The Precariousness of a #WorkHuman Journey

It’s just after 2 PM on Day 2 (and a-half) of Globoforce’s WorkHuman event in Austin and I just walked back over to the Convention Center from my hotel.

This hotel, which officially opened within the last several weeks, has a connecting skywalk that takes one from floor 2 of the hotel to floor 2 of the Convention Center. Very convenient.

This skywalk is a twisting, serpentine slab of concrete, perhaps 10 feet wide, that is suspended over a fairly bustling city street. There are no walls on this walkway; not even the illusion of a semi-comforting half-wall. Nope; this walkway is encased in what appears to be chicken wire. (OK; we all know it’s not actual chicken wire – it looks much sturdier and is actually bolted down but I have been much too afraid to actually get close enough to touch it and confirm this).

So every time I walk across this walkway I stay the straight and narrow right in the middle so as not to tempt the fates and end up having a strong gust of wind push me through the chicken wire. Yesterday as my friend Katee Van Horn and I made the journey we walked single file, lock-step behind each other, and didn’t even speak until we got safely to the other side.

And now, just a few short minutes ago, I stepped onto the walkway with a lady who was facing the seemingly benign treachery for the first time. She took one look, said “Oh hell no,” and reversed back into the hotel to find a safer land-based approach to the convention center.

I totally understood.

And then I got to wondering…was this event venue chosen for this one design element alone? Was the master plan to make ALL WorkHuman attendees take numerous uncomfortable, sweat-inducing, heart-palpitating journeys in unfamiliar terrain?

In numerous sessions we’ve been talking about being brave. We’re chatting about having difficult conversations at work with our leaders and team members and co-workers.

I think this march across the spiraling-death-bridge/walkway has been one giant metaphor for the organizational journey to being a more human-centered workplace. And a testing platform for HR leaders to see if they’re up to the challenge.

Well played Globoforce events team.  Well played.

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photo courtesy of Curbed Austin

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Is it Ever Time to STOP Chasing a Dream?

The internet, magazines and even the backs-of-cereal-boxes are filled with inspirational messages, stories and exhortations. Quotes abound as HR bloggers, career coaches and life style experts share words of encouragement:

There’s big business to be had by inspiring others, pushing people to develop good habits, live their authentic lives and clarify their goals and aspirations. Depending upon one’s outlook it’s easy enough to find motivation of the spiritual, religious, financial or career-focused type. Future focused human beings, with a desire to improve their lives, may set goals and dream big as part of a deeper search for personal meaning. People may have aspirations in order to overcome adversity stemming from the death of a family member, the ending of a relationship, or the loss of a job. Sometimes it’s just a bit of restlessness or a lingering feeling that they can find enjoyment and fulfillment by doing something ‘more’ than merely holding a spot on this whirling planet we call Earth.

Positive thinking is great; much better, in my opinion, to look for opportunities than employ a “woe is me; I can’t change things” mindset.

But after a recent conversation I got to wondering if there is any validity to the opinion that there’s a shelf-life on dreams.

  • “You don’t have that many years to work before retirement; perhaps you just need to be happy where you are.”
  • “What more could you want? You have a pretty great life.”
  • “Isn’t your current life enough to make you happy?”
  • “You’ve accomplished a lot; isn’t it time to take it easy?”

I know a lot of dreamers. In some cases I could refer to them as idealists or even visionaries. I run into numerous early or mid-stage career HR professionals who know, with certainty, their desired career path; moving into a CHRO role or shifting from a generalist path to a specialization in OD or Learning and Performance. I recently met a guy who wanted to be a professional musician but put that on hold in order to take over his family’s business a few decades ago; but now he’s gigging with various bands and the plan is alive to work towards a recording contract.

Is there an expiration date on dreams? I don’t think so. 

“I’m going to dream. Maybe one day I’ll be disappointed that things didn’t work out exactly

as I’d planned, that I didn’t get to write for National Geographic, pen a bestselling novel

or win a literary award, but I will have challenged myself to reach a level that I didn’t

think I could. I would have enjoyed the process, had fun, and even for a little while,

believed all things possible.”

Mridu Khullar Relph

 

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The Power of Many. The Power of ONE.

Every now and again I dig into the archives. Here’s a post from 2012. Still true. 

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Last week, in the manner that these things occur, there was a picture making the rounds on Facebook that poked fun (in an amusing way with just a dash of profanity) of the old cliché “there’s no ‘I’ in team.”

Which reminded me how much I’ve always truly disliked that saying.

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It goes without saying that assembling a group of individuals with unique talents that compliment each other can unleash all sorts of things – idea generation, innovation, a little-bit-of-friction (in a good way).  The collective group could quite possibly get more done in a shorter period of time and accomplish things that an individual could not achieve on their own.

But you know what I’ve always found to be the undeniable truth?

That team is made up of a bunch of ‘I’s – as in INDIVIDUALS.

And each of those individuals must make a purposeful and conscious decision to bring themselves into the group. Each person must be committed, engaged and invested in moving the work of the team forward.

I daresay that if any one person belongs to a team and believes that the power of the group trumps their own INDIVIDUAL power, then that team is doomed. The team may not fail – but I may not hit its full collective potential if all the individual members check their ‘I’s at the door.

There’s a great deal of potential and ability in many.

There’s a LOT of capability and power … in one.

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Here’s What Talent Agility Looks Like (redux)

rubber bandsMary managed a small team consisting of 3 employees. The positions they held were coveted jobs in a small but well-known company. With few exceptions these employees tended to be entry-level professionals who used these jobs to launch their careers – ultimately moving on to bigger and better things at other organizations. Even though salaries were below-market and there was limited career mobility due to the size of the organization, morale was high and the employment experience enjoyable. Tenure for these positions was in the range of 18 months or so which meant, as you can imagine, just about the time an employee became extremely proficient and productive, s/he opted to move on for another opportunity.

The department had numerous and varied accountabilities and deliverables over the course of any given year but core responsibilities could be boiled down to 6 primary areas:

  1. Make the widgets
  2. Market the widgets
  3. Sell the widgets
  4. Invoice for the widgets
  5. Ship the widgets
  6. Service the widgets

While all 3 team members needed to have some familiarity with all duties, the job descriptions looked like this for years:

  • Employee A: Responsible for 1 and 2
  • Employee B: Responsible for 3 and 4
  • Employee C: Responsible for 5 and 6

Stuff got done.

But then, one day, both Employees A and B tendered their resignations. The two-week countdown began as Mary realized it was going to be her and Employee C (who had been with the company for 6 months) running the show for the foreseeable future.

Initially Mary approached the hiring process as most managers (and HR professionals) do: she resurrected Job Descriptions A and B and set a course to hire employees who would perform function 1, 2, 3 and 4. After all, she reasoned, Employee C was slaying all the dragons with functions 5 and 6.

But then she stopped. Perhaps, she thought, if I provide a bit more variety and the chance for staff members to contribute in different ways, we’ll not only get the work done but reap the benefits of employees staying for longer periods because they’re continually learning and exploring. Maybe if they have the chance to do something new – something that builds on what they already know – we’ll all benefit.

So she talked to Employee C (who for 6 months had been responsible for shipping and servicing the widgets) and asked her “what would you like to do? What do you want to learn? What functional areas interest you?” Employee C said “I’ve always wanted to market and sell the widgets but I know those tasks are assigned to two different jobs. So I’m not sure what we can do.” 

But I’m sure you’ve guessed what they did.

Mary decided to be much more fluid in her operational model; versatility was in and rigidity was out. Rather than creating positions and praying-and-hoping that employees would stay long enough to develop deep-deep DEEP expertise she opted for a new model that encouraged the development of skills and the need for employees to tackle new challenges. She adopted a high-touch and constantly evolving approach that provided for task rotation every 6 months; this not only kept team members interested and engaged but ensured cross training in a fully team focused environment.

While the jobs continued to be ones that young professionals used to merely launch their long-term careers, tenure for the department increased from 18 months to close to 3 years.

I call that talent agility. I call that winning the battle.

After all…sometimes the “war for talent” is waged within.

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this post originally ran in 2015 

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Take Me to the Leaderboard – #HRTF16

Uckers_gameboard_graphicI was en route to #HRTF16 last night, playing a round of Cookie Jam on my iPad, and got to thinking how just a few years ago heading off to an HR technology event meant there would be lots of chatter (and sessions) devoted to gamification.

Remember that? We were told that every aspect of the HR sphere would be disrupted. People want awards and stickers and scores and badges!! (we were told). You can increase engagement and fun!! (we were told). Employees like the thrill of the competition!! (we were told). Sort of like the Olympics only without, you know, the performance enhancing drugs and bowls of condoms in the Olympic Village.

Back in those halcyon days everyone from my benefit provider to my safety consultant got into this. My medical carrier, I am not even kidding, hauled a kiosk into our building one day (via a dolly) and set it up so that employees could log in, create profiles, and then compete for (virtual) wellness badges against sports celebrities and inanimate objects like Frank the Fire Hydrant (I am not making this up) and Skippy the Dog.

A year later that program, which had been released with much fanfare to customers …. there were billboards on the interstate!…. was kaput.

Huh. For a while there everyone in HR was tripping over themselves, trying to sound smart, by using the “G” word. But what has it wrought?

Your job applicants don’t want to play games; they want a smooth, seamless fast process that allows them to escape your crappy ATS as soon as possible.

Just because Justine and Kara in the Call Center are earning badges on your “TEAM Culture!!” website/game faster than a newly sworn in Brownie (whose mother is the troop leader) doesn’t mean they’re more “engaged.”  Perhaps they’re merely looking for a break from the humdrum monotony and since you have an HR policy that prohibits playing “Angry Birds 2” on their phones, they have to do something.

Karl in IT? The guy who is on top of the leaderboard for your wellness program? He’s chalking up points while simultaneously eating Cheetos from the comfort of his couch while binge re-watching the entire GOT series from beginning to end.

Gaming theory? Game mechanics? Game thinking? Absolutely fascinating to discuss but I wonder if we went off the rails in terms of any huge impact or disruption (if you will) within the HR space?

Did any of this make sense in the first place? Weren’t the organizations with cultures built on this kind of stuff……doing it anyway? I don’t know about you but every L&D lady I ever worked with had game theory embedded in every granule of her adult learning mantra.

Or not? Huh.

In any event I’m off to enjoy the conference where I anticipate having a whole bunch of smarty pants HR conversations with super amazing people.

Yup; I’ll be heading out in just a minute or two; there are a few friends I’m gaining on in Candy Crush Soda Saga……

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