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!

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?

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.

HR Decision Making Through the Lens of Pricing Psychology

MoneyI was reading an article on the Conversion XL blog, Pricing Experiments You Might Not Know, But Can Learn From and the insights shared were fascinating.  I started thinking about how these concepts can be applied to HR.

Here are some of the basic premises from the post:

  • What people say and do with regard to pricing are two different things
  • When given 2 options, people find it hard to distinguish between the 2
  • When 3 options are given, it is easier for people to compare the options
  • The Anchoring Theory suggests that if you give someone a number as a starting point, they will use it to estimate an unknown quantity

If we are to take each of those concepts and apply them to employee behavior in an organization, there are many hypotheses that come forward.

What You Say vs. What You Do

According to the article, what people say they will pay and what they actually are willing to pay for something are often two very different things.  Take for example, buying a car.  We all know that there is some range of stated pricing on new cars.  Since car buying is actually about negotiating a price, though, depending on your negotiation skills, the value of any trade-in vehicle, and other variables, you may drive away paying far less (or more) than another person who just bought the same car.

In the workplace, leaders know that what employees say they are going to do and what they actually do are often quite different.  It’s not that a majority of employees are trying to be deceptive, it’s just human nature.  Sometimes they over-promise, sometimes schedules change, and sometimes they truly have no intention on delivering what they say they will. The lesson is that just because someone says they will do something, it’s not necessarily true.

The 2-Option Approach

The idea with pricing is that if you offer two options, you would think it would be easy for someone to make a decision between them.  This does not prove true, though, because people often have a hard time distinguishing between them.

I have seen this come into play many times in the HR world.  Think about how many benefit plans your organization offers.  I have worked at places that offer two and it can be challenging for employees to choose.  In this case, they often just keep whatever plan they chose when they began employment.  Even if you throw an active open enrollment in the mix, it is still hard to compare.

The 3-Option Approach – The Decoy

The way to make the decision-making process easier is to add a third option.  In the article, the example used is choosing between a trip to Paris with free breakfast (Option A) and a trip to Rome with free breakfast (Option B).  Both cities are wonderful and have many good attributes, so people had a hard time choosing between the two.  When a third option was added, a trip to Paris without breakfast, it was much easier for people to choose and a majority chose Paris with breakfast.  The reason it works is that you offer a third option that is fairly similar to one of the choices and it makes that option stand out.

Go back to our benefit plan example and if you add a third benefit plan that is similar to one of the original two, employees should actually have an easier time deciding.

Anchoring Theory

The last thing I found intriguing was the idea of price anchoring.  The theory was developed by two psychologists, Tversky and Kahneman, in the 1970s. The theory is that if you give a person a number – any number – and then ask for a cost estimate of something, the person will use the number as a starting point for the estimate.

In HR, this could come into play in hiring and forecasting.  If you have a group of managers who are asked to forecast their hiring needs but they are not sure where to start, by giving them a number (maybe from prior year, from another division, etc.) you may be doing more harm than good.  It could influence their thinking in such a way that the number they decide to go with is close to the number provided.  This is one reason it’s helpful to use HR technology to provide many points of business data to leaders.  By using real data, decisions will be clearer and more fact-based.

Feel free to challenge the ideas or tell me you agree.  What have you seen in your organization?

How Valuable are Personality Tests

I’m not a lover of tests.  Whether it was tests in school, medical tests or tests at work, I’m not a fan.  So why is it that when I see quick little tests on Facebook that my friends take, I’m intrigued?  Now there are many that I chuckle at… for example, I saw one this past week that would tell you what your “Old Lady” name should be.  Nah- count me out on that one.  Today was different though.

Someone I trust, fellow writer Lisa Rosendahl, posted a link to a blog by a mutual friend, Jennifer McClure.  Jennifer participated in a personality test and offered a free code for readers to participate.  I tend to feel confident that I know who I am and how I feel, but I was curious, so I participated.

The test was designed to share how others see you based on your responses.  I must admit, I wasn’t surprised by the results.  My assessment basically said the following about me:

  1. I am ambitious, focused and compelling.
  2. I provide influential leadership that leads to results
  3. I have strong opinions and very high standards for myself and others.

There were a few more nuggets, but those were the major ones in the report.  The real value for me came in the part of the assessment that told about what would not be a good work environment for me.  I don’t know that I’ve ever taken one before that addressed that specifically.  Here’s what I learned:

  1. Other people should not put me on a work treadmill and expect me to do well.
  2. If people try to over-manage my agenda, I won’t stay motivated.
  3. I like to drive my success, so I need to be in charge of my own deliverables.

As I think through those things, it really makes sense.  When I think back to jobs that were good but just not the right “fit” for me, it usually was because they were highly-controlled, over managed workplaces.  Not the ideal setting for someone with my personality and skills.

I think having the extra portion of the assessment that shares how the assesse might work best, it sets you up to really evaluate your own work situation.  If you’re like me and find this interesting, I invite you to check out Jennifer McClure’s post and get your free code/ assessment today.  It just might make you approach work differently.

4 Ways HR Can Operate More Like a Profit Center

*Sharing one from the dusty archives that is still relevant today…

**Disclaimer** I am not an accountant and don’t even play one on tv.  That said, I am not implying that ideas in my post meet the generally accepted accounting principles.  You’d have to talk to your accountant for that kind of advice.  The post is intended to explore ways HR can communicate the value of services in a way that is understood by the leadership team in terms of ROI by considering ways to operate more like a profit center and less like a cost center.

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How much would you pay for a real competitive advantage when it comes to the people knowledge of your company? 

That is a question we should be asking the business leaders in the departments we support both as HR generalists and recruiters. Honestly, I am tired of hearing that the human resources department is just a cost center.  Why?  Because we add value, we support our internal clients, we are often proactive on business strategies to help the “real” profit centers succeed, we make sure you get paid, get your benefits, are able to relocate, provide your training, and more. Why aren’t we treated like the internal consultants that we are?

Now let me tell you that I talked to an accountant about this and had an hour long debate (ok, borderline argument) on why companies are not able to treat the HR department as a profit center.  In layman’s terms, it’s because a company cannot generate revenue from itself, however, it can offset expenses or offsetting revenue.  I realize that for those who are familiar with accounting this is greatly oversimplified, but it gets the point across.  Revenue and profit can come from external sources.  So, being internal, HR does not turn a profit.

Got it.

I’m not saying we throw all the accepted accounting principles and practices out the window.  My idea revolves around the way we “sell” HR and recruiting services internally.  Even though it technically does not turn a profit, why can’t we set up the way the profit centers use HR in a way that “charges” (ie. distributes the share of the expense for the HR department) out to the profit center based on the type of HR usage they have?

What if HR departments set up a fee schedule for all the ways that HR departments and recruiting teams add value to the company, then “charge” our internal clients by tracking our time spent on projects like external consultants would.  Maybe then they would place more value on the services they receive.  Here are some ways I think the department could operate more like a profit center:

1.  Charge back other departments for their use on:

  • Training courses offered
  • Recruiting and sourcing
  • Succession planning for their team
  • Conflict resolution
  • Coaching services
  • Compensation analysis
  • Employee surveys

2. Focus on expense reduction. Since HR cannot actually make revenue, the biggest impact they can have is to creatively reduce expenses.

3.  Review how vendor procurement is handled. This is an area where the HR department can take steps to being more involved.  It is usually handled by the finance department, so why not help in those business decisions if you are a recruiter or HR generalist?

4.  Use social media to aid in reducing external recruiting costs. Bring the knowledge and leadership of the sourcing process internal.

So, tell me what you think.  Should we take steps to operate more like a profit center and less like a cost center?  Share your views in the comments.

Are You Ready to Disrupt YOU?

There are only a handful of times in life that can be magical, disruptive, important moments. It could be a dramatic moment involving a birth or the loss of a loved one.  It could be one of those moments where someone says the exact thing you needed at the exact moment you needed it, good or bad.  I recently had one of those moments.

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Last week I was honored to deliver the keynote for the SilkRoad Connections conference in Chicago.  (Thank you to the folks at SilkRoad for the opportunity and their hospitality).

As I walked through the empty ballroom early that morning, I felt the twinges of nervousness. As someone who often speaks publicly, I found this shocking and delightfully satisfying. The reason my nerves were at attention was not the event, nor the size of the crowd.  It was the fact that I was sharing material that was personal — my personal story of disruption that led to life changes.  I knew I wanted to talk to attendees about personal disruption.

Disruption often gets a bad rap because it invokes thoughts of people or events that shake things up in a negative way.  I was going to talk about how disruption, whether negative or positive, can have a very positive learning outcome. To do this, I shared my story and I have never felt so vulnerable. It was almost impossible to keep my emotions in check, but I did. I then related it to the personal disruption of the audience. By the time I left the stage an hour later, something very special had occurred.  I had created my own disruption. I will never again approach public speaking in the same way.

Disruption can be a valuable influencer in terms of taking your professional or personal life to the next level.  It inspires us, even forces us, to make changes that lead to new opportunities. This is critical in any business role, especially human resources where we tend to be a little more cautious about risk.  Knowing that we are the gatekeepers of legal and compliance issues for an organization, we spend much of our time reacting to organizational issues. This leaves us scrounging for time to spend on strategic planning and leaves virtually no time to focus on our own skill development.

Until … disruption.

Proactively creating a disruption in your thinking can be just the spark that you need…

– See the rest of this post at: Human Resources Today blog