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?
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.
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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As I peruse my social media accounts and watch the range of issues and concerns plaguing the minds of the masses, one thing stands out. It is this new reality of people being bothered by everything and nothing all. Let me explain. People love kitten photos and will wage an all-out war on someone who harms an animal – yet will remain silent if later faced with an update on another black child being killed in Chicago. They rant about a lack of manners and etiquette at the gas pump or in the supermarket, but fail to see how their political or racial rants may be just as lacking in the aforementioned.
While it’s not my job to tell people what they should or should not concern themselves with, it appears to me that we give much more credence to the mundane annoyances we all experience and actively choose to be “unbothered” (as the younger generations say) with facts, integrity, human life and any other virtuous elements that define and illustrate our humanity or lack thereof.
I have heard of friends who were unfriended from posting too many times about the deaths of black kids or the #blacklivesmatter movement, yet they were perfectly acceptable to remain in everyone’s timelines when they posted exploitative twerking videos of people behaving poorly or providing outlandish comic relief.
Double standard much?
I get it! We can’t be all world news, politics, and serious causes 100% of the time. I completely get the need for mindless activities. On this fact alone we may agree. However, there is some serious stuff going on in the world at the moment. I wonder if we would be better off if we all took a few moments from our day to acknowledge the relevance of the human interests of our time. What if we spent fewer moments concerned about the minuscule annoyances we experience day-to-day like no Wi-Fi or an inconvenient flight? Would we then have the time, empathy and energy to digest the societal concerns that require our attention?
By the way, this doesn’t just extend to the digital realm either. I encounter far too many people who are complaining about a plethora of situations and injustices. Again, we all complain. The bigger question is: what is the value of complaining and how does it impact or change what is bothering us? It doesn’t change anything. In my humble opinion, we need to be so bothered by the atrocities of the moment that we actually do something about it. It’s called activism and right now we have a lot of people passionate about being right and uneducated in the facts that inform our reality. The result of this is: an alternate realm of reality where everything that truly matters becomes a nuisance and the things that have little societal or moral value wins the hearts and minds of the masses.
Indecision is a decision. Inaction is an action. Sometimes silence feels like the safest bet when you are trying to decide whether you should risk your reputation to assume an unpopular position. The problem is you are gambling away your values and morals too. It is quite the dilemma, but worth evaluating.
I recently chatted about Feminism in 2016 on my Periscope show “Ask Czarina Live™”. I shared the perils of being a “me” generation and the limits of “social media activism”.
Watch the episode below and share your thoughts about my concept of “being bothered by everything and nothing at all”. I want to hear from you.
A friend of mine posted this blurb on Facebook from an audio book he was listening to (note: I don’t know the name of said audio book):
“Numerous studies have shown us that those given authority are more likely to lie, cheat and steal, while also being harsher in their judgments of others for doing these same things. Science tells us people with power feel less compassion for the suffering of others.
Previous experiments also show us that those who are obedient to authority are capable of the worst forms of murder, and tolerant of the worst forms of abuse. They will even chastise those of us who resist corrupt authority. They become facilitators of evil, believing that obedience to authority absolves them of personal responsibility. “
This blurb above is an explanation of today’s cesspool management and hierarchy that permanently resides in many companies. Although we speak very seriously and regularly about the importance of leadership development as HR practitioners, the truth is very rarely are managers chosen with care. In fact, I have personally observed companies who promote people to management or leadership roles based on their ability to be obedient and play the game.
What happens is the road to leadership then becomes a chess match played by cheaters. The rules are not static, but changed on an as-needed basis to suit the players. People like myself and my colleagues never stand a chance in being promoted or even surviving as an employee, because we live and work by a code of conduct. The code of conduct isn’t some arbitrary manifesto we write down to make people believe we are responsible, discerning, fair individuals; but a construct that guides our work and how we treat others in and out of business.
When we say that employees don’t leave jobs they leave bosses- we really mean they leave regimes. Within the companies of some of your most beloved brands and products lies a regime that takes pride in beating its talent to a pulp daily with unkind words, unreasonable expectations and in some cases bullying- just because they can.
Recently, I read an article of the CEO of a company I used to work for. The article interviewed him about how he runs this large conglomerate and of course highlighted all of the philanthropic work he does for the community. Great article, nice man, toxic company. It’s his job to speak highly of his business, but what I know after working there in HR is that the leadership from HR to the actual facilities (in many cases) are toxic and a good 3/4 of the employees are disgusted; but remain there out of necessity.
Turnover is directly linked to these toxic environments. The age of obedience and subservience is dead. People want meaningful work and positive work environments. If they remain in your employ, it is purely out of necessity. Necessity breeds a paycheck- which also means that they couldn’t care less about the success of the company.
I’m not sure when it became cool to lead from a place of pure malice and fear, but it needs to stop. If the ultimate goal of talent management is to retain the right talent in organizations, it’s time we (HR and everyone else) took personal responsibility to be ethical, fair, equitable, and provide a workplace free of toxic leadership. That may mean getting rid of a manager that has high turnover even in light of his or her considerable contributions to the company. It could mean reprimanding a manager for being a jerk, even if he or she is your happy hour cohort.
A lack of personal responsibility, the inability to tell and own the truth; as well as unethical behavior are among the many reasons why your turnover may be high. Pay attention to your workforce. Don’t look the other way and cover your ears when it matters the most. Your talent is your brand. Treat them with the same respect and humility you would want for yourself.
How are you being more intentional about being better leader?
Contact us to help you build a strategy for developing positive leadership.