the success of an organization. The iOpener Institute has developed a happiness measure and released some findings in the Wall Street Journal – happy employees stay twice as long, are more likely to help their colleagues, are less likely to be absent, and are more efficient. (For more info, read this white paper.)

Basically, happy employees perceive themselves to be more connected to their organization and are therefore more likely to stay on task and are more likely to choose to be engaged at work than non-happy employees.I_want_to_believe5

The Skeptical Bit

While certain research points to some strong correlation between happiness and connection to business, there is no predictive model between happiness and business performance indicators.

Also, happiness sounds suspiciously like “satisfaction” to me – and you can have satisfied employees who are completely happy to do as little as possible at work. In fact, some research even suggests that job satisfaction has a NEGATIVE impact on productivity. So I’m curious to see more about additional research into this area.

The ‘Here’s How to Make it Work’ Bit

While still preliminary, there’s enough out there to point to definite benefits to supporting happiness at work. As leaders and HR professionals, you are in the perfect position to help employees make the choice to be happy, thereby gaining some positive outcomes for the workplace.  As employees, no matter what your role, you have the power to decide about your own happiness at work.

Some things to keep in mind as you embark on the journey to Work Happyland:

  • Happiness is unique to each person: One of the reasons a predictive model is so hard to find is because “happy” means different things to different people. Watching this video of a tiny horse trotting makes me ridiculously happy. Other people prefer NASCAR. So you have to be willing to adapt to the needs of your team and organization.
  • The pressure to be happy can bum you out: One psychological experiment reported by the Harvard Business Review suggests that the increased expectation of employees to build an “upbeat” workplace can lead to resentment – having the opposite effect on the workplace. Don’t force your people to smile all the time. Create environments where happiness can happen organically.
  • Sometimes, it’s okay to work angry: Some people are more focused, able to detect deception, and negotiate WAY better when they have a little edge. Keep in mind that sometimes happiness can hurt productivity and quality, so don’t be worried if someone isn’t giddy all the time.
  • Help folks set boundaries: We continue to blend work and life more and more – and it’s stressing people out. By making it okay for your employees to leave home at home and work at work, you give them permission to save their best selves for when they need it most.

The research in this area is still emerging, so I am keeping my eyes and ears open as we learn more about happiness at work. I also reserve my right to roll my eyes every now and then if you try to tell me it’s a standalone metric, or if you try to be all obnoxious about it.

On the other hand, my inner skeptic wants to be believe. After all, we spend A LOT of time at work. So why not at least try to make it a happy place to be?


 

Want to join me in learning more about happiness and other good stuff in the workplace? Come to the WorkHuman 2016 Conference in Orlando, May 9-11, 2016. To register, go to  and use promo code WH16MF300 for $300 off.  THAT should make you happy!

 

 

 

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