Category Archives: Planning

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

Managing By Cliches: Timing Is Everything (Pick Your Spots)

This is another in our series of posts on the topic of “managing by cliches.”

Last week was a very good one in my department, as a long-hoped for project moved forward in a significant way, after years of opposition from certain quarters.  Reflecting on the reasons that we  finally made progress,  I believe it came down to two things:

  • perseverance  (i.e., being too stubborn to give up)
  • patience (being willing to “wait it out” until conditions were more favorable).

Melding these two qualities together, I think the cliche “timing is everything” is really what was at work here.

Do we always have the patience (and perseverance) to wait for the right moment to make our move?

Luck?

One might argue that “timing” is nothing more than luck — i.e., some people are just “born under a lucky star” and always appear to be “in the right place at the right time.”  “Not me,”  you might say.  “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all” we might all feel in our “Charlie Brown” moments.  (Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought this about yourself).  While I wouldn’t argue that luck (or “good fortune,” or “kizmet,” or “serendipity”) plays no role, I do think that other more controllable factors are involved, as well.

I believe that awareness of “the moment”  plays a key role in this.  No one can be fully aware of everything and everyone around them, of course.  But through practice and focus, we can probably all get better at this.

Poor Timing

As one example on the “bad timing” side … our national sales director Continue reading

Crisis Leadership Lessons from “Blue Bloods”

I’ve become a big fan of the tv series, Blue Bloods.  Starring Tom Selleck as Frank Regan, a fictional New York City Police Commissioner, the beautifully written and acted show chronicles the intersecting public and private lives of the widowed commissioner’s close-knit Irish-Catholic family, who are all in the “family business” of law enforcement (retired cop, streetwise detective, sharp assistant district attorney, and idealistic rookie cop).  It struck me while watching the dramatic season finale last week that the episode offered some excellent lessons in crisis leadership.

Tom Selleck portrays fictional NYC Police Commissioner who leads his department -- and his family -- through a series of crises

Synopsis

The commissioner’s youngest son (the rookie cop) privately pursues leads  regarding his older brother’s murder, which occurred two years earlier in the line of duty.  Finally getting in over his head, he shares the information with his father and brother (detective).  The commissioner sets up a top-secret command post in his own home, staffed by those closest to him, and they eventually discover proof that the son was murdered by a group of rogue cops.  As the rogue cops catch wind of the investigation and are preparing to flee the country with their considerable ill-gotten booty, the commissioner and team swoops in and dramatically captures the group en masse — with the ring leader ultimately choosing suicide over capture.  The resolution finally provides the family with closure about the reason’s behind their older brother’s death.

Crisis Leadership Lessons

  • Trust the voice of “innocents” trying to tell you the truth
    The commissioner trusts his naive but perceptive son (the rookie 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

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 2: Let the System Work for You (not vice versa)

Michael Dorn and Robert O'Reilly as Worf and G...

Naming an HR database after Star Trek villains wasn't a good omen

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

During the past few weeks, I’ve been involved in a number of on-line and real-life discussions about the merits of various performance evaluation systems.  One colleague described a particular system as being powerful but “difficult to learn and implement.”  This brought mind past experiences implementing unwieldy systems — times when it seemed that rather than the system working for us, we were working for the system (never a desirable state of affairs).

The Klingon System

Once about a time, I worked for a Fortune-500 company that chose to implement “Klingon” as its HRIS database.  OK — that wasn’t really its name Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 1: Knowing When To Cut Your Losses

Picture of hole cards in a game of texas hold 'em

Knowing "when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em" makes all the difference in "not throwing good money after bad"

I came to the realization not long ago that managing my work by cliches wouldn’t be a bad idea.  I mean, cliches might be considered trite, boring, and unexceptional — but they became cliches because there is truth in them, right?  I mean, as odd a saying as it might be, can any mature adult really disagree with the notion that “you can’t have your cake and eat it, too”?

With this in mind, I thought that I’d begin a short series of posts exploring the work-related implications of a number of cliches.  Today’s post focuses on the notion of knowing when to cut your losses (or not “throwing good money after bad,” or, in the words of the Kenny Rogers song, “knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em”).

Cutting Your Losses: Backstory

As with most people, I have a wealth of answers to the standard job interview question, “Tell me about a failure you experienced — and what did you learn from it.” (LOL – or “laughing out loud,” as they say in the texting world).  This particular case involved building a database to manage the HR side of my former company’s frequent acquisition activity.

Continue reading