The 3 Little Pigs: A Business Story

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

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.

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.

Owning Engagement in Your Workplace

We’re going on well over fifteen years of thinking about employee engagement in organizations.  And after years of surveying employees and rolling organizational results into a macro look at our country, the results today have not changed much from when we first started the analysis.  What we know is companies that lose disengaged employees often see the negative impact of having lower profitability and higher recruiting expenses.

From a company perspective, there are always things that can be done to reach out to employees and make them feel valued.  What has changed in the last fifteen years is using technology to bolster engagement by creating solutions to aid in stronger organizational connections.  These can include solutions to:

  • Encourage mentor relationships- Employees who feel mentored know that someone in the organization cares about their development and career path.  This mentor relationship also creates an outlet for continuous communication, and feedback, so that the employee has a strong connection point.
  • Communicate more, not less- Being transparent, even in economic downturns, builds trust with employees.  They will be more likely to hang in there for the long run.  Additionally, letting an employee know how valuable they are to the company is key.
  • Allow and encourage some fun in the work day- Fun at work = employees who don’t dread being there.  You don’t have to be playing ping pong or foosball all day at work, but definitely encourage a culture of being able to step away from the desk to chat and congregate.  It also means providing technology to make collaboration and sharing easier.  And beyond the technology, having senior leaders who will use and champion the technology so that employees feel compelled to use it too.

But it’s not just about the company driving employee engagement.  In many organizations, employee engagement is looked at as the relationship between the employee and the company.  In actuality, it goes far beyond this and is the relationships that an individual employee builds with colleagues and clients that truly indicate how likely the employee is to stay with the organization.  Engagement is also a set of behaviors an employee must embrace in order to make the connections that will be lasting.  So, what can you do as an employee to build that relationship?

Ways to foster your own engagement

  • Volunteer to do more
  • Be more active (in the group, the topic, etc.)
  • Look for ways to improve, then implement them
  • Take ownership for what goes well and where you need to improve
  • Get “fired up” and use your passion
  • Be loyal
  • Build trusting relationships

The take away for me is it’s about focusing on the relationship, not the individual inputs  and levers.

What do you think?  What would you add to the list?

Disruption for Good

It’s been a crazy couple months here in the US.  We’ve seen more disruption than most of us planned for from our presidential election, regardless of who we voted for (or didn’t vote for).  Let’s be honest, there is quite an uproar about all the negative disruption we’re now facing.  However, it reminds me that while some disruption can be bad, there can also be disruption for good.  I’d like to focus on that today.

You might wonder how disrupting things can be good.  Well, when you think of your career or personal life, think about what the goal is when you plan to be disruptive.  Are you trying to bring about a positive change?  Are you trying to convey new information?  Are you working to make other people heard or included?

I like to remind myself that it’s all about intent. When you approach your work, your team, your career….even your enemies, if you do so with a positive outlook and intent to communicate, you’ll find that you can disrupt for good.  I shared some of my thoughts recently at DisruptHR London.  It’s a 5 minute video.  I welcome you to watch and share your thoughts about disruption in the comments.  What works for you?  What doesn’t?

Disruption For Good | Trish McFarlane | DisruptHR Talks from DisruptHR on Vimeo.

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.

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.

Older Workers are Becoming Invisible

quote-Jeanette-Winterson-whats-invisible-to-us-is-also-crucial-90396My twelve year old son loves to play the game Would You Rather with me.  Have you played?  You basically ask the person to choose between two things and sometimes, they give a reason.  For example, he recently asked me, “Mom, would you rather be invisible, or have the ability to teleport?”  As you can see, this is a question that may cause a gut reaction, but when you start thinking about it, you begin to come up with many reasons why one choice may be better than the other.  For the record, I chose the ability to be invisible.  The truth is, I may have that ability sooner than I think.

A few days ago, I read a friend’s comment on Facebook.  He was at a client location that was filled with beautiful, young people and as they all walked by, he felt old.  For the record, this friend is in his forties, like me.  Another friend commented that once you reach a certain age, you basically become invisible.  I admit, I never really thought about that before.  While I’m not quite ready to buy into the idea that a person in their forties is “old”, I have thought about older workers, namely from my parents’ generation, that are starting to feel left out or ignored in the workplace.

Have you ever felt this way?  Are you old enough that this is happening, or starting to happen?

Maybe the problem is we’re all so focused on the younger generation and making them happy that we are forgetting that much of our organizational knowledge is walking around unnoticed.  In fact, if left unnoticed, are the organizations missing out on ways to actually improve our bottom line?  It seems like this “invisible generation”, formerly know as the Silent and Boomer generations, are actually starting to get a little notice again.

Take for example the movie The InternThe plot has a “senior”, played by Robert DeNiro, who becomes the intern for a young, vibrant CEO, played by Anne Hathaway.  For several months, she not only ignores him, she doesn’t even give him a second thought.  She can’t see the value that is sitting right before her eyes.  I don’t want to spoil the movie, but the point is that older workers are often passed by when we’re in need of support, good ideas, or differing opinions on how to handle something.  It’s such a shame.

All this talk of older workers becoming invisible leaves me with more questions than answers, for now.

Do you have someone older in your life that could provide a different, fresh perspective in your work?

If you are the older person, do you reach out to colleagues who are just starting out or who are earlier in their career to offer advice and counsel that is judgement-free?

If you’ve been lucky enough to have an older mentor in your life, what is the best piece of advice he or she has given?

If you work in an organization or on a team that has little diversity in age, what are you going to do to reach out to a colleague of another age?

How can the idea of capturing the value of more “senior” advice be applied in the workforce today?

In order for organizations to be successful in the future, they are going to need to be able to capture all the knowledge of their older workers.  By taking active steps to ensure that these employees do not feel invisible, you’ll not only be capturing that information, you’ll be ensuring that those employees feel valued and engaged for the remainder of their employment.