Real Bosses Sit Back and Listen

While flipping through the radio stations one night this week I stumbled upon this completely horrible song. But ironically, the guy said something that resonated with me because I was really trying to think of a title for this post. While I’m sure the context in which he meant it was different than mine, it still stuck with me when he said, “Real bosses just sit back and listen…”

When counseling managers, I hear all too often of unnecessary, unproductive confrontations and negative conversations. The conversations remind me of those had with children when one says something…and in an effort not to be outdone, the other just has to rebut, and it becomes a situation where no one wins.

When there is too much talking, not enough listening and someone is so busy trying to prove or drive home their point, messages get lost in delivery. The way something is said (especially when it has nothing to do with the actual issue at hand) can trigger certain emotions that cause all negotiations to shut down. Managers seek satisfaction by throwing verbal darts in an effort to exert authority and prove their case. Unfortunately, those darts and making employees feel as if they are “losing” are more likely to cause the difficult employee to avoid coaching, become combative and unwilling to listen…and even worse, passive aggressive and disengaged. So when you feel as if you “won” the discussion, did you really?

No one ever wins those back and forth battles…in person or in email. Managers often loose credibility and leverage simply because they talk too much, always feeling as if they have to justify a directive or decision after the fact. Leaders communicate what they want, not defend what they do. Clear communication up front allows you to sit back “like a boss”, instead of constantly having to defend your position.

What Is Your Best Defense?
like_a_bossWell-placed silence can be a powerful weapon in an effort to get results in one-on-one, difficult conversations. Tactical conversation can help people to actually hear what’s coming out of their own mouths, while giving difficult people a chance to put their foot in theirs. Well-placed silence helps one choose battles so that there will be enough energy to ultimately win the war. That being said, it’s ok to let people feel as if they are in charge or winning, especially when you know that you have a legitimate case. THE truth will come out if we manage our reactions properly, speak when necessary and keep our comments direct, fact-based and unemotional.

Back and forth battles give difficult people ammunition to continue in their manipulative and unproductive ways. Strategy, patience, calculated conversations and well-placed silence give managers the endurance and edge they need to get much needed buy-in and behavior change. And it’s those qualities that will enable managers to not just feel as if they’ve won a fight, but to actually win the war with the whole team in tact.

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Know When To Fold ‘Em – Don’t Leave Your Success To Chance

I’ve been told that all of my hobbies involve a certain amount of danger or risk. Some say that my love for cigars is crazy and hazardous, but I’ve been able to learn so many things and reach so many people through that pastime. I also love poker. Sure, there’s a financial risk involved, but if one pays close attention to the actual game and the people playing it, it goes much deeper than that just a love for money.

Poker-CigarThe intricacies of the game involve many life and business lessons, that if applied correctly, can help us to change many of the outcomes we oftentimes are dissatisfied with. Today at Performance I Create, I scratch the surface on how we can take the fundamentals of a game of poker and equate them to what we deal with in the workplace:

…one of the most important things to know about playing poker is knowing when to stay in the pot (keep betting/risking) and knowing when to get the heck out of dodge…or folding…which is just like the advice I often give to managers…the wins stack up when you are insightful enough to let someone else take this pot, so that you can bank more later… 

Click HERE for the full article and please share! Then maybe we can discuss the topic further over a hand of Texas Hold’em.

Check out my post and those of my fellow contributors for relevant, in-your-face, performance altering insight at Performance I Create!

Recruit Different

Experience can sometimes kill our workplaces. Not because people can’t be taught new ways of doing things, but because old habits die hard. Sometimes they don’t die at all.

When hiring for our companies, we tend to gravitate towards those that have been there and done it, in hopes that they can hit the ground running and cut our training/acclimation time half. This can work to our benefit, but also to our detriment when we have to “unteach” many of the negative behaviors they may be bringing with them from their previous employer.

soft-skills-1 I am not aware of a training program that can teach people how not to be an ass. Nor have I seen an effective curriculum that can help employees be compassionate, have common sense or fairness. Unfortunately, these are traits that our prospectives must already possess or are willing and able to get better at.

This raises the question, are we better off finding developmental talent or should we continue to recruit candidates that have been around the block? I say that this depends on a few things:

  • Do we need employees that will be primarily used for transactional work or do they need a certain level of expertise and hands-on experience?
  • Can the skill set that we need be taught…and do we have the resources to help them get there?
  • Does the experienced person’s knowledge and know-how outweigh our need for fit?

Having worked in several customer service environments, I remember looking through resumes and the hiring managers would get excited to see someone that had worked in very similar environments as ours. Unfortunately for us, while the functions they performed were similar to the ones we would have them do, our service philosophies were starkly different.

On several occasions we would have to remind employees that in our environment, Customer Service meant more than just getting clients in and out, it was about relationship, patience and problem solving. It wasn’t until we started hiring a few people from outside of our industry that we realized that we needed a certain type of person as opposed to certain past jobs and experiences. It turned out that these inexperienced yet quality individuals could learn our products, systems and processes in time as long as they had a core desire to treat our clients the very way they needed to be treated.

interviewInstead of looking for the person that has the most book knowledge, maybe we should recruit based on the right attitude and their aptitude to learn as shown by there career progression. Truth is, most “work stuff” can really be taught to anyone off the street. Think about that for a second…

Times up.

Maybe instead of focusing on the candidate that has all of the letters behind their name, we turn our attention to those that have the demonstrated character traits that we want or need in our workplaces. Maybe we take a look at where they’re going instead of where they’ve been. Maybe we should place more value on career trajectory instead of lateral career decisions.

I may be totally off base. I may be all kinds of wrong…but isn’t it worth it to your organization and clients to try something different..especially if you keep striking out by hiring jerks that are rude to your public, mistreat their coworkers, aren’t willing to listen to or learn from management, and are stuck in their same old non-productive ways? Recruit different and see how it works out for you. If it doesn’t, it’s more likely because they aren’t invested in once on board. And if that’s the case, maybe the candidates aren’t the problem.

HR Transformers: Avoiding The Age of Extinction

Nothing says “Saturday Morning” like a good cartoon. I’d wake up early on the weekends just to see what mom was cooking and to see what adventures my favorite animated characters were about to embark on.

Watching those same shows now I think, “I had no earthly idea at the time what they were really talking about!” I can take those very episodes now and see all kinds of life and business lessons and apply them to the stuff I see at work everyday.

Here’s a sample of my latest “Transformers inspired” post at Performance I Create:

transformers…while the concept of shape-shifting extraterrestrials may be a little far-fetched, they are really more like us than you might imagine…blending in with the rest of us as we go about our daily routines. It’s not until they morph or transform into something unique that we pay attention. It’s in this giant, unfamiliar mode that their actions become amplified, noticed and establishment altering.

Am I transactional (maintaining status quo) or transformational (trying to move beyond the status quo)?

Click HERE for the full article and please share! I promise that it’s more than meets the eye! See what I did there?

Check out my post and those of my fellow contributors for relevant, in-your-face, performance altering insight at Performance I Create!

HR Through Rosy Colored Glasses

Working at a University, it’s impossible not to walk around and feel old as you see thousands of young and eager faces going to and from class. While I don’t work directly with students much, I get “drafted” every year by dozens of them to do interviews for their Human Resources or Business classes. I laugh because I wonder if their syllabi say that they must interview an HR professional or if my name specifically is on them. I think I’ll ask next time.

Every conversation I have with them goes the exact same, which shows me a few things. The same, generic interview questions are provided to them and most importantly, hardly any of them really know what they are getting themselves into majoring in HR.

I try to be as candid as possible when I discuss what I do. I also am not one to sugar coat, so I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten an email from the faculty concerned about what I’m telling them. But when you speak to someone that is in “the trenches” so to speak, you should hear the not-so-pretty, non-glamorous, non-text book type of accounts that we’ve encountered since we’ve been out of school.

It reminds me of this song by Bill Withers that was re-recorded by John Legend called” I Can’t Write Left-handed.” In the song, they tell the account of a young man returning home from war. In the conversation Bill Withers had with him, the young man spoke of his experiences and said that “Being shot at didn’t bother him…it was being shot that really shook him up.”

He goes on to account in the second verse:

Boot camp we had classes
You know we talked about fighting, fighting every day
And looking through rosy, rosy colored glasses
I must admit it seemed exciting anyway

Oh, but something that day overlooked to tell me, Lord
Bullets look better, I must say
Brother when they ain’t coming at you
But going out the other way

glassesWhile I’m certainly not comparing our jobs to that of soldiers, because Lord knows I couldn’t be one, our students and young professionals are given these same tinted lenses to wear. No one taught me how to navigate in the business world once I graduated. They didn’t tell me that it would be hell to find a job. They didn’t tell us that dealing with employees and their issues would be stressful. They especially didn’t tell us how the decisions we would make in our HR offices could affect the professional lives of those same employees. The theory around reductions in force, layoffs, terminations, workplace bullying, poor communication between managers and employees and performance issues and self-esteem doesn’t even come close to actually having to deal with it day in and day out.

I remember in a particular job I had that terminations were so commonplace that I almost became numb to them. The more I had to deliver the news, the less and less I thought about what those people had to go through and what they would do with themselves once they left our building. I went from dreading those conversations to executing them without hesitation and with precision. Corrective actions became a habit and a part of my muscle memory.

T’was from these experiences that I began to understand that it was far more productive and humane to identify possible employment issues before they became terminable, and how to keep employees from meeting that fate. Unfortunately it took me having to see it to learn it, as this wasn’t taught. What was taught is that HR is about process, rules and bottom line. I know now that it’s about productivity, development and learning to make the best of the resources that we have.

I honestly believe that if new practitioners and students were shown more realistic pictures of what HR does, we’d have a stronger, better equipped crop of advocates that understand our role in companies…making a difference and not just firing the shots. At the very least, we’d weed out those that didn’t necessarily have what it took to be the right type of leader in our industry…or those that could see early on that this wasn’t the field for them.

So no, I’m not going to paint a perfect picture of what I do, because it is tough. It is oftentimes stressful and difficult. The feelings of guilt come and go as I balance emotion with logic and ultimately decide what’s best for employer and employee.

Unlike the young man in the song that was more than likely drafted to do what he did, we had choices. Those new to this profession have even more choices than we did. So while we speak and share our stories and experiences, we must tell all sides, the good and the bad, to help mold those that are committed to this industry and to give those that are on the fence enough information to make their choice…before they become the poorly equipped and uninformed HR people that we end up complaining about in our blogs and at our conferences.

Social In The Smokies #TNSHRM14

On September the 17th, I will be traveling to Sevierville, TN and hanging out with the coolest, most professionally driven Human Resources practitioners this side of the Mississippi River at #TNSHRM14.

While our theme is “Life In The Fast Lane. Keeping Up With HR”, I will be doing my best to take it slow…enjoying every conversation, every connection and every learning moment as this conference is truly one of the highlights of my year.

What will I be doing? I’m glad you asked. For the second year in a row, I will be serving as a member of the Social Media Team. So I’m responsible for making sure you, yes you, are seeing all of the sites, getting all of the educational nuggets and connecting with all of the attendees via Social Media. This year we will also be hosting a Concurrent Session, so you’ll have the chance to hear the entire team break this Social thing down.

Check out my video below about the upcoming conference and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Wilderness at the Smokies Resort in Sevierville, TN, September 17-19.

By the way, you can still register HERE!

A P.I.P. Shouldn’t Be An R.I.P.

It’s so easy to say that employees should just go away when they’re not performing the way we want them to or responding to our management. The hard part is not actually getting them to change behavior, it’s actually admitting that we can do more to get them to where they should be.

image1PIPs or Performance Improvement Plans are often used by companies as the last ditched effort to shape up those “troubled” employees before we ship them out. Others use them as merely a coaching tool to get the attention of their people so that other forms of disciplinary action doesn’t have to be taken. I’ve seen PIPs in memo form, worksheets and templates, and I’ve even seen them delivered in emails. But regardless of how we format them, they should all have the same elements to be effective:

  • Clear areas that our employees need improve upon to remain a part of our teams
  • Challenging, yet achievable goals and deadlines for expected improvement
  • A plan of action for achievable said goals
  • Steps in which the manager can contribute and help the employee reach optimal performance
  • Fair and consistently applied actions that will occur if the desired performance isn’t met

We cannot use the word “Improvement” in the plan if we are not truly trying to achieve it. How we communicate during the delivery, and the words and tone used during the meeting should not feel like a death sentence or as if we are setting the employee up to fail.

There is no need to rehash the issues that we’ve had with the employee, but should focus on the behaviors that cause those issues that need to be altered or adjusted. Bringing up old stuff, especially if those incidents have caused negative conflict before, will surely turn your performance improvement meeting into a counter-productive blame session where no one is listening.

If we want our employees to listen, they must feel as if they are believed in, like they can make it and that they are being supported by members of management. Not only is this communicated in the document and meetings themselves, but by actually following up frequently to ensure that the necessary steps in the plan are being acted on.

So ultimately, a lot of the responsibility comes back to the manager. Not just delivering a document so that we can check a box, but managing our employees to yield the results that we need.

And isn’t that what management is all about? Not just supervising processes and expecting everyone to fall in line, but by providing resources and teaching people how to be successful in our systems.

Joe ClarkIf we want to get rid of someone, let’s just do it and move on to the next. Like Joe Clark said in the movie Lean On Me, “Don’t f#&% around with it…do it expeditiously!” But if we actually want them to get better, we must communicate it, make them believe it and show them how serious we are about them making it through the process.