Wednesday, August 31, 2011

HR Leaders, What Keeps You Up At Night?

Back in 2006, I wrote a blog entry called “What Keeps You Up At Night?” about the priorities of HR leaders. Here is the original blog post, followed by some current thoughts.

Original Post

A handy needs assessment tool I learned years ago is to ask a client: “What keeps you up at night?” In other words, What concerns are on your mind?

A CEO I once worked for used this question to start off his executive retreats. The company was growing rapidly and the two areas that “kept him up at night” were People and Systems.

I received an e-mail yesterday about an upcoming HR conference where the focus will be the “Top 5 Things that Keep HR Up at Night.” They are:

1. How do I get a seat at the executive table?
2. How can I take advantage of technology to get more efficient, effective and innovative?
3. What can I do to take a dysfunctional team from unproductive to extraordinary?
4. How can I make employees excited to come to work?
5. How can I bring humanity back into HR and the rest of my organization?

Not a bad agenda.

Current Thoughts

That was in 2006. So what’s “hot” in 2011 for HR leaders? Or more pertinently, what is keeping HR leaders up at night?

Although I am an “external” these days, my client contacts are mostly HR leaders. So, based upon my interactions with them, here is my sense of the five big issues “keeping them up at night:”

1. Social media – In 2006, HR leaders were asking ”How can I take advantage of technology to get more efficient, effective and innovative?” Today, the same question has been honed to the issue of social media. Only today, the questions are around risk and control: Can I really trust my employees to use social media appropriately during work hours? Will the use of social media benefit our organization? How will we know?

2. Employee engagement - In 2006, HR leaders were asking “How can I make employees excited to come to work?” Today, the buzzword is Employee Engagement. And the research on engagement is revealing a great deal about the power of highly committed workers and what it takes to unleash the power of commitment. (Check out the Employee Engagement Network for more info.)

3. Talent acquisition – In 2006, no one foresaw the disaster that was coming. The Great Recession of 2008 made everyone’s head spin as companies went into the white water, and employees went over the waterfall by the millions into unemployment. Now, in 2011, HR is in the spotlight (or is it the “hot seat?”) to “hire the best.” Companies are hiring carefully. Every hire is costly. Who will it be? The recent college graduate, freshly minted from school? Or an experienced boomer who can “hit the ground running” and deliver results from Day One? Not an easy choice.

4. Employee development - Although the need to develop people has always been important, in today’s intense do-more-with-less environment, employee development is a top priority. But there is a dilemma: Time. No one has the time for training. What’s the answer? (If you are interested, or bedeviled, call me. That’s what I do. The number is: 732-246-3014)

5. Driving business results – In 2006, HR was wondering how to get a seat at the table with the C-level leaders. Today, the CEO, and other members of senior management, are holding HR’s feet to the fire to deliver results. In a nutshell, HR is being held accountable to deliver. This is as it should be. But does HR know what, and how, to deliver?

HR Leaders: How did I do? What would you add? What is keeping you up at night?

Post Script: Since posting the above blog entry yesterday at HR Blognotions, it has been getting many hits, from all over the world. Today I noticed that HR Executive had asked the same question and found very similar results, with one extra concern: Stress. Their survey found that HR leaders are stressed out about talent poaching.

I think they are right about stress being on the short list of things keeping HR Leaders up at night. But they completely missed the really pressing issue.

The real issue is that the employees of the company are stressed out. Every one of my client organizations is asking me for help with managing stress.

Is there any wonder? After a recession, downsizing, and cost-cutting, the remaining workforce is under the gun to produce in a do-more-with-less environment. There's not enough hours in a day. Tempers are flaring. And the grass isn't any greener at the next company.

If part of HR's mission is "to ensure a good return on a company's investment in its people," HR had better be very concerned about the stress. Unrelenting high levels of stress are very bad for human beings. Bad for performance. Bad for morale. Bad for health. And ultimately bad for the bottom line.

Let me know if you need help with this. I do Stress Management too.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Wednesday August 31, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Leadership Conundrum

Can you think of an organization that does not want its people, especially its managers, to develop into leaders? I can't think of one. All of my clients ask me for help with this goal.

What does it mean though? What is a leader exactly? Many smart people have studied and pondered this question. And many organizations have spent millions on the quest to develop leaders via readings, courses, competency models, feedback, 360 assessments, executive coaches, and more.

Then along comes a world-class leader who upsets the apple cart of all our thinking. I'm referring to Steve Jobs, the wunderkind CEO who just stepped down from Apple after a turn for the worse in his cancer.

In a very interesting article in Forbes the other day, called "Steve Jobs Broke Every Leadership Rule. Don't Try It Yourself," written by Frederick E. Allen, Jobs' leadership style is described in quite unflattering terms.

Allen quotes Prof. Jeffrey Pfeffer, of Stanford University: “Most books about leadership read like the Scout manual: CEOs and top managers should be authentic, considerate, sensitive, and modest, as well as creative, smart, and strategically brilliant. All true – but not very useful in the real world, where the person in the corner office might be as approachable as the junkyard dog. Exhibit A: Steve Jobs.”

Allen warns: "Go ahead and behave the way he did yourself, as long as you’ve got all of Steve Jobs’ charisma, revolutionary vision, and innovative genius, along with his relentless drive and temper."

Interestingly, Allen notes that, despite Jobs' despotic style, he was beloved by Apple employees: "...his exceptional and unique vision and certainty of what he saw excused his tyrannical behavior. Or, no, they didn’t excuse it but made it necessary. And the power of his personality and the sweep of what he achieved meant that even after all his punishment of disappointing staff and others, all his berating of many of those around him, people at Apple were heartbroken to see him step down from the chief executive’s job this week."

So, what are we to make of this? On LinkedIn, talent management guru Marc Effron asked, What would you (HR Leaders) do with such a person if he were in your organization? Would you counsel him? Send him to a hi-priced offsite course to be "fixed?" Would you fire him?

Or should we throw out our meticulously crafted leadership competency models and leadership development courses, in favor of placing our bets on the most spectacular junkyard dogs on the hi-potential list and elevating them to the C-suite?

When I think about the CEOs that I have known, I'd have to say that many are cut from the Jobsian cloth. They are incredibly smart. Sometimes visionary. Occasionally even charming. As well as self-centered, hot-tempered, and even tyrannical.

Perhaps the lesson from this is that we ought to abandon the Boy Scout approach that Prof. Pfeffer referred to. No matter how much money you sink into development programs, you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

Instead, perhaps we should take our cue from leadership guru Warren Bennis who once defined leadership as "the ability to transform vision into reality." Steve Jobs, for all his flaws, certainly did that, over and over, for Apple. Any effective leader, I dare say, has done what Bennis is pointing to. Otherwise, they would fail and be gone.

In other words, let's focus our leadership development efforts on what leaders do, i.e., on behavior, rather than on becoming some sort of ideal leader that really doesn't exist anywhere.

What do you think?

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Tuesday August 30, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Job Hunters: Do You Have NOW Knowledge?

Typos can be funny...and surprisingly meaningful.

One of my favorites occurred some years ago, when I was Training Manager at a Germany-based chemicals company. A hotshot up-and-coming manager was giving a presentation to a management group. A slide came up and he smiled when he saw it. It said "A now idea." But it was supposed to have said "A new idea." Being very quick on his feet, this guy took it in stride and quipped, "This is not just a new idea, it's a NOW idea." The audience chuckled, appreciating the humor in the flub.

Interestingly, earlier today, a colleague of mine from southern California shared the following comment from a job hunter she is coaching:

"I had a telephone interview with a recruiter recently. She was about as old as my daughter and said to me, “The manager is looking for ‘NOW knowledge’ and would be concerned about my being off the playing field for a couple of years..."

NOW knowledge, eh? Great phraseology. And the meaning is clear: if you are a job hunter, and you've been looking for more than a year, employers are going to wonder if you are current in your field.

It's a legitimate concern. Especially in fast-changing fields like IT.

So if you are having a protracted job search, what can you do to make sure you have NOW knowledge? Here are a few ideas:

Working: Though you are out of work, can you "keep your hand in" your field somehow? Volunteering your skills, for example, for a non-profit.

Reading: Select a few publications in your field and keep up with them every day.

Teaching: Identify your favorite areas of expertise and offer to teach classes on them.

Listening: Pay attention to what the thought leaders in your field are saying.

Networking: Get out of the house as often as you can to attend group meetings with others in your field.

You can keep yourself sharp as a tack during your job search by making the above part of your daily and weekly routines.

That way, you will be sure to have NOW Knowledge when an employer invites you to interview.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday August 28, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Five People Who Changed My Life

If you think about the course of your life, with the focus on the process of becoming Who You Are today, I think you will notice the effect that various people had on you. Some for good, some not. But the bottom line is, there were many people whose influence changed you in some way as you moved along your path in life.

On twitter the other day, someone suggested thinking about the five people who changed you for the better.

Though there are many more than five, these five head the list:

My Dad - When I was a kid, I was the egghead of the clan, not much into sports. My athletic and macho fatherloved me and supported me despite my being the odd one of the six kids.

My Mom - My farm-raised mother was a loving person. Raised in a family of Jewish immigrants, she had a lot of old sayings, some of which still resonate in me to this day. She taught me about wisdom. And I learned to cook by watching her.

My Wife - My funny and fierce wife, a professional church musician, has expanded my appreciation for music, for church, for travel, and for living and loving life to the full.

My Two Sons - My talented go-getter sons have both graduated from Rutgers and are embarking on their careers, one a filmmaker, the other a musician/actor/journalist. One of the most formative influences on them, I'm afraid, was seeing their dad get laid off, several times. But I believe it has made them stronger, more realistic, and more resilient. Though this a very tough economy for liberal arts kids, they are hard working and goal-driven. An inspiration to me, to be sure!

Who are five people who have changed your life?

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Saturday August 27, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

Batten Down the Hatches

My wife and I are getting ready for the onslaught of Hurricane Irene, just a few days since the East Coast earthquake. This is the time to "batten down the hatches" to prepare for the worst.

"To batten down the hatches" is a flavorful phrase. According to the dictionary, it comes from a nautical origin. If a ship was entering a storm at sea, the sailors would be told to "batten down the hatches." Quickly they would scurry around closing doors and covering openings so that the rain and ocean waves would not get in and soak the cargo held in the ship's interior.

In today's rough economy, storms sometimes hit us without warning, before we have had a chance to batten anything down. Here are a few ideas for protecting your precious cargo in today's choppy seas.

Think ahead. Have a plan in place for emergencies. What scenarios have you imagined? The process of "scenario planning" can be one of the most effective things your business can do today to get ready for disasters tomorrow.

Be vigilant. Learn to read the early warning signs. Minutes before this week's East Coast earthquake, zoo animals started acting strangely. Great apes began to bellow, for example. What other early warning signs might you be missing?

Take action. Take steps right now to be ready for the crisis. For example, here is an update from the American Red Cross:

This Week’s Earthquake, Hurricane Remind Us to Be Prepared

Tuesday’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the East Coast and its aftershocks—as well as the approach of Hurricane Irene—are a reminder of the importance of being prepared when disaster strikes. And while the Red Cross works hard to prepare communities and to respond to disasters, we also need to make sure that we and our families are prepared for emergencies. Just as a reminder, here are links to Red Cross earthquake and hurricane preparedness tips. You can also go to Android Marketplace and download a free “S.O.S. by the American Red Cross” app, which provides real-time care instructions, including how to perform Hands-Only CPR.

Right now, it's a beautiful sunny Friday, not a cloud in sight. But we know that the hurricane is coming this way, due to arrive over the weekend.

The lawn furniture is stowed away. The outside hanging plants have been taken down. The porch chimes are now inside.

We have extra batteries, candles, matches.

Are we ready? We will see.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Friday August 26, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Managing With Integrity

Integrity House, based in Newark, NJ, is committed to helping people reclaim their lives. Individuals and families who have hit bottom and are looking for a road back to wholeness. The motto of Integrity House is "Where Recovery Begins." They are one of my clients.

Although they have invited me to teach many topics to their management staff (including supervisory skills, leadership, communication, and workplace harassment prevention), I have learned a great deal from them. Including what it means to manage with integrity.

Managing with Integrity means:

- Being with people, for people. Not being afraid to talk with people, to listen to them. The Manager with Integrity doesn't hide behind her office door. Rather, she is visible, available, approachable. She cares about her team and wants the best for them.

- Courage. He is unafraid. He has the courage to speak his mind on an issue. He is not afraid of conflict. He sees conflict as a process that can lead to new growth.

- Addresses problems. She is level-headed when problems erupt. She stays calm in face of turmoil.

- Thoughtful. He is not impulsive. Does not react or shoot from the hip. He steps back from a thorny situation and examines all sides.

- Reliable. She is true to her word. She can be counted on. If she makes a commitment, she will deliver on it.

- Rooted in values. He lives by a solid core of values. Values that guide him each day.

- Honest. She tells the truth, calling it as she sees it.

- Respectful. He earns respect by respecting others.

- Nice and Tough. She shifts comfortably from Nice to Tough as the situation demands. She recognizes the need that each person has at the moment and adapts her approach accordingly.

- Loving. No matter what, there is always a pulse of heartfelt love motivating the Manager with Integrity, because it's all about that.

Last month, I wrote a blog post called The Spiritual Manager. In that post, I mused on the question, What does it mean to live in a spiritual way?

I want to add Integrity to that list. Integrity essentially means unity, wholeness, unimpaired soundness.

I've often said that Managing People is the second most challenging job on Planet Earth, right behind raising kids. Being a Manager is not for everyone. It takes quite a bit to be good at it.

I daresay it takes a spiritual person to be a good manager.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Monday August 22, 2011.

Getting Away From It All

What do you do to "get away from it all?" You know: to escape the hum-drum ordinary life you live, to a place that is completely "other," where you can truly relax and de-stress.

This Summer, I have been very fortunate in this regard. I've gotten away to several wonderful places, including Germany, the Berkshires, and Maine.

In Germany, we attended several Women's World Cup soccer games, and visited Mainz, Stuttgart, and Berlin. In the Berkshires, we attended several concerts at Tanglewood including Yo Yo Ma playing Schumann. And in Maine, we drove to such far-off places as Lubec, Eastpoint, and Campobello Island in Canada.

What do these diverse places have in common? In every case, my wife and I were with old friends.

The poet Emily Dickinson wrote: "My friends are my estate."

There is a warm soothing effect that comes over you when you spend a few relaxing days in the company of friends. Talking, remembering, crying, laughing.

So, paradoxically, one of the keys to "getting away from it all" is taking vacation with friends.

Someone once said that friends help you to discover yourself.

Have you gotten away from it all yet this Summer? If not, there is still time left. What are you waiting for? Call up a friend and tell them you are coming to visit.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday August 21, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How Your Imagination Can Improve Your Memory

Is your forgettory working better these days than your memory?

I often make that joke when I am teaching a class. I'll say something like, "If you encounter a good idea today, write it down. Remember: The faintest ink is better than the fondest memory."

I know I'm really talking about myself. If I say to myself, "I'll remember that," it's a sure thing I won't. So I'm disciplining myself to take better notes.

Recently my wife read a great book about memory called Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. She so enjoyed it that she immediately applied one of the techniques, The Memory Palace, to memorizing all of the U.S. presidents in order from George Washington to Barack Obama. She then proceeded to amaze her family and friends with her ability to tick off all 44 of them.

This ancient technique, The Memory Palace, is intriguing, as it utilizes our human faculty of imagination to create a mental image of a house, room or other space where all the items on the list (e.g. presidents) are placed. For example, Washington is on the piano bench, Jefferson is at the table, Adams is on the sofa, etc.

Try it. You may astound yourself.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Wednesday August 10, 2011.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Jumping the Curve

Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of job hunters. My talk, called "Jump Starting Your Job Search," went over well with the large gathering of mostly over-50 job seekers.

Afterward, I stuck around awhile to speak with some of the attendees on an individual basis. One man, a salesman, came up to me and said, in a low voice, that he was at the end of his rope and was ready to throw in the towel on his search. I could see that the light in his eyes had just about gone out. It moved me because I've been there myself.

I tried to offer him some words of encouragement and found myself saying, "You've got to jump the curve."

What does it mean to jump the curve?

"Jumping the curve" is a saying that has been around for a few decades. I trace it back to the Irish philosopher and management futurist Charles Handy who said that companies need to become aware of the sigmoid curve. The sigmoid curve (or S Curve) is the naturally occurring sloping line (see the visual above, from this excellent blog post) that Handy used to show that "companies will come to a natural end if they don't re-create themselves during good times."

The same goes for individuals and careers. It all comes to a natural end ultimately. But before that final end arrives, we still have the opportunity to jump the curve and start a new sigmoid curve.

What does it take to jump the curve?

Guy Kawasaki has written a lot about how to start anything, with great suggestions such as:

- find something meaningful to do with your talents
- create your own mission statement to focus your effort
- jump to the next curve by breaking old patterns of thinking and behaving

Let's look more closely at that last point, breaking old patterns.

There's a great saying "If you keep doing what you have been doing, you'll keep getting what you have been getting." So, to get different outcomes, you need to do differently.

But do what exactly?

Here's where the recent research on success from Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson is of interest. Her Harvard Business Review post, on the Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, has much food for thought, especially:

- set specific goals
- seize opportunities to advance on your goals every day
- continuously get better at what you are striving toward
- don't give up

In the talk I gave, I included the following quotation from Seth Godin:

"Today, right now, go start something. Start a business. A tiny one. Train people in social media. Run an eBay selling business. Sell coffee from a truck every morning at the train station. Run spring break tours by bus for other college students. Start a newsstand on campus. Run a birthday cake delivery service. Train executives in public speaking. Start a dog poop shoveling business. Start something. Run it. You’ll probably make more money. You’ll certainly learn more. If you’re good at it, people will offer you a job, and If you’re not, then ask yourself: Why on earth would someone actually hire you? Go get good at it. Have fun. No whining. This is your moment, go make a difference. You can thank me later."

The audience loved it! One woman raised her hand and told a story about someone she knew that did exactly what Godin was talking about.

Perhaps the best way to end this meditation on jumping the curve is the Pixley Formula, named for job hunter Charles Pixley, who turned his resume into a handmade sandwich board and advertized himself on the corner of Wall St and Broadway. He said:

"Believe in yourself, improve yourself, put yourself out there. Have yourself seen. You resume will go into a pile. It's just another resume, just more words. There's no color. These posters provided my soul. It says everything in one lump page."

Believe in yourself. Improve yourself. Put yourself out there.

Do that and you will jump the curve to the next exciting chapter in your life.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday August 7, 2011.