June 8, 2021No Comments

The Boxer

One of my favorite Great-Great Aunts was Lizzie. She was a spitfire who would curse you out (in Italian, of course) and didn’t miss anything going on…unless she wanted to miss what was going on. As a kid, I couldn’t understand how she would be able to hear some directed requests of her while not hearing others. I was so confused as to how she could overhear the quietest conversations but completely catch nothing in ones that included her. It wasn’t until I was older that I appreciated the practice.

Johnny Depp brought new life to Willy Wonka in 2005 in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And while the Gene Wilder purists didn’t love this version, there were some great one-liners from Depp. “You really shouldn’t mumble” is a line we use in our home often. When Willy did not want to hear what someone else was saying, though he clearly heard it, he would retort with, “I can’t understand a word you’re saying.” For Mr. Wonka, mumblers were aplenty. It was deflection at its silliest.

When we ignore others out of self-preservation, we do so to our own detriment. It’s often out of the uncomfortable that the turning of a new page or a refining process begins. So why do we do it?

Well, that self-preservation piece is tough to ignore. We work hard to be our “best selves.” Take a look at your Facebook feed (if you still have one) and look at all of the memes, sayings and gifs encouraging you to Live Your Best Life, to cut out any negativity, to remove toxic people from your life. And while there is truth behind those mandates, are you prepared to know the difference, truly, between negativity and difficulty? Just because someone is sharing something you don’t want to hear does not make that person a negative force to be cut out of your life. And if social media is guiding that definition, I fear you’re blocking out potential growth opportunities (I, also, fear the depth that SoMe has on your life!).

I remember being told I was a racist. It was actually the only time to date that I was directly called one. I sat across from the Vice President of Student Affairs and he simply, clearly and directly blasted me with that moniker. I was furious. Honestly, if I didn’t have a core respect for my elders, I likely would have introduced my fist to his face. I am not a racist. The one-minute exchange days earlier that he mentally categorized was the entire basis for his labelling despite a two-year history of working with me. And while I know that he was wrong, I can look at it differently today. I didn’t block him out. I didn’t file a lawsuit (though I could have as his label kept an RA position from being awarded to me). What I did instead was ask other people if I was sharing racist views or if people were uncomfortable around me due to a perception of racism. I didn’t want to hear what that VP said, but instead, I chose to listen and take from it what I could to be better.

Choose to listen. As managers, it is easy to be dismissive. We can nod as if we’re listening (I mean, we’ve read enough books and attended enough seminars to know the tricks of listening), but choose to engage with what you hear, maybe even more with those views that differ from yours. The defensive posture of dismissal has a place, but it’s not the first tool to use. Consider the position first. Examine the basis for merit in process improvement, communications or goal alignment. Take the feedback. Listen.

And I know it’s easy to read this and think about the people you’ve done that with and recall the disappointment in those relationships. Not everyone is right in what they ask you to listen to, and you will sift through those non-helpful comments. But taking the step to listen and consider first is fair and equitable. Mumblers don’t abound as much as Deflectors.

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May 12, 2021144 Comments

I Say a Little Prayer

­­­The 360-feedback game. Have you played it? Better question, have you played it well? There is a difference, and it would be wonderful if more played it well. That’s no slight on any employee, per se, but rather more of a commentary on the receipt of organizational critique.

Recently, I chatted with a few company founders. They each shared how they’d like to know what their staff are thinking. They spoke about a disconnect from where they sit and what is actually happening from the point of view of entry- to mid-level employees. Each shared various concerns about edited or muted commentary making its way back to them, whether due to managers keeping a lid on problems or a supervisor unsure as to when to bring things up. “Causing ripples in the water can be a death sentence,” one leader shared. “Who wants to be the person to cause a management meeting to go longer?”

Ah, that starts to hit the nail, right? The idea of being the “troublemaker” on the management team by bringing up feedback or critique stymies the very kind of organizational health meant to be discussed at those meetings. A cycle of restraint leaving leaders thinking all is well in their company’s world (and heaven forbid a meeting go longer for a valid reason!).

In My Best Friend’s Wedding, the premise of not sharing information is taken to a comedic and dark place. Julianne “Jules” (Julia Roberts) realizes that she loves her best friend, Michael (Dermot Mulroney), after he tells her he’s engaged to Kimberly “Kimmie” (Cameron Diaz). Maybe Jules should have figured things out years earlier, but now the chase is on (literally, across green fields and the city of Chicago) to share this feedback. She must tell him. And risk ruining everything.

When feedback has as its primary consideration what negative effect it will cause, the mechanism is neither an effective tool nor likely to be utilized. Those leaders who shared with me were longing to know. All of them were sure that there were pieces of information that would greatly benefit the structure and/or the culture of the organization. Yet, the poor view of its effect on the deliverer of that feedback overshadowed the potential positive effects.

For sure, all those leaders left our conversation feeling like they ought to take the first step by verbalizing a commitment to constructive feedback. That commitment needs to be more than just saying we want to listen but teaching management how to seek and receive it. Often, the breakdown is in the employee-to-supervisor level. There is very little, if any, training offered to supervisors as to how to maturely ask for and receive feedback. Supervisors are usually in a tactical space getting work done and are not encouraged to consider first level transformational information gathering. When “feedback” is synonymous with “complaint,” then supervisors will knee-jerk into shutting any commentary down. They think that’s what they ought to do, that the company would want them to stop any complaining. Supervisors will do better if they know better, truly.

And it’s okay for small steps towards improvement to be made in feedback gathering. Manage your expectation for everyone’s adoption of the “new way” we do things. Feedback connects to an employee’s trust quotient. Can they really believe you want to know? If it’s been years of suppression or fear, then expecting an overnight change is foolish. Take it in incremental steps.

Expectations have to be managed at the onset of feedback as well as on the back end. Jules did not get Michael after she shared her feelings. He still married Kimmie. If staff believe that whatever feedback they offer will be met with immediate action or complete acceptance by all involved, then disappointment will set in and detract from the offering of critique. Why bother if they don’t change? Tackle those expectations, too.

This is not an easy boat to turn around. It will take time and a supportive team to implement. I’ll say a little prayer for you along the way…

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April 29, 202110 Comments


Honesty in limited measure isn’t honesty. When you ask someone where they’ve been and the response from that person is “out,” do you accept that final answer? It’s most common for you to say something like, “Out where?” You want a complete, honest answer, and even more so when you get that kind of initial response!

Feedback is supposed to be honest. Not mean, not sugar-coated, not inflammatory, but honest. And yet, when we receive it, we may be tempted to refuse it because we don’t believe it to be true. The defense mechanisms kick in. We begin to search our minds for reasons to push back. We may verbalize arguments against it or attacks on the deliverer of the feedback. And those of you reading now who are finding themselves already posturing against this being you might need to re-evaluate. It’s called a natural defense mechanism for a reason.

As with most conditional responses, whether a mental or overt response, there are some behavioral modification techniques that will help (watch out BF Skinner-ites…about to get good!).

  • Context Consideration – walk through the context of the feedback thoughtfully. Are these feedback points clearly about the work that that I do for the company? If so, then keep the context narrow. These comments may not be indicative of a global truth about me. They represent only how the work I do is offered and/or received. My context is that I have an audience to the work I do, and I want to be sure to deliver so it’s received well. And while it may feel personal (and maybe some of it is), ultimately, it’s about my role.
  • Address Negative Bias – hearing the term “feedback” may be elicit a conditioned response of presumed negativity. You hear any commentary, whether truly negative/constructive or, in fact, positive, through a lens of “OK, what’s he/she/they getting at?” Expecting the worst, or at least close to it, means hearing the worst. Even, “I see so much progress in your skills this year” is heard as a slight. “Oh, you mean, I wasn’t skilled before?” It’s a defensive posture, usually heightened from some previous experiences that were not healthy. Not every manager is out to get you. Confront that bias head on as you hear information. Call out the negative tape playing in your head.
  • Framing – Listen to both affirmational and constructive feedback for opportunities to frame a further plan of action for development or for display. How can I take these points and create opportunities for excellence? By framing a plan forward, the current feedback is not the end, but rather a means to further opportunity. Without framing, the feedback may be seen as the end of the path. As you may have seen in coworkers, when that happens, the employee settles into an “I guess I’ve reached my potential here” or “I am not giving any more than I do since they don’t appreciate it” position. Framing looks for deeper development and chances for innovative application.

Starting with these few techniques will change the entire feedback process for you, both as a receiver AND a deliverer. You will be more considerate and intentional about feedback you offer. You will proactively look for ways to deliver your messaging in feedback to be affirmational in continuous improvement and creative opportunities. And you won’t rely on sugar-coating difficult feedback, but rather, you will have first-hand understanding of behavioral modification techniques that you can weave into the delivery of information. Those who report to you will appreciate that kind of thoughtfulness.

Feedback isn’t code for “you suck.” But if the message received is truly one of “maybe this isn’t the role for you,” then isn’t it good to know that and frame a plan moving forward to seek out a more aligned role? That’s not negative; it’s saving you time (years, maybe) from staying in a job that you’re not designed for. If you think about it that way, you actually received positive feedback.

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April 15, 20211237 Comments

Knowing Me Knowing You

Knowing how to work the angles in the workplace is a skill set in and of itself, often separate from the skills needed to actually do one’s job. Sigourney Weaver played Katharine Parker, one of the worst bosses in the history of the world, in the movie Working Girl. She knew how to work these angles and took professional advantage of her assistant, Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith’s character). Katharine was able to use cunning innovation, strategic planning and creative thinking to her benefit. Of course, since the movie had to have an underdog happy ending, she lost out in the end, but far too many of us know that is not always (usually?) the case in actual organizations.

Have you ever thought about those online and email virus creators? What an incredible set of skills and knowledge to put to use for such a devious outcome. Aren’t there some private company or public entity roles that these people could be given to use their powers for good instead of evil?

For most managers, encouraging the application of individual competencies is way down on the To Do List. Just getting the work done takes precedence daily. There may be production quotas to fill or customer activity that requires constant attention and service. Time marches on, and despite a desire to know and apply individual competencies, it doesn’t happen.

The two-sided nature of a process called competency mapping, particularly in a climate of heightened, competitive talent acquisition and robust organizational growth, will put this task on a healthier and directed path for necessary completion. The first side of the process is to assess the individual competencies – defined as knowledge, skills, aptitude, abilities and personal attributes – through a short series of information gathering. For instance, the use of survey software to ask managers what they observe (behaviors give insight into the application of competencies) in each staff member. Whether those competencies are directly related to the role held by the individual contributor is irrelevant. What have you seen this person do or be?

On the self-identification side, the same survey platform can be used to ask employees about what they know how to do and how they know they can do it. This information gathering can also take the form of a more organizational psychology approach through scientific assessments. Engaging an IO Specialist or a seasoned HR practitioner may help to get this done. Ultimately, this will draw out the functional skills applied to the work being done as well as to work that could be done. It will put forth knowledge that the individual has, the demeanor with which work is done and the leadership, if any, put forth to accomplish objectives.

This becomes an inventory to draw upon as well as an alignment check to the actual role assigned. Herein is the other side of the coin. What competencies does it take to perform each role the company has? Map the competencies for the role itself, without looking at the person filling the role currently. This one can be tricky because it’s tough to separate, but it allows for a more holistic and honest review of what is needed for successful management, completion and/or performance of the job. Just because someone is in a role, even if in that role for years, does not mean the person is aligned to the work being done well. Remember working the angles?

Haven’t you heard staff ask, “How did So & So get that job?” And usually that question is not asked in a positive light! It’s a question of alignment. In order to appreciate the how, the question to first ask is the what. What does it take for someone to be successful in this role? What competencies does the person currently in the role have? Do they match up?

Don’t let the title of the exercise – competency mapping – throw you. Yes, it takes directed effort to complete this and may require an outside resource to help, but it’s absolutely worth it in the long run. It will, also, help to move people like Katharine Parker out of the organization quicker. She had to go!

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April 1, 20211152 Comments

Kiss Off

It was never a taught skill, but someone how my sister and I mastered egging each other into a frenzy. My mom loved it (insert sarcastic face). On good days, she would call one of us a “tantalizer.” We just knew how to get under each other’s skin. When I watch Erica, Barry and Adam Goldberg interact, I am reminded of those glorious days of arguing, punching, smacking and annoying. The Goldbergs recreates those darling interactions between siblings in a heartfelt but true-to-form manner. It seems so effortless for them, too. I get it. Being naturally proficient in this was my joy as a kid (ok, a little bit now, too). But I know I am not alone in my mastery. Funny how it’s not a listed skill set on resumes today.

Well, perhaps, while not appearing on CVs, we do find ways to put forth this expertise in the workplace. The Human Resources Department is sometimes full of these expert tantalizers. And the most valuable weapons aren’t headlock nuggys anymore; it’s write-ups.

Through the years, when I have been privileged enough to come into an organization and establish a path for both individual and company development and progression, I’ve come face to face with the weaponizing use of discipline. And I get it. When HR is setup as a default discipline within an organization, the investment in skill development is minimal, if not non-existent. Companies relegate these de facto HR POCs (points of contact) into discipline machines – “you’re late, you’re not in uniform, you’re out of PTO, you’re not…” The list of infractions multiplies as the employee handbook grows from 30 pages to 70 and changes into a handbook of grievances. YAY, let’s work here!

Corrective action rather than employee discipline is the right consideration, but even that has become more about correction and less about action. Renaming the task of writing people up but doing the same thing is the old smoke and mirrors gag. Your staff knows it.

So, what do you do? Simple. How would you like to be treated?

Take the last 6 incidents where write-ups occurred and place yourself in the recipient’s shoes. Block the judgement about the actual individual for a moment. Consider instead the areas of expectation management, communication, job duties and performance. Focus on the role and the manner with which you understand the work to be done. Could it be that there are gaps in understanding or in the actual function of the role that have caused discipline to be the solution?

Look, if I am asked to come to the plate and hit a home run every time I’m at bat, there is a high probability that I will fail. Whether you are a baseball aficionado or not, you can appreciate this example. No one hits a home run every time. No one. But if that is how the expectation is setup and performance is measured, then write-ups will be aplenty. Does an employee who has been disciplined have such an expectation? I know you’re shaking your head no but stop and look at the situation. Could the department manager be someone who is hard to please? If someone has “failed” in the past, is the hole so deep for that person to climb out of that the manager won’t ever be satisfied? And before you think it could never be this, it’s likely this 50% of the time.

Simply, stop with the write-ups. Yes, yes, there are things that need to be documented. I could not have made it 30 years in HR-related work without appreciating a “note to file.” Instead, the first thought ought to be. “Let’s chat, Employee. What’s happening with you? The issue we have to discuss is based on “x”, but I wonder if there’s more to it. Can you help me to understand why “x” isn’t happening?” (or something similar). You already know, for instance, that the person has been late to work a few times. Can we just ask what’s up before we commence with the over-the-top dead-arm torture of the “1st Written Warning”?

And before any solidarity movement around how much employees suck comes my way, let me affirm that not every employee will respond well to this initial tactic. Some may just want the write-up and then, on the next shift, no call/no show for a final kiss off to you. Been there, done that. However, it’s still in our right interest to hope for the best. Notice I didn’t finish that with “and expect the worst.” Change the mindset, Tantalizer.

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March 17, 202170 Comments

Don’t Rain on My Parade

Haters gonna hate. Being in human resources related work for almost 30 years gives you too many opportunities to see and to hear how awful people can be to one another. Truly awful. It’s a running joke that all good HR professionals keep tissues on their desk, not for themselves necessarily, but for the stream of people who come in with pain on their faces and strain in their voices. Workplaces can be glorified high schools, yes, but mostly they remind us that the human dynamic can be quite broken and in need of guidance.

When the show Glee hit, I was hooked in the first two minutes. As a hopeful singer with little talent, living vicariously through these characters who were trying to find their way in high school while dealing with the unpopular choice to be in a glee club was inspiring. However, it was a painful experience for each. While having a slushie dumped on you or being tossed into a dumpster were extreme peer responses, the verbal assaults and gossiping were a more common weapon. The glee club students were brought to tears on more than one episode and for a variety of reasons ranging from “you’re just not cool anymore” to taunting about race, disability and being adopted. Sound like your company? I hope not, but I see your head nodding yes.

It’s a remarkable feat to instill confidence in those who have been broken by any system of oppression and relegation. Helping others to find their voice while concurrently dismantling modalities of process and behavior that demoralize and keep certain types of people out is a mandate for the leaders in any healthy organization. If that’s not a hallmark for those in leadership, then is it a healthy organization?

Recently, I spoke to an organization that was having trouble with one of its founders. This owner was rough. He spoke disparagingly to staff. He wouldn’t curse at a person, but curse to a person (yes, this was really the explanation). Rather than, “You’re a f*$@* idiot,” a gentler, kinder version – “Do you have any idea why you would put this f*$@* information in the wrong place.” See? Isn’t that much better? After a couple of years of dealing with this, an employee has had enough. She complained and said it’s got to stop. The answer? Let’s make the owner sit through an hour of training to fix him. That should make it better.

While training is a good tool, it’s not the complete solution. I asked, “Does the owner see the problem?” Thankfully, the Zoom video chat allowed me to see the head-shaking “no” response. So what in the world will training for an hour do? And knowing that there won’t be a change coming, that complaining employee stopped coming to work. Likely, there’s more to come here…

What will it take to get serious about breaking down systemic dividers amongst departments? Or more to the point, amongst people? Does it have to take a severe course of action for an individual to be heard at your workplace? Do they need to be stuffed into a locker? Truly, every manager and HR professional ought to be on the forefront proactively looking for ways to better manage effective and targeted communication, workplace relational development and a respectful inclusive environment full of vitality. We can no longer accept any sort of status quo when it comes to organizational health. Whether it’s an Owner, a C-Suite Executive, a first-time Supervisor or an Entry Level worker, all have a right to be treated respectfully and to offer respect in return.

If you’re struggling in your workplace, I am sorry. No one has the right to rain on your parade. You are valued and there is an inclusive place for you. Whether it’s with your current employer or not, there is a way for you to use your giftedness freely with the support of those around you. Find those champions who will speak confidence into you. You will learn, if not already happening, how to trust those people. You still need honest feedback. I need those I trust to tell me, “John, you’re awesome, but trying to release your first CD might not be the best route for you. Unless that CD is spoken word.”

I’ll take that support. And you should have it as well.

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March 16, 20213 Comments

Humareso’s 2021 Clutch Award

At Humareso, we will handle all facets of employee management and business development for your company. We are going to strategize with you and develop plans to recruit and manage the right talent that you need. We provide HR solutions for businesses of all sizes that are trying to manage budget and growth. Let us take care of your compliance and administration, direct-hire recruiting, training and development, HR technology, and strategic organizational actions.

Recently, Humareso was highlighted as a top diversity and inclusion company by Clutch, a B2B ratings and reviews platform. Clutch is a rapidly-growing startup that has become the go-to resource for buyers looking for the best company to hire and for businesses seeking qualified leads and new projects.

Being recognized by Clutch as a top company in our industry is a huge achievement and a testament to our success. 

"Our ability to navigate the employment landscape through workplace culture and communication changes has enabled us to be a prime resource for our many clients across the US. We are proud and honored to have been recognized as one of the Top B2B HR Firms by Clutch!" - John Baldino, President of Humareso

We’d also like to thank our wonderful clients for their continued support and trust and especially those who assessed our services and how it made a difference in their businesses.

On one of our projects, a consultancy firm hired us to provide strategic human resources services. We helped the company by developing their executive leadership, creating strategies for employee engagement, and assisting with talent management as well.

“From a cultural perspective, having the input of someone who’s been in the industry as long as John has is beneficial. He understands the legal side and the impact of growing teams.” – CEO, East Coast Consultancy

Send us a message! We’d love to know more about your company.

March 4, 20211016 Comments

I Wanna Be Rich

You struck it rich. Lots of cash. Ah, take that vision in.

And then watch “The Lottery Changed My Life.” It’s a sad tale (usually) of overspending, overextending and overexposure. Dysfunctional approaches to instant wealth based upon psychological baggage riddle the show. Lots of “I can’t believe I am broke again” head-shaking along with bankruptcy lawsuits make for 30-60 minutes of entertainment (maybe?).

And as typical viewing Americans, we shake our heads at the screen explaining to our television viewing living room audience how this situation would never happen to me. We explain how we wouldn’t fall into the traps these people did and how we’re much smarter than all of this. We think we know better. That’s what we do. Especially in areas where we have no direct experience. Did you ever notice that?

We build upon the premise of knowing, in general, how far is too far. We take the victories we’ve had in life and paint with a broad and bold brush. And while there are some truths that are universal that our experiences have driven home, projecting every opinion or position as absolute truth will likely cause issues, particularly when it comes to dealing with others.

Welcome to the daily “dilemma” organizations face as they ask for collaboration and expression of ideas while maintaining the boundaries of “this is too far.”

Companies say they are looking for “better” employees. I’ve been in these leadership meetings where idealism breaks down into despair about the state of our world. “These kids today” kind of language, pointing out the lack of critical thinking, babied responsiveness and minimum willingness to work hard.  Fractional leadership may be brought in to help, but too often manifests itself in platitudes of what used to work and how life was better then.

Is the basis of leadership in our organizations merely pointing out how far is too far?

We’ve likely read the research that top-down leadership desiring to affect organizational cultural change fails most times. In an effort to fix what is wrong with process and/or product, the personnel attached to these areas are discussed. Behaviors, work ethic and viable knowledge sharing are areas of discussion. And then leadership decides to “crack the whip” “make an example of a few” “introduce a new sheriff in town” or some such tone-deaf, if not offensive, phraseology of yesteryear.

To think inspiration will come from that kind of approach is more laughable today than even ten years ago, thankfully. But as with many human responses, we can swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. Leaders want to push transparency and humility as company values in fostering creative, inventive staff contributions. Recent research shows that these organizations are running a higher risk of “too much humility” through self-deprecation leading to employee concern over a lack of leadership competencies. Terms like weak, unsure and incompetent creep into employee survey responses when asked about leadership’s ability to lead people and/or process.

And the shocking answer to much of this is a positional commitment to balance. How might I demonstrate clear organizational direction while maintaining an expressed desire for collaborative input? Think about how that question might be received and answered by the leaders in your own company.

One final reality is the too-oft used personality crutch. The belief is that to balance such an approach is dependent upon a leader with a certain type of personality. True, certain natural leanings will make this balanced approach easier to cultivate; however, that is not the same as saying it’s not possible for leaders of varying personalities to be successful. Extroverts and introverts, whatever your DISC profile or Myers-Briggs alphabet, can achieve a non-punitive, non-authoritarian, innovatively collaborative leadership brand within an organization. Don’t believe the personality excuse.

Is it a good idea for any contributor in the organization to know where the gutters of the bowling lane are? Of course. Is it a good idea for any contributor to understand where the company is going with reasonable transparency? Most definitely.  Can both be done without leadership flexing in extremes? Absolutely. 

Now, let me go get my Quick Picks for MegaMillions…

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February 17, 202140 Comments

One Hundred Ways

Where motivation meets creativity is in the experimentation. For a business, having staff that are able to innovate and experiment as part of their job duties fosters the kind of whole-hearted investment leaders desire in their teams. It’s not to say that all your employees will do is to innovate. Of course, there are response duties to be done, but their willingness to do better and to perform more efficiently will increase. This supportive environment changes those participating. “How can I help?” becomes the mantra more often.

And lest we think it’s a one-sided relationship, ask yourself, what are the ways the company is doing to provide ways to be innovative? There does not have to be a quantitative answer to this, but are there ones to point to? Having the expectation fall squarely and only on the employee to bring an “A Game” to each day without much, if any, of an expectation for the organization to perform similarly is not an equation for success. The lopsided nature of this is too often the reality of organizations. Hence the performance management process fraught with PIPs, not leading to vibrant change, but too often leading to separation.

A couple of years ago, a CEO of a 17-million-dollar company with about 250 employees shared with me that he was frustrated with the team around him. “I pay these people to do their best and to bring new ideas to the table. They’re lazy and have become too comfortable. I want to refresh the team.” And while his frustration was real and he needed to have an outlet to share, this CEO needed to expand his view. “If I may, what do you think the organization has in place to foster these creative and innovative opportunities?” At first, the CEO was perplexed by my response. “What do you mean, John? I pay them quite well.”

Therein lies a classic rub – I pay you, therefore, be awesome. While money is a factor, for certain, it does not lead to a straight-line cause and effect for innovation, among other areas. In what ways does the environment lend itself to innovation? How often is creativity a topic in a Weekly 30 meeting? For those EOS adopters, does this area appear in your Level 10 meetings? Without cultivating and caring for innovation as a living being, it will die, often before it ever really gets started.

How often have you hired someone and told them the lies about wanting their creativity? OUCH. But think about it. We source for and bring in new talent that we want to shake things up, to add value to what we’ve already built, to inspire others with fresh ideas…and then we show them a cubicle and tell them, effectually, to assimilate through rigid policy and inflexible workflow process.

What we need to do is foster creativity on both sides of the equation. Start with a few simple ideas:

  • Ask – Gather staff and ask them what they need to approach current work more creatively or to develop new ideas more consistently. Some of your best ideas are already there just waiting for permission to share. Set the expectation that not all ideas may be feasible but be prepared to offer a reason why. And if you find yourself saying no to most ideas, the faucet of innovation will dry up quickly. No one wants to hear “no” repeatedly.
  • Develop – When you have a couple of ideas to run with, have a few from the team help you to develop them. Consider what resources – time, space, funds, safety – will be needed to make it happen. When you present these details to the team, they get to help decide on application of those resources. This will deepen their buy-in for the overall vision. Yes, it may mean that not everything can be put in place now, but having the team think critically about what matters today drives innovation. They will already be thinking iteratively as a result of considering highest needs.
  • Test – Give the team space to test out their ideas. Being creative does not mean that success happens at every try. Failure is a teacher. If you can allow for missteps and re-dos, to a degree, then the team is more likely to be free to innovate.  Without safety in experimentation, the desire for new ideas and approaches will be replaced by a desire to stay off the radar and to not get into trouble. And that is a limiter to creativity in business.

After that CEO considered our conversation a bit more, he shared the lack of creative environment in the organization as a whole. “I haven’t given permission for teams to be creative. I only ask about what their responsive work is like and how quickly they can get it done. Frankly, I keep saying we’re busy and that means there’s no time for anything else.” He revamped one department at a time to encourage opportunities to ideate. See? People can learn. Not every time, but sometimes…

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February 3, 2021350 Comments

Everybody Plays the Fool

It seems like “the year that must not be named” brought with it plenty of role changes and career transitions. Whether it was due to certain statewide pandemic mandates and their impact on businesses or due to the inability of an organization to pivot into other types of product or service delivery or just a desire for change, many people have transitioned to a new role over the past year. And a deliberate theme I have heard often in these transitions – “I had enough.”

Hearkening back some years, I can recall being in a role where my amenable disposition was leveraged to keep systemic broken process relationships in place. Conflict simmered throughout the organization and it was my job to help fix all the issues. Knowing that I would want to do an exceptional job, the CEO continued to put me into positions of “coaching” with staff members to get them to feel better about the work they needed to do and the people involved in getting it done. This CEO didn’t specify this as the plan, but as the months and years progressed, it all came to me one night with such clarity that I was dumbstruck as to how I could have missed it for so long. As such, I reached the “I had enough” threshold fairly quickly and transitioned to a new organization.

In The Fighter, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) realizes that his boxing career has been stunted by his family. His brother and mother are his trainer and manager respectively, and they have worked Micky over more than any of his boxing competitors. They have had him fight out of his division (get pummeled rather than fight, more like it) and sacrifice his future for their desires. Micky wakes up to the reality through his new girlfriend’s help. He breaks from his family’s dysfunctional influence in order to do his best work in the ring.

And that’s what each of us must get to. OK, fine, you’ve been a fool in the past. Maybe you’re a fool now. But you can stop. If the “professional” environment has you playing a role that you did not sign up for, then it may be time for a change.

Flippant as these words may seem, there is only one chance you get to live the life you have. Listening to the pained stories of the past year where highly seasoned professionals “woke up” to see their organization’s misaligned values and toxic culture was sad. It’s not as if these professionals were impaired from seeing it sooner, but often the desire to perform work well blinded them from some of the signs. Many of you are fixers. You want your work to be more than mere tasks, but also, about transforming organizations. There are times you are able to do that. There are times it’s the right thing to do. And there are times enough is enough.

And don’t worry about what others may say. They don’t know what you’ve been experiencing. You know the path you’ve had to travel and the circumstances surrounding it. So what if some people on Facebook “talk” about your seemingly odd decision? Social Media is distracting plenty of people from facing their own “enough” thresholds. It’s much easier to judge others from a distance than to deal with the miles you’ve been walking and take action.

Who are those you could turn to and talk out what’s going on at your company? Where are those business guides in your life? Do you know what to look for?

Finding yourself playing the fool is not a crime. Once you realize it, you may need to forgive yourself. You may be tempted towards depression over how foolish you’ve been or towards disbelief as to how you could have missed it for so long. Offer yourself reprieve. You now know better and that makes today the start of a new approach, a new direction or a completely new chapter. Put those gloves back on and get into the ring on your terms. There is still fight left in you. It just needs to be focused in a better direction. You may be down, the ref may be at 6 in a 10-count, but you can get up and get out of that fight. Find the championship role for you.

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