Tread Lightly: Why You May Want to Reconsider Befriending Your Boss

Image courtesy of Flickr.

 

It’s a fabulous thing when the stars align and you gain a great boss in taking a new job.

What makes them “great”?

Perhaps, they have a great personality. They aren’t the usual stuffy leader. Maybe, it’s because they are concerned with your well-being. They ask about the family and how things are going. All in all, there are a myriad of reasons why your boss may be “great”.

It is human nature that we become comfortable with people who make us feel at ease. How comfortable we become is a matter of discernment and individual disposition.

When it comes to the people you report to – how friendly is too friendly? Is there such thing as being too close for comfort?

In my humble opinion, I think there is such a thing as being too familiar, too friendly and too close with your boss. I have been too close for comfort and it has gone wrong and I have been very familiar and it has been just right.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to befriending your boss:

1) There is a difference between being “friendly” and being “friends”. You may come to know things about one another in time, but it wise to not misconstrue friendship with pleasantries. If you have ever had a seemingly “great” boss, you will know why this is important.

2) Your personal business is none of your boss’s business. I don’t care how friendly or nice your boss is – there are limits to what you should share. Oversharing gives them too clear a window into your life and may or may not give them fodder with which to make decisions surrounding your employment and/or career opportunities.

3) Listen more. Observe more. Speak when necessary. It could be the introvert in me, but I like to observe people before I become friendly. I need to assess people and watch how they operate. It has helped me to do this, because it gives me a leg up on understanding whether I need to tread lightly or if I can loosen up a bit.

4)  Never gossip with your boss about co-workers or others in the organization. Notice that I said “loosen up a bit” in #3. After you have observed your leaders and decided “hey, they are cool”, stop yourself short of gossip. Some of them will gladly indulge you in this kind of talk- especially if it allows them to blow off some steam about people you work with. In the long run, talk gets around and it will never be them that looks poorly if you were involved in a gossip session. It will be your ass on the fire- always!

5) Numbers 1-4 will not apply to every boss. The key is understanding and knowing what makes them tic and considering in advance what could go wrong for you.

If the pros outweigh the cons and you have yourself a good egg, go for it – skip through the meadows with one another. However, if you are unsure and you are just a happy go-lucky person with everyone – stop yourself and consider a friendly, but professional relationship.

Working with leaders with varied personalities, agendas, and management styles can be challenging. Don’t be too quick to befriend before you consider the ramifications of a more personal relationship with someone who manages you.

The Value of Employee Feedback in Meetings

 

Courtesy of UpSplash.com

Courtesy of UpSplash.com

 

Lola Dart

 

Today’s post is by guest Aristocrat contributor Lola Dart. Lola Dart is the creator of The MINTOA™ Mentality and owner of Live and Learn with Lola. She works together with clients to make their lives better by teaching them how to transform their motivations into accomplishments. Connect with Lola on Facebook and Twitter: @TheLolaDart.

 

My team and I had just finished revising a textbook and adding a new online video series to accompany it. The revisions and additions caused the book sales to more than triple over the previous year. As the project was coming to a close, I realized the success we were about to experience, but in turn – I was more concerned about our success as a team.

I knew that the project finished earlier than planned and used fewer resources than allotted. I also knew that the team seemed happy and satisfied with their work- but as an Industrial Engineer, I wanted to make things better and document our successful project process for the future.

My idea was to gather feedback on what I had done well as a Project Manager and what I could improve upon.  I wanted to do this by having individual meetings with every team member who had worked on the project. Before I started these meetings, I reached out to a couple of team members to ask their opinion on the idea of the feedback meeting itself. Our team hadn’t conducted anything like this before – but the company had tried various ways to get input from employees in the past.

Honesty is the best policy

My team was very open and honest from the start. By telling me stories of their past feedback experiences, we were able to craft a situation that was geared towards success.

One team member shared the numerous times that feedback had been given and was not implemented. She said that: “it felt like a waste of time if the feedback wasn’t going to be used”. So, I let them know exactly how their ideas were going to be accounted for. I created a document and incorporated their feedback into it. This way, not only would our team be better served in the future – but the reach would extend to any team performing these tasks in the future.

Another team member shared the experiences he had with managers who asked for feedback and said they would be open to it; but then spent the whole meeting justifying their actions or explaining away situations. He said it can turn out to feel more like a criticism or even a battle. So, we came up with an idea. Instead of having a meeting about how well I managed, we set the scope of the meeting to be the project itself.

The feedback meetings became targeted. The scope of the meeting explored the aspects of the project that ran smoothly. Additionally, it was a chance for us to examine aspects that needed to be ironed out. The focus was on the solutions. For every issue identified by a team member, their solution was requested. The outcome of the meeting was a document shared with other teams.

While in the feedback meetings, I listened. That is the most important part. In a meeting like this, it can be so easy to turn things into a debate or argument that leaves all parties on the defense. Instead, I limited my responses to follow-up questions. When I didn’t understand something, I asked for clarification. I consistently expressed gratitude and appreciation that they took time to seriously consider how we can make our team projects better in the future. I also took a ton of notes. I let them know that their feedback was important and I was documenting it.

The simplest approach is usually the best…

As a manager, it was really helpful to learn what was working. It’s reassuring to know that some things aren’t broken and don’t need to be fixed. For example, my team liked to have check-in meetings twice a week. It made them feel connected to the project and the team. It also held them accountable to finishing their assigned tasks. They also liked the assignment spreadsheet I had created to keep track of where each piece of the puzzle was at all times. I thought that a spreadsheet might have been a little overwhelming. However, numerous team members said that they enjoyed being able to see the entire trajectory of each piece and that it held them accountable to finish their tasks – when they could see the later steps at a glance. My team also provided helpful solutions to the overall run of the meetings. For example, now we end meetings on time – even if we are in the middle of a discussion. We either hold the discussion until the next meeting or schedule a follow-up call.

After implementing these feedback meetings, I realized that I not only created a document that could be used each time I start a new project with my team, but a valuable practice to be used organization-wide.  Throughout the company, projects and products are benefiting from the results of the feedback meetings I implemented.

 

What I Really Want CHRO’s To Know

Image courtesy for Stock Images For Free.com

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.

 

Why Every Ambitious Woman Needs A Sponsor

Johanna Harris

* Today’s post is from a guest blogger, Johanna Harris. *Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book is “USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace,” available as iBook, Kindle, and Amazon Paperback. For more information, go to http://hirefireandretire.com. Enjoy!

A Mentor is not a Sponsor

It is now widely acknowledged that a woman cannot succeed in the workplace without a mentor. Some companies, in fact, have set up formal mentoring programs for their employees, both male and female. There’s little doubt that women need mentors. Mentors can provide invaluable insights into the unwritten rules of a company. They can provide feedback, career guidance and support. They can be trusted advisors. But if you’re an ambitious woman and you want to get ahead, your mentor will not get you promoted to a senior position. For that, you need a sponsor.

A sponsor is very different from a mentor. A mentor plays an important but passive role in your career. He wishes you well. But if you fail, your failure rarely impacts his career. He may benefit from serving as your mentor, but his future is not on the line. By contrast, a sponsor stakes his reputation on you. He goes out on a limb to advocate for your advancement.  Your success is his success. Your failure is his failure.

A Sponsor Works at Multiple Levels

A sponsor works on multiple levels at different times. He makes sure that you receive the work assignments that are essential for entering the senior ranks. He uses his own status and connections to convince others of your stellar credentials and abilities. He removes barriers that stand in the way of your advancement. If there are naysayers who doubt your skills or your readiness to assume a senior role, he neutralizes their concerns. He makes sure that you network with the right people, and that you are visible to the key decision makers. He is your advocate and your champion.

Cultivating a Sponsor

It is not easy to attract a sponsor. You have to do a lot of groundwork first. You need to develop a stellar reputation as a hard worker, a reliable team player and a creative problem solver. You need to be excellent at your job. Once you’re comfortable that you’ve mastered these basic prerequisites of corporate success, you’ll need to look around and identify someone who could be your sponsor. Then you’ll need to cultivate him, and this will require time and effort. Your sponsor will need to know you and your work. He will need to feel comfortable with you. Otherwise, he will not take the risk that being a sponsor inevitably entails.

Two Barriers

Women face two barriers to cultivating sponsors that men usually do not need to confront. The first is that most sponsors are older men, while those most in need of sponsors are younger women. The mere fact of sponsorship can engender gossip, badmouthing and misconceptions about motives. To avoid such misconceptions, a woman has to work hard to be beyond reproach and, what’s more, appear beyond reproach. Discussions with your sponsor should be conducted in public places during work hours. All signs of familiarity or intimacy should be avoided.

The second barrier that many ambitious women face is internal. They have been raised to think that merit alone is enough to succeed, and that there is something unseemly about another person helping you to advance your career. They might think that cultivating a sponsor is taking unfair advantage of him, or that having the advantage of a sponsor means you’re not playing on a level field. These ideas are counterproductive. They are myths. It is a rare person, male or female, who advances to a senior job in the corporate world without having an advocate. There is nothing illegal or improper about having someone with power go to bat for you.

A Two-Way Street

A sponsor may have altruistic motives, but rarely does he advocate for a junior employee solely out of the goodness of his heart. Championing the career of someone else is extra work, and it’s risky. But a successful sponsorship can reward the sponsor as well. The sponsor develops a reputation as a manager who can spot and develop talent. He becomes known as someone who has made a contribution to the company beyond his narrow business interest. Once the sponsored employee successfully advances, she becomes an ally and a continuing source of intelligence about company matters outside the sponsor’s immediate business unit. She owes her sponsor her best efforts not only to advance her own career, but also to make her own meaningful contribution to the company. She owes him a demonstration that his judgment was correct and his faith in her abilities was not misplaced. Sponsorship is a two-way street.

Down the Road

The two-way street isn’t just one block long. Once a woman becomes a powerful senior executive, she will reach out and take the risk of sponsoring another junior woman. And if she chooses wisely, the two-way street becomes a highway.

Interested in writing a guest post for The Aristocracy of HR? Contact me here.

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