The Challenge of Empathy

Before I get to my story, a quote from a 2017 Forbes article titled: “How Empathetic Are You, Really?”. On empathy, the author Liz Guthridge says:

“Being empathetic is similar to cooking. You may know the recipe for how to prepare empathy. But until you actually use the recipe a few times, taste the results, see how everyone reacts and adjust the recipe, you and your guests don’t know how satisfying and nourishing your efforts will be.”

Empathy continues to be a challenge in life and at work. For most people, empathy has conditions and limits. It goes something like this, “if I agree with what you are saying and how you say it pleases me; I will support the breathe with which you are speaking your truth”. If by chance, you share something that fundamentally debunks a point of view or has earth-shattering ramifications for a particular position someone holds, empathy is (more often than not) enqueue to meet an imminent death.

I have both written and spoken about some thorny subjects in the past year. I knew going into it that there would be people who praised me for my bravery and others who would chastise me for sharing my truth. When I speak up on issues, topics or instances that matter to me it is just that — it matters to me. That I have something to say about matters of societal and economic importance as someone who also happens to be an HR professional should not rub people the wrong way in 2018. Working in any industry (and more importantly HR) is not an opportunity to operate as if dumb, deaf and blind nor is it a sentence for being mute when it matters most.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at Connections 2018, an annual user-centered event curated by Ultimate Software designed to engage, enlighten and empower their user community.  During my Women in Leadership panel, there were two women who questioned why a white man was moderating my panel and moreover why most of the event’s speakers were white males. Admittedly, it was an awkward moment and not one we had solved for in our discussions about managing questions as a panel. A part of me was overjoyed that someone saw the obvious inequity of the panel. The other part of me felt sorry for my moderator, Jason Lauritsen who I personally chose to be the moderator and is someone who I do believe is inherently good despite the gender and race he belongs to. Time stood still, but something had to be said.

Empathy in motion…

I shared the truth and posed a question. I shared that I had been asked to moderate and asked the two women how that made them feel? They perked up and said that would have been much better. In response, I said: “Really? Not for me. Why should I moderate a panel of all white women in 2018?” To which an Asian woman yelled out: “What is wrong with that?”. What I shared with the group is that I wanted the ability to speak my truth as a panelist, not as someone on the periphery of the discussion. I went for what I wanted and chose Jason as a moderator because I admire him as a person and because we cannot exclude men from the discussion of how women are treated in society and in the workplace.

I have my views and strong ones at that. Nonetheless, my views are always rooted in experiences and fact and never devoid of the ability to see how it may affect another human. My panel could have been one big feminist party where we talked about how the patriarchy needs to die and how Ultimate got their programming wrong and how patronizing it must be for me to be the only black woman on the panel. What would have been accomplished by this? Isn’t this part of the problem and what we have always done?

That question was a twist of fate that I ultimately thanked those two women for. It opened us all up to have a more authentic conversation than was possible with my carefully-curated script of questions. We moved on to share openly and listen to one another’s experiences. From that moment on, we weren’t just listening we were feeling every word uttered in that room. Isn’t that the hope and prayer for empathy and also the challenge in exercising it?

The truth we all need to embrace and settle with is we are all right and all wrong at the same time. Life is a continuous cycle of contradictions. For every view you hold, there is at least one instance to debunk the position you hold. Even in a world of contradictions, it still means that what I experience is true for me. My experiences and knowledge of the world cannot be diminished or diluted. You can challenge it, but it cannot be dismissed as a data point. Dismissal is the typical reaction to hearing things we don’t want to accept. Empathy means that even if your individual or collective truths tell you that anything I say is bogus it warrants further investigation or at a minimum your heartfelt consideration if you can muster it.

People are not naturally wired to say or do what is convenient for others to feel good about a situation. This is also a part of the problem we have at the moment. Stop looking for convenient truths and answers to serve your agenda. Instead, ask yourself if what you hear, see or read could have the slightest possibility of being true. If your answer is “yes” (and it should because anything is possible), then it requires extra effort to understand on your part.

We are recalibrating as a human race which means an industry founded upon human relations should be doing the same. I challenge professionals everywhere to do the following:

1) Say less. People are finding their voices again and feeling more and more empowered to speak out. This is not the time for you to debate them and take up space. Instead, say less and hold space for the most vulnerable in our workplaces and society to share their truths.

2) Stay curiousSome of you grew up in towns of 1000 with not a dose of cultural or ethnic difference to color your world, yet others of us have grown up in complex environments with a myriad of influences. In both regards, there is a need for more curiosity, fewer assumptions, less convenient truths and judgments. Be open to learning a new perspective.

3) Exercise your empathy muscles. The road to becoming more empathetic is not linear. You will fail, you will be awkward, you will resist it at times. Still, you ought to try to be more empathetic and willing to endure all of that at the same time. I know it is a tall order, but what if it could shift budding interactions with people you admire or help someone you love feel more heard and understood? Trust me it is worth it.

For the livestream of my Women in Leadership panel click the link below:

Connections 2018 Women in Leadership Panel

Here is Jason’s account of the Women in Leadership Panel and lessons learned:

Gender at Work

May we all rise to the challenge of exercising more empathy.

S.H.E. Summit Recap: Succeeding on Your Own Terms

Courtesy of S.H.E. Summit

Courtesy of S.H.E. Summit

I had the privilege of attending S.H.E. Summit two weekends ago as press. My attendance at the event was the culmination of a two-year promise I made to myself to get there. I stumbled upon this event a few years ago while on Twitter. I saw the hashtag trending and it immediately peaked my interest. I started reading all of the goodness on the hashtag which lead me to Claudia Chan’s website and from there I was hooked.

I have been to quite a few conferences over the years – each of them with a different mashup of pros and cons. Here’s what I appreciated about S.H.E. Summit:

1) The speakers were relatable. Each speaker shared their stories honestly and ended with sincere calls-to-action that spoke to their dedication to seeing all women thrive. Part of what energizes attendees to take action with any information acquired from your event is: Their ability to see themselves in the speakers and/or the stories being told.

2) They didn’t miss the opportunity to include men in the discussion. From the men who attended as a attendees to those who graced the stage, there was an important dialogue at S.H.E. Summit around how the empowerment and progression of women is affecting men. This is a conversation that is usually scoffed at by hardcore feminists, but I appreciated the difference in perspective.

3) Their programming was designed to address the whole woman, not just parts. When have you ever gone to a conference where you can get professional inspiration while finding out that there is underwear that exists to eliminate the god-awful maxi pad all women have to endure during that time of the month? Yes, this happened. We had the privilege of hearing from dynamic founder and serial entrepreneur Miki Agrawal of Thinx, Period Panties ( sorry not sorry, guys). Miki has created panties that are powered by technology that allows women to ditch the pad. Not only were there unanimous gasps in the room by the women in attendance, but we were all so captivated by her charge to remove the shame that is often synonymous with menstrual cycles for women around the world.

Miki wasn’t the only captivating voice that day. We also had the pleasure of being introduced to Tiffany Dufu, Author of Drop The Ball ( due to be released in Feb. 2017). Tiffany spoke to me personally because she shared her story of striving to be a perfect mom. She called her particular condition “Home Control Disease” (HCD). HCD is a condition that she defines as “having the need to have everything done a certain way – her way”. After her attempts at perfection failed her consistently, she started to redefine what success looked like.

For Tiffany, success boiled down to these three things:

1) Having a purposeful career

2) Cultivating a juicy partnership

3) Leading a healthy lifestyle.

With a new definition of success and letting go of perfection, she decided that it was okay to “drop the ball”. This meant that she would forgive herself if she missed responding to birthday party invites. It also meant that, she only manages what she can and lives with the imperfection of everything else. This is something I personally grapple with as I try feverishly to manage my three children, wife duties and my business.

Although I well know that I’m not alone in my mommypreneur plight, it was reassuring to know that it was okay to “drop the ball” if it means more peace and less pressure in my life.

Claudia Chan, Founder of S.H.E. Summit

Claudia Chan, Founder of S.H.E. Summit

If these two ladies weren’t enough to whip us in shape, we got hit over the head with the “Women & Money: Why We Struggle in the Relationship & Practical Steps to Financial Empowerment” panel. This panel encompassed Judy Dougherty, VP and Head of Strategic Initiatives at Prudential, Deborah Owens of Owens Media Group, Lisa Nichols, CEO of Motivating the Masses, Silvia Tergas, Financial Planner at Prudential and was moderated by S.H.E. Summit Founder, Claudia Chan. Their message to us was to not leave our financial futures up to chance. What I appreciated about the discussion was that it talked about the difference between wealth versus income. Deborah Owens of Owens Media Group cited that “wealth is an inside job”.

Typically when we hear about acquiring wealth, it is spoken about as something tangible that we can go out and conquer. It was refreshing to hear them encourage us to do the internal work first so we know how to sustain and build upon the income when it comes.

As you can tell, S.H.E. Summit was chock full of inspiration and activation to get you moving towards chasing your dreams. My overall takeaway was: Success should be defined individually. Much of the pressure and shame women and men feel around how well they are doing in life stems from very general definitions of success that are rooted in how much money you have in your bank account or the items in your closet. Walking away from the S.H.E. Summit I felt empowered to help the women in my life and my clients to redefine success on their own terms. When you are focused on the things that are important to you and you are actively taking steps to achieve your goals – you are indeed a success.

I was a Snapchat and Instagram beast that day. Check out some of the highlights of my day below:




#SHRM15 Recap: Do More Than “Thrive” HR, Execute!

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I had the pleasure of attending SHRM National last week in Las Vegas, Nevada as a member of the blogger team. I found this year’s theme to be interesting. They chose: “thrive”. To set the stage for what I’m about to say, let’s examine the meaning of “thrive” by definition. Thrive means: “to grow, develop or flourish”. When I think of this in the context of HR, I take this year’s theme to mean that: HR must no longer just exist, but grow, develop and flourish as it seeks to be a key authority on the management of people.

There were no shortage of sessions geared towards helping HR achieve just that. Starting with Marcus Buckingham’s keynote, his talk was all about how most of our processes are flawed in HR. For instance, Performance Management is a flawed HR process. Let’s start with the fact that we conduct reviews once a year and couple that with the forced ratings and curves we impose on our employees. Marcus shares that this method not only does a disservice to the employee, but “says much more about the rater than the person being rated”. Additionally, the flawed data that results from those reviews leads to flawed decision-making which will inevitably hurt your retention efforts. I noticed a lot of people nodding their heads in concurrence with what Marcus was saying. However, the bigger question isn’t do we as HR practitioners concur, but what are we going to do about it?

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The overall message from his talk was: Recognize the inherent flaws that exist when a human being is put in a position to manage and even evaluate another person’s work. Moreover, there needs to be a focus on a person’s strengths rather than their flaws. Performance Management as it stands is geared towards finding flaws in work behavior and tailoring performance improvement around those deficits. The baseline for improvement should come from an examination of strengths first not deficits.

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The next session I attended was with Gregg Tate, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Adidas. His talk was all about Adidas’s “New Way Of Work” concept. Adidas is already planning for 2020. During two separate instances at  SHRM National,  I shared with IBM that part of what HR suffers from when it comes to strategy is being bogged down in the details and fires of the day. I am 100% comfortable saying that the average Talent Acquisition group is so busy filling requisitions, managing hires, and chasing hiring managers that they have very little time to plan for the next year let alone five years from now. It’s not a matter of whether they have the interest in workforce planning- they do. The issue is: tactics. If you are so preoccupied with the present that you can never get beyond the present day’s struggles- you will find it hard to achieve what Adidas is proposing. Nevertheless, Adidas has a clear vision for how they plan to manage their people over the next five years and it is as follows:

1) Provide meaningful reasons for people to join their company and stay.

2) Deploy role models that inspire.

3) Bring forward fresh and diverse perspectives.

4) Create an organizational climate that empowers employees to make a difference.

If this sounds like pie-in-the-sky, I will respectfully disagree and remind you that engagement is stagnant as SHRM speaker Richard Finnegan pointed out in a private blogger briefing. I will also share one of my favorite quotes of the conference from Gregg Tate at Adidas which is : “The War for Talent is over. The talent won.” You have heard from me before about why I think the whole “war on talent” thing is employer propaganda. If you don’t believe that “meaningful work experiences” and “role models” make a difference I challenge you to conduct a very unscientific survey of your people by asking them if they feel their current job has a purpose and/or meaning. Whether they answer “yes” or “no”, it provides you with a window of opportunity to ask them about what does or would provide meaning or purpose in their current positions. If they can answer that question without further probing you are on the right track. If enough of them cannot answer that question easily, you may have a workforce in need of one or more of the four pillars to Adidas’s New Way Of Work concept or perhaps something else.

It is clear that success for HR is grounded in our ability to adapt to the rapid change and innovation we are seeing. Additionally, we need to be able to evolve with the times creating processes and procedures only where needed. More importantly, our call-to-action is to ensure that the right people continue to walk through the door and can be retained. One of the key ways that HR can try to ensure  retention is through “stay interviews”. Richard Finnegan, CEO of C-Suite Analytics  says: “we need to stop conducting exit interviews and start implementing regular stay interviews” to get a head start on retention in your organization. He suggests that new hires be debriefed twice within the first year so we can deal with any concerns or issues they have  before they begin thinking about an exit strategy. Mr. Finnegan also shared that the immediate supervisors of employees should be held accountable to conduct these stay interviews.

This was one of many instances at the conference where there was an emphasis on line management accountability. HR may have oversight over stay interviews as a process, but would lose any direct governance over administering it. Who knows or should know their people better than the line manager? This marks an important shift in HR governance whereby we will likely have to start delegating some of the duties that we have traditionally handled to the departments. Does it make us obsolete to do so- not really? After working with hiring managers for years, I am certain they don’t want all of our burdens.

SHRM is correct. We need to continue to grow, and flourish as a profession, Part of the growing up and flourishing is grounded in discomfort. This discomfort is the sweet spot where we get out of the mindset and practice of doing what we have always done and start challenging the status quo. We have to execute. There was more than enough data to support the need for us to raise the stakes in our organizations. If it doesn’t work, change it. If people are unhappy, find out why. If productivity is suffering, have a conversation. We can no longer afford to sit idly by while society and work progresses beyond our grasps. Managing people is what we do; now all we have to do is own it.

Thanks to SHRM for a great conference and thought-provoking speakers. We now have more than enough food-for-thought to power us through the remainder of 2015 and into 2016.


“Ask Czarina” The #SHRM15 Edition

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Hey HR Aristocrats! On Sunday, I will be travelling to Las Vegas as a member of the 2015 SHRM National Blogger Team. It is my first time visiting Vegas and I am beyond excited. There will be a lot going on in my corner. I want to get you caught up, so you know where you can find me and what to expect.

The first thing you should know is: I will be one of the panelists on the Building a #SmarterWorkforce Twitter Chat sponsored by IBM on Monday, 6/29 from 11am-12pm PST/2pm-3pm EST. The topic is: The Future of Work. Brian Moran of Brian Moran & Associates will be hosting it and I will be sharing insights along with my co-panelist, Mike Haberman of OmegaHR Solutions. Mark your calendar and join us!

Image courtesy of Purematter.

Image courtesy of Purematter.

The second thing you should know is:

I will be dusting off the #czarinatravels hashtag. Follow the hashtag to see food, random musings and sights as I make my way to Vegas. In addition, I have taken the plunge and I am now on Periscope. Follow me @CzarinaofHR to view my pop-up live streams. It is unlikely that the bloggers will be cleared to stream sessions (although we have asked). I will keep you posted if this changes.

Check out my latest vlog below from The Aristocracy of HR You Tube Channel for more #SHRM15 nuggets. If you plan on being in Vegas, let’s connect. If you are a part of the #notatshrm15 crew don’t fret- I will make sure you feel like you are there.

See you in Vegas!

Occupy The Table: Your Buzzwords are Buzzkill!

I was interviewed by a company for a series they were putting together for employers that are looking to attract and retain entry-level candidates. The interview went great and I think I delivered what they expected. However, the interviewer made an interesting comment as I was answering her questions. What she said didn’t surprise me but it did confirm some things I’ve been thinking regarding the usage of buzzwords.

Her comment was ” wow, this is great information- this is what we have been looking for- someone who speaks in plain english rather than using buzzwords.” Of course, flattery will get you every where with me, but clearly she has been searching for someone to tell it like it is without every other word being a buzzword.

In HR, the buzzwords of the moment are “agile” “big data” “thought leader”, “strategic”, “authentic”, “transparency” “human capital” and of course there is your usual dosage of  “the seat at the table” talk. There is no question that using buzzwords is addictive. It is in our nature to want to dress up a word so that it sounds-well, more interesting. I have never been an addict of using buzzwords, but I’d be lying if I said I have’nt used them to explain a concept or just for the fun of it. It requires effort to be conscious of what you say and how you say it.

Please don’t kill my vibe- you say?

Based on my conversation with this interviewer, all of you “experts” and “gurus” with your fancy HR language are buzzkill. Yes, I said it- you.are.buzzkill. All of your big data and HR analytics talk that can solve all business issues and increase its agility so in turn, they can finally achieve that coveted seat at the table-is not as welcomed as you may think.

There is nothing wrong with being a conqueror of new HR territory, but do yourself a favor and keep it simple. I don’t mean dumb down your concepts, but I do mean that you need to make sure that the everyday HR practitioner gets what you’re talking about. Oh, and please do not tell me that those aren’t the people you are trying to reach, because if not them who are you speaking to? Who are you convincing to buy-in to your out-of-this-universe concepts and buzzwords? Is it business leaders? Not a chance in hell. You need to resonate with the everyday HR practitioner working in the trenches.

One of my professors in college always said ” a paper written in plain language with the proper grammatical and contextual effects is the most effective paper.” “Papers with floral language and terms that appear over the writer’s head is hardly effective and may even appear as ignorance over intelligence.”

There’s no question that HR has to evolve as the needs of our business partners become more complex and diverse. However, that factor is no reason to further alienate them from the discipline of HR by creating terms, methodology, and concepts that are too difficult to understand.

My interview was successful because I answered her questions in plain language and with practical advice and insights as to how her clients can employ my tips. Instead of saying businesses need to become “agile”, I may have said business leaders need to be able to act and think decisively in order to remain competitive. When I speak about all of the information/data we have available to us regarding the business, I speak about the ways we can make the most out of all of this information and utilizing only the information that makes the most sense for your business. Isn’t that much better than throwing around “big data” every other sentence?

There are HR departments that still don’t know how to properly interpret “time-to-fill” or “cost of hire” reports. That is small data- so they aren’t close to being ready for big data. Are they behind the times? Perhaps, but if business is thriving without big data and the HR department is doing what make sense for that business- none of this high-level talk will ever resonate with them.

For those heading to Orlando for SHRM’s Annual Conference as a speaker or social media influencer, keep in mind that usage of “flavor-of-the-day” buzzwords is impractical. People are spending good money to learn and possibly take some useful HR nuggets home. Do your best not to disappoint them.

Are you ready for a new strategy or way of thinking about how you approach HR? I speak HR and have the tools you need in plain language. Contact me.


LASHRM 2014 Snippet: Don’t Talk About Diversity-Show Me Diversity

In just a few days, I will descend upon Baton Rouge, Louisiana as a speaker for the Louisiana SHRM State Conference.  My session is entitled: Get Real About Your Good Faith Efforts- What The OFCCP Really Expects From Employers. Some of the most significant changes in OFCCP guidance will take place this year. Federal contractors everywhere are frantically watching every webinar, attending every breakfast meeting and are quite handsomely paying employment lawyers to help them comply with the new regulations.

I could have addressed the new regulations and spelled them out in plain English to the best of my ability, but you all know by now I don’t do the status quo.

My hope for this session is much bigger and broader.

Yes, the new regulations are onerous, but have you asked yourself why? I have heard so many practitioners carrying on about how these new regulations are not achievable and how the federal money they receive in return may or may not be worth the hassle for what the government wants from us.

Newsflash: There is a rich history of how all of these regulations came to be. Each of them delegated out as executive orders by the presidents of the time due mostly to the injustices being experienced by women and minorities in the workforce. These new regulations- are yet another instance where regulation was needed to decrease the numbers of differently-abled and veteran applicants that have recently been discounted, ignored or outcast by employers in recent years.

It amazes me- that until now, most federal contractors and even regular companies slap an EEO tagline on their website and put up a few stock photos of an Asian, African-American , someone in a wheelchair etc. all for the value of giving the appearance that they value diversity. I say if you truly value diversity, let me see your C-suite makeup.  Let me see your employee ecosystem; more importantly- let me see your outreach efforts also known as “good faith efforts”. Some other considerations, are you paying everyone based on a consistent and logical model? How about hiring? How far do you go to ensure a diverse applicant pool?

I suspect that the OFCCP and government are just as tired as I am of companies doing the bare minimum to appear compliant. They are essentially saying to each of us federal contractors- don’t talk about diversity; show me diversity.

I present on Monday, April 7th from 10:30-11:45 am. Attendees will leave my session with an alternate way of approaching these guidelines, good faith efforts and hopefully diversity within their organizations.

I’m looking forward to a spirited conversation on this topic- as well as  engaging with all of the attendees. If you cannot make it, please follow the #RealGFE session hashtag on Twitter. Also, don’t forget to check out the #Czarinatravels hashtag to keep up with my travel adventures.

Want more hashtag craziness? Follow #PICHR, #ePIC, #LASHRM14 and #goodfaith to follow the conference and all associated events.

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