Tag Archives: Human Resources

Hearing Evident Truths

The firm I work for has recently received numerous requests from clients to assist them with employee surveys.  My experience is that the difficulty with employee surveys is not conducting them, but truly listening to the results — a truth that was reinforced to me while watching the classic holiday program, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Linus Speaks Up

Towards the end of the program, ever-beleaguered Charlie Brown — despairing over the commercialization of Christmas — asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  His wise friend, Linus, steps forward calmly and confidently and gives an answer for the ages (click here):

It strikes me that Linus’ answer, like so many organizational truths, was known to all — but unspoken but by a few.  It took someone willing to ask the question … and someone willing to say what everyone was thinking … for the answer to come forth.

Missing the “Ah-Ha” Moment

A company I worked for used to conduct an employee survey every year about this time.  For several years, they received consistent answers to a number of questions surrounding “What can we do to improve the company?” Responses were invariably to the effect of, “Communication between managers and employees is very poor,” “The company doesn’t seem to have a clear direction,” “I personally like my manager, but people don’t have a lot of confidence in the management team in general,” and the like.

Unfortunately, rather than trying to solve the communication and confidence issues that the employees identified, the management team — hurt and perplexed by the perennially negative results — decided to discontinue the survey.  (Yes — a heavy sigh, indeed.  They did have a penchant for learning the wrong lesson, I‘m afraid).

A Hopeful Ending

The story above — albeit all too common, I’m afraid — isn’t the only possible conclusion to these issues, of course.  To end where we began, the closing scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas offers a dose of hope that groups that wish to learn from evident truths can do so.  After Linus’ heartfelt proclamation, the Peanuts gang has a chance to reflect of what he’s said and, one by one, they reconsider their views on a symbolically important issue — the beauty of Charlie Brown’s scraggly but noble tree.  In the end, the tree is given tender loving care and it “grows” into a true thing of beauty as the group gathers around it for a heartwarming hymn.

Once spoken out loud, Linus’ wisdom was taken to heart and behaviors changed. Here’s wishing that each of us can help our leadership teams to seek out, embrace, and act on the evident truths in our organizations in the coming year.  Happy New Year to all!

Recruiting: A Plea for Courtesy

George Costanza was the world's worst employee by almost every measure -- but even he deserved courtesy when interviewing for a new position

Having been on both sides of the interviewing desk many times over the years, I can appreciate the stress the recruiting process creates for both parties – the over-worked-and-under-appreciated recruiter  and the on-pins-and-needles-am-I-going-to-get-this-job candidate.  I’m moved today, though, to advocate for the candidate’s interests in one regard: common courtesy.

Dilemma #1: Volume, volume, volume

It has long been true that on-line job postings have made it too easy for applicants to click a button and bury a recruiter in a blizzard of resumes – many of which might not be even vaguely qualified.   But it is also true that virtually every job board allows the recruiter to set up an automatic reply to acknowledge resumes received.

Resolution: By setting up an auto reply,  the candidate will know his resume didn’t disappear into the black void of cyberspace without even getting to the employer.

Dilemma #2:  “But they didn’t even bother to write a cover letter”

True story: I posted an opening recently for a professional sales position that stated “cover letter required.” Exactly two out of 84 applicants submitted cover letters.

Resolution: I’m with the recruiters on this one.  Continue reading

Gifts and Performance Leaps

How would it affect performance and satisfaction if everyone gave themselves a gift this year?

I recently wrote about “tidying up” our  HR to-do lists before the end of the year. I’d like to extend that thought today to the entire organization in a way that, if implemented, could cause a “quantum leap” in performance.

The Power of One

Even the most determined among us tend to get discouraged or overwhelmed when our “to-do” list gets too long. (I remember being a young HR person so overwhelmed with paperwork that I could measure the stack on my desk in feet rather than items!). But what if we had only one task for the rest of the year?

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we put aside all of our responsibilities and focus solely on this one thing (at which point we could expect to be unceremoniously added to the nation’s dismal unemployment numbers). Rather, what if we took our day-to-day tasks as a given, but then identified one thing that would really make a difference in our work lives (maybe our personal lives, too), and in the life of the organization, and then did that one thing?

The Manager’s Speech

What if when you walked into the office on Monday morning Continue reading

What Managers Can Learn From Dental Hygienists


Sitting in the dentist’s chair during a routine appointment this morning, it struck me that in almost four decades of dental visits,  every dental hygienist I had ever met had  almost exactly the same demeanor.  Not one single time had a hygienist been anything other than upbeat, personable, attentive, and caring.

That’s quite remarkable, I think. Like everyone else,  I’ve had waiters who were personable and engaging, and those who were grouchy and withdrawn; sales clerks who were enthusiastic and helpful, and those who were sullen and unaccommodating; etc. What could account for this consistency among hygienists?  I think that part of the answer, oddly enough, may help managers increase the performance of their team members.

 Characteristics Held in Common

Given this commonality among their temperaments, I have to assume that hiring hygienists is directly based on these characteristics (after considering their technical competence, of course).  However, that’s not the thing that is necessarily instructive.

As dental hygiene is a care-giving field, it only makes sense that it would attract care-giving personalities.  I suspect, though, that there must be other factors coming into play to sustain the near-universal contentment that hygienists seem to bring to their work – such as:

  1. A positive outlook — coming from their knowledge that Continue reading

Stop Tilting At Windmills: Accepting That You Can’t Solve Every(one’s) Problem

Part of our continuing series of posts on “Managing By Cliches.”

Like Don Quixote, HR people sometimes idealistically "tilt at windmills" -- fighting battles that can't be won.

HR people generally try hard to “fix” things — people, organizations, relationships, etc.  There is a bit of the idealistic and ever-hopeful Don Quixote  “tilting at windmills” in all of us, I suppose — always trying to make things better, even when others with a more objective view might see the situation (or the person) as hopeless. In the end, though, the most challenging “truth” that we need to accept as HR people might be that we can’t fix everyone or everything … especially if they don’t “ask” us to “fix” them.

Bob, The Customer Service Rep Who And Hated His Customers

Just from the “headline” above, you might say, “Well, that seems like an easy one.”  And you would be right.  The “fix” — for “Bob” to get a new job, and maybe even a completely new line of work — is easily seen… by everyone except for Bob, of course.

As it turns out, Bob is a bright, hard-working, earnest 30-something who, for the past decade or so has worked two full-time jobs at the same time: managing a restaurant and leading a customer service team in a busy office.  The good news is that he is talented and performs well at both jobs.  The bad news is that the cumulative weight of satisfying customer demands at both jobs has left him burned out, resentful of even the most innocuous of customer request, and generally feeling Continue reading

The Values We Bring To Work: A Shoemaker’s Tale

The author's grandfather in his shoe repair shop, circa 1986

A chance encounter with a friendly shoemaker in New York City earlier this week got me to thinking about the personal values we bring to work.  This gentleman — who, to my amazement, offered to fix my shoe while I waited (!) … and then proceded to do exactly that, with great care and expertise — reminded me in several ways of my late grandfather, who began his career as a shoemaker as a 9-year old boy in Sicily.  He emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920’s, opening his own shoe repair shop in Elmhurst, Queens a few decades later, which is where our story begins …

Leather dust, Italian opera, and lunchtime culture lessons

My grandfather was a kind, proud, hard-working, happy man with strong hands, and fingers blackened by 75 years of working with leather.  He enjoyed his work, and put his heart into fixing his customers’ shoes to “as good as new” every time.  But leather soles, heels, and taps weren’t the only things on offer in his shop — or even the main reason many of his regular customers came by the shop. 

With operatic music in the background, he was always eager to share a story, ponder a bit of philosphy, or inquire about your family — in heavily accented English accompanied by a warm smile. While shoemaking was his profession, helping people — with a word of support, a twinkle in the eye, or a hand of friendship — was his vocation, and he practiced it every day, day after day, year after year, well into his eighties, in that little shop in Queens.

Succeeding Generations, Same Values

It was that vocation — of using his work to help people in ways large and small — that he passed down to my father, who passed it down to me.  Though the context has changed — from a shoe repair shop, to  Continue reading

A Few Feet Makes All The Difference

They say that the distance between happiness and sadness is often very short.  I was reminded of this the other day in visiting a local merchant, who is sometimes noticeably happy and upbeat when I’m in the store and other times quite withdrawn and uncommunicative.  I started to wonder if it was me, until I noticed the pattern. In this case, a few feet made all the difference in the world.

Same Person, Different Roles, Different Demeanor

"Casting" an employee in the right role can make all the difference between happiness and sadness, as exemplified in these ancient dramatic masks.

The merchant, a soft-spoken, pleasant woman in her 50’s, owns a lovely stationery and specialty gift shop — the kind of place you go for fine writing paper, or wedding invitations, or special “knick knacks” of the type that my mom loves. A corner of the store serves as a postal “sub station” handling  certain postal transactions.  Those few feet — from the cards-and-gifts side of the shop to the postal side — are exactly the difference between happiness and sadness for the merchant (not too unlike the “comedy” and “tragedy” sides of a theatre mask).

When she’s on the gift side, she’s happy and light-hearted, easily engaging her patrons in conversation about their purchases; when she’s selling stamps or putting postage on a Priority Mail letter, she’s serious and sullen, almost morose, with no hint of a smile or a twinkle in her voice.  There is an old Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s girlfriend is Continue reading

Connecting People: “HR By Walking Around”

A few recent conversations with our company’s receptionist have reminded me of two things: 1 – HR’s unique opportunity to bring people and resources together; and 2 – It is often the “little” conversations that spark the true “eureka” moments and help people and resources connect in meaningful ways.

"HR By Walking Around" can help you connect people and resources in powerful ways

Playwright … Parent … Receptionist

In chatting with our receptionist, Carla, over the past year, I’ve gotten to know her from a variety of perspectives.  Taken at face value, she works hard to serve the company’s needs everyday from 9 – 5 – whether it is “putting a smile into her voice” every time she answers a call, or helping to support other projects. However, that isn’t where her true focus and calling reside. 

Carla is a playwright … parent … non-profit director … spouse … church member … among many other roles … and she puts great energy, meaning, and vocational zeal into each of these roles.  In short, she’s a really neat lady! Given the number of people holding down “ordinary” day jobs while pursuing their hopes and dreams outside of work, I’m sure your organization has people just like Carla, too.

Bridging the Personal and Professional

During one of our recent chats, I casually mentioned the specialty area of someone in our management consulting group. Carla reacted with amazement, as she has been answering our phones for over a year without knowing what this particular person (and many others) actually do on a daily basis (yes, our orientation and training programs need a lot of work – but that’s a story for another day!). 

Having this information would not only help Carla serve clients better on the phone, but also had a “personal” impact.  As it turns out, the consultant’s expertise and personal interests might benefit Carla’s non-profit group.  This followed another chat a few weeks earlier in which, understanding other aspects of Carla’s background, I was able to suggest a project she may be able to assist us with beyond what would ordinarily be a receptionist’s role – and which can benefit both the company (by using internal expertise) and herself (personal and professional satisfaction).  All of this just from a few “casual” conversations!

HR’s Ability to Connect Resources

These events reminded me of HR’s unique role as one of the few functions aware of resources, talents, capabilities, and needs across the whole organization.  In this way, we’re best-positioned to help connect employees with other employees, resources, and opportunities that benefit all involved.

This might happen in a variety of ways:

  • In large organizations, there are sophisticated “knowledge-sharing” databases, and most recently, “chat rooms” and other “social media” venues
  • Many firms have professional development programs (e.g., dedicated efforts — usually stemming from annual performance evaluations – to actively use internal and external resources for professional growth and renewal)
  • Perhaps most to the point of this article, there is “HRBWA” (“HR By Walking Around”) – i.e., getting out of our offices and engaging in conversations with people throughout the organization; getting to know their skills, talents, hopes, dreams, and interests; and making the effort to put the people and pieces in touch with one another, whenever possible (in concert with the manager’s own efforts supporting their employees, of course).

In the constant swirl of events, it is very easy for “HRBWA” to fall by the wayside – a “nice to have” that gets sacrificed to the urgent item of the moment (“I can’t talk to anyone today.  I have to get Project ‘x’ done.”).  If we can fight this urge – at least occasionally – great things (both large and small) may occur.

Looking Forward

For me, there is great personal and professional satisfaction when “little things” like my chats with Carla come together in a way that serves a larger purpose.  What are some of your experiences in helping people “connect the dots” and connect with each other?

CEO’s: No Longer Accountable?

More than 40 years ago, Simon and Garfunkle sang their famous lament, “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?”  Judging by recent news reports, maybe today’s question should be, “Where have you gone, Harry Truman?”  Truman’s “the buck stops here” perspective on executive accountability seems to be sadly missing from the current age.

Did He Really Just Say That?

Truman-style "buck stops here" accountability isn't evident in recent CEO testimony. (image via Wikipedia)

For the past few weeks, the”phone hacking” scandal centering around News Corporation executives has been plastered across front pages around the world.  I have to admit that I hadn’t been paying too much attention to the details until News Corp‘s CEO, Rupert Murdoch appeared before parliament in London the other day.  Acknowledging that he was “shocked, appalled, and ashamed” by the tumult engulfing his global media empire and which casts a pall over Scotland Yard, among other institutions, a chastened Murdoch said, “This is the most humble day of my life.”

Fair enough.  If he had stopped there, it would have been Continue reading

Self-Discipline: An Under-Rated Leadership Skill

Last week, as I observed a leader handle a delicate inter-personal issue with great skill, it struck me that the successful result was influenced as much by what he didn’t do as much as by what he did.  While seeming “passive” on the
surface, the “not doing” took a great deal of active self-discipline – a very
under-appreciated leadership skill, I believe.

Don’t Underestimate the Soft-Spoken, Unassuming Guys

“David” (name changed to protect the “innocent”) is very low-key in nature – ever friendly, helpful and hopeful.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is one example of the personal self-discipline brought to his daily work by the leader in this story (not pictured)

He is quietly supportive  in an “I’ve got your back” way — without ever having to say it because everyone knows it’s true.  While he doesn’t have much formal “power” in the company, he does have significant influence, flowing largely from his personal qualities.
If David sounds like what others have termed an “authentic leader,” I
would fully agree.  In this situation, Continue reading