3 Ways To Become a More Modern Leader: Culture, Technology, Innovation

 If you’re in a leadership position, one of the easiest patterns to fall into is working in past processes.  In the short term, this is typically an acceptable practice.  In the long term, it can be career suicide.  If you’re someone who is stuck in the past, there are ways to overcome any resistance you have toward the modern workplace, how people need to work, how to better interpret data or accepting new technologies and the impact on your work.  Most of us are raised thinking it is all right to be resistant to change.  We hear adages such as:
  • Past behavior or performance determines future performance.
  • Slow and steady wins the race.

It’s logic like this that keeps business leaders plodding along, year after year, doing the same things. Thinking that there is some reward for maintaining business practices instead of taking risks is a commonality many leaders share. This measured, predictable approach plays out whether the topic is new technology, new employee policy, or new recruitment methods. Many HR leaders fall into this trap as well. What can CHROs and other HR leaders do to help ease this type of leader into the present or even the future of the workplace? Three areas HR leaders can focus on are culture, technology and innovation.

The Future Leader- Culture

One of the biggest challenges organizations face in reaching greater success is leadership stuck in the past about the way they view their culture. In the future, successful leaders will start by taking an active role in creating a culture where all employees are heard. One frequent complaint HR departments encounter comes from employees who think their leader is not listening to them. They are not having their needs met, nor their ideas heard.

If an organization has a group of leaders with this perceived behavior, it can create an organizational culture where employees do not feel valued. There are direct ways leaders can make simple changes in communication to conquer this perception. If you have a leader who does not embrace employee contributions, start by sharing the benefits of a partner approach with the employee. Specifically, there are exercises the leader can do to create a more connected partnership with the employee. Several include:

  • Add team member feedback as an agenda item for every meeting.
  • Solicit feedback directly from team members on ways to improve communication among the group.
  • Task different employees for leading being the “voice of the team” for that week or month. That employee has the role of soliciting feedback and ideas for the entire team.
  • For any situations needing a solution, assign team members from different generations to tackle the problem and come up with a recommended solution. By exposing team members to opportunities to more formally share their different perspectives, you will create an environment where employees are not only heard by the leader, but by their colleagues.

These are just a few tactics that can work to improve the team culture. They will not only increase your team’s engagement, but may also help your organization realize a decreased turnover rate. Employees who feel valued and heard tend to stay with the leader, and the organization.

The Future Leader- Technology

Purchasing and using new technology in an organization remains an area where leaders are hesitant and skeptical. Often, it is the fear of the unknown, coupled with rapidly changing technology that keeps leaders paralyzed. Additionally, there is the challenge of working for a company that will not allocate budget to technology upgrades or purchases, so leaders fall into the pattern of not worrying about it. If you are in an organization where there is potential spend but a leader is not embracing it, there are ways to start the conversation.

One area where leaders tend to balk, but could see great reward with adoption, is embracing mobile.  By giving the leader examples of current technology and case studies of where it is working, you will make the leader more comfortable making the move. Additionally, if you point out ways the leaders, as well as employees, use their mobile devices in their personal life for consumer-driven experiences, it may be enough to demonstrate that similar capabilities exist in the work experience.

The Future Leader- Innovation

Finally, demonstrate, stress and reward innovation by the organizational leaders. This continued process lessens the fear of failure the hesitant leaders have. When they see that innovation is being built into the culture, they will slowly begin to feel more secure being innovative. Today, most leaders are not rewarded for real innovation. They are still being rewarded for tactics that lead to short term goal achievement. We give gift cards, trinkets, etc. Start to think about what true innovation could do for your organization. What is the potential revenue impact? Start with a pilot program to build that into a leader’s reward process and see if that is enough to spark an organization-wide movement.

If you continue to get met with resistance from leadership stuck in the past, ask questions to learn what they think could be better with their ways and give examples of how new approaches “fix” those. By citing similarities of how the new suggestion is like the current process, they may be open to considering the approach. It’s all about having an open, honest discussion and using your coaching skills to bring the leader around. The benefits will be numerous.

4 Ways to Handle Misinformation in a Meeting

Picture it:  You’re in an important meeting at work and a colleague, or maybe your boss, says something that isn’t entirely factual.  I’m not talking about lying intentionally to cover something up.  I’m talking about that colleague who believes they are correct, but aren’t.  What do you do?  What is your reaction?

If you’ve followed my blog for any period of time, you’ll know that I am an advocate for Alzheimer’s research and care for those impacted.  I was recently watching an interview with Dr. Gayatri Devi, an expert on the care of Alzheimer’s patients, and she was describing how caregivers and family members can best interact with these patients.  Often, family members correct the many mistakes Alzheimer’s patients make in an attempt to “help” them remember.  The doctor challenged families and caregivers to let many of the errors pass without notice.  She said, “Allow someone the comfort of their error.”

This made me pause for a couple reasons.  My grandmother suffered from this disease for years before she passed, and we quickly learned there was not always value in correcting her when she made an error.  The temptation to correct someone when they do or say something we know to be incorrect is strong.  However, correcting in some situations can be humiliating for the person.  It also may not add value to the overall conversation or outcome, so it is not necessary.

It struck me~ this  approach of allowing someone the comfort of their error should apply to all of us.

I admit that over the years, I’ve been tempted to correct people who are not accurate.  But in most situations, I let the urge pass.  There are times, like when the error is directly related to the meeting at hand, when you’ll need to speak up.  When circumstances are such that you must interject, there are a few tips to guide your approach.

  • Make the “offender” part of your solution-  One technique I use that works is including the person who made the error in my “solution” statement.  For example, if you’re in a meeting and Joe misstates data about your sales results, you could reply that you happened to get an update right before the meeting and that what you’re about to share is additive to what Joe stated.
  • Correct gently and provide data to back it up–  This approach is trickier because it is easier for the person to feel attacked.  Again, saying that there is a new report or updated data is a way to make the correction without humiliating the person who misstated in the first place.
  • Ask a question and insert the correct answer-  I find this tactic works well and also allows the person to save face.
  • Ask for clarification– In this approach, you become the person who is stating they may not be “in the know”.  It depends on the situation, but allows the speaker to share data to back up their position.  If he/she cannot, then default to one of the other approaches and share your correct data.

In the end, you have to judge the importance of the error.  Is it what the meeting is about?  Is it ancillary?  How important is the error to the overall business objectives?  By asking yourself these questions and taking time to pause and consider your approach, you may find that most times you let an error slide.  After all, wouldn’t you want someone to grant you that grace?

How have you handled this in your career?  I’d love to hear your ideas and stories in the comments.

The 3 Little Pigs: A Business Story

Once upon a time, there were three little pigs.
Building Materials
Confidence Level
Ability to Create Happy Ending
1st Pig
Straw/ hay
Built a house
Freaked out when house was blown down
Extremely low
2nd Pig
Built a house
Freaked out when house was blown down
3rd Pig
Built a house
Took in brothers who were not capable of building sturdy house
Blew pig houses down
Freaked out when he could not blow down a house of bricks
Very High

The end.

Wait, that wasn’t a good story?  Isn’t that how you remember it?  Well, it has all the key components that you need to know.  It has the who, the what and the how.  It also has information on the results.  So, what’s missing?

The truth is, you would never present that table to someone who wanted to know the story of The Three Little Pigs.  Even though it has all the components of the story, the information is not connected and does not provide any context about how the actions played out using the materials and the skills of the little pigs.  As I presented it to you today, it’s just a group of facts and it does not help paint a picture your brain is willing to buy in to.

The business world is made up of people who grew up hearing stories.  From birth, we train our brains to make connections between data and the world around us.  We get a satisfied feeling when we understand the data and are able to react to the story it tells.  The problem is, data doesn’t tell a story on it’s own.  It takes someone to weave it together in a way that creates interest for the listener.  The listener needs to understand what is in it for them, what the impact is, and how their reaction can impact the story.

I continue to see this as an area of needed development for many leaders.  For years, we’ve been focused on getting our hands on our organizational data, and that is finally happening in a big way.  What leaders are not as adept with is interpreting the data and then, telling a meaningful story with that data.  In my career, I have spent each day reading email with spreadsheets attached.  A majority of those email over the years have not included any story being told by the data.  This practice of attaching a spreadsheet and feeling like we’ve done our jobs should end.

So, as you start your day, please stop and think about the way you’re conveying your messages.  Are you just sharing facts, or are you adding real value and including your interpretation in the form of a compelling story?

User Experience & Artificial Intelligence in HR Technology

HR Happy Hour 289 – User Experience in HR Tech, Live from Inforum 2017

Hosts: Steve BoeseTrish McFarlane

Recorded Live at Inforum 2017 in New York City

Listen HERE

Recently, Steve and I recorded live from Inforum 2017 in New York City and talked about some of the big announcements and innovations in HR Tech that were discussed at the event. The Infor HCM team continues to innovate in HR technology– from Artificial Intelligence, advanced analytics, and importantly,  user experience design.

On the show, I shared some of the details of these innovations, and we discussed the importance of design and user experience in HR Tech.  We examined what HR leaders should look for, and think about, when assessing potential solutions.

Steve also put me on the spot by asking me to write a letter to her former HR leader self, offering advice as to what to think about when thinking about HR Tech. You definitely want to check out my answer.  Additionally, Steve theorized on how, where, and why the old ‘Big ERP’ approach to HR and HR tech went wrong.

You can listen to the show on the show page HERE, or by using the widget player below (email and RSS subscribers click through)

Remember to subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Back In the Saddle: SHRM17

Sometimes there is value in taking a break.  I don’t mean taking a break in the sense of relaxation, but in removing yourself from some activity or situation.  Sometimes it is intentional and sometimes it is beyond your control.  Either way, it offers the ability to gain new perspective on the value of what you’re missing.  I took a break from SHRM annual last year due to a client commitment.  Now, I’m back at SHRM’s annual exposition and conference and it feels good.

Attending so many times in the past, I see that I was taking it for granted.  I moved from being an awe-struck practitioner who gained valuable work insights, to speaking at the event.  It was certainly electrifying and valuable in a new way, but I moved past seeing the real value in the whole experience.  I became so focused on my own presentation, attending sessions just so I could blog or tweet, attending parties and receptions, and overbooking my schedule before the event even started.  This year is different.

I am attending now as what I will call a “floater by choice”.  I am lucky to speak on the Smart Stage and as a Take10 speaker, but plan to keep it casual and informative, not formal and over-prepared.  I am intentionally not booking meetings and planning all the sessions I will attend.  I am playing it by ear… taking it as it comes and following what seems interesting in the moment.  I hope to find that this new perspective will ultimately bring me new, unique experiences and learning here.  I will share all of that with you.

I’m back in the saddle, but it’s a different ride this time.  Stay tuned for what I see and hear on my unstructured journey and follow #SHRM17 on Twitter for all the latest on sessions, learning and fun at the event.  If you’re “back in the saddle” at SHRM17, find me and let’s meet or catch up.

*Thanks to Andrew Morton and Mary Kaylor for inviting me.  Go to www.SHRM.org for more information on becoming a member, registering for next year’s event, or purchasing this year’s sessions On Demand.



Killing Anxiety at Work

“There is anxiety, but it comes after you’ve finished filming because it’s out of your hands; people are editing it, they’re cutting it, marketing it. And it’s… part your career sort of rides on that. But when you’re actually filming it’s a team thing and it really feels good there for me.” ~Hugh Jackman
This quote by Hugh Jackman caught my eye.  Maybe because it mentions anxiety right from the start and I’m feeling anxious lately.  Maybe because he’s talking about the process of work and creation.  I’d like to think it is due to the latter.  I’m in an interesting time of my life when I refuse to compromise when it comes to the way I want to work.  As I evaluate my own career, I see progress as jobs in our society change.  Employers are taking the employee’s ideas and styles into account in ways that have never been tried before.  Organizations and leaders who want to do more than recreate someone else’s best practices are innovating with vibrant, new approaches to work and the workplace.
It’s exciting.  It’s stressful.  It causes anxiety.
I don’t think stress and anxiety are all bad though.  Often, anxiety drives us to accomplish more, or to try new things in different situations.  When I think about it, the negative anxiety only happens when someone else has control over what I think, what I do, or what I create.  They are so worried about micromanaging and editing what everyone else does that nothing new, innovative or productive really gets through the process.
So, I challenge you to think about Hugh Jackman when you have a moment when you’re feeling anxious.  Is someone trying to control you?  If so, make a sharp turn and think about new ways to address that behavior.  You may just find yourself feeling much less anxious at work.

The Consistency Fallacy

Here’s a question for you.  Are the choices you make today, in terms of the company you work with, the job you do, or the personal choices you make, consistent with who you used to be, who you are today, or with who you want to be in the future?  Is it desirable, or even possible, to have those three be congruent?

As I see it, people often act and react as if there is consistency in life.  We believe the fallacy that there is consistency in our behavior, in our feelings, in our needs, and in our performance.  But, is that the truth?  If we are taught to approach our work and life with that perspective, what is the potential damage? What are the opportunities we miss?

We will never grow as much as we could.  

We will never fully achieve our potential.  

Why?  Because we’re too busy trying to be and train and react like that person we were twenty years ago.Who are you now?  What can you do to ensure that the you of tomorrow is also being considered?

Becoming the Leader Who Has All the Good Questions

Think back to being in your early twenties.  If you’re anything like me, I was 99% positive I was the best, brightest worker who was going to set the world on fire.  The 1% of self-doubt that existed was really a non-event.

Each day, I went to work certain that the “powers that be” would recognize my skills and abilities and that would propel me up the ladder faster than everyone else.  It was partially true.  I was fortunate to have bosses that gave me challenging work assignments, the kind that really push you to learn.  But, every few weeks, my boss would hit me with some business question I wasn’t prepared for.  You know the ones, questions like:

  • How is payroll handling taxation for this consultant who is working in Texas, California and New Jersey in the same pay period?
  • Why is the utilization of our senior associates lower than this time last year?
  • If we reduce headcount by 6%, what is the financial impact and any benefits/ pitfalls we should be aware of?

These were all things that were not necessarily in my arsenal (just yet) and that required a bit of researching, learning and regurgitating.  As I look back now, a little older and wiser, I wonder if the boss really even needed the answers.  It may have been a way to challenge me to step up and think, not to keep doing the job duties I already knew.  The duties that made me comfortable.

Fast forward to today and I am now a leader.  I actually took a new job as the VP of HCM Strategy and Product Management at Infor because I DON’T have all the answers.  What I’ve learned over the years is that if I have a job where it comes easy, where I know all the answers, I become stagnant.  Finding the ideal job means that you should only be comfortable with about 70% of what you’re being asked to achieve.  This will give you room to question, to wonder, to create, and to innovate.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear in the comments.