I'm a title. Click here to edit me.
The "Secret Sauce" of a High-Performing C-Suite
I often describe the effective functioning of an executive team within a company as its "secret sauce." When the executive team of the C-Suite is firing on all cylinders, there is no challenge too large, nor problem too insurmountable. A strong team of leaders helps to steer an entity in the right direction, at the right times, and through the right methods. The rest of the company takes notice, and that leadership clarity becomes wonderfully infectious. These leaders have their individual fingers on the pulse of the internal and external environments. Collectively, they operate in a state of rhythm and precision, giving their precious time and attention to the right priorities. While not perfect, they are steadfast. They have the ability to iterate and adjust, calling out their mistakes as necessary opportunities for the growth and development of the company and its employees. So, what are some of the ingredients of these types of teams? They have mastered: MMOSA. You may be tempted to place an ‘i’ after the first letter of this acronym in your quest to arrive at the perfect solution. But, alas, the formula has nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with tested formulas for successful leadership during volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) times - so, read on. Top People leaders must have the skill and will to partner with executive leaders in ways that help them and the entire organization to align and take the company to higher heights. These strategic HR business partners play a pivotal role with their internal clients. They should be customizing HR business plans based on the unique dynamics of each function at the department – or ground–level. Further, People leaders who are part of the executive team and around those C-Suite tables should be adept facilitators and translators. They are required to synthesize disparate data to help leaders drive relentlessly toward the right business outcomes. Having done this strategic-level HR work for the better part of my 25-year career, this level of support is both an art and a science. It has required me to leverage an array of tools from my professional toolkit and has garnered measurable results. MMOSA, when practiced with excellence, will cause an executive team – and the entire company – to soar: The M andate Successful executive teams have a clear mandate – a charter that outlines the ‘meat’ of their purpose and focus. This needn’t be a manifesto. Rather, it should be an articulation of where this team’s focus will be. There will always be a host of smaller, routine decisions which must be made daily. However, an executive team must be sure that, once they’ve hired skilled next-level leaders, they are not using their standing team meetings to make decisions at those lower levels. The bigger, thornier issues of the day, month, and year must be the consistent focus of an executive team. Otherwise, the team will become distracted, having their attention diverted from the more strategic business areas. The M embership Who exactly is on the C-Suite team? Is it the head of each functional area? Or is it a subset of that group? Does that group include individuals from the next tier of leadership? Or are those additional members determined based on the agenda? These are all questions that must be thoughtfully considered and clearly communicated. Failure to provide this level of clarity around membership leads to discontentment. It can also result in an incredibly negative impact on the culture, as people will believe that leadership involvement is decided arbitrarily. The O perations Highly skilled and talented leaders will not guarantee smooth operations and quick decisions among an executive team. Strong decision-making tools, such as RAPID , not only speed decision-making but they improve the team’s health and increase good faith among its members. The lack of these tools creates confusion and wastes time, which is something that an executive team can ill-afford in today’s business climates. Operating norms , which define how each team member will work with each other to reach common goals, are indispensable. Many teams may expend efforts to construct these norms during offsite retreats, then completely forget that they are needed in their interactions back at the ranch. Shaping norms and holding each other accountable for adhering to them is the responsibility of every executive team member. The S ocial Element Team members need to make personal connections with each other in order for relationships to be built and for trust to be cemented. While social interactions shouldn’t be contrived or forced, the opportunity for members to get together outside the office - even the virtual office - is part of creating that team’s secret sauce. The human resources leader may be able to partner in orchestrating activities. However, a team shouldn’t seek to outsource these activities to HR and must acknowledge their importance. A ctive Executive teams need to be active and highly engaged as leaders. Standing team meetings and other executive activities should be viewed as non-negotiable. Together, these executive leaders must fight to hold time on the calendar – or add to it – in the quest to strengthen their collective leadership. When the team’s focus becomes diffused, they will begin to run on fumes – busy but not necessarily productive. In that less effective state, standing meetings will be quickly canceled, and the team’s ‘muscle’ will begin to atrophy as it becomes less active. Leaders, particularly the top leader, must resist the insidious intruders that can chip away at the vibrancy of an executive team. HR leaders are perfectly positioned to flag these issues before real damage occurs. The secret sauce of an executive team can be created, nurtured, or even rediscovered. High-performing executive teams represent the keys to engaging staff members through periods of change. They are able to work cohesively as they shape new business models – even before those models are needed. Strong teams can actually turn entire businesses around. Ultimately, these types of teams demonstrate exemplary leadership, which others will actually want to follow.
Testing in the Fire
Are you tough enough? Has your mettle been tested in the heat of the fire? Have you been on the front lines of change when it was just you (and your points of view) attempting to take the hill?
I ask this because I believe it’s essential to be tested as a leader aspiring to new levels. Without this testing, you’ll never know if you have what it takes to enter that hallowed territory reserved for the few who can claim leadership in the trenches. It’s this kind of leadership that I believe more HR professionals have been asked to step into, especially over the course of the past two years. As you enter this new year, the only thing predictable is unpredictability. We all have to be tougher. HR has historically relied on the folks in the ‘business line’ to make the tough decisions: innovative product line launches, new revenue ideas, the final decision to retrench and reduce the workforce, etc. Those bottom-line decisions are for those with titles outside of HR. Right? Sure, HR is the strategic business partner who frames the case and provides the thought leadership and necessary tools from the toolkit, enabling and partnering with the business to make decisions. However, the strategic HR leader who has truly ‘arrived’ is quite intentionally placing herself in the position of owning those tough business decisions as much as the other business leaders would. They will have risen to the occasion wonderfully through a global pandemic, social unrest, and economic mayhem. Unfortunately, it’s still completely conceivable that HR can get, well….soft. Meaning they may easily (or even happily) find themselves in a position of luxury where the difficult decisions are left to their colleagues in other functions. If that’s true, they almost assuredly never really grow as professionals. They will never lay claim to that crucible experience where they attain victorious outcomes, stretching themselves to new leadership levels. The big question is, ‘are you willing to take the heat?’ As those HR leaders who have been in the field for several years and made progressively responsible moves will attest, leadership is tough work. It requires the need to have the courage of your convictions. In 2010, HR Executive Online published an article containing similar points – a piece I believe still holds true today over a decade later. One section noted that “many HR executives second-guess themselves. Unsure of their beliefs, they wait for signals or orders from the CEO and senior management team.” If HR leaders have truly assumed their ‘seats at the table’ (an expression we've all grown weary of!), then they must, by default, operate with courageous leadership. They must be willing to take the heat. Sometimes, that heat may come internally when you deem a certain organizational decision to impact morale, sustainability, talent capacity, etc., negatively. If this happens, it is incumbent upon you as an HR leader to speak up, regardless of how unpopular it is. One of my leadership credos is "to have the courage to make decisions even when unpopular or unsolicited." Sitting in the top seats – or even near them – means unpopularity. It means that many folks will not like your views. They may even confuse those views with their feelings about you. I fear that too many HR leaders are entirely too concerned with staff happiness which can easily translate into passive leadership and, in turn, an unwillingness to take the heat. Being willing to take the heat must also come with having your facts. Data, data, data. You need proof points. You need to have statistics at the ready – statistics whose sources have been widely used and vetted. And, be sure that you aren’t carrying innate biases on the subject and, therefore, simply looking for data that backs you up. Finally, as a business leader (remember, business leader first, HR leader second) who may eventually come under fire, you will need to be able to speak another language. As an HR leader, your 'native' language is change management, strategic sourcing, total rewards, talent management, OD…etc. But you’ll need other languages rooted in the nuances and business of your company. You should be just as well versed on the vulnerabilities of your company’s revenue model as you are about the compliance issues in benefits. With this understanding and approach, your challenges and courageous convictions will truly mean something. Stepping into this terrain is not for the faint of heart. But since when is anything worth attaining billed as ‘easy’? Happy New Year! Now, toughen up!
The Best CEO Candidates Are A Stone's Throw Away (Spoiler Alert: Top Talent Officers)
(revised from a previously published version) Did you think that old issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) - in the ‘Idea Watch’ section, entitled: ‘Why Chief Human Resources Officer Make Great CEOS - Really!’ – was a breakthrough article? For a few brief seconds, I did. Then I read on. With each line, I thought about my own decades of experience in business and HR leadership. Having cut my teeth in a GE/GE Capital owned business, I was truly blessed to be part of a conglomerate known for cultivating top business leaders and talent around the globe. It literally propelled me - with a robust toolkit in hand - to every other subsequent progressive opportunity, including the one I hold now as CEO of my own firm. I’ve always been a business leader first. HR leader second. I crave the nutrients found in business strategy. I ask questions. I challenge. I learn and apply those learnings – daily. Working within the box of HR was, to me, the equivalent of literally working in a box. I have tons of ideas. Not only can I read a P&L statement, I was expected to hold the responsibility of managing one along with my executive team members. And, why not? So, when I read in the HBR article that ‘new research recognizes leadership potential that’s waiting to be tapped’ – I was like, what the heck? New research? While the terrain may not be spilling over with top Talent Officers poised and ready for the top seat, it is certainly rich with those ready, willing and able to be groomed. Some of my former colleagues have even become disillusioned because the researchers haven’t quite caught up to a glaring fact: many business and HR leaders make the best CEOs. That’s hardly news. As Bernard Fontana, CEO of Holcim, shared in the HBR article – ‘leadership is about transforming an institution, and if you want to have a sustainable transformation, you need to develop leaders who will continue the journey after you. HR is an essential part of that kind of generative leadership.’ Sadly, he also acknowledged that, while more boards should consider hiring CHROs as CEOS, it’s still quite rare. Now, let’s look at it a little differently. How many CEOs do you know of who, after a vaunted career journey, have found themselves on the unemployment line (or at least at the end of their golden parachute)? And, what are some of the most common reasons for that? A four-year study by LeadershipIQ.com interviewed 1,087 board members from 286 public, private, business and healthcare organizations that fired, or otherwise forced out, their chief executive to understand the same question. Thirty-one percent of the respondents cited ‘mismanaging change’ as a reason for ousting the CEO. Most pointed to “a failure on the CEO’s part to properly motivate employees and managers, and more specifically, to adequately sell the need to change course. Another 27% of respondents cited ‘tolerating poor performers’ as their reason. Board members shared that when CEOs allowed an obvious low performer to linger (without any improvement or discipline), it destroyed the CEO’s credibility and made it politically difficult for them to hold others accountable. Thank goodness most of us know CEOs who are the very opposite of this profile. Back to the study - does any of it sound familiar? Who might be best positioned with the right tools, tested mettle and straight-up experience in, and leading through, the trenches? Your top Talent Officer, that’s who. So, I dare say that an old HBR article - and even older thinking - has no new discoveries about CHROs. There is simply nothing ‘provocative' about prescribing this transition. It's overdue and should be viewed as a key prescription. And, as for that one word at the end of the title on the cover page, with its well-intentioned exclamation point – ‘Really’ – I’d replace it with two others - ‘Of Course!’
Sunday Quarterbacks and Sunday Players
(revised from a previous version published on LinkedIn) Teams play to win. Some analysts state that the typical football team scores on about one-third of its offensive possessions, resulting in either a touchdown or a field goal. This means that the quarterback is under severe pressure to perform – and get it done each time. His job is to execute with precision and to encourage the players on his team to do the same. Either of those roles is difficult….the quarterback has both. Wide-receiver, Odell Beckham, Jr. can be a thing of beauty to watch on the field (when he's not punching the competition in the rear). But, on those Sundays when Odell can’t hold onto the football with those velvet hands for what could have been a game-clinching touchdown, he lets the quarterback down.
Mistakes happen. Most leaders know and accept that. But, yes, their desire is to lead teams that win. In order for winning to happen, team players need to trust the leader to make tough calls, execute and be all-in as it relates to their own execution. In football, the offensive linemen have to be big, and they have to be strong. I often try to guess at the size of their jerseys, and wonder if the buckets of ice which they soak in afterwards are custom-made - but I digress. They have to be able to give the quarterback the time he needs to pass, if that’s the play. In business, this holds true as well. The multitude of issues requiring leadership attention in any given week can range from product recalls to sexual harassment. It is vital for team players to do their part in anticipating, assessing and addressing issues in their purview, whenever possible. This enables leaders to remain focused on their role of shouldering the other responsibilities for the team. Team players are, in essence, the offensive linemen (and women!) who work to give their leaders time and space to make the big passes before the pressure hits. They must also block for other team players who need to advance the ball. How do they do this? By subject mastery in their own roles, and performing those roles with the highest degrees of precision and excellence. When Eli Manning (cuz I’m in NY) threw a pass to his wide-receiver, he set a high performance bar – for himself and for his players. He expected to throw with extreme accuracy, and he also expected the wide-receiver to exhibit speed, athleticism, and good hands. His wide-receiver needed to be durable to take a lot of pounding.
Our expectations as business leaders aren’t very different. There are projects, initiatives and entire programs that need to be delegated to team members. As a leader, once I set clear enough expectations and have the game-day playbook drawn, I must trust my team to read the plays, understand the environment, and make small and large decisions every step of the way. They too must be durable to withstand the challenges of cultural transformation, and strategic initiatives sometimes met with resistance. If I’m leading effectively, my job is to set them up to win, then step back as they advance the ball. Team players must always be looking for ways to help the team win – particularly during major change which requires the best of everyone (aka game-day when it counts). In business, this may mean that team players have a vantage point that the leader doesn’t have and will spot the ‘pebbles’ in the system which threaten to gum up the machinery. The pebbles may show themselves as confusing processes that waste time and goodwill or behavioral issues among the team which must be dealt with. Whatever the pebble, it’s a team players’ obligation to find to ways to remove it, or call it out, at minimum. Failing to do this is costly to the team and to the mission. Leadership is hard, and so is being a team player. It means living in the grey zone with great regularity and discomfort. Strategies are formed, goals articulated, metrics applied – and it’s the entire team who must execute in perfect rhythm once decisions are made. I’ll end with my final football analogy, since I’m on a roll and have truly started to enjoy the game after years of retreating to another room with Frito Lays corn chips. When the quarterback draws up the play in football, there should be no resistance nor argument, even if they don’t agree that the Patriots can beat the Giants through a 54-yard field goal with a second left for a 27-26 victory. (We're always in trouble when we see that little Tom Brady smile.) The quarterback is the one with the arm. He’s the brainchild of the operation, besides the coach. He has memorized the playbook. He is the facilitator, the leader – the success of the play is largely dependent on him. He can’t wilt under pressure. He must expect to get hit and still get the pass off, exhibiting agility as he runs from the charging tackles and three-hundred pound linemen. Sometimes the play works, and, at other times, it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, there is no one who is more susceptible to the Monday morning quarterbacking than the quarterback himself. I’m certain that the great ones, in particular, play at their best when everything is on the line and things seem impossible. Losing is especially brutal at those times. What these leaders need, as do their counterparts in business – is support. They need ready and willing team players able to get it done even when they don’t understand the play or believe for a moment that it’s the right one. They need to trust the leader to make the call, execute and, if necessary – change the play at the line of scrimmage if he sees something that others can’t see. And, they need to rally with the team if it turns out that the play was either wrong, or executed badly. I encourage leaders to quarterback on Sunday when it counts. Give it your all and then dig even deeper when the stakes are higher. I also encourage team players to play hard on Sunday when it counts. And for heaven’s sake – everyone should avoid the temptation to Monday morning quarterback. We can save Mondays for the closed-door debriefs (and Tom Brady bashing).
When Employee Departures Get Messy
In the beginning, both employees and their employers generally have one desire: to make the relationship work. Few people enter the workplace hoping to be embroiled in conflict, fail at their jobs—whether in perception or reality—or to experience the humiliation of termination. The fact is that most people go to work with a deep need to bring their gifts and talents to the table. Unfortunately, there are any number of things which can go wrong in the workplace leading to one’s termination. And, at times, employee terminations can become public, messy and nightmares to manage for leaders. How do we get to those worst-case scenarios? Once there, how should they be navigated for the sake of the entire company? An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure The best way to avoid a messy employee termination is to manage performance effectively— before things get to the breaking point. Performance management of an employee, as those of us who work in HR know well, is both an art and a science. The science element is pretty straightforward: ensure that expectations, clear goals and metrics are established; coach the employee both informally and formally to aid performance; employ timely corrective measures to address issues; and measure outputs to reward performance commensurately. That’s the easy part. The harder part is dealing with the complexities of people. The reasons why many performance management practices fall short are always tied to the competencies and leadership of those involved— either wholly or partially. Leadership is hard work. It takes authenticity, risk-taking, sharp decision-making and balance, among many other traits. As a leader, you must be as focused on people management as you are on product or program management. Otherwise, performance management issues will fester and haunt you. As a leader, I’ve learned this the hard way. I’ve paid dearly during those times when I failed to take swift action…when I failed to bite the bullet. Biting the Bullet One of my many experiences as a leader in business over 20+ years is a perfect illustration of the need to take timely action on performance management issues. I had just hired who I believed was a skilled professional for a key role on my team. After a few short weeks (some of her colleagues would say, days) she proved to be a bit of an impostor. I don’t use the word ‘impostor’ lightly as I’m sensitive to the struggles which many of us have in fighting the oft-discussed Impostor Syndrome . I talk openly about my own struggles with this syndrome in my book, Tough As Nails: Finding Your Voice as a Woman in the Workplace . This individual was not suffering from that. Sadly, she neither possessed the technical abilities nor emotional maturity to do the job. I tried coaching her. I tried encouraging her. I relied, foolishly, on others across my team to pick up her slack. That bred resentment and more issues. When I finally reached the point where I had to administer more serious corrective action, she played the victim card. Big time. I waited too long. A situation which should have been managed decisively, resulting in her removal months earlier, instead had now become a slow-motion train wreck for everyone involved. I’ve learned through that experience and others, that giving tough feedback is unpleasant but absolutely necessary. As a leader, if you’re dealing with someone who has never had the mirror held up to them, you’re in for a heckuva ride. I won’t lie to you. Do it anyway. Lean into it. Rely on your HR partners to manage the performance issue with clarity and speed to avoid an ugly termination. Transparency Matters, But It Has Its Limits Once the termination has happened, particularly if it is more public in nature, it will be difficult to manage the rumor mill. Rumor mills in the workplace are always in full motion. They grind even when there’s no one turning the wheel. As a result, it is very challenging to manage the swirl around a messy departure. While I’m a big proponent of transparency and candor during times of change, there are times when less really is more. Leaders can’t share everything. If a departure has been difficult, there are a few things that can and should be shared. These include the more innocuous facts: the individual is no longer with the company; words of well wishes for that person; how work will continue in their absence; and who is available to answer any work-related questions. Beyond that, sharing more information mostly serves to keep the drama alive, often raising more questions that would be inappropriate to answer. Finally, be proactive and strategic in your communication strategy. There are ways to skillfully navigate these situations—from the final stages of the termination through the days following it: Work with your HR partner to prepare an airtight ‘script’ of the termination meeting. Who will say what, when and how? Write some talking points on what you will share with your inner circle, broader team, and the entire organization as well as when you plan to share it. HR should be a strong partner to you in this area as well. It requires great finesse in wording of what is shared—and what isn’t.
There are many other aspects to a strong communication strategy to get through these situations. For more information and support in this area, feel free to contact me at email@example.com for a complimentary consultation. Ultimately, the key theme at the end of a messy departure is to remain focused on supporting employees who remain and pointing them toward the future.
Remote Hiring: Art Over Science
Recently, I was talking with someone who had just joined the team at one of my clients. She was highly energized by the remote interview process. She shared the experience with pure joy. It was inspiring. The fact is that there will forever be a pre and post-COVID footnote to our work. The hiring process is no different. Pre-COVID, it was very common for geographically dispersed companies to use a mix of technology and in person interviews to seal the deal. Today, the hiring process across all industries will require the delicate work of selecting top talent who mesh with your culture to be done through a computer screen. During my Virtual Conference in May of this year, The Radical Transformation of HR Post COVID-19, Maury Hanigan shared rich insights about what is potentially lost during remote interactions. She talked about the loss of connection, familiarity, understanding, among other things. As Maury noted, this loss is exponentially more difficult for new hires. All of this means that employers engaging remotely with prospective employees will need to work harder. They'll need to be more creative. Moments of interactions will need to be more intentional. My client's new team member described a process where that organization really nailed it. But, it didn't happen by chance. It was premeditated. Preparation It should go without saying that meetings of any sort require diligence in preparation. This organization was thoughtful about the entire interview process, from the numbers of people participating to the questions asked and the debrief which followed. The then candidate (now employee) felt tended to. She was made to believe that the process mattered, and therefore, the role mattered. They chose technology which was comfortable for all involved, and that carried them the rest of the way. Expectations Hiring processes, already quite lengthy pre-COVID, will be longer still in this climate. Getting schedules to align, maintaining momentum after each meeting and keeping all parties fully engaged is hard work. At times, people will fall short. This organization set realistic expectations around timelines, and ultimately surpassed them. Vulnerability Candidates need to be exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly. This organization shared all three during the interview process. We must accept the fact that aspects of our organization's 'DNA' will be repellant to some and life-giving to others. Employers who embrace their vulnerability will be seen as authentic. Authenticity will always rule the day. Compassion As Maya Angelou so eloguently said, "people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." The good news is that throughout this particular interview process, the candidate felt valued. There is no substitute for that. So, while we adjust to our computer screens and tackle technology glitches, let's continue to raise the bar in talent acquisition. The next great hire is counting on it.
The (Dis)trust Factor
At the start of the global pandemic, I wrote in earnest about the fact that many employers would be caught totally unprepared when having to make the shift to a remote workforce. Any employer who was still wrestling with work-from-home-policies understood just how unprepared they were. Mentally, that is. The fact is that resistance to working from home was always more of a mental hurdle. Everyone shifted to virtual work environments. Heck, even old-school physicians figured out how to adjust their webcams during tele-health visits so we weren't looking up their noses. Poof , just like that, the largest virtual work experiment was born and was thriving from day one. So, what was at the core of the resistance? In a word? Trust. Many HR leaders can attest to the fact that, despite their best efforts, work-from-home policies often devolve into favoritism, with inconsistencies so glaring that even Stevie Wonder could see them. Trust is too often at the core of these issues. Employers hire smart, successful talent and, conceptually, understand the importance of giving them the space to do their jobs. Yet, old habits, unhealthy cultures, and leadership gaps rule the day unless checked. There are 4 clear signs that an atmosphere of distrust has become a leading factor plaguing your work environment. Policy Mania If your policy manual has as many pages as a World Atlas book, you probably have too many policies. Obviously, policies provide the necessary guidance and guardrails needed for a functional and legally sound workplace. Think of it this way: the root of the word 'policy' forms the basis for other related words like 'police.' Focus on the areas in which you absolutely need to police, and those which would be better left to plain old common sense. Instruction V. Goals Goals provide a NorthStar focus to the work, spark ambition and healthy competition. Smart and successful employees benefit from goals. They are generally quite miserable, however, when they must react to detailed prescriptions of exactly how to reach these goals. Excessive instructions on the 'how' v. the 'what' are recipes for demotivating staff. Work-from-home policies which attempt to assert control over 'how' and 'where' work is achieved will guarantee the absence of innovation and inspiration at a time when your company needs both in large supply. 'No Input' Zones One way to demonstrate trust is through providing information. Information is power. Power should be distributed if your business is to grow. Engaging employees in solutions to today's business problems is not only nice-to-do but critical. With the exception of highly confidential and sensitive matters, employees should be pulled as far into the zones of decision-making as possible. As long as it's clear who has the ultimate decision-making authority. Which leads me to the final sign of distrust... Everyone has the ' D ' If your company has set up approval processes for small, medium and large-sized d ecisions that resemble the outlines to a jigsaw puzzle, it usually means that everyone is involved, and very few are trusted. Decision-making authority is born from clarity and trust in those appointed to make the decisions. When you have neither, chaos abounds and people will focus more on covering backsides than covering the business. The largest virtual work experiment has proven that it works. Now, businesses must ensure that trust is instilled in every corner of the workplace - virtual or otherwise.
Candidate Labor is Not Free
Some years ago, I had my feelers out in the market and went through an interview process with a well-respected organization. The search process appeared to be robust. I received a favorable response to my candidacy via email. And, that's where the neon-flashing red flags started to go up...a few of which I explained away. What was most notable was their request of me to provide a hiring exercise. On its face, this request is totally reasonable. I've made it countless times on the other side of the hiring table. These are valuable assessment tools in determining a candidate's ability to operate in the actual role. It moves interview discussions beyond the theoretical to the practical. The fact is that some people interview poorly and turn out to be rockstars. Others interview like rockstars and turn out to be more like the opening acts. We need objective assessment tools. However, my own experience in that search years ago was fraught with problems. In effect, this organization was simply looking for free intellectual property. Here are the key takeaways from that wacky episode (one person's disappointment is always another's learning manual!) Communicate early and well Hiring exercises provide assessments on one's fit for the role and the culture. The request made of me was an exhaustive hours-long project requiring extensive research and an in-depth presentation. I received this request via another email. I'd not yet interviewed with anyone. I pushed back, professionally. Their response was to schedule me for an "interview" with the HR leader. There's a reason that I placed interview in quotes. That "interview" conversation could only be described as '8 different ways to humor someone without sounding like it.' Takeaway : Participate in a hiring exercise only after you've had the opportunity to assess the role with a functioning human being who represents the organization well. Once you do, be sure to discuss the amount of time required to complete it. If it appears too onerous, you can negotiate for a modified product and/or provide samples from your work portfolio which you can walk through during the interview. Intellectual Property Burglary Truly reputable organizations will let you know what the exercise will be used for, by whom and whether it will be memorialized. In my case, these "leaders" (see what I did there?) were opaque and slippery about the use of my intellectual property (IP). The most candor they exhibited about the interview process was getting me to submit the work product. Takeaway : Protect your IP by submitting your work in PDF format, and place your name on every page. This is not foolproof, but it certainly helps. Another way to protect your IP, is to skimp on your submission. In other words, don't give away the entire barn. Provide written information at more of a 30,000 ft. level, then use your notes to 'wow' them during the actual presentation/interview. Think, movie trailer v. entire onscreen performance. Walk Away I could kick myself for remaining too long in what was clearly a flawed process. Once I submitted the product, too much time elapsed before I heard about the next steps. When I followed up, I received a hollow-sounding note, followed by a longer letter from the HR leader two days later. This leader had the temerity to tell me that the position had been filled, thanked me for my time and suggested that I apply for another role! Takeaway : Don't quiet that booming voice that says.... walk away ! I sometimes take my need for follow-through to the extreme. This was one case when following-through was folly. The signs were there from the beginning and I should have heeded them. (I sent the HR leader a snarky note afterwards to make myself feel better.) Again, hiring exercises are important tools in the process. They benefit both employer and prospective employee. That said, they should be used judiciously, efficiently and respectfully by employers seeking talent - particularly in a heavily disrupted marketplace due to the COVID-19 crisis. On 5/27-29, 1 hour a day, 3 sessions an hour - TedTalk style - we're offering a complimentary virtual conference on The Radical Transformation of HR necessary post COVID-19. Sign up here .
4 Lessons On Finding Purpose...Even Now (Warning: contains a morbid personal story. Don't judge)
Passion is a seven-letter word that has been blown up into such mammoth proportions, that some people don’t believe they even possess it - in any form. It’s often used to describe someone breathlessly expressing interest in something or to depict an unbridled sense of emotion about a person, place or thing. What exactly is ‘passion?’ It’s simple. It’s that color picture sense that tells you that all of you is engaged in something. Passion tells you that you’re alive and have tapped into something that, when used constructively, can bring others edification and joy. An individual who is passionate about something is like a full well – at some point it overflows into another space, or onto another person. It speaks to abundance and richness. Our day jobs may indeed be that place where our passions meet our profession. Certainly every employer would desire that from their employees. However, it can’t be ginned up nor manufactured through team exercises. It’s either there, or it’s not. And, that’s just fine. You can, and should, do your job with excellence and commitment, regardless. So, if your deepest passions aren’t found within the walls of the workplace, don’t despair. Keep looking. Keep seeking. Take both the natural, and unnatural transition periods on the calendar (think COVID-19) as an opportunity to write a new story. Ask yourself a few key questions in order to explore your passions. I shared some of these questions during my virtual WGNinHR Masterclass on April 2nd. 1. When was the last time you felt truly alive and energized when doing something? 2. If money wasn’t an issue, what would you be doing with the bulk of your time? 3. How do you want to be remembered? 4. What gifts and talents do others regularly compliment you on? 5. What would you be doing all day and never consider a waste of time? 6. What’s missing from the world from your perspective? Answering these questions requires some quiet time to reflect. It should also require the willingness to do something with the answers discovered – this is part of the pathway to your purpose. Passion untapped will eat away at you. It will creep into your thoughts, attitude, and eventually, your behavior. It must, at some point, be allowed to breathe. Enter the post-COVID-19 phase with a commitment to explore your passions and a determination not to leave another year with regrets stemming from inaction. I will join you. There is no passion to be found playing small--in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. - Nelson Mandela Someone Should See the Difference There is simply not enough money, time, nor energy to do all that we desire – for ourselves. Sharing your time, talent and treasure with others is ultimately why we’re here. Passion is meant, as I said, to spillover. Otherwise, what’s the point? There are countless opportunities to serve others in our daily lives. They can range from allowing a struggling mom to get ahead of you in the grocery store, to taking the time to encourage a weary soul on the bus ride in to work (when we were actually still riding the bus). A smile, a compliment, real eye contact, the gift of your time…..these are simple yet profound displays of service. Start there. Random acts of kindness are wonderful ways to meet the needs of others, particularly during these times of such anger and vitriol. People often reach out to me on LinkedIn to make connections, share services or ask for advice – total strangers. While I can’t help everyone and must prioritize my own time, I’m always intrigued by someone seeking knowledge. Someone who wants to get better, to know more, to do things differently. More often than not I will respond, much to the surprise of the requester. This is my small way of giving my time (even if scheduling may take months!) to offer someone encouragement and hope. There’s something enlightening that happens when serving others: we understand the importance of being grateful. You’ve heard the expression, ‘it’s all relative.’ Indeed, it is. Any stress on my job becomes more manageable when I encounter someone who has been out of work for a year. The nagging pain in my lower back is tolerable when I pass someone who is bound to a wheelchair. It’s all relative, because it should be – it forces gratitude upon us. My own purpose is inextricably linked with giving and serving. It’s not just what I want to be known for, it’s how I need to feed my own soul. Service requires you to have the right intentions, the right heart. You’re doing it not out of self-gratification (though it does feel great) but out of a place where you really are not the main topic at all. Someone else is. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. – Mahatma Gandhi May the Real YOU Please Stand Up! Whether through tapping into your passions or serving others, the real you will ultimately rear its head. Sometimes that head will be ugly, at other times it will be pretty. And, alas, most times it will be neither. It will simply be the sum total of who you were created to be. When I sit in a boardroom, I’m not only sitting there as a black, female, first-generation American, I’m also sitting there as one who is a learned extrovert having emerged from my formative years barely uttering any words in public. How I think, what resonates with me, what turns me off, who I gravitate towards, and how I react under stress and conflict – reveal my authentic self. I often describe it as being my ‘authentically awesome’ self – because it is. It’s who God created me to be and what I'm still becoming. He also gave me a chisel and a trash bag to whittle away and discard the unpleasant parts that fail to bring Him glory! That means there are parts of my authentic self which are not serving any useful purpose – for me nor for others. I need to be obsessed with getting to the core of who I am – daily. Through every interaction, meeting, conversation and encounter – I want the real me to stand up. I want the real me to be seen and heard. When that happens with enough consistency, my purpose will have a clear pathway to fruition, and I can hopefully have a potent and positive impact on the lives of others. Think of it as brewing a cup of coffee: you ultimately taste and digest it for yourself – but others will also catch its aroma. I’m sure you’re wondering how we can be authentic in this world where opinions and ideas are increasingly met with name-calling. Social media sites are rife with nastiness and mob mentalities. If you don’t fit neatly and squarely into the box which someone believes you should be in, attempts to shame and slander your character are viewed as fair game, somehow. Heaven forbid you should have an opinion which goes against the so-called grain. You’ll be called out and silenced by the stroke of 280 characters or snarky memes. Nevertheless, we must be authentic and use our judgment about how much to reveal and to whom. We should also accept the fact that we are imperfect. I’m willing to work at my authenticity to be better – but, not perfect. Striving for perfection is trying to be like God, and that never ends well. We will all miss the mark at times. What really matters is the determination to continue to work at it, but not the desire to be liked. There are times to be vulnerable, and to say what you think when you know that not saying it will have even more dire consequences. Many people will not be able to handle that. They will need to own that. And, yes, there are also times where the reverse is true and you should keep your mouth closed – that’s why we have journals. Above all, work hard at not losing the core of who you are. That may mean having to change your relationships or your circumstances so that your purpose has the right breeding ground. This takes tenacity. Don’t trade your authenticity for approval. - Anonymous A Morbid - and Powerful - Depiction of Tenacity One of the pathways to purpose is the road where many of us are tempted to make U-turns. Tenacity is required to achieve your purpose. The sooner you build this muscle, the less time you’ll be wasting. Tenacity is, quite simply, deciding not to surrender. It is where crucible experiences meet hope and a renewed energy to keep going. At times, we’d much rather take an easier and seemingly more certain path. But, fighting for your dreams and plans will always be worth it. Why? Because you’re worth it. One such powerful display of tenacity happened in my life several years ago as I and my family were burying my father. The funeral home arrangements had been made and the day of burial had arrived. As the crowd exited the funeral home, the attendants prepared to close the casket – the final step before the procession to the cemetery. Several minutes turned into thirty as the attendants struggled with the casket closure. It had become clear to our family – which by then included immediate and extended members, and some family neighbors – that something was very wrong. The lid would not close and the only choice left, according to the funeral home administrators, was to purchase another casket. We could then make the transfer of the body and be on our way to the cemetery as planned. You have to realize that, by now, there was a large group of people waiting for us outside – some mulling around the entrance, others lingering in the lobby straining to understand what was happening, with the remaining members sitting in their cars to take shelter from the cold weather of a February day. That day, family and friends came together to work every bit of ingenuity found in the human mind, using every tool at our disposal. I was of little help, but you can bet that I shared the same determination. At one point, the funeral administrator peeked in with a look of sheer disbelief at this groups’ will. Finally, as we’d neared the last of our options, divine intervention produced a kind-hearted repairman from across the street who finished the job for us. The casket was closed. (Later we discovered that this is a fairly common and dastardly trick performed by some – not all – funeral homes. They tinker with the casket at the family’s weakest moment, then offer a new one at cost. Despicable, but true). All of us that day understood one thing, even without saying it: we had a singular purpose which should not, and could not, be abandoned. We had to bury my father in the casket that was originally chosen. What ensued in that hour or more which elapsed, was one of the clearest examples of tenacity towards purpose that I can remember. That current existence which poses a problem for you needn’t be something overwhelming and all-consuming. It could simply be an incident, which cumulatively, begins to describe the sum total of who you are. The example above happens to be one of many for me. Bizarre as it is, it taught me so much. Defeat and obstacles may represent your current state, but not your status. The more we resist the chance to develop ourselves or grow through tenacity, the longer we remain stuck. You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. – Maya Angelou Make the rest of 2020 the year of seizing hold of your purpose – (re)acquaint yourself with what makes you passionate. Let your passions spillover into service to others, because the world desperately needs it. We're seeing that every day, aren't we?
My Take on Personality Tests
At this very moment, as part of a hiring process, career counseling or professional development there is someone who is completing a personality test or assessment. I believe most people submit to this with the best of intentions. I also believe that those part of the personality test industry, are generally in pursuit of genuinely noble causes: matching prospective employees with companies; increasing self-awareness; improving skills along the course of one’s career. That said, what are we to make of these personality tests? Under what circumstances should they be used and relied upon? For example, do they really give a prospective employer or manager a window into the soul of an individual? Are they fair—and who decides what is fair? After more than 25 years in business and HR, I’ve arrived at a mixed verdict on personality tests. If personality tests were on trial in a real courtroom, my verdict would read: ‘acquitted’ on the count of fraud when used for personal development; but, ‘hung’ on the count of using them in employment decisions. The Acquittal I fully believe in the importance of self-awareness. As I share in my new book, Tough As Nails: Finding Your Voice as a Woman in the Workplace , knowing oneself is vital to effectively operating in a tough work environment. That knowledge makes you far less susceptible to the whims and opinions of others. Personality tests help to shed light on who we are, what makes us tick, and what adjustments we may need to make in order to lead in a variety of settings. And, since I’m on the topic of peering into the psyche of willing subjects, let me be the first to come clean: there was a time in my life where pulling back the veneer to better understand ‘self’ would have been too painful. I would’ve been skeptical of the entire process due to my unwillingness to be vulnerable. You see, as a young adult, I was an extreme introvert and burdened with insecurities. I wasn’t ready for deeper self-reflection. Now, as a mature business executive, I fully embrace this work and believe that it holds one of the keys to individual growth and development. I’m all in. Well-researched personality tests can be incredibly insightful through a period of self-reflection and personal growth. The only question remaining is, which tests are best designed to help you increase your self-awareness. The short answer is: do your own homework and don’t rest until you’re comfortable with the results. The longer answer is that there are a few which, in my opinion, do a good job of: helping you through this journey of self-discovery; improving your productivity; strengthening your ability to communicate; and increasing your overall effectiveness. They are, in no particular order: CliftonStrengths by Gallup (Formerly StrengthsFinder) https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/
16Personalities https://www.16personalities.com/ Hung (on the count of using them in employment decisions) Personality tests used to make hiring or advancement decisions, are issued at a particular point in time. That point and time just so happens to coincide with an individual’s state of mind when s/he is in the midst of making a major life transition. That leaves the testers with at least two potential challenges: honesty during test taking and, by extension, lack of predictability in future performance. While there are many individuals who will be honest while taking these tests (present company very much included), those two challenges have the potential to all but blow up the test’s reliability. There are tests, however, that include attributes which adjust for these challenges, and are more likely to predict future performance. Among these attributes, according to this Harvard Business Review article are:— The ability to measure traits which will not tend to change after a lengthy employment The ability to apply comparisons between two candidates in order to determine which traits are more prevalent in one versus the other The inclusion of content which detects lies, and Proven high-reliability, particularly as it relates to test-retest reliability The best tests, based upon my experience, have combined other measures which assess an individual’s cognitive and analytical skills. Finally, I’d also recommend that both employees and employers approach these tests with a clear sense of the current context. This can help determine whether a test is the best tool to begin with. For example, during a business turnaround, assessing a candidate’s fit for the culture may be extremely ill-timed if the desired state has not yet crystallized. In the final analysis, using these tests to make major employment decisions have the potential to add significant value—provided that they are: designed for predictability; integrate other cognitive/analytical measures and; administered within the right business climate or context.
Living the Dream
This article was first published in early 2017 and has been modified from the original version Who’s Got Next in HR was built upon the premise that professionals – particularly HR professionals – should always dare to ask ‘what’s next?’ I believe strongly that the status quo often lacks imagination at best, and misses the opportunity to tap into the best and brightest brains in business, at worst. When you have strong opinions, it’s important to walk the talk. I’d like to do more than dream. My focus is on dreaming big, with deadlines. And, at some point, I’d like to actually live the dream. I serve as the Chief Business and Talent Officer . It's a unique role that finds me leading in an array of areas - from Property Assets to Talent, and most recently, to serving as the Interim Fund Development Executive. This is part of me living the dream……it’s the most current answer to the question of what’s next’ in my own professional career. I’m deeply grateful for my career moves. I’m proud of the hard work that was required to make them happen. And, I’m never satisfied. I’d like to inspire that same degree of restlessness in you. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom, borne from my own experiences, to help you start living your dreams. Have an Advocate The importance of having an advocate to help you demonstrate your expertise and value cannot be overstated. What good is it to have gifts and talents which remain hidden from view because you never have a platform to demonstrate them? Your advocate may or may not be your immediate manager. It’s certainly easier if it is. But, if that’s not feasible, search for an influential decision-maker in your company and build a relationship with him/her. They could be the very key to the right door of opportunity being opened. In Joann Lublin’s book, Earning It , she quotes Carly Fiorina among the more than fifty trailblazing smashers of corporate glass ceilings in the book. Carly, the receptionist turned CEO of Hewlett-Packard and, most recently, Presidential candidate says: “You absolutely have to have people who will take a chance on you. Be open to people helping you.” Don’t be too proud to ask for or willingly accept help. You’ll need it. All Merit We oftentimes believe, even subconsciously, that the person who has willingly served to be our advocate is doing us an unmerited favor. The fact is, they are indeed performing a ‘gracious act of kindness’ according to Mirriam-Webster’s definition of 'favor.' It is kind and gracious to work on someone’s behalf for that individual’s personal or professional benefit. Anyone who is able to secure an advocate should be grateful and work hard not to let them down. However, it is no unmerited favor. Never allow thoughts of doubt or a sense that you are undeserving to creep in…..kick them out before they take up residence. Always know that you are worthy of what you’ve received. Know that you deserve it, based on merit. Let Your Work Speak Ultimately, your work must speak for itself. Once the opportunity is presented, the rest is up to you. You either have to step up with the requisite skills and abilities, otherwise advancement is unlikely to happen. The potent mixture of inherent skills, hard earned experience, acquired talents and grit, propels one to new levels….if you have the courage to demonstrate them. Your work should serve as the loudest and most persuasive megaphone which lets the world know – in every conversation, in every meeting – that things are better with you at the table. Never underestimate the power of such a megaphone and keep the volume turned up. Claim It What’s worse than turning down the volume on the megaphone pronouncing your work, is doing so as a result of false humility. Humility has its place, don’t get me wrong. It’s important to be able to look modestly at oneself and not operate with a sense of arrogance. Constantly downplaying one’s accomplishments, giving the credit away or remaining quiet while fantastic work is described with no mention of the creator (if that’s you) – is folly. Every day I learn the importance of claiming my work, especially when it counts and key stakeholders are listening. Start a new ritual...right now: Become more comfortable with claiming your work. Find creative ways to describe the outcome, what it took to make it happen and what impact it has/will have on the company. In addition to saying ‘we’ to share credit for important work and demonstrate a team spirit, insert an ‘I’, strategically, to claim it. Each One Teach One The phrase ‘each one teach one’ was birthed in the US by African-Americans during slavery. During the period where African-Americans were denied education, those who learned to read saw it as their duty to teach another. Each one teach one. It’s a powerful concept that speaks to the importance of helping a fellow brother or sister to go to the next level. As a professional, you’re only as good as your ability to multiply what you’ve learned. Growth and advancement must be duplicated to have any real meaning. When others receive what you have, it spawns a new opportunity for greatness. It also feels good. Each of us should be looking for others to whom we can impart knowledge and skills. It is a leader’s responsibility to shape and develop others – for their good as well as the entire organization’s benefit. One of my favorite quotes on this matter is from the great tennis player, Arthur Ashe. He said, “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” Find an advocate, embrace them and the help they provide – but without any feelings of unworthiness. Be sure to keep the megaphone up on your work and be careful not to give credit away needlessly. Most of all, be intentional about living your dream in the remaining months of this year, and help others do the same.
The High Calling of Leadership
The thought of being a leader when I was a child, emerging into young adulthood, was not something I considered - even in my wildest imagination. I was an extreme introvert. During parent/teacher’s conferences, my teachers would happily share their assessment of my grades, but were quick to furrow their brows with concern at the fact that I wouldn’t utter a word in class. Not a single word. My shyness, back then, kept me from finding my authentic voice at the time. In fact, I was teased by bullies in school who felt that the tone and tenor of my actual voice was deep. None of this was a recipe for the making of a leader. But, as I journeyed to adulthood, the struggle became easier. I put my toe in the water to test the bounds of public speaking – first in smaller groups and eventually in front of larger ones. I discovered something amazing - I had a lot to say! I also knew that I didn’t have a choice if I was to make the kind of impact I sorely desired to make in business, and in the world. I had ideas….some of them were big ideas. Instead of carrying them around in my head, I wanted - and needed - to engage others. I now consider myself a learned extrovert. So, my own leadership developed as a slowly building engine of necessity, gradually revving up to the place where it felt more natural and powerful. Now, when I look back at those years and reflect upon my leadership journey – the various roles which I’ve held, the teams that I’ve led, the initiatives which I've been responsible for, etc. – I see leadership as a high calling. If you feel the same way about leadership, here are four reasons why that calling is so important to embrace: Leaders solve problems – helping, coaching, mentoring, and serving others to crack the toughest ‘nuts’ in order to find solutions. This kind of leadership forces one to focus on the purpose and not the personal. A focus on the larger purpose is what energizes people and teams to make significant and sustainable changes for the better.
As a leader, it must always be about results. Big, inspired thinking without results are tantamount to hallucinations. We must both understand what needle we’re trying to move and be rigorous about ways that actually help to move it. Being busy is one of the largest traps for leaders. Hyper-focus on the urgent v. the important is what keeps calendars packed, leaders exhausted and key work untouched. Leadership is an endless drive towards results. A jammed schedule is not necessarily an indication of great leadership. 'White space' on the calendar, on the other hand, is an indication that a leader is focused on spending her energies in the most high-impact directions.
Leaders open doors for others to find their own callings and purpose. Our roles as leaders are to help others find the right doors that play to their strengths and interests. Strengths without interests - or vice versa - is an incomplete equation. Leaders help people complete those equations through patience, trial and error and, most importantly, candor about what’s working and what’s not working.
Leaders are required to make the tough decisions. Decisions move entities forward. Decisions change things. Of course, the wrong decisions move entities in the wrong direction. Therefore, tough decision-making requires discipline. It requires the type of leadership which zeroes in on the ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ of decisions. This is hard work with enormous payoffs. For businesses to succeed, leaders must embrace this role and not shrink from it. These dimensions of leadership are among many that, for me, have shaped a calling. I now embrace it. I don’t always like it or feel like walking in it – but it’s something that I consider a privilege to do. What about you? If someone were to ask you what your calling is, what would you say?