ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Friday, April 29, 2016

HR’s not so neutral – neutral evaluations

I recently met with a group of HR ladies and we were chatting about how they conduct investigations and evaluations when a complaint is made of misbehavior. The starting point, they innocently told me was to gather evidence in support of the claim. They thought they were being neutral.

I pointed out that with that goal in mind, they were ignoring evidence that might support a different conclusion – and that might even refute the claim of misbehavior. I shared with them several examples of investigative reports I had read that were clearly one-sided because any evidence that contradicted the alleged victim’s statement was assumed (and written this way) to be either denial or outright lying.

Looking for evidence is hardly the same as conducting a neutral evaluation seeking the truth.
Through the years, I’ve saved several people from being fired after HR had condemned them.  In each of these cases someone hirer up in the organization knew and cared enough about the alleged “perp” to want an outside more neutral and unbiased evaluation. I was called in to conduct it and found that there was no real substance to the original claim – but what in each of these cases amounted to a misinterpretation of words and behavior.

Neutrality is apparently hard to achieve.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Observing Solves Lots of Problems

Three women were about to be fired by the Vice-President of Human Relations. The CEO intervened and asked me if I could find out what was causing the problems since these women had previously been good employees. Now, they were taking frequent breaks and were often not available to respond to queries that needed their response.

When talking with the women I learned nothing useful. However, one day I walked into the area in which they were working. Oh! I now realized what was creating the problem.  These women were working in a large windowless room and someone had piled a bunch of boxes in the room, using the extra space as storage. Without realizing it, the women had become claustrophobic and needed to leave the room frequently – thus the extra breaks.

We had facilities remove the boxes. I went to a poster store and bought some large posters, one of a seascape and another of a mountain with a lake and waterfall. We hung these on the walls.  Problem solved.

In another case, there was a cold war between a group of administrative workers and the men in the engineering department. Why? Well, the path between the conference room and the engineering department weaved through the area where these administrative workers had their desks. If one of the engineers was paged, he’d stop at the most convenient desk to take the call, often accidentally walking away with pen and paper from that desk.

People are territorial. They don’t like having their space invaded, or their tools taken. This was like torture since it happened all too often.

My solution: We did some furniture re-arranging. We moved the desks so that there was a clear uninterrupted path between the conference room and the engineering department and placed a small table with phone, pens and pads on the path. No longer were the administrative people annoyed or interrupted.

This reminds me of another situation where administrative assistants and engineers were at war. This turned out to be a major communication problem at a very large electrical company. 

Apparently the women, many of whom had master’s degrees and all of whom were originally from the Philippines complained to upper management that they were disrespected and often ignored by these men.

I was brought in to solve the communication problems….or lack of communication as it were. Again, observing rather than pre-summing gave me the answers. 

The women were excessively polite – as was common in their culture. So, instead of merely asking for something by saying, “May I have the documents by tomorrow?”  They would say something along the lines of (this is a slight exaggeration to make the point) “Excuse me, please forgive me for interrupting, I’m sorry to ask, but I do need to have the documents. Do you mind giving them to me by tomorrow? I’m sorry to have rushed you.”

All these words and the meaning of the sentence was lost. All these words and the men, always in a hurry tuned the women out.

I created and implemented a series of communication workshops. We taught the women to be more succinct and the men to respect cultural differences. Both groups worked at making changes and became more understanding and cooperative with each other.

Conclusion: Most of the conflict in the workplace occurs because of minor problems or misunderstandings that can be cured without making any one “right” or “wrong”. Instead of looking to punish (called sanction in the workplace) we need to take the complaints seriously and look for solutions not blame.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Seven Ways to Retain Your Most Valuable Talent

In a competitive work environment, the best of your talent can be seduced by recruiters and others to go where the promise of the grass being greener attracts them.  You are left with your more average talent because they are less desirable to the headhunters.

What motivates the brightest and the best?  Surely it’s not the promise of more money – because they were smart enough to negotiate a good compensation package when you hired them.  So, what does motivate them?  

Here are some general ideas of what motivates talented people to stay in your organization:

1.     Ability to work with a minimum of instruction and intrusion from supervisors.
2.     Opportunities for creative problem solving in different areas/projects.
3.     Recognition and appreciation for their accomplishments.
4.     Flexible hours which enable them to find time for their own pet projects.
5.     Permission to use a portion of company time to develop new ideas or projects.
6.     A path to a promotion that ties in their careers with your succession plans.
7.     Respect – to be recognized as not one of the crowd but as someone who rises above the ordinary.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Marketing Yourself In Your Workplace

In this era of uncertainty, job security is a thing of the past for most of us. Thus, we need to perpetually market ourselves within our companies and through our network. I’m learning to be more active on LinkedIn – something I joined a long time ago but mostly ignored until quite recently.

Another workshop in which I was involved recently was Marketing Yourself. We offered the workshop to a group of people who were job-seekers and taught them about personal branding, positioning, and target marketing. It was astonishing to learn that many people had never realized that job hunting was actually service (not product) marketing. As I’ve said so many times before – marketing services (yourself) is far more difficult than marketing a product.

Services are intangible. They require either good references and testimonials or free samples. The potential buyer (employer) needs some form of proof that you do indeed deliver the quality and quantity of services you purport to deliver.

One of the LinkedIn groups on consulting has a recurring question asking if we think a free sample is a good thing to do or something we ought never do.  Most people report that a free sample is a bad thing to do – that you should never give anything away. I disagree strongly.  In my many years of consulting and public speaking, I’ve learned that once people actually experience what I do and how I do it they are much more likely to hire me. They learn quickly that I deliver what I promise and I deliver in my own unique and effective style.

During our workshop, we helped attendees go beyond their canned (and usually ineffective) elevator speech in favor of a sentence or two designed to talk about the benefits to their potential employer. I, role playing with them as the hiring manager, kept asking:  “What’s in it for me?” Ultimately that is what you have to prove to the person contemplating hiring you.

My advice: Learn how to market yourself internally. What are your accomplishments?  How can you make yourself more visible in a positive manner?  Can you take risks?  Lead meetings?  Stretch yourself and take on more responsibilities? Brand yourself in a manner to make yourself memorable.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Professional Branding

How do you describe yourself professionally?   So many of us have developed a 30-second elevator speech that is cute, silly, and really doesn’t express what we want people to know about us.  Others ramble on about what they’ve done in the past, their education, and other pieces of information that put the listener to sleep before she actually figures out what they do today.

I’ve been offering workshops and talks to consultants, people out of work, and even those working who are concerned about how they are being perceived by those in authority.  How do you brand yourself?   How do you express who you are and what you do in a way that doesn’t sound like everyone else doing the same work?

One of the techniques I suggest to clients is to remember things they’ve done in their youth that they are proud of having accomplished.  These memories often remind us of who we really are – what are core values and strengths are that add to who we are professionally.  Try it!

We become who we are today because of who we were yesterday.  It’s interesting going back into your past and learning about what really mattered to you.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Silos Destroy Internal Communication and Customer Service

I'm currently working with two clients who share the same set of problems, although on the surface they are very different. One is a large agency and most of the people are in buildings on the same campus, with a few outliers. The other is a small organization whose members live and work all over the country and they have almost no face-to-face interaction with each other. In this second case - there is no there.
The problems: There are silos. Each department seems to work independently of the other with no - or little - comprehension about the way their work impacts that of others internally. Members of these groups work hard - but consider their work done without regard for their need to interface with other departments. The overlap is missing.
Unfortunately, because of being locked into this narrow view of their work, people fail to recognize the importance of internal customer service. Too, working in silos is akin to working with blinders on and departmental managers don't share a common vision and mission.
Remember the story of the Harvard Crew Team vs. the Japanese Crew Team? (for those that don't know - crew is rowing.)
The story is that these teams were competing on the Charles River. (I've been there!) The Harvard team were big burly guys at least 6 feet tall and in comparison the Japanese team consisted of members much shorter, seemingly weaker an d slighter of build. The bets were all on the Harvard Team winning. Much to the surprise of the observers, the Japanese team won.
Why: The Japanese team had one leader and 11 rowers. The Harvard team had 11 leaders and one rower.
In other words, everyone was doing his own thing on the Harvard team and the Japanese team members were all pulling together in unison.
The other lesson of course is that the Japanese team had a clear leader who was able to set and maintain the necessary rhythm. His leadership was not from a distance - but was directly involved with the task at hand and face-to-face.

My push for both organizations: Face-to-face meetings that enable people to learn about each other's jobs an needs as well as to get a personal sense of each other. I am also emphasizing the importance of making sure the vision/mission developed by the CEOs trickles down properly in the rest of the organization. Because, of course, there are more than 12 members in the boat.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Feedback or Criticism

I attended a meeting of an HR group the other night and the speaker, who was delightful and well informed, talked about giving feedback.  She felt the word feedback was less onerous than using the word criticism.  She also believed it is important to "sandwich" the negative feedback (criticism) with a positive before it and a positive after it.

While I agree that doing that softens the blow - I believe it is not always appropriate to soften it.  Sometimes you lose the message in the kindness - because you are actually giving mixed-messages.  You can be direct, clear, articulate AND kind at the same time without having to cloud your message by sandwiching it in-between two other items.

What I believe is that there is no one way.  It depends on the people, the behavior, and the context.  If, for example it is the first time you are correcting someone about the way they are performing a task, you would probably use the sandwich method.  On the other hand, if someone was doing something against policy that was clearly inappropriate, you would not want to soften the message.  You would want to firmly state that the behavior was inappropriate and needs to stop.

We give feedback about minor things that are changeable.  We offer criticism when we want something changed right now.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Non-Profit Leadership

Sadly, many small non-profit associations cannot afford hired help and must rely on volunteers to fill all their needs. In cases where the new CEO of a non-profit believes that he/she should be the sole-decision maker in all things, volunteers feel demeaned – they are not slaves – they should be decision-making partners in areas in which they are involved.

Recently, I watched the meltdown of a young CEO who could have made her organization a huge local success had she not alienated the people who did the most work and were most supportive to her. Because they dared to disagree with one of her decisions she actually fired them.

I wonder how this will impact those other volunteers in her organization? Can she recover from her meltdown? Can she re-unite with the volunteers she chased away? Can she resume the friendships she had with these women after insulting them so badly?

Leaders – good leaders – know the importance of valuing others. They say “we” when there are good results and “I” (as in the buck stops here) when something negative occurs.

Leaders – good leaders – get their personal egos and agenda out of the way in the interest of making others look good, give more (become more productive), and feel motivated and loyal to the team.

Leaders – good leaders – are credible, authentic, reliable, and reasonable.

Coming together is a beginning
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is the goal.
Henry Ford