Real World

#boldHR at #HRevolution

boldHRevolution is this weekend. Saturday, November 8th, near Dallas. If you’re in human resources, you’re going, right? It’s not too late.

I attended two years ago in Chicago and it changed my life. That’s a strong statement, but not hype. In so many ways, I can trace where I am now back to that event, the people I met, and the opportunities that began opening up because of it. It was pivotal for me.

It was the first HR conference I’d attended since the 1998 SHRM National conference while I was in grad school. That conference left me painfully disillusioned about the field of HR. I’d gone, figured school would lag the industry and anything I had learned was already common place status quo. Instead, the things being discussed in whispered tones as bleeding edge at the conference were all things I’d already read about in textbooks. I discovered there was a huge gap between what excited me about HR and what I thought the field could be versus where it actually was.

I first started reading blogs in 2009 and discovered people who also thought bigger about HR, people who approached it from different angles, people who had the same vision of the field as mine. I heard about HRevolution after the fact and kicked myself for somehow missing the first couple.

In 2012, three of my biggest heroes were leading sessions and there were many other people whose names I recognized presenting and attending. All at small conference intended to give the field a shove beyond its comfort zones. How could I miss?

I bought a plane ticket with my own money and went, staying in some wretched hotel far beyond the expensive hotels near the conference center. The next morning, the sleepy cab driver almost hit several other cars as he struggled to stay between the white lines and then missed the exit.

Happy and thankful to arrive, I wandered through the massive conference center to find the three or four rooms being used for HRevolution. And was welcomed by people I’d never met as though I were a friend. The whole day was a blur of amazing people, great ideas, and better discussions.

It feels silly to acknowledge it, but I have a strong emotional connection to that event. I met my heroes, made friends, greatly expanded the depth of my network, and launched my career forward. I left inspired, encouraged, and challenged to play bigger professionally.

Two years ago I awkwardly volunteered to participate in a session called “HR Improv”. This year I’m leading a session called “Bold HR”. There are also sessions by Franny Oxford, Bill Boorman, Lois Melbourne, Jason Seiden, Frank Zupan and Tammy Colson, Ravi Mikkelsen, and William Tincup and Matthew Stollak. Plus, many of the attendees are folks you’d normally see keynoting conferences attending as participants just because it’s a fantastic event.

Rather than the “sage on the stage” approach at so many conferences, everyone at HRevolution is down to earth, friendly, and completely accessible. So many great people to meet, share ideas with, and help raise the game.

This year, I’m very excited to meet new friends, see old ones, and learn from everyone. You’re running out of time, but if you’re at all on the fence about attending, there are still a few tickets left and I hope to see you there. Please find me and say hi.

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why we don’t get the results we want

i have my reasonsResults matter. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a business leader, executive, entrepreneur, or employee; whether you’re in sales, HR, finance, marketing, or IT; whether at work or in your personal life. Results are important. Yet, we don’t always create the results we want. Then the reasons and excuses come out.

Excuses or Reasons?

What’s the difference between an excuse and a reason? Simple, other people have excuses for failing, but I have legitimate reasons I didn’t accomplish the results I needed. They failed, while I tried hard. They’re whining and playing the victim about their failures, but I’m rationally explaining why it didn’t work out as planned. Right?

Actually, I am just having a bit of fun with the human tendency to justify outcomes, even if only to ourselves. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we call it or how we describe it.

Reasons or excuses, circumstance or a lack of effort, whatever. Either way we didn’t get the results.

Reasons or Results?

The truth is, there are only two things in life, reasons and results, and reasons simply don’t count.” ~ Robert Anthony

We either have reasons or we have results. These words pulse through my mind whenever I come up short on my goals. We either accomplish what we needed to or we have a list of explanations as to why we didn’t. Yes, sometimes things happen that are completely beyond our control. More often we simply didn’t plan well, stay focused, make good use of time, truly give full effort, track and evaluate actions and progress, have the right people involved, have a suitable contingency plan, or persist, persist, persist. The #1 reason we don’t get our results? We accept our reasons in place of our results.

Put it another way: Getting results means giving up your reasons. And those reasons are often so compelling, comfortable, and familiar. I know what I want to accomplish. I know what I need to accomplish. Am I willing to give up my reasons to get those results?

Are you?

are you sure you want employees who think like an owner?

the bossI want employees who think like an owner.” I typically hear this from small business owners, but sometimes from managers, and I don’t fully understand it. There seems to be a myth that has owners and entrepreneurs up on a pedestal. It would make sense if being a business owner meant having the perfect mindset and approach to business, but my own experience and observation suggests otherwise.

To be clear: entrepreneurs and business owners are great – I love their ingenuity and drive – but that doesn’t mean they are without flaws, blind spots, or human frailty. Being an owner doesn’t automatically create infallibility, omniscience, or even basic common sense. [Note: if you are a business owner and reading this, clearly I’m not referring to you. You’re perfect. I’m talking about some of the other business owners out there, myself included.]

So my internal cynic starts laughing: They want people who think like an owner, huh? Does that mean they want employees like some of the owners I’ve known? They want someone who…

  • Insists on being involved in every decision and then is inaccessable for weeks at a time, forcing work to grind to a halt?
  • Maintains a very flexible schedule insists that everyone be available at any time to discuss work?
  • Takes up significant business time with personal errands? Or has an admin who spends the bulk of their time dealing with the owner’s personal errands on the company dime?
  • Puts the business at risk from family squabbles?
  • Can’t be bothered to learn the tactical parts of the business and invariably creates havoc every time they try to help a customer?
  • Has little understanding of employment laws and doesn’t get why they aren’t allowed to do whatever they want to do just because they want to do it?
  • Justifies extreme micromanaging with the thought that it’s their money and they should retain total control over it.
  • Take it as a personal slight whenever an employee quits?
  • Has so few people skills or such a hyper-dominant personality that they are basically unemployable and have to own their own business?
  • Never realizes that not everyone is willing to sacrifice family relationships or personal interests for the business as they do?
  • Inadvertently causes talented employees to go to work elsewhere because they can only get promoted so high in a family business?
  • Wants people to make their own decisions, but gets upset if they aren’t theexact same decisions the owner would have made?
  • Destroys trust and communication by being a little too good at being the “boss”?
  • Ends arguments with, “Because it’s my business and I said so!”
  • Never realize that people treat them differently solely because they are the owner?
  • Gets angry at customers and thinks customers are all trying to rip the owner off or yells at them for using a competitor.
  • Can’t fathom that a business whose managers are 90% all the same race and gender as the owner might be suffering from a lack of diversity?
  • Changes their mind minute by minute, mood swing by mood swing?
  • Views the business as a status symbol and spends large amounts of the business’ money on flashy “company” vehicles, showy offices, and designer clothes and accessories in an attempt to look successful?
  • Who are so visionary they continuously come up with big ideas and dump them on employees with little concept or regard for how feasible the ideas are. And with little memory of all the other new ideas people are still working on.
  • What else? I’m sure I missed a few of the ways owners get in the way of their business.

Is every owner and entrepreneur like this? Absolutely NOT! Business owners are just like everyone else – some are better at what they do than others and some are worse. Some businesses succeed because of the owner and some succeed despite the owner. But these are real examples from some of the business owners I’ve known throughout the years and I’m not convinced those are the traits people are wanting in employees.

When people say they want people who think like an owner I suspect they actually want people who care about the results they are creating, who have a sense of urgency, who look after details and understand the impact on the big picture, and who are generally prudent with resources. But that’s not always the same as thinking like an owner.

Be careful what you ask for.

[Photo Credit: GDS Productions via Compfight.com]

the #1 reason your company struggles with innovation

Houses the sameWhen people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.” ~ Eric Hoffer

Businesses and leaders everywhere are crying out for innovation. For continual improvements and new ideas that will push the company forward before it falls behind. But there’s a problem. And it’s a problem that will prevent most innovation from ever happening.

We like to think that business is about numbers, rational decisions, and predictable results. Except that it’s not. Business is about people. Period. If there’s any doubt, simply try running a profitable business without leaders, employees, or customers. Can’t be done.

Business is about people and people are often unpredictable, irrational, and don’t really care about what spreadsheets or computer models say they should do. Although we like to think we’re rational and objective, we humans all have biases that have been deeply ingrained as survival traits over the past 50,000+ years.

I find these biases fascinating because we all make decisions every day yet rarely understand the factors behind how we decide. It doesn’t matter how smart, educated, or experienced a person is – biases exist. The best we can do is be aware of how they affect our decisions so we can counter for them. [Note: I know you and I are completely rational 100% of the time, only making decisions with precise objective reasoning and never with emotion or bias; it’s everyone else I’m talking about.]

One of the biggest but least talked about biases is known as Puttnam’s Law. I’m paraphrasing a little but this law tells us no one will fault you for conforming to status quo and “best” practices, but you will be attacked and ridiculed for having the lunatic gall to do things differently. It’s ok to fail as long as you are failing like everyone else but there is a huge social penalty for being different even (especially?) when it gets better results. There is more risk in succeeding differently than in failing like everyone else.

We humans like to divide people up into “us” vs “them” and non-conformity is one of the gravest career and social sins. Standing out a little bit is ok, standing out a lot will get you derided, discredited, or ostracized. History is full of people who were a little too far ahead of their time – revered much later but misunderstood and ridiculed while alive.

Even when people want to create and think and do different there are strong social biases rewarding conformity of thought and action. Everybody is accountable to someone and for most people in most circumstances – whether entry level or CEO – it is much less risky from a career standpoint to just try to do what everyone else is doing (only a little better) than it is to take a leap and try something different.

It’s easier to justify low performance by saying you stuck to “best practices” or used the same strategy as your competition than it is to justify low (or even better) performance by taking a chance on something new. Puttnam’s Law suggests our individual careers are better off sticking with what made us or the company successful over the last 20 years than to figure out what will create success over the next 20 (even though it’s highly likely to be different).

Does this apply to all people and all companies in all situations? No, nothing does. But it applies to enough people in enough companies in enough situations to realize how it’s holding us back.

Please note, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t innovate or even express individuality. Quite the opposite. What I’m suggesting is that even when we want and ask for innovation and new solutions there are often factors creating counter-incentives that get in the way. Puttnam’s Law represents a huge unspoken barrier.

Do we want innovation? Absolutely. But we want it to be similar to everyone else.

The problem is, that’s sort of impossible.

[Photo credit: lucianvenutian via Compfight]

whose policy is it, anyway?

Had a great conversation the other night with a friend about making organizations flatter and removing the barriers to people doing great work. It’s easy for me to get pretty excited and idealistic about the shift I see happening in companies and the future of work. I was brought down to earth with the memory of a silly process that stayed in place because it existed but no one knew who was responsible for it.

Several years ago a CFO complained about a form used by his accounting department to track training expenses. It was intended to make sure that employees weren’t going on some sort of training spending spree (does that happen?) by requiring several levels of approval before they were able to attend the training.

The reality was NO ONE filled it out in advance. They only completed it when accounting started calling well after the fact and insisting on it to justify the expenses. Plus, it applied equally to all “training” from attending a lunch at a professional organization to a multiple day program across the country. And, many of the people who had to fill it out had company credit cards and discretionary funds – I suspect they simply got around completing the form by not calling it “training”.

So here was the CFO griping that he had to complete a form that he thought was ridiculous and stupid. Although it was a training form, it never passed through anyone responsible for training so it was a form that only his department used. Think about that again. His department’s form. He thinks it’s stupid. He could kill it on the spot. But rather than risk eliminating it (who would protest?), he complained and let it continue. I’ve no doubt he is still complaining about it today.

Stories like that make me think the organization of the future is just a little bit further away than I want to imagine.

What thinks you?

Everything you think you know about success is wrong (a book review)

Success is how you define it and mediocrity is one of my biggest fears. We all have different definitions of what success means to us in all aspects of our lives. I have some big ideas about the contribution I need to make before I leave this planet and the thought of not living up to those ideals terrifies me.

The challenge is that “pretty good” is a reasonably easy target while “extraordinary” requires a completely different level of choices and commitment. And those actions have to exist in a life where there’s a job, family, friends, pets, house chores, hobbies, etc., etc. No surprise that comfortable distractions are a lot more attractive than committed actions.

As one who enjoys anything that will help me be at my best, I have a love/hate approach to personal development books. Much of it is syrupy feel-good nonsense, but some is very legit and useful. The problem is, even the good stuff is usually just repackaged ideas that have been around for the last 50-100+ years.

Some very large names in the field have done quite well rehashing ideas from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Norman Vincent Peal’s The Power of Positive Thinking, or Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret. Tony Robbins summarized the wisdom of the ages best with his Ultimate Success Formula which goes something like: 1) Know what you want; 2) Know why you want it; 3) Take massive action; 4) Notice what’s working or not; and 5) Change your approach until you get your results. Simple, straightforward, and intuitive, but perhaps not sufficient. No one who’s made it to adulthood should be surprised by any of those steps, yet most of us are still stuck in ordinary.

The title for this review comes from the back cover of Dan Waldschmidt’s (@danwaldo) book EDGY Conversations: Get Beyond the Nonsense in Your Life and Do What Really Matters. He takes a different approach and asserts that goals, hard work, and tenacity are not enough because we are our own worst roadblock. Our beliefs and behaviors, excuses and justifications keep us in comfortable mediocrity. Truly rising above, standing out, and making a difference requires a completely different level of commitment, thought, belief, and action.

“Because success isn’t about knowing more, It’s about being more… The reality is that you already know what to do… The real question is, what will you do about it? Who will you choose to become.” – Dan Waldschmidt

Contrary to what the infomercial experts and hope pushers tell us, Dan wholeheartedly acknowledges that the whole being extraordinary thing is really freakin’ hard. Knowing what to do is easy; actually doing it is miserably difficult. The movies make it look simple, right? A three minute montage with some upbeat music in the background and suddenly the underdog is a martial arts winning, freestyle rapping, marathon running, dance champion with a Harvard degree and a thriving side business bootstrapped into a global powerhouse. But in real life it comes down to who we are choosing to be and the decisions we are making every day.

The author reminds us that outrageous success comes as much from what we say “no” to as it does what we say “yes” to. And in our instant gratification you-deserve-to-have-it-all marketing saturated world, saying “no” is weird. And painful. And miserable. And necessary.

This book is the author’s approach to breaking past ordinary. His formula is based on the acronym EDGY: Extreme behavior, Disciplined activity, Giving mindset, and Y(h)uman strategy. The last letter’s a stretch, but the writing is spot on. Actually, I could have shortened this review to: If you like his blog, buy the book.

If you’re unfamiliar with his blog, check it out here. Dan’s not into business or life as usual and has a contrarian approach written in direct one and two sentence paragraphs with brilliant turn of phrase and a deep belief that the reader has it in them to be amazing. If you don’t like his blog, you really won’t like his book. If you like the blog, you’ll find he brings powerful examples and a very human vulnerability beyond his normal writing to the book.

So here’s the ugly secret truth: life is so much easier when you have excuses or others to blame for not creating the results you want. Sure, you don’t accomplish what you want, but you get to be comfortable in your mediocrity. This book is aimed at stripping those illusions away and challenging you to set that comfort aside to pursue your intentions with the ferocious, relentless tenacity of a Spartan warrior. It’s not wondering what to do, it’s not creating a 10 point success checklist, it’s being the person you need to be.

All day, every day.

one goal

You should have one goal in life that takes more than a lifetime to achieve. ~ Unknown

 

Goals are important. They help us accomplish the outcomes we want by giving us clarity, direction, purpose, something to move toward. Without goals we tend to wander adrift, moving but often in circles, getting bounced around instead of advancing forward. Goals are important on the personal level and on the professional level.

The nice thing about goals is you have them, whether you think you do or not. Even if you’re unclear on what you do want, pretty much everyone knows what they don’t want.  Writing goals down in highly visualized detail complete with action steps, etc. can be truly helpful, but it’s all far from necessary. The goals you are most likely to achieve are the ones you give consistent, persistent thought and attention to. As Earl Nightingale noted: “You become what you think about most of the time.

So that’s all good. Figure out what you want, keep your focus on it, and your chances of accomplishing it go way up. Simple enough. Then I came across the quote at the top and I’m stuck on this idea of having one goal that takes more than a lifetime to achieve. We could easily rephrase it as: If you can accomplish your biggest goal in your lifetime, you are thinking too small. Yikes! That creates a radical change in how we think about things.

It doesn’t mean choose something so big you don’t bother trying. It means choose something so big that you care about so deeply, you’ll get started rightnowtoday. So big you can’t let a day go by without trying to make some progress. So big you’ll start seeking out others to help and begin planning and organizing and seeking resources. And you’ll be amazed. Bill Gates (and others) have noted: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” If that’s true, imagine how much we underestimate what we can accomplish in 40 years.

Forget realistic. What do you care about? Go do that.

 

why so serious, HR?

The Killer HR Robot, destroying fun in the name of credibility!

The Killer HR Robot, destroying fun in the name of credibility!

HR has a credibility gap. We just don’t get the respect we deserve. Or, at least, it seems HR likes to think HR has a credibility gap. There is no shortage of HR folks who think they don’t get the respect they deserve. Maybe they don’t, but it’s interesting to see what they think will create credibility.

I attended the Illinois State SHRM conference recently (a great conference that’s worth crossing state lines for) and a participant, fairly new to HR, expressed concern that we weren’t allowed to have fun in HR. Um, pardon? Apparently her boss and other HR leaders in their community felt that having fun destroys credibility. They believed executives wouldn’t respect HR if we were ever viewed as having fun.

A significant part of my career has been in leadership development and I’ve traveled around and spoken to and worked with leaders in many companies, in many industries, in many countries. Never once did any leader say, “You know what destroys leadership credibility? Fun! I hate it. When I’m looking for strategies to get the most out of my employees, forget someone who can link selection, development, and retention to solving business problems, I want an HR leader who is bitter, dour, mean, and boring. Get me someone who can put fun to the side and make this a culture where our employees hate being here. That’ll solve our business problems!”

Fun doesn’t have to mean frivolous. Fun doesn’t have to mean silly. Fun doesn’t have to mean you don’t know what you’re doing. Fun doesn’t have to mean you don’t take serious issues seriously. Fun can mean that people create significant results and enjoy doing it; that although they take their jobs seriously, they don’t take themselves too seriously. It is entirely possible to be outstanding at what you do AND have fun.

Work isn’t always fun. Often, it’s difficult, complicated, and unpleasant. Which is why I think it’s doubly important to bring fun to it when we can, to find ways to make it more enjoyable, to find the joy in our work. If nothing else, to have fun working together. To look forward to being around our teams. HR can’t make every day a great one for each and every employee, but there is so much we can do to create a positive culture, a great employee experience, and a strong employment brand.

It saddens me to think about the culture and employee experience and business results these anti-fun HR managers are creating. No one looks forward to going to work, giving it their all, and staying around year after year in a miserable environment. I can only imagine the recruiting, retention, and performance problems these companies have.

And they think “fun” will ruin their credibility? Too late.

 

heroes and friends

Social media gave me heroes. When I first started playing with social media I was awed by a handful of standout people working hard at sharing knowledge, shaking up the status quo, and kicking at the boundaries of their fields. Their larger than life perspectives arrived in my little corner of the world without fail through blog posts and Twitter updates. I began digging down, finding their influencers, and one hero led to another and another and another.

I discovered the magic of social media and learned the obvious secret. I could contact – contact! – these heroes and they would respond. Their ideas were big, but they weren’t the untouchable rock stars on the 15 foot high stage. They were open, liked sharing ideas back and forth, and responded quickly.

Then, I personally paid to attend a conference over 1,000 miles away for the chance to attend presentations by several of my biggest heroes, learn from them, and meet them in real life. That conference changed my world. After a few embarrassingly starstruck-tweenage-girl-meeting-the-boyband-of-the-week moments I realized these online celebrities of my world were, just people. People reaching out to the world and trying to make a difference in between all the dull-normal moments of life. Yes, they were outstanding at what they did, but they still had jobs to go to, spouses to hand them chore lists, kids to take to the zoo, and minivans in need of replacement. Their weekends looked like my weekends; their workweeks like my own.

Another conference followed, then another, and another. At each one, I arrived meeting another hero or two and left with much learning, fantastic discussions, and more friends.

Conferences took away my heroes and gave me friends. Friends dedicated to personal missions of changing the world of work. Friends who give their time and advice freely and eagerly. Friends I count on to push me, cheer me on, and inspire me to play bigger in this world.

If you go to conferences, when you go to conferences, I encourage you seek out your heroes. Go find them, meet them, talk to them. It’s good to have heroes; it’s better to have friends.