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Pick Me…Ohh Ohh Pick Me!

March 3, 2010 4 comments

I was not one of those kids who was picked first on the playground nor was I the one who was picked last.  Average performer…story of my life.  I can distinctly recall, though, feeling a pit in my stomach watching those last two kids waiting to be picked – each hoping they wouldn’t be the last.  And then the look of disappointment, rejection, and confidence drain from that last kid.  Tough times on the playground.  But I suppose it’s a good lesson for later in life.  One can’t always be first, and sometimes you’ll be last. 

Opportunities to invite, include, or exclude abound in the workplace.  Whether it’s a conference call, a meeting, a business trip, a lunch, a dinner, or a boondoggle.  Someone is always going to feel left out.  Still happens to me – there’s a meeting going on right now with my executive peers in another city and I wasn’t invited.  That’s cool, though.  I understand why I’m not there and don’t expect someone to justify my absence.  Yes, I’m a big boy now.  None the less, I have some thoughts on inclusion in the workplace.

  • You can’t include every one all the time.  And it is nearly impossible to avoid bruised feelings.
  • Too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the pot and the same applies to too many business people at the conference table.
  • HOWEVER…when in doubt, over-include.
  • If someone is excluded, take the time to debrief them off-line after it’s all over.  That way they won’t feel like the “secret society” continues.
  • If you’re the one excluded, let it go.  If it eventually becomes a habit, talk with your boss (not your peers.) If it continues, start looking for another job.
  • If you’re one of those included and you go out of your way to rub it someone else’s face and flaunt your attendance like you’re something special, get a grip…you’re nothing but an asshole. (My Mom taught me never to talk with other people about parties you were invited to unless those people tell you specifically that they were invited too).

The more I think about it, there are a lot of things we could learn from our days on the playground that would help us in the workplace.  As it relates to inclusion, just try to be a bit more thoughtful about it.

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Trust? Screw that.

February 10, 2010 4 comments

Most organizational experts list Trust as an important element of optimally performing teams.  Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests, “Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people.”   In Trust Rules: How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in Work and Life, Linda Stroh acknowledges that “betrayal is bad for everyone” and “without organizational trust, the focus of every transaction revolves around issues of determining who has control and ensuring no one gets more than that to which they’re entitled.”  Pick your favorite leadership guru, “trust” is all over their work.  It’s important, I get it.  But I say it’s also idealistic. 

I told my wife last night that, “I would absolutely love my job if it weren’t for this one person.”  That one person happens to be some one who has betrayed and abused my trust one time too many.  But here’s the problem: 1) He/she has an important role in the organization so he/she isn’t going anywhere any time soon, 2) I’ve tried to address the trust issue head on with him/her to no avail, 3) It’s really hard to play the role of unbiased HR professional when the issues you’re addressing relate to a peer who shares a boss with you.  It’s that third issue that brings me to my first recommendation to HR leaders out there: Have an explicit agreement with your boss on who your HR representative is in the event you need one.  It may be another HR leader, it may be corporate counsel, it may even be an HR representative who reports to you.  Either way, it should be agreed in advance that by using said representative you deliberately separate yourself from your role as HR advisor and take on the role of employee.  With that understanding you should feel more comfortable getting the same kind of support on your issues that you are dedicated to providing the rest of the company.  Here’s my next recommendation: Screw Trust!  Trust is for people you love, for people who love you.  Trust is for people your livelihood depends upon.  Trust is for people who actually matter.  But trust in the workplace is fleeting.  Yes, you should strive to be trustworthy; but unless you are a firefighter, a soldier, or a trapeze artist it’s naive to count on others to be trustworthy.  Sorry, it just is.  Try to give the benefit of the doubt, stay optimistic, have faith, have respect, strive to understand, build strong working relationships.  But keep a healthy sense of skepticism about any one and every one.  Don’t become paralyzed by paranoia, but watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing.  I’m here to tell you: workplaces are not designed for trustworthiness…trust me on this.

Field Trip!

January 10, 2010 3 comments

When’s the last time you took your HR team on a field trip?  Has each person on your team actually spent time at the point of delivery or on the “shop floor?”  And I’m not talking about a “walk through”.  I’m talking about a hands-on experience.  We’re in the business of providing refractive laser surgery (Lasik) to tens of thousands of people every year.  I urge each of my people who wears contacts or glasses to experience our services in the most intimate way possible…as a patient.  So far everyone who is a candidate for Lasik on my team has actually had surgery or has at least been in for a consult.  It surprises me, though, how many people in our corporate practice have never even set foot in one of our centers.  And unfortunately HR is notorious for not wanting to get its hands dirty – for dancing only on the fringes of what really goes on out there.

Walking the halls is one thing.  Rubbing elbows is another.  So ask your boss for the chance to shadow someone out in the field; become an apprentice; volunteer your time; watch, listen, ask questions, show interest…be interested!  Not only will it teach you a ton about what actually makes your job as an HR professional possible…and neccessary…but it will also demonstrate your commitment to partnering with the business better than anything else could.  And by the way, it’s HR’s responsibility to make sure there’s a lot of this going on in other functions too.  Cross-pollination is the only way to explode the flora and fauna of the workplace.

Hey Boss, I Gotta List for You…

December 29, 2009 4 comments

I’ve had it with new year’s resolutions.  I’m more into taking it one day at a time and focusing only on those things that I can control.  I suck at that, but I’m trying.  I’ve had a rough end of the year at work.  Nothing major, just a confluence of things amounting to a big load of crap.  My boss has something to do with that.  I got into it with him on Christmas Eve, lost my temper, blah blah blah.  I’ll take some blame, for sure.  But I decided that in the spirit of providing multi-dimensional feedback, I would put together a list of new year’s resolutions for him.  My life – and that of my peers – would be more pleasurable if my boss resolved to do the following in 2010.

CENSORED*

Hey, that was kind of cathartic.  I have more, but I’ll leave it at that for now.  All in all I really like my boss – there is much more positive about him than negative and he’s an easy target.  But the aforementioned kills me…and sometimes pushes me right to the edge.  Maybe some of these things would be on your list of resolutions for your boss too.   Give it a shot…share some of your own…don’t worry, I won’t tell…

*After several days of stewing, I thought it best to remove the actual list

What I learned from the MO Department of Transportation…

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Interstate 64/Highway 40 runs East/West and cuts through the center of St. Louis.  It is a major artery between the city’s business center and suburban sprawl.  And two years ago, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODot) completely shut down a 10 mile stretch to rebuild it. This morning, the entire thoroughfare was reopened and the flow of traffic hummed once again with jubilant commuters across the state.  MODot took an approach during this two-year period that critics warned couldn’t be done.  You should have heard the cries of injustice when the project was originally proposed.  “It will be impossible,” people said, “to function without at least a small portion of this highway remaining open from end-to-end.”  There were many who strongly felt that keeping at least one lane open at all times with a maddening and stagnant flow of traffic would be preferable to rerouting commuters entirely.  Chicken Little warned that the community and its commerce would disintegrate.  Finally, and thankfully, those experts with cooler heads prevailed.  They pushed the political posturing and strong-armed tactics aside.  And now the project has opened ahead of schedule, under budget, and without fail

This is a perfect example of why non-experts who say “it can’t be done” need to be very simply excluded from the conversation – like “thanks for coming, but it’s time for you to go bye bye now.”  We often run around trying to give everyone a voice in important decisions…and we do this alot in HR.  Well guess what, that’s just not the way the world runs.  There are usually people who are smarter, faster, stronger, and all around better than you are at something and when it’s time to make a decision about that something, you need to get the hell out of the way.  Do you ever notice that many business leaders are strongly inclined to insert themselves into HR decisions?  How dare you pretend you’re smarter than I about something I do for a living…successfuly.  Relinquish control, you self-riteous bastard, and learn to trust your colleagues and your peers to make thoughtful and thorough decisions about the things you hired them to do.  I’ll collaborate with you on HR stuff until I’m freakin’ ready to scream as long as you ultimately leave the final decision to me…and as long as you give me room to make that decision.  If you’re not in that kind of environment, it might be time to take a stronger stance and kick those non-experts out of the room.

The Power of Fine Dining

December 2, 2009 Leave a comment

I had dinner last night with my boss, our company’s CEO.  We do this from time to time.  Sometimes it’s with others, sometimes it’s one-on-one.  Last night two of my peers joined us.  I had a boss once who made it a point to not socialize with his colleagues outside of work (actually, I think it was at his wife’s insistence).  I didn’t like that boss.  Not that one has to socialize to be liked, but it says a lot about one’s style if they make socialization a part of their approach to leading, developing, and engaging their people.  Maybe it’s the wine (and the Manhattans), but I always leave the table feeling more valuable, less anxious about my shortcomings, and more optimistic about our future.  And my trust in my boss and peers escalates immediately.

Again, we’re not talking rocket science here.  And again, that’s the point.  This meal required a 3 hour investment of time and several hundred dollars…the return on that investment is far more lucrative than any performance management process, learning tool, or compensation scheme.  When’s the last time you took your greatest asset to dinner (lunch doesn’t count)?  If it’s longer than 60 days, I’d recommend a quick jaunt out to OpenTable.

HR is a Commodity…Make it an Experience

November 12, 2009 3 comments

experienceIf you’re in business, generally you sell a product or a service.  That product or service, based on a multitude of factors, is received by consumers in some experiential way.  On one end of the continuum, you have a “commodity.”  You can get it at a number of places, it’s pretty much the same wherever you get it.  “Goods” come next as you move up the curve.  There’s a way to differentiate those goods from your competitors through content or through delivery.  Next comes “Service” which has a continuum all of its own – from poor to excellent.  Finally comes an “Experience.”  The Experience may involve a product and/or a service, but it goes beyond the traditional commerce of buy and sell.  The consumer leaves that transaction with a memory, or an impression, or an emotion.  Disney World, for example, offers lots of products and services; most people, however, will tell you that what they love most about it is “the experience” (e.g. I lost my camera and not only did the park find the camera and return it to my hotel, but they presented me with a Disney frame to use after I print pictures.)  If you’re in charge of HR – or have some influence on how it provides goods and services to your employees – take a moment to assess whether your practice is closer to providing a commodity or an experience.  Just to be clear: providing timely paychecks, keeping people benefited, creating a safe and fair workplace, managing annual evaluations, responding to employee questions – those are commodities.  You do those things extremely well, and you’ll be luck to get “duh” out of your employees. 

When someone has a negative experience with HR, they’ll tell everyone.  When someone has a neutral experience with HR, they’ll tell no one.  When someone has a “difference making” experience, they’ll become your champion.  Let the goods and services be your platform, but make the experience your niche.