Monday, September 3, 2018

Diversity's the Secret Sauce of a Great Culture

My first boss Herman was a 2nd generation Mexican American.  He ran a tight Jewish bakery counter and his brother Alex managed the kosher deli across the way.

My best boss ever – and I’ve only had a few over a long career I consider truly great – was French and female.  

(My worst boss was also female so please don’t take this as a general endorsement for female leadership, let’s just get better leaders, OK?)

I’ve had bosses from the US, France, India, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Mexico, and Germany.  They all had very different management styles.

One boss called me a ‘penetrante Kuh’ - which means annoying cow - but he was German, so I didn’t take it personally.  In fact, I considered printing it on my business card.

I’ve hired and managed people from Canada, South Africa, Japan, Poland, Singapore, Russia, Finland, Spain, Mexico, Ireland, France, and the US.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with Russians, Finns, Japanese, Italians, Canadians, Dutch, French, Irish, British, Spanish, Australians, Iranians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Belgians, Indians, Romanians, Swiss, Scandinavians, and 2nd generation Americans from pretty much every part of the world.

Some were younger, some were older, some were male, some were female, some were fantastic to work with while others were difficult, but they all offered something unique to the mix.

It was the best part about working, to be honest. 

I didn’t like everybody, nor did everyone like me.  That’s not the point.  The point is that they all added colour and flavour to my work experience, as I hope working with me did for them.

Interacting with so many cultures and personalities upped my game and having such a rich mix of colleagues and experiences kept me longer in each role than I might have stayed otherwise.

Diversity matters in ways we can’t measure.  It makes us more resilient, curious, compassionate, and open to new cultures, ideas and experiences.  It tests us and forces us to adapt, compromise and question our assumptions.

If your customer base is diverse, it stands to reason your workforce – in particular, the people who design your solutions or interact with your customers - should be, too.  Also, just to be clear, hiring locals in your non-HQ subsideriaries isn't true diversity.

I don’t think too many people reading this are likely to disagree, since diversity is now accepted as part of a successful business strategy, but I leave you with this food for thought:

A few years back I blogged about a Cornell University study that found once diversity reaches a critical mass of 20-25% at the leadership level the company realizes higher performance.  However, below that level diversity has a negative impact, possibly because everyone regards it as a necessary evil rather than a driver of innovation and business performance.

With that in mind, maybe diversity should be part of your company DNA, rather than an isolated and/or HR-led initiative.  

Just sayin.

*Picture courtesy of Managing Your Elders.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Leadership Lessons from Taekwondo

Since becoming a ‘solopreneuer‘, I’ve doubled down on my taekwondo practice.  In fact, I’ll be spending the next ten days in Italy at a training camp practicing 3-5 hours per day in the hot sun, followed by my green belt test.  My family is coming along and my kids, as you can imagine, are delighted to spend their summer vacation watching me break boards.

Breaking a board in one shot feels great but if you had to hit the board over and over without ever breaking it you’d probably give up, which you can compare to some workplace situations.  Patty Azzarello wrote a great article (here) about becoming one’s better self – with way better hair - when work doesn’t go your way.  She’s one of the best at navigating difficult workplace situations, but it’s also worth exploring why leaders have to expend so much energy navigating instead of leading. 

You could argue that’s part of what leaders get paid to do.  Given that businesses need to run profitably, some competition for attention, mindshare and resources is inevitable.  Besides, friction can be a positive creative force, up to a point.

However, past that point it’s just wasteful and erodes trust.  How do you know where that point is?  Oh, you'll know. 

After that ‘People don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses,’ meme went around for about the ten thousandth time, Christie Lindor resoundingly qualified that statement in a blog post that has received over 30K likes and more than 1000 comments, so I guess it struck a chord.  Here are the crib notes, but I recommend the entire article (and Patty’s):

Yes, people leave bad bosses but what they really leave is an entire organization.  Symptoms of the kind of culture people want to get away from include stagnant processes, increased toxicity in interactions, frustration with wasted time in meetings, lack of support from leadership during difficult times, gossip and bad mouthing, favouritism, and pockets of motivation being drowned in organizational inertia.

Wow, who knew?

Even a good boss in this kind of environment will lose people.  In fact, they may lose more than average because they are the ones coaching and developing people to be strong external candidates. In other words, if people are leaving in one part of the business, you may have a problem with a particular leader, but if people are leaving across the business, chances are you have a bigger problem. 

What can a healthy Taekwondo practice teach us about trust and motivation? Taekwondo is based on a martial arts discipline that is thousands of years old, when they never heard of new-fangled organizational models or open offices.  It’s strictly hierarchical and based on mutual respect between masters and students.  Advancement is merit-based but open to all.  New students are welcome and masters help and mentor beginners – it’s expected.  There are rules and forms and you follow them, period.  You work at your own pace but those who show up and work the hardest advance the fastest. 

And yet, although it’s very structured it’s also very creative.  You have to think and move fast, innovate by combining movements your muscles know by heart in new ways, and anticipate your opponent’s moves.  It’s a one stop shop for autonomy, progress, mastery, flow, and purpose.

There are real workplaces that follow a similar model.  My first job at one of the leading management consulting companies, for example.  The partners were responsive and generous with their time, project leads were expected to mentor, performance standards were applied fairly, and advancement was both merit and time-based.  In other words, there weren’t organizational limits on how many folks could advance so good people didn’t get stuck in career limbo, which creates unhealthy competition at many companies.  New hires were made to feel welcome with a proper orientation and a regular influx of new staff kept the organization fresh.  

I’m not going to say it was perfect - and believe me when I say the hours were long – but notice the similarities to a well-run martial arts practice. I’ve had many great jobs and work experiences since, but each time I break a board I wonder why more companies don’t put real effort into mentoring, recognizing contributions and creating opportunities for more individuals to grow professionally.  It costs money but it creates abundance.

Great leaders know you don’t engage people with surveys, performance evaluations or 2.3% merit increases.  You engage them by taking a genuine interest in their development; recognizing a job well done - or a board well broken; enabling them to master the moves; empowering them to try new moves; and helping them advance to the next level.

Here's me breaking a board.  As you can see, it's a team effort.

You may also like: How to Find, Hire and Lead Great Talent

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Give Me Compliments: The Definitive Video About Appreciation and Engagement

After many hundreds of thousands of words written and spoken about appreciation and engagement - some of them by me over at the Compensation Cafe and of course here at Working Girl - this guy Heinrich has hilariously boiled this rich and multi-faceted topic down to its definitive essence:

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The HR Journey from Productivity to Purpose

My last post Is HR Stuck in a Rut? asked whether HR can evolve beyond process efficiency and employee satisfaction surveys to take the lead on offering an inspiring employee experience.  Here are a few suggestions to get started:

Know Your Personas: Some HR solutions support tailored talent management practices, but what matters is in how you personalize.  If you do it strictly by job or employee category, you’ll miss important nuances like seniority, extroversion v. introversion, or individual goals and not surprisingly, the process will work better for some than others.  Like marketers, HR should view employees as customers and personas to be served up a tailored and personal experience. 

Design Thinking: HR people love to talk to other HR people and that’s awesome because it marks them as curious, friendly, and open.  However, it’s also important to get out there and talk to your internal customers about how you can better serve them.  If you got out there more, you might have dodged the open office bullet.  Stop falling for fads and best practices and go talk to people!

Playfulness: Gamification utilizes well-understood principles to motivate people to do more of what you want them to do and have fun while they’re doing it.  It introduces a spirit of friendly play and – depending on what is more appropriate – facilitates cooperation or competition.  It’s a topic by itself that you can read more about here.

Mastery and Progress: On demand learning is a great time and money saver and quite a few organizations have done an amazing job implementing creative and engaging modules.  Yay!  But now that you’ve made it possible for employees to learn in 5-minute intervals between meetings, it’s worth exploring the benefits of allowing dedicated time for coaching, mentoring, knowledge sharing and professional development.

Trust: No matter what you say, people will look at what you do.  If your organization fails to pay out bonuses, if your leaders exclude or attack people, if new ideas fall on deaf ears, or if people feel taken for granted or stuck in place, you won’t have an environment where people want to bring their most creative selves to work. 

Joyful Workspace: It’s been proven that bright colours and feelings of abundance can create feelings of joy and endless possibility, so why do so many workspaces look like this?  I’ll just leave that out there.

Experience Design:  We know in our hearts that employee surveys are blunt instruments at best, and that satisfaction is a poor predictor of performance.  Maybe it’s time to shift focus to creating purpose and opportunity at work so people want to be there, feel connected to their work, and believe their contributions matter and will help them achieve their personal goals.

Note that none of these suggestions require high tech solutions to get started. The HR journey begins – like any journey of discovery – not at a conference but with a piece of paper, a sharp pencil, a pack of sticky notes if you’re feeling agile, and your customers.

Is HR Stuck in a Rut?

A bit more than three years ago I left the HCM world to re-enter the world of purchase-to-pay and supply chain finance.  There had been some exciting new developments, not the least of which was supply chain finance.

As I re-engage with the HR world, however, I get a sense of de ja vu because there don’t seem to be many new developments or thought leaders.  The topics are amazingly similar to what they were three, five, even ten years ago: Performance management is still broken, the war for talent continues, and HR technology still promises to solve everything from talent acquisition to employee engagement.

Meanwhile, industry experts are still talking about how to do the same things better while surveying HR practitioners about HR priorities and best practices.  It’s quite the echo chamber so perhaps it’s not a huge surprise so little has changed.

There are a few fresh voices talking about things like employee experience, design thinking, behavioural economics, the gig workforce, holocracy, gamification, etc.  Some of it’s pure nonsense, or ahead of its time, but at least it’s new.  And some of the tech trends are truly exciting.

Nonetheless, after three years focused elsewhere, it feels like HR has gotten itself stuck.  Is it fear of failure?  Is it an ingrained tendency to follow rather than lead? Or is it just easier to talk about the same problems with like-minded colleagues than it is to rethink them completely?

Don’t Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk

Here’s an example of what I mean: If diversity and personalization are drivers of creativity and innovation, why do HR processes continue to trend toward standardization?  And if outcomes matter more than activities, why do organizations continue to measure things like number of training modules or performance evaluations completed?

I mean, sure, if you’ve taken the time to roll out an LMS or a performance management process – despite the fact that for more than a decade, experts have claimed performance management is broken while offering new best practices to break it in more up to date ways – you want to understand your participation rate.  I totally get that. 

Understanding your numbers is fine as you don’t confuse a high participation rate with success.

One of the problems facing HR today is confusing activity with outcome.  And it’s not just HR, because we humans latch onto anything we can measure.  The problem is that when it comes to people, some of the most important things can’t be measured.  So, in a way, it’s worse when HR does it.

And don’t bring up AI or block chain now as the magic dust or I’ll have to come over there.  AI and block chain won’t help measure the unmeasurable, although machine learning will likely have a huge impact on personalization.  At best, they’ll help you do a better job measuring or making sense of the things you already try to measure.  At least for a while.

Just kidding.  I totally won’t come over there.

Time to Rethink HR Conferences?

I know, they're really fun.  However, instead of talking about the usual tech trends and topics, why not talk about how to apply behavioural economics to innovation or incentive strategies?  Or how to ensure managers are inclusive and promote a culture of trust where innovation can flourish?  Or how to apply gamification principles to motivate the entire organization to achieve the impossible?  Or how to create healthy workspaces that inspire creativity and play?  Or introducing a 4-day work week?

Someday AI will know us better than we know ourselves, but it’ll still be a while before a a bunch of code – be it ever so elegant, unbiased and networked - understands people well enough to make accurate predictions about individuals in a fast-changing environment.  And quite frankly, HR will have about as much to do with blockchain as they do with SSL or Unix, i.e. you’ll use it without knowing you’re using it.  I don’t mean to be insulting but let’s face it, the business isn’t looking to HR to figure out distributed encryption or machine learning.

So why not use the time to talk about how to enable people to bring their best and most authentic selves to work?  My post The HR Journey from Productivity to Purpose suggests some ways to help you do that.

Friday, July 27, 2018

How to Find, Hire and Lead Great Talent

I don’t believe in the war for talent.  Yes, there are some specialized skills that are challenging to acquire but since most people are dissatisfied at work for largely the same reasons involving company culture, managers and rewards, even ‘hard to find talent’ is open to making a change.


You can hire great people without making extravagant offers or breaking the budget by following three simple rules:
  • Be creative: Everyone out there’s looking for the same hard to find profiles, but what you really need is someone who can succeed in the job.  If you can’t get the exact skills you are looking for in your price range, look for transferable skills or consider bringing in a contractor to meet your short-term needs while searching or training someone (see my blog post on HR and the Gig Economy).
  • Be flexible: There’s no shortage of qualified and hard-working people out there who, because hiring them feels risky, are often overlooked: moms returning to the workplace, remote workers, people who want to change careers, young professionals looking for growth opportunities, people not currently employed, semi-retired people, etc. 
  • Have a talent pipeline: One of your jobs as a manager is to have a rolodex of potential talent you’d like in your team should the right opportunity arise.  If you have an opportunity to travel to events, talk to people, connect with interesting profiles on LinkedIn, and keep people in mind who applied for previous job postings. 


So, those are some tips for finding and making yourself attractive to great talent, but the trickier bit is knowing who to hire.  Again, a few simple rules have served me well over the years:
  • Have an audition: Ask your candidates to prepare a presentation to showcase how they approach work.  AI may help identify talent in future, but so long as LinkedIn keeps showing me Spanish speaking sales jobs I’m not holding my breath.  Profiles can be gamed but a solid presentation can’t be faked.  Inviting people who will be working with the person you hire will enable them to weigh in on and buy into the decision.
  • Don’t be Goldilocks: I wrote a short post about Goldilocks Syndrome here.  You should always wait until you find someone who can succeed in the job and complement the team, but I’ve seen job posts with completely unrealistic expectations.  Similarly, don’t immediately write off people who seem too senior, as they can bring invaluable experience to the team.  Instead of ticking skills boxes, hire people who can learn, play well with others, and think on their feet.
  • Hire people who can grow: According to the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, if you are selecting from a pool of candidates that all share a basic level of competence it doesn’t really matter who you hire, because they will learn on the job.  I totally buy into that, having learned coding on the job early in my career and pretty much everything else at an advertising agency in Tokyo.  An audition or trial period will help you assess growth potential.


So now you’ve hired someone and it’s your job to help them be successful and grow professionally.  A few tips:

  • Let people be stars:  Managing ambitious high potentials can be challenging, especially when they think their work is better than it is – it takes humour, lots of listening and putting your own ego on mute.  There’s also a body of thought leadership that is pro-team and anti-star, which I find interesting but limited.  In my experience, everyone has star quality if you help them find and express it at work.  
  • Be dream compliant: At the recent Club Talentsoft event, Co-Founder Alex Pachulski predicted that organizations will need to become dream compliant and help people connect with opportunities (more about the event and his presentation here).  Money aside, the best way to keep ambitious self-starters happy is providing opportunities and encouragement to try things, grow, take responsibility and make visible contributions, and be recognized. 
  • Expect people to move on: People leave bad bosses, but good people leave good bosses, too.  If you lead in a way that attracts high potentials and performers to work for you, and give them opportunities to grow, chances are they will at some point receive a better offer.  That’s OK, first because you want what’s best for them, second because they’ll go the extra mile for you to wrap up and/or transition projects before they go, and third because it creates opportunity for others on the team.  Voluntary attrition helps keep the team fresh.
Look, most of what we thought we knew about talent management has turned out to be wrong, and everything we think we know today probably will, too.  I believe part of the reason is a tendency to over-engineer talent strategies, but fortunately, basic leadership principles never change: 

If you hire people who love to learn, encourage collaboration and new ideas, recognize contributions, and weed out trust-destroying behaviours, you’ll never have trouble finding, hiring and leading great talent.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Is HR Ready to be GIGantic?

In my most recent post HR and the Gig Economy, I talked about how the workforce is changing as managers staff their teams with more contingent labour.  HBR also wrote a thought-provoking article Run Taskrabbit Run, exploring a not-so-distant future where businesses no longer have employees.  Since my very talented former colleague Stacy Chapman, the CEO of SwoopTalent, has predicted that more doomsayers will write more about this topic… challenge accepted.

I'm actually not a doomsayer, at least I don't think I am.  I personally see the gig economy as an opportunity for HR rather than a threat, at least in the medium term (y’ know, before HR gets replaced by chatbots), because contractors are people.  For too long HR has let procurement own services talent as the proportion of contingent workers steadily increases.  It’s time for HR to step up and reclaim the people agenda.

Here are some of the challenges HR needs to be ready for to stay relevant in the gig economy:

People Data: I know we’re all still high fiving about moving to the cloud, but to prepare for the gig economy, your HR solution needs to track data for contractors as well as employees.  You need to know where your contractors are placed, when, for what, and how much they cost.  You also want to know if they are effective, which will be a challenge since they aren’t included in your performance appraisal process.

Compliance: There are some legal challenges with making contractors feel too much like part of the team - not to mention employment insurance - but someone needs to figure that out for the business.  Who better than HR?  Not procurement, unless HR also wants to share ownership of core competencies, performance management and employer brand.  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  : )

Organizational development: What is the right employee to contractor ratio?  Where should external skills be brought in on a project or fixed term basis v. in-house?  Most importantly, how can HR add real value to this discussion, rather than just consolidating input from different parts of the business?  Own this!!!

Recruiting: HR plays an active role in recruiting talent but not – typically – in acquiring contractors, besides signing the contract with the agency and/or sending over the NDA.  However, just like employees, contractors have diverse skills and personalities, and some will be a better fit than others.  Does HR really want to leave this up to chance, allow mission critical work to go to the lowest bidder, or fail to consider skills augmentation in a broader company context?

Performance and Engagement: Like employees, contractors need to be engaged and assessed for organizational fit and quality of work.  After all, they perform critical tasks for your company, provide a crutch for your company’s core capabilities, and cost money.  It’s important to make them feel like part of the team, help them succeed and establish some metric to assess the quality of their work.  

Skills Development: If we envision a future where most or all of the workforce is project based, at least in some industries, how will HR shape core competencies in that future?  What will core competencies even mean?  And how do you ensure today that skills for hire are also transferred, and that any skills or knowledge gaps your contractors have are addressed so they can work as efficiently as possible?

Leadership: Managing contractors requires somewhat different skills and perspective than managing employees.  It’s HR’s job to make sure managers are ready to lead a truly diverse workforce made up of employees, contractors and non-humans.

Rewards:  As more contractors are brought in to augment teams, compensation equity and company perqs will take on a new flavour.  There’s no one right answer, but plenty of wrong ones, and it needs to be considered in light of what is best for the business.  Ideally, you don’t want rewards to create a divide between internal and external team members, which is what will happen if contractors get treated like second class citizens.

Collaboration: The right collaboration and project management tools can help teams work more productively.  With the gig economy, having the right tools to streamline processes and tasks while linking work to company goals has never been more important.

Internal support: This one has long frustrated me as a hiring manager.  New employees get the red carpet rolled out by HR, a new laptop, a new workstation, etc., whereas contractors need to go on a treasure hunt to find a place to sit and get signed onto the system.  Which the company pays for in lost productivity, frustrated engagement and an hourly rate to boot.

Employer Brand: Just like employees, some contractors are a better fit for your organization than others.  How do you help ensure your organization attracts the best contractors, and equip them to deliver the best results?

So, you get the idea.  As contractors become part of the mix at work, HR needs to start thinking in very real terms how to attract, retain, engage and develop them.  Or… become less relevant to the business as the workforce changes.

Visual courtesy of Business in the Workplace.
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