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Going To Talk To Your HR Rep: Suggestions

In ! Jen, Employee Tips, General Work on Friday, April 2, 2010 at 10:10 pm

For the purposes of this post, let’s set aside sentiments that HR sucks, that you haven’t had good experiences with HR, you know someone who was blindsided by someone from HR, you can’t trust your HR manager, yada yada yada.

There IS value in going to HR: to voice concerns about harassment or questionable management actions, get advice on how to approach something or someone, among countless other reasons. Let’s say you’re planning to talk with your HR representative about something. Here are some tips from someone who’s been on the other side:

  1. Be sincere. Don’t try to sell your HR person on your viewpoint. Just tell it as it is.
  2. Be prepared. Have a purpose for your meeting and line up the who / what / where / why / how of the situation or concern you’re sharing. Don’t go in only having a vague idea of what you’ll be saying.
  3. Describe facts, not feelings. As angry or hurt the situation would make any rational person, you want to share things that can be seen or heard: behaviors, visible reactions, responses. “She looked offended” doesn’t mean as much as “she threw her arms up into the air and left the room” or “she stopped the conversation and said that she was offended by the remark.”
  4. Be clear on what you want. This doesn’t always apply, of course, but if it does, be able to articulate what you want to have happen as a result of your conversation. Even if it’s: “I’d like your help brainstorming ways I can approach my manager to discuss why he never acknowledges my projects in team meetings.” Sometimes I have meetings where I truly have no idea what the person I’m talking to wants to have happen next. And when I ask, they can’t say what they want either. Have a goal in mind.
  5. Talk first to the source of your problem if you’re coming to complain about someone. Show that you’ve first tried to deal with this issue professionally and directly on your own. It can be frustrating to talk with someone who has talked with everyone but the person with whom they’ve got a problem. This happens a whole lot more than you’d think. I once encountered a rift between two employees that (as best could be remembered) started when one person didn’t respond to the other’s “good morning.” Seriously. And because it wasn’t surfaced as a point of hurt right away, layers upon layers of passive aggressiveness and months of ignoring each other wound its way into legitimately recognizable bad behavior. And not a word between the two parties involved!
  6. Be open to feedback and other interpretations. Not everyone has the same level of understanding as you, of course. So be open to hearing how another person may respond to your situation. What may be reasonable and polite to you may not even be on another person’s radar.
  7. For policy violations: bring evidence, and realize that you may be sent to someone else. Many larger companies have policy or ethics hotlines, and those may be better venues for policy complaints. But don’t go to your HR person with only an accusation. Have the details ready to share and be verified. And don’t expect HR to go on a wild goose chase around an accusation—there aren’t enough resources to investigate say, someone you believe is cheating on expense reports, but you don’t have any facts with which to back up that allegation.
  8. Be civil. I once had an employee complain about his manager, absolutely rabid with spewing personal attacks on his manager’s character. His credibility would have been better served if he stuck to the particular incidents in question: dates, places, situations. Be as neutral as you can, and always maintain professional decorum and respect.
  9. Don’t come with incidents lacking merit or could be perceived as frivolous. Complaining about the number of smoke breaks someone takes every afternoon may turn the tables on how you’re able to have enough time to track the comings and goings of the smoker.
  10. Realize the limits of working for someone else. Until you’re the sole proprietor of your company, you will have to answer to a manager, or higher level managers, the Board of Directors, or whomever, and their rules.
  11. Be patient, it takes time, The process to investigate your concern may well take some time to make a well-informed decision. Don’t rush it. More may be going on than you can or should be aware of.
  12. Don’t expect overnight miracles. After you’ve spoken with your HR rep and the intervention (or what have you), has occurred, be patient. Be generous in allowing the time and space for improvements to be made, for people to change their behavior, for process improvements to take effect.
  13. Less is more. Don’t share every single last detail. Come with the big points, describe them succinctly, and simply say: “I have many other incidents to share with you, but I want to respect your time. Would you like me to continue down my list, or would you like for me to send you an email with the rest?” You will earn your HR rep’s appreciation. Give us the gist of what you have to say with evidence, but don’t tire with incident after incident. If you’ve reached an hour’s time, please don’t go further unless requested.
  14. Don’t expect confidentiality in all cases. If you are bringing forward a claim of legitimate harassment, your company has a legal obligation to investigate further. This means that your complaint and the person in question will have the light thrown on them and confidentiality cannot be protected.
  15. If you don’t know the process, ask for clarification. It’s totally okay and expected to ask your HR rep: “what happens next, after this meeting?” This has the dual effect of managing expectations and keeps the HR rep aware that you want to monitor what happens next, and that you’re keeping a timeline.
  16. Ask what else YOU can do. This question always wins me over. It shows that you want to take responsibility / accountability in this situation, that you want to do more, that you’re open to feedback, that you recognize there is more than you could be doing.

Good luck & if you have questions about a particular situation, talk with your HR rep, or email me.     jenleeo (at) me (dot) com

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Learning & Development: Current, Free & Fast at Your Fingertips

In ! Jen, Development, Employee Tips, General Work, Learn on Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 12:12 am

Training budgets everywhere are being cut. So make proverbial lemonade out of free resources found online. When you’re having a performance review or development planning discussion, highlight what you’re learning and how you’re planning to apply it. You’ll show you’re resourceful, keen on personal development, and savvy to know that the bulk of professional learning doesn’t happen in a formal classroom. (Well, to be fair, the bulk doesn’t happen with your nose in a book or looking at a computer either, but work with me here.)

This is a great site for knowledge junkies.

My favorites for business learning:

  1. MIT Open Courseware. Their goal? Every course, all course materials, online, for everyone. Amazing. This includes the Sloan School.
  2. TED. Short for Technology, Entertainment, Design. If this isn’t bookmarked on your computer, you should do it yesterday. Great lectures on a diversity of subjects, including plain simple inspiration for you to get started.
  3. Wall Street Journal. Tied with Wired and the Economist. If I had to choose only one paper periodical to subscribe to, it’d be the Economist.
  4. Seth Godin’s blog.
  5. Executive Board. Follow relevant tweets.
  6. Businessballs is a mishmash soup of links. You can easily get lost there, but the clickage is fun and frequently fruitful.

If your company doesn’t have free access to business periodicals like Harvard Business Review, check with your local public library–ask for EBSCO access.

Working With A Boss You Don’t Trust

In ! Jen, Careers, Change, Employee Tips, General Work on Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 3:33 am

A friend recently asked for advice on working with her manager whom she doesn’t trust. I immediately started sharing ways she could try to reestablish trust and she cut me off. Things were too far-gone, she said. She had been there, done that. Now she just needed survival advice: how could she work day-to-day with this manager she didn’t trust—someone who would never, ever, win her trust? Polling a few friends who specialize in this area, we came up with 16 ways:

  1. Start planning your exit strategy. If you feel the trust damage is irreparable, you cannot continue to work for this manager. You must start planning your graceful exit. This will: a) navigate routes for you to get out of there, and b) increase your confidence and spirits in no insignificant way. This one current job is not the alpha and omega. Most importantly, your confidence will improve when you start envisioning a better situation.
  2. Depersonalize this. To the extent that you have made a good faith effort to make this work, as you bide your time looking for another job, take your boss’s behavior less personally. It’s not you, it’s him. You’re likely not the first, and sadly, you’re likely not the last to have this experience with him.
  3. Don’t gossip. Don’t engage in any gossip about your boss. Don’t engage in any gossip with the boss. If the boss initiates—or if anyone initiates gossip about your boss, change the subject or walk away. Don’t acknowledge, agree, or disagree on whatever the deets are—just get away.
  4. Document expectations. After meetings and after key events, follow up with an email to your boss that recaps your conversation. “As we discussed earlier this afternoon, I’ll be providing you with the following deliverables by the end of the week.” This is a good practice in general, but when you’re concerned about not getting credit, or getting slammed for doing something wrong, you need to protect yourself by ensuring you understand what’s expected of you, and leaving a little paper trail to which you can refer back.
  5. Ask regularly: am I meeting your expectations? Ask this on a specific activity, project, and in general. Doing this has at least two significant advantages. First, it invites feedback that may be valuable—feedback that may or may not have been shared without your first soliciting it. Secondly, it pieces together a fuller picture of your performance. Presumably, you’ll address negative feedback straightaway, so you’ll be on a positive feedback path
  6. Focus on behaviors. Ask for examples. Get as specific as possible. Don’t focus on internal motivations or intentions. What you see and deliver is what counts right now.
  7. Get stakeholder feedback. Collect kudos from people you work with, internal customers and clients, and ensure your manager is aware of your good performance from others’ perspectives. Do this with understated elegance, however. If you slather it on, it’ll have the extreme opposite effect of being attractive information. You want to give your manager a well-informed, multiperspective picture of the value you bring to the organization.
  8. Underpromise, overdeliver. Turn it on to 11 and really shine in your performance. Don’t be a clockroach and don’t have your performance just “get by.”
  9. Don’t act like a victim. This situation is not your identity. God forbid your manager is one of those people who gets a sadistic thrill out of inflicting grief on others. But don’t hand over your power by showing your resentment or fear.
  10. Derive what you’re getting out of this. Get outside your head and try to be clinical about what you’re experiencing. It may not feel like it now, but think of your boss and working with him as being a good story you’ll tell in a future interview. The story of how you remained the consummate professional and did your best work while working with a challenging manager.
  11. Invest in your development. When your boss says “you need to work on XcompetencyX,” don’t argue the point. Find a powerful seminar that addresses that perceived deficiency, one that is known for parallel power networking. In my hometown of Chicago, we have the Executives Club and Economic Club among others, which have a solid reputation—and intimidating power player member and event attendee lists. Get there and…
  12. Network your heart out! It doesn’t matter what level or what position you are. Be prepared with at least five intelligent & relevant things to share and you can make yourself memorable. Always have business cards or personal networking cards on your person.
  13. Remember your priorities. Keep pics of your family and friends in your office/cube to remind you of what’s really important. Start a gratitude journal: simply writing what you are grateful for on a daily basis. Contribute in other ways by volunteering in your community and giving back. This job experience does not define you unless you let it.
  14. Disconnect trust and respect. You don’t have to trust your manager. You don’t have to respect your manager as a person. But you do have to respect his position, level and authority. At least until you’re out from under his management. Compartmentalize these two things and you’ll find it easier to deal with him.
  15. Report legitimate harassment. If your manager’s engaging in legitimate harassment, you must tell someone. Keep in mind, there is no legal protection from asshole behavior. However, if it is conduct of a sexually harassing nature, or legitimately harassing nature, consult with HR or the Policy Hotline, or someone internally in a position of power you trust. Approach your concern in as objective a manner as possible—your credibility is on the line, too. And keep in mind there were scads of people before you who have brought forward concerns of questionable merit. Stick to the observable facts, be prepared, and stay emotionally neutral. Hysterics, histrionic flailing and melodrama will erode your content credibility. (Sorry, just being honest.) Just give your employer a chance to correct the problem. At minimum, ask for suggestions on what you can do to help your situation. Everyone likes someone willing to take action himself.
  16. Don’t perpetuate the madness. Take from Shakespeare’s line in Romeo & Juliet: “he was as civil as an orange.” Strive to be always civil and professional. Take solace in knowing that everyone ultimately gets their comeuppance. In your next job, release the baggage of the former….get your wings stronger and fly!

2010: Expand the pie

In ! Jen, General Work, Leaders, Manager Tips on Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 5:55 am

A friend gave me an unusual compliment in 2009–that I was one of few in her circle who did not see our collective success as being zero-sum. At first this struck me as a strange thing to say, as the archetypes of “success” that immediately come to mind are indeed zero-sum: gold/silver/brass medals, one CEO per company, a finite pool of dollars within a budget, a finite number of people in total headcount.

But within and between relationships, it’s a different story. At least, it should be. Specifically, I’m thinking of three relationship categories: bona fide friendships, life partnerships, and employee/manager.

Bona fide friendships and life partnerships should be a no-brainer but I don’t think they always are in this respect. We all have people with whom we hold back a bit, cautiously second-guessing their motivations, wondering how they will use a statement out of context. Or even, keep meticulous score.

Here’s a challenge for 2010: move these people into the “colleague” or “acquaintance” column. And for those with whom you’ve chosen to be with as a life partner, or with whom you’re friends with for the long haul, expand the pie. View their successes in 2010 as desirable as your own and provide coaching and counsel to help them. If you can’t do this, it may be worthwhile to honestly reexamine your own motivations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

A dear girlfriend shared with me a story of consultants–differentiating, via story, between eggs & bacon. With eggs, the chicken is an involved party–but with bacon, the pig’s ultimately committed–it has skin in the game, so to speak. Be the pig.

And what of managers? Ah, here’s where I expect I may get some pushback. To the extent to which Employee X is reporting to Manager Z, I posit that Z should be engaging in this same type of relationship behavior. Z should be pushing, coaching, counseling X to achieve his best. Z should be seeing her success as contingent upon X’s. And vice versa. What does this look like? I could go on literally, forever, but here are 16 things managers can do to show that they see their success and their employees’ as shared–not zero sum:

1. Support your employee if/when they want to move on to another position. Managers who lack confidence often see their employees’ desire to wander to other pastures as disloyalty or a diss on themselves. Find out their reasons for wanting the other position and offer your support. And concurrently, seek ways to enrich their job with you.

2. Don’t stay away. This is the best thing I took away from a valuable two-day coaching workshop. One of the rules of attraction they talk about in social psych 101 is propinquity, or nearness and frequency of exposure. Managers can use this to their advantage. Stop by in the morning to say hi, asking about the weekend, or sharing a fun piece of information about a department win. This can create comfort in familiarity and an openness that will be reciprocated.

3. Take time to get to know your employee on a personal level. Get invested. Most importantly, care. This, I believe, is the huge differentiator between managers who “get it” and managers who don’t. This is one, however, that can’t be faked.

4-16. Coming in a future post. This one is getting too long. In the meantime, please comment and let us know how you show you’re wholeheartedly invested in your relationships.

16 Ways to Make Meetings Tolerable

In ! Jen, General Work on Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 1:11 am

Generally speaking, I don’t mind attending meetings. I always bring a notebook and pen, so even if the meeting is wickedly dreadful, I daydream ways to build a better mousetrap, make anagrams of attendees’ names, and the like. But if you’re on the facilitating end, here are some tips to encourage people to refrain from such amusements.

1. Cardinal rule of meetings: if you tell them you will bring food and bring food, they will come.

2. Meet in the smallest meeting room that will comfortably accommodate your participants + 10%. Obviously, this will require some significant forethought, because it’s much easier to get the biggest room possible to accommodate everybody. My experience has been that the better-fitting the room, the more people participate and stay engaged. Too tight and it’s claustrophobic. Too big and it’s anonymizing. Way too cavernous and you’re encouraging sideline conversations. You want to be ready for Goldilocks.

3. Send out the agenda ahead of time. My company has a tidy standardized meeting agenda form, but even a short bulleted list does the job. Start your meeting with a reminder of your goal(s) for the meeting and key items on the agenda.

4. Ensure that the people you’re inviting really do need to be there. If it’s more informational for them, be clear on the group invite/agenda that this meeting is informational for them. They will appreciate this. If they can simply glean or learn what they need from the meeting notes, so be it. Treat people like intelligent adults.

5. Bring in the light. There’s a lot to be said for natural lighting. Bright trumps dark for holding attention.

6. If you’re the assigned facilitator don’t also be the one taking notes. You should be focused on facilitating. Ask someone else to take notes.

7. Assign action steps to participant(s) at the meeting. Stay away from having to follow up offline with action items. There’s a better chance it won’t get done, if it doesn’t get explicit accountability assigned at the meeting.

8. Don’t prolong an item into the next meeting if you can help it. If you’re running out of time, better to hold over an entire subject for the next meeting than have to do it halfway. Because at the next meeting, you will spend time discussing what was partially discussed in the last meeting, and then have to pick up to move forward. This can take more time than just starting anew.

9. The sooner other voices are heard, the better the engagement levels will be. Push discussion items up early, if possible. There is better energy in a room when people hear their own voice and can feel they are participating in the discussion.

10. Nix your own blackberry and other distractors. If you even peek at your own phone, that gives implied permission for everyone else to sneak a peek, too.

11. Call out non-agenda items and put them in a parking lot. This involves little more than making a list on a separate sheet, for future discussion.

12. To reinforce points, add a participatory element if possible. I was recently at a meeting where a colleague shared changes to a policy. Excruciatingly boring subject, really. Then came the creative twist. After briefly covering the basics, her slides morphed into a game show format, quizzing our knowledge of the policy usage. Brilliant. And she brought candy prizes for first respondents, to boot.

13. Thank people for coming.

14. End on time, or aim to end 5 minutes earlier than scheduled.

15. Send out minutes or notes within 24 hours. Obviously, this is idealistic vs realistic. But the sooner, the better.

16. This suggestion probably should have been first, but consider if there are better ways of addressing the issues than having the meeting in the first place. Is a meeting truly the best format for what you’re trying to accomplish? I’m convinced if we had to sum the $ cost of every participant’s hour of time, nonessential meetings would not occur.

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