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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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Leaders know their business (Yes, even HR)

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I work in the world of Human Resources. I think it gives me an interesting perspective on how people interact in the workplace, so I write a blog about it. Write what you know, they always say.

I typically focus on leadership (being led and doing the leading) because I think that relationship has some of the greatest influence on the success or failure of a business plan. No matter how great your business strategy is, if you can’t get people to work together well, you’re doomed.

Every once in awhile, I do like to focus back on my HR-centric world. Partially because it’s what I really know, but also because I think it’s useful for leaders and employees to get a glimpse into what happens in HR. Sometimes it’s good to look behind the curtain. From time to time, I also focus on HR because I’m perplexed and a bit miffed at what employees of all walks think HR should and shouldn’t do.

This is one of those posts.Head in Hands

I was speaking at a local HR event recently, and got to talking to one of the attendees. Turns out, he wasn’t really “true” HR, he was the head of operations; and in his organization, HR fell under his purview. So, to his credit, he felt like he should learn more about HR. Good for him.I like when people try to learn a little bit about the groups who report to them.

He asked what I do and where I work, and because of that, we started talking about the water crisis in Flint, MI. He didn’t really know what was going on, so I gave him an overview of the issues, why it’s a scary thing, where things may have broken down, and what we were doing in OUR community to educate our customers about our process and assure that we had the right measures in place to ensure Flint doesn’t happen here.

He was gobsmacked.

Seriously. He was shocked that I knew about my industry, knew what was going on across the country, and knew how my organization was responding to the situation,  both internally and externally.

I said, “But it’s my job to know my business.” And he said, “But…you’re in HR.”

Sigh.

Listen. I am a leader. You are a leader. As leaders, WE ARE REQUIRED TO KNOW OUR BUSINESS. You wouldn’t have that reaction to a marketing manager, would you? You wouldn’t be all shocked that an operations manager knew the business, right? So why be surprised when HR approaches it the same way.

HR leaders, Operations leaders, Sales leaders – we all have the same role, just in different functions. We should have the same expectations placed on us regarding our industry, our business, our customer base, our trends, our threats…all of it. Yes, we have unique expertise, but we apply that expertise to the same organization.

So the next time an HR leader wants to sit in on your staff meeting, don’t freak out. Recognize the action for what it is – a desire to learn more about the business so they can help you be successful.

It’s our job.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2016 in General Rant about Leading

 

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Recruiting Animal! This year’s honoree for (the increasingly inaccurately named) ‘Tim Sackett Day’

You might think that all bloggers know each other. That’s not true.

We just act like we do.

Part of that is because we recognize that this world that we live in – particularly the HR blogosphere (yeah, I hate that word, too) – is a unique thing. We have a lot to say about a lot of different topics, yet ultimately, we acknowledge that all of these voices have a role to play and we love it when one of our own has a chance to be exalted by the masses.

And that’s where the annual Tim Sackett Day comes in.

Started in 2011-ish, Tim Sackett Day came about because Tim Sackett was (and is) a blogger and HR guy who couldn’t seem to get any love from the makers of lists.  So the blogger community got together and recognized one of their own.  This has grown into an annual tradition of giving a communal “shout out” to those who have greatness in their hearts, in their heads, and in their blogs.

This year, we recognize Recruiting Animal.  recruitinganimal.PNG

Obviously, the name alone is enough to get him on pretty much any list. I mean…seriously.  That, and the hat.

But ultimately, we recognize Recruiting Animal because he is a true pioneer of social HR. Don’t believe me? Check out the timeline:

  • 2004: Animal creates his very first blog.
  • April 2006:  The Recruiting Animal Blog is born. The format is pretty much the same today as it was back then. Substance over style, baby!
  • March 2007: Not content with the written interaction afforded by the blog, Animal founded the Recruiting Animal Show – the VERY FIRST online call-in show about recruiting. It’s outrageous, funny, thought provoking, in your face, and damn good.  It was at this time that Recruiting Animal joined Twitter. No one really knew what it meant, but Animal was appropriately wary of the belief that Twitter was the promised land for recruiters.
  • 2009: Manifesto video created. Okay, not really a manifesto, but a witty, smart,  realistic look at why social media doesn’t pay but still fricking matters. (The whole thing is worth a watch, but head to the 7:40 minute mark for the meat of it.)
  • The present: The legend continues…

If you are at all interested in HR blogs, then you probably know of Laurie Ruettimann (and if you don’t, you should!). Laurie had this to say about Recruiting Animal:

Animal blazed a trail on social media that allowed people like me (and you) to get on the internet without a lot of risks. And Animal provides you with coverage, whether you know this or not. He’s so outrageous in his big Canadian hat that he makes the things we say and do seem like no big deal…. His heart is as big as Toronto.

I don’t personally know Recruiting Animal. But I know of him. And I know people who think the world of him…and that says a helluva lot.

So (big furry Canadian) hats off to this year’s Tim Sackett Day honoree, Recruiting Animal! Keep doing what you do – we’ll all “get it” one of these days.


If you want to find Recruiting Animal online, you’ve got lots of choices:

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2016 in Skillz

 

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Who is your feedback for…really?

Last night, I sang in a holiday concert with my local community chorus. I love singing, especially Christmas music, and especially with other people who love it, too. We’re not professional or anything, but we have a great time and typically, that’s all that matters.

After the concert, one of the audience members came up to tell me he thought we did great and he liked my solos (I had solos. I’ve got a music background, but that’s not super relevant to this post). I thanked him and said I hope he enjoyed the concert. He then proceeded to tell me that I should really pin my hair back because it’s distracting. And then walked off.

Um…thanks?

This incident wasn’t horrible – I think the guy thought he was giving helpful advice. And he really did enjoy the concert. It just sounded too much like other “feedback” I’ve gotten in my career, especially as a speaker. I’ve yet to speak anywhere (at a conference, as a facilitator internally, etc.) where appearance wasn’t brought up in the feedback. That could be shoes, clothes, whatever. And then there are the comments of “I didn’t learn anything new.”

I bring this up not to rant, nor do I begrudge those folks their right to share their thoughts. After all, I ask for that feedback, right? I bring it up because leaders and employees talk about feedback all the time but I don’t think it’s working. not-listening

Employees say they want feedback, then get surly when they get the truth.

Leaders say they give feedback, yet so often it’s either too vague or too “nice” to make a difference.

Feedback doesn’t work when it’s done with the wrong intentions. Employees who ask for feedback only if it’s positive are just looking for an ego stroke. Leaders who give vague feedback are just trying to check a box without having to have the difficult conversations. Even worse are the leaders who give only negative (please don’t try to call it “constructive” all the time) feedback because they feel threatened by a strong employee.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about asking for and/or giving feedback:

  • Be specific about what you’re looking for: a blanket request for feedback results in all manner of crazy responses. Instead, give the responders some context. “I’m trying to improve my eye contact in meetings. How did I do?” Or “In my last project, I felt like I struggled a bit with organization. How might I get better at that?”
  • Make the feedback actionable by the recipient: When you’re giving feedback to someone, make sure it’s something they can control. Telling someone the lights were bad in the ballroom doesn’t help. They don’t do the lighting. Nor is it helpful to give feedback about the way the finance department handled the hand-off to them in their project. Unless they run the finance department, they can’t really do anything about that. Instead, you can give them suggestions on how to better prepare the materials so that finance is ready to accept the handoff.
  • Find the trends in the feedback: We’re human beings – we like to think we’re AMAZING. And perfect. And special unicorns. So when we get feedback that stings, we look for reasons to reject it.  We think that person doesn’t like us, or they don’t know us, or they don’t know what they’re talking about. But when 5 people tell you similar things about your performance or behavior, you might want to take it to heart a bit. Look for the repeated themes and take the feedback with an open mind.
  • Check yo-self: Why do you want to give someone feedback? Is their behavior a career-limiting issue? Or are they just doing something differently from how YOU would do it? Really think about the intent of your feedback. It should be about helping the other person reach their full potential – not to make you look and/or feel better.

When you can ask for and receive feedback without ulterior motive, and with a pure heart, you will have reach feedback nirvana. Until then, just keep an eye on your motivation.

You may be surprised by how well the feedback works.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2015 in Clarity, Engagement

 

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