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.

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.

3 Things to Avoid on Employee Appreciation Day

*Sharing from the dusty archives…

I have to admit,  I am not a fan of 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 4th.  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 4th 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 4th, 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!

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!

4 Easy Steps to Reduce What’s In Your Inbox

Are you bombarded by email, texts, tweets, posts and instant messages?  I’m not talking about the fun ones from your friends.  I’m talking about the ones you get from your boss, colleagues, clients and other people in your workplace.   I could easily spend all day trying to sift though all these messages, not to mention the time I spend trying to respond to each one. To top that, at least half the messages people send me don’t really need my attention.

~sigh~

So what do we do with the emails we don’t think we need?  The tendency for many people is to delete the email and prioritize how we tackle responding to the rest.  You may even find yourself feeling anxiety or anger when someone sends you a seven paragraph email when they could have been more concise.  After all, don’t they realize you are busy?

What we all forget is that to the sender, it was important enough to write.  The reason isn’t important.  What is important is that we should take time and acknowledge that it is that person’s work.  I use the term “work” in the sense of discretionary effort put forth with a specific outcome in mind, not actual value.

I don’t want you to spend all day dealing with only answering email or other messages.  What I  want you, and me, to do is realize that we shouldn’t just dismiss the work that someone else finds important.  What should we do?

  • If you ask for a report, read it when it is prepared.
  • If you receive an email, at least read through it once.
  • If you shouldn’t be copied on something, quickly and politely notify the sender to stop including you in the future.
  • If someone creates any work product for you that is not helpful or needed, advise them politely.  Either tell them what information would be helpful or that it is not needed going forward.

Not rocket science, I know.  Just small reminders that just deleting email and other messages won’t help clear your inbox.  You need to communicate with people about what you need, and most importantly, what you don’t.

Weigh In: The Impact of Talent Management Technology Survey is LIVE Now

cropped-H3_HR_Advisor_300x100.pngH3 HR Advisors is proud to launch our first Talent Management Technology Impact survey in conjunction with iPractice (Perry Timms and Adelaida Manolescu). As the reach and impact of Talent Management technology increases, organizations are looking to compare their use to other successful organizations. This survey will measure and compare those impacts.

Please take a moment to respond and to share with all your HR friends and colleagues. Thank you!

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?