Saturday, April 4, 2020

Online Fatigue: The Pain is Real

Best practices for remote work have suddenly become trendy.  After all:

1. Employees who are used to connecting in person miss the daily connection and stimulus;
2. Employers want to maintain trust, productivity and alignment during this time; and
3. It's easy to weigh in on this topic. 

Once again, however, the focus of the organization is on extroverts and their needs - forgetting that introverts are not only more comfortable with remote work but also need uninterrupted time to recharge.

These days, even extroverts may feel what I call 'online fatigue' in the wake of extra online meetings to align and 'connect' with the team.  That's because virtual meetings are more tiring than in person interactions, perhaps because you can't draw on the energy of the others.  

Plus, when all your meetings happen at your desk it's easy to forget to stand up and move around, and that's tiring, too.

Unfortunately, one upshot of remote work is that there are even more meetings than before.  In addition to the regular ones, there are all these new meetings and chat rooms to connect with colleagues for company updates and virtual team building.  

That's great for extroverts who miss connecting with colleagues - and it's kind of cool - but may be stressful for introverts or working parents, and even more stressful for introverted working parents.  

I don't want to criticize leaders who are trying to keep people connected because it's really important and let's face it, this is all new territory for many.  This is just a friendly reminder that too much of a good thing is sometimes actually too much.  

Not everyone wants or has time for constant connection while working remotely.  Don't judge them, include them and their needs - by making virtual connction voluntary so people have time to recharge.  

Like a groundhog, introverts will pop up again once they finish hibernating.

It's important for teams to stay connected but it's also important to give people a break from online fatigue.  Here are a few ideas:
  • Keep meetings short and to the point, including management updates - remember people are getting a lot of talking heads these days.
  • If you've introduced daily team standups or chat rooms make participation voluntary so people can self select out if they need to do something else - and if no one comes, cancel them.
  • Instead of communicating more in online meetings, try communicating more in emails, chats and project management tools so you need fewer meetings.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Navigating the Four-Day Work Week

‘Can I work part-time?’

As a team lead and hiring manager I hear this question a lot, now that the four-day workweek is a ‘thing’ – and for the right candidate it’s a no-brainer.


I consider myself as a four-day workweek pioneer, blazing a part-time trail before it was cool.  It started when I was returning from maternity leave. I wanted to work part-time but was confident I could handle the demands of the role in fewer hours. 

I felt a bit nervous asking the hiring manager, but his answer surprised me: ‘I love part-team people.  They cost less, waste less time, and work harder.’

I accepted the offer and ended up doing two full-time roles in twenty hours a week, which was possible because the team culture supported me and we had top notch collaboration tools.

Now I pay it forward, not because it’s trendy to offer a four-day work week, or even because multiple four-day work week experiments have shown higher productivity and engagement.  It's because being flexible gives me access to some amazingly talented people who can effectively manage their time and deliver key results faster.

There’s a flip side, of course: skipped team lunches, minimal time for networking, leaving earlier than everyone else, missing meetings, etc.  But all that can be managed though proper expectations setting and proactive communication. 

If being available and ‘being seen’ are prioritized at your company, you may not be ready to accommodate part-time people in leadership or high visibility roles.  That’s fine but you may be missing out on some great talent, or paying people to focus on non-mission critical tasks.

Is a four-day work week right for your team or company? 

First let’s look at the benefits:
  • Access to talent – A growing number of senior professionals prefer part-time opportunities because their expertise makes them highly efficient.
  • Employer band – Making flexible work schedules and part time opportunities part of your employer brand will help you attract the best people.
  • Mental health – Having afternoons free or one day off provides space to manage one’s personal life with less stress.
  • Lower salary costs – While subject to negotiation, part-time professionals may accept a lower salary in exchange for flexibility, plus salaries are typically prorated by hours worked. 
  • Engagement – Taking a bit of time away from work and work-related emails has a beneficial head clearing effect that increases engagement.
  • Productivity - Embracing a shorter work week creates an opportunity to rethink processes and workflows to make them more efficient.
Now let’s look at a couple of caveats because a four-day work week isn’t for everyone:
  • Right role – A four-day work week shouldn’t necessitate hiring extra personnel, which is why creative, strategic, or even leadership roles may work better than customer service or 'bottleneck' roles that others depend on.  
  • Right experience – Someone with little job experience may need the five days to learn the ropes – in my first management role I worked about 60 hours a week but quite a bit of that was figuring stuff out.
  • Right level of maturity – The four-day model works best with people who know how to manage their time and key stakeholders - a certain amount of finesse and experience are required.
  • Right manager – If your company's managers learned most of what they know about leadership in the 90s this model is probably not for you.  
  • Not everyone wants it!  According to recent EU stats most people are still looking for full-time work, either out of habit or for the higher earning potential.
The corporate world isn't yet ready for a universal four-day work week, but you can pilot the idea and get most of the benefits by: 1) offering it where it makes sense; and 2) supporting the arrangement with tools, communication, expectations setting, etc. so it works.

Whether or not you like the idea of the four-day work week, more people are asking for personalized work arrangements and choosing to work for companies that offer it.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Diversity and Inclusion for Introverts

I spoke at an HR event recently where the key themes were company culture and employee experience.  Following my talk, I was asked by the event moderator if I would accept less money in exchange for more fun at work. 

‘No way,’ I said.  ‘I’m an introvert.  If you want me to have ‘fun’ at work, you have to pay me more.’

That got a big chuckle, but I wasn’t trying to be funny.  I like working with people, but for me ‘fun’ is reading a book alone in my house.  That’s how I shake my funky stuff.  

Just to be clear, introverts like me aren’t shy or unsocial but unlike extroverts we recharge in solitude.  Whereas extroverts find solitude lonely and tiring, and recharge in more social settings. 

In all the HR forums speaking about diversity and inclusion I’ve participated in, I have yet to see anyone bring up how to include introverts.  No one considers that if your company culture is highly collaborative, it can suck to be an introvert.  No one takes introverted work styles into account although it impacts everything from how people do their best work to how they communicate.

Hiring for cultural fit should mean hiring people who are passionate about your mission, not people who all behave or think the same way.  

Sadly, however, despite so much focus on diversity and inclusion, companies expect people to be extroverts at work if they want to advance. This isn’t as unfair as it sounds because communication and relationships are the cornerstone of successful business and no one can do great work in isolation. 

Nonetheless, while extroverts are more likely to excel at sales and proactive customer service, it’s typically introverts who show up in areas that require methodical execution and deep expertise.  That’s because introverts are more likely to invest the time and solitary deep work required for mastery of complex topics than extroverts.

LEADERS TAKE NOTE: Not everyone on your team has the same preferred work and communication style.  A one-size-fits-all management style won't bring out the best in everyone.  Take time to understand your team and help them play to their strengths, not yours.

But it is what it is.  For the time being, extroverts will continue to be in the spotlight at work and are also more likely to advance and earn more. So, here are some tips and reading recommendations for introverts to help you design your dream career without attending lots of networking events and pretending to be someone you aren't: 

Know what you want – If you feel stuck in your career, you may be Barking up the Wrong Tree.  Do you want to lead a team or be an executive?  You’ll need a support base to get promoted and if you’re an introvert who hates talking to people it’s worth asking yourself if that’s really what you want.  Do you want to work remotely or part-time?  You’ll need expertise and in demand skills to earn that flexibility.  Most things are easy if you know exactly what you want and what you’ll compromise – or not compromise – to get it.

Focus on relationships, not networks – You don't have to be an extrovert to be friendly and supportive of the people you work with.  Most opportunity comes from either being top of mind, where extroverts have an undeniable advantage, or being someone who helps others be successful, where introverts do.  Remember, no one succeeds without support, including you, so pay it forward.

Walk the talk – People who get what they want adapt their approach until they get it.  I’m not saying you should try to change into an extrovert because you’ll fail but you may have to have a difficult conversation or change jobs to get what you want.  Take a deep breath and commit to asking for what you want and finding something better if you don’t get it.

Play to your strengths – Great ideas are cheap - the real magic happens in the execution.  If you have a dream and lack the charismatic charm of an extrovert that creates its own luck, work at getting so good they can’t ignore you.  Fortunately, as an introvert, you have a natural advantage when it comes to deep work.

Find a communication style that works for you - Just because you don’t enjoy team lunches or networking doesn’t mean you can’t proactively reach out to different stakeholders in your company or write energized and positive emails.  Introverts can be great communicators if they organize themselves around outreach activities and use their natural empathy and powers of observation.  You may never be the life of the party, but you can be a great communicator.

Let’s face it, if you’re an extrovert with acceptable skills the world is your oyster.  Sadly, my introverted friends, that’s not you but you have your own superpowers.  Figure out what they are, develop them to peak performance, be nice to people along the way and the world can be your oyster, too.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Leadership: The Art of Honesty and Affirmation

I've worked for and with some fantastic companies but one still stands out as a model of wise and pragmatic leadership and talent management:

Candidates had an opportunity to meet with employees at each level of the business, giving both sides an ample opportunity to sum each other up. Not surprisingly, their openness and attention to detail in the hiring process resulted in a high success rate among new hires.

The partner who interviewed me exuded friendly, polished confidence.  The contrast to myself - I was in graduate school at the time - intimidated me for the first few minutes of the interview until I noticed he was re-phrasing everything I said to make it sound better.

For example, he saw on my resume that I was graduate student body president at UCSD and asked what that involved.  I said I ran meetings and sometimes met with the dean to discuss student affairs or speak at a campus event. He responded, 'Ah, so you're an experienced facilitator, negotiator and public speaker.'

The entire interview was like this and as we shook hands at the end of the interview he told me I’d made it to the next round and wished me luck.  Interesting, no?  He could have easily tripped me up with tough questions but he built me up instead.

They paid less than competing companies and explained it like this: "We pay a bit less but we'll train you and give you so much practical business experience that you can walk out of here and earn three times as much after two years. Or stay the course and work your way up to partner." Sounded fair to me.

There was a full-sized campus near Chicago to handle classroom training needs, but onboarding at my home office included an online simulation in which I spent a week managing a virtual project team. My simulated team members came to me with various problems, complaints and requests and it was my job to keep them motivated and productive. After the program concluded, an HR director pulled me aside to tell me I got the highest score ever on this part of the exam.

I hadn't done anything special.  I just followed two very simple rules that I have continued to follow in every leadership role: 1) I said yes to all reasonable requests from my team; and 2) I let people go with good grace when they were ready.

My first manager gave me the best - meaning useful, not glowing - employee review I've ever had to date. I don't remember the specifics of the review. I received an adequate rating accompanied by some positive feedback about my hard work, discipline and quality output, yada, yada, yada. Then came the useful part that stuck with me.

'I've gotten some feedback about you that concerns me a little,' she said, after all the nice bits. Apparently I had a habit of asking the same question over and over again in different ways until I got the answer I liked.'  Several folks had mentioned it to her, and not in a good way.

This isn't all bad,' said reassured me. 'A good consultant and project manager needs to be tenacious. But you may want to tone it down a little.'

I leapt valiantly to my own defense: I was just seeking clarification. I was just trying to save everyone from making huge costly mistakes. I was just this and I was just that.

'Stop,' she said mildly with a hint of a twinkle. 'I know you have your reasons and I'm sure they are good ones. But here's the thing. If one person says something about you they may be biased. If you get the same feedback from several people, however, take a mental note and watch yourself in action.'

This excellent advice has served me well over the years and I hereby pass it on.

TAKEAWAY: Everyone knows honesty, good will, and building people up make great places to work.  Why don't companies insist on these qualities in all their leaders?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Breaking News: Meetings Make Us Miserable

In recent headlines, a large global tech company used data analytics to discover that people who get pulled into too many crowded meetings are miserable at work. 

My reaction to this can be summed up in a single word:


I mean, the only surprising thing about this discovery is that it required analytics to figure it out.  Am I right?

Seriously, if there’s a bigger bummer than sitting in crowded meetings for 50-75% of your work week, it’s working for people who can’t figure that out for themselves without technology.

On the other hand, at least they took the problem seriously.  Too many companies either ignore the problem or fix the wrong thing.

They also used real data to correlate people's feelings (biased) with what was actually hapening in the business (unbiased), thus avoiding the tricky problem of getting people to tell the truth.  

Let's face it, even assuming there would be no repercussions for saying, 'You morons call way too many meetings!' people don't always know why they're miserable and can be quite expert at misdiagnosing their feelings.

So, I guess it’s a win, but I can't help thinking...


If you'd like to read more about why meetings are expensive and make people unahppy, check out htis article: Collaboration: $199/lb

And if you're interested in how to run happier and more collaborative meetings, read Games People Play: A Guide to Gamification for HR.

Friday, July 5, 2019

What HR is Paid to Do

Recently I’ve seen a lot of posts about freeing HR from administrative work so they can finally spend more time doing ‘what they’re paid to do.’  It would seem there are some different opinions about what HR is actually paid to do.  

The business expects HR to handle people admin, liability, reporting and skills development – so arguably, that’s what HR is paid to do, even if some folks disagree.

This may not be a popular viewpoint, but the HR Business Partner model proposed by David Ulrich was a bust in several key areas.  Don't get me wrong, the idea made sense (and he's doing some great new stuff now), but there were serious flaws in the execution that I don't think were intended or anticipated:
  • Doing it right required an extra layer of highly skilled – not to mention expensive - people running around moderating, coaching, advising, witnessing, and generally strategizing about all things people. 
  • Typically, HR business partners were (instead) sourced from a mostly business-as-usual HR talent pool, rather than hiring them from, say, the business
  • In many cases the newly minted ‘business partners’ continued having to do admin work while test driving the new role.
  • To create more time for strategic work, HR adopted technology to delegate administration and data entry to line managers and employees - shifting but not solving the admin problem. 
  • Although there was some progress on strategic initiatives, local teams tended to be left out of the strategic 'inner circle’, creating a 2-tier system within HR.

Fast forward about fifteen years: Too many HR professionals lack the field experience and operational skills of a true business partner and lack real authority to shape company culture and policy.  Somewhat ironically, HR gets blamed by the workforce for unpopular business decisions while having to defend them publicly.

There are companies where HR plays an integral role in business strategy and is recognized for leading the charge on the people agenda.  However, in my experience this usually goes hand in hand with a passionate and charismatic CHRO rather than than any particular framework or model.

According to recent Fosway research, a third of surveyed organizations plan to reduce HR headcount, so it would seem the case for investing more in HR isn't obvious to everyone.  Meanwhile, HR continues to struggle to do more with less while trying to find the time - and be taken seriously enough - to be strategic.

It may sound like I’m criticizing HR but I’m not.  HR has a tremendously important job that creates a lot of value to the business.  It is thanks to HR that people are hired and fired legally, onboarded, paid on time, trained, periodically coached or promoted, somewhat protected from egregious conduct and blatant discrimination, and terminated with due process and consideration. 

This is what HR is paid to do, and it’s strategic to boot because it helps the business run smoothly while supporting the people who deliver the company’s products and services.  HR doesn't get nearly enough credit for these things, in part - I think - because they've been so focused on establishing the HR Business Partner role with the executive team they've distanced themselves from what they do best.

Even in organizations where HR has successfully established the HR business partner role within the C-suite, there's a huge opportunity to position strategic HR to everyone else in the business. Ask the average employee what an HR business partner does all day and you will likely get a blank look.  

(To be fair, most people probably don't have a clue what the CEO does all day, either.)

If that’s not the case at your company, feel free to ignore everything I just said.

If it is the case, let’s forget the HR business partner model for just a moment and take a fresh look at how HR can partner with employees to create a better work experience:

Help people connect – People look for community and a sense of belonging.  When selecting HR technologies, consider whether they help people find their tribe at work and create meaningful connections across the business.  Also think about how to enable and encourage talent mobility, as one’s tribe or passion may be in a different part of the company or even outside of it.

Help people contribute – Use storytelling and coaching to help people find their superpower and connect the dots between their work and their impact.  Instead of copying best practices, use design thinking to include people in creating their own employee experience.  Above all, show genuine appreciation to everyone who does their bit to help your company be successful.

Help people grow – Think critically about how to support people on their career journey by letting them try new things and providing learning opportunities.  Schools have career guides, why don’t companies?  Consider providing professional development, feedback and coaching tools, and reimagine the annual performance process with a professional growth lens.

If HR does these things well - plus all the unsexy stuff they don't take enough credit for - it’ll be a strategic partner to the business and the people who work there.  Employer brand, retention and bottom line results will improve and before you know it companies will be looking to grow the HR function rather than downsize it.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Alchemy: The Secret to Leading Innovative Teams

There are so many books, articles, blog posts and tweets about leadership I hesitate to add to it.  

Clearly, we haven't hit on the magic formula yet. 

And yet, what strikes me about many of them is that they try to describe an ideal style of leadership.

If you think about it, that makes no sense.

Imagine a team made up of different generations, ethnic groups and work styles and just to make it interesting, imagine they work in different locations on various short- and long-term projects. 

Looking at how work and tech are trending, that’s the composite team of the future but we find teams like that even today.

So who thinks all these people with different cultural backgrounds and at different stages in their careers will respond positively to the same style of leadership? 

Exactly.  They won’t.  So how do you go about leading such a team?  It’s simple, really. You do it by helping each member of the team play to their strengths while being very clear about your expectations.

In order to do this, you need to be radically honest about your own leadership style and where you can and can’t be flexible. Don’t leave your team to figure this out for themselves, lay out the things that are important to you as a leader and are therefore non-negotiable. 

Leave the rest up to the people in your team.  Let them decide when, where and how to work.  Let them decide when to ask for help and when to work independently.  Let them spend time on projects that interest them, so long as they line up with team priorities.  

One very important point of clarification here: This doesn’t mean everyone just runs off and does whatever they feel like.  It’s a leader’s job to set clear priorities and deadlines, manage expectations within the team, ensure people interact professionally, and hold each person accountable for bringing their best self to work. 

In fact, how you lead the team shapes the team culture, which in turn impacts how well the team functions – so much so, that many companies continue to hire for culture fit rather than diversity. This is problematic and here's why:

Imagine a Venn diagram where individual personality and company culture overlap.  You immediately see a trade-off because the bigger the overlap, the less cultural diversity you have.  

Hiring managers also frequently try to hire people who will ‘fit in’ and therefore – let’s say it – be easy to manage.  Here again, the larger the overlap between team culture and individual personality, the stronger the sense of tribe and the lower the likelihood of conflict – or true innovation - within the team. 

As you can imagine, it's easier to lead a culturally homogenous team than a culturally diverse one because one size is more likely to fit all, which means the manager has to expend less energy to lead the team.  By the same token, diverse teams with inflexible leadership tend to underperform because people have to expend so much energy trying to fit in.  

The glue that makes a diverse team great is the leader, who sets the tone, shapes the behavioral norms, encourages (or discourages) personal expression, provides support for professional growth, and keeps the team focused and on track. 

Here’s why it matters: A team with a high degree of personal autonomy – or a large ‘personal expression zone’ – led by a skilled leader is likely to outperform and out-innovate a culturally homogenous team because more perspectives engender more ideas, which in turn create more possibilities.  

Diversity creates alchemy, which if properly channelled has the potential to turn crazy ideas into gold.  If the overlap between company, team and individual culture is too great, you get high complacency and sense of belonging but low alchemy.

If, however, company and team culture allow for a high degree of personal expression and creativity, you might just get… magic.
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