HR- Let’s Own and Use Our Privilege

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We are all collectively mourning, reflecting, and contemplating how to  respond to the heartless murder of George Floyd and the heartbreaking damages to cities like my beautiful Twin Cities. Many organizations are turning to HR to create recommendations and action plans. A tall order given the years of systemic racism in our country.  Challenging to do during a pandemic.  And an impossible task if our function doesn’t recognize our privilege. It’s time for HR to own our privilege and use our privilege to make real change.

The Privilege Institute defines privilege as unearned benefits that accrue to particular groups based on their location within a social hierarchy. Privileges are often invisible to those who have them and are based on power. So HR peeps let’s be honest.  Our place in our organization’s social hierarchy gives us unique access to data, to creating policies, to employment decisions, and to organizational decisions. We didn’t earn this- it is a privilege of our role. We have or are perceived to have the power to influence who is hired, promoted, or terminated. So yes we have a role of privilege. We are also compensated by, what W. E. B. Du Bois called in his book Black Reconstruction in America,  additional , unearned “psychological wages.” In Du Bois’ book he talks about white laborers who received these psychological wages including “public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks… (which) had great effect upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them.”  I am not white but I  am in HR, and I am given deference and access to all corners of our organization. Our leaders who “police” our organizations know the role of influence I have which effects how I am personally treated. I don’t have to work as hard as others to earn that access and as a result I start with greater political capital to invest.

Once we are conscious of our privilege it is our responsibility to use it for good.  Brandon Sheffield of the San Francisco Weekly outlines steps we can take to use privilege for good. Here are few important actions we in HR need to take.

  • Listen and Trust.  Ask people what they need. What do they see in our practices that is missing?  What needs to be done differently?  Be open to new ideas and let go of assumptions of what we have to do. It’s easy to feel like you already know what the issues and solutions are. Trust that our associates have valuable wisdom to make our organization stronger. 
  • Words Matter.  It’s (LONG since) time to put away the HR speak. Use real words and emotions. A man was murdered. Systemic racism allowed that to happen. Find authentic words and credible speakers– even if that’s not those at the top. Be vulnerable and empathic. Let this be the start of an ongoing dialogue about race and inclusion, not just a guilt-assuaging memo.
  • Accept When You are Wrong and Learn From it. We make mistakes. We have good ideas that sometime have unintended consequences. Own it publicly.
  • Use Your Voice. In HR we hear lots of things. We are also in lots of meetings where we need to bring the voice of others. In our recent executive talent review meeting I questioned when we used the word “unconfident” to describe a woman. It might be true or it might be an unconscious bias about style… let’s cause the debate.
  • Be the Change. Systems and structures work doesn’t sound sexy, but it is the backbone of our function and needs to be strong. Take the time to inventory the  work, including but not limited to hiring practices, hiring sources, compensation equity, promotion and turnover rates for diverse and non-diverse talent. Then create action plans and accountability to address gaps.

I believe it is a privilege to be in HR. I love the work I do. I am passionate about advancing people and the business to achieve our Mission. I also recognize my role confers unearned privilege upon me and it is my responsibility, now more than ever, to own my privilege and use my privilege to make real change.

COV19 Tips: Be Caring, Observant, and Vulnerable

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This has been a crazy week. I think everyone’s work and home life has been infected with COV 19 planning and discussions. This is when it is hardest to be a leader – when things are unsettled, uncertain, and constantly shifting. It is also when our teams need us most. We need to balance business continuity, customer delivery, and employee needs on a daily if not hourly basis. In times like this I always go back to one of my favorite change mantras: move your energy out of what you can’t control and focus on what you can control and influence. And while this week has been long, hard, and frustrating there is still a lot we can control. Here are 19 tips to help us focus on being Caring, Observant, and Vulnerable to help your team navigate the COV crisis.

Be Infectious with CARE through:

(1) Your words. Your words have a megaphone in times of stress. So what you say and how you say it matters a lot. It’s ok to be stressed -it’s not ok to take it out on your team.

(2) Your flexibility. With school and daycare options in flux for families, how can you be flexible with work hours, deadlines, and/or assignments? Working from home does mean working -and people will work harder and more effectively if you help them with options.

(3) Your kindness.  The wise words of Maya Angelou were never more true than at times like this: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”  Let people know that you care about them as people not just associates.

(4) Your trust. Your team may all be working offsite, even offline. How will you manage their productivity? By assuming they are all doing the right thing and treating them as such. Giving and showing trust pays dividends and builds loyalty.

(5) Your time. The most strategic leaders spend 80% their time on and with people. Now that people can’t grab you in the hallway for a quick question or drop in to show you their project, can you have online office hours?  Can you extend your 1:1s to allow time for those extra questions and high touch time?

(6) Your selfcare. We all know the airplane tip put on your own oxygen mask first. This is hard stuff. Be sure you are getting the sleep, exercise, nutrition and balance you need to be there to support your team.

OBSERVE the Health of Your Team By:

Listening. We all handle stress differently. You can hear what’s on their minds by what your team asks. You can learn more by asking them follow up questions.  You can help lighten the worry burden just by listening.

Checking non verbals. It’s a lot harder to pick up on non verbals online. Yet if you tune in you can observe the pauses, the eyebrow raises, the wide eyes. Again stop and check in – help them to articulate those non verbals into words and recommendations.

Seeing Waste. One of the few upsides of this current climate is we have to be focused. What are we not going to do — and is there are reason we ever did it? What can you delegate or delete to help you be focused on that’s really important?

Doubling Recognition. Who on your team is stepping up without being asked? Who took the step of learning a new technology tool to make a remote meeting smoother? Every day you are out of the office, make sure the team know you see their actions and appreciate them.

Being Openminded.  Most associates today want more flexibility. What can you learn from a required work from home that could become how we work? What meetings/projects worked when you delegated them? Allow this to be a pilot for you and your team to reimagine how you work effectively together.

Checking Attitudes. COV19 is dangerous if you have cancer- and I mean a cancer on the team. What you permit you promote, so don’t permit negativity or a lack of engagement.

Let COV19 Make You VULERABLE to 

Honesty. Things are changing at in every sphere quickly, and often in an uncoordinated way.  Being honest about what you know now and hope to know soon is healthy for you and your team.

Fear. What happens if we lose a customer account? What if our suppliers can’t meet our deadlines? These are reasonable fears- and sharing them with your team allows them to help you think of new ideas and responses.

Imperfection. It is unlikely everything will go smoothly over the next few weeks. Embrace it. Talk about it with your team. Show that you can pivot, learn, and ask for their help in doing so.

Failing. A ball will drop. It’s just going to happen with this much change. So name it when it happens. Own it. Talk about what you learned and ask what the team would recommend you do differently next time.

New Perspectives. Challenge yourself to use fresh eyes in this new way of working to ask what’s going well? What needs more focus? Where should you spend more of your attention? Invite feedback from customers, stakeholders and teams to help widen your perspective.

Development. What one thing can you commit to learning while you are working at home. Is it being more focused in 1:1s?  Is it being present during meetings? Is it taking 15 minutes a day to read/listen to a new blog/Ted Talk/audiobook?

Your shadow. How you show up now matters. A lot. Leverage your strengthens to cast light on the team.  Reflect on your blind spots and focus on them. Challenge yourself on your development areas and ask the team to help hold you accountable.

COV19 is a respiratory illness. To combat the mental and emotional challenges your business are facing you need to breathe deeply. We need our teams to feel closely connected during social distancing. And we cant afford to quarantine leadership. Let’s all double down on caring, observing, and vulnerability as antibodies we want to spread regularly.

 

The Gift of Presence

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It is definitely the most wonderful time of the year- and arguably twice the fun at our house with two holidays and two kids birthdays in the span of 16 days. Our home is alight with Christmas and Hanukkah decorations. I have three school and work gatherings with friends this week, and like many of you, I will be taking time off to spend time with friends and family.  As I was listening to some holiday music this weekend, I realized there were some good coaching tips embedded in Christmas carols. Here are my takeaways from Do You Hear What I Hear, The Little Drummer Boy, and Silent Night which sparked my commitment to give the gift of presence throughout the year.

What do you hear? The very essence of coaching is to shift from a place of telling to the place of listening. We know this is the right thing to do, but we also know that it is so much faster to just tell someone the answer or to do it ourselves. But if we give the gift of being present, we can step back and see that the only way to grow our team is to empower them, and that our role as a coach is to ask insightful questions to guide their self discovery.  Presence also asks us to assume positive intent. What is it that this employee heard, saw, or knows that led them to make that decision? By remaining curious we build trust with others and gain a more well rounded view of a situation. Allowing the time to pause and ask questions is a gift with lasting impact.

Bring Your Gifts. When we are present, we are not judging, just observing. We notice what people bring and can do, and we invite them to be their authentic selves. Too often we fall into the thinking trap that we need fine gifts that are fit for this meeting/leader/training/ (aka King) so only people who meet our definition of “fine” are invited.  What if instead of assuming we know what is needed, we asked our audience what they wanted? If we embrace diversity and stay curious think about what possibilities might unfold. Unwrapping everyone’s unique gifts leads to new discoveries and strengthens teams.

Celebrate the Silence. Finding white space in our minds and in our schedules is one of the hardest things to do. But learning to silence our minds so we can think, not just do, is an amazing gift. As leaders, we should spend more of our time on how to improve, advance, and align the work than being heads down doing the work. The recent post on the Seven Top Leadership Skills for 2020  includes skills such as humility, 360 thinking, being reflective, inspiring, and intellectual versatility. Each of these skills can only happen when we calm our mind, and focus on the important but not urgent work of leadership. This also means taking care of ourselves so we can bring our best selves to work. Prioritizing sleep, exercise, and eating habits should be more that a resolution – it is a gift to bring to ourselves and our team in the new year.

Janice Maeditere said, “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” Wise words that we can reflect on all year. When we open our hearts and minds we can give the gift of presence. We can do this by asking questions, staying curious, and creating space for thinking. So give yourself permission to be more present in 2020 – it is a gift that will keep on giving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Perfect is Out of Focus

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I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately, and found my head bobbing uncontrollably while reading this Fast Company article  on perfection.  We spend a lot of time at work, at home, and online focused on an image of ourselves, one that is picture perfect. Yet let’s be honest – many of us have had the I Don’t Know How She Does It moment where we forgot about the treats for our kid’s school event because we were on a business trip. It’s all part of this crazy thing called life. So why do we make ourselves crazy making life look perfect?  Let’s picture a shift from perfection to a focus on imagination, inspiration, and ideation.

“Logic will take you from A to Z. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Albert Einstein. Think about a key project you have at work. I am guessing you have created a project plan, researched best practices, and analyzed competitor/industry information. This information can take you down a safe, relatively predictable path and will likely make you look good. But what if success means more than that? Imagine zooming out and meeting with someone who can push you to see this from different view point. Or spending a least one meeting storyboarding your project from the end user’s point of view. Yes it takes longer. Yes you can’t control the outcome if you expand your approach. But while logic is helpful to set guardrails for us, the path will be limited unless we bring imagination into view.

“Success isn’t just about what you accomplish. It’s about what you inspire others to do.” – Anonymous. We spend a lot of time worrying about how what we do makes us look. Will that project be seen favorably? Does this role put me on the fast track? Let’s adjust our focus from posturing to passion. The best leaders step out of the limelight and coach their team from the sidelines. They build individuals’ confidence and competence by asking questions, lending support, and expecting the team to have a point of view. This does add complexity. It does change team dynamics. It also unleashes all the awesome potential of your team and opens the lens of possibility.

“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” Linus Pauling. When we are under stress and overworked we tend to turn into the Little Red Hen and think the best solution is to “do it myself.” We delude ourselves into believing that our unique perspective is critical or that our past experience gives us some special optics. As a result, we are overworked and micromanage the details instead of focusing on the big picture. As a leader our role is to open the aperture and expand the light we let in. Brainstorming is a great way to do this. It breaks down assumptions and brings diverse ideas to the table. When teams co-create it creates trust and engagement. And no surprise when we ask the people closes to the work what might work, it changes the depth of field and our focus.

Let’s let go of the illusion of perfection and embrace the crazy and unpredictable moments in our lives. Let’s share our mistakes and learnings gained by focusing on imagination, inspiration, and ideation. Together can shift our narrow focus from picture to a broader and more personalized picture of success.

 

Culture Is A Verb: Just Do It

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Culture is critical. It differentiates companies, it creates energy and excitement, and it builds identity. In other words culture is a verb- it is what people say, do think, and feel. Yet too many culture initiatives are built with a noun mindset. What person will lead the training  and communication plan? We can change our workplace if we paint the walls or add a foozball table. We can copy that thing our competitors have that seems cool. Just Do It are three little words – but they are the summation and expectation of action that define Nike. So how can you “do” culture? Make it personal. Be Intentional. Commit completely.

Make it personal. There is no better way to change a culture than to change yourself. If you know that accountability is an issue at your workplace and that the lack of clear goals is impacting business results and engagement then be the change you want to see. Create goals for your team. Publicize them. In meetings use a RACI to confirm the roles people are agreeing to. Let go of your noun mindset – What are other people doing? I haven’t seen that anywhere else here. I should wait until something is rolled out officially across the organization. These are culture killers. Culture consultants and culture trainings/framework help us set a clear, common course, But unless you get in the blocks and run, you can’t win the culture race.

Be Intentional. The best (worst!) example of the disconnect between culture and action is perhaps Enron. Their vision and values statements begin with
“As a partner in the communities in which we operate, Enron believes it has a responsibility to conduct itself according to certain basic principles.” We know that they ended bankrupt, morally and financially. Being intentional about connecting culture and action comes down to what you permit, and what you promote. The action of promoting the jerk who gets great results by running over others is a culture killer. The inaction of addressing the leader who is disrespectful to women is a culture killer. No noun excuses- we have to be willing to let go of that person, close that place, and remove that thing if we are serious about the culture we are building. Hold up a culture mirror and say does this person, decision, policy, practice, etc, reflect who we want to be? We do a good job with promoting our culture on internal and external media.  We need to ask would we hashtag what we permit.

Commit Completely.  Thinking about culture change is like preparing for a marathon. It is a daunting. You can’t see the end. We know that we won’t all get to the same mile markers at the same time. Yes. So just do it. Make a run at changing your culture by committing completely and honestly. Acknowledge that it’s hard work and requires us all to think and act differently. Discuss that letting go of the known for the unknown is scary. Reward those that start, those that stumble but continue, and everyone who gets on the course. Culture killers are the people that nod along in the meeting and go back to their desk and work and act the same old way. The executive offices that are on a locked floor when you just announced an open door policy. The flex time policy that is actually inflexible for most peoples’ jobs. To win at culture and marathons you can’t be a spectator – it’s daily drills, long roads, and bumps and bruises that take you to there.

Culture differentiates companies. Everyone knows Just Do It and knows what is means. It resonates because it is focused on personal, intentional action,  Culture work is all about the verbs- it is what people say, do, think, feelPeople, places, and things matter — but getting caught up in a noun mindset can’t spark change. Instead go do culture by making it personal, being intentional, and committing completely.

Being a Change Conductor

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When leading a change, we tend to focus on the change management skills and experiences needed – the what. But I would contend that how a leader conducts change  is the most critical element for success. A traditional code of conduct outlines expectations on how to act in alignment with the organization’s values and culture. So what code should a leader follow to conduct organizational change? Changes have stages and change leaders need to conduct themselves differently at different times. At first as a train conductor, then as an orchestra conductor, and finally as an energy conductor.

All Aboard: Conducting the Change Train. The first step of change is creating awareness of our need to change. This often requires the leader to be out in front, looking down the tracks at the external and internal business factors that can help or hinder our success. The leader also needs to engage others to create movement. At this phases of change, thinking about change as a train conductor makes sense. A train conductor is responsible for directing the train’s movement. For coupling or uncoupling cars that are needed at different parts of the journey. He or she also ensures that any cargo is assesses, reviewed, and consciously taken on or off the train.  Planning and execution are critical parts of change, and leaders should engage the energy of the early adopters.

Moving in Harmony: Conducting the Change Symphony.  A common, often fatal flaw, of a change initiative is failing to pivot on how the change is conducted. Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch were iconic change conductors. But they were so busy driving the train they forgot to ensure the organization was moving in time with them. In the Senn Delany change model they talk about  unfreezing to create change. We all have patterns, habits, and beliefs frozen in our minds. For true change to happen all leaders need to unfreeze and  bring their perspectives and experiences together to create a new organizational rhythm. Once the change has movement, it is critical for the leaders to shift to helping people know how to change and giving them the ability to change. This is when the change leader needs become a symphony conductor.  This type of conductor focuses on interpretation of the work and real-time communication of those interpretations. He or she is accountable for looking at the entire score, rather just individual parts. The conductor is ultimately responsible for having knowledge of every instrument and demonstrating how to get the best out of each part when working together.

Be Electric: Conducting Energy.

Both the train conductor and symphony conductor have a unique role standing in front of the change.  As we move to the implementation and reinforcement stage of change, the change leader now needs to act as an energy conductor – helping to carry the change current and spark energy across the organization. Andy Hargrove say change is easy to propose, hard to implement, and especially hard to sustain. That is because we need to ensure we have a complete circuit across the organization to move and maintain energy. In science, a conductor is a material which permits a flow of energy.  A substance’s  conductivity depends on how easily electrons can move through it. Most materials are neither good conductors, nor good insulators. They don’t readily conduct, but if enough energy is supplied, the electrons will move. It’s important to realize that we all have different energy currents and not all of us readily move.  It’s also true that with enough energy we can be spurred into motion. It’s critical for the change leader to remember that resistance and heat also impact conductivity — and to strike the right balance between enough and too much energy so that we don’t cause an explosion.

Change is both a noun and a verb. It is the act of becoming different, and the action of becoming different. We tend to focus on change nouns  -plans, projects, and timelines. But the verb – our action- is the only way to actually conduct change.  Change leaders need to conduct change – and themselves -differently at different times during the change process. Successful change leaders know how to think and act like train conductors, orchestra conductors, and energy conductors.

 

 

Be a Yogi with Flexible Hours

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As a working mom I both love and hate summer. As a Minnesotan we survive winter by waiting for those hot steamy days and eating outside on patios. Then we survive summer by trying to navigate the chaos of having kids at home who need rides to games and activities while we are at work. What can we do as companies, leaders, and employees to stretch our thinking about flexibility over the summer and develop a muscle we can use all year? Blue Cross Blue Shield is piloting a summer hours program to help us test both our culture and our leadership muscle. The keys to our success will be putting the core tenets of yoga into our business practice: creating connection, sequencing movement, and centering on trust.

Creating connection. The origin is a Sanskrit word Yog meaning union. Yoga practices are designed to unite the body, mind, and energy to create a state of calmness. So before jumping on the mat, so to speak, we need to create connection. The most critical connections to test are, do your employees have clear goals and objectives and have you both agreed on how they will be measured. It is surprising how often we lead through assumption vs alignment. This is the perfect time to reconnect with your employees and do a mid year check in. We are halfway through the calendar year. This is the perfect time to spend 30 minutes with each employee and ask them what is their biggest accomplishment to date, what are their remaining milestones,  where do they need help and what are they most proud of. It is then key for you to share your feedback on their performance, their deliverables, and your priorities for the back half of the year.  It’s hard to be flexible if you don’t start on sure-footing- so help you and your team drive results by understanding what is expected. We recognize our summer flex program will give us the chance -and need- to improve this leadership muscle, which will make us stronger throughout the year.

Sequencing movement. Kriya yoga is based on the concepts of “to do,” “to act,” and “to react.” This method focuses on recharging the body with oxygen to enhance the mind. All yoga programs are made of a series of movements or flows that are practiced in a sequence. One of the criticisms we hear about work place flexibility is that it creates chaos. But if we take a systematic approach we can avoid that risk. Every team has workplace norms- the question is are they explicit and are they the ones you want. Pull your team together and ask what is working about the way you are working together.  Making sure you understand the current state before making a change is important.  Discuss your expectations around communication, response time, what should be on a shared drive, etc…, so that if anyone is out for any reason the team can do, act, and react appropriately.  Creating these norms will help our teams be more nimble and improve our efficiency year round.

Center on trust.  Anyone who has tried yoga knows it requires a lot of trust. Trust in your breath. In your balance. In your body. You have to let go and and just be to really get the most out of your practice.  Trust is tricky- and trickier still at work. When someone asks for flexible hours, many managers start with why not, what won’t work, or what’s too hard. Starting with trust means being honest. Yes Bill I have seen your work and it is great- I have every confidence you can deliver those results from anywhere. No Maria, I am concerned about your work and until I see improvements in X and Y, I don’t have confidence you will achieve the goals we have set. Both of these answers can help build trust.  A great Stephen Covey quote is, “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate, we merely coordinate, or at best cooperate. It is trust that turns a group of people into a team.”  Trust is always what makes someone a leader. You may prefer to know Bill is at his desk everyday or can be available every Friday afternoon, but if Bill’s performance is strong, trust Bill to get the job done Bill’s way.  In the research paper, Trust In Leadership Affects Employee Retention, by Jennifer Miller, it cites Spherion research on trust.  Employers ranked  employees’ level of trust in senior leadership as one of the top four indicators of employee engagement.  Unfortunately her research also found that 82% of employees don’t trust their boss. So what’s more important? Seeing Bill in his cube or seeing yourself earning his trust? We want trust to be the centerpiece of our culture so this pilot is helping us practice giving and showing trust in a meaningful way.

Launching our summer hours project has required a lot of flexibility.  We’ve worked with our operations teams. We’ve worked with communications. We’ve adjusted the timing. It may not be perfect, but we will learn. I am excited to be part of testing and pushing our norms. As an employee, I appreciate being trusted to manage my time and my schedule. As a Minnesota Mom, I am grateful that I can see my son’s soccer game this Friday. We will  see where our leadership and culture needs some stretching. The keys to our success will be putting the core tenets of yoga into our business practice: creating connection, sequencing movement, and centering on trust.

 

Update IDPs to Integrate Deliverables and Passions

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Development planning should always start with needs of the business. It is also key to look at the employees’ current skills and future interests.  We also know creating  a written plan is proven to increase the likelihood of acting on the plan. But this skeletal approach to development planning lacks the heart and soul of developing the full person.  I believe it’s time to update our concept of individual development plans (IDPs). Let’s shift IDPs to focus on integrating deliverables and passions in our personal and professional lives.

Integrating Work and Life: One of my least favorite questions is “What is your aspiration?” I will never forget when I was asked that question by our company president. I remember that my very first thought was, ‘I want to be a good mom.’ Then I thought, ‘Can I say that? No that won’t be acceptable. I better say I want my boss’s job.’ What was intended to be an engaging conversation became disheartening. It is perfectly reasonable for the president to expect a work related answer. It is also perfectly human to have multiple, sometimes competing, priorities that would be more insightful to discuss. What if we replaced “What are your career goals in the next 3-5 years?” with “What personal and professional milestones would you like to celebrate in 5 years?” Imagine how powerful it would be to have that insight and how rewarding it would be for employees to know you want to invest in their full life success. This new question also opens a discussion about  transferable skills and on the job learning. It may be hard for your finance manager to get exposure to online consumer behavior at work but easy to tap into through her gig job. It also opens up on the job learning to include volunteer jobs as well as our day job.

Deliverables vs. Door Signs: What if I had answered, “You know the first thing that popped into my mind is I want to be a great mom- which makes me really proud. I also want to continue to grow my career here and am particularly excited about integrating innovation and engagement in our HR practice.” It still doesn’t answer what I want the door sign on my office to read, but it tells you what deliverables excite me, which frankly is a lot more valuable. In our VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) we talk about needing change agility and adaptability but focus development on climbing an org chart. We know that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet – which makes “the ability to gain new knowledge more valuable than the knowledge itself.” Identifying experiences that expand learning agility, organizational relationships, and problem solving skills provides both a richer and more realistic approach to employee development.

Passion vs. Plans: “Every day the spirits of millions of people die at the front door of their workplace.” This is the opening sentence of the Workforce article “Focus on Employee Passion Not Employee Engagement.” The article goes on to say that according to a recent survey from Deloitte, only 20 percent of people say they are truly passionate about their work. Their research found that passion is impacted by 12 organizational factors, job factors, and relationship factors. Instead of asking our employees to write up a development plan, what if we started by asking them to assess how well we are stoking their passion? Through a discussion about topics such as perceived autonomy, goal clarity, and connectedness with their leader we can get to the heart of what is impacting their passion and work together to refuel it. If I had been brave enough to share my true aspiration, and the leader had said he would love to hear more about my kids and my ideas about connecting engagement and innovation, it would have been a home run conversation.

Development planning is, and must be, a business exercise. Understanding the skills we need in the future and helping our team develop them is critical. Most development planning practices successfully outline what steps are needed. Unfortunately, most of those same plans are out of step with what employees want for their development. Asking questions like, “Here are the top organizational priorities. I am interested in knowing how you want to help us deliver them,” creates insights, excitement, and a sense of belonging. Let’s shift IDPs to focus on integrating deliverables and passions in our personal and professional lives. This will make them more valuable – and actionable- for our organizations and our employees.

 

 

 

 

Real Leaders Focus on Learning and Listening

 

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Our current approach to training managers isn’t working. That is not a newsflash but some of the statistics in a recent study on corporate training are stark. 33% of employees who attended corporate trainings say that uninspiring content is the biggest barrier to learning.  Only 38% of managers believe that their learning programs meet the needs of the learner. Worse yet, only 12% of learners implement what they learn from training on the jobs. I am passionate about leadership development and an advocate for creative thinking about how we can do it more effectively. I also think we need to think outside the training box. If we believe that 70% of development happens on the job as the 70/20/10 suggests, then managers should develop 70% of their leadership development through everyday interactions. Pairing practical conversation tools with basic training on hiring, development, and corrective action can greatly improve leaders’ development…and their results.

Hiring: Interview and Engage. There are some important fundamentals about interviewing that it is important for leaders to know- legal requirements, your particular T/A process, and the ins and outs of an interview guide. But the game changer is engaging the interviewee. Help your managers focus on creating rapport with small talk, listen and linger on tidbits they pick up during the interview process, and talk about why this role and your company would be a great fit for the candidate. The mechanics of interviewing matter, but in today’s competitive labor market, conversations that build genuine connection will close the deal.

Development: Make planning personal. Most of us have some kind of talent review/succession planning process. Training leaders on the rating system, the process and preparation, and the company norms about sharing results are key. But what will actually move the dial on building our bench is open dialogue. If managers ask their high potentials questions like, “In this calendar year what contribution do you want to be known for making?” “What kind of leader do you want to be? How does your role today help or hinder your ability to achieve that?” “Five years from now what does an amazing career look like for you? A mediocre one?” This kind of dialogue will open rich doors and help move development planning from a check the box exercise to a plan truly designed around the individual.

Corrective Action: Process and people both matter. Few people relish writing someone up. Giving difficult feedback is – well difficult. We need leaders to understand the process, the paperwork, and our policies. But most importantly we need leaders to understand their people. Corrective action is the perfect time for real talk. Managers who say things like, “Neither of us wants to have this discussion, but it’s important that we talk through this issue.” or “This was a lot to take in. Let’s meet again tomorrow to be sure you are clear on next steps.” make this process more positive and personal. Arming managers with real talk tips can greatly improve the efficacy of the discussion and ensure we respect people throughout the process.

Training is important, but if we allow our managers to practice having conversations and encouraging them to focus on both training and talking, I am 100% confident we can improve our results and our manager’s leadership skills.

 

The Problem With Our Problem Solving

blackboard business chalkboard concept
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We spend a lot of time at work in meetings solving problems. Our team meetings often allot 15 -20 minutes to discuss the problem, brainstorm up solutions, and agree on a delivery date. We march back to our desks and jump into execution mode.  What if we turned our problem solving approach on its head- and even more importantly on its heart? Human Centered Design doesn’t start with time or an agenda. It starts with identifying who are we solving this problem for. IDEO is one of the most famous human centered design organizations, and their Human Centered Design approach has three phases: an Inspiration Phase to understand needs, an Ideation Phase to distill what you learned, then an Implementation Phase bringing the solution to life.

Be inspired by the problem. Our traditional problem solving spends the least amount of time here – but if we jump right to a solution how do we know it solves anything? Right now I am working on the problem of transition for many of our central services leaders during our merger. I have experience (unfortunately!) in this situation from my past, so an easy and efficient solution would be to cut and paste my last approach to my current company. The next stretch I could take is to consult with my HR peers – internal, external, best practice – and identify tools to apply.  A human centered design approach means actually observing and interviewing our managers to find out what they want. We have attended staff meetings, met with leaders one on one, and made notes as we walk around our building to identify what we need to solve for first. Our initial list of problems includes lack of communication to and from managers, uncertainty on how to retain employees, and a desire for clear process.

How Might We Ideate? When we follow a human centered design process, we have to stay in a learning and curiosity mode.  For many of us suspending our inner knower is a challenge, and even if we patiently moved through inspiration, our solution engine is revved.  It is easy to take what we heard to validate what we know how to do or want to do. But this stage is about still understanding the problem, not landing on a solution.  The phrase “How might we..” is a helpful way to keep the funnel open. We asked the question “How might we address the lack of communication?” Part of the exercise is putting some crazy ideas on there.  We could have a communication contest. We could ask the new CEO to call all managers. We could post all the answers we have in the cafeteria. One of our how might we’s lead us to informal coffee sessions with leaders and our HR team to have a safe forum to ask questions, confirm answers, and practice/discuss how to communicate to employees.  It is also key in this stage to prototype and test. Try something and validate if it is or is not a solution. We were sure having one of our senior leaders speak at an all employee meeting would be viewed positively.  It wasn’t. But it was a good takeaway on how the leader prepped and what people infer.

Implement a Success. Now that we have observed and interviewed, ideated and tested, we are finally ready to implement. Keeping our focus on the needs of the end user throughout the process should give us high confidence that the solution is actually what people need. Check out this link for a great video that summarizes the IDEO process and a real solution you’ve likely seen in your day to day life. In our case we implemented several different communication approaches to try and address as many of the gaps as possible. The key theme- make it informal, two way, and authentic.

There is a real problem with the way we solve problems today at work. HR has the opportunity to be leaders in the area of human centered design. Teaching and bringing this approach to both our functional projects and our business challenges has the opportunity to uncover all kinds of cool new ideas and solutions. So break free from your meeting mindset and focus on inspiration, ideation, and implementation to create something amazing.