November 18, 2020No Comments

Lust for Life

The idea of going can be a difficult one. Yes, there may be enthusiasm for what next adventure or reality awaits, but the act of going requires fortitude. Some may say it’s just one foot in front of the other; others find it paralyzing as they fret over what might be. It does not feel the same for everyone involved. Even in this, some are late bloomers, some peak early. Regardless, moving forward is challenging.

COVID, the political landscape, the economy...take your pick from these or a host of others for 2020 and you’ll have some sense of why the difficulty in going is strong. The offbeat comedy, The Royal Tenenbaums, dealt with roadblocks of the unknown and unmotivated. Each character, flawed to the extreme, found themselves stymied and hovering. Taking that next step was debilitating. Some characters had found success early in life, while some were waiting for any success. None of them knew how to cope, plan and move forward.

The 4th quarter of a calendar year opens the door to creatively plan for the following year. Approaching the newness with goals, objectives, vision, mission updates, etc. feels more natural. It’s like hyped-up resolutions, but these have teeth and real heart. They become mantras and signposts. They need your attention to develop.

Developing this vision takes effort. While there are an abundance of tools out there to help you, a favorite from Pepperdine University may be the best one to start with as a newbie. The purpose is not to outline every single goal you have, but rather, to define what the overall trajectory of your life is to be about, whether immediate (under 5 years) or longer term. SMART Goals and the like will follow, but without the foundation of an ultimate truth to be run after, those goals can be disjointed and, sometimes, competing. The energy and effort expended should be used wisely and towards one main reality.

Goal setting is contextual; vision building is definitional.

In some ways, vision building is a mental health exercise. Taking an inventory of where you are, what is working, what isn’t working, what you thought would have been true about you by now, what surprises you about what’s true about you now and much more is emotional, vulnerable and cathartic. Allow yourself the freedom to travel these roads without judgement, but instead, with observation. Think of it as taking inventory. An inventory is merely taking stock of what’s there.

When I worked in retail, we had a semi-annual inventory for all locations. We would close early one night and get to counting stock. All we did was to count per SKU or per offering. We would itemize on a prescribed inventory tracking sheet and assemble them all into one binder for submission (Yes, it was paper. Yes, it was a long time ago). From there, leadership looked for both shrink issues (theft, loss) and “misses” in item selection (“we thought this product would be a hit and it wasn’t”). The evaluation and judgement came after the inventory. Do your work similarly.

It would have taken all night had the inventory counters stopped every time there were too many or too little of an item. “Oh gee, why didn’t we sell more of the red version of this? I am so surprised. Seems like people loved the blue one. But the red seems more appealing to me. I wonder why. Michael, what do you think?” You see? Hours. Take the initial count and wait on the evaluation.

You’ll find that understanding what your value system, fulfillment quotient and invested time allotment are set the table for healthy analysis and judgement. Crafting your vision from this build of information and evaluation ought to flow naturally.

Victories of the past, where a vision was achieved, cannot be our focus forever. Celebration is wonderful and healthy (always) but staying at the party long after it ended moves us from jubilation to stagnation. It’s no longer about a lust for life but about glory days. Time to move on.

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November 5, 20201 Comment

Do You Hear the People Sing?

Gridlock has stymied countless organizations, governments and relationships. The unwavering “dig-in” of sides or individuals where blockades are erected to show how much certain ideas and position matter.  And to be fair, some of these blockades do matter. Values are real and ought to cause both protective and assertive action. The people will rise, hopefully, ready to compromise.

Every time I see the makeshift blockade from Les Miserables, I sit in awe. Random pieces of furniture – tables, chairs, bureaus – along with rugs, logs, crates and more come together as a symbol of tenacity, fortitude and commitment. Those rebellious front-runners stood on values of health and opportunity. They rose in opposition to the government that would not help secure them, and in some ways, fostered degradation. Dig in, Revolutionaries, dig in.

However, we cannot break desks and chairs daily in our organizational communication and dynamics efforts, at least not daily. Is everything blockade-worthy?

What is Compromise?

Compromise is a valuable ally, and it is one whose value has been untapped in many companies. Some organizations have labeled success in compromise when, despite initially having just one choice, three kinds of requested K-Cups are available to staff. Accommodation is not the same as compromise. According to Gottman Institute research, “Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something.” That’s how compromise works.

Compromise in Organizations

In an organizational dynamic, compromise is the right alignment of influence bartering. There are ways individuals, departments and divisions can have their needs handled by the supportive influence of other individuals, departments and divisions. The very best managers recognize that their influence is directly connected to their willingness and acceptance of others’ influence. Compromise is dependent upon how and when this influence is exercised by each and all parties connected.

It’s in this way that compromise is different than cooperation. Pulling together towards a common goal or affirmed value is, by practice, what good cooperation looks like. I mean, how many of those team building retreats do you have to go on to learn this one? Don’t drop this dude, link arms, bend at the knees. If the principles of compromise are applied here in addition, in order for the desired cooperation to occur, compromise in methodology, amount of effort and dismount tactic will happen. No one person may have his/her/their way met completely.

That’s usually the sign of immaturity in your companies. Which supervisor has a “my way or the highway” attitude? Better, which C-Suite leader has a “my way or the highway” course of repeated action? Ouch. You know it happens. The art of compromise is lost on this influential individual and in its wake a lack of trust and a lack of care settle in by those around such a leader. The question asked by that leader should not be one of “Are you going to go my way?” but rather “Which ways are value-centric rather than preferential?” There can be a canyon of difference in the answers to the latter.

Directed Influence

Those blockades might be ready for dismantling while some may need reinforcement. Compromise is not about weakness; it is about directed influence. The “growing up” of management is sorely lacking in some of the smallest and largest organizations today. Address it with a real roadmap which includes an understanding of what matters and how compromise fits. Teach leaders how to survey the “land” and observe the signs. Ask them, “Do you hear the people sing?”

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October 21, 2020No Comments

Wake Me Up

It seems that the COVID pandemic has brought out some interesting (safe word) binge-watching choices. And while no judgment is being passed (ok, likely a mild form of it is but it will not appear in this blog), the choices made in the Baldino household has run the gamut. Walking into the family room might find “The West Wing” or “Jane the Virgin” or “New Girl” on full display. And while I get ready to re-watch “The Mandalorian” Season 1, there is one show that was on quite often that did surprise me – “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

Netflix offered this aminated series and, apparently, many watched. The child hero, Aang, destined to unite the various tribes and kingdoms at conflict was not quite ready to do so upon waking up from his deep freeze. While not spoiling the adventure for you, Aang spends much of his time training and developing while having adventures along the way.

Often the training and development combo is thrown out there together, but most times, the distinction between the two is misunderstood. In its simplest form, training is about learning and practicing a specific skill or technique, usually to perform a task or to complete a job. Development is about more holistic growth for an individual, inclusive of a training regimen.

A baseball player, for example, can train to get better at hitting. Physically, the stance can be altered, the grip can be changed, the hip motion can be addressed, all under specific repetitive training sessions. The batter will be tasked with applying these new approaches to each up at the plate, and to do so, the batter will need to practice these skill improvement recommendations. This is the heart of training – what is something new to know, something additional to get better at what I know or what I do, and something that will improve my performance.

However, becoming better at batting does not make a better overall baseball player. Yes, in part, that player may get better in a specific area, but the development of the whole person as a better ball player will be found in the application of many areas of training as well as in the non-physical approach to the game. Knowing and understand the philosophy of various baseball strategies, being able to determine an opposing team’s choice of strategy, being able to predict plays and how to best play offensively and defensively are all developmental growth opportunities. Certainly, there will be training involved in the developmental process, but the rest of the growth comes through an expansion of critical thinking and viable application of relevant and timely competencies.

The experiences a person has to apply the philosophical considerations and tactical trainings will forge a path to development. In a business context, there can be a shortsightedness to expect training to concurrently lead to development. It is an unrealistic expectation that can frustrate managers when they don’t see the “full return” for the training offered. Challenge the premise rather than the training, frankly. We see various anti-sexual harassment training completed by tens of thousands of employees, for example, and yet we do not have fully developed individuals putting that training into effect. Merely completing the training may not affect the outcomes desired.

Aang had to train to get better at the four bending disciplines. He practiced, learned new techniques, tweaked some hand motions and watched those better than he for pointers. These areas were important, but it also took realistic job preview moments to solidify the mental and emotional components necessary for his development into the Avatar. Training, yes. Development, more yes. Yip Yip!

October 7, 2020No Comments

Cuts Both Ways

“The cultural shift is here, man.” I was greeted with this as I started the week. And my first thought was, “What the heck does that mean?” (Sorry for any rough language).

If you can think back to last year’s Super Bowl, there was a “We Believe” commercial run by Gillette. The gist of the ad was that men needed to own up to the impact of toxic masculinity accepted for centuries and to make a change. It was bold, expensive and timely. And when Gillette touted its entry as the best commercial of the Super Bowl, they were met with criticism. Was this about what Gillette believed or was it purely marketing capitalizing on the #MeToo movement? Gillette offered a “cause marketing” duality in explanation; however, they could not confirm within its own walls that toxic masculinity was a focus of cultural change.

Some years further back (they all blend together at this point), Aetna desired to change its culture by mandate. The organization made a deliberate plan to upend what their long history of “Mother Aetna” (as referred to by its own employees) had been. Leadership decided that it was time for something new and they acted upon what they wanted. Of course, the problem was no one asked the majority of cultural stakeholders. No one asked all levels of staffing what was needed in the company and how the company could better support a healthier, interactive approach to work and to community. The silliness of the exercise became apparent as quickly as it had begun.

Culture shifts regularly. In vibrantly productive organizations, culture is galvanized around mission, innovation and equity, whether right or wrong. There is an intention behind how the collective works together as well as how each participant works. The sum of the parts makes the whole culture.

So why is the verbiage around “shifting” still making the rounds?

In part, it’s popular. And popular does not mean effective; understand that clearly. There is hardly a business that isn’t leaning on a cultural initiative, however ineffective or disconnected it may be. Things like town halls and engagement surveys are good things, but they are a tool rather than a solution for culture. Doing popular things that can be shared on social media or on a company website is not shifting culture. It’s likely stifling culture by being more about process shifting or product development.

We’re working remotely more than ever. Happenstance relational moments that can be cultural shifters or cultural affirmers cannot be as random as they were. Culture is influenced by personal connections just as much, if not more so, as the organizational structure. Without a large portion of this happening in the manner it used to, it’s up to the company leadership to devise opportunities for collaboration and communication to happen in new ways. Culture is still alive and needs tending.

Treating culture with care and concern, feeding it and encouraging its growth is necessary. And for many organizations, this is the shift. The shift is not merely idealistic, as in a “look, we tried” scenario; rather, it’s a movement to change that requires constant attention and consistent reinforcement. It’s not to be event-oriented; it’s supposed to be intentional. An ad on television does not make your culture shift. Your culture evolves into health through a series of intentional, small, daily influences. So, when you look to shift culture, look more into what real culture requires. Is your leadership truly ready to do all that needs to be done to build this? Is it only about behavioral change rather than organizational change? Defining culture takes work but look first at where you are today. Don’t sugarcoat. Own it, warts and all. Then work with all teams to know what’s next to do, to think. Imagine watching the Gillette ad as an employee of Gillette knowing that there was a chasm between the impression management being offered and the reality being lived each day. That’s a company failure tough to slice through. (See what I did there?)

September 23, 20203 Comments

Lowdown

Rachel Lindsay made history being the first Black Bachelorette contestant in the ABC television franchise. And while that was cause to celebrate, she earned this bit of history in the 13th season of The Bachelorette. It would be twelve seasons before the first Black Bachelorette was selected. Seems odd for that to have been the case, right? Recruiting biases could be the culprit.

Historically, the franchise would promote new Bachelors and Bachelorettes from the previous seasons’ contestants. And yet, therein was the rub. If we don’t have diversity from the onset, how can representation ever happen in this progression of talent?

This “Like Me” phenomenon is part of the issue. Hiring (“Casting” for the TV show world) can be thrown to the current staff to help bring people in. Word-of-mouth recruiting then occurs. Current employees refer candidates, usually from a friend/acquaintance relationship. With this type of referral, employers may pass on the preliminary screening process by the linking a potential candidate to his/her friend’s reputation at work.  And while this type of recruiting is easier and less costly, it can lead to a practice of disparate impact and recruiting biases.

By having such a uniform-type of candidate/employee, the workforce would likely lean heavily towards having too many people of one race, one gender, one socioeconomic background…one “type.” This “Like Me” truth can take hold without much effort. Stop and look around at your organization (yes, you can do this virtually, too). Is there a “type” in place? And if you can’t see anything amiss, are there a couple of people you could ask to do the same surveying of the landscape? Just because you may not see recruiting biases does not mean they aren't there.

While this may not be an intentional practice, as would be required to show disparate treatment, it can still be discriminatory because the results of hiring would show inequality in recruiting practices. And with the impact of social media and employee-centric sites, your organization can be called out for any and all of this. Employees are more willing to give the lowdown on what really goes on at an organization – the good, the bad and the systemic. Employer brands have been decimated by these reports, not merely by the accusation, but by the clear facts.

It should have been apparent for The ABC Network (parent company – Disney) to notice that there were no visibly diverse contestants on their show, but it was not. They functioned for years. And lest you think that one leading Black contestant means the problem has been fixed, it should be noted that the first Black Bachelor leading contestant was announced for Season 25. Yes, 25. The twenty-four previous Bachelors fit a “type.”

This work requires vigilance and honesty. So, start with the hiring practices at your company. How are we finding candidates? Do we need to be more deliberate (or deliberate, period) in sourcing for those outside of our perceived type? Likely, there are some avenues of proactivity that can be explored. Whether its internal process change or external expertise, make the additions/changes necessary. Do the work. It’s no longer okay to let things go on as they have been; actually, it never was okay.

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May 20, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Domino

With many business owners and senior leadership, the effort to set up the dominoes for a return to work plan is taking up much of their time.

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