This is the time of year that predictions are made and data is shared about what the strategic and operational goals are for the upcoming year. Although management firms spend an inordinate amount of time and money collecting this data all year long for these much-coveted reports, there is rarely anything earth-shattering about what CEO’s, business leaders or professionals have to say about where their focus will be in the new year. The usual banter will be about increasing engagement, improving candidate experience, technology, finding the best talent etc. As you can see, nothing really shocking.
However, 2017 has been illuminating. I wanted to say “different”, but that would mean that what I am about to share is new as of this year and it isn’t. In fact, what I will share is the result of something somewhere in the archives of time that started off as a snowball and is now an avalanche of end-of-the-world proportions crushing souls and careers to boot. This thing I speak of is the erosion of integrity and values in business.
2017 is the first year in my existence where just about every month there has been some company, company head or public figure who has come under scrutiny for either illegal or unethical practices. There have been so many “sorry’s” and “apologies flung around this year that it is becoming nauseating and unbelievable. The travesty in it all is that people who knew that all of this unethical and illegal behavior was the very thing that contributed to the fame, fortune and prestige always knew the things we see playing out. They were just waiting and hoping that the rest of the world would see it someday. So what has changed this year? For the first time ever and for reasons unknown to me, people were willing to believe the stories otherwise known over the years as individual gripes, “crazy talk”, imaginary happenings, urban legends and conspiracy theory this year. Suddenly, what was always in the shadows and dark got its much-deserved light via social media, blogs, livestreams, and a lot of bravery on the part of people who chose to break their silence.
In a lot of ways, this year has been one huge coming-out party and not in a good way. Whether it is our government and the corruption of the day or the growing list of sexual harassment and assault charges following the Harvey Weinstein debacle, it has not been a good year for US companies and more specifically humans as a whole. The latest debacle is set at Huffington Post. According to an article published yesterday by Gizmodo, Arianna Huffington ignored sexual harassment claims made by workers in her New York office while she was still running the company. The article goes on to state that one such former managing editor whose sexual misconduct was known to her also garnered a transfer to HuffPost India as a result of an HR investigation. How an investigation that leads to the proof that an employee of yours is engaging in sexual misconduct doesn’t result in a termination is beyond me.
Without diving too deep into this particular story, I prefer to examine the over-arching narrative of CEO’s and leaders, in general, both men and women who consistently overlook, engage in, and embrace unethical and illegal practices as a means to secure opportunities, line their pockets and the pockets of their shareholders and investors. I would be lying if I said I had never encountered leaders or employees behaving unethically who somehow managed to keep their jobs, lives, and lifestyles intact. It has disgusted me. I often spoke up about it only to be met with “Well you know it is John Bae. Yes, he is a jerk and misogynist, but he brings in a shit ton of money for the company, so we have to tread lightly”.
Frankly, I am glad 2017 raised a proverbial mirror to all of the things that make us suck at being human. Now, that we all know and finally see what we all knew was commonplace in business how do we move forward in trust? Can “building trust within my organization” really be on your scorecard when your foundation has been flooded with the truth and is now crumbling as a result? Can you genuinely accept that accolade for best company for women when you have investigations sitting on your desk overlooked and predators collecting checks on your dime? Can you really call your company culture “diverse and inclusive” if you secretly donate operating budget to the KKK or 45’s ongoing campaign? Note: “Diverse” and “inclusive” is maybe not appropriate if the latter applies.
Suddenly, no company, CEO or person is safe from the truth. Your money, prestige, and power are on a timer and the time is nearly up. The only thing leaders should be thinking about going into 2018 is integrity. I’m not sure where along the journey, so many decided that money trumped having values, meant destroying lives and doing it with a smile. Now is a time to ask your employees to blow the whistle internally before the public has its way with you and your brand. It is time, to be honest, and say sorry because you mean it. It is a good time to make amends and provide whatever you must to make it right with the people who show up daily to impact your bottom line.
Everybody needs to take one long hot shower to wash the filth of 2017 and before off and start anew in 2018 with a focus on treating employees, customers, and citizens of this world with the dignity they deserve as a matter of being a fellow human. It may cost you revenue. You may piss off your board of directors and investors, but isn’t it time for “good” to make a comeback?
For some starter tips on cleaning house, revisit an Aristocracy of HR throwback: The Untouchables: Why you should stop salvaging bad employees at every level.
Image courtesy of Flickr.
Two years ago, I wrote an article about things I needed CHRO’s to know about what the organization needs from them. I wanted them to know what kind of leaders their employees deserve. I find myself wanting to have this discussion again after yet another anecdote about an ill-equipped CHRO.
I have often heard that leaders don’t need to be knowledgeable in every facet of their employees’ work to be effective. That may well be true in some scenarios. However, it is my belief that time spent in the trenches is valuable not only for the purpose of understanding what your employees go through – but also so you bring something other than a title to the table when you are called to it.
Some of the best leaders I have known have worked their way from the bottom to the C-Suite. I also know people that haven’t held every role on their way to the top, but are relentless about rolling up their sleeves and keeping themselves current on all things HR. As a business owner, I know what I know and I know what I don’t know. As such, I seek out the people and resources that are needed to help me execute my tasks and business goals. I may not be an expert in everything, but I am willing to learn and/or I research what I don’t know so I can have an intelligent conversation about the work that needs to be done.
Here’s a thought…
Don’t become a leader , if you choose to be a figurehead rather than a team member. The world can use less people who look the part versus fitting the part. Personally, I have had enough of watching people in the C-Suite sitting in meetings and town halls completely oblivious to what is going on in their organizations. It isn’t becoming to not understand the basic tenets of your niche – when it is that very expertise that you got you hired for the job in the first place. It is equally uncool to take credit for your teams knowledge and expertise.
Experts often say you shouldn’t be working in your business day-to-day as a CEO. I both agree and disagree with this sentiment. I know that going forward I will need to delegate work so I can work on business development and other aspects of my business. Conversely, I have been all things in my business out of both necessity and utility. I now know what has to be done in all aspects of my business and how it should be done. It would be impossible for me to provide the proper direction and vision to a future employee – without having experienced being in their shoes.
Additionally, if my team members bring something new or innovative to my work that was previously overlooked by me, I have a duty to give them the credit for their effort and ideas. Being a knowledge-poacher is not only disingenuous, it is a morale killer.
Put yourself in the place of one of your employees for a second. Think about how exhilarating it is to think you have come up with a solution to an issue or to know that you created a unique program or initiative. Imagine the pride you would feel as an employee to hand the deliverable off to a manager or leader realizing its potential for recognition by the right people – only to have said leader take credit for your work. How would you feel?
As a leader, you don’t have to know it all or be everything to everyone. You do have a duty to ensure that your employees efforts and great ideas are recognized. You are not less of a leader, because your employees excel at things you don’t. If you are a knowledge-poaching leader take a good, long look at yourself. Heed the following warnings because this is your plight:
1) Employees who are victims of knowledge-poaching leaders eventually move on to greener pastures where their talent can not be hidden (I am proof of this). This likely means high turnover for your organization.
2) When the victims of your poaching do move on, everything will eventually crumble around you. It only takes that one key employee to leave for the weakest links to be exposed. This run of hiding behind other people’s talent never lasts indefinitely.
3) Your poaching affects all of your employees whether they are the ones being poached or not. In the case of one of my colleagues, he questions the ethical, moral, and organizational ramifications of not speaking-up in defense of a co-worker whose knowledge, expertise and efforts are being poached.
True leaders aren’t insecure because their teams are strong. They celebrate the strength of the team with pride and acknowledgement.
Don’t be a knowledge-poaching leader!
Image courtesy of Flickr.
I have just recently gotten into House of Cards. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it as much as I do, but I am. As I have shared with my friends, it is filthy goodness. I’m on season 2 and if I’m honest – each new episode ignites a greater disdain within me for politics. You may be thinking it’s just a show- but I will wager that sometimes art imitates life.
Watching The Underwoods and all of the other gremlins in this
fantasy world Washington D.C. has reminded me of my own run-ins with politics at work. Let me be abundantly clear, I hate politics with a passion. I’m a straight-shooter and I call things how I see them. I never understood why I needed to be “fake friends” or put on appearances with people to get something I needed to do my job.
“Be a little more flexible, Janine.” “Don’t get into any disagreements with hiring manager Joe, just do what they want.” “You need to increase the amount of accounts you lunch per week.” “Making this claim will not bode well for your career.” This is just a short-list of politically-motivated demands made to me over the course of my career.
Every time I was faced with a new demand, my message was the same. Don’t bring your politics around me. Now, I’m not insinuating that some situations don’t require more diplomacy and/or the ability to negotiate. However, I take issue when every decision, meeting, or new initiative feels like I need a war plan and armory to prevent my own demise.
The Un-Political Worker
I am flexible when the situation warrants it. I refuse to be fearful about what I can and cannot say when I am charged to work towards a solution with internal and external customers. It feels dirty to wine and dine people who you know are terrible for business; but you do it because their dollars and coins account for a substantial amount of business. Moreover, don’t threaten my career with a smirk and seemingly pleasant epithets that I have to decode later – only to find out you are out to get me.
Newsflash: most workers want to come to work and do what you ask of them. Here are some things you need to know about the un-political worker:
- We care about the mission and vision. We don’t care about agendas. Your mission and vision help to provide clarity around the purpose of your staff’s work. It is your “why” and their “why”. It is a global narrative for why the business exists in the first place. Agendas are personal and based on self-interest. They aren’t usually clear, because they aren’t rooted in following procedure or moral steps.
- Colleges and Universities don’t teach the art of manipulation. There’s no rule book in political environments. Actually, let me rephrase that. There are written rules to please the masses and then there are the unspoken rules that get made up as you go along. Your employees aren’t interested in having to be manipulative in every situation. In fact, many of them were never formally trained in this skill. Stop insisting that they add this to their professional repertoire.
- Your employees don’t care about politics. You hired them to do a job and they can do it. Recognize that politics in the workplace is a system. It’s a system you created based on your agendas and what best serves the financial, professional and business interests of a certain group of people. Rarely, do the politics in the business serve all of your employees. I have never worked somewhere when I suddenly realized: “Wow, the politics in this organization have really boosted my career and put me at the top of my game.”
It is often said in House of Cards, that there are winners and losers in politics. That is certainly true. The thing is, I don’t want any casualties in my business. I want everyone who puts in the work and effort to win. I think most employees would prefer those cards over your messy politics.
Image courtesy for Stock Images For Free.com
This is a real-talk forum. I’m not about to list leadership competencies or some empirical data I happened upon in my latest internet search on where CHRO’s and leaders in general go wrong.
As a CHRO, you are the figurehead and face of Human Resources. The success and failure of HR’s programs and initiatives rest on your shoulders. The obvious strategy ( assuming you still need to assert the value of HR in the organization) is to align at the top and do whatever they ask of you- even if it undermines the very essence of what HR contributes to the organization. It takes a vision, business savvy, strategy, and the ability to advocate and raise the important issues/discussions around employing people. According to some, marketing and/or financial types are just a few of the professionals being touted as the better choices for HR leadership and even at the staff level. The fact is I don’t care if you put someone with 20+ years of HR experience or 20+ years in Marketing- the central point is you better know people, the challenges of the business and the opportunities that are inherent in investing in talent. HR has always been a field that welcomed professionals from non-traditional backgrounds, so professionals in different fields outside of HR as HR leaders or professionals isn’t exactly groundbreaking.
When people join your organization they are in effect putting their faith in you and the possibilities that may or may not exist within your company. Essentially, they are entrusting you with their livelihoods. The hope is that they can make a decent living, enjoy the work they do and grow. The growth doesn’t necessarily have to mean promotions, but just the ability to continue to learn and grow in the way that is most meaningful for them professionally.
Newsflash– there are few people currently employed purely out of the love of working. Your employees are humans. They have families, problems, debts, health concerns, marital concerns etc. Your job as a leader of HR isn’t to be their psychologist, financial advisor or angel investor. However, it would help if you saw your employees, I mean really saw your employees in the context of being human beings with needs, wants and complex circumstances.
If you can see them through this varied lens, you may be moved to also see them as an investment. If you see them as an investment you might also be moved to do some of the following:
1) Get to know your people. How can you invest in something you know nothing about? Take the time to get to know the people behind your company. Say hello, shake a hand, know them by name where possible. It all makes a difference in how they see you.
2) Now that you have gotten to know your employees- it’s time to be honest. Be honest about work conditions, raises or lack thereof, your plans for the future. Somewhere along the line we have learned to treat employees like children withholding information and disseminating it as it suits your interests. Know that the omission of facts that affect your employees are seen as deliberate and underhanded.
3) Now that you know them and you are being honest. Good job! Put your money where your mouth is. Invest in your employees. There is nothing in this world that allows for us to receive something for nothing. Where are the programs aimed to develop, train, compensate, re-recruit, and allow flexibility where possible to retain your employees?
Some more questions…
How are you prioritizing your efforts? What’s the strategy? Pleasing the C-Suite is important and there’s no doubt that your decisions will not always be in the best interest of the employees. However, what if you tried to do the absolute best you could by your employees? What if- the key to keeping the C-Suite happy was to ensure that the employees were happy and productive. Isn’t that what you were hired to do?
That was a lot of questions, but these are all of the questions you should be asking yourself as a CHRO. HR has the unfortunate plight of having to walk a fine line between competing interests, people, obligations to the business and legal matters. That said, you are the consummate middle man leader. You cannot be so aligned to the top that you lose sight of the very element that keeps you employed- the people.
Are you a CHRO putting your talent first and impacting business strategy through dynamic employee-centered programs? Share your story.