There are all of these articles about communication and engagement. I have contributed my thoughts in some of them. They are all useful in some regard if you want to get to the bottom of your engagement and communication issues. Except, we would have to include the one nuisance variable that most leaders and companies won’t cop to and that is: The cloak of silence.
We are working and living in the age of knowledge. We have more data points than we can use and have more information at our finger tips than previous generations. If given a chance, most leaders will cite wanting to understand their employees better. They want to understand things like motivations, propensity to leave, career aspirations etc.
What makes this problematic is leaders and companies want to know these things, but are often times not willing to ingest and digest the answers. Often times, when the answer they receive is unfavorable for them or the company – they react. The reaction is negative and usually sets such a tone that any further or future communication like it will be non-existent, censored and/or stifled.
Around the time of the 9/11 attacks here in NY the MTA came out with this whole campaign that said: ” If you see something, say something.” Many businesses latched onto this saying and started using it as a way to appear as though employees should feel free to share the things they are noticing and should feel safe to do so without fearing retaliation. There are some good eggs that truly stand by having an open, honest and communicative culture.
Others still, prefer a cloak of silence. They prefer for employees to be seen and not heard. These are companies that like when people speak up to praise the organization and its leaders. Companies that prefer a cloak of silence literally squash and black list anyone who dreams of raising a concern or anything deemed unfavorable for the company.
Let us examine through this example:
I worked for a company in a previous life that loved to hold town halls. If you know anything about town halls you know that they are meant to be open forums where people can come to have their ideas and concerns heard by those in power. The goal is that healthy debate and conversation is brought to the table by the constituents and those in power so that amicable solutions can be implemented.
When we had town halls, they spent weeks communicating the importance of our participation. It was even shared that no question was “dumb” or “irrelevant”. Yet, the first town hall I attended at this company was quieter than a church during Sermon. The CHRO spent an hour speaking about projects, opportunities, our organizational scorecard and then asked for questions. One of my co-workers raised her hand and if looks could kill she would have been dead. She continued to ask her question about adding additional members to our team, because of the excessive workload. Her question was answered abruptly and dismissed.
After the town hall, some of my more tenured co-workers spoke among themselves about how this employee who spoke up never learns her lesson. As in, she should have remained quiet instead, because clearly her question was not welcomed.
Every subsequent meeting and town hall was marred by a cloak of silence. We all knew that it wasn’t worth our time to ask questions or raise issues in these meetings despite what leadership was saying. They didn’t really want to know. It was all about faking their way to engagement and open communication – except they were doing a really poor job at it.
If you have noticed the same in your company here are some tips for building trust and getting your employees to communicate with you again:
1) Don’t ask questions, if you don’t want the answers. What people experience in their jobs day-to-day is very real. Don’t ask them to lie to you so your feelings aren’t hurt. Your employees have a right to not work in fear and you deserve to hear the truth so you can improve.
2) If delivery of certain messages are your concern, set a few ground rules for your town halls and meetings. Let’s be honest, sometimes intention doesn’t meet delivery at the finish line when it comes to communication. Having a few ground rules for meetings and town halls will help to set the tone. Be sure that your employees know you will abide by them as well.
3) When they speak, you listen and then take action. What is the point of having all of these data points, if you are going to simply hoard them – only to do nothing with it. When your employees speak up it’s an act of bravery on their part. The way they know that you have heard them is by acknowledging what was said and taking action.
Communicating doesn’t have to be difficult. Once you get over your own fears and needs to control what and how your employees say something – it will be a smoother ride for both parties.
I completely get that there are many businesses that continue to feel the pinch financially. With that “pinch” it requires cutbacks in certain areas and in some cases across the board. One of the areas I am seeing some less than reasonable cuts in is: supplies and tools. You may be thinking that this is extremely reasonable to do in a time of strained budgets, but it really isn’t.
Please know when I say “supplies and tools”, I’m not talking about the kind of cutbacks that result in getting rid of the colored post-it notes to go with the budget yellow ones. I’m talking about cuts to supplies to the extent of employees not having enough resources to do their jobs.
Still in the dark? Here’s an example.
A world-renowned law enforcement agency with millions of dollars earmarked annually for its operation has a printing paper deficit. In many of its departments it is a requirement to print various pieces of information to complete several of their processes. The printing paper deficit has gotten so bad that employees hoard reams of paper when they are ever lucky to receive a shipment. The hoarding of paper means that many employees are left without any paper which then causes them to beg and barter among themselves for company resources to get their jobs done.
To make matters worse, there are two said printers in some of the departments with high-volume printing work, which means there are constant interruptions to the flow of work to wait for other printing jobs to finish before retrieving their own work.
One day, there was very little paper, computers were having a moment, and one of the printers was out. Keep in mind that there is also a quota looming over these workers heads for having to have a certain number of queries done on new hires per day. With no letting up on the queries despite the severe deficit in office supplies to get the job done, the employees are left thinking: ” What do you want me to do?”.
Let’s talk systems and tools.
How do you have employees show up and expect them to work without access to the very systems they need to get the work done? In a recent instance, an employee went almost four months without having properly assigned codes and access to the systems they needed to get their job done. Instead, they had to use the usernames and passwords of a co-worker to complete work. During this time of sharing usernames and passwords, the co-worker changed codes frequently without sharing this with the new employee – so you can imagine there were several lockout instances.
Again, I can’t understand how we can talk about employees being unproductive, yet not give them the resources or tools necessary to get the job done.
If your budget is scant or you have fallen into this rut without realizing it – let me be your light and guide to proper onboarding and productivity measures:
1) No one should be transferring or hired into your company without being allocated the pertinent tools, resources and/or access to systems. You want productivity on day one and your employees want to be productive. Create a simple system for onboarding new people so that their access to things doesn’t fall through the cracks. It is not your employees’ responsibility to onboard themselves and properly assimilate. We must do better!
2) Purchasing office supplies is not your employees responsibility. Now, I’m not saying if your employee enjoys a certain expensive pen or supply that they shouldn’t be responsible to purchase it on their own dime. I am saying that if you cannot afford printer paper, you have a bigger cash flow or budget problem on your hand that needs to be addressed. Outside of maybe teachers and healthcare professionals purchasing applicable uniforms, there is no good reason in my head why an employee should have to purchase supplies out of their own money to complete your work.
3) Less is only more when employers are saving dollars. Sometimes you have to invest. If the expectation is for a high-volume of work to be churned out, you need to speak to your staff regularly to keep a pulse on how the technologies, tools, processes and resources available to them are working out. Often times, we see the work getting done and assume all is well on that front. The reality is your employees – in many cases are moving mountains, dealing with your cutbacks and creating workarounds to get your work done. The least you can do is check-in with them and make the investment when it is clear it is time for an upgrade.
When it comes to work, we are only as productive as our environment and resources will allow. Work ethic matters as well, but for the sake of the article we will assume most people come to work with an intention to do their best. Give your employees the support, resources and tools they need and watch them thrive.
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!
I was at IBM Insight last week and as per usual it was an awarding experience. There is a shift going on in business and technology that I find both interesting and exciting. It is a shift that is about partnership over competition. Big name technology companies are partnering with new school app developers and tech startups to provide consumers with better products, experiences and customer service.
Image courtesy of IBM.
You may be thinking: “How will this all be done?” The surge of cognitive technology is leading the way in allowing for better insights that allow for a better understanding of people. Cognitive technology allows us to get to the root of people’s behaviors, motivations, needs, and wants. The compilation of this information around these things allows companies to provide a personalized experience and resolution to some of the most pressing human issues.
For instance, we all know the dreaded unexpected breakdown of appliances. They are costly and unwelcomed. Whirlpool is focused on the connecting everything that is important to us through mobile-optimized appliances. This means that you could receive notification telling us that a part in our machines is going and have that information sent back to Whirlpool for troubleshooting.
Image courtesy of IBM.
Box is working with IBM’s Watson Analytics to synthesize the information you house in Box to provide real-time analytics for end users. I know it frustrates me to have unstructured information and data that is either hidden or lost in the systems I use. To be able, to have insights derived from the files you save with Box is a tremendous capability for individuals and business owners.
Courtesy of IBM.
The Internet of Weather
How about all of these catastrophic weather events we’re experiencing? The Weather Company is on the heels of being acquired by IBM for their Internet of Things division. At the conference, they described an app that could be used during hurricanes not only for timely push notifications based on minute-to-minute news surrounding a weather event; but also the app has the ability to function as a flashlight and alarm to alert authorities to people who may be stranded during a catastrophic weather event.
Partnership > Competition
It is interesting to see the market moving in a direction where being competitive means partnering with a competitor to disrupt the market and provide a better product overall. Companies that you wouldn’t dream of seeing on the same billboard let alone working together realize that innovation in a vacuum is no innovation at all. The reality is: Customers want more. Whether it is quality of customer experience or a better product- very few companies are able to upkeep the supply of new, exciting and efficient products. In return, they are collaborating with other businesses or competitors to leverage their respective market strengths and technology to create new or increased value.
Why Should HR Practitioners Care?
With all these new ways of collaborating and doing business, HR needs to be looking at new and creative ways to deploy individuals and teams to get the work done. Additionally, it is a wake up call to all of us to remain aware of the changing business climate. We need to be aware of shifts in business and be prepared to pivot how we serve in our organizations. You can’t be a part of the conversation, if you don’t know what’s going on. It is equivalent to the moments in which a person comes in on the tail end of a conversation and arrives at an incorrect conclusion because they were otherwise occupied or absent from the majority of the conversation. We have a duty to become knowledgeable not only in the practice of Human Resources, but in business, market shifts, changes in customer behaviors and sentiments. It is near impossible to be a true partner to the C-Suite when you don’t know enough to craft a solution.
How do you see these competitive partnerships impacting what we do in HR?
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When I graduated from college, I had a fire in my belly that you could see from miles away- I was hungry for opportunity. I purposely went into to HR having done my research on it as a profession. Additionally, I was told that there was an ongoing need for someone with this expertise in the future. My plan at that time was to become the CHRO at some big corporation- preferably a company in pharmaceuticals, healthcare or science.
From the day I graduated and landed my first career job, my focus was on driving results, being a game changer and going above and beyond. In my head, these were the things that were going to get me to the promise land of CHRO’s. As you have read in some of my previous posts, my career travels in HR have not been without challenges. However, through perseverance and that fire in my belly I kept pressing on- trying to find something different, challenging and unique in each progressive position.
Well…the buck has stopped.
You see something interesting happened in 2013. The first thing was my long-term plan of starting my own business became a short-term plan when one of my mentors/friends ran an assessment on me that reported me as being 100% entrepreneur. With several phone calls taking place between she and I plus others in my circle of trust saying “why start your business in 10 years, Janine?”- I took the leap of fate and started my talent management firm, Talent Think Innovations, LLC. Even with starting it, I made a plan to be working full-time in it within five years. Again, a colleague of mine told me at a conference- “it won’t take you that long- you will be blown away by how soon you get up and running.” I appreciated her sentiment, but I had a plan. Then came, performance evaluation time last year where I figured I’d give one more shot to my company to promote me or at the very least have a short-term plan for my career. I wrote up a four-page summary of my accomplishments and achieved business outcomes tying them back to the overall strategic business plan of the organization. Excited for the very first time in my career to have a performance conversation, I went in with my head high and hopes to hear that they liked my summary.
Instead, I was given a paper for my increase for the year (internal equity was the culprit- see my thoughts on that here). I was then told that all things are superb with my performance. Still things are good. Here’s the zinger and pay attention to this: “Janine, you are talented but I don’t know how to get you where you want to go.”
I could go on for days explaining to you, my beloved readers how damaging this approach is for your attraction and retention strategy, but this is not my purpose today. That one statement -along with the rest of the conversation that resulted in me having to justify my telework days for the thousandth time (again another post, different day) both angered and moved me . It moved me to rethink what that 22 year old so earnestly wanted early in her career and what this 31 year old woman needs and deserves today. What I decided was to take one year to rediscover what moves me. In under one year, I have realized that the 22 year old me was not well-informed about the business-side of things and the assessment was onto something important. Which is why, I happily put in my resignation over eight weeks ago and am sailing into my business full-time effective this Friday.
In hindsight, I was never prepared for the barrage of corporate politics, greed, the lack of ethics, the red tape, and the hierarchical crap that is so prevalent in today’s business environment. I handled and I survived it, but paddling in these murky corporate waters trying to anticipate fires, character assassinations and pleasing people that have built careers off of lucky breaks and breaking rules.
Plans fail, but new doors open…
When I say I was “both angered and moved” by what happened last year I was. In fact, I cried the whole car ride home trying to discern what my next move needed to be. What I’ve learned is it is not any company’s job to succumb to my career aspirations or professional requests; but it is absolutely my job to create the life and career I want for myself and my family. Since I made this decision to leave my gainful employment, I have received the following feedback:
“Janine, what will you do?”
“Are you going to work for another employer?”
“I’m so jealous, good for you.”
“You suck, I’m really going to miss you.”
” Sorry to see you leave, you were one of the good ones.”
All of these statements make me happy. For one, I am clear on the plan for now and even a few years out, but I am so open to new experiences-so those first, two questions just make me giggle. The latter three make me smile, because I know I made a great impression on colleagues at all levels and achieved lots of what 22 year old Janine set out to do.
Corporate America you’re losing a soldier on Friday. It may not be indefinite, but for now I can’t stomach you. I’m hard-working, caring, intelligent, forward-thinking and damn good at what I do. My only intention was to be of service and do meaningful work. I’m not mad at you per se- in fact I should thank everyone who has told me “no” for the past ten years. You have now ignited a new fire in my belly. Now my goal is to make an impact and it doesn’t have hierarchical implications but global ones. Thank you for helping me raise my standards and take back control of my career.
The future is bright…
To find out more about me and my baby, check out Talent Think Innovations, LLC here.