Category Archives: Employee Relations

Promotions That Change Lives

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A close colleague recently received a well-deserved promotion, and I am thrilled for her and her manager.  I believe that this sort of thing – “promotion” in the very best sense of the word – has the power to change careers … and lives.

Why Promotions Matter

It’s always nice to get a raise (more money) or a promotion (a loftier title and/or higher-level job responsibilities), of course.  But I find that when done thoughtfully and purposefully, it can be much more than a “nice to have” or a brief shot-in-the-arm for morale purposes.  In my friend’s case, the promotion:

  • Showed her that she and her contributions were valued by the organization
  • Gave her increased standing and confidence to interact with clients, colleagues, and vendors on a more equal footing as professional peers
  • Changed her own thinking about what future steps her career might hold in store —what possibilities could become realities for her
  • Increased her already strong appreciation for her manager, knowing that he had gone to bat for her when he didn’t have to
  • And, in part that she’s not aware of yet, the promotion sets her up for other jobs (inside and outside the company) for which holding her new title/level is an unstated (but very real) requirement.

In the manager’s case, the promotion demonstrated: Continue reading

Rebuilding Relationships

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At a recent business dinner, the conversation was lively, the atmosphere cozy, and the mood light, as someone rose with glass in hand. “I’d like to offer a toast to Patty, for the terrific way that she has supported us this past year.”  Looking over the clinking of glasses and the round of warm congratulations sat an embarrassed but clearly gratified Patty.  This simple scene represented the culmination of a years-long journey to rebuild tattered relations between the groups present — and therein lies our story.

The Back Story

For more than a decade, relations between marketing and one of the lines of business had been frayed, sometimes to the breaking point—reflecting in large part the contentious relationship between the heads of both groups. Words like toxic, angry, skeptical, uncommunicative, antagonistic, and the like could be used to describe the tone between the groups at various points.  How did things move from this paralyzed state of affairs to the happy dinner scene above?  In a word, hard work—a series of steady, persistent actions over the course of years.

Lessons Learned

Several steps — some intentional, some happenstance — served to break the logjam and help move the relationship between the groups forward.

  • Change in Players—The first key event was the departure of the marketing head (for reasons unrelated to this situation).  The hard feelings between the two heads had become so entrenched that no Continue reading

Gifts of the Season

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The holidays are a season of lights, and a season of gifts–gifts given, received, and cherished. In that spirit, I wanted to take a moment today to share with you some gifts that I have received from family, friends, and colleagues that have deeply touched my professional and personal life.

I have been truly blessed to have had many role models, guides, and mentors who have been so kind and caring to share their wisdom and their life’s example with me. To those named below, and to the many others not named but who have contributed a warm smile, a caring thought, or a helping hand, I thank you for all you have done for me and for the many lives you touch each day.

  • For my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles – for showing me how to care for and about people every day, with kindness, support, compassion, and dignity
  • For my brother James – who showed me how to conceive and develop the systems and  processes you need; and for my brother John – who showed me that success is showing up and getting the job done day after day with excellence
  • For Kathy – who showed me that drawing clean lines and tidy policies is great, but reality isn’t always so neat and clear, and taking care of people’s needs is the important thing
  • For Vicki and Gretchen – who both taught me that having a good answer is important, but doing the hard work to prepare the fields in advance is what helps the answer be accepted and take root
  • For Doug – who showed me what thinking outside the box looks like, and that taking people out of boxes and putting them into positions where they can do their best work is really the only way to recruit and sustain excellence
  • For Jeff – who taught me that the best way to support the business is to know and love the business
  • For Martin – who showed me that the best “employee relations” starts with the question, “How can we help?”
  • For Paula – who encouraged me to say what I needed to say with a clear voice and a strong heart, and that people would respond to clarity and sincerity above all else
  • For Vicki – who taught me that executives are just like you and me–if you remember that they have their doubts and fears and want some peace and comfort and milk and cookies at the end of the day, you’ll be able to work with them all just fine

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and wishes and blessings for a year of peace, healing, happiness, and fulfillment. May we all have our milk and cookies and comforts today and always!

Unleashing Potential

Do you have employees who you are penning into a limited role — but whose skills and background (if not current position) enable them to contribute great things to your organization, if only “discovered” and given the chance to excel?

An under-employed friend recently shared her frustration at not being permitted to contribute at the level which she is capable. Empathizing with her plight (one that is shared by millions), I wonder whether companies need to attend more directly to this post-recession phenomenon.  Is there a way to unleash the potential of this vast untapped reservoir of talent, energy, and ideas?

Point of Reference: The Survey Says

While pondering this, I noticed that SHRM’s latest national job satisfaction survey included a shocker.  For the first time, “opportunities to use skills and abilities” displaced job security (63% to 61%) as the most important aspect of job satisfaction.   The bottom line: we want to be secure, but even more than that, we want to be fulfilled in our work.  President Kennedy once defined happiness as “the full use of one’s talents along lines of excellence.” In this way, we all want to be “happy.”

Recognize These People?

Do any of these folks work at your company?

  • MBA-educated customer service rep—She has fifteen years of prior professional experience, but when she makes process improvement suggestions, she’s told “We tried that once and it didn’t work” (with the unstated subtext being, “Besides, managers make those kind of decisions here”).
  • Non-degreed manager—You’re happy to have him managing the day-to-day HR affairs of your large retail operation (keeping you out of expensive lawsuits on a daily basis)—but when it comes to managing a high-visibility nationwide project, those are tacitly reserved for designated “high potential” (degreed) junior executives only.
  • Receptionist-Playwright—Did you know that your friendly receptionist spent a dozen years as a budget analyst and project manager for a major bank and, in her spare time, is a playwright who founded and leads her own non-profit, community theatre group?

If so, you may have individuals who are vastly under-employed—i.e., highly under-utilized assets.

Unleashing Potential

So, what can be done?  Each company and individual circumstance is different, of course —but just using the three examples above, how would it improve your organization’s performance if …

  • You sought out the MBA-educated customer service rep, let her know that you appreciated her process-improvement suggestions, and you wanted her to keep them coming.  Separately, you ensure that the status-quo manager changes their tune and opens up to change in no uncertain terms.
  • You realize that you’ve advertised a senior HR director role for months without success—all the while possibly having an ideal candidate in-house.  You loosen the degree requirements, focus on who can truly do the job, and invite the non-degreed HR manager in for a serious interview / career planning discussion.
  • You’re reorganizing a chronically under-performing department and are about to advertise for a project manager to lead the effort.  Then, you remember the receptionist’s background and wonder if this is the sort of thing she has done in a past life.  When she jumps at the opportunity and hits the ground running, you smile in satisfaction (and relief at finally solving the problem).

With managers at all levels just as overwhelmed as their employees—having little time to think deeply about the latent skills, talents, and experience of their employees—the “what if” above might strike some as unrealistic.  But what if it’s not?  It might just take some time and a  commitment to dig a little deeper to see answers that might be right in front of us.

Lighthouse Leadership

I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

This week, Hurricane Sandy’s massive power left millions seeking a light in the darkness (both literally and figuratively).  The news photos and stories of devastated communities longing for relief brought to mind the image of a lighthouse—a beacon of light, hope, and safety.  It strikes me that this is a good and proper depiction of the role of leaders in both good times and bad—pointing the way forward, toward light and safety.

Organizational Needs

I’ve had the occasion recently to help two organizations implement performance management and employee development systems.  In both cases, they were organizations run by experienced, dedicated, and charismatic leaders, with strong leadership teams, and healthy and positive employee cultures.  Remarkably, though, in both cases, leadership felt that well less than fifty-percent of their employees had a clear understanding of the organization’s direction, why they made the decisions that they made, and where they were heading—a circumstance that the leaders attributed to poor communication on their parts (sins of omission, if you will).

It really struck me that two otherwise high-performing, well-respected leaders openly acknowledged they needed to do a much better job of communicating the organization’s vision and direction to their employees (instead of taking for granted that “everyone knows where we are headed”).  After coming to this realization, both were determined to redouble and refocus their communication efforts.  And both were certain that this would have any number of tangible and intangible benefits to performance, productivity and morale.

It is axiomatic that everyone looks to their leaders for direction.  These leaders believed firmly that if their employees had a clearer sense of where the organization was going, they would advance in that direction much more confidently, quickly, and directly (and with considerably less anguish and costly uncertainty).  This is leadership time well-spent, they reasoned.

Lighthouse Leadership

Strong leaders serve as lighthouses for their employees, offering:

  • Light—shining forth, cutting through the fog of an uncertain environment
  • Hope—giving confidence that the organization has a plan (or at least a direction) for the future (and a path for getting there)
  • Safety—reassurance that someone is standing watch, guiding their ship toward safe harbor

Even in good times, the leaders I worked with this week recognized the need to communicate vision and point the way forward with clarity and confidence.  In difficult times—of economic, operational, and environmental distress and uncertainty—this is doubly and triply true.

Let us remind ourselves often of the need for clearly communicated vision—and let us help leaders point the way with confidence. May we all help steer our organizations to safe harbors.

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Our thoughts and prayers are with all those suffering the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Performance Reviews: Missing the Forest for the Trees

A discussion with a friend about his recent performance review reminded me that, as human beings, we’re all apt to “miss the forest for the trees” on occasion.  Sometimes we can do something well, and still miss the point of the exercise.  This is such a story.

The Story

Looking somewhat dejected, my friend handed me a copy of his performance review and asked me to read it.  Seeing his demeanor, I was expecting to find nasty comments or low ratings on the review.  As I read through it, though, I saw that it was clearly a very positive review, with a number of strong compliments –even ending with a handwritten note from his boss thanking him for his service and looking forward to even greater success in the coming year.

“I’m a little confused,” I told him. “This is a great review.”

“It is,” he replied.

“It looks your boss has done just about everything we would teach in a Continue reading

Celebrating the Right Heroes

As Labor Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about those whose labors we honor in organizations.  Another recent spate of embarrassing revelations about once-revered leaders has made me even more skeptical of the “cult of personality” that can so quickly and easy develop around an organization’s stars.  Instead, I believe that we would be much better served to honor the unsung heroes amongst us.

Feet of Clay

I recall a favorite high school English teacher remarking that “we all have feet of clay.”  So true.  In recent months, we’ve come to find out that:

  • a bicycle racing champion, whose personal story has inspired millions around the world, would be stripped of his record-breaking titles due to overwhelming evidence of cheating;
  • a football coach, whose name for decades was synonymous with integrity and leadership, looked the other way while a longtime aide repeatedly committed horrendous crimes against children on the very campus on which the coach held virtual god-like status;
  • the CEO of a global bank who, with his team, was widely considered the best in the business, fell asleep at the wheel and allowed outrageous bets to be laid that cost stockholders $6 billion and counting.

So often, organizations create myths about their leaders and star performers that raise them to rock star status, fame, and fortune.  Before continuing this pattern, we might do well to consider some of the dysfunction and disillusionment (see above) that this hero-worship brings about when the (almost) inevitable fall from grace does occur.

True Organizational Heroes

Since this blog is all about hopefulness and forward progress, how can we refocus our energies in the right direction and celebrate those who truly should be celebrated?  That part is simple, but hard to do.

It is saying “thank you” to the men and women who show up every day and do their jobs to the best of their abilities; the people who serve the customers, get the shipments out the door, and make the trains run on time.  We might not recognize them with huge bonuses (or any bonuses at all, sadly), or set them up for magazine profiles, and laud them at corporate events.  But they are the ones who truly make the business possible, and they are the ones we must thank. And honor. And respect.

One of my favorite quotes about work and life—which I’ve used in this space before—comes from David Cone, a former major league baseball all-star.  Cone was once asked what it was like facing the pressure of pitching in a big game.  He smiled thoughtfully and answered, “Let me tell you about pressure.  Pressure isn’t pitching in a game.  Pressure is what my dad did — getting up every morning for 40 years to go to work, rain or shine, to support your family.  That’s pressure.  This is nothing compared to that.”

Indeed.  Let us commit to remembering this and appreciating those who make our organizations what they are by showing up and taking care of business every day.

We Can Do Better

Has contacting candidates after an interview to let them know their status become as antiquated as a rotary-dial telephone?

It’s become apparent to me over the past few years that—somehow—it has become acceptable for even the best HR departments not to follow-up with candidates after an interview  to let them know their status … ever.  As a 20+ year HR professional, I’m embarrassed for our profession by this.  We can do better.

Disclaimer

Over the years, I have found recruiters to be among the hardest-working, most dedicated employees in an organization.  They are almost invariably over-worked, underpaid, and putting in the maximum effort, day after day.  Therefore, the “not calling back” phenomenon is certainly not due to lack of effort or commitment on the recruiter’s part.  Yet and still, this isn’t acceptable, and we need to change it.

What’s Happening

Here’s the scenario that often plays out:

  1. Candidate responds to an internet posting with a resume and cover letter.
  2. If they’re lucky, candidate receives an automated response saying, “We’ll be in touch if you’re a match.” (No problem there).
  3. Candidate is called for an interview (either on-site or by telephone). Hopes rise.
  4. Interview occurs.
  5. Candidate checks their e-mail/voicemail regularly … in vain. Hopes are dashed.

Collateral Damage

Here’s the part companies don’t see (or don’t want to think about).  If they’re like most people, the candidate shares their potential good news with family and Continue reading

Leading by Teaching

What does a great pastrami on rye have to do with leadership? Read below.

I’d like to share with you a story about my deli guy.  Why a story about a “deli guy” in an HR/leadership blog? Because, in addition to making great sandwiches (“I’ll take a ‘Gerty’— corned beef and pastrami on rye with Russian dressing and a side of coleslaw— thanks!”), he’s also one of the most natural teachers that I’ve ever observed, and therein lies the story.

Dad’s Deli (and Training Academy)

Doug, a longtime restauranteur and caterer, co-manages Dad’s Deli with his wife, Debbie.  Located in a nondescript building in a suburban setting, Dad’s has developed a loyal following.  Beyond the quality of the sandwiches, this is due in no small part to the friendly, everyone-knows-your-name atmosphere (think “Cheers” in a deli) that starts with Doug’s greeting as you enter the door.  A natural networker, Doug goes out of his way— even in the busiest rush periods— Continue reading

Constructive Conversations … Not Fierce Ones

In recent years, there has been widespread interest in books recommending “fierce” or “difficult” conversations. While these best-sellers offer many excellent communication tips, I worry that some of their most enthusiastic adherents can seem more eager for the “fierce” (i.e., “confrontational”) part of the concept than the “conversation” (i.e., mutual, respectful exchange of ideas) part.  As a brief anecdote involving two former colleagues illustrates,  “fierce” and “constructive” aren’t necessarily the same thing.

A Tale of Two Colleagues

“Colleague A” is fiercely bright, passionate about a wide range of subjects, and eager to engage in stimulating debate to help focus and fine-tune his ideas and theories.  He feels morally compelled to question approaches to problems until rigorous, high-quality answers and results are achieved – all to the good. Not surprisingly, he is a strong proponent of “fierce” conversations.  Also not surprisingly, this can overwhelm those who don’t share exactly his same sensibilities (i.e., almost everyone else).  He is known to Continue reading