Tag Archives: management

Falling Leaves and Tidying Up

Autumn provides the opportunity to tidy up our haven't-quite-gotten-to-it lists before the rush of the holidays is upon us

The falling leaves — announcing the changing of the seasons — have brought to mind the question of “wrapping up” certain activities and preparing for what’s ahead.

Tidying Up the Sidewalk
Earlier this week, I stepped outside to stretch my legs and enjoy a moment of the beautiful autumn afternoon, the sunshine giving off a golden glow. Passing a row of twin homes near our office, I exchanged greetings with an older gentleman I often see on my walks. A distinguished fellow of dignified bearing, I noticed that he was attending to the manicured patch of grass and sidewalk in front of his home with his usual care.

It struck me that my neighborhood friend’s task was symbolic of good advice for all of us this time of year – tidy up, and prepare for the next season.

Wrapping Up … Doesn’t That Feel Good!
I would venture that most of us have a few things on our I-haven’t-quite-gotten-around-to-it list.  Things that aren’t necessarily the most pleasant nor enjoyable to do – but which if we finally got them done, would take a mental “load” off our minds.  No one ever gets to everything on their list, of course … but here is some encouragement to check off a least a few items!  (C’mon … you can do it!).

Keeping things on the professional side (but realizing we all probably have a similar list in our personal lives, as well), below are a few examples of things-not-quite-done.   The list will vary amongst HR generalists and VP’s, front-line supervisors and CEO’s, of course.  Regardless of position, though, there are still 6 or 8 weeks left before holiday parties and celebrations with family and friends are upon us – time enough to make a dent on things like …

  • HR Generalists: the I-9, or COBRA, or FLSA audits that need to be done but – since “we haven’t gotten sued yet” – for which higher priorities have arisen every time we “meant” to tackle these tasks.  Checking one of these off the list will help protect your organization in a very meaningful way.
  • Recruiters: the hard-to-fill job for which you’ve almost convinced yourself qualified candidates don’t exist.  Taking a fresh look and making a renewed effort on this opening would take a great weight off of two people – yourself, and the hiring manager who really needs the position filled to move his or her operation forward.
  • HR VP’s/Leaders: the global PHR certification exam that you’ve been meaning to sign up and sit for.  You’ve been dealing with international issues for years.  You’re confident in your knowledge.  You know it would be a nice final element to cement your professional credentials. It’s true that the XYZ project is coming to fruition right when the exam is scheduled.  Sign up anyway.
  • Organizational Leaders: the under-performer on your team you need to address.  You know you have a highly-competent, exemplary leadership team … except for Harry, who’s a great guy and a trusted friend – just not a skilled manager.  You’ve been meaning to have “the conversation” with him.  They’ll never be “a good time” and it’s impossible to “let him down easy.” Have the conversation any way.  The team will improve; so will everyone working under Harry.  You’ll feel better … and so will he.

Looking Forward

If we don’t take a few moments – or hours, or days – when the time is available, we risk having snow cover the fallen leaves, making it all that much harder to clean up, put in order, and clear a path for the future. Consider this a huge dose of friendly encouragement – and a nudge or two – to do what we need to do.

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

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