Tag Archives: management

9-11: Hope and Healing

Tribute lights representing the World Trade Center in New York City (photograph by DiGitAL Gold)

As I write this, ceremonies are underway marking the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Former New York Mayor, Rudy Guiliani, is reading from Ecclesiastes:

To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven;
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time plant and a time to reap;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up …

It strikes me that after tragic events — whether in the life of an individual, or an organization, or of a society — there are moments that occur and images that are created which serve as symbols of hope and vehicles of healing.  So often, these images aren’t spurred by leaders, but by “ordinary” people.  Here are a few examples:

The Power of Images: Raising the Flag

For the Greatest Generation, after coming through the rigors of World War II, there was perhaps no greater symbol of resolve and triumph than the iconic photo showing the Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

For the 9-11 generation, there is perhaps no greater symbol of the hope of tomorrow and the resolve to rebuild than the photograph of firemen raising a flag amidst the ashes of a still-smoldering Ground Zero — eerily reminiscent, as it was, of both the Iwo Jima photo as well as Francis Scott Key‘s immortal words:

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

(photograph by Thomas E. Franklin, The Bergen Record)

One of the beauties of baseball is that, like life, you get the chance to try again tomorrow.  In a very powerful way, baseball helped the people of New York find some measure of hope and healing in the days after 9-11.  On September 21, 2001, the New York Mets were scheduled to play the Atlanta Braves in the first 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

Can HR Help Companies See “The Forest for the Trees”

One must step back from a Monet painting to see "the forest for the trees"

It is said that if you stand too close to something (either physically or emotionally), you’re bound to miss the “big picture.”  In a more ethereal way, St. Paul writes about being “in the world but not of the world.” Applying this in a corporate context is no less tricky than in a spiritual one, of course – but I believe this is an important part of HR’s role, to serve as an “internal external consultant.”  Because we serve all constituencies in the organization, we’re better positioned than most to help the organization step back and see “the forest from the trees” at those moments when perspective is necessary.

Lessons from a Planning Meeting

I recently witnessed the following during an organization’s monthly management meeting:

  • Meeting Leader:  “The XYZ line of business is no longer very profitable for us, due to significant changes in the marketplace. In fact, we’re barely breaking even on it.”
  • Meeting  (sadly):  “But we really love the XYZ business – it’s what we’re all about.” Continue reading

Leading Edge … or “What’s Old Is New”?

Offices -- and management theories -- have changed over the years. But people -- and the best ways of working with them -- haven't changed.

It seems these days that organizations increasingly seek “leading edge” solutions to their issues.  As the economy and our working lives become more and more complex, saying “Get me the latest thinking on this problem” seems like a logical thing for an executive to do.  And yet, I wonder … is it really?

Do we want the “latest” solution — or the “solution” that’s going to work, even if it is “tried and true” (i.e., mundane and boring).  Do we want to be “leading edge” for purposes of image and cache, and is the latest necessarily the greatest? Particularly when it comes to managing people, is there really anything new under the sun?

A Little History

Thirty-five years ago, my dad wrote his master’s thesis on “The Human Relations Approach to Management” — arguing for the notion that treating people well is not only the most ethical but also the most productive approach to managing.  Since that time, we have seen any number of management theories come down the pike, from ideas around “Management By Walking Around” (Peters and Waterman), to thinking on “empowerment” and “quality circles,” to the latest notions of “engagement” and “servant leadership.”  Before that, earlier in the past century, managers learned about the “Hawthorne Effect” and contemplated “Theory X” and “Theory Y.”  All have been “leading edge” for a moment in time.  But does their value come from their “edginess” — or from the fact that they all revolve around the same core principles?

Core Principles

In one way or another, couldn’t you say that all of these theories really come back to a few central ideas:

  • Treat people decently (see last week’s “Do Unto Others” post)
  • Listen for understanding (hear what is being said — or not said — in the margins)
  • Understand their wants and needs (i.e., take them seriously and care about them)
  • Remember that the people doing the job probably have the best ideas about how to do the job best
  • Give them the resources they need to do the job … then get out of the way and let them do it
  • Help them see the “big picture” (how their work helps the company and its customers)
  • Have the courage to make the tough calls, for the good of all (i.e., people want, need, respect, and expect a leader who will help move us forward)

History moves on and the world evolves, but at its core, human nature — and what’s productive, and not, in organizations — really remains the same.  It’s neat and exciting to be at “the leading edge” — and it’s absolutely fine, as long as we remember what’s at the core.  Turns out that “the human relations approach to management” might be leading edge, after all!

What are your thoughts on “old” theories that still work just as well today as they ever did?

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The subject of human relations in industry is one of the most important things in the whole field of business and one which we must investigate and teach.

Wallace B. Donham, Dean of Harvard Business School
to Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell, 1925

“Do Unto Others …”

This is the sixth in an occasional series of posts on the topic of “Managing By Cliches.”

We often talk in HR about big ideas — “cutting edge” practices and “strategic visions,” and the like — and this is a very good thing, as it helps us help management guide the organization forward.  At the same time, we might sometimes be prone to forget what employees really want from their employers, and what puts them in a place to contribute to organizational success — that is, respect, dignity, being “heard” and taken seriously.

A “Smack In The Face” Reminder

As I was scrolling through some Twitter messages the other day, I saw one that mentioned a website for “workplace humor.”  I clicked on the link and quickly became engrossed in PleaseFireMe.Com, which features pages and pages of postings from discouraged employees.  (I imagine that there might be many similar websites — I had never thought to look before).  What I saw there made me chuckle, shake my head, and wince, disturbed and discouraged me, and finally, encouraged me. Continue reading

The Need for Compassionate and Courageous Firing

There was a disturbing story in the newspaper today:

The trial dragged on for two years — marked by 46 days of hearings, 18 witnesses on the stand, and a hefty 89-page ruling by the judge. Mob crime of the century? Complex terror case?  Nope. Just trying to get rid of a bad public-school teacher.

The article went on to detail the almost unimaginable lengths that one had to go to terminate a demonstrably incompetent teacher in New York City. Not surprisingly, few administrators even try.

Do we always have the courage (and well-placed compassion) to fire an employee in the best interests of the company?

Fortunately, most of our workplaces aren’t nearly this extreme in protecting poorly performing employees.  Yet and still, I wonder if in trying to guard against lawsuits by forcing managers to “dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ ” before signing off on a termination,  HR professionals are often guilty of damaging the organization and its employees in unintended but real ways.

Continue reading

Is “Team Building” Always the Right Prescription?

Albany Medical College - New Student Orientati...

Team building exercises might not always be the answer

I listen to a lot of sports talk radio on my commute to and from work.  Several times each year — especially now, with the opening of baseball season — the hosts will get into impassioned discussions about “team chemistry” and whether or not it adds up to wins and losses.  This got me to thinking about “chemistry” on management teams.

When a management team is struggling, inevitably the suggestion arises that a “team building” event is needed.  Is this always the right prescription?  It strikes me that “team building” efforts — besides often being half-hearted or poorly conceived — are frequently premature, and actually deal with the symptoms of a problem, rather than addressing the underlying issues themselves. Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 3: Moderation In All Things

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

"Moderation in all things" has been urged by philosophers since the time of Aristotle

This is the third in our series of posts around the idea of “managing by cliches.”

Recently, I’ve become more and more aware of a paradox of management behavior: a leader’s greatest strength is often their greatest weakness.  (I’m not sure if this is actually a “cliche” — but I’ve said or thought it enough that it has become one in my mind, at least!).  That is, when an outstanding skill or technique is over-used, or mis-applied (or used without self-awareness), it can create a negative effect more than equal to all of the good that is done when the skill is applied properly.

The Meaning of Moderation

Moderation in all things.*
Chilon, ancient Greek philosopher, c. 650 B.C.

Since this precept was first inscribed on a column of the Temple of Delphi in Ancient Greece, innumerable philosophers have weighed in on its meaning.  An alternative translation of the phrase is “nothing in excess.” Does this mean that one should always be moderate in word and deed (i.e., never going to extremes of forcefulness, or passion)?  Or, rather, does it mean having balance (i.e., balancing one strength with other, even if neither are “moderate” in any way)? And, what can this tell us as managers 27 centuries later? Continue reading