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In the Weeds

For those of you not familiar with the expression (in a professional office/work environment), “getting into the weeds” on something, here is what it means – simply put, it means that you are too focused on the lower level details of a particular issue and as such, you are not able to deal with the bigger picture (re. more important) stuff. The expression is often used before or after meetings to refer to someone that is not focused on the right issues and /or the right type of information and communication.

WeedsFrom an HR perspective, as we continue to try and deal with our inferiority complex and make sure we are always “adding value”, being in the weeds on an issue is the quickest way to show your operations clients that you are not capable of dealing with higher level issues and by default, not able to add any value.

In fact, nothing drives me crazy more than when I am in a room/meeting with a bunch of HR folks to discuss an important HR issue (something like rolling out a new compensation system) and the focus shifts away from discussing the high level communication strategy and change management approach to how “Sally in accounts payable will hear about this because she only works 3 days a week and is offsite for two of those days.” Seriously, I can’t even begin to count how many HR meetings have degenerated into this type of approach where HR folks get so caught up on the low level details and exception based circumstances, they actually stagnate the purpose of the meeting!

Now, take that same approach and do that in front of your operations clients and you can imagine the results. Imagine for a minute (or maybe you don’t have to) that you are asked to attend a meeting that your organization’s operational leadership is having. The topic of the meeting is to discuss the impact and communication of how your major client is going to be introducing a change in how they assess the quality of your products and services. Once you hear of the details of the change and the way ahead, you begin to focus on why communicating on the company intranet site is not good because the assembly workers don’t have access to email when at work and that you are concerned how we don’t have a new quality review sheet from the client yet and you “know that Bobby in QC will have a meltdown if we don’t have a new sheet ready when we communicate. “

Now, if you don’t think this stuff happens, well, I have a bridge for sale that you might be interested in. This stuff happens all the time and it kills HR credibility. We need to focus on the big picture stuff and the 80% solution. That is, if something works for 80% of the staff/company, etc. than you can figure out a way for the other 20%. Don’t get bogged down in too many of the details; especially as you deal with more senior staff in your organizations. Big picture/80% solution stuff is what will get you recognized and remembered for adding value.

So, next time you are at a meeting and this stuff (types of discussion) starts to happen, make sure you and the team doesn’t get into the weeds. Focus on the problem/issue at hand and try and deliver on an 80% solution – everything else can be localized and dealt with on a case by case basis. Keep in mind, anytime you are starting your sentences with (and repeating this phrase), “yes, but what about “______”, I guarantee that you are in the weeds and you need to GET OUT NOW! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of SweetCrisis/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Find Your Passion & Fuel your Profession

The reality for far too many people in the workforce today is that they feel trapped in their jobs. They want to do something else, they feel their skillsets aren’t being fully utilized, or overall they feel a disconnect with the company they work for. If you read enough career management articles and blog posts, most of them will tell you to find something else, quit your job, make the change, you only live once, etc. The truth for a lot of folks is that they simply can’t do that. They can’t (or maybe won’t) for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The job provides a nice work/life balance
  • Their current commute is very manageable
  • The first two points are important to them as they have parental or elder care responsibilities
  • They enjoy the people they work with (not necessarily for)
  • They have been with the company a long time and don’t want to give up their pension or other accrued retirement benefits
  • The medical plan is great and it supports their current personal situation
  • They are scared of change and “starting over”

FlamesI know that at first glance, some (or all) of these reasons may look like excuses from the outside looking in. The truth is that without fully understanding a person’s circumstance, these may all be very valid reasons to not change jobs and no, that isn’t a cop out. People reach certain major milestones in their lives (student debt paid off, 1st child, sick kids/daycare, 1st child to college, aging parents, etc.) that drive a lot of their career decision making.

Here is the thing, it is my opinion (and it is only that, an opinion) that in most cases, there is no such thing as a perfect job. There is no ultimate job and company were you get to use your full skillset day in and day out AND you have a great boss that gives you autonomy and independence but provides a great level of coaching and guidance AND the company has a super inclusive benefits package AND you have a phenomenal work-life balance AND you have the most awesome co-workers ever AND you are paid top of market wages. Usually one or two of these things are a bit out of alignment or have some imperfections, so we all have to figure what the most important things are to us. The great thing about going through is exercise is that the final outcome or decision might not be that your job sucks or that you have to change, it is that once you realize what is important to you, you may realize that your current situation might not be that bad!

Here is the real beauty of all of this – there are ways to make your current job better and it is something that you can fully control. I am a big believer in aligning yourself with your profession (assuming it is your chosen profession). So, if you find your overall job is not giving you everything you need, it may not be a matter of moving on, but of finding your passion and fueling your profession. What I mean, it that you need to find ways to get more involved with others in your profession. Perhaps it is via professional development lunches, dinners and other networking events. It could also be through chamber of commerce events, via a volunteer board of directors or even start out by connecting via social media. Get out of your comfort zone and your office and look beyond the four walls of current office. There is a great big world out there that you can be a part of that will enrich your overall work experience. Think of all of this as building and enhancing your professional brand.

Other ways to give back to your profession, that you can own and drive, include doing things like speaking and presenting at the aforementioned events as well as at conferences. Do you have something to share? Then speak about it! Give back to your profession. Align with your profession. Fuel your profession by finding your passion! Take all those great ideas you have and things you want to try and speak about them. Position yourself as a person of knowledge and ultimately influence in your profession. Develop your brand and accelerate your exposure through LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Start a blog and write about some of these things. There are many great ways to move beyond the mundane if you are feeling trapped. Take control of your career. Remember, you own your career and your profession – fuel them! As always, I welcome your feedback and comments.

Photo courtesy of arztsamui/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Change is in the air?

There is something about the fall season that seems to bring about the desire for change. Whether it is the shift to colder temperatures, the changing of the leaves or the fact that everyone is back in the swing of things with kids and their school routine, the theme of change seems to permeate into everything we do this season.

To that extent, I have also been seeing this (need for change) a lot lately with friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Specifically, based on phone calls, emails and coffee meetings I have been having, a lot of people in my inner circle seem to be contemplating job changes. Based on the sheer number of these discussions, I thought it might be of some value to summarize the advice that I have been giving most of these folks when they are making this job change decision.

Fall LeavesTypically these discussions start out with the person I am meeting with telling me all about this great opportunity that they have either applied for, are contemplating applying for, been approached about, are interviewing for or have been offered. I then try and take the person through an accounting exercise whereby I get them to list the pluses and minuses about the job in terms of what they see, think and feel at present. While this may seem obvious and trivial, I have found that you really need to evaluate what you are truly getting with a potential new job and sometimes you miss the less obvious things – you know, the ones that will ultimately determine if you have made the right move or not (and will happy in the new role).

Some of the factors that I try and draw people’s attention to in so far as what they need to consider, are things like:

  • Does the new job represent a lateral move or upward move?
    • If lateral, are you ok with that and/or is that what you want?
    • If lateral, how do you explain making the change? i.e. what are your change drivers?
    • If lateral, what are you gaining anything in terms of industry experience, organizational size, compensation, etc.?
  • If upward, what are you gaining in terms of role size, scope, responsibility, accountability or autonomy? I.e. how will this look good on your resume and how does it enhance your personal brand?
  • Are you being swayed by non-value added factors? I.e. better title, better office, better “perks.”
    • Are these truly important to you and they are worth making a wholesale change for?
  • What level (of person) does the job report into?
    • Again, move beyond title and look at overall organizational structure and impact.
  • What is the mix of strategic vs. operational (i.e. tasks) responsibility in the role?
  • To what degree are you going to be able to make an impact?
  • Does this represent a positive step in your mid to long term career path/objective?
  • Does it represent an opportunity to increase your scope as a manager? Or how does it increase your ability to specialize as an individual contributor?
  • Does the role have a local or regional flavor to it?
  • If this ends up not being what you thought it was, or wanted it to be, how will you explain this to a recruiter and/or future potential employer. I.e. what is your “why” explanation?

What I try and get people to look at is whether or not they are being seduced by a nice title, a bit more pay, or a perceived “sexier” industry. This analyses becomes all the more important if someone is contemplating a change when they are unhappy in their current role, with their current company or current boss or are in fear of being laid off. We tend not to make the most objective decisions during those times of high stress.

Ultimately, the question and decision comes to deciding whether or not you are going to “gain” by making a move. (keep in mind, the definition of gain varies from person to person.) Along with the points mentioned above, there is also the consideration of whether or not you will learn a new skillset or have a chance to apply some skills that you don’t get to use in your current role. This is what is commonly referred to as the growth factor. What I advise people to not do is “lift and shift” unless it is unavoidable (i.e. lay off, avoid harassment, etc.) That is, don’t take exactly what you are doing now and lift and shift that into a new company. While the faces and places might change for you, it will only be a short term gain for potential long term pain – that is, you will be back to where you were with your old company in terms of job dissatisfaction.   Again, evaluate (based on the points above) if it truly represents an opportunity for you or is it “a way out.” In the long run, a way out won’t provide the job satisfaction that you owe to yourself. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of franky242/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you can’t change the people, change the people

Without a doubt this has to be one of my favourite sayings. I am not sure when or where I first heard it; however, it has stuck with me for many years and I believe it to be the foundation of good leadership, management and human resource practices. For HR Pros, it really cuts to the heart of what we do initially from a talent management perspective. Talent Management is all about onboarding, training, development, workplace cultural integration and building your bench strength.

Time for changeIn many ways, talent management is about trying to change the people. It focuses on changing the people that your talent acquisition folks have brought into your organization. In this case, change refers to how you culturally integrate and onboard new hires. It is imperative that this “change” is managed properly because if you want to retain the talent you have hired, your HR folks and leaders need to effectively onboard your new people and expose them to your workplace norms, values and culture so as to ensure an effective transition into the new workplace. Effective talent management groups, along with great leaders, are very adept at helping new folks navigate this process and integrate into their workplace which results in those great 1st year retention metrics we are all striving for! The best HR Pros and managers are great at leveraging their new hires knowledge, skills, abilities and differences to help them “fit in” all the while allowing them to maintain their own individual identities and unique differences – leveraging diversity.

The challenge for HR Pros, managers and leaders comes down the road when your new hires, who may not be so new anymore, are not performing or are struggling with adapting to the organizational values for which you stand. For reasons of clarity and brevity I am going to assume the following things have taken place up to this point (i.e. when the “struggles” have started.)

1) If the reasons for the employee’s struggles are performance based, a detailed performance improvement plan has been put in place, regular communication has taken place, and clear performance objectives have been established and are being measured.

2) If the reasons’ for the struggles are more related to conduct – i.e., not accepting core values, demonstrating core competencies, etc., then the manager and employee have been meeting regularly and their coaching sessions have been focused on modelling the appropriate behaviours.

Big assumptions I know, but work with me on this one folks! So assuming those things have happened and there has been an appropriate amount of time over which these conversations and coaching sessions have taken place, it may be time to consider changing the people. What I am getting at here is that the organization has taken all the right steps up to this point during the employee life cycle. They have effectively onboarded and oriented the employee, they have outlined clear performance goals and objectives (with measures) and provided coaching and support of these goals; including the modeling of organizational values. The thing is, sometimes it just doesn’t work out! If, organizationally speaking, you can look back and put hand on heart and state that you have done all the right things and made the right attempts to “change the people,” than you have to make the decision to change the people.

The worse thing that companies (managers) do is to continue to employ someone after it is obvious that they are not going to change – either their performance or their attitude. The best thing you can do for them, the company and your current employees is to let them go – in essence, change the people.  As I said before, if you have done all the right things and made the attempts to change them, and it simply isn’t working out, than you have to change the people.

Truth be told, I have seen this scenario play out countless times and typically, when you change the people, if the reasons were performance based, the person being let go is often relieved. They probably hated everyday of their job coming in to work to do something they just couldn’t do or didn’t want to do. If you are changing the people because of conduct (attitude) reasons, your current staff will thank you. They will appreciate that you have removed a cancerous co-worker from their midst and they can now focus on their own productivity! It demonstrates, organizationally, that you committed to your core values and to performance. Your good folks will see this and respect the decisions that have been made.

So, as managers, leaders and HR Pros, I firmly believe that we owe it to our employees and our organizations to manage our people according to this mantra. We need to give serious consideration to adopting this saying as a way of running our HR departments, operations groups and businesses as a whole. Remember, at the end of the day, if you can’t change the people, than you need to change the people – and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Most Important Skill to have as a Leader

There are many articles, blog posts and debates out “there” that argue what the greatest skill is that you need to be an effective leader. I have read, heard and seen a variety of opinions on this over the years and truth be told, most of the information make great cases for the (combo of)skills that make up a great leader. Things like:

• Humble
• Calm under pressure
• Decisive
• Empathetic
• Balanced approach
• Even-tempered
• Direct
• Discreet
• Confident
• Ability to inspire others

The list goes on and on and can be endless as there is no debating that “positive” qualities and skills are associated with being a good leader. To me, and based on my experience, there is one skill that sets all great leaders apart. That skill is the ability to LISTEN. Far too many individuals in leadership roles spend too much time doing the opposite – talking and telling. When you really think about it, your ability to listen will truly Listeningmake you a great leader for many reasons as it ties into everything you do as a leader.

At its core, when you effectively listen, you are taking in information. This in turn allows you to make better decisions as you have more information at your disposal with which to make these decisions. Additionally, when you are listening, you are becoming in tune to the situation at hand and thus are able to be empathetic when dealing with your direct reports. You are also able to more effectively coach your staff and make them better at what they do when you are listening to them instead of telling them what to do.

By utilizing great listening skills and leveraging them as a strength, you are also able to more effectively engage your staff as you consider their ideas, thoughts and inputs – thus improving employee engagement and communication. In turn, you will also get a better feel for which of your staff have the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to most effectively do their jobs, so in turn, you will be able to better performance management your entire team.

Effective listening also gives you credibility as an enabler of change, which is a core quality (and requirement) of a strong leader. Think about it – leaders who effectively listen to their people are the ones that are able to turn that information around and engage others in the change process. They are able to overcome the true obstacles in the way of progress and change and thus are able to engage all stakeholders in the change process, thus getting buy-in at all the critical stages.

The ability to listen allows true leaders to more effectively manage team conflict and improve group dynamics. By truly listening to what your team is telling you, and by focusing on the issues not the people themselves, you can provide true leadership to your teams through effective conflict resolution skills and thus achieve a more productive and cohesive work unit.

Strong listening skills will also make you more adept at performance management and in developing your employees. Strong listening skills means you are able to make a connection between employee development (desires) and organizational need(s), thus providing a win-win solution. If you are not listening, you essentially end up telling employees what they are going to do with their careers. This may be a short term win for the organization, but will ultimately be a loss when that employee leaves due to feeling stagnated in their role.

Finally, by displaying strong listening skills, you will instill confidence in your staff. Your staff want to know that they have a voice and have been heard. Good leaders, that are strong listeners, are able to balance when it is time to take this approach vs. when a decision simply has to be made. By being an active listener on a regular basis, employees are more accepting (and sometimes appreciative) when a leader simply has to make the tough decisions. You have established organizational “cred” through your previously displayed listening skills so employees won’t doubt that you made the best possible decisions when push comes to shove, while considering all the alternatives.

What about you? What do you feel is the most important skill for a leader? Does everything tie back to being a strong listener? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Check in the Box – Not!

A growing and disturbing trend I have been seeing in organizations over the past 2-3 years has been the “check box” approach to managing. Simply put, organizational leadership pushes things down to its management team for it to complete. Managers are then rated as either successfully completing (or not) the assigned tasks. The outcome, whether desired or not, is that nothing actually takes root within the organization – there is simply an exercise that takes place that I refer to as, “a check in the box.”

Check in the box - poorFor example, many organizations have a formal performance review process. Instead of leadership teams working with their management teams on the importance of goal setting, feedback and coaching, the focus is on the completion of a performance review document by a certain date. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether the actual performance review is of any substance or quality, what is most important to the company is that the review is completed, delivered and signed off in advance of some organizational target date – a check in the box. The review becomes a moment in time- something the company, its managers and employees did. It is never referred to again, it doesn’t form part of the culture and it certainly isn’t leveraged as a change agent within the company to facilitate growth and development.

Employee surveys are another activity that I see fall into this category time and time again. Companies survey their staff, because, well they are supposed to, or some HR person told them that they have to. So, the company spends all kinds of dollars to survey their staff and have some high quality reports generated for them. Then, they check off on their “to-do list” that the survey is completed. They don’t go any further with the info or try to make changes; however, they consider themselves successful because the survey was rolled out and completed in advance of a target date – a check in the box. There is no change, nothing within the culture changes that drives growth or future success – it is simply a moment in time….an event that transpired and we are on to the next thing to do.

By now you get the picture – organizational activity is driven on a simple task/completion basis. Things have to get done, so we do them and then we consider ourselves successful because we completed the tasks on time. But do we ever stop and ask what we are trying to achieve? If companies really want to make change, or have people-centric activities take root, they have to look at ways to entrench these activities in their organizational DNA. It has to be a part of the company culture, its brand and its values. Things like performance reviews, employee surveys, continuous improvement projects, ISO 9001 processes, internal audits, etc. have to be a part of a company’s DNA in order for them to be a value add activity. They have to be done because the leadership team believes in the value that they will add and that by being intertwined in the organizational culture, it will help leverage the organization (and its employees) for future growth and success.

The check in the box approach to running a company is a recipe (at best) for short term success. It makes organizations myopic and either stunts or eliminates growth – especially with its employees. If, as an organizational leader, you truly don’t believe in the value of the activity you are about to undergo (see above examples) than don’t do it. Alternatively, if you believe in it, it is incumbent upon you as a leader to help make the connection with your staff and align/entrench the activity in your organizational DNA.

What about you? Have you seen this “check in the box” approach used at companies? How effective has it been? As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Smoke and Mirrors

The war for talent, employee engagement, attraction, retention, employment branding, recognition – no this isn’t an attempt to booster SEO for my blog. What I have just listed are a few, of the many, “hot topics” facing HR Professionals today. One of the challenges we face is getting our organizational leaders and managers to buy into the importance of these concepts and signing off on initiatives that will move the needle ahead on various HR programs.

SmokeThere is, however, a more difficult scenario to deal with then the one mentioned above. That is, when you actually do get sign off to proceed with your HR initiatives but there is no true organizational “feeling” or belief behind the sign off. For example, you conduct an organizational employee survey of your employees and then go about developing programs, policies, etc. to help address the gaps discovered. However, there is no true organizational commitment to actually change anything – it is merely an exercise for the leadership team to be able to demonstrate that you “did” something. Essentially, it becomes a game of smoke and mirrors.

To put this in perspective, let’s say a company rolls out a program aimed at improving staff engagement – say, a new “Total Rewards Program,” or they create a new employee feedback program aimed at addressing employee concerns and suggestions. Then, the leadership team sits back, admires their new program/policy and assumes they have “fixed” the issues at hand. Naturally, they are very surprised when employee survey results, turnover rates, etc. indicate otherwise 6-12 months later.
So what is the problem? Well the problem (if you want to call it that) is that your employees aren’t stupid. That is right, I’ll say it again, your employees aren’t stupid. They know when you, as a leadership team, are simply doing something to say you have done something. They know when your new rewards program is simply smoke and mirrors and a glossy brochure. Addressing these key employee “hot buttons” is not a matter of developing programs and policies. It is a matter of changing organizational thinking and culture. That is, as a company, you have to WANT to change your people practices and invest in your employees because you BELIEVE they are your assets – not because that is a trendy thing to say. It is all about your organizational DNA, what you believe in and what ACTION you take as leaders to demonstrate the value of your employees.Mirror

I have always said it is better to be honest about your organizational warts and tell your employees when you know you stink at something but that you are working to improve it. Or, if you don’t want to change something, or can’t for some (financial) reason, explain that to your employees. At least you are being honest and they will respect that, but for heaven’s sake, don’t throw a new policy/program at them and tell them you have fixed something when your day to day actions (or lack thereof) show them otherwise. This only serves to increase resentment, disengagement and mistrust of the leadership team. Remember, if you have done your job properly on the recruiting side, odds are you have smart people working for you – they will smell insincerity a mile away and once the trust and respect of your leadership team is eroded, it is very difficult to get that back.

Going forward, if there is an issue or an organizational elephant in the room, say so. Tell your employees what you are committed to changing or not changing. Do not survey employees or ask for opinions if you are not 100% committed to listening and responding to them. Your staff is smart, they know that organizations can’t “give” them everything; however, they do want to be communicated with and respected. You start by having your actions line up with your words – no smoke, no mirrors no sleight of hand; just honest, straight up conversations with employees…..organizational warts and all. What about you? Have you engaged in the act of smoke and mirrors? What has been the result? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Smoke Image courtesy of twobee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mirror Image courtesy of Just2shutter/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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