Real World

note to self: play bigger

It’s difficult to get to middle age without learning a few things. Of course, I often forget the lessons and sometimes have to learn them over (and over) again. Now is one of those times and I find myself (re)learning several things at once. Maybe you can relate.

First is a growing sense of mortality. Though I’ve yet to die, evidence suggests that I will at some point and time is precious. Anything I’m wanting to contribute to the world before shuffling off the ol’ mortal coil better get done sooner than later.

Second, is that comfort zones are complete and insidious [FILL IN YOUR OWN FAVORITE NSFW DESCRIPTOR HERE]. Our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain and there’re a whole lot of ancient mental circuitry dedicated to preventing physical or psychological discomfort. That’s good when it prevents us from doing something potentially fatal. The problem is, the deep down scared-of-lightening-and-loud-noises part of the brain can’t distinguish between true threats to our well-being and the risk, discomfort, and pain required to learn and improve.

My most important lesson has been simply this:…

Read the whole post over at Performance I Create.

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presenting like a rock star

Rock and roll2Does anyone else go to concerts and try to figure out how to do your job better? No? A side effect of being a presenter and facilitator is that I cannot attend any training, speech, or event without noticing what is done well, what could be better, and what I can learn from it.

Eighteen months ago I wrote a post called “Rock and Roll Presentation Skills” after seeing one of my favorite European bands perform. As a presenter, this band inspires me more than any other with their stage presence, energy, and connection to the crowd. By sheer coincidence the same band was performing in Dallas the same weekend I was there to attend HRevolution and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them again.

Reflecting on what I took from this performance, the presentation lessons hold true with what I learned from their last performance.

1. There is a huge, gaping chasm between “pretty good” and “great”. Three local bands opened up and they were pretty good. But there was a big contrast between the opening and main performances and, oddly, it had little to do with musical skills. Some of the local bands had outstanding musicians, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap. They did a “good” job, but not one that made me want to hear more from them.

That has me wondering what I need to do to leap to the next level. Obviously, a presentation has to be well written and delivered with reasonable skill. But, content and technical skills only get you to good. What are the components that move it to great?

2. ALL presentations matter.Although largely unknown in the States, the main band headlines festivals in Europe, playing to tens of thousands of people. In stark contrast, the show in Dallas was in a bar that held maybe a couple hundred people. They could have viewed Dallas an unimportant show and just gone through the motions.

Instead, they played as though it were the most important show on the tour. Full out, completely committed, pouring sweat, not an ounce of energy held back. Even with their relentless schedule of touring around the world they showed no signs of boredom, exhaustion, or the sense that it was just one more gig. Instead, they radiated joy and enthusiasm.

For me the big question is: How do I structure my life and mindset so I have the energy and focus to be at 100% for every presentation? How do I ensure I’m always treating every presentation as though it will define my career?

3. Engage the crowd. Rather than being the untouchable rockstars up on a pedestal, they interacted with the audience at every opportunity. The headlining singer continually and sincerely referred to the crowd as “friends”, showed off signs held by audience members, offered choices of what songs they’d play next, celebrated the energy of the crowd, and thanked the audience for coming out to see them. Sounds obvious, but the local bands did little of this.

What are the obvious things to connect with my audiences and classes that I’m not doing enough or at all? How can I better create a feeling where I’m speaking with the audience rather than at them? How can I connect with as many people as possible on as individual of level as possible.

4. Make it about the audience, not the presenter.The local bands kept mentioning the CDs they had for sale in the back, reasons they weren’t at their best, where they were playing next, blah, blah, blah. Any words between songs were few and focused on the band. In contrast, it would have been easy – almost expected – for the headliners to show up with rock and roll egos completely unchecked and gripe about the venue or small crowd. They could have bragged about the shows they normally do or made it clear a bar gig was beneath them. Yet, everything the headliners said – every single word– was focused on audience and how fun and great they were. It was clear the band was thrilled and grateful that everyone had showed up to see them.

Our words reveal our focus – as a speaker, is the concern for the audience and participants or for ourselves? This is a subtle, but really powerful difference. The audience knows and responds accordingly.

5. Keep it simple. One would think that less experience performers would keep it simple and focus on walking before they run, but it was the opposite. The local bands had five and six string basses and seven and eight (!) string guitars, using sophisticated techniques to play complex lines. The headlining musicians used a traditional instruments, straightforward techniques, and played comparatively simple songs.

As a presenter it’s tempting to show off with technology, complicated materials, fancy language, credentials, etc. But that’s all about the presenter. Complex is the lazy route. Simple is difficult, it takes more time to do, and it often feels unprofessional to the novice. What beginning presenters often miss is simple requires expert level judgment, effort, and refinement. Simple keeps it about the message connecting with the audience.

6. Have fun. It’s hard to travel day after day, connect with the audience, be grateful for any opportunity to get your message out there, and have a blast while doing it. Despite near continual touring schedule and the small venue the headliners were smiling, playing, joking around, and giving full effort like there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing. The headliners seemed to be doing their dream job, the local bands seemed to be showing up for work.

The differences between good and great are small, but significant.

It’s funny how the things that set us apart are often not all that big on the surface. Notice how none of this is about their musical ability. The gap between the opening bands and the headliner was much more about approach, attitude, and connection. Could the local bands have done all this? Yes. Did they? Not really. They were more than skilled enough, but in the end were no more memorable than the background music the club played over the PA between the sets.

It’s a nice reminder to continually step up my intention, focus, and connection. I need to make sure I’m creating a great user experience and not getting between my message and my audience.

For you, what’s the difference between a great presentation and one that’s merely good?

HR, it’s time to get bold

boldhrBold HR matters.

Bold is a lot of things to a lot of people. At a session I recently led on boldHR atHRevolution, the participants defined bold as: risk taking, unexpected, courage, gutsy, decisive with preparation, forward thinking, positive, out of context, change, flashy, powerful, large, and loud.

One participant quoted Robert Greene, pointing out “Everyone admires the bold and no one honors the timid.” That line resonated deeply for me because there are so many people who want to have an impact, who want to do meaningful work (doesanyone want to do work that doesn’t matter, work no one cares about?). Yet, too often we try to make a difference while playing safe and that rarely happens. No statue has ever been erected, no biography written, no career celebrated about the person who was just another anonymous face blending into the crowd.

The field of HR is at a crossroads. There is much discussion about dislocating, redefining, and overhauling what HR is and does. I think these are crucial conversations and I jump into every one I can, but they often fail to account for a crucial paradox: to the individual just trying to get a job done, revolutionizing an entire field seems impossibly overwhelming, but the field will never move forward and improve until individuals more forward and improve. No one individual can do it, but nothing will happen until individuals make things happen.

That’s where boldHR matters. No matter who we are, no matter where we are, no matter job title or career stage, we can all be even more bold. Whether you’re a senior VP of HR who wants to completely reinvent the HR function at your organization or you’re just starting out in your career and trying to learn the fundamentals you can be bold. You can be the person who makes things happen and gets things done, you can be the person who “steps into the conversation” (as one participant put it – I love that!), who doesn’t wait for permission, who is open and sharing, who attaches your work to the business needs, and who simply chooses to “get uncomfortable” in order to get things done. This is not simply my opinion, these are the words and ideas of participants.

The beauty of boldHR is it recognizes there is no one-size-fits-all. What might be an insane leap past the outer comfort zones for one person might be a slow day at the office for another. Rather than prescribing what everyone should do to be bold,boldHR looks to the individual to determine how boldness will show up in their life.

So what’s it mean for you? Here are a few questions to help you determine where you would benefit from being bolder and playing bigger in your job (and these apply to ANY job, not just in HR):

  1. What do you really want to do in your job but keep putting off because you’re too busy?
  2. What are you hesitating about asking for permission to do because you don’t want to be told “no”?
  3. What do you want to be remembered for at your company or in your career? What additional decisions or actions are necessary to make that happen?
  4. What do you need to say “no” to that would make a huge difference in your job?

Pick any one of your answers and decide on doing the smallest action that will make it possible. Even if it’s just a phone call, email, or quick conversation, do that one action. Then do it again. Then add another action. Keep going.

You don’t have to reinvent the field and you don’t have to change who you are. Keep doing what you do, just do it a little bigger, a little better, a little bolder.

What are your thoughts? Where can the field of HR be bolder? Where do you want to be bolder in your own job or career?

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[Photo Credit: Kellee Webb (@PurposefulHR)]

#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.

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.