Stop! 3 Things Leaders Should Not Do on March 6th

I have to admit up front that I am not a fan of made up, fake holidays.  I always figured if anyone in my life needed to use a made-up reason to say they love me (Valentines Day) or appreciate me (Mother’s Day), then they really don’t know me at all.  I would much rather have someone tell me they love or appreciate me on a random Tuesday then sending me a dozen roses that cost $150 on one of those days.  As an aside, this cynicism likely comes from working at a florist in my teenage years and seeing men forget their loved one until the last minute, then rush in to buy said $150 roses just to stay out of trouble.

candy_jar_tootsieWell, we are on the eve of yet another made up holiday…..Employee Appreciation Day.  It’s coming to an office near you on March 6th.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a BIG supporter of telling your team and all your employees how much you appreciate them.  I am a fan of hand written notes, emails, phone calls, taking them out to lunch and more.  What I am not a fan of is the leader who never tells their employee how much they appreciate them, then only does on March 6th as a way to think it’s “all good” for the year.

There are already articles and letters floating around from various organizations telling leaders how they can recognize their employees easily and with almost no thought at all.  It is unreal.  I’m here to say right now that if you are a leader, it is supposed to be hard, not easy.  It is supposed to take time, you are supposed to give feedback and you should put thought into it.  Here are 3 things you SHOULD do on March 6th, Employee Appreciation Day to turn the tides on the “easy” approaches that are not meaningful:

  1. Form Letters-  First, do NOT send the form letters full of jargon and business-speak.  At least, do not send them in the spirit intended.  Instead, print out the letter with all the (insert employee name here, insert project here, etc.) left in.  Then, hand write a note at the bottom sincerely telling the employee how much you appreciate them and that you’d never send them a form letter like the one the note is written on.  It will be quirky and unique.  Another option is to call the team together and start reading the form letter mentioned above to them.  As they look at you completely perplexed, stop reading and tell them they mean more to you than a form letter could ever say.  Go around the room, in front of their peers, thanking them and giving examples of what each person does to bring value to the team.
  2. Donuts-  I know, you’re probably thinking that Krispy Kreme or Duncan Donuts is RIGHT on your way to work and you can grab a couple dozen from the drive-thru.  Don’t do it!  Instead, do some reconnaissance today and find out what kind of candy, gum, or healthy snack each team member loves.  Go to the store and buy each employee’s favorite thing.  It will take more effort, that much is true.  The cost will not be more though and I guarantee that a sincere thank you as you hand the person their favorite snack will be well worth the effort.  I once had a boss bring me a huge canister of Tootsie Rolls “just because” I was working hard.  Since that’s one of my favorite candies, it was a wonderful surprise and I knew she valued me.
  3. Gift Cards- We’ve all heard the expression that money can’t buy you love.  The same holds true with  a thank you.  Sure, a $5 gift card for coffee is nice, but it’s the easy way out.  Instead, do a more personal act of service.  Something like asking each staff member if they would like something to drink, then going to your company kitchen or the local store, or even coffee shop, and picking it up or making it for them.  It becomes an act of service and for a boss to do something nice that makes them go out of their way is much more meaningful to the employee.

So, there you have it.  Three ways you can make a more meaningful impact in the way you thank your staff.  Oh, and by the way….thank YOU for wanting to do more to recognize them.  It takes a great leader to want to go the extra mile!

Creativity: The Importance of the Blank Page

Hegarty-on-Creativity-ReasonWhy.es_One of my favorite books is a little treasure I found while rummaging through an off-the-beaten-path bookstore in London. Hegarty On Creativity is a book of musings by award-winning ad man John Hegarty.  Right from the start it drew me in because he discusses the idea of the importance of the blank page. As long as I can remember, I have been a journal fanatic, so Hegarty’s thoughts and experiences speak to me as a writer.

Not until Hegarty pointed out that, “the blank page is one of the greatest challenges faced by the creative person”, did I think of it that way.  I always look at a blank page as limitless opportunity. To me, a blank canvas is like an unspoken promise.

I can do anything.
I can write anything.
I can create everything.

So, how is it that the greatest opportunity can also be one of the greatest challenges?  Well, it just makes sense.  When opportunity is put before you, or if you’re creating your own opportunity, there is also great risk.  There is the expected risk of failure, but there is more than that.  There is the risk of success~ of succeeding too fast.  There is also the risk of alienating those who are close to you, and that’s ok.

The key is embracing the risk so that you can get to the reward.  How can you do that with the blank page?  Here are 3 key ways:
  1. Consider the blank page your permission slip- Much like when we were kids and needed a permission slip to do things, many adults fall into the pattern of not moving forward with something as if they don’t have permission.  Consider a blank page as your personal invitation to do something new, to disrupt the status quo.
  2. Make the blank page an outlet to give yourself freedom to create-  Sometimes we live or work in a culture where we feel oppressed.  Consider the blank page your ticket to freedom.  You can rework any process, program or old solution.  You can create a completely new business.  You can inspire a person, a generation or an industry.
  3. Use the blank page as a place where you list all your barriers, be it things or people, and strategically work to eliminate all barriers to your goal-  We all have barriers.   What I’ve learned is that those barriers only have power as long as we let them.  Write down all the things in your life that are limiting your capabilities to be the very best you and get rid of them.  It will not be easy, but it will be worthwhile.
 If you’re in search of inspiration, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Hegarty on Creativity.  His view of the world is one full of honesty, partnership and eliminating barriers.  Well worth the time to read.  Enjoy!

Cringeworthy Feedback: How to Take it and How to Dish it Out

Whiplash-37013_5Feedback can hurt.

I’ve seen it hundreds, maybe thousands of times in my career.  I’ve received the painful “gift” of feedback from well-intentioned but unduly harsh bosses.  I’ve watched as bright, creative souls were pounded day after day, year after year by tyrant supervisors.  It is appalling.  And if you’re in HR, it’s likely that you’ve given these types of leaders training at some point on how to give more constructive feedback.

You see, for some reason it seems that people either avoid giving feedback and tell other people when someone is doing poorly (in their opinion) or they fly off the handle and use hurtful, unconstructive words that are not meant to motivate, but to belittle and destroy.

Or are they?

I just watched the movie Whiplash and first, let me tell you, no~ EMPLORE you, to watch the movie if you haven’t.  As someone who tries to watch as many Oscar-nominated films before the Academy Awards, this particular film did not make it to a theater near me in time.  If it had, I would have been furious watching Birdman win for Best Picture knowing that the GEM that is Whiplash was overlooked.

Watch the movie.

Ok, back to the story.  As I watched the movie about an over zealous conductor and his harsh training and feedback for one of his studio drummers, I realized that sometimes, there is a reason feedback needs to hurt.  I started wondering if we’re getting too soft in this era of giving every child a trophy for participation and every employee the “warm fuzzy” feeling just because we think if we don’t, they will bash us on Glassdoor or on social media.  It’s like being led by fear.

The truth is that sometimes, people need harsh feedback.  Sometimes, for feedback to take hold and inspire the person to change, we need to make an impression.  It is a fine line to walk between being helpful and being too brutal.  So, what do you do if your boss is a tyrant when it comes to feedback?

  • Take a deep breath and determine the motive.  Some people are just mean for the sake of being mean.   If that’s the case, RUN.  If not, move on to the next step.
  • Is this out of character?  If your boss is usually constructive and sporadically gives harsh feedback that you can somehow determine is well intentioned, it could be for your own good.  Grit your teeth and bear it.  Try to look past the delivery and cling to the underlying message to understand what you can do to improve.
  • What’s the boss’ motive?  Is their boss riding their ass?  Are they taking the blame for something you did?  Try to figure out why the feedback is harsh.  You may need to take a break for the boss to calm down, then ask for a meeting another time to discuss specific ways you could have performed better.

 

Now, what if YOU are known as the tyrant?  

Well, first you need to decide if you just like being that way or if there is a real reason.  If you enjoy verbally torturing people, get used to the fact that you’ll likely always have high turnover because many people will not put up with your crap.  If you are only harsh situationally, you’re probably ok.  Make sure you’re not violating any workplace policies or breaking any laws (of course). As long as you’re not, then try to use harsher feedback only when absolutely necessary to make your point and to get the recipient to make a change.

Have you worked for a boss that gave feedback that was harsh?  Are you that boss?  Tell me about your experience in the comments. 

Simulated Work Experience for Leaders

agelab*Sharing from the archives.  Robotics and computer simulation continue to grow as a topic in the organizations of today.  What do you think? Will robotic capabilities help us as leaders as we sprint into the future?

I recently read a fascinating article about an experiment at MIT’s Agelab.  Agelab researchers have created technology in a suit that uses robotic technology to take able bodied individuals and put them into a simulated situation where they have limited mobility, limited eyesight, etc.  They are hoping that by having younger individuals wear the suit while trying to perform “normal” day-to-day activities, the individual will experience the challenges an older person does with completing physical tasks.

Seeing the capabilities of the suit made me wonder, could MIT’s Agelab help generation X or Y understand the aging work population and their work behaviors?  From a physical standpoint, I think it could.  Jobs that involve a great deal of physicality can certainly be simulated by technology like this.  What would be even more interesting to me would be a way to simulate the mental challenges a leader faces, and those people in leadership roles tend to have been in the workforce longer.

Much like a simulator for pilots, creating a simulated work experience for leadership roles could actually help train and prepare more junior staff for roles they are working toward.  For example, it would give the staff insight into areas they need to increase skill and knowledge like understanding financial statements, feeling the pressure of multiple high-level demands from the c-suite, negotiating contracts and making critical hiring and termination decisions.

If you could create an ideal simulator for a skill, ability or task that a leader faces, what would you add to the simulated experience that you wish you had known when you were more junior in your career?

Don’t Make Me Unfriend You

Sharing a post from the archives today.  I was reminded of it when a friend recently told me she was dealing with some really unsavory “friends” online and she had to do a cleanse of her so-called friends online.  Could you benefit from cleansing some of these people from your life?

unfriendGrowing up, my parents would steer me away from friends who had undesirable behavior.  Now that I’m a mom, I find myself doing the same thing with my children. Why?  Today’s lesson is a simple one…  you are the company you keep.

  • If you surround yourself with people of good reputation, you will be viewed positively.
  • If you associate with accomplished professionals, you will pick up on what makes them successful.
  • If you affiliate with people who have good values, you will be perceived in the same light.

It frustrates me to see people who surround themselves with people of questionable character.  If you align yourself with people who are arrogant, rude, negative, bossy, demeaning or unmotivated you will be perceived similarly.  That is a FACT. 

To bring some social media perspective to this, it also applies to your online relationships.  Late night host Jimmy Kimmel recently started a campaign for National Unfriend Day.  While I’m confident that the friends I keep online reflect the quality of people I associate with, I’m thinking this could be a good time for anyone who uses social media to take a hard look at the company they keep.

So, take a good look in the mirror today.  Then, take a look at your contacts online and in your day-to-day life.  If there are people of questionable character, now is your chance to unfollow, unfriend, or dis-associate from them.   You don’t have to associate with negativity.  After all, you ARE the company you keep.

Do Your Leader’s Expectations Limit Your Team?

bad leaderI recently listened to an episode of the podcast This American Life that caused me to see the world differently.  In the episode ‘Batman”, Daniel Kish was highlighted.  If you’re not familiar with Daniel’s story, I encourage you to listen to the episode or learn more here.  Basically, Daniel was born blind.  He intuitively began exploring the world by clicking his tongue on the roof of his mouth.  This type of echolocation somehow allows him to navigate his surroundings without the use of a cane or other assistive device.  Because it is similar to the ways bats navigate, he was called Batman.
In the episode, one thing Daniel shared really stood out.  Society limits blind people with our expectations.  We don’t expect that they will be able to navigate easily, ride a bike, play sports, etc.  If a blind child is subjected to growing in this type of environment, it’s possible it can actually limit the child’s potential.  Daniel stressed being supportive of people, regardless of what our preconceived notions and expectations are.
I started thinking about how this plays out in the workplace.  It raises the question do your leader’s expectations or preconceived notions limit your team?
 
This question is not meant to incite leaders everywhere.  I pose it as a way to ponder whether or not we are limiting our team performance.  Consider the following:
  • If a leader creates a goal for a team, team member or project and provides some or all of the steps to reach the goal (a.k.a. micro-managing), are they limiting the performance of the team?
  • Are leaders so entrenched in certain approaches that they are not providing environments where employees are encouraged to be creative, innovative and able to come up with new processes to achieve business goals?
  • If your supervisor does not see the real skills of the team, can it hinder the success even though each member is giving their all?
What is your experience?  Have you seen this play out in your workplace?  Please share in the comments if you’ve seen it or even better, if you’ve seen how it is corrected.

People Are Not Functions

If you go to a convention and don’t break through the impersonal function, can you really work with someone successfully or are you limiting your success?
functionI recently purchased an Amazon Fire TV stick and was having quite a bit of fun finding old movies to watch.  You see, my kids are still young so there was a ten year stretch where all I did was watch Disney movies.  Now, I’m catching up on that time I missed.  I am a huge Kevin Spacey fan, so I started with The Big Kahuna near the top of my list.  First, if you haven’t watched it, I can share that I only made it through the first 18 minutes, give or take, of the movie.  Even with Spacey anchoring the line up, it was not something I could sit through.  There were a few good nuggets though and one I’d like to share with you.
The movie starts in a motel where Spacey and two other men are preparing for a convention/ meeting/ event in their “suite” that really is not all that sweet.  Spacey’s character makes a comment about the impersonality of conventions and says, “People are functions, not individuals.”
Really.  What?
It hit me like lightning that this is mostly true.  It’s true at work and it’s true in the extended workplaces of conventions and conferences.  But not for me.  All the events I’ve been to I make a point to be myself.  It’s the only way to really connect with fellow attendees and build relationships that go beyond the superficial.  I don’t want to be known as a function.  But, what if you are known as a function?  “Oh, that’s Jane.  She’s just the 2nd shift manager of the  packaging department.”  Sounds pretty cold if you ask me.
What do you do if you’re in that predicament?
There are a few ways to set yourself apart and it all revolves around actively branding yourself.  My friend Jason Seiden said it best years ago when he coined the term “profersonal”….there is no personal brand and professional brand.  It’s all blended together now and the faster your recognize this and promote this, the better off you’ll be.  Steps to take are:
  • Don’t fall into the jargon trap. Don’t use the terms personal brand and professional brand.  If you are, stop.
  • Be yourself.  Be professional.  Be approachable.  Be trustworthy.  If you do those four things consistently, everything else falls into place.
  • Be someone that people want to work with at all costs.  Be the person that everyone speaks highly of and recommends you as someone that all their connections must connect with.
  • Never define yourself by a job title.  Do what you do best and a good employer will design the job around you and value your contribution.  A great example of this was one I learned at PricewaterhouseCoopers early in my career.  Like all employers, there were job titles and openings for specific positions.  However, once in awhile we came across a person who was so special that we had to have them even though we didn’t have a job open. We hired those people anyway and most were successful.
So, if you’ve learned nothing else today, don’t let anyone else define you.  Oh, and don’t watch The Big Kahuna.  You’re welcome.

HR Happy Hour #199: Employer Branding from the Inside Out

Recorded Tuesday January 20, 2015

Hosts: Trish McFarlaneSteve Boese

Guest: Jason Seiden, CEO Brand Amper

Jason co-founded Brand Amper, an employer branding platform that builds brand equity quickly and sustainably by putting employees—the most trusted source of information about a company—at the center of brand creation. For 20 years, Jason has been making professional communication more genuine and productive.  You can find him on Twitter, he’s @seiden.

Listen to the show HERE

In the latest HR Happy Hour Show, we welcomed back our friend Jason Seiden, CEO of Brand Amper, one of 2014’s ‘Awesome New Startup’ technologies from the HR Technology Conference to get an update on what has been happening with Brand Amper, and to talk about engaging employees in the brand and mission of the organization. Often ‘brand’ initiatives are drawn up in corporate boardrooms or by expensive external consultants without much thought or acknowledgement of what the actual brand messengers and deliverers, the employees, think or feel or believe. Jason talks about the importance and power of leveraging actual employees and what they actually think and believe and aspire to in creating, communicating, and executing the brand promises and delighting customers.

Additionally, we lamented the sorry state of Email in the workplace, (it is NEVER going to die), and Jason shared why he wears the same black H&M shirt everywhere he goes. Steve is 100% with Jason on this strategy, while I has some concerns about the mental well-being of both of the gents.

You can listen to the show on the show page here, and using the widget player below, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through)

Check Out Business Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Steve Boese Trish McFarlaneon BlogTalkRadio

 

As always, you can listen to the current and all the past shows from the archive on the show page here, on our HR Happy Hour website, and by subscribing to the show in podcast form on iTunes, or for Android devices using Stitcher Radio (or your favorite podcast app). Just search the iTunes store or your podcast app for ‘HR Happy Hour’ to add the show to your subscriptions.

This was a really fun show and I hope you enjoy listening!