How Advice From Leaders Early In My Career Almost Derailed Me

There is no shortage of articles that share stories of all the amazing things that former bosses taught the writer.  Maybe your former boss taught you to be resilient, bold, careful, approachable or accurate.  Maybe they were successful leaders, or maybe they were only mediocre.  Either way, we tend to try to look for the silver lining when remembering those people that mentored us.  The flip side is looking at bad bosses and the impact they have.  Again, no shortage of articles on this topic.  My take today will have a little different spin.  I’d like to think back to good bosses that did impart some not-so-valuable nuggets along the way.

I spent the first years of my career working for some amazing companies that truly had brilliant leaders.  I do credit them for almost all of my good business habits.  However, there were a few times that they gave me advice that could have helped derail my career, had I listened.  Here are five things the Traditionalist and Boomer leaders taught me early in my career that I was smart enough to ignore.

  • Work as many hours as possible-  I can’t tell you how many times in my twenties that someone older told me to always arrive before the boss and leave after the boss.  I’m not sure why, but I listened.  At first.  Then, I realized that not only did this make me quite tired, it didn’t equate to better performance or results.  Not one leader ever mentioned that they noticed I was doing this.  So, early in my career, I decided to focus more energy on creating great work product instead of putting in time before/ after the boss’ hours.
  • OT is a badge of honor– Related to the concept of working early in the morning and late at night is the idea that by putting in a lot of OT, you’re doing well.  Let me be clear, OT is NOT a badge of honor.  Like before, I fell into this time tracking trap too.  My first couple years, I was logging 500- 600 hours of OT a year.  Now, as a salaried employee I was not getting pay for this, it was just an exercise to see if I worked more than 40 hours per week.  Again, once I realized that this did not yield better results, I stopped.  I began to adopt the theory that I would work as hard as I could to produce a great result, in whatever time frame that took.  Often, it’s not requiring OT.  Sometimes it does.  I think this approach has been a much healthier one for me and certainly led to me being more engaged at work and at home.
  • Drink if the leader or client drinks- Maybe this was a 90’s thing, but looking back, I can’t believe this advice.  Early in my career, I had several leaders who told me this.  They said that even if I didn’t drink the alcohol, to order it to be polite to the host or client.  Now, I have the stance that as an adult, you do what makes you comfortable.  Believe me, if a client wants a drink, that’s fine.  It doesn’t mean I have to order one just to look cool.  Same with a boss.  On the flip side, if I want to order one, I will.  It really depends on the setting, the situation, the people involved and my own mood.  The point is not to let colleague or boss peer pressure you into ordering alcohol.
  • Always wear professional clothing-  When I first received this advice, it was quite specific.  Those were the days when business suits reigned and specifically, a skirt suit for women.  I found that wearing suits usually made me feel stuffy and quite unnatural.  I know some people love them, and that’s great.  However, I’ve managed to have a successful career with my altered approach.  I recommend dressing for the occasion.  At times I addressed or worked with people in manufacturing settings, I would dress more casually.  If the situation was a group of highly professional business people, a nice dress and blazer tends to do the trick.  Either way, the point is that I am not smart or full of ideas because I wear a suit.  As long as clothes are clean and pressed, go with what makes you most comfortable. For me, this even means wearing jeans and dressing them up or down.
  • Don’t get too close with anyone at work–  The idea that HR is an island and we are “nobody’s friend” stuck with me for years.  This likely meant I missed out on some really great relationships in my lifetime.  But, I’m not bitter.  I have learned in the past few years that being myself (professional when needed, fun when it makes sense) is the best approach.  I don’t mind clients getting to know me personally.  Many know my kids and what my family likes to do in our free time.  In return, I like to know about them too.  I care about their families, their dreams, their challenges, their health.  They are friends and business partners.  It’s a much more human, caring way to work, and I love it!

As you can see, I’ve tried to adopt my own approach to my work style.  Had I followed all the advice given to me, I definitely would not be where I am today.  So what about you?  Have you worked with some great leaders who gave any bad advice?  What have you hung on to and what have you cast aside?  Tell me in the comments.

Executive Perspectives: Impact of Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is a topic that comes up every time I talk with leaders.  Whether you’re in human resources, finance, IT or in other parts of the organization, the impact of digital and how it’s transforming the way we work is top of mind.  I am partnering with Infor on a series of webinars to help executives gain perspective and insight on many of the ways technology is changing the workplace.

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Please join me tomorrow, July 27th,  for a free webinar with Infor execs, Charles Cagle and Bill Vellante, as we discuss the ways leaders can be ready for the changes.   Register here today.

Driving Business Success: Limiting How Much We Look Back

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 2.41.39 PMSince I’ve been working from my home office the last few years, it strikes me that I don’t drive much anymore.  Well, I drive to the airport a fair bit, but day-to-day driving is a thing of my past.  I was thinking about it because I have young teens who are already anxiously focused on learning how to drive.  When we are in the car, they ask tons of questions about how the car works, what the driving laws are, how other drivers respond, etc.  It struck me that when they asked about mirrors and how often I use them, I really don’t look in my rearview mirror much.  Sure, I use it to check when I’m backing up and going that direction, or to do a quick check to ensure that someone else is not going to hit my car from behind.  What I don’t do is use the rearview mirror to determine my direction or progress driving forward.

So, why do we spend so much time looking back in business when we are trying to drive the organization forward?

I first ran into this thinking when I moved from the HR practitioner/ leader ranks to that of a full-time analyst. The thing that surprised me the most was that analysts tend to do surveys that predominantly focus on what happened in the past as a way to predict the future.  Now, that IS very valuable, however, business leaders don’t necessarily benefit from only looking to the past to determine their future direction or approach.  In fact, there are some clear barriers to predominantly focusing on the business rearview mirror.

Barriers when we look back

  • Best Practice- Analysts and companies provide statistics on the “best practices” of an industry or company.  These are certainly interesting data points to consider in your organization, and I do value these.  However, when we try to adopt some other organization’s “best practice” without understanding what our real business issues are, we run the risk of choosing and implementing a process or solutions that may not apply to our workplace.  It also may not drive the appropriate business results.
  • False Solutions- A trap many leaders bring to a new organization is proposing a solution based on what they did in a prior company.  Similar to the best practice, this false solution may not address any of the current company’s problems.  Time and again, we find leaders pursuing a solution in search of a problem, not the other way around.
  • Failure Focus-  There are nay-sayers in every organization.  The barrier is letting these people get you hung up on what went wrong in prior projects and letting that derail future progress.
  • Excruciatingly Slow Data Analytics-  A majority of organization leaders I talk to say that they do not have access to all the data they have.  This means they have no simple, efficient, accurate way to pull data together in order to make a business decision.  By taking too long to get data on the past, the data becomes stale and can lead to missing out on opportunities to make the organization better today.
  • Future Fear- Showing other leaders that we fear the future is going to influence them in embracing their fears as well.

While there are many other barriers, you get the point that by primarily focusing behind us, we may be missing out on opportunities to excel, to drive the business forward, or to fall behind competitors.  Everything we do should not be a response to someone else’s move.  As leaders, the best thing we can do is suggest new and innovative approaches to process, to thinking and to solutions.

What are you doing today?  Are you looking back, or to the future?  Let me know what techniques you use to move yourself, your team and your organization forward.  Please share in the comments.

How The Laws of Wealth Can Improve Your Management Game

I was looking for some summer reading.  Something that would challenge me, inspire me, and help me continue on my path to being a better leader.  Mission accomplished!

3d-bookWhether you’ve been a long-time reader, know me personally, or are just finding this blog, you’ll find that I am someone who likes to look to industries outside of the traditional HR arena when it comes to learning how to be a better leader.  For example, I’ve gravitated to science and design as places to look for inspiration on creating better leadership practices or people-relations experiences.  Additionally, as someone who has held high level HR positions that tied closely to the CFO and finance teams in organizations, the role of understanding the impact of finance on the people practices is equally important.

With that in mind, I found a new resource from the finance world for leaders and managers to use in their day-to-day people management.  To be clear and upfront, this is in no way a paid endorsement and I did not receive anything “free” in order to make this recommendation.  The source I’m sharing today is a new book by author Dr. Daniel Crosby.  If you’re not familiar with him yet, you should be.  Dr. Crosby’s book The Laws of Wealth is not only helpful as an individual striving to have better understanding of your personal finances and approach.  It’s a source that has components that can be used in managing people.

Dr. Crosby shares chapters dedicated to specific steps the reader can take to have a better approach to financial self-management.  These same steps can be applied to your role as a leader or manager trying to manage yourself and your team.   Let me share a few examples from Dr. Crosby:

  • You control what matters most- Over the last 20 years, the market has returned an average of 8.25% per annum, but the average investor has gotten just over 4% of that. The highs and lows of the market may be out of your hands, but how you choose to behave is within your power, and is just as important a driver of returns.
  • You cannot do this alone- Most people understandably assume that the greatest value offered by a financial advisor is, well, financial advice. Not so. Vanguard’s “Advisor’s Alpha” study shows that working with an advisor provides around 300 basis points of outperformance and that fully half of that value comes from behavioral coaching. Morningstar, Aon Hewitt, and Envestnet all have similar studies showing that hand holding trumps stock-picking when it comes to optimizing returns.
  • Trouble is opportunity- We are all familiar with the Oracle of Omaha’s admonition to be “greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy,” yet so few of us manage to successfully view a downturn as the opportunity it truly is. There is true joy (and riches) to be had in financial schadenfreude, so commit yourself to continue investing and even upping your savings when times are bad.
  • You are not special- Robert Shiller is fond of saying that “This time it’s different” is the most dangerous phrase in investing. While mania can carry a market for a time, the truth about what works long-term on Wall Street is pretty boring (think paying a fair price for a profitable company) and is unlikely to fundamentally change.
  • Forecasting is for weathermen- Famed contrarian David Dreman found that from 1973 to 1993, of the 78,695 estimates he looked at, there was a 1 in 170 chance that analyst projections would fall within plus or minus 5% of the actual number. The smartest people in the world don’t bother with the crystal ball. Said JP Morgan of the market’s future trajectory, “It will fluctuate.”

His themes of how we are not always in control as leaders, how we have to rely on others to be successful and have optimal results, how trouble is inevitable and the importance of managing well in a downturn, that we are not special and thus learn from each other, and that looking constantly into a crystal ball instead of real life is not the best way are all themes that hit home for me.

If those examples ring true for you, pick up The Laws of Wealth today.  Who knew that a finance-focused book could become the best summer reading you’ve had?  For more information, you can follow Dr. Crosby on Twitter @danielcrosby or find resources on his site Nocturne Capital.

HR Happy Hour 248 – Generational Influence vs. Life Stages: The Battle!

Recently on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve and I talked about one of our favorite reports.  The KPCB Internet Trends Report by analyst Mary Meeker. In the report, Ms. Meeker examines macro trends in technology, economics, demographics and more.  We discussed a few of the major items, one being the impact of generations on the workplace and behavior.  There is a heated debate regarding what impacts behavior most.

FYI – Steve felt he was right of course.

We also talked about some of the major shifts in world and workplace demographics and how some of the major tech trends might impact work, workplaces and Human Resources.

You can listen to the show on the show page HERE or by using the widget player below:

This was a fun and interesting converstaion for sure. And many thanks to our HR Happy Hour Show sponsor Virgin Pulse, www.virginpulse.com.

Finally, remember to subscribe to the show on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and all the major podcast apps – just search for ‘HR Happy Hour’ to add the show to your subscriptions and you will never miss a show.

Need a New HR System? What Leaders Need to Know

This has been a big month for the HR Happy Hour show.  First, we are THRILLED to welcome our new partner and sponsor, Virgin Pulse to the HR Happy Hour show!  Virgin Pulse, part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, designs technology that cultivates good lifestyle habits for your employees. This is especially important if you want to better engage your employees and help them participate in ways to improve their well-being.  Please visit them at www.VirginPulse.com for more information.

This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve and I talked with Dave Fiacco, President and COO of PeopleStrategy. As President and Chief Operating Officer of PeopleStrategy, David Fiacco sets the bar high and ensures the company upholds its promise to deliver exceptional solutions coupled with extraordinary service.

Dave talked with us about a topic that leaders everywhere struggle with.  Do you need a HR system?  Do you need to upgrade your system?  If so, how do you know and what are the steps?

Some of the issues we tackled on the show:

-What considerations should HR think about during the process of moving from using Excel or other home grown tools to an actual HR system?

-How do HR leaders (or other leaders) decide if a suite or point solution is what they need?

-How does the type of solution you choose tie into pricing?


Remember to download and subscribe the the HR Happy Hour on iTunes, or using your favorite podcast app for iOS or Android – just search for ‘HR Happy Hour’ to never miss an episode.

Working Human: Happiness, Satisfaction and Engagement in the Workplace

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 2.40.13 PMWhere do you stand when it comes to thinking about the impact of happiness in the workplace?  Do you fall in the camp that believes that employers can make employees happy?  If so, what specific actions can they take to make the employee happier?  If not, do you think that employees are the only ones who can make themselves happy?  That leads to examining the idea that maybe it’s not about happiness at all.  What if it’s more about satisfaction or engagement?

These are the types of questions that HR practitioners and other business leaders are wrestling with in the workplace every day.  Enter the Globoforce WorkHuman conference to help us have a better understanding of the impacts of happiness, recognition, and giving thanks to our workforce.  I’m here in lovely Oralndo, Florida to participate in the 2nd annual WorkHuman event.  I have to tell you that as an invited guest, I would still tell you if I didn’t believe in the event.  In fact, I wouldn’t come.  This is one of those events where I can find lots to learn and many new business people to engage in discussion with on some fairly challenging topics.

We kicked off today with several general sessions that covered many of the questions in my opening paragraph.  Derek Irvine shared some statistics about companies who approach work from incorporating a more human experience.  According to Derek, “Companies that have succeeded with environment saw a 31% increase in productivity and their employees take 10x less sick leave.”  In addition, he challenged the audience members not to underestimate the power of a simple “thanks”, as that act can have a positive impact on engagement and discretionary effort.

The next session focused more on happiness and how it can impact our employees.  Harvard professor Shawn Achor shared research about the potential for person / employee to impact people around them.  Let me start by telling you that Shawn’s energy and passion for his topic is contagious.  I am always a little cynical, but he really spoke to the optimist buried inside me.  His research is showing that true happiness is not coming just by equating it with success because our brains are constantly redefining success.  He said that happiness comes when you are moving toward your potential and by helping others reach theirs.  It made me wonder if people can truly be happy if they aren’t moving toward potential? Can there be a stopping point?  I’m wondering if the phase of life you’re in can have an impact on this.  So many good questions arising from these sessions.

Obviously, events like this really make you think beyond the every day approach to work.  Stay tuned for more information from WorkHuman and be sure to weigh in with a comment if you have any ideas or opinions on happiness, engagement, impact or any ideas from the post.

 

Gen X Used to Feel Entitled Too- Did You?

generation-xSo, you think the Millennials invented the idea of feeling entitled?  Well, it’s not true.  No, other generations of young people have felt entitled.  I felt that way too.  Yes, Gen X has our share of dreamers and employees that were so eager to take on new challenges.  The difference I’m seeing is that when I was early in my career, I had older and wiser bosses who knew just when and how to put me in my place.  There wasn’t concern about hurting feelings with direct feedback.  They just did it.  They lived it.  I never once felt coddled.

I remember being twenty-seven years old and feeling like I knew it all.  I thought I knew better than my boss and I really believed I could “see the big picture”.  I just knew he was holding me back.  After all, I had a M.A. in HR Management and a few years of experience.  Why couldn’t he SEE how ready I was for a promotion?

Well, for starters, I didn’t put in enough time.  In my exempt role, I thought work could be left at the door when I headed for home.  Second, I didn’t do anything proactive to continue my learning in the human resources field.  No webinars.  No articles.  Nothing.  Third, I focused on administrative tasks.  I wasn’t stretching myself to think of the impact of my tasks.  Fourth, I had no idea what my boss really did.  To me, it looked like he was on the phone and in meetings.  How hard was that?

I remember the day I told my dad this boss was holding me back.  He gave me some great advice that I still embrace today:

  • Shadow your boss.  Find out what he really does and how he reached that position.  Watch for skills he uses to connect with people in the company and if he is successful, model those.
  • Come to work early and work late.  Learning how to do more than administrative tasks takes time and practice.  Back then, this meant many hours in the office.  Today, using technology, it’s easy to work early in the morning or late at night from the comfort of your home.
  • Keep educating yourself.  Always.  It’s not your company’s responsibility to do it all for you.
  • Volunteer to take on more challenging work without expecting money or title. Those will come in time.

Somehow, I made it to a more mature state of mind.  I like to think I grew up.  Not sure that it had anything at all to do with my generation, it was just more of a life lesson.

How did you progress through your career?  Did you experience any similar feelings?  What generation are you part of?

I’d love to hear all these answers (and more), so please jump over to my short, pulse survey on Generations and Leadership.  It takes 1- 3 minutes to complete and I really appreciate the feedback!