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.

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.

Your 2016 Guide to Finding Your Adventure in Business

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 11.21.45 AMThe beginning of each year marks a time when many industry analysts and experts make their predictions.  I could tell you about all the HCM technology trends that came into being in the last couple years like predictive analytics, organizations changing from on-premise solutions to cloud-based solutions, or the constant and continued focus on culture, engagement and wellness.  I could do that, but I won’t.  Enough industry experts have covered those 2016 predictions and there’s no need to rehash them.

Instead, for 2016, I’m interested in what HR leaders can do from a practical standpoint to move the needle in their organization.  What’s my secret to approaching this task?  Combining industry knowledge, personal leadership experience, and a more fun aspect of watching the Tournament of Roses Parade.  It might not sound like a chosen method of guidance, but hear me out and I think you’ll agree that it’s an excellent way to get inspired. Change needs inspiration.

The reason the Rose Parade is inspiring is that it has a theme. Each year, a different theme is selected and all floats have to depict and represent that theme using natural materials such as roses, flowers, seeds, fruit and bark.  These floats are also typically high-tech and computer animated which adds to the fun for the parade-goes and TV audience.  It’s this continuity of thought and execution that leads me to a new way to focus my attention on the business year ahead.

From 1952 and the theme “Dreams of the Future”, 1986’s “A Celebration of  Laughter“, 2003’s “Childrens Dreams, Wishes and Laughter” to last year’s “Inspiring Stories“, I can always relate the selected theme to something I’d like to do or think about in the coming year.  2016 will be no different because the theme is “Find Your Adventure”.

When we think about work, the workplace and the technology that impacts those things, it really is an adventure.  With that in mind, every new adventure needs some guidance to find the way and lead to greater success.

 

4 Steps to Find (and Define) Your Adventure

  • Add to your arsenal- As leaders, we often find ourselves overloaded and struggling to keep on top of the business at hand.  A great way to start the year is to add simple, intuitive solutions via app that can aid in your productivity and management.  Try apps like Evernote, Asana or Slack and watch the improvements start!
  • Break processes- We all get stuck in ruts. Make 2016 YOUR year to break out at work and personally by altering your decision-making process, processes in your daily routine and more.
  • Seek to inform ONE mind-  How often do we complain at work, yet never seek to change what frustrates us?  Quite often.  We tend to think there is no option to make meaningful changes.  Instead of complaining this year,  seek out one person to inform and try to change their mind about a situation or issue.  You’ll find that once you can convince one person, the others are much easier to bring on board.
  • Analyze everything and tell stories-  With all the talk of technology incorporating predictive analytics, it will only work if you are able to understand and interpret the findings.  If you’re rusty in the analytics department, make this your year to focus on being able to tell a great story based on your data.
Making a difference IS possible.  
Leading change IS possible.  
If you make small, iterative steps, you can reach new heights this year and find your adventure!. Cheers to a prosperous 2016!

Driving Change Based on the Diffusion of Innovators

“We are chameleons, and our partialities and prejudices change place with an easy and blesses facility, and we are soon wonted to the change and happy in it.”  ~Mark Twain

For as long as I’ve been working, and I know much longer than that, there has been talk of how to change and evolve the workplace.  I guess it is human nature to find flaws in things and think we can make it better.  How then is the actual act of changing something so challenging?  In the face of change, why do many of us balk and cling to the less-than-perfect current state?

In order to be creative and drive change, we need to re-examine some of the same industry topics that have been discussed previously.  It’s about taking the truisms of our every day workplace existence and rethink how to better design them in order to have ideal future functionality.  We also need to think FAR beyond our comfort zone to push for new ideas that will revolutionize organizations. We also need to think about how change comes about and how our actions can help drive greater adaptation and acceptance.  It truly is an EVOLUTION where change is adopted slowly and it adapts to the needs of the individual, the organization, the economy, the barriers, and the technology.

One model I’ve come across throughout my sociological studies and in my career is Everett Rogers‘ theory on the Diffusion of Innovators.  Rogers was a sociologist who, at the age of thirty, wrote that diffusion is, “the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.”   Rogers basically demonstrated that  change agents can be broken down into their rate of adoption.  Here’s a common model of how that looks.

fig112

 

A Real-life Example

Having just completed another HRevolution, we receive questions about how the event fits into the Human Resource landscape.  I have a few observations that can help illustrate the user adoption of an event that is disruptive to the norm.

  1. There is a strong feeling that the excitement that comes with a less structured event will be able to drive the momentum for faster change in the industry.  While I personally wish this were the case, it is not.  As you can see on the curve, only 2.5% of people are truly innovators followed by the 13.5% of early adopters.  I look at people in these two categories who seek out learning in a non-traditional format as the risk takers.  These are the people who are helping create the pressure for change and they are the ones who can personally respond well to change.   So in my opinion, people in the top 16% should really be seen as the people  who are going to take new, innovative looks at old facts and come up with ideas to drive business efforts forward.
  2. The “early majority” need more facts.  It’s not that they are adverse to change, they just need that little extra push in order to support and embrace the change.  This group will need to either be persuaded to experience the change or they will need to see concrete examples of how a new approach can benefit them.
  3. What he labels “late majority” are really the group that needs to be shown WHY they need to get on board.  They have numerous objections and will need many discussions to vet all the possible negative outcomes of the process.  In my opinion, this is where many leaders fall.  It’s not that they won’t change, you just have to provide a compelling case to nudge them in that direction.  They may have more to lose when it comes to their credibility.  However, get them in your corner and people will definitely notice.
  4. The last group is  the “Over My Dead Body” group.  If you need a barrier, here it is.

Regardless of what type of change you think is valuable to your organization, come at the problem with:

  • A plan- Like any skilled business person knows, you have to have a well thought out plan and a business case to even get your toe in the door to start the discussion.
  • Facts- Case studies, research and statistics to support the change initiative.
  • Ability, influence, or power to articulate and persuade- If you don’t have any of these, you need to find someone in the organization who can help you fill this role.  Look to the people you know who tend to be early adopters and convince them.  Then, sell the idea to the powers that be.
  • A backup strategy- What if it doesn’t work?  What is the plan you can come back with that says you’ve already thought through several scenarios in which the change does not take hold?

What are other ways you can convince others to adopt innovative ideas you, or your team have?  Please share them in the comments.

*Adapted from the dusty archives

Perks and Upgrades: Why Occasionally Spending More Makes Sense

Datsun B210I read an article that said that the Datsun B-210 was voted one of the ugliest cars of all time.  Now, just looking at the picture, it would be hard to argue that it is not one of the ugliest cars.  I’m not sure why they have it pictured with a train, because it certainly was not faster than a train- not even close.  And the color choice?  That 1978 burn orange is really attractive, if you’re into pumpkins.

I know it wasn’t the most attractive car of all time.  But, it certainly had its good points.  My dad actually owned a car just like the one pictured.  It was small and had no frills.  No air, no power anything.  It did come with an AM radio, but that was all.  I’m sure he bought it just to get to and from work.  He was a plant manager at a zinc refinery so it was definitely not a place you would want to take a nice car.  The chemicals from the plant ruined the paint on every car in the lot.  The reason I had the pleasure of riding in the car was that my dad thought it would be the perfect fuel-efficient mode of transportation one summer to travel from St. Louis to St. Petersburg Beach, FL.  That had to be about the longest, hottest, 21 hours in a car I can say I have ever had.  But, it got us to our destination and back home again.

We only kept that car for about two years.  Sure, it was practical at the time, but with a growing family it just didn’t make sense.  And based on the amount of time spent in the car, my parents realized that they needed a few perks and upgrades.

Really, the car is symbolic of choices each of us make every day.  In human resources, are we no different.  The economy is bad.  Is your company in the market for new HR technology?  A new recruiting tool?  Do you need help from a consultant?  I know the tendency is to shy away from spending.  But, that is only good in the short term.  If you buy the “practical but cheap” technology, you can bet you’ll be sorry in a year or two.  The economy will rebound.  Your business will grow.  Then, you’ll be back at square one and having to pay much more than if you negotiate today.

Some people will disagree, but I feel strongly about this.  Invest NOW in your company.  The time is right, the pricing is right.  Think about your next five to ten years, not just about today.

What do you think?  Is your company keeping spending on hold?  Are they spending but buying the practical or cheaper technology?  Or, are they visionaries who are taking a little risk and investing in the company’s future?  I’d love to hear in the comments.

Hate Your Boss? How to Bridge the Personality Gap

Free-Rating-Buttons-PSDDo you like your boss?

Maybe that’s not a fair question.  The real question is… “Do you like your boss enough to stay with the organization?”  In my career in HR, I’ve fielded complaints ranging from dislike of micro-managers to working for someone who is so distant that a relationship never forms.  I’ve found that as I’ve worked with executives over the last 18 years, one thing stands out…. if there is not a match in style between the leader and the subordinate, ultimately that working relationship will suffer.  Over time, either the employee will become dissatisfied and leave the company, the leader will not be satisfied with the employee and performance will suffer, or both people stay in the relationship and the department never reaches it’s full productivity potential.

Awhile back, I was reading an article in Scientific American Mind on Attachment Theory.  The article was about the role that Attachment Theory plays in romantic relationships.  It struck me that although they were focusing on romantic relationships, the theory plays out in our work relationships as well.  Attachment Theory was first discovered by Mary Ainsworth, an American psychologist.  Her work with a British researcher, John Bowlby, resulted in the idea that people who have a strong attachment to others, specifically their caregivers, are more likely to survive.  The three types of attachment are:

  • Secure– This person has a solid base and is able to explore their environment.  They’re more likely to learn and thrive and are comfortable with intimacy.
  • Anxious–  This person is overly worried about where the other person (ie. parent, romantic partner or boss) is and what they are doing.  By being preoccupied with that, they are not easily able to focus their attention on the situation at hand.
  • Avoidant– This person believes that if they allow a close, trusting relationship to form, they will lose their independence.  They try to minimize closeness in their relationships and keep other people at arms length.

The impact of this in the workplace can be huge.

If there is a mis-match of the boss’ attachment style and yours and you do not recognize it, your relationship may never see success. One or both of you will be disappointed in the other person.  This disappointment will cause friction over time if not addressed and eventually, something has to give. Recognizing your own attachment style can help you in your relationships because then you can make adjustments to aid in bridging the gap. According to the article authors, Amir Levine and Rachel S.F.Heller, “attachment principles teach us that most men and women are only as needy as their unmet needs.  When their emotional needs are met, they usually turn their attention outward.  This result is sometimes referred to in the literature as the ‘dependency paradox’: the more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more indpendent and creative they become.”

As we help leaders, or as we review our own leadership style, the message is clear.  We need to help stack the deck by working toward having a more secure and trusting relationship with our boss.  This is where HR can really help an employee focus efforts on strategies to reach that goal instead of focusing on all the problems in the working relationship.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these attachment styles and how you’ve seen relationships play out in the workplace.  What has worked and what hasn’t?

How to Calculate The Number of People It Takes to Change Your Organization

squarerootBack in 2010 I wrote a post about how to Tap Into Informal Leaders to Influence.  The basic premise of the post was that I learned that in order to turn or change an organization, you only need to find the square root of the total employees and focus on spreading the word through that number of people.  For example:

Organization size-  5,000 employees

Square root of 5,000-  70.71 employees

So, in order to make change stick in this example, you would need to find the 70 employees who are the informal leaders/ influencers and get them on board. Messaging should still come from more formal channels, but by getting the influencers to spread the word with you, you can make a more significant impact on the organizational change.

I have been thinking about this as I have conversation after conversation about organizational culture, influence and employee engagement.  I’ve talked to leaders over the years who sincerely believe that company culture comes from the top down, and maybe that is a possibility.  I tend to embrace the idea that with each new employee you add to the organization, the company culture shifts a bit.  They each help form the ever-evolving culture.  I’m not sure that either opinion is 100% correct and that’s alright.

What I am sure of is that if this theory is true, a company can be changed by a relatively small number of people.  If you’re in a position to want to make your workplace better, more inclusive, more productive and more welcoming to all employees, it really doesn’t take much to turn the whole ship around.  The same holds true for the reverse and this is why a small group can also make a workplace unbearable.

When I first heard this theory, I began reaching out to the informal leaders in my organization whenever a more formal message was coming out.  I would find those influencers who may not have a fancy title or years of service, those who had the ear of the other employees though.  I would make sure they knew what was coming and that they felt like part of the process.  It really seemed to make a difference in getting ideas from management accepted.

What do you think?  Have you experienced this before?  Let me know in the comments.

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!