The Romper Room of Leadership

romper-room-leadership

Are we still at a point where leaders are unable to provide their employees with constructive feedback regarding their performance?

I’ve recently been made aware of several situations where there are clear deficits in performance from a team perspective in companies. In most instances, everyone on the team knows who is and isn’t pulling their weight and that includes the leaders.

You would think that this should be a slam-dunk scenario whereby the supervisor and/or leader – actively deals with the team members who are slacking off via performance discussions etc. I’m finding that this is not the case. Instead, leaders are opting to have general and redundant conversations with entire teams as an attempt to appear fair in how they delve out criticism.

I would argue that this approach is having the opposite effect. The impact of this approach is employees that are performing at and above expectations are unfairly being subjected to criticism that isn’t a reflection of their individual performance. Having to endure this criticism as a whole rather than individual performance being addressed makes employees feel as though they are working in a “romper-room” environment causing them to not only reject any pertinent criticism that follows; but also creates resentment among team members.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say I am a recruiter on a team of five recruiters for a manufacturing company. We all handle “easy-to-fill” positions, but requisition volume is high as is turnover organization-wide so we are in a constant state of active recruitment. There is an established number of hires each recruiter is required to upkeep on a monthly basis in order to ensure the plant has enough workers to absorb new work coming in via new contracts. In this scenario, the magic number is 30 new hires per recruiter. Three of the recruiters including myself meet and/or exceed the expected number of hires. The other two recruiters consistently hire between 15-18 people and claim they cannot possibly meet the established quota.

The three performers along with the leaders are aware that these two are the weakest links on the team and also recognize that their inability to meet the established number of hires has to do with a mix of poor work habits, slacking and a lack of urgency where they are concerned.

There are a few options in handling this situation:

  1. Continue treating the whole indifferently because parts of the team are not working in an optimal manner by imposing daily monitors of work completed on the entire team as well as threats of disciplinary actions.
  2. Have a performance discussion with the two recruiters who aren’t meeting the standard – while highlighting how they may work more efficiently. Additionally, recognize the recruiters who are consistently performing so they are aware that their efforts are appreciated and being seen.

Number #2 would be the most optimal solution to dealing with this situation. This scenario reminds me of grade school when there would be a student who misbehaved consistently during class. Teachers that had the better sense knew that it was far better to remove unwieldly students from the classroom in an effort of not robbing the other attentive students of quality instruction time.

The same is true here. It isn’t fair to your employees who are doing the right thing to be subject to rules, disciplinary actions or indifferent leadership because you refuse to deal with their co-workers’ performance issues .

Communicate, document, and/or cut ties with employees that aren’t meeting performance standards, if you need to. Just know that no grown adult wants to be treated like they are back in preschool, because you are incapable of addressing performance concerns head-on.

The Cloak of Silence: Why Your Employees Won’t Communicate

The Cloak of Silence-Why Your Employees Won't Communicate

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.

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.

What You Need to Know About the Un-Political Worker

Image courtesy of Flickr.

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.

Why I Have Trust Issues With HR

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

You all know I love me some HR. I believe in its fundamental tenets of understanding work behavior. I also enjoy the small window of opportunity we have to balance both the needs of the business and the employee. To many, it seems like a job anyone can do, but for those that do it everyday and do it right; they know it takes a special kind of professional.

The rebuttal to this line of thinking is: “Well, if it requires a “special” person – why does it appear that anyone with any background can do the job?” Indeed, there are HR practitioners from a myriad of degree fields and backgrounds that have found their way to HR. Do they all belong there? No.

Human Resources is a profession whose entire existence is predicated on how well they manage or in some organizations herd other humans in an effort to ensure the companies success and a healthy bottom-line. Yet, it has been my experience that we have a tough time managing ourselves. In some cases, it is at the precise time that some people became HR practitioners that they forgot who they were and why they were there. Values forgotten. Integrity went out the door. Ethical behavior- what’s that? In fact, I am sure some never set out to break the law in life, but they have.

My name is Janine and I have trust issues with HR.

When I worked in HR, I met a lot of great professionals along the way. There were also far more that left a lot to be desired. I found myself at odds much of the time with how I chose to operate versus “the way” HR chose to position itself in the organization. This disconnect garnered me fans by way of my internal and external partners, but not with my own HR brethren.

Here’s what got me in trouble:

  • Working with my internal partners to ensure we had “real” and “practical” solutions to their concerns.
  • Advocating for candidates that were qualified, but would have otherwise been set aside for less qualified candidates.
  • Keeping up on HR and business trends, practices and laws in an effort to ensure that we were not only compliant, but remained relevant.
  • Doing what I knew was right.

If you can find anything wrong with what I detailed above, comment below and let me know. I am always interested in another viewpoint. As I said, I have trust issues with HR. It took me some time to muster up the courage to say this about a discipline I love, but that has so often disappointed me. Do you know how disconcerting it is to be bullied, harassed, thrown to the wolves all while working in HR and having to sell the value of what you do to employees? Moreover, it is painful to have to bite your tongue when employee after employee comes to you for help and an ear and you can’t tell them that you too – have trust issues with HR.

Here’s what I have learned:

1) Businesses need to stop involving HR in their dirt. That is to say, let HR do what they do. Don’t corrupt us or our efforts.

2) HR practitioners everywhere need to have enough backbone to call out unethical, illegal and toxic behaviors without hesitation. Stop being brokers for unethical and illegal practices. When the employees understand that you don’t have their back, your job is over.

3) Here it is all of these years we have been asking for a seat at the grand table, yet we let anyone and everyone sit with us. The same way we have to earn the respect of the C-Suite is the same way we should operate as we usher in new talent to HR.

Everyone can’t sit with us.

It takes a certain person, with compassion, business acumen, a desire to continue learning, discernment and above all the want to build cohesive, non-toxic work environments.

Personally, I get excited about providing solutions to workplace debacles, struggles and blindspots. I like to understand what my partners need and then I go to work crafting something they can use. This is how HR is supposed to work.

I continue to wait for the day, when I stop hearing how HR has failed employees. I hope we reach a point where we start to safeguard our discipline from those who would rather detract from it or turn it into the cesspools that exist elsewhere in business.

We have to do better. We need to do better.

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More insights on this topic will be on The Aristocracy of HR You Tube Channel this week. Click here to subscribe for more commentary on my articles.

 

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