Will This Blog Post Get Me Fired?

I majored in fashion design in college. When you watch the video above, that will be hard to believe. I wanted to wear something that conjured Americana, something that screamed, “USA! USA! USA!” Unfortunately, no number of stars and stripes could save my ensemble. And speaking of, this clip proves that, no, vertical stripes are not always slimming. So much for my fashion education.

Shame on Me

Notice how I haven’t yet mentioned the content of the video. Shame on me for obsessing about my appearance when what matters more are my ideas and opinions. I need to get better at not judging myself so harshly. There are enough other people that already do that for me, or to me.

I guess that comes with public speaking, though. Numerous peers of mine have mentioned some of the feedback they’ve received after their presentations. If it’s not about their shoes, then it’s their shirts, or their hair, or their makeup. Sure enough, I’ve had well-intentioned people point out my wrinkles and fat.

Now, I’m pretty self-deprecating and have no trouble poking fun at myself. (I’m also fairly self-aware and have already identified ways to present better next time. And incidentally, you should check out Jennifer McClure’s “5 Mistakes Successful Speakers Never Make.”) But at some point, the focus really does need to shift to Herbert Robinson.  Continue reading

The Diversity Paradox No One Talks About

artistic-2063__340I recently read an article in which AT&T Chief Diversity Officer Cynthia Marshall said, “It makes good business sense to have an employee base that looks like our customer base.” I suspect most of her peers agree. Her statement is exactly what you’d expect a diversity and inclusion leader to say. It’s about as controversial as what I ate for breakfast. Probably because it intuitively makes sense.

It made sense to Pepsi. Years ago, the company realized that women and minorities drink soda, so it launched a major campaign requiring that half of all new hires be women and minorities. Business improved.

Causation? Correlation? Does it matter? No corporation will claim that its diversity efforts aren’t valuable. Neither will any argue that hiring for diversity actually hurts business—nor am I insinuating that it does.

But here’s the problem: If what Marshall and other leaders say is true—that your workers should reflect your customers in order for your business to thrive—then they create a twisted paradox that scrapes at the core of diversity and inclusion. What if most of your customers are women? Or black?  Continue reading

The Madonna of HR

blond-ambition-wembley-3I’ve always thought of myself as contrarian. Generally, I think this is a good trait—but the contrarian in me has me wondering otherwise.

Actually, Leah Clark has me wondering. Leah is an executive coach at Blessing White, a leadership and employee-engagement consultancy. A while back, she and I had an interesting conversation during which Leah asked: Would you rather be labeled contrarian or critical?

I’ve been thinking about her question ever since. After all, if I’m going to slap a sticker on myself, I better make sure it’s the right one.

The Madonna of HR

A common definition is that a contrarian is someone who habitually opposes accepted policies, opinions, or practices. That’s me—but that’s only because there are so many policies, opinions, and practices that are messed up.

Another definition explains that a contrarian accepts nothing that anyone says—that is, a person who takes the opposite opinion for the sake of it. Is that me? I like to think that when I take an alternate position, it’s because I believe what I believe.

I’m also self-aware enough to know when I’m lying to myself. The truth is that I sometimes argue different viewpoints because I enjoy screwing with the status quo. That’s why they call me the Madonna of HR, and by “they,” I obviously mean no one.

If contrarianism can sometimes seem self-indulgent, it is. But is it a bad attribute?  Continue reading

Oh No! Not Another Performance Management Blog Post!

One year ago today, corporations across the country—the world!—decided to scrap their performance-management models. They stopped their Sisyphean attempts to fix systems that were never really broken—because they never worked to begin with. They realized that achieving outcomes and assessing people based on achieving outcomes are not the same. They understood the following:

Focusing on results may be the worst way to get results.

What happened on January 11, 2016, to spark this revolution? That evening, I gave a DisruptHR presentation to a room of HR and business leaders called Oh No! Not Another Performance Management Presentation!

 

Here’s some of what I said:

  • SMART goals are pretty stupid.
  • You can set objectives, but gauge the worthiness of the goals themselves, not people based on meeting them.
  • Stop focusing on output and start emphasizing input.
  • Measuring by results can ruin your coaching and development efforts.
  • Given luck’s influence on outcomes, current frameworks may be sabotaging workers.

I said a lot more. Of course, my talk didn’t incite the insurgence I imagined above…yet! Nonetheless, I’m hopeful that as the neverending exploration to improve performance management continues, more companies will not simply stick extra Band-Aids on their processes but truly transform performance management into behavior management.

Check out my talk and let me know what you think!

Descriptions Are Not Prescriptions

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“I’m a millennial. We catch on quickly.”

I’m not a millennial, but when I overheard a coworker say the above one day, I also caught on quickly. I sensed immediately that my colleague was serious about her declaration. Her tone came with no humor, no self-deprecation, no doubt about the virtues of youth.

I rolled my eyes. Not because my colleague isn’t terrific and a quick learner. She is. Nor because her remark tapped into a stereotype about her cohort. Rather, it was because she felt it was relevant to bring up the stereotype in the first place.

Now, before you roll your own eyes anticipating a blog post bashing, praising, or analyzing millennials, hold on. I have no interest in rehashing something you’ve probably read 45 times in Fast Company (or on Fast Company if you’re a millennial).

I’m more concerned with a broader question: When do generational clichés in the workplace make sense?  Continue reading

Employees Can Dress Themselves

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DRESS FOR SUCCESS!

I hate when HR practitioners transform into the fashion police. Most HR peeps hate it, too. No one’s dream job is hatching policies outlining how many inches a skirt should leave above the knee or what to do when—oh no!—a bra strap peeks through.

Speaking of, “I had to ask one employee to wear a bra” or cover up “to keep from distracting the male employees who were complaining about her bralessness,” one CEO recently told SHRM. (Apparently, fellow female colleagues didn’t mind the extra bounce?)

Bra-gate aside, I’m currently engaged in a conversation on LinkedIn about dress codes. The thread includes an HR professional seeking help with drafting a policy. I wanted to know: “Has there been a downside to the company’s current lack of rules? Is there really a need for a policy?”

I asked especially because, as I said yesterday, businesses are sometimes too eager to pass rules when none are necessary. (Perhaps there should be a policy around crafting policies?)

The HR pro explained that this workplace already has an unofficial business-casual policy, but “the casual part occurs more than the business.” No surprise there. According to a recent OfficeTeam survey:

  • Dressing too casually accounts for 47% of all dress-code violations cited by managers,
  • Showing too much skin accounts for 32% of complaints, and
  • Having visible tattoos and piercings comes in third, at 6%.

Still, what really caught my attention was an explanation of the company owner’s philosophy: When people don’t dress for success, it’s OK to withhold raises and other financial incentives. Continue reading

The Work Email Problem That Isn’t a Problem

gotmailDo you check your work email outside of work? Gallup says that you probably do. Maybe you’re excited to tell your colleague about a new Excel trick you learned. Perhaps you want to remove an item from your plate. (Listen up: Your plate will always be just as full no matter what you do.) Or maybe your boss or company has a policy—probably unstated—that you reply to messages while on the toilet, in the shower, and during your sleep.

It’s especially because of the last reason that France recently enacted a new law to “ensure respect for rest periods” and maintain “balance between work and family and personal life,” according to the French Ministry of Labor. The “right to disconnect” provision states that companies with more than 50 employees must create a system to prevent work emails from intruding on employees’ lives during nights, weekends, and vacations.

Fact vs Problem

Good intentions, for sure, but you know about the road to hell—it’s paved by governments and HR departments. It seems that French lawmakers are acting like misguided HR practitioners by trying to engineer the workplace through well-meaning but meaningless rules.

Too often, government and corporate leaders rush to pass new directives to solve what they see perceive—or misperceive—as problems. In this case, people are checking work emails at various times. That’s a fact, but is it a problem? Consider these Gallup findings:

  • Seventy percent of Americans say that using a computer, tablet, or smartphone to work remotely outside of business hours has been a positive development.
  • What’s more, 1/3 say that they check their work emails frequently.
  • What’s even more, 17 percent of those people are likelier to report better overall lives compared to those who never check email outside of work.
  • Still, many of them also say they have more stress.

So what does all this mean? Continue reading

The Sweatpants of Career Advice

exercise-312044__340Many years ago, I got a call from A&E’s Biography magazine. I’d applied for an entry-level editorial job, so upon answering the phone, I was excited. “Yes, this is Vadim!”

“OK, I just wanted to check. Thank you,” said the caller.

“Oh, OK,” I replied.

She continued: “I was curious if you were a real person. Your resume was”—after a contrived pause—“interesting.”

“Interesting good or interesting bad?” I asked.

“Umm”—more silence to stir drama—”interesting bad.”

The conversation ended and I thought two things: (1) That call didn’t go as planned. (2) That worked out as planned.

A New Serif in Town

Let me explain: I’m thinking of this story because I’m once again looking for work. The other night, I spent hours researching fonts to use on my résumé. I discovered that Times New Roman is the sweatpants of fonts and conveys laziness (that’s me!), so I should instead choose a sans-serif typeface like Helvetica because it will show that I’m forward-thinking (hey, that’s me, too!). Except, I do love a good serif! But would picking one highlight my stupidity? Don’t I know that all those little hooks appended to letters can cause electronic scanners to misread a résumé? Maybe I should listen to my friend who suggests Futura because it’s gorgeous (totally me!). But crap, Microsoft Word doesn’t include that font, but there’s another one I like, but it’s too big, while another is too small, and yet another is—

Who am I? Goldilocks? And is it really 3:30 am? What the hell am I doing?

I knew exactly what I was doing. I was experiencing what every job-seeker feels at some point—insecurity. What if my résumé (which you may view here) turns off a lot of employers? It’s already a bit quirky, at least by HR standards. What if no one will hire the weirdo who also decided to dress his résumé in sweatpants?  Continue reading

The Lamest Lunches

suit-673697__340“Why aren’t they coming?” a frustrated colleague asked me when employees were shunning the lunch-and-learns he’d been organizing. It’s a question common at many companies—and the answer is always simple and the same:

“Because the sessions are boring,” I replied. Who the hell wants to spend a midday break suffering through a stupid presentation about some lame subject that has nothing to do with nothing?

When done right, though, these can be great chances for colleagues to learn, interact with each other, and stuff their faces. It all begins with the most basic question:

Do we need to provide food?

God, yes! Would you invite someone to your home for dinner and serve a PowerPoint slide as the main course? If you want workers to attend, capitalize on everyone’s favorite four-letter F-word: Let them eat cake, or whatever, for free. (And hey, remember that some people don’t like murdered animals on their plates. And hey, hey, people also love raffles. Just sayin’.)

What topics should we feature?

I don’t know. But your employees do. Survey your people, but keep in mind that they will lie. If you ask, “Do you want to learn more about such-and-such department?”, people will reply “yes.” Don’t believe them. What they really want is to discover how the work of that department matters to them.

That’s because lunch-and-learns are not ultimately about the presentations. They’re about your audience. If you can’t draw relevant connections to how material will impact someone personally or professionally, or at least make it interesting, then put down your pencil.

For example, rather than describe the function of a department, focus instead on a problem worth brainstorming. Which would you rather attend: “Learn About What Staffing Does” or “Why Can’t We Get the Candidates We Want?”

The VP of such-and-such department thinks it would be great to—

Nobody cares. Trust me on this: If senior leadership is choosing topics, employees will attend only if voluntold. At one company, top management proudly touted a high participation rate after several hundred personnel joined a session on writing performance objectives.

The “success” of the assembly probably had nothing to do with the fact that division heads “strongly suggested” that their people participate. It’s not as if people would show up simply to show face, right? Continue reading

Great Cultures Rely on Superficial Relationships

knifeThere’s an old Russian proverb about two farmers that goes something like this: One farmer grew enough potatoes to power a Wise factory for years (clearly, I’m modernizing). His neighbor barely sprouted a potato to distill into a shot glass (stereotyping, too).

One day, a genie comes to the unsuccessful farmer and offers to grant a single wish. What do you think the peasant asks for? A better harvest? Riches to retire in Crimea? Tickets to Hamilton?

“I wish for you to destroy my neighbor’s farm,” the poor farmer pleads.

This story is supposed to symbolize a historic attitude among many Russians—that tearing down those around you brings more satisfaction than lifting yourself up.

Russians aren’t the only ones afflicted with schadenfreude. I recently came across a couple of not-so-new studies suggesting why some employees go low when other achieve high. In “Victimization of high performers: The roles of envy and work group identification” and “Is it better to be average? High and low performance as predictors of employee victimization,” researchers delve into how less successful coworkers sometimes attack their more accomplished counterparts. They lie, gossip, undermine, deny resources—basically, they become Regina George.

Not like you need a bunch of papers to confirm what you already know: Envy mixed with an inferiority complex can cause people—maybe even you—to mutate into total jerks. At the same time, workers who overestimate their performance and don’t get the respect they think they deserve may also conspire to undercut peers.

At one company I worked, there was chitchat about two senior leaders cheating on their spouses with each other. True or not (probably not), I sensed that some people were wielding the rumor as a weapon.

So, how can companies promote a high-performing culture in the face of a spiteful counterculture? One recommendation is for flourishing employees to consider “downplaying their accomplishments and maintaining a humble outlook to avoid potential victimization in the future.”

Wait. What? No. Continue reading