Recently, I was talking with someone who had just joined the team at one of my clients. She was highly energized by the remote interview process. She shared the experience with pure joy. It was inspiring. The fact is that there will forever be a pre and post-COVID footnote to our work. The hiring process is no different. Pre-COVID, it was very common for geographically dispersed companies to use a mix of technology and in person interviews to seal the deal. Today, the hiring process across all industries will require the delicate work of selecting top talent who mesh with your culture to be done through a computer screen. During my Virtual Conference in May of this year, The Radical Transformation of HR Post COVID-19, Maury Hanigan shared rich insights about what is potentially lost during remote interactions. She talked about the loss of connection, familiarity, understanding, among other things. As Maury noted, this loss is exponentially more difficult for new hires. All of this means that employers engaging remotely with prospective employees will need to work harder. They'll need to be more creative. Moments of interactions will need to be more intentional. My client's new team member described a process where that organization really nailed it. But, it didn't happen by chance. It was premeditated. Preparation It should go without saying that meetings of any sort require diligence in preparation. This organization was thoughtful about the entire interview process, from the numbers of people participating to the questions asked and the debrief which followed. The then candidate (now employee) felt tended to. She was made to believe that the process mattered, and therefore, the role mattered. They chose technology which was comfortable for all involved, and that carried them the rest of the way. Expectations Hiring processes, already quite lengthy pre-COVID, will be longer still in this climate. Getting schedules to align, maintaining momentum after each meeting and keeping all parties fully engaged is hard work. At times, people will fall short. This organization set realistic expectations around timelines, and ultimately surpassed them. Vulnerability Candidates need to be exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly. This organization shared all three during the interview process. We must accept the fact that aspects of our organization's 'DNA' will be repellant to some and life-giving to others. Employers who embrace their vulnerability will be seen as authentic. Authenticity will always rule the day. Compassion As Maya Angelou so eloguently said, "people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." The good news is that throughout this particular interview process, the candidate felt valued. There is no substitute for that. So, while we adjust to our computer screens and tackle technology glitches, let's continue to raise the bar in talent acquisition. The next great hire is counting on it.
At the start of the global pandemic, I wrote in earnest about the fact that many employers would be caught totally unprepared when having to make the shift to a remote workforce. Any employer who was still wrestling with work-from-home-policies understood just how unprepared they were. Mentally, that is. The fact is that resistance to working from home was always more of a mental hurdle. Everyone shifted to virtual work environments. Heck, even old-school physicians figured out how to adjust their webcams during tele-health visits so we weren't looking up their noses. Poof, just like that, the largest virtual work experiment was born and was thriving from day one. So, what was at the core of the resistance? In a word? Trust. Many HR leaders can attest to the fact that, despite their best efforts, work-from-home policies often devolve into favoritism, with inconsistencies so glaring that even Stevie Wonder could see them. Trust is too often at the core of these issues. Employers hire smart, successful talent and, conceptually, understand the importance of giving them the space to do their jobs. Yet, old habits, unhealthy cultures, and leadership gaps rule the day unless checked. There are 4 clear signs that an atmosphere of distrust has become a leading factor plaguing your work environment. Policy Mania If your policy manual has as many pages as a World Atlas book, you probably have too many policies. Obviously, policies provide the necessary guidance and guardrails needed for a functional and legally sound workplace. Think of it this way: the root of the word 'policy' forms the basis for other related words like 'police.' Focus on the areas in which you absolutely need to police, and those which would be better left to plain old common sense. Instruction V. Goals Goals provide a NorthStar focus to the work, spark ambition and healthy competition. Smart and successful employees benefit from goals. They are generally quite miserable, however, when they must react to detailed prescriptions of exactly how to reach these goals. Excessive instructions on the 'how' v. the 'what' are recipes for demotivating staff. Work-from-home policies which attempt to assert control over 'how' and 'where' work is achieved will guarantee the absence of innovation and inspiration at a time when your company needs both in large supply. 'No Input' Zones One way to demonstrate trust is through providing information. Information is power. Power should be distributed if your business is to grow. Engaging employees in solutions to today's business problems is not only nice-to-do but critical. With the exception of highly confidential and sensitive matters, employees should be pulled as far into the zones of decision-making as possible. As long as it's clear who has the ultimate decision-making authority. Which leads me to the final sign of distrust... Everyone has the 'D' If your company has set up approval processes for small, medium and large-sized decisions that resemble the outlines to a jigsaw puzzle, it usually means that everyone is involved, and very few are trusted. Decision-making authority is born from clarity and trust in those appointed to make the decisions. When you have neither, chaos abounds and people will focus more on covering backsides than covering the business. The largest virtual work experiment has proven that it works. Now, businesses must ensure that trust is instilled in every corner of the workplace - virtual or otherwise.
Some years ago, I had my feelers out in the market and went through an interview process with a well-respected organization. The search process appeared to be robust. I received a favorable response to my candidacy via email. And, that's where the neon-flashing red flags started to go up...a few of which I explained away. What was most notable was their request of me to provide a hiring exercise. On its face, this request is totally reasonable. I've made it countless times on the other side of the hiring table. These are valuable assessment tools in determining a candidate's ability to operate in the actual role. It moves interview discussions beyond the theoretical to the practical. The fact is that some people interview poorly and turn out to be rockstars. Others interview like rockstars and turn out to be more like the opening acts. We need objective assessment tools. However, my own experience in that search years ago was fraught with problems. In effect, this organization was simply looking for free intellectual property. Here are the key takeaways from that wacky episode (one person's disappointment is always another's learning manual!) Communicate early and well Hiring exercises provide assessments on one's fit for the role and the culture. The request made of me was an exhaustive hours-long project requiring extensive research and an in-depth presentation. I received this request via another email. I'd not yet interviewed with anyone. I pushed back, professionally. Their response was to schedule me for an "interview" with the HR leader. There's a reason that I placed interview in quotes. That "interview" conversation could only be described as '8 different ways to humor someone without sounding like it.' Takeaway: Participate in a hiring exercise only after you've had the opportunity to assess the role with a functioning human being who represents the organization well. Once you do, be sure to discuss the amount of time required to complete it. If it appears too onerous, you can negotiate for a modified product and/or provide samples from your work portfolio which you can walk through during the interview. Intellectual Property Burglary Truly reputable organizations will let you know what the exercise will be used for, by whom and whether it will be memorialized. In my case, these "leaders" (see what I did there?) were opaque and slippery about the use of my intellectual property (IP). The most candor they exhibited about the interview process was getting me to submit the work product. Takeaway: Protect your IP by submitting your work in PDF format, and place your name on every page. This is not foolproof, but it certainly helps. Another way to protect your IP, is to skimp on your submission. In other words, don't give away the entire barn. Provide written information at more of a 30,000 ft. level, then use your notes to 'wow' them during the actual presentation/interview. Think, movie trailer v. entire onscreen performance. Walk Away I could kick myself for remaining too long in what was clearly a flawed process. Once I submitted the product, too much time elapsed before I heard about the next steps. When I followed up, I received a hollow-sounding note, followed by a longer letter from the HR leader two days later. This leader had the temerity to tell me that the position had been filled, thanked me for my time and suggested that I apply for another role! Takeaway: Don't quiet that booming voice that says....walk away! I sometimes take my need for follow-through to the extreme. This was one case when following-through was folly. The signs were there from the beginning and I should have heeded them. (I sent the HR leader a snarky note afterwards to make myself feel better.) Again, hiring exercises are important tools in the process. They benefit both employer and prospective employee. That said, they should be used judiciously, efficiently and respectfully by employers seeking talent - particularly in a heavily disrupted marketplace due to the COVID-19 crisis. On 5/27-29, 1 hour a day, 3 sessions an hour - TedTalk style - we're offering a complimentary virtual conference on The Radical Transformation of HR necessary post COVID-19. Sign up here.
4 Lessons On Finding Purpose...Even Now (Warning: contains a morbid personal story. Don't judge)
Passion is a seven-letter word that has been blown up into such mammoth proportions, that some people don’t believe they even possess it - in any form. It’s often used to describe someone breathlessly expressing interest in something or to depict an unbridled sense of emotion about a person, place or thing. What exactly is ‘passion?’ It’s simple. It’s that color picture sense that tells you that all of you is engaged in something. Passion tells you that you’re alive and have tapped into something that, when used constructively, can bring others edification and joy. An individual who is passionate about something is like a full well – at some point it overflows into another space, or onto another person. It speaks to abundance and richness. Our day jobs may indeed be that place where our passions meet our profession. Certainly every employer would desire that from their employees. However, it can’t be ginned up nor manufactured through team exercises. It’s either there, or it’s not. And, that’s just fine. You can, and should, do your job with excellence and commitment, regardless. So, if your deepest passions aren’t found within the walls of the workplace, don’t despair. Keep looking. Keep seeking. Take both the natural, and unnatural transition periods on the calendar (think COVID-19) as an opportunity to write a new story. Ask yourself a few key questions in order to explore your passions. I shared some of these questions during my virtual WGNinHR Masterclass on April 2nd. 1. When was the last time you felt truly alive and energized when doing something? 2. If money wasn’t an issue, what would you be doing with the bulk of your time? 3. How do you want to be remembered? 4. What gifts and talents do others regularly compliment you on? 5. What would you be doing all day and never consider a waste of time? 6. What’s missing from the world from your perspective? Answering these questions requires some quiet time to reflect. It should also require the willingness to do something with the answers discovered – this is part of the pathway to your purpose. Passion untapped will eat away at you. It will creep into your thoughts, attitude, and eventually, your behavior. It must, at some point, be allowed to breathe. Enter the post-COVID-19 phase with a commitment to explore your passions and a determination not to leave another year with regrets stemming from inaction. I will join you. There is no passion to be found playing small--in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. - Nelson Mandela Someone Should See the Difference There is simply not enough money, time, nor energy to do all that we desire – for ourselves. Sharing your time, talent and treasure with others is ultimately why we’re here. Passion is meant, as I said, to spillover. Otherwise, what’s the point? There are countless opportunities to serve others in our daily lives. They can range from allowing a struggling mom to get ahead of you in the grocery store, to taking the time to encourage a weary soul on the bus ride in to work (when we were actually still riding the bus). A smile, a compliment, real eye contact, the gift of your time…..these are simple yet profound displays of service. Start there. Random acts of kindness are wonderful ways to meet the needs of others, particularly during these times of such anger and vitriol. People often reach out to me on LinkedIn to make connections, share services or ask for advice – total strangers. While I can’t help everyone and must prioritize my own time, I’m always intrigued by someone seeking knowledge. Someone who wants to get better, to know more, to do things differently. More often than not I will respond, much to the surprise of the requester. This is my small way of giving my time (even if scheduling may take months!) to offer someone encouragement and hope. There’s something enlightening that happens when serving others: we understand the importance of being grateful. You’ve heard the expression, ‘it’s all relative.’ Indeed, it is. Any stress on my job becomes more manageable when I encounter someone who has been out of work for a year. The nagging pain in my lower back is tolerable when I pass someone who is bound to a wheelchair. It’s all relative, because it should be – it forces gratitude upon us. My own purpose is inextricably linked with giving and serving. It’s not just what I want to be known for, it’s how I need to feed my own soul. Service requires you to have the right intentions, the right heart. You’re doing it not out of self-gratification (though it does feel great) but out of a place where you really are not the main topic at all. Someone else is. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. – Mahatma Gandhi May the Real YOU Please Stand Up! Whether through tapping into your passions or serving others, the real you will ultimately rear its head. Sometimes that head will be ugly, at other times it will be pretty. And, alas, most times it will be neither. It will simply be the sum total of who you were created to be. When I sit in a boardroom, I’m not only sitting there as a black, female, first-generation American, I’m also sitting there as one who is a learned extrovert having emerged from my formative years barely uttering any words in public. How I think, what resonates with me, what turns me off, who I gravitate towards, and how I react under stress and conflict – reveal my authentic self. I often describe it as being my ‘authentically awesome’ self – because it is. It’s who God created me to be and what I'm still becoming. He also gave me a chisel and a trash bag to whittle away and discard the unpleasant parts that fail to bring Him glory! That means there are parts of my authentic self which are not serving any useful purpose – for me nor for others. I need to be obsessed with getting to the core of who I am – daily. Through every interaction, meeting, conversation and encounter – I want the real me to stand up. I want the real me to be seen and heard. When that happens with enough consistency, my purpose will have a clear pathway to fruition, and I can hopefully have a potent and positive impact on the lives of others. Think of it as brewing a cup of coffee: you ultimately taste and digest it for yourself – but others will also catch its aroma. I’m sure you’re wondering how we can be authentic in this world where opinions and ideas are increasingly met with name-calling. Social media sites are rife with nastiness and mob mentalities. If you don’t fit neatly and squarely into the box which someone believes you should be in, attempts to shame and slander your character are viewed as fair game, somehow. Heaven forbid you should have an opinion which goes against the so-called grain. You’ll be called out and silenced by the stroke of 280 characters or snarky memes. Nevertheless, we must be authentic and use our judgment about how much to reveal and to whom. We should also accept the fact that we are imperfect. I’m willing to work at my authenticity to be better – but, not perfect. Striving for perfection is trying to be like God, and that never ends well. We will all miss the mark at times. What really matters is the determination to continue to work at it, but not the desire to be liked. There are times to be vulnerable, and to say what you think when you know that not saying it will have even more dire consequences. Many people will not be able to handle that. They will need to own that. And, yes, there are also times where the reverse is true and you should keep your mouth closed – that’s why we have journals. Above all, work hard at not losing the core of who you are. That may mean having to change your relationships or your circumstances so that your purpose has the right breeding ground. This takes tenacity. Don’t trade your authenticity for approval. - Anonymous A Morbid - and Powerful - Depiction of Tenacity One of the pathways to purpose is the road where many of us are tempted to make U-turns. Tenacity is required to achieve your purpose. The sooner you build this muscle, the less time you’ll be wasting. Tenacity is, quite simply, deciding not to surrender. It is where crucible experiences meet hope and a renewed energy to keep going. At times, we’d much rather take an easier and seemingly more certain path. But, fighting for your dreams and plans will always be worth it. Why? Because you’re worth it. One such powerful display of tenacity happened in my life several years ago as I and my family were burying my father. The funeral home arrangements had been made and the day of burial had arrived. As the crowd exited the funeral home, the attendants prepared to close the casket – the final step before the procession to the cemetery. Several minutes turned into thirty as the attendants struggled with the casket closure. It had become clear to our family – which by then included immediate and extended members, and some family neighbors – that something was very wrong. The lid would not close and the only choice left, according to the funeral home administrators, was to purchase another casket. We could then make the transfer of the body and be on our way to the cemetery as planned. You have to realize that, by now, there was a large group of people waiting for us outside – some mulling around the entrance, others lingering in the lobby straining to understand what was happening, with the remaining members sitting in their cars to take shelter from the cold weather of a February day. That day, family and friends came together to work every bit of ingenuity found in the human mind, using every tool at our disposal. I was of little help, but you can bet that I shared the same determination. At one point, the funeral administrator peeked in with a look of sheer disbelief at this groups’ will. Finally, as we’d neared the last of our options, divine intervention produced a kind-hearted repairman from across the street who finished the job for us. The casket was closed. (Later we discovered that this is a fairly common and dastardly trick performed by some – not all – funeral homes. They tinker with the casket at the family’s weakest moment, then offer a new one at cost. Despicable, but true). All of us that day understood one thing, even without saying it: we had a singular purpose which should not, and could not, be abandoned. We had to bury my father in the casket that was originally chosen. What ensued in that hour or more which elapsed, was one of the clearest examples of tenacity towards purpose that I can remember. That current existence which poses a problem for you needn’t be something overwhelming and all-consuming. It could simply be an incident, which cumulatively, begins to describe the sum total of who you are. The example above happens to be one of many for me. Bizarre as it is, it taught me so much. Defeat and obstacles may represent your current state, but not your status. The more we resist the chance to develop ourselves or grow through tenacity, the longer we remain stuck. You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. – Maya Angelou Make the rest of 2020 the year of seizing hold of your purpose – (re)acquaint yourself with what makes you passionate. Let your passions spillover into service to others, because the world desperately needs it. We're seeing that every day, aren't we?
In the beginning, both employees and their employers generally have one desire: to make the relationship work. Few people enter the workplace hoping to be embroiled in conflict, fail at their jobs—whether in perception or reality—or to experience the humiliation of termination. The fact is that most people go to work with a deep need to bring their gifts and talents to the table. Unfortunately, there are any number of things which can go wrong in the workplace leading to one’s termination. And, at times, employee terminations can become public, messy and nightmares to manage for leaders. How do we get to those worst-case scenarios? Once there, how should they be navigated for the sake of the entire company? An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure The best way to avoid a messy employee termination is to manage performance effectively—before things get to the breaking point. Performance management of an employee, as those of us who work in HR know well, is both an art and a science. The science element is pretty straightforward: ensure that expectations, clear goals and metrics are established; coach the employee both informally and formally to aid performance; employ timely corrective measures to address issues; and measure outputs to reward performance commensurately. That’s the easy part. The harder part is dealing with the complexities of people. The reasons why many performance management practices fall short are always tied to the competencies and leadership of those involved— either wholly or partially. Leadership is hard work. It takes authenticity, risk-taking, sharp decision-making and balance, among many other traits. As a leader, you must be as focused on people management as you are on product or program management. Otherwise, performance management issues will fester and haunt you. As a leader, I’ve learned this the hard way. I’ve paid dearly during those times when I failed to take swift action…when I failed to bite the bullet. Biting the Bullet One of my many experiences as a leader in business over 20+ years is a perfect illustration of the need to take timely action on performance management issues. I had just hired who I believed was a skilled professional for a key role on my team. After a few short weeks (some of her colleagues would say, days) she proved to be a bit of an impostor. I don’t use the word ‘impostor’ lightly as I’m sensitive to the struggles which many of us have in fighting the oft-discussed Impostor Syndrome. I talk openly about my own struggles with this syndrome in my book, Tough As Nails: Finding Your Voice as a Woman in the Workplace. This individual was not suffering from that. Sadly, she neither possessed the technical abilities nor emotional maturity to do the job. I tried coaching her. I tried encouraging her. I relied, foolishly, on others across my team to pick up her slack. That bred resentment and more issues. When I finally reached the point where I had to administer more serious corrective action, she played the victim card. Big time. I waited too long. A situation which should have been managed decisively, resulting in her removal months earlier, instead had now become a slow-motion train wreck for everyone involved. I’ve learned through that experience and others, that giving tough feedback is unpleasant but absolutely necessary. As a leader, if you’re dealing with someone who has never had the mirror held up to them, you’re in for a heckuva ride. I won’t lie to you. Do it anyway. Lean into it. Rely on your HR partners to manage the performance issue with clarity and speed to avoid an ugly termination. Transparency Matters, But It Has Its Limits Once the termination has happened, particularly if it is more public in nature, it will be difficult to manage the rumor mill. Rumor mills in the workplace are always in full motion. They grind even when there’s no one turning the wheel. As a result, it is very challenging to manage the swirl around a messy departure. While I’m a big proponent of transparency and candor during times of change, there are times when less really is more. Leaders can’t share everything. If a departure has been difficult, there are a few things that can and should be shared. These include the more innocuous facts: the individual is no longer with the company; words of well wishes for that person; how work will continue in their absence; and who is available to answer any work-related questions. Beyond that, sharing more information mostly serves to keep the drama alive, often raising more questions that would be inappropriate to answer. Finally, be proactive and strategic in your communication strategy. There are ways to skillfully navigate these situations—from the final stages of the termination through the days following it: Work with your HR partner to prepare an airtight ‘script’ of the termination meeting. Who will say what, when and how? Write some talking points on what you will share with your inner circle, broader team, and the entire organization as well as when you plan to share it. HR should be a strong partner to you in this area as well. It requires great finesse in wording of what is shared—and what isn’t. There are many other aspects to a strong communication strategy to get through these situations. For more information and support in this area, feel free to contact me at for a complimentary consultation. Ultimately, the key theme at the end of a messy departure is to remain focused on supporting employees who remain and pointing them toward the future.
At this very moment, as part of a hiring process, career counseling or professional development there is someone who is completing a personality test or assessment. I believe most people submit to this with the best of intentions. I also believe that those part of the personality test industry, are generally in pursuit of genuinely noble causes: matching prospective employees with companies; increasing self-awareness; improving skills along the course of one’s career. That said, what are we to make of these personality tests? Under what circumstances should they be used and relied upon? For example, do they really give a prospective employer or manager a window into the soul of an individual? Are they fair—and who decides what is fair? After more than 25 years in business and HR, I’ve arrived at a mixed verdict on personality tests. If personality tests were on trial in a real courtroom, my verdict would read: ‘acquitted’ on the count of fraud when used for personal development; but, ‘hung’ on the count of using them in employment decisions. The Acquittal I fully believe in the importance of self-awareness. As I share in my new book, Tough As Nails: Finding Your Voice as a Woman in the Workplace, knowing oneself is vital to effectively operating in a tough work environment. That knowledge makes you far less susceptible to the whims and opinions of others. Personality tests help to shed light on who we are, what makes us tick, and what adjustments we may need to make in order to lead in a variety of settings. And, since I’m on the topic of peering into the psyche of willing subjects, let me be the first to come clean: there was a time in my life where pulling back the veneer to better understand ‘self’ would have been too painful. I would’ve been skeptical of the entire process due to my unwillingness to be vulnerable. You see, as a young adult, I was an extreme introvert and burdened with insecurities. I wasn’t ready for deeper self-reflection. Now, as a mature business executive, I fully embrace this work and believe that it holds one of the keys to individual growth and development. I’m all in. Well-researched personality tests can be incredibly insightful through a period of self-reflection and personal growth. The only question remaining is, which tests are best designed to help you increase your self-awareness. The short answer is: do your own homework and don’t rest until you’re comfortable with the results. The longer answer is that there are a few which, in my opinion, do a good job of: helping you through this journey of self-discovery; improving your productivity; strengthening your ability to communicate; and increasing your overall effectiveness. They are, in no particular order: CliftonStrengths by Gallup (Formerly StrengthsFinder) DISC VIA 16Personalities Hung (on the count of using them in employment decisions) Personality tests used to make hiring or advancement decisions, are issued at a particular point in time. That point and time just so happens to coincide with an individual’s state of mind when s/he is in the midst of making a major life transition. That leaves the testers with at least two potential challenges: honesty during test taking and, by extension, lack of predictability in future performance. While there are many individuals who will be honest while taking these tests (present company very much included), those two challenges have the potential to all but blow up the test’s reliability. There are tests, however, that include attributes which adjust for these challenges, and are more likely to predict future performance. Among these attributes, according to this Harvard Business Review article are:— The ability to measure traits which will not tend to change after a lengthy employment The ability to apply comparisons between two candidates in order to determine which traits are more prevalent in one versus the other The inclusion of content which detects lies, and Proven high-reliability, particularly as it relates to test-retest reliability The best tests, based upon my experience, have combined other measures which assess an individual’s cognitive and analytical skills. Finally, I’d also recommend that both employees and employers approach these tests with a clear sense of the current context. This can help determine whether a test is the best tool to begin with. For example, during a business turnaround, assessing a candidate’s fit for the culture may be extremely ill-timed if the desired state has not yet crystallized. In the final analysis, using these tests to make major employment decisions have the potential to add significant value—provided that they are: designed for predictability; integrate other cognitive/analytical measures and; administered within the right business climate or context.
This article was first published in early 2017 and has been modified from the original version Who’s Got Next in HR was built upon the premise that professionals – particularly HR professionals – should always dare to ask ‘what’s next?’ I believe strongly that the status quo often lacks imagination at best, and misses the opportunity to tap into the best and brightest brains in business, at worst. When you have strong opinions, it’s important to walk the talk. I’d like to do more than dream. My focus is on dreaming big, with deadlines. And, at some point, I’d like to actually live the dream. I serve as the Chief Business and Talent Officer. It's a unique role that finds me leading in an array of areas - from Property Assets to Talent, and most recently, to serving as the Interim Fund Development Executive. This is part of me living the dream……it’s the most current answer to the question of what’s next’ in my own professional career. I’m deeply grateful for my career moves. I’m proud of the hard work that was required to make them happen. And, I’m never satisfied. I’d like to inspire that same degree of restlessness in you. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom, borne from my own experiences, to help you start living your dreams. Have an Advocate The importance of having an advocate to help you demonstrate your expertise and value cannot be overstated. What good is it to have gifts and talents which remain hidden from view because you never have a platform to demonstrate them? Your advocate may or may not be your immediate manager. It’s certainly easier if it is. But, if that’s not feasible, search for an influential decision-maker in your company and build a relationship with him/her. They could be the very key to the right door of opportunity being opened. In Joann Lublin’s book, Earning It, she quotes Carly Fiorina among the more than fifty trailblazing smashers of corporate glass ceilings in the book. Carly, the receptionist turned CEO of Hewlett-Packard and, most recently, Presidential candidate says: “You absolutely have to have people who will take a chance on you. Be open to people helping you.” Don’t be too proud to ask for or willingly accept help. You’ll need it. All Merit We oftentimes believe, even subconsciously, that the person who has willingly served to be our advocate is doing us an unmerited favor. The fact is, they are indeed performing a ‘gracious act of kindness’ according to Mirriam-Webster’s definition of 'favor.' It is kind and gracious to work on someone’s behalf for that individual’s personal or professional benefit. Anyone who is able to secure an advocate should be grateful and work hard not to let them down. However, it is no unmerited favor. Never allow thoughts of doubt or a sense that you are undeserving to creep in…..kick them out before they take up residence. Always know that you are worthy of what you’ve received. Know that you deserve it, based on merit. Let Your Work Speak Ultimately, your work must speak for itself. Once the opportunity is presented, the rest is up to you. You either have to step up with the requisite skills and abilities, otherwise advancement is unlikely to happen. The potent mixture of inherent skills, hard earned experience, acquired talents and grit, propels one to new levels….if you have the courage to demonstrate them. Your work should serve as the loudest and most persuasive megaphone which lets the world know – in every conversation, in every meeting – that things are better with you at the table. Never underestimate the power of such a megaphone and keep the volume turned up. Claim It What’s worse than turning down the volume on the megaphone pronouncing your work, is doing so as a result of false humility. Humility has its place, don’t get me wrong. It’s important to be able to look modestly at oneself and not operate with a sense of arrogance. Constantly downplaying one’s accomplishments, giving the credit away or remaining quiet while fantastic work is described with no mention of the creator (if that’s you) – is folly. Every day I learn the importance of claiming my work, especially when it counts and key stakeholders are listening. Start a new ritual...right now: Become more comfortable with claiming your work. Find creative ways to describe the outcome, what it took to make it happen and what impact it has/will have on the company. In addition to saying ‘we’ to share credit for important work and demonstrate a team spirit, insert an ‘I’, strategically, to claim it. Each One Teach One The phrase ‘each one teach one’ was birthed in the US by African-Americans during slavery. During the period where African-Americans were denied education, those who learned to read saw it as their duty to teach another. Each one teach one. It’s a powerful concept that speaks to the importance of helping a fellow brother or sister to go to the next level. As a professional, you’re only as good as your ability to multiply what you’ve learned. Growth and advancement must be duplicated to have any real meaning. When others receive what you have, it spawns a new opportunity for greatness. It also feels good. Each of us should be looking for others to whom we can impart knowledge and skills. It is a leader’s responsibility to shape and develop others – for their good as well as the entire organization’s benefit. One of my favorite quotes on this matter is from the great tennis player, Arthur Ashe. He said, “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” Find an advocate, embrace them and the help they provide – but without any feelings of unworthiness. Be sure to keep the megaphone up on your work and be careful not to give credit away needlessly. Most of all, be intentional about living your dream in the remaining months of this year, and help others do the same.
The thought of being a leader when I was a child, emerging into young adulthood, was not something I considered - even in my wildest imagination. I was an extreme introvert. During parent/teacher’s conferences, my teachers would happily share their assessment of my grades, but were quick to furrow their brows with concern at the fact that I wouldn’t utter a word in class. Not a single word. My shyness, back then, kept me from finding my authentic voice at the time. In fact, I was teased by bullies in school who felt that the tone and tenor of my actual voice was deep. None of this was a recipe for the making of a leader. But, as I journeyed to adulthood, the struggle became easier. I put my toe in the water to test the bounds of public speaking – first in smaller groups and eventually in front of larger ones. I discovered something amazing - I had a lot to say! I also knew that I didn’t have a choice if I was to make the kind of impact I sorely desired to make in business, and in the world. I had ideas….some of them were big ideas. Instead of carrying them around in my head, I wanted - and needed - to engage others. I now consider myself a learned extrovert. So, my own leadership developed as a slowly building engine of necessity, gradually revving up to the place where it felt more natural and powerful. Now, when I look back at those years and reflect upon my leadership journey – the various roles which I’ve held, the teams that I’ve led, the initiatives which I've been responsible for, etc. – I see leadership as a high calling. If you feel the same way about leadership, here are four reasons why that calling is so important to embrace: Leaders solve problems – helping, coaching, mentoring, and serving others to crack the toughest ‘nuts’ in order to find solutions. This kind of leadership forces one to focus on the purpose and not the personal. A focus on the larger purpose is what energizes people and teams to make significant and sustainable changes for the better. As a leader, it must always be about results. Big, inspired thinking without results are tantamount to hallucinations. We must both understand what needle we’re trying to move and be rigorous about ways that actually help to move it. Being busy is one of the largest traps for leaders. Hyper-focus on the urgent v. the important is what keeps calendars packed, leaders exhausted and key work untouched. Leadership is an endless drive towards results. A jammed schedule is not necessarily an indication of great leadership. 'White space' on the calendar, on the other hand, is an indication that a leader is focused on spending her energies in the most high-impact directions. Leaders open doors for others to find their own callings and purpose. Our roles as leaders are to help others find the right doors that play to their strengths and interests. Strengths without interests - or vice versa - is an incomplete equation. Leaders help people complete those equations through patience, trial and error and, most importantly, candor about what’s working and what’s not working. Leaders are required to make the tough decisions. Decisions move entities forward. Decisions change things. Of course, the wrong decisions move entities in the wrong direction. Therefore, tough decision-making requires discipline. It requires the type of leadership which zeroes in on the ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ of decisions. This is hard work with enormous payoffs. For businesses to succeed, leaders must embrace this role and not shrink from it. These dimensions of leadership are among many that, for me, have shaped a calling. I now embrace it. I don’t always like it or feel like walking in it – but it’s something that I consider a privilege to do. What about you? If someone were to ask you what your calling is, what would you say?
This article was published online in the July, 2016 edition of People + Strategy (HRPS Blog) Sophia, a top performer in her company, was constantly searching for ways to do things smarter or faster. She had joined a team assembled to develop and scale emerging ideas within a geographically dispersed company. Her colleagues were bright and among the best of the best in their industry, and she was pleased to have been selected for this high-profile initiative. One day, however, she became disillusioned. She had just left a meeting where her offer to address the team’s unresolved issue of how to store files online, synchronize them across different computers, share them with team members, and access them remotely from anywhere was met with paralysis. She had suggested that they use Dropbox. It wasn’t exactly a novel tool anymore, but it was one that would allow her colleagues to move onto more pressing business issues. Instead, it died a slow death in the meeting. Sadly, no one on the team was comfortable making decisions. It was purported to be the team that could take the company to the next level, yet decisions were made laboriously and mired in a sea of sameness of opinions. Sophia is one of countless individuals who show up to work desperately wanting to change the world—one issue at a time. She represents a cadre of talent whose innovation is being killed—every day. Whether through not-so-subtle contradictions between espoused values and work environments, or complex organizational structures and processes, which put a stranglehold on creativity, these companies are killing innovation. There are several culprits that hinder innovation. Here are just a few, as well as strategies for counteracting them. So, You’ve Got Creative Office Space—Now What? Indoor gaming and free-roam Segway riding are all the rage in workplace redesigns. These creative workplace environments are intended to inspire creativity and a sense of fun. Indeed, these outcomes are important as it relates to innovation. Companies like Lego have created space that allows employees to brainstorm while they work. Other companies, such as Cisco, have built their space to appeal to the Millennial generation, highly focused on a flexible and mobile workforce in terms of hours and location. However, beyond physical space, the workplace environment must scream innovation in everything from its cubicles (or lack thereof) to its demonstrated values, systems, and processes. The incongruence between workspaces with cool foosball tables and company cultures which avoid conflicts and encourage cutthroat politics is wildly transparent to employees hungry for opportunities to innovate. It breeds cynicism and will never give rise to new ideas. It is perfectly fine to tackle workplace redesigns. It is just as important to work as diligently on your cultural norms, values, and behaviors to identify the gaps between your desired and future state. Draw the Crowds, but Don’t Smother Them There is little question that two heads are better than one. In fact, multiple heads operating with a diversity of thoughts and perspectives birth great ideas. This is the theory behind crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing, in its original concept, is soliciting help in solving a challenge or generating ideas from essentially the world at large. It is the canvassing of countless people to glean the broadest amount of input possible. Those people are often those external to a project, company, or initiative. While companies look to create the space and tools for greater innovation, more of them would be well served to look in their own backyards. Beneath the carnage of would-be ideas and “never minds” whispered at the water coolers, are innovators yearning to breathe free. One need only ask DSM, a global science company active in health, nutrition, and materials. In the July 2015 video edition of the Harvard Business Review, Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, co-author of Innovation as Usual, shared DSM’s story. After two years of on an unsuccessful quest to address an issue with one of their products, DSM employed crowdsourcing to engage others on social media. They shared the problem, solicited input, and even provided an incentive to solving it. Five people came back with different parts of the whole puzzle which solved the problem. Fairly unremarkable, right? What was remarkable, was that three of those people were from DSM’s own company—one a lawyer from their patent office. This was someone who had clearly been exposed to new ideas, yet apparently had never been engaged directly until DSM chose to crowdsource the challenge. Tapping into the innovation of our surrounding talent could be as simple as asking them a question. However, even with successful idea generation, innovation can still be subject to slaughter if decisions cannot be made effectively. Crowds of innovators are often smothered by faulty decision-making within companies in a host of ways. The DSM lawyer in the above example was fortunate not to have been trapped in a “culture of excessiveness,” where every decision requires multiple inputs at multiple levels with the same amount of rigor. Further, where a decision sits in the organization must also be thoughtfully determined if work is to move at the right speed through empowered employees. Mindful Hierarchy Innovation can also be squashed by the weight of too many levels of authority. Some companies are experimenting with the opposite concept of hierarchy: holacracy. At its core, holacracy eschews levels, instead choosing to focus on self-government where everyone is equally responsible for outcomes. However, it could be extreme for some and not conducive to the type of order that most people naturally seek, according to research on the topic. Hence, while some degree of hierarchy is preferable and wise, flatter and more nimble organizational structures which inspire fluid decision-making are key ingredients to innovation. Requiring employees to navigate their way through several levels of authority before decisions are final is draining and counterproductive. I’ve either conceptualized, led, or inherited organizational redesigns over more than two decades in business. On several occasions, I intentionally flattened the structure in place to increase agility and quicken decisions. It often meant having to assuage concerns of those who equated authority with perceived value. Invariably, it also meant that the ultimate team structure increased innovation and empowered employees. The latter was far more important in my view. The Power of Individual Thinking There are few more damaging aspects of behavior within a company than the disease of groupthink, a behavior born from a fear of creating disharmony or being rejected that destroys independent and critical thinking. It replaces healthy individualism with behavior that can be irrational at best, and destructive at worst. Groupthink serves as the enemy to innovation. When one is afraid of upsetting the group’s status quo, innovation will naturally be stifled. We can put an end to this plague. It will require both honesty and intentionality. As leaders, let’s conduct an honest assessment of the ways in which we may be contributing to the killing of innovation in our spheres of influence. From there, we should be unequivocal in our resolve to root out this problem. Our businesses will begin to truly thrive as a result.
The Best CEO Candidates Are A Stone's Throw Away (Spoiler Alert: Top Talent Officers)
Did you think the December 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) - in the ‘Idea Watch’ section, entitled: ‘Why Chief Human Resources Officer Make Great CEOS - Really!’ – was a breakthrough article? For a few brief seconds, I did. Then I read on. With each line, I thought about my own nearly 22 years of experience in business and HR leadership. Having cut my teeth in a GE/GE Capital owned business, I was truly blessed to be part of a conglomerate known for cultivating top business leaders and talent around the globe. It literally propelled me - with a robust toolkit in hand - to every other subsequent progressive opportunity including the one I hold now. I’m a business leader first. HR leader second. I crave the nutrients found in business strategy. I ask questions. I challenge. I learn and apply those learnings – daily. Working within the box of HR is to me the equivalent of literally working in a box. I have tons of ideas. Not only can I read a P&L statement, I’ve been expected to hold the responsibility of managing one along with my executive team members. Why wouldn’t I? So, when I read in the HBR article that ‘new research recognizes leadership potential that’s waiting to be tapped’ – I was like, what the heck? New research? While the terrain may not be spilling over with top Talent Officers poised and ready for the top seat, it is certainly rich with those ready, willing and able to be groomed. Some of my colleagues have even become disillusioned because the researchers haven’t quite caught up to a glaring fact: many business and HR leaders make the best CEOs. That’s hardly news. As Bernard Fontana, CEO of Holcim, shared in the HBR article – ‘leadership is about transforming an institution, and if you want to have a sustainable transformation, you need to develop leaders who will continue the journey after you. HR is an essential part of that kind of generative leadership.’ Sadly, he also acknowledged that, while more boards should consider hiring CHROs as CEOS, it’s still quite rare. Now, let’s look at it a little differently. How many CEOs do you know of who, after a vaunted career journey, have found themselves on the unemployment line (or at least at the end of their golden parachute)? And, what are some of the most common reasons for that? A four-year study by LeadershipIQ.com interviewed 1,087 board members from 286 public, private, business and healthcare organizations that fired, or otherwise forced out, their chief executive to understand the same question. Thirty-one percent of the respondents cited ‘mismanaging change’ as a reason for ousting the CEO. Most pointed to “a failure on the CEO’s part to properly motivate employees and managers, and more specifically, to adequately sell the need to change course. Another 27% of respondents cited ‘tolerating poor performers’ as their reason. Board members shared that when CEOs allowed an obvious low performer to linger (without any improvement or discipline), it destroyed the CEO’s credibility and made it politically difficult for them to hold others accountable. Thank goodness most of us know CEOs, like the one I work for, who are the very opposite of this profile. Back to the study - does any of it sound familiar? Who might be best positioned with the right tools, tested mettle and straight-up experience in, and leading through, the trenches? Your top Talent Officer, that’s who. So, I dare say that the HBR article and its reported discoveries about CHROs shouldn’t be viewed as arriving at a ‘provocative prescription’. It should be viewed as a key prescription. And, as for that one word at the end of the title on the cover page, with its well-intentioned exclamation point – ‘Really’ – I’d replace it with two others - ‘Of Course!’
Organizational Culture Can Help You Raise Your Performance Bar
WGNinHR is pleased to feature Dr. Bouvier Williams as our Guest Author. Understanding your organization’s culture can be instrumental in helping to improve your level of performance and provide you with a real competitive advantage. C-suite leader, consultants, and change agents often cite an organization’s culture as one of the main factors that contribute to its long term success. Knowing the drivers behind an effective culture and how to sustain them enables market dominant companies to reap an array of benefits that include index beating financial performance, top talent attraction, high employee morale, and customer retention. Great cultures give organizations a competitive advantage, but are not limited to institutions. Employees can also reap a host of beneficial outcomes, if they know how to identify an organization’s culture and translate it into personal objectives they can attain. Organizational Culture: What Is It and Why Should You Care About It? Due to the subjective nature of culture, it can be a maddening effort to precisely articulate it or create one definition that works for everyone. Still, one might think about organizational culture as a strong cocktail which has a unique mixture of an institution’s values, beliefs, symbols, history, language, communications, and ongoing practices that can influence peoples’ behavior (sometimes without them realizing they are being influenced) and mindset. And to further muddy the waters, an organization can have a set of sub-cultures based on differences in geographic location, job/functional requirements, and departmental goals (Schein, 1990). However, it’s fair to say that organizational culture is very real and can be perceived by others. Cultural attributes may vary by business or industry, but we often glean similar elements across high performing organizations. The best organizations to work for seem to emphasize respect, quality and sustainability, trust, employee engagement, adaptation, entrepreneurship, collaboration, inclusiveness, goal achievement, and customer focus. The extent to which individuals engage in behaviors that reflect the values/norms can make the difference in how they achieve expected results. Adopting the rules of engagement on the playground will get you invited back to play with the other kids. Similarly, employees who are cognizant of their workplace culture tend to harmonize their individual goals with the objectives and needs of their managers, fellow employees and customers. Tony Hernandez, executive vice president of human resources at Regions Financial Corporation said, “The understanding of your organization's culture is going to be critical to your future success. How you communicate with key stakeholders, how you navigate through the office politics, and how you get things done are all going to be influenced by the culture. The approach that worked at your last company may not work at your new company. How quickly you learn the new culture and understand how to work within it will determine how quickly others perceive you as an effective contributor and respected team member.” Culture and employee performance exist in an almost symbiotic relationship. Organizations want to recruit the best talent in order to attain or keep market supremacy and help them realize their objectives. At the same time, employees need an environment they find supportive in helping them reach their individual goals. It’s a very well balanced echo-system that pretty much depends on organizational culture to influence individual performance. Clearly you need to pay attention to the organization’s culture, but how can you tell what matters most to those in your specific environment? Read the Culture Sign-Posts Culture is invisible to the five senses, but research suggests that it can fall within a wide range of recognizable types and behaviors. These behaviors are observable through the everyday practices of senior executives, managers, team leaders, peers, and subordinates as they participate in meetings, send emails, create new products, and resolve customer issues. You simply have to pay attention to what others are doing around you to identify the type of culture that dominates your organization. Peter Phelan, founder and chief executive officer of ValuesCulture, an organizational culture consultancy, states that “Gaining true intimacy with a culture can take a long time and focused effort but there are some litmus tests that can certainly help us sketch an outline. The leader is always a great place to start. If they're visibly invested in positive connections with their team and setting a tone, with actions as opposed to just words, where people are valued you might be off to a great start.” Phelan also said. “Another thing to look for is congruence between what the company says about its culture on, say, its careers page, and what others say the company on social media. Signs of openness are also quite revealing. If an organization has been around for a long time, but has never conducted an employee engagement survey - that might be a revealing sign that they're not invested in improving the employee experience.’ Looking at the chart below, ask yourself which of the culture types and associated behaviors below best reflects your current organizational culture or sub-culture? Indicators of Culture The indicators that reveal what really matters to your company, agency, foundation, or academic institution frequently come to the surface in staff meetings, performance feedback conversations, and project presentations. The scattered evidence of your specific workplace culture presents itself in abundance once you begin to look for and read the signs. Using Culture as a Competitive Performance Advantage They say everything a company does can be duplicated at the end of the day which is why long term market dominance is so difficult. However, company culture remains consistently hard to replicate. That’s probably why it remains a reliable differentiator between organizations. Once you choose to plug into your strong organizational culture (presuming you wish to do so), you can leverage it as a means of differentiating your professional brand and build some sustainable relationships with customers, vendors, leaders and colleagues. Educate Yourself. There is more information available to you to gain insight into the potential performance benefits on culture. Phelan offers a variety of practical tools to his clients to help them come up to speed on organizational culture. He said, “There's a very encouraging uptick in great content on culture today. Deloitte's human capital trends report has excellent data and perspectives on culture. And the transparency provided by sites like Glassdoor give people unprecedented insights into the culture of organizations. In terms of competitive advantage and overall happiness - making sure that you find a culture that's right for you is the key. And thanks to the culture conversation now being fueled by tremendous sophistication, transparency, and data than ever before - finding that fit may be more attainable than ever.” Make Like An Archeologist and Dig. Culture is often recorded in a Society’s sacred texts and documents. Organizations are also quite fond of capturing their values in written form. Hernandez advises many employees to “Memorize your new company's mission statement and list of core values. As a quick check, you can always ask yourself if what you are doing fits in with the company's mission and values. Many companies use a set of core competencies that they use to assess their associates as part of the performance management process. These competencies will give you a good indicator of what behaviors are important to your new company. If your company uses a regular associate engagement process or survey, study the questions to understand what the company hopes to improve upon.” Phelan echoes the sentiment. “Once you've got a handle on the culture it really can be a wonderful cheat sheet for organizing and prioritizing your work. For example, if you're in a fast-moving start-up in a dynamic industry and they pride themselves on innovation, chances are that perfection isn't an expectation. So, a perfectionist type may need to see if they can get used to getting a solid 1st draft turned around more quickly than they're used to, getting feedback, and turning around Version 2.0 immediately.” Consult the Tribal Elders. You can benefit from using the institutional/historical knowledge of friends and associates who’ve clocked some significant time in your organization. Hernandez suggested that you “Find a respected person within the organization that has been there for a lengthy period of time. More often than not, they have been there for a long time because they like it there, and they have learned to be successful. If you show interest in the company and ask them what they have learned, you would be surprised at how much people are willing to share their knowledge to help you.” Cultures Are Dynamic. You Should Be Too. Change as they say is a constant. Organizations respond to changes in consumer tastes, global markets, and to their competitors. Human beings change physically and mentally over the course of time in order to function successfully in their environment. Organizational cultures evolve as leaders and employees exit and new individuals with new ideas and technologies replace them. It they don’t continue to grow and adapt, they wither away. Constantly watch for signs of a new direction or new behaviors that signal things might be different in the future. Prepare in advance to acquire new knowledge and skills. Phelan reminds people to “Boost their flexibility and nimbleness by consciously getting out of their comfort zones to thrive in the new setting for a spell. It's a good thing to know how to engage with folk who are different and think differently from you and this could be a good training ground for future opportunities.” Culture & Performance Are Linked To Your Brand Getting in sync with your organization’s culture can pay off by helping you up your performance game and enabling you to set yourself a part from the pack. Doing it right will assist you in building strong relationships with customers, suppliers, and other critical constituents in your company. Since your values and behaviors are aligned with what matters to the organization, you can make better decisions and get the systemic results that will help others engage with your brand. Ultimately you become the kind of talent that your organization desperately wants to retain. Dr. Bouvier Williams is an expert and speaker in Talent Management, Leadership Development, and Personal Branding. He has worked for Global Fortune 1000 organizations in the Life Sciences & Materials, Media & Entertainment, Financial Services, and Professional Services industries.