The Lifers

prison cell

So, I’ve shared that I recently started a new gig at a big company that has a long, long history. Like other organizations I’ve worked in, it’s poised on the precipice of big change, so “change management” is front and center.

In my role, I get to see people every day who have worked with the organization for their entire careers. They aren’t at retirement yet, but they’ve been there for more than twenty or thirty years. They’ve seen HR people come and go, and heard about this or that change initiative that’s also come and gone. Some of it may have stuck, but mostly not.

Some of them know that they should get on board, but they are just tired: tired of working so hard to take care of their families, tired of worrying so much about whether they will be able to pay for their medical bills, and tired of hearing about this new idea that’s going to make things so much better. They also suspect that all this change will put money in the pockets of the people at the top, but won’t bring a lot of great things to them.

But others are actually energized by the change, even if they’ve been at the company for a long, long time. They know that the changes will make the company stronger and better, and when the company is stronger and better, we all benefit from greater security, pay raises, good working conditions, and the pride that comes with doing a great job and making the company successful.

Others still are just saying, “Let me do my job.” I don’t want to hear about any of this, and I just want you to leave me alone. And by the way, keep it down. You are disturbing my peace and quiet, and I was here first, long before you.

You can’t put the Lifers all in one bucket. They have different ideas, different feelings, and different motivations. But one thing they all have in common? They want you to recognize what they’ve already contributed and respect them for still being there. And I do.

Now, about those changes I mentioned…they’re still coming our way. And I’ll be there to help the Lifers negotiate them, the best I can.

Photo credit: Tim Pearce, Los Gatos via Foter.com / CC BY

I Believe in a Big Candy Jar

candy sticks

Those who know me understand that I’m kind of a health nut. But I love candy. Jelly beans, Skittles, salt water taffy, Airheads, Mentos (the fruit kind-not the mint ones) and any other chewy, sweet stuff you can find. I also love chocolate, the darker and more bitter the better.

My candy jar is almost always full on my desk. It’s not a weenie candy dish that will show a big gap when you take a piece. It’s an overflowing jar with a lid and you are always welcome to come by and see me to take a piece or two. While you’re here I’ll expect to hear a little about your day, what you’re proud of, what’s bugging you, and what you think about what’s going on at work and in your life.

People often remark on the candy jar, whether it’s full, what’s in it, and when there will be more chocolate. They give me a hard time and pretend to steal a piece as they hurry by and give me a sly smile. They interrupt my work to talk about things that are important to them when they are just “stopping by for candy.” And I love it.

Sometimes people will fill the candy jar. It’s never required for anyone to contribute candy, and I don’t complain when it empties. The dish makes happiness for everyone, even those who don’t eat the candy. It spreads goodwill among everyone who sees it. When they give to the candy jar, they’re part of that warm feeling too.

Every HR pro should have the equivalent of a candy jar-something colorful, irresistible and fun in your workspace that welcomes people in. Maybe yours is a bunch of funny office toys for people to squeeze, throw or shake, or tons of funny magnets, stickers and posters for them to read and have a laugh with you.

Inviting people to be present in the moment with you is a great way to enjoy work, do great HR, and make life more fun. My candy jar does that.

What’s your candy jar? Share your ideas in the comments.

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Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass via Foter.com / CC BY

High Potential Programs: Handle with Care

high potential

In theory, so-called “High Potential” identification programs make sense. Organizations and leadership should be aware of the employees who are most likely to become future senior leaders and who should be identified as potential successors for critical roles that may need filling. They should also be exposed to accelerated developmental opportunities to keep them engaged and prepare them for these future opportunities.

What I’ve observed in practice, though, is that these programs tend to be less effective than they are in the theoretical realm. Todd Warner recently wrote a brilliant article in the Harvard Business Review called Three Reasons Why Talent Management isn’t Working Anymore. Warner pokes holes in these programs as they are ordinarily implemented, pointing out how they tend to result in promotion of familiarity and compliance, and they proceed in lock-step according the plan instead of considering the complex contextual environment of your organization and evolving strategy, which tends to change over time. All of these issues are critically important and should be addressed when implementing any talent management and succession planning program.

There are additional issues that develop when implementing these programs that deserve some attention and thought. If leaders and HR managers consider these pitfalls, they are less likely to interfere with a thoughtfully conceived and effectively implemented program.

  1. “High Potential” talent management plans can alienate and drive away high performers who aren’t considered among the “chosen few” to be in the “HiPo” group. These high performers may have rightfully been excluded-or misidentified. After they leave for greener pastures, leadership tends to recognize this as an affirmation of their original choices-those who left weren’t committed, didn’t have the passion and talent that the “HiPo” group possesses, and their talent and performance fades in memory once they are no longer a part of the organization. This self-fulfilling prophecy can be a recipe for mediocrity.
  2. Perception is Reality. I have heard this come out of the mouths of managers in dysfunctional organizations, not as a warning, as in, question perceptions, and look for facts and analyze data to get true results. It has been spoken with a shrug and a sigh, as in, using your energy to promote the right perception among leadership is something we all have to do here. That is a complete waste of time and money, creates animosity and distrust among employees, and stands in the way of even small change initiatives. Just create the right perception of yourself and you will be in the “High Potential” group that is allocated greater Talent Management and development resources. This dysfunctional environment can cause even the most engaged team members to lose faith in the organization and can erase gains created by even a well-managed HiPo program. Once High Potentials are promoted, the rest of the organization hasn’t been set up to trust them as leaders. The lesson? A culture of transparency and trust is key.
  3. Playing the Game. If HR isn’t careful, instead of performing the critically important function of giving strategic advice on succession planning and developing identified employees to ready them for promotion, we will end up creating an elaborate game in which only the team members who are highly manipulative and political-minded will end up the winners. Meanwhile, team members who could challenge the status quo, show true leadership and bring real success are overlooked, lose interest and move on to contribute to someone else’s bottom line.
  4. The Extrovert vs. Introvert Continuum and Gender and Culture Differences. One of the critical elements of a High Potential employee as compared to a high performing employee is aspiration. Aspiration, ambition and striving to move up are all qualities that can be present but may be expressed in different ways by true HiPo employees, but may not be recognized consistently by evaluators. Consider the differences in your employees and how they may express themselves based on who they are.

What should a wise Talent Management and HR professional do to combat these tendencies?

  1. Widen the circle. Who is reviewing the information upon which you base your identification of high potential employees? Yes, managers will fill out the same forms, and give evaluations based on the same criteria-but if only one or two team members are charged with making preliminary identifications, then you are entrusting your organization’s future to their analysis of the collected data and their ability to conclude what it says about the potential for future success. Maybe that makes sense, since your HR team is well trained in making recommendations like these-or maybe it doesn’t, and you haven’t even thought about it. Unless you are making decisions in a blind process and based only on objective criteria like assessment scores (highly unlikely and not advisable) then the perspective of every reviewer could be quite influential.
  2. Expand the data set. Does your team think they have the right people identified? Broaden the criteria you are looking at and make sure consistent criteria are being used to identify High Potentials. Bersin by Deloitte has a maturity model for High Potential programs, and at the bottom are programs that are ad hoc in nature, with no clear criteria. Make sure your program is fully business-integrated and consistent in order to get the best results.
  3. Calibrate Initial Decisions. According to Korn Ferry, 70% of High Potential employees are misidentified by managers in their initial assessment. Two-thirds of those initially identified are actually high performers, but not necessarily High Potentials. Misidentifying participants can harm their careers and interfere with organizational success by setting people up to fail.
  4. Evaluate results. It doesn’t matter how top of the line your HiPo program is if it doesn’t deliver the results you need for succession planning. According to CEB, five out of six HR professionals are currently dissatisfied with the results of their HiPo programs. Evaluating results and changing direction when needed is a best practice.

High Potential programs can be a useful tool for identifying successors and allocating development resources for the greatest return on investment, but the potential downside risk is high if the program is not carefully designed, managed and evaluated. For more information on the criteria commonly used to identify High Potential employees, see this overview in Forbes.

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Photo credit: Infomastern via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Volunteer Leadership is Real Leadership

Volunteer Today

Reminder: volunteers don’t get bonuses or performance reviews. And they don’t give a hoot whether you are happy with what they do, unless they care personally about what you think and want to exercise their own integrity and motivation in carrying out their volunteer duties. This makes them an absolutely perfect practicing ground for honing your leadership skills!

I am participating in a volunteer committee through my professional group. When things go well, everyone is so happy to be together, contributing to the group and spending time together working on projects. But I noticed recently that the “masks” we might wear at work are not on when we get together as volunteers. When a volunteer doesn’t agree with something, or doesn’t like an outcome, he wears it all over his face. If someone is disengaged, the negative body language in response is immediate. We don’t hold the same level of patience for our fellow volunteers that we do for people who control our work destinies.

It’s easy to be annoyed in that situation, and get lost in the emotional response to others’ cues. But it’s such a fantastic opportunity to observe how people respond to the way you communicate. I asked myself these questions:

  • What communication approaches (in-person meeting, email, polls, social media) generate the most productive responses?
  • Do I need to listen more and talk less?
  • Am I using the right level of clarity, or assuming shared knowledge that just isn’t there?
  • Are there members who are hanging back, waiting for assignments, but feeling frustrated about their level of involvement?
  • Conversely, are there members doing too much work and feeling put-upon?
  • Do people need more information to connect the work they are doing to the mission of the organization?

All of these questions make me a better leader in projects and teams for “real” work, not just volunteer activities. The great bonus in my group is that I am working with a team of effective, motivated and successful professionals who truly care about their work (paid and unpaid) and about each other. It’s the kind of high-performing team that is fun to work with and generates great results.

If you want to be a leader and aren’t finding opportunities in your current role, consider a volunteer position. It’s “real” experience, learning and development, and helps your community too.

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Photo credit: byzantiumbooks via Foter.com / CC BY

Friday Facts: Self-Improvement Edition

glass bottles

Today I am curious about the cottage industry of leadership development and coaching, and all of the nebulous advice I see out in social media telling us all how to have a better career. These are just a few representative articles of the type I see every day:

Ten Unexpected Things that Will Radically Improve Your Life

Nine Things Emotionally Intelligent People Won’t Do

Five Traits of Successful Leaders

Want to Succeed at a Startup? Focus on These Five Qualities

Ten Secrets to Living a Vibrantly Happy, Healthy Life

Surprising Habits of Truly Powerful People

I’ve concluded that we are all starving for this kind of advice, because it’s so ubiquitous in the places where professionals gather, online and in person at conferences. We all are longing for a roadmap to personal and professional success. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an actual way to just follow the directions and do it right?

But this is just one piece of that puzzle. The rest has to be gained through experience, self-awareness, reflection, and, frankly, a willingness to be vulnerable and accept one’s own failures and learn from them. I know how to put on a mask of confidence, capability, understanding and leadership-but if I’m not genuine and trustworthy, you will sniff me out as a fraud and reject whatever it is I have to say, and you certainly won’t want to accept me as a genuine leader.

As much as I love sitting around reading these articles and thinking smugly, “mmmm, hmmm, I knew that,” it takes a lot more work to get to real emotional intelligence, recognition, respect, effective leadership and success than what I will read online or hear from even the most engaging speaker at a conference.

Guess I’ll keep reading, just in case. But I’ll make time to do a little thinking too.

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Photo credit: Unhindered by Talent via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Colorado Capital Conference

US Capitol

This week, I’ve been so fortunate to be part of the 2016 Colorado Capital Conference, hosted by Colorado Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet. It’s been an incomparable opportunity to discuss Colorado and federal policy and important issues that affect our lives and our futures as Coloradans, and hear from many of our nation’s leaders and policy experts.

Look for some blog posts to come on specific issues and my thoughts on the week, but in the meantime, know that I am absolutely in awe of being present in the place where our federal laws are made, here at the U.S. Capitol. It’s been an unforgettable experience, and to anyone who cares about Colorado, please consider requesting to be a part of this experience. You can find out more from sponsor Colorado Mesa University.

#colocapconf2016 

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Photo credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks. via Foter.com / CC BY

Should You Use Jazz Hands in Your Next Interview?

banana jazz hands

If you interview with an organization that is not really into innovating, where the culture is strong for employees “knowing their place” and not stepping out of line, then:

Do not use jazz hands.

By that I mean, don’t show your personality, don’t raise your voice, and don’t laugh too much. HR isn’t all that funny to these people. This is serious business, and your demeanor should reflect that.

The only exception is if you want to do a little “Happy Hands” Club action, a la Napoleon Dynamite. That is probably sufficiently choreographed as to refrain from rattling your interviewers in a highly structured setting.

Happy Hands

Image credit Giphy

You may be saying to yourself right now, “Why would you use jazz hands in an interview in the first place? You would look like a total fool.”

With experience, many of us, especially those of us in HR that see the hiring process play out over and over ad nauseum, eventually realize that getting the job can be a booby prize. If you get the wrong job, it’s hard to turn that giant cruise ship of your career around, while you leave another little piece of your heart in a place that doesn’t appreciate who you are and what you have to offer.

So even if your job search takes a little longer, consider heeding this advice:

Use jazz hands if that is who you are. And don’t, if it isn’t.

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Photo credit: frankieleon via Foter.com / CC BY