Culture is one of the easiest things to blow off when it comes to organizational investment. You build it, and you just sort of place policies and procedures to make sure it works, right? When HR managers shout from the rooftops that corporate culture can be the downfall of an organization (or at the very least a huge stumbling block) if not properly cultivated and managed, we’re quite often met with an exasperated response. Not THAT again. And yet, when the company stumbles and falls over said block to the tune of millions of dollars, it’s most irritatingly a malady that could have been avoided. There is nothing that guides a company to it goals and beyond quite like a dynamic, properly-cultivated corporate culture, and a perfect example of this has recently hit the news: Zenefits.
This darling of Silicon Valley shot through the uprights not unlike a good number of its start-up constituents: former CEO Parker Conrad Valley’s billion dollar startups, peaking last year when he was able to raise $500 million for a corporate valuation of $4.5 billion. Announcing itself as the fastest-growing software service ever, based on a free cloud-based HR platform for small businesses around the U.S., it makes the majority of its income from commissions when clients use their platform to purchase insurance. The model was genius, and the corporate culture was constructed to obtain those sales by any means necessary.
There was only one big problem: they’ve been accused of partnering with quite a few salespeople without the proper license to sell insurance, and reportedly skirted quite a few laws that would make for the legal sale of insurance products. That’s not just a small pebble they stumbled over; that’s a gigantic legal boulder that’s put them under the watchful eye of the Federal government and downgraded them as an investment. Conrad has stepped down, and the former COO, David Saks, has taken the helm. One of the first things he did was address the errors in culture that led to their current state. He’s quoted in a Forbes article as having sent an email with the following text:
“We must admit that the problem goes much deeper than just process…Our culture and tone have been inappropriate for a highly regulated company. Zenefits’ company values were forged at a time when the emphasis was on discovering a new market, and the company did that brilliantly. Now we have moved into a new phase of delivering at scale and needing to win the trust of customers, regulators, and other stakeholders.”
As someone who has made a career out of designing adaptable, successful corporate cultures, I feel that they could have benefitted from strong HR. As Saks stated in the email, the culture that founded the company is very different from the one that will right the ship and keep it afloat. Where it appears the first epoch of the company’s history could be best summed as “by whatever means necessary,” it safe to assume that through careful corporate assessment and an in-depth look at their culture and the talent that supports it, it will most likely evolve to “with our shareholders and customers at the center of whatever we do.”
When speaking of corporate culture, a static approach is never best. You don’t just build it and let it go, letting it self-maintain with performance evaluations, retention and turnover. It must be constantly assessed against the market, customer satisfaction, internal goals, and staffing needs. While the vision, mission, and values of the company remain standardized for long periods of time, corporate culture is an ever-evolving means to accomplish your objectives. It drives, incents, connects, and deploys your resources of a human variety, and without the proper tools to monitor it — and the sense to pay attention to red flags once they’re raised —you will meet with obstacles that are unpleasant. Most important, they can usually be avoided.
The proprietary culture assessment tools I’ve developed from years of experience paired with recent technological advances act as a canary in a coal mine. They’re capable of assessing the culture from all aspects, and paired with market information and 11 other data inputs (13 in total), they can give you a 360-view of your company that can warn of disasters such as these along with other issues, such as turnover/employee defection, potentially derailing internal disconnects, and so much more. You need to monitor corporate culture effectively and often, and I have the tools that can accomplish this and so much more.
More than ever, companies must truly look deep inside their ranks to ascertain what is going on. It’s no longer sufficient to simply rely solely on client and employee engagement data to give you a view of what’s happening with your company; this type of insight only scratches the surface at best. Most employee engagement data tell us 86% of people are disengaged, which is a warning sign within itself. Don’t you want to know why before that expense and productivity issue hits your bottom line? I know I would.
I believe that companies need to take on the issue of culture more than ever before. Dig deep and use tools like my Capacity Framework to connect deep, disparate data for a powerful, actionable source of information: customer data, engagement data, exit interview data, performance data and metrics, talent data and more. Prioritize your corporate culture, and take action on this type of data, outlining the top strengths and challenges for your company. It’s only by connecting all the dots that you will truly paint an accurate picture of what’s going on in your organization, and armed with that knowledge, you can take action and manage your culture as you would any other asset within your company. For it is an asset, perhaps your greatest, and it must be constantly minded as if it could tear your company apart if mismanaged.
Because the truth is — and this Zenefits example is an illustrative example — it most certain can.
About the Author: Rita Trehan is the Founder and Principal of Rita Trehan, LLC, a change management and leadership advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, emerging technology, and cutting-edge organizational design. As a seasoned top executive that has successfully transformed organizations at the Fortune 200 and beyond, she has extensive experience working with CEOs and top corporate management on process and organizational improvement for maximum profitability. A soon-to-be published author, Rita regularly speaks at industry conferences around the world. You can contact Rita on twitter at @rita_trehan and connect with her via LinkedIn. Rita’s blog can be found at www.ritatrehan.com.
When you take off on a flight, the attendant always says the same thing: “In case of an emergency put your oxygen mask on first before helping the people around you.” This includes the ones you love!
As a road warrior I know this mantra better than anyone. I heard these words every Monday morning for 17 years! It was the theme song of my undoing and then the melody of my road back home.
This, my friend, is the single best piece of advice in my tool chest of tricks. We all know I have a treasure trove of good advice, cautionary tales, analogies and tricks up my sleeve. This one should not be ignored!
Recently, one of my favorite members of my Personal Board passed through town. At an impromptu mini board gathering over fish tacos and red wine, she reminded me of another important saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys!”
Wow, how powerful and freeing is that statement? How thought provoking.
“Save yourself first” so you can save the folks around you. Further, “If it is not your circus and not your monkeys” where do your responsibilities start and where do they end? What is yours and what is theirs? What is helping and what is enabling? What is teaching and what is providing answers? Listening and lecturing? Loving and smoothing?
As a parent of grown children, letting go is a tippy ship at best. Mission accomplished, although I type through tears, as my son officially graduates and moves the last box of clothing and mementos to Philadelphia next month to start his new career. Nevertheless, isn’t that the point? If you do it right they should leave the nest! My son put his oxygen mask on first! He found his own circus and his own monkeys! Painful as his parting is, I couldn’t be prouder. The coolest part is that we are going to meet every other week in the middle for a meal (once a foodie always a foodie). I will say that again. WE WILL MEET IN THE MIDDLE! (Hold that thought)
So if we are to put our “Oxygen mask on first,” and if it is “Their circus and their monkeys” how are we to continue to show up for our family, friends, colleagues, society and the world in a caring and meaningful way while still retaining our boundaries? After all, isn’t showing up fully truly the only way we can make an impact? How then will we still help the ones we love and be of service?
Here is my list of tips for putting on your oxygen mask first so you can show up for those around you while continuing to take care of yourself.
We are all a work in progress
Never stop growing, learning, evolving, exploring, asking, stretching, reading, expanding, scaring yourself, stepping out of your comfort zone! Repeat!
I am a life learner! I say that I am done getting certifications and degrees. We all know I am lying. I will never stop learning! I will never stop reading, taking courses and stepping out of my comfort zone. I will never stop reinventing myself! We live, we learn, we grow and should repeat this process again and again and again! Pay it forward by sharing your knowledge.
Be Your Personal Best
Whatever your aspiration, strive to be the best in class. How do you achieve this? Simple, roll up your sleeves and put in the work! Do the research. Do your homework. Network, Network, Network (even when you are exhausted). Stretch further than comfortable. Show up fully. Frankly, when you think you have done your best work possible, take one more pass through. In conjunction, have no expectations of others. You won’t need to, you will be too busy leading by example.
Take Care of Yourself
I never end a coaching session without inquiring about my clients’ self-care rituals. Why? Because at the heart of our work together, no matter what the topic, we can accomplish nothing if we are not taking care of ourselves.
It is the same reason that I watch everything I put in my mouth. Eat organic if possible (even when traveling). Try desperately to get a good night sleep each night, and exercise regularly. I have dragged my yoga mat with me on every trip I have taken for all 17 years of business travel (oh the places we have seen!). It took my limo driver until last year to figure out that I was not a heavy breather and I was meditating on the way to the airport!
Create a healthy routine and stick to it. A healthy life style will lead to productivity. You will become influential, productivity is sticky!
Listen More, Talk Less:
Don’t let the noise cancelling headphones, pile of work, the fact that I am typing, have my eyes closed, am facing the other way, or that I am actually sleeping dissuade you. If I am in your presence (whether I know you or not) you will talk to me and I will listen. You will tell me things you have never told anyone, and I WILL KEEP YOUR CONFIDENCE. I will give you advice, I WILL NEVER JUDGE. Trust me I know things I could have gone my whole life without knowing, but rest assured when you utter the last word it is already forgotten.
When I go on vacation with my family I am instructed not to look up or make eye contact with anyone! (After all, it is their time). All kidding aside this is the best gift you can give someone, empathy and understanding. A safe place to unload, and then let them go on their contemplative way to figure it out.
Energy Zappers/Energy Fillers:
Get in touch with the people, places, and trying that are sapping your energy and GET RID OFF THEM! Okay, so this is not always practical. If it was, I for one would spend my days reading, doing yoga, cooking, gardening, hiking, mountain biking, eating at great restaurants and watching old movies.
We are all intimately in touch with what brings us stress; however, are you aware that there is a positive counter balance?
I am also a bit of a math geek, and a strong believer in that “What gets measured gets done.” In fact if I was to get a tattoo (which I won’t kids, so you can’t) it would have that phrase. As a result, I have invented the “Balancing Act” equation. (AP to follow)
How does it work? Make a list of everything that brings you stress and give it a numerical value. Then, come up with a list of energy fillers and do the same until you reach equilibrium! I challenge you to balance your act! Leave others to do the same.
Speak Your Mind. Don’t over communicate:
No one likes a nag and overstating the same point over and over and over again does not make it so.
Definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over again expecting different results. This came up two blogs in a row for a reason! Don’t hold back. Say it once. Hope you are heard. Move on.
Come As You Are
You cannot change anyone but yourself and you should not want to. It is your responsibility to continue to grow and evolve, and it everyone else’s responsibility to do the same. You should always strive to be your personal best and hope that the people around you continue to do the same. At the end of the day you must accept people for where they are regardless of the level. That is their choice. Do not let it deter you from continuing to grow. I repeat, do not let it deter you from continuing to grow. Lead by example.
Drop the Mad
This is one of my personal favorites; however, be cautioned it does not always work! Nothing was ever accomplished through screaming, yelling and or trying to solve the world’s problems in one sitting. Sometimes you just have to take a break from it all and have some fun. If you can put together some peaceful connected moments you can get back to figuring out the world’s problems through a clearer lens.
Step out of the drama! Get out of the ring! Take yourself out of the line of fire! Do it for an hour. Do for a day. Do it for a week. Do it for any amount of time necessary and practical so that you can clear your head and think. Take as much alone time and thinking time required to make the decisions and put the actions in place that are right for you. After all this is yours, not theirs.
Oh how I love a good project! I get that from my Grandma Fanny. She always took in strays, and I am very much the same. I have a 12 foot farm table and none of the chairs match. Neither do the people that often pass through for the home cooked meals on Sunday. My family and I often reminisce and say, “I wonder what ever happened to so and so. I hope it all turned out well”.
I bring this up as a cautionary tale. It is a gift to give, but it can also be trap. Always give and open yourself to others, but remember it is a two way street.
So, in conclusion, what is yours, theirs and ours anyway?
Another favorite saying of mine is really a question. What happens when you stop hitting your head against a wall? Answer, it stops hurting. What is yours and what is theirs anyway? Truth is, it is all yours and it is all theirs. It is our job to be our best, it is their job to strive to do the same. It is our job to take care of ourselves. It is definitely their job to do the same. It is always our job to show up fully. To be kind, caring, helpful (when asked), resourceful and always, always show empathy. It is their job to clean up their side of the street and do the same. Perhaps in time we agree to meet in the middle? Perhaps we don’t? In the end the universe will take care of the rest.
Much has been written about integrity. In fact, in the hundreds of team meetings and board retreats I have facilitated, integrity is, seldom, NOT a team value. However, I intend not to focus on what we perceive integrity to be; yet, what integrity is not.
Let’s start with a common definition: Webster defines integrity as a firm adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. Here are a few examples, from real life, which I believe shine a bright light on what integrity is not.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- A person hears a fabulous key note or presentation; and they believe it to be so fabulous, they take portions of it – change a few words – ‘just to be honest’ – and begin to tout this as their own brilliant idea.
- A person asks someone for a treasured family recipe. They don’t really want to give it; yet rather than to say no, they give it to that person – less an ingredient. (Yes, that has happened to me, and yes, it does happen….often in the South)
- A person/s are exposed to an idea, a word, a term or philosophy which rings true to them, on which someone else has built their methodology and often their company. They think that term is so unique and powerful; they take that term, a few key phrases, and build their approach around that same approach.
- A person has the opportunity to speak the whole truth about an issue – personally, socially or professionally – and they opt to tell the truth. However, they don’t tell ‘everything.’ They just tell portions of the story – they omit key points; most often swaying the point, certainly to their favor. (You know the drill….think about a sales person’s sales participation and their quest for sales credit/quota commission, think about sales/consulting methodology aspects – the consulting world is full of intellectual property wars – even social and political issues…..just turn on the TV or log onto YouTube.)
- A person says one thing to you, another version of what they have said to you to someone else, and yet, another version to another person of the same story. I wish I had a nickel for every time that has happened to me in my life!
- A person is newly hired onto a team from outside the company and that person begins a quick study on how to usurp the person that hired them in a quest for fame, fortune, and power. Discrediting, sabotaging, back-stabbing, hording of ideas….the list is long.
I have had every single one of these happen to me in my career … some in the past few months.
Many in big business will say: this is why we have trademarks, copyrights, and intellectual property infringement law; and this is learning to ‘play the game;’ survival of the fittest. If someone doesn’t ‘have it’ – then they are ‘fair game’. Sure, I ‘get it’ – remember, I lived in that world for over 25 years. It goes without saying that we must protect ourselves, our company, and our work product.
However, the issue I am raising is much more systemic in our culture. For I am quite certain there are many in business today who don’t share everything with their internal counterparts for fear of being ‘poached’ of the good ideas. I am also quite certain there are those in business who perhaps don’t lie by commission; yet lie by omission – just not sharing everything, just sharing ‘enough.’
Where do we think this behavior is taking us? To a constant shade of grey? To a moral stance that is our interpretation instead of one that is based on honesty and integrity?
So what, you may say? “That is life.” Well, I firmly believe that is wrong.
We have an obligation to own up to our responsibilities – and that means stopping this insanity of stealing and poaching and, not respecting one another as creators, individuals, contributors, and builders of our companies, our communities, our nation, and our world.
Two things to consider:
First: Be Impeccable with your Word. A fabulous book: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, A Toltec Wisdom Book became a ‘book of the month’ for many of my teams over my career. If you not have read it yet – read it. One of the agreements is to “be impeccable with your word.” This basically means telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Often in today’s world, the operative word is ‘whole.’ Many just simply omit key facts or nuances. This is an interesting observation – just listen to national news, politicians, Fortune executives, Oprah, even personal acquaintances. It is amazing to watch the ‘spin factor’ and the power of just ‘omitting a few key facts.’ What is the whole truth?!
I will offer one personal test case of integrating this philosophy into life. With one of our most successful teams in a publicly traded software company, we used this book as a gauge for how we could grow and learn together as a team; and this book and particularly this agreement of ‘being impeccable with our word’ became our mantra. We were in the fast paced world of dot com frenzy, software sales and mergers, and greed was rampant. This agreement saved our team and company in more ways than we will ever probably realize. We were not always the most popular at the time; yet I know from the CEO through the ranks, we were the most respected and valued at the end of the day.
Second: Stop stealing. A person’s original ideas will always be more authentic, rich, and potent than anything they ‘borrow’ or steal. Period. A person can rationalize due to complacency, laziness, or their perceived belief that they can ‘take this idea and really make it come to life’ (yes, I have heard that one of late, as well).
What I would suggest is simply this: If a person loves the idea, thinks it had merit, power, brilliance, cache, etc., then simply get permission, give credit or notice to that company, and source the source. It is truly that simple.
Again, this conjures up ‘legal jargon’ and it certainly gives many an attorney a steady annuity stream; and yes, there will always be a need for the law. Yet, it does not have to be that complicated. Just give notice to those that deserve it! Also, folks, please realize that YOUR ideas will be so much more powerful if they are truly YOURS. That is the beauty of pure authenticity and the power of telling your story… not plagiarizing someone else’s.
This philosophy and principle of integrity starts with each one of us. One person at a time. A germ of an idea at a time. It does not have to be on a soap box, on the national stage, or even in a national court of law. It is in the small acts, small companies, and small businesses which have often set the stage for many of our greatest achievements.
- We are responsible for protecting it.
- We foster all ideas – ours and others.
- We blow on all the embers of ideas of our fellow workers, our colleagues, our friends, our clients, our coaches, our partners….we don’t steal them.
- We give credit. We give public and private recognition.
- We make referrals expecting nothing in return.
- We are frightfully honest – in all arenas.
- We ask the questions of which we are afraid of the answers.
- We own the answers.
We are impeccable with our word – written, spoken, acted – regardless of the consequences. That is what integrity looks like.
About the Author: Kristin Kaufman is founder of Alignment, Inc.™, formed in 2007 to help individuals, corporations, boards of directors and non-profits find alignment within themselves and their organizations. A prolific writer, Kristin’s first book, Is This Seat Taken?, centers on her global experiences seeding her journey toward alignment. The book is scheduled for release in November 2011. Kristin is on Twitter as @KristinKaufman.
I live in Indiana. It’s February, typically considered a winter month (you might hear a little cynicism in my words…). And it’s snowy. Albeit, there’s much more snow here than we’ve had in recent years, but is that really a surprise?
I was scheduled to attend a local seminar tomorrow. I am a “nerd” and enjoy learning, especially if it will help me be a better HR professional, coach, &/or person. I always like to get another trainer’s perspective & I am familiar with this speaker – who I consider to be excellent, so I was looking forward to it. I got an email yesterday morning indicating it had been postponed until late this month. Our “weather” hadn’t even hit yet, although forecasters had been prognosticating a new “snowpocalypse” for days. And I saw or heard it everywhere I turned – Facebook, Twitter, television, radio.
The weather predictions appeared to be coming true by mid-afternoon yesterday and lots of snow began falling. Our company began monitoring in order to make prudent business decisions about closing or delaying opening today. As weather often does, it appeared to taper off last evening, and yet, the social media and television continued to “blow up” with news and details of “snowpocalypse.” It’s no wonder people overreact – the worse-case-scenarios are played out on every avenue of communication.
My husband was up early today, and was out snow-blowing our drive, and our neighbors, long before any county snow plow would have considered coming down our road. I got to thinking about all of this after getting the 5:55AM email that our business would open as usual today. It seems like everyone is preparing for the worse-case scenario, instead of preparing so it won’t be. Does that make sense?
What I mean is, it seems with the advent of social media and immediate news feeds, we tend to take on almost a ‘victim’ mentality. The weatherman predicts weather, everyone posts it on their statuses or news feeds, we all run to the store for bread, milk, and perhaps some adult beverages, and then we wait for the weather, sometimes predicting early that we can’t make it in. Often, the weather doesn’t end up being near as scary as predicted, and yet, many are paralyzed by the thought of that ‘worse-case scenario.”
What happened to simply preparing for the weather – extra layers of clothing, getting up early to shovel, snow-blow, scrape the car windows, leaving earlier than usual in order to get to work.
I do not remember a day that my Dad & Mom didn’t get up and go to work. Dad owned his own business, Mom worked at the local university, and no matter the weather, they got up, prepared for it, and went to work. Why are we any different today? We have better gadgets – snow blower, automatic car starters, warmer clothing and such, along with better prediction information – and yet, we aren’t preparing for the rigors of getting up and going to work, we are preparing for the worse.
Kind of like my seminar planned for tomorrow. I’m bummed. It seems like with a little preparation, the seminar might have been able to happen. Maybe not, depending on the speaker schedule and travel location, but it feels like we prepared for the worst, instead of preparing for the best.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anyone to endanger themselves to get to work. Yet, before our social media, did our parents and prior generations know better, prepare better, have a better work ethic? I don’t think so. I think they just used good common sense and prepared – for the best. Without all the “noise” from social media and news 24/7 on television, radio and streaming through our laptops and other devices, people simply prepared. Perhaps they had more time….
About the Author: Dorothy Douglass is Vice President of Human Resources & Training at MutualBank, an Indiana-based financial institution. She began her career with Mutual in 2001 as Human Resources Manager, and is a graduate of Ball State University. She is proud to have been in Human Resources now for more than 17 years and is continuing to “lean in” and working to influence the “people management” side of her organization. She is passionate about managing and developing people; and I have yet to be bored in 13+ years in her current job. She considers herself fairly tech-UN-savvy, though has immersed herself in Facebook and LinkedIn. She’s still working on the Twitter-sphere & has goals to blog more in 2014.
Frankly, as rich as so many of these books are, we often have a tendency to read them, even have the best of intentions to integrate the principles into our personal and professional lives; yet particularly when we are under pressure, these values are put to the test and we may fall short. We all know full well that it is better to tell the truth than to tell a fib and to be loyal rather than to cave under pressure. Most of us also fully embrace The Golden Rule: ‘of doing unto others as we would have done unto us.’ We are certainly not ignorant of the virtues of the spiritual truths, Biblical principles, and even the many current writings on these values.
Yet, how many of us are really honest with ourselves with how and when we practice our beliefs and values pertaining to ethical behavior? How many of us hold ourselves and our team mates accountable for modeling ethical behavior? What can we do to help each other hold fast to these principles? So, in addition to our own spiritual practices and support groups, what are a few additional steps we can take to truly exercise our ethical muscles?
I read a wonderful article in Talent Management a few years ago which really stuck with me. I am integrating a few points I read in this article by Robert J. Thomas – as I believe he had an interesting and pragmatic perspective. One key point he made, which I thought was particularly ‘spot on,’ was that none of these observations or exercises will work unless we are ruthlessly honest with ourselves. So, keep that in mind – only read further if you are willing to look in the mirror of authentic self reflection and be ruthless about what we find.
Step 1: Honestly evaluate our commitments to others.
At the end of each day, (or if you are really strapped for time, do this on a Saturday morning), think about all the commitments, approvals, obligations, and promises you have made. There will be many – as so many of us say ‘yes’ or ‘I will get that to you’ or ‘I will read that and give you feedback’ without even really thinking about it. We are trying to be supportive, polite, or simply not thinking about it being a real commitment. What happens if we don’t come through? What is the cost to ourselves and to the others to whom we made these promises? Some may say that this has nothing to do with ethics. I disagree. Again, when we say we are going to do something – regardless of how small it may seem to us – it is our word to another. Sure, sometimes we forget, get busy, and it falls off the radar; that can happen. The difference is when it does – do we follow-up, admit our mistakes, make it right, and make a commitment to ourselves to do better the next time? This is how we learn and grow. We observe ourselves, put a practice in place to be aware of our behavior, and from here we can improve.
Step 2: Create a personal “Board of Directors” and career support system
Most of us have support systems of some sort: spouses, families, friends, Bible study groups, civic groups, etc. However, how many of us have a pseudo ‘board of directors’ for our professional growth? Just like a corporate board, our own personal board needs to be chosen for their experience, knowledge, skill set, and unrelenting commitment to the company’s success (in this case the company is YOU). These people will care enough to shoot straight with you – even when their observations may not be what you want to hear.
My suggestion is that these conversations need to be deliberate, not episodic or social in nature. They need to focus on you, your adherence to your values, your foibles, areas for improvement and honest observations. So, what’s in it for them we may ask? Well, in addition to the fulfilling nature of ‘paying it forward’ which they will undoubtedly experience when helping another; we can also offer to serve in that same capacity for someone they may want us to help. This is the cycle of leadership – and this is just one step we can each take as a matter of practice going forward.
Step 3: Establish values which will stand the tests of crisis, challenge, and temptation
Most organizations spend days (and often weeks) establishing their value system. Often, these values end up on the bulletin board or a plaque in clear view for everyone to see and read. I wonder if we would really know what the values were within these organizations without the plaque. Would the behaviors the individuals (and teams) exhibit in the organization represent those values? That is the truth serum, isn’t it? The same is true for us.
We may espouse a certain set of values – yet do we live them? What values would our co-workers say we live? Are they consistent with what our families and friends would say? Are our values the same in moments of stress, crisis and potential conflict?
Imagine all the whistle blowers in the news…..do we have the backbone to truly live our values when we are really tested? Think Sherron Watkins (Enron whistle blower). Then think about Eileen Foster – the Countrywide whistle blower who was ignored and then fired for calling suspicious actions into question. Finally, consider Katsuaki Watanabe, the CEO of Toyota, and all the other companies who had to face the realities of product recalls in recent years. What values and strength of conviction were represented in each scenario? What will we do when our ‘Tylenol moment’ happens? Will our values and ethics remain intact when we have to face the music? Establish values, declare them, and hold ourselves accountable to them.
From my perspective, in life and leadership, exercising ethics is a non-negotiable. As Albert Schweitzer (Civilization and Ethics, 1949) offers: “Ethics are nothing but reverence for life. This is what gives us the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life.”
What I also believe is that without putting ethics into action any success we may achieve will be fleeting, unstable, and unsustainable – like a house built of sand. And we all know what happens to sand castles when the tides come.
About the Author: Kristin Kaufman is founder of Alignment, Inc.™, formed in 2007 to help individuals, corporations, boards of directors and non-profits find alignment within themselves and their organizations. A prolific writer, Kristin’s first book, Is This Seat Taken?, centers on her global experiences seeding her journey toward alignment. The book is scheduled for release in November 2011. Kristin is on Twitter as @KristinKaufman.
Looking for a life-impacting role for HR? Explore the opportunity you can use to save lives and life styles. I am talking about the life skills and balancing of life decisions of both your employees and their spouses.
My mom’s cousin lost her husband in the last year. In her grief and lack of education, she ignored the opportunity to keep her insurance and other benefits going. She has now had a stroke and may need brain surgery. I don’t want to go into the healthcare debate; I want you to think about the people and the impact a little education and/or policy changes could make.
What if her insurance and benefits could have continued automatically, paid out of her survivor benefits? This could at least have happened for a reasonable “grief” period, when there are so many decisions to make.
Let’s go beyond insurance and jump to life skills discussion. Want to increase family engagement? What about addressing the often ignored factors of estate planning and organizational skills? 85% of households have one spouse solely responsible for bills and paperwork. How can you help employees and their spouses, regardless of which one is the household operator, understand the critical necessity of cross training or at least strong organization of these processes. It can be touchy, but in many cases, it would be very welcome to have tools and discussion facilitated.
This issue is gender and socio-economically diverse. Think about it. Think about your mom, dad, sister, brother, grandparent, spouse. Who is going to be impacted by a tragedy compounded by complexity of new skill requirements, or financial messes that have never been shared?
You can make a difference.
Lois Melbourne, GPHR, is co-founder and former CEO of Aquire Solutions, mom to one terrific young son and wife of co-founder Ross Melbourne. After entering a bit of a sabbatical life phase, she is authoring a series of children’s books about career ambitions. She maintains a strong personal commitment to career education and small business development and is a speaker, author of industry articles, and an occasional blogger and networker. Connect with her on Twitter as @loismelbourne.
It happens to all of us in HR at some point in our lives. We find ourselves caught in an awkward position at work and we ask ourselves, “What is the best response here?”
I am talking about situations where compassion is needed, but with extenuating circumstances. You’ve encountered the scenario before. An employee confides something deeply personal:
- A health issue
- A break-up
- An unexpected pregnancy
She is coming to you not really as a friend, but as someone who she thinks can help her. She wants:
- A break
She doesn’t know or understand the awkward position this possibly puts you in. The information she provides may or may not be true. You know that:
- Her supervisor is at his wits end because her performance is so poor
- She was late again three times this week
- The organization doesn’t have a warm and fuzzy culture with flexibility
- There are impending layoffs and her employment is at risk
What are your responsibilities in this situation? How involved should you be? How do you protect company interests while being a human being?
Human resources practitioners are not registered psychologists or social workers. We are not “Mother Theresa”. For most of us, our employers do not want or expect us to be advocates for the downtrodden, but we are expected to be kind, helpful and looking for the win-win. We do not have a magic wand. Therefore suffice to say that there are no clear cut answers about the level of compassion we need to provide in these tough situations, only possible approaches.
Here are some things you can do:
- To the extent possible, help her find professional help. Does your benefit plan offer an EAP? Are there help lines or government services available? Is counseling a covered benefit? Keep abreast of the resources available to a person in need and share them freely. Short lists are better than single resources. Encourage her to make the call. That way, you don’t have to give advice or get overly involved.
- Are there small things you can do? Can she borrow your office for 20 minutes to get her composure or to make a private call? Is there some small token you have that you can give to her to show her that you and the Company care?
- Be clear about what you can and can’t keep confidential and your channel of communication within the organization. For most employees, the role of HR is unclear, which in many cases leads to the risk that an employee won’t come and see us out of fear or mistrust, even when it is prudent that they do so.
- Encourage her to be discrete about whom she confides in about the circumstances. The workplace is full of people who are your frenemies. Your Company has policies regarding fair treatment but you can’t control everything. While it has become commonplace for stars to rise out of their personal meltdowns, it is more difficult for the rest of us to do so. Also a privately-managed issue will likely result in less workplace disruption.
- Be clear about the conundrum created when personal information like this is shared with someone in HR. Ask for clarity on the reasons she came to you and what she expects your involvement to be. Be clear about what you can and can’t do for her.
- With regards to how the personal situation impacts her job, encourage her to speak with her Supervisor and to be open to possible solutions. Offer to open the discussion with the Supervisor if you feel there may be a risk that the Supervisor may not handle the situation in a manner appropriate to the circumstances. If it is possible, try to create clarity about the continuing performance expectations and work through strategies to address them. Try to keep to as much of a third-party approach as possible.
- Get legal advice as needed. There are a myriad of potential challenges that could present themselves if down the line she is terminated. It could be construed that you used the knowledge gained in the circumstances inappropriately with undesirable consequences.
Above all, be genuine. The success of the outcome is in direct relation to your ability to:
- Be compassionate
- Think on your feet
- Keep your head
- See it through
Photo credit iStockphoto
When I contracted a new EAP vendor, I manufactured a reason to schedule several counseling appointments. Okay, so I admit it. With my crazy life, it wasn't that hard to find an excuse. When we started our first Health Reimbursement Account, I enrolled even though my husband's plan was cheaper.
So that I could shop my own HR programs, experience them as a consumer/employee rather than an administrator, catch issues early and speak about our benefits with more credibility. Obviously some benefits, such as short-term disability, workers' comp and life insurance can't really be mystery shopped (because doing so would be fraud) so skip them and focus on sampling your employment application process. Experts like Gerry Crispin as well as family and friends' horror stories condemn the collective candidate experience as pretty dismal.
Every time I tweak my applicant tracking system, I concoct a silly name and apply for a random job to see how the process feels to an applicant. I encourage all HR pros (and heck, CEO's) to do the same. Just as importantly, occasionally apply for jobs with other organizations, no matter how happy you are with your employer. It doesn't really matter what you apply for: courtesy clerk, VP of Talent Management, janitor or sales associate. The point is that you experience the different phases of the application process and notice what is awesome and what is annoying as hell. Then you go back to your own organization and try to incorporate what you liked while eliminating as many nails-on-chalkboard moments as possible.
For example, you may encounter a site requiring dozens of screens of application data *AND* on top of that, they want you to upload a resume … a document duplicating 90% of the information so incredibly painstakingly inputted for the last 50 minutes … aargh! And after all that effort, good luck getting any communication at all, even a standard email receipt.
As an HR pro, you don't want top talent being faced with that. Figure out another way to get what you need without inflicting unnecessary and ungainly
processes that prompt people to put their heads through the wall, or worse, abandon the process and go apply somewhere more welcoming.
It's all a balance. This is what works for me. Applicants complete a handful of basic demographic questions. They upload their resume. Then they complete a very short application that is customized by position so that only the most relevant information is requested. After that, they are prompted to answer several questions that delve into some critical logistics and they answer two questions that speak to the core values of my organization. Additional information, such as the criminal background check required by our licensor, can be obtained later if an interview takes place.
While I continue to struggle with communicating adequately with the scores of entry level, part-time hourly applicants–many of whom might fit a different schedule or future job, I do make an effort to communicate with candidates, especially post-interview. We're all using technology, so it is easy to send out no thank you letters or emails explaining delays in the decision process. It's sad to say, but if I didn't shop my own ATS and didn't apply for other jobs from time to time, it's possible I might be a little more complacent about how my candidates experience my organization.
HR metrics and measures abound, but sometimes there's no substitute for what we learn from a little personal experience with the programs and processes we
inflict on create for others. Thoughts, HR pros?
About the author: Krista Francis, SPHR, is nonprofit HR Director and sometimes Acting Executive Director. She lives outside of Washington DC with her soccer-crazy hubby, two active teenagers, a neurotic cat and the best dog in the world, Rocky, aka Party like a Rockstar. In her loads of free time, she tries to keep her scooter running, tests margaritas for quality control purposes and blogs at aliveHR. You can connect with her on Twitter as @kristafrancis.
photo credit: antwerp
We are unwrapping some posts from the Women of HR archives for you this holiday season. Relax, enjoy and let us know if there is a favorite of yours you'd like to see unwrapped and run again.
Our fearless leader over here at Women of HR recently sent us a link to an awesome manifesto titled, Six Rules Women Must Break In Order to Succeed. The list includes provocative ideas such as taking center stage, being politically savvy, and playing to win.
I have a rule I'd like to add to the list and it's a big one:
In this instance, by care I mean taking responsibility for anything outside your own purview and trying to fix, make better, help, show concern, or apologize for problem or issue that you did not create.
The fact is, women already apologize far more often than men. And we apologize for different reasons, often to convey sympathy rather than responsibility. Here's a great example from dinner with my brother and sister last night. We were going to a football game and meeting the rest of our family. The waiter forgot to put in her order and then came back to discuss it as the rest of us were finishing the meal. She told him to forget it. He tried to argue with her about it, since he'd just put the order in.
My sister said, “I’m really sorry, but I had said I didn’t want that shrimp dish after all. We’re trying to get to a
football game. Since you forgot to order the dish, everyone else is finished. Please cancel it.”
He brought it out ten minutes later. She said again, to the waiter: “Thanks, but like I said, we don’t want this shrimp now. I’m sorry.” He left it on the table as he went to get the check. The shrimp dish was on the bill.
My brother said to the waiter: “Hey, man, you screwed up. I guess you’re eating shrimp for dinner. But we’re not paying for it. And we don’t want to drag this doggy bag full of shrimp all over town tonight.”
Notice the difference?
My brother is not known to be especially assertive, but my sister is known to be particularly so, for a woman. And she still apologized twice for a mistake she didn't make. My sister was trying to convey sympathy, but the waiter apparently heard responsibility – why would she apologize if she hadn't somehow helped create the problem?
Care less. Apologize less. Or at least count the number of times you say, “I'm sorry,” compared to your male peers. Let people take responsibilities for their own mistakes. It won't kill them. And continuing to care too much about the people around you might kill you. Or worse, send you driving home with a dish of shrimp scampi that has been sitting in your car for 3 hours on a hot Houston night.
About the author: Franny Oxford, SPHR is an HR leader for Texas entrepreneurs and privately held companies. Franny is committed to helping all members of the HR profession become better risk takers and stronger questioners of the status quo. You can connect with her on Twitter as @Frannyo.
Photo credit iStockphoto
This first week of the new year we are featuring some of our top posts at Women of HR. Enjoy!
Dreading Monday mornings is a ridiculous way to spend one-seventh of your life, but that’s the weird habit millions of people have fallen into.
Weekends rock in our household. We sleep in and whoever sleeps the latest is the winner – we’re trying to convince my daughter that sleeping late is a good thing. There’s time for pancakes for breakfast and cozying up in a sleeping bag with a movie in the middle of the day. Regular rules fly out the window and everything seems to slow down.
Sunday night is when the world starts to return to normal. Laundry gets done and food shopping and cooking for the week ahead begins. This is when I check in with myself. Am I excited to return to work tomorrow? Have I spent enough time with my family so that I am ready to jump back into the challenge of my job? Thoughts of work filter slowly back into my consciousness. Does it pique my interest? Or cause vague feelings of uneasiness?
Monday morning is the true test. While I wait in the elevator lobby at the office, my stomach and brain tell me everything I need to know about whether or not I am following my true path. Of course there are occasional days of anxiety, angst, and annoyance – that’s to be expected anywhere. But if I experience Monday morning dread several weeks or months in a row, I know something isn’t right. Either I’m not doing the work I’m meant to do, or I’m not working with the people I’m meant to serve. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it is up to me (not my employer) to do something about shifting those Monday morning feelings.
How do you know when you’ve strayed away from your true path?
Photo credit iStockPhoto