Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Meritocracy is Dead: Long Live the Value Proposition!

I spent a good part of the day on Saturday in a mini-retreat with my Mastermind group, Professional Women's Network.  A mixture of business owners and executives, our discussion turned to the well-worn and tiresome workplace variation on the Just World Theory:

If I work really hard, and do a great job, I'll get:
a)  The job of my dreams
b)  The promotion
c)  A larger raise than anyone else
d)  More clients / customers than I can handle
e)  All of the above
f)   Fill in the blank.

We had a lively discussion about how misleading a belief system this is from both a career and an entrepreneurial perspective.  "I've had to ask for every promotion I've ever gotten," one member remarked, and the rest of us agreed.  In my case, I have always put together a short presentation for the decision-maker on the value (money saved, money earned, etc.) that I had accomplished for the organization in the last year and would accomplish in the upcoming year, thanks to my father's sales mentoring early in my career.  Depending on the size of the metrics, I invariably get a larger raise, a promotion, or both.  The key is to ask the decision-maker for the order with the facts and figures that have and will meet / exceed the decision-maker's needs.

The If I work really hard, and do a great job, I'll get: belief system is academic in origin and even becoming outdated in that paradigm.  Instead of just teaching our 10 year-old son Noah to work hard and get good grades, he is also learning that those efforts can't happen just for their own sake or in the narrow vacuum of the student's magical thinking.  Noah is witnessing through the work of his parents (Joel and I), that the hard work and great results must first happen in the context of always meeting / exceeding customer needs:  whether the customer is one employer or the many customers of his family's business.

When there is that context - when there is clear customer agreement on exactly what hard / great work and precise, metric-based results will receive rewards / renumeration, it will be then that the workplace will truly become a marketplace (or propel us into the larger marketplace as evolving entrepreneurs) for us all to profit from the valuable products, both tangible and SME-based, that we all have to offer.

In my book, that beats getting the highest grade on a test, hands-down.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

HALT Manic Mondays at Work

80% of success is showing up.

                                                                                                         - Woody Allen

I've been an HR practitioner twice as long as my tenure as Noah's mother.  So yes, I'm often guilty of front-loading my parenting to ensure Noah's success in whatever career (Chef / Restauranteur or Video Game Mogul at the moment) that he chooses.

With Noah, the basic blocking-and-tackling of teaching him the commitment of showing up is fairly easy.  On school nights, especially Sunday nights, his bedtime is a hard-stop of 9:30 PM, no matter how well he makes his case to the contrary.  On Monday mornings, if he's not already awake, he must extricate himself from bed by 6:30 AM to be ready at the bus stop by 7:30 AM.  (And yes:  he's wide awake by 6 AM on weekend mornings on his own. Sigh.)  

On those occasionally difficult mornings when he resists and growls at us like a rabid squirrel and hides under blankets all over the house, Joel and I consistently move Noah along, instruct him to cease and desist the PITA behavior and reinforce his responsibility to stick to his schedule, whether it's getting himself ready for the bus stop, practicing his violin or completing his homework.  His future employer (or, if he goes into business for himself, his future employees) will thank us one day.

Noah's newest challenge linked to the milestone of turning 10 years of age is to start managing these tasks himself so Joel and I can eventually be relieved of our nagging duties.  (Well, you know I'm an eternal optimist.) 

It is my parenting experience that is gradually eroding my already minimal tolerance for adults less able than my 10 year-old son to manage themselves similarly in preparation for the work week / work day.  I'm not your attendance mother, and now, more than ever, I don't want to be your attendance hall monitor.

Calling in sick and/or being late consistently on Mondays is a worn-out workplace cliche'.  At minimum, you're in danger of violating your workplace attendance policy and eventually getting fired. Or suspected of having too much fun over the weekend to drag yourself responsibly into work.  Most importantly, it damages your reputation in that you're eventually labeled as unreliable and therefore expendable.   Which is not the type of workplace attention you seek. 

So do us all a favor:  keep your HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) needs front and center on your radar the night before a work day.  Think of them as base Maslow's hierarchy of success needs that are well within your control to manage.

Some tips on consistently showing up physically to the workplace are obvious but often ignored:
  • Get enough sleep so you can wake up on time (or at all);
  • Cut off your alcohol consumption to ensure at least 10 alcohol-free hours before work, if not more (Sober and chipper does start a Monday off right);
  • Strive to eat well and exercise;
  • If you're angry and/or lonely, get support from your friends, family or a professional or two.  Not in your workplace.  Don't Mess Your Nest.

Now, let's talk about those of you who do drag yourselves to work in spite of a raging case of HALT.   Especially on Monday mornings, operating on 3 hours of sleep, an unresolved fight with your spouse / ex-spouse, a raging hangover and a queasy, empty stomach:  do us all and yourself another favor:  don't inflict it on us.  While you may be present physically, you are entirely absent mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And that is most certainly not a recipe for career success.  The best thing you can do for your reputation and out of respect for the rest of your workplace team when you cannot or will not manage your HALT is to keep a low profile and keep your mouth shut.  No one deserves the detritus of your mismanaged HALT, including you.

Sweet dreams for a successful week!

    Saturday, October 15, 2011

    Leadership Start-Up Lessons from 5th Grade Entrepreneurs

    My son Noah and his friend Frankie played at our house all afternoon on Saturday.  But it wasn't all play, as they disclosed at the end of the day.  For a good 3 hours, they hunkered over Noah's laptop and formulated the business plan for their new video game software company, to be named later.   Here's the first page of the plan, a mixture of website structure, branding (which is protected under the auspices of Deb Best Practices, in defense of our young moguls), governance structure and company values:

    Frankie founded the Company-to-Be-Named-Later, so he felt that he should be the final word on all the decisions. "I started the company, why do I have to listen to Noah, or anyone else?" Frankie asked.  "I'm the boss, I make all of the decisions."  Frankie's father then coached him that collaborative leadership and decision-making was the best way to start and run a business from a values standpoint. "Or else you'll just cheese everyone off," Noah added.  Sometime during the second hour, Frankie fired Noah for not agreeing with Frankie's decisions.     Noah called Frankie on it, saying it wasn't fair.  Frankie listened to Noah's case, and hired him back.  Then they worked together on the Human Capital plan, below:

    Although Noah was born 4 years after I left GE (where I started my HR career), this Human Capital grid looked eerily similar to a form that we used to prepare the Annual Human Resources review, rating the promotability and values of each employee.  Or perhaps we humans just like to sort things in 4 quadrants, and it's wired into our shared racial intelligence?

    I particularly love the "Anger Issues" and "Stubborn" ratings:  ain't it the workplace truth?

    Noah was rated GWT (Good With Tech), so he's been slotted into 3 jobs:  Tech Team, Video Game Development and Video Game Musical Theme Development.  "I'm getting paid half-pay for each job, because I have 2 jobs," Noah explained to me.  "Actually, I have 3 jobs, but I'm doing the music job for free."  I tried to correct him.  "But if you have 3 jobs, you should make more, not less," I explained.  Noah shook his head. "That would upset the rest of the team if I made more money than them.  I also don't want to cheese Frankie off by making more money than him, since he's the boss."  I chuckled.  At this juncture, the influence of UU Religious Education is stronger than Noah's exposure to his capitalist mother.  "Isn't rule number one at work 'Don't Cheese Off the Boss?" Noah queried.  "Not in this case," I answered.

    Frankie and Noah made their presentation to the parents.  We were impressed, and made some suggestions.  "It might be interesting for the two of you to visit Vicarious Visions:  it's a local video game company started by two brothers who went to the same college as your dad, Frankie,"  I recommended.  "Yes, " Frankie's dad chimed in, "then you can sell the business and get a million dollars."  "And buy all of the parents houses in Vermont,"  I added, with a smile.  The boys looked at each and went back into Noah's room.  Noah the arbitrator came back out.  "This is a kids' company, and we don't want adults meddling," Noah informed us.  We respectfully backed down.

    Apparently though, I'm part of their nascent marketing plan, as Noah is actually happy he's featured this week, and is instructing me to Tweet and Facebook this post as I'm finalizing it.

    We hope they'll review their policies on excluding adults at some point, and consider hiring us.  Or at least give us stock options for giving birth to them.

    Sunday, October 9, 2011

    Plan for Success

    As I prepare to teach the opening workshop,  Leadership and Strategic Thinking, at the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce Leadership Institute this week, I look forward to the breakthroughs that I invariably will witness from the students.

    I've been teaching versions of this workshop for a number of years. And I don't just teach and facilitate strategic planning:  I believe in it and I practice it myself.  Every goal that I've written down, shared and on my own, from personal goals (e.g., giving birth to my son Noah) to career and business goals, I've achieved.

    Not that the act of planning makes the path any easier:  there are always struggles and setbacks.  At times, the plan's timing is out of your control, and/or you may be paralyzed by fear, self-doubt, or worse.  However, with plan in hand, I see the rockiness of the path as a series of tests of my commitment to my created path. Particularly where no path exists, and I bush-whack through the wilderness, living the journey as Frost articulated:  it has made all the difference in my well-lived life and career.  And then I begin to understand why some of the most successful businesses of the 20th century started with just such an idea during the Great Depression.

    Even more satisfying is watching the students (up-and-coming promotable leaders:  managers in larger organizations and well as entrepreneurs / business owners) solidify their plans, dreams and goals by writing them down and then mustering the courage to walk through their deceptive fear of failure to share those plans with their classmates and hopefully those key individuals outside the class who can become part of the team to implement those plans.  The act of manifesting (writing down) your goals and plans, and then sharing those goals and plans with trusted colleagues and advisors, is a powerful act indeed.

    Don't underestimate the creative power of this planning process.  Once the wheels are set in motion, amazing things can and will happen to you.  Some examples from my past students are:
    • Becoming a judge;
    • Promotion to your dream job (FYI:  most of the time, you just need to present your proposal and ask);
    • Starting your own successful business;
    • Defining your own work / life balance rather than expecting your employer to do it for you;
    • Getting the education / degree you've always dreamed of, but never shared with anyone.
    Create your plan and write it down:  start with at least one goal.  Share it with your own Board of Directors.  Build your commitment; never, never, never, never give in.  Implement your plan.  And don't be surprised:  expect success.

    Fall Path in the Woods

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    One Employee's (Company's) Autonomy Dividends

    Hi, my name is Deb and I'm a bookaholic.  I just reserved Daniel Pink's Drive online at my library's website, recommended by a contact in my network last week as a result of a wonderful discussion about autonomy at work. This is after I brought home 12 books from the Schenectady Library annual book sale yesterday.  And after I borrowed books from the Clifton Park Library earlier in the week.    The Mohawk Valley and Southern Adirondack Library systems may arrange for an intervention soon.   I blame it on my mother:  she brought me to the library every week and at the age of 9, starting recommending her favorite novels to me.

     Enough about my mother:  I'd like to tell you about John.

    John was the CFO of the company I had just joined earlier in my HR career.  I reported to John, and within the first week discovered that I was the most experienced HR person in the company.  We were without a head of HR, so John quickly pulled me into the fray, coloring outside the lines of my stated job description.  I loved it.  Working for John was an MBA crash course, and I learned so much from him from the very beginning.  But the biggest gift that John gave me came 2 months into my tenure.

    My previous company was a much larger international organization, with layers of HR and legal oversight.  We couldn't issue a disciplinary action without thorough legal review.  So naturally, I kept John abreast of every employee relations issue at every step:  I spoke to John at least twice a day.

    At the two-month mark, during one of these updates, John stopped me. "Why do you come and talk to me so much?" he asked with his laser-blue stare, which served him well during vendor and M&A negotiations.  I didn't quite know how to respond.  "Well, " I said, "You're my boss.  I'm supposed to keep you updated.  I was trained to get at least one-over-one approval before taking any HR action."  John lowered the high-beams and relaxed a bit.  "Okay, that makes sense," he said.  "Because I initially thought it was due to a lack of confidence, yet I know you're very self-confident." I thought that was a compliment, but I wasn't sure. "Thanks?" I responded tentatively.

    John leaned in and delivered the gift.  "Deb, here's the bottom line.  We hired you because you're smart and you know what you're doing.  You only need to update me if we have potential legal or financial exposure.  Otherwise, I trust you to do the right thing."  He leaned back.  "And if you make a mistake, just know that I've always got your back because you work for me."  I was blown away.  I grinned back at him.  "Thanks John.  I will not disappoint you."  He smiled slightly, and the high beams returned.  "Good.  Now get out of my office," he growled.  "I'm busy."

    With that vote of confidence, I was hooked.  Not only did I love my job and the work that I did, it set me free to do my best work and to broaden my subject-matter expertise (SME) at the same time:  an opportunity that did not exist at my previous company with its layers of oversight.  There was little coaching from the layers of oversight management at my previous company to learn as a SME, since decisions were made above my head for me.  Consequently, I learned more working for John and the executive team than I ever had working for the bigger international company.  Without the multiple layers of oversight, I was often the SME decision-maker.  And if I was that SME, I was damned sure that I knew and learned all of the facts, laws and regulations before making those critical decisions and recommendations to the executive team.

    During my long and satisfying tenure, John tasked me as the HR lead for a critical acquisition (which resulted in no legal exposure) and building the company's recruitment function, among many other projects that supported the company's bottom line.  It was a win-win that paid dividends to both me and my company, both financially and in engagement terms.

    Good team members:  what have you done to earn and prove your ability to accept the responsibility and rewards of autonomy?

    Good leaders:  what success (profit) would arise by trusting your SME employees to do the right thing, assuring your support even in the face of potential mistakes?

    The potential for autonomy dividends is tantalizing indeed.