How To Not Get Killed In A "What's Wrong" Focus Group At Your Company...

Simple post today.  From time to time, HR pros have to do focus groups to determine the climate of the employee relations environment at their company.  Ideally, this is done before there's smoke in the air.  But at times, especially in a multi-location environment, that's impossible.

So how do you approach a group of 10-12 employees (focus group) to get them to talk about the challenges, but not get beheaded in the process?  You're going to have to ask open-ended Focus groupquestions to get employees to give you details about what's messed up, so the best approach I've found is this:

--Ask each employee to give you TWO THINGS THAT ARE WORKING WELL FOR THEM AT YOUR COMPANY and TWO THINGS THAT NEED FAST IMPROVEMENT

It sounds simple, right?  I think we'd be surprised how many HR pros who walk into hostile environments don't force the attendees of focus groups to give them some positives.

The positives are there to balance the feedback loop.  It forces people to articulate the positives in their environment, which is important for fellow employees to hear.  

Of course, the negatives/opportunities for improvement are going to be there. You'll get those.  But if you know you're walking into a tough session and fail to be brave enough to ask for the positives, you run a higher probability of losing control of the group.

Some responses you'll hear when you ask for the positives:

"The people I work with"

"The people I work with"

"The people I work with"

"The people I work with"

Not a typo.  Expect that if you're walking into a tough environment, the answers will focus on fellow employees enduring the struggle, not anything that gives credit to the company.  That's OK - you're just looking to balance the feedback loop.  You can accept this answer from as many people as want to give it.

You also might here some smart### responses like:

"I haven't lost any fingers yet"

My advice?  Accept the "people I work with" response from all and if you get a wisecracker, laugh with everyone else and then follow up and ask for a serious one.  Accept "The people I work with" from all and ask for at least one other positive that someone hasn't given the group yet.

Good luck with your paratrooper-like focus group sessions.  Don't be afraid to ask for the positives - it will make your session much more productive.


VIDEO: Dealing with Sidetracks In Coaching Conversations...

Featured today - an interview I did with Tim Sackett for Talent Talks (a great series brought to you by Saba Software) on Dealing with Sidetracks in Coaching Conversations...

You know what sidetracks are even if you don't know them by name...  You know you need to coach a direct report on an issue, so you engage, only to get blown back by the employee with all the reasons the current situation (the one you're coaching on) exists.. It's them, it's their tools, hell, it's even you.

Yes, you! Sidetracks are so dynamic your direct reports can use them to throw you under the bus!!

Take a look at the video below (email subscribers may need to click through to see player) for ideas on how to deal with sidetracks.  If you like what you see, make sure to visit Saba Software- and don't forget to like the video or throw us a comment!


UBER: These Are My Values. There Are Many Like Them, But These Are Mine...

"This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine"

--partial quote from the Rifleman's Creed (USMC), popularized in the movie Full Metal Jacket (click for video)

-------------------------------

It's hard to make sure cultural values stand out as a company.

Sometimes it's better that they just blend in and sound like everyone else's.  That's what's going on at Uber. Uber

It's been two months since Dara Khosrowshahi began his reign as Uber's new CEO, and like most new CEOs, he's on the listening trail, hearing the good, the bad and the ugly. and as the new CEO of Uber, that listening tour is probably more important than it is at most companies...

First on the agenda - rounding off the edges of a hard knock culture.  That's why DK's post on LinkedIn on Tuesday is so fascinating.

"It’s also clear that the culture and approach that got Uber where it is today is not what will get us to the next level. As we move from an era of growth at all costs to one of responsible growth, our culture needs to evolve," he wrote in a LinkedIn post on Tuesday.

To create new cultural values, some 1,200 employees sent in submission suggestions that were voted on more than 22,000 times, he wrote. Uber followed that up with 20 focus groups.

During the listening tour, Uber asked employees to tell company management what the new norms of corporate culture should be.   From the new CEO's LinkedIn post announcing the new cultural norms at Uber :

Uber’s Cultural Norms

We build globally, we live locally. We harness the power and scale of our global operations to deeply connect with the cities, communities, drivers and riders that we serve, every day.

We are customer obsessed. We work tirelessly to earn our customers’ trust and business by solving their problems, maximizing their earnings or lowering their costs. We surprise and delight them. We make short-term sacrifices for a lifetime of loyalty.

We celebrate differences. We stand apart from the average. We ensure people of diverse backgrounds feel welcome. We encourage different opinions and approaches to be heard, and then we come together and build.

We do the right thing. Period.

We act like owners. We seek out problems and we solve them. We help each other and those who matter to us. We have a bias for action and accountability. We finish what we start and we build Uber to last. And when we make mistakes, we’ll own up to them.

We persevere. We believe in the power of grit. We don’t seek the easy path. We look for the toughest challenges and we push. Our collective resilience is our secret weapon.

We value ideas over hierarchy. We believe that the best ideas can come from anywhere, both inside and outside our company. Our job is to seek out those ideas, to shape and improve them through candid debate, and to take them from concept to action.

We make big bold bets. Sometimes we fail, but failure makes us smarter. We get back up, we make the next bet, and we go!

The note from Uber's new CEO also holds special contempt for something called "toe-stepping." Toe-stepping' was meant to encourage employees to share their ideas regardless of their seniority or position in the company, but too often it was used [as] an excuse for being an a--hole," Khosrowshahi wrote.

What made Uber special was a Viking/Pirate mentality to markets and business obstacles.  That Viking mentality spilled over to the workplace, which is why you see the post-scandal change to the values.

Toe-stepping is required when a city council tries to keep a revolutionary idea out of their city.  It's a problem when it spills over in the workplace via a climate where harassment is OK.

Can Uber remain special as their culture become nicer?  I think it can.  They just are 2-3 years to late with the change.  It will be interesting to watch.  

 


Twitter, Trump and Renegade Employees On Their Last Day...

Stop me when you're heard this one before.  

Employee gives notice they're going to leave the company.  Company decides whether it's worth it to allow the employee to work the notice they've just given.  If the risk is high, the employee is offered a hardy handshake and told the notice won't be necessary and walked out the door (whether they are paid depends on the financial status of the company).

You know you've done it before.  The rule of walking people out without letting them work the notice is generally reserved for execs, sales employees and after that - the employees you've always had problems with - I'll call them the canker sores of your company.

Generally, you know which employees to walk out the door.  Occasionally, you let someone stay to work the notice and it totally comes back to bite you on the ass.  That just happened at Twitter - more from The Verge:

President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, @realdonaldtrump, disappeared from the site for around 11 beautiful minutes shortly before 7PM ET. It was not initially clear what happened to the account, and Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a series of tweets issued by Twitter’s Government and Elections team, the company first blamed “human error,” then attributed the move on a rogue employee who used their last day on the job to boot the president off the service. 

Trump's account coming down was originally thought to be a hack.  But here's your tweets with Twitter acknowledging that yes, Jan from customer service, who's moving over to the power company because she's tired of Twitter's shit, deactivated Trump's account on her way out the door.  Kind of like the scene in Jerry McGuire where he leaves the company, takes a fish, makes a scene and ruins and admin's life, except different:

Tweets about trump

Which begs the question, can you prevent employees from doing stupid stuff before they leave?  Probably not.

For any last day renegade action like this, you'll have some employees who cheer it - but just as importantly, you'll have the majority that will think the employee was a complete idiot.

Here's some basic rules for the situation:

1--Trust your gut. If you think the employee is a jerk, don't let them work to the last day. But don't get a reputation for paying out 2 weeks notice, either.

2--Don't allow employees in their last days TO HAVE ACCESS TO SYSTEMS THAT CAN DISABLE FUNCTIONALITY FOR THE POTUS.  Yeah, that seems important - star this one.

3--If somebody does something stupid, find a way to reinforce how stupid it was to the rest of the employee base.  I'm not advocating ruining that employee's reputation, but if they did something stupid, you might as well tell the internal world in a way that doesn't celebrate it, and instead causes people to ponder the recklessness of the moron.

You can't walk everyone who gives you two weeks notice out the door.  But you can trust your gut.  Check your state laws on whether you have to pay a notice out.

 

Snoop Dogg, Lonzo Ball and Having a Favorite Direct Report on Your Team...

“His daddy put him in the lion’s den with porkchop drawers on.”

–Snoop Dogg on Lonzo Ball via Twitter

Let's start with that quote.  Most of you know who Snoop Dogg is (music industry), but you may not be familiar with Lonzo Ball or Lavar Ball, father of Lonzo.  To level set, Lonzo Ball is a professional basketball Beverlyrookie who made his debut at 19 years of age with the Los Angeles Lakers last night.  Lavar Ball is the father and professional promoter of his son(s), who has been very active in the media describing that his son is going to be the greatest of all time.

Read up more about Lavar Ball here if you so desire.

That means Lonzo came into the NBA with a bit of a target on his back - a rookie with a big promotional wave behind him, a wave that provokes veteran NBA players to test/challenge/abuse a rookie like Lonzo to a greater degree than they normally would.   Lonzo's first game with the Lakers presented that type of challenge from a veteran named Patrick Beverly (Clippers guard) who came out super physical with Lonzo and had this to say after limiting Lonzo to three (yes, 3) points in his first NBA game:

"I just had to set the tone," Beverley said. "I told him after the game, due to all the riff-raff his dad brings, he's going to get a lot of people coming at him. He has to be ready for that, and I let him know after the game. But what a better way to start him off. I was 94 feet guarding him tonight. Welcome his little young ass to the NBA."

The quotes from Snoop and Beverly got me thinking about the topic of favorites on your team.

Do you have favorites on your team?  Some of us do and some of us don't.  If you have a favorite or you've recruited a new hire that you think can do great things, the Lonzo Ball debut is reminder of the danger of over-promotion.

It's human nature to hear hype about someone and start gunning for them.  Here's some ways that can impact your team if you have a favorite or are overhyping a new person on your team:

1.  You have a favorite.  80% of your recognition verbally is about stuff they work on.  Your spend 80% of your time with the favorite.  

2.  The other direct reports - who may or may not be as good as the favorite-get tired of hearing that #### about the favorite.

3.  Your favorite needs help from the team to be successful.

4.  Depending on your culture and the personality of the "non-favorite" direct reports, the non-favorites either discretely withhold help or outwardly gun for the favorite in a negative way in their interactions with him/her.

5.  By over-promoting your favorite (or a new hire you have high hopes for), you've made it much harder for them to be successful if the other team members decide to play hardball and cut them down a notch, which is a very human reaction.

Favorites are an interesting case study.  Your team might have a opinion about who on the team is your favorite.  Whether they try to take that favorite down a notch or two is dependent on how you treat the rest of the team.

Lavar Ball (the dad) has a favorite (his son Lonzo). He treated the rest of the team (the world) like crap.  The rest of the world (every guard in the NBA) is going to do everything in their power to make life hard on that favorite.

Lonzo will have some good nights in his first year with the company (the NBA).  He'll also have some nights where Patrick Beverly will be waiting in the conference room, determined to make his life hell.

Good luck Lonzo.


Is Anonymous Feedback From Employees OK?

Who here is tired of seeing disgruntled employees rip your company on Glassdoor?  Wow..almost everyone.  I can't say I'm surprised.

Anonymous feedback is rapidly being recognized for what it is.  The newspaper industry entered the digital industry with the Trollthought that readers commenting on articles online would unlock a form of community unlike any other.  That happened, but in a negative way, with trolls and racists and every other type of creep posting whatever they wanted under anonymous accounts with zero chance of being outed.

It's so bad that responsible publications online have gone one of two ways - they've either eliminated comments altogether or moved to Facebook comments, where commenters have their thoughts tied to a primary Facebook account.  

Let's move back to the workplace.  A deep thinker, expert on employee opinion and a friend of mine - Jason Laurtisen - did a guest post over at Fistful of Talent last year and called for an end to anonymous employee feedback.  Here's a taste:

"When it comes to feedback, anonymity is less effective, and frankly, out of style in today’s workplace. We expect our leaders to be candid and transparent, particularly about the important stuff.  We expect them to tell us the whole story and to openly share their failures and missteps.  Yet, when it comes to asking employees for feedback about something as important as their work experience, we use completely different standards. Why? We’ve convinced ourselves that employees just aren’t up to the task."

I'd encourage everyone to go read Jason's post - because most of you do employee surveys and he's an expert in that area.

Me?  I'm here to give you some comfort in employees savagely ripping you - either internally in surveys or at company rip sites like Glassdoor.  Here's the dirty little secret that will make you feel better:

Employees and Candidates viewing anonymous feedback are increasingly immune to ultra-negative reviews. They're maturing and giving much greater weight to harsh comments that are found as a part of balanced feedback - outlining the good, the bad and the ugly.

I'm increasingly hearing that candidates viewing rip jobs by the disgruntled on Glassdoor don't take them seriously.  They're increasingly looking for the sane commenters on the rip sites, allowing themselves to only be influenced by the rare bird that gives insightful, balanced feedback on life at a company.

That makes sense.  When you see the rip jobs on reputation sites, take a deep breath. The more extreme, unfair and personal it is - the less likely it is to be taken seriously.

When it comes to employee surveys, here's what you can learn from this.  Instead of letting your employees rip away in the verbatim comments section - force them to be balanced and give you a good thing for every bad thing.  Then show the mixture of feedback as the entire verbatim - rather than splitting up good and bad feedback.  

While most of you don't share open ended employee feedback with the entire company, showing the totality of each employee's feedback will show your leadership team which feedback segments should be taken seriously - and which ones could possibly be ignored as a lunatic fringe.


Tesla: Now the Most Interesting Workplace Culture in The World...

Forget Google, Apple and if you're into pain, Uber.

Tesla is now the most interesting workplace culture in the world.  Here's 4 reasons why, my friends:

1--For starters, they've got a founder who is brilliant and unreasonable all at the same time. 

You've heard of Elon Musk, so he really doesn't need an introduction.  From a unauthorized biography I just read on him....

"When Musk came into the meeting room where I'd been waiting, I noted how impressive it was for so many people to be at work on a Saturday.  Must saw the sitaution in a different light, complaining that fewer and fewer people had been working weekends of late, 'We've grown f***ing soft", Musk replied, 
'I was just going to send out an email - we're f***ing soft'"

Founders.  Always a fun time.  There's 100 examples of this stuff in the book.

2--Tesla's under immense pressure to get production of it's newest car model, the Model 3, up to scale. And they are behind.  More from Bloomberg:

"Tesla said it built just 260 Model 3 sedans during the third quarter, less than a fifth of its 1,500-unit forecast. The company has offered scant detail about the problems it’s having producing the car. The vehicle’s entry price starts at $35,000, roughly half the cost of Tesla’s least-expensive Model S sedan.

A delayed ramp-up risks the ire of some of the almost half million reservation holders who started paying $1,000 deposits early last year." 

3--Tesla's at the intersection of manufacturing and automation with the ramp up of the Model 3 - here's an Instagram post shared by Musk late last week to respond to people reporting that there was limited automation at this point on the Model 3 line (email subscribers click through if you don't see the post below.  It's good):

4--Embedded in the founder driven culture is... wait for it.... people being fired after lackluster performance reviews!  And the company is saying that's the reason!  More from Bloomberg:

Tesla Inc. has fired an undetermined number of employees following a series of performance evaluations after the company significantly boosted its workforce with the purchase of solar panel maker SolarCity Corp.

 The departures are part of an annual review, the Palo Alto, California-based company said in an email, without providing a number of people affected. The maker of the Model S this week dismissed between 400 and 700 employees, including engineers, managers and factory workers, the San Jose Mercury News reported on Oct. 13, citing unidentified current and former workers.
 
“As with any company, especially one of over 33,000 employees, performance reviews also occasionally result in employee departures,” the company said in the statement. “Tesla is continuing to grow and hire new employees around the world.”
 
An interesting founder still running things.  Big innovation.  Production delays.  Saying you're trimming the bottom performers aka Jack Welch and stacked ranking.
 
Tesla is the most interesting workplace culture in America right now.  It's not even close.

The HR Capitalist Playbook for Men Avoiding Workplace Harassment Claims...

Harassment claims have been in the news lately, and it's an interesting time for HR leaders.  Whether you're talking about the latest Harvey Weinstein reports or all the crazy stuff that went down at Uber, you've probably never had everyone's attention on the male side of the house like you do today.

What do you do with that attention? Well, it's probably not enough just to email Harvey Weinstein and Uber rundowns to your management team.  While that seems reasonable, a new Cavemanreport from The New York Times shows that all the well-intentioned promises may have resulted in some serious unintended consequences:

"A big chill came across Silicon Valley in the wake of all these stories, and people are hyper-aware and scared of behaving wrongly, so I think they’re drawing all kinds of parameters," an anonymous venture capitalist told the Times.

The anonymous VC told the Times that he's actually cancelled one-on-one meetings with female engineers and potential recruits to protect himself from any "reputational risk."

YEP - THESE ARE ARE MALE MANAGERS.  SIMPLE FOLK.  CAVEMEN.  "SOMEBODY GOT A HARASSMENT CLAIM, SO I'M NOT MEETING ALONE WITH LADIES".

WTF...

As much as I'd like to think this attitude doesn't touch companies like yours and mine, it does.  It's the "let's take our ball and go home" mentality.  Crazy but true.

Lucky for you, I'm here as a guy HR leader to give you my straight up Playbook for Men Avoiding Workplace Harassment Claims.  Here we go:

1--Don't have designs on sleeping with someone at work.  Whether you're single or married, don't do it.  I'm not the morality police, but if you target someone for romance at work, you get what you get.  It's just problematic.  Don't do it.  And for the ladies in my family life who read my blog, I should mention this (morality alert!), if you're a guy who's married, don't be a sleaze.  Honor the commitment.  But if you're incapable of that, stay out of the workplace, Jack.

2--When on the road, don't do stupid stuff.  I'm on the road a lot, and things like having a lady hold your bag in her room is just problematic.  Check your bag and handle small stuff on the road without treating a female co-worker like your wife/girlfriend.

3--Be personable in conversation without probing.  Look, it's OK to make small talk about life with your female co-workers, and every once in awhile, it goes to a place of personal information.  It's not uncommon for that to happen, what matters is what happens next.  Don't probe for more, get out and take the conversation back to something rivaling a mundane USA Today article.

4--Hold your one-on-one meetings with females in public or somewhat public places.  The more private the room is, the more you really don't need to be there.  If you meet on the road in a hotel room with a female, you're a moron.

BONUS - and I call this the Harvey Weinstein rule - don't answer the door on the road in a robe.  Who the #### uses a robe in hotel room?

That's what I got.  What do you have to add?


ESPN Prez Wades Into Employee Political Identities with Jemele Hill Memo...

If you follow the media game (and in today's political environment where every outlet has a slant, it's hard not to), you might have seen that ESPN's Jemele Hill was out on her personal Twitter account calling the current POTUS a "white supremacist".

Here's the tweet (click through it you don't see it below, email subscribers):

Jemel

Of course, that led to a bunch of posturing, including conservatives wondering why someone like Linda Cohn (another ESPN anchor) was sent home/suspended for merely stating she thought the media outlet should be less focused on politics, while the Hill tweets were largely unaddressed by ESPN.  

From an HR perspective, I'm most interested in the intersection of someone's professional life and personal views, and how an organization navigates that.  Could Jemele Hill have been suspended or even fired?  Sure - but good luck with that with Trump as the target of her controversial comments. 

So ESPN is in a rough spot - highly visible employee makes comments sure to frustrate some of the base, but what can they do?  Well, ESPN did their best to continue to try and get in front of it with an internal memo.  More from the NY Post:

"ESPN president John Skipper sent a memo to all of the company’s employees late Friday afternoon (9/15/17), outlining his wish that ESPN remain an apolitical organization, regardless of outside perception.

“I want to remind everyone about fundamental principles at ESPN. ESPN is about sports. … We show highlights and report scores and tell stories and break down plays.”

“In light of recent events, we need to remind ourselves that we are a journalistic organization and that we should not do anything that undermines that position,” Skipper wrote in a memo obtained by Sports Illustrated. “We also know that ESPN is a special place and that our success is based on you and your colleagues’ work. Let’s not let the public narrative re-write who we are or what we stand for. Let’s not be divided in that pursuit. I will need your support if we are to succeed.”

Translation - your public views, even as a private citizen, can impact our success as a business.  And hey, I'm asking now - maybe next time I don't ask.  #stopplease

It's a well known fact of life that freedom of speech is alive and well - but just because that right is protected constitutionally doesn't mean your employer can't fire you if your stated views cause them problems with their client/customer base.

But as this column from former ESPN columnist Bill Simmons notes (once suspended himself for comments made publicly), the crazier the political environment gets, the harder it is to suspend/fire individuals for comments that might harm the business.

Interesting times.  Hit me in the comments with any craziness from employees you're seeing related to what I'll kindly call "this Trump thing"....


Not Blowing Sh*t Up At Work is Hard...

"You think this is hard?  This isn't hard.  You know what's hard?  Riding a bike on a freeway, now that's hard."

--Willard Sims, Head Basketball Coach, Truman State

-------------------------------------------

Yep - Willard Sims was my college basketball coach at NE Missouri (later renamed Truman State, because, you know, we can't let people think our mission is to simply serve the region we Gunnyreside in - the horrors!), and he had a way with a quote.

He also sounded like Clint Eastwood playing Gunny Highway in Heartbreak Ridge.  Great guy, Willard Sims.

Every time I think about what's hard in life, I think about Willard and that quote.

You know what else is hard?  Not blowing shit up at work.  Because the easiest path to address something is just to blow some shit up.  Observe:

1--I'm on a plane this week.  One of my talented direct reports responds to an email.

2--I get the email on a plane.  I type up a fact-filled observation about said team member's response.  Turns out, feedback is required and there's a bit of tunnel vision.  I'm on the road, so an email back from a plane somewhere on the way to Boston is how it's going to go down.

3--I get distracted by a huuuuuuuuuge basket of snacks.  You're not handing them to me, so I take what I want?  Multiple items?  I take enough to prepare for the next tropical event that impacts the SE United States.  

4--I'm back.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, direct feedback.  Let's do this.  I have a some observations you might be interested in.

5--F***.  GoGoInFlight my ###.  It's down again.  No immediate feedback for you.

6--I read the email after waking up the next day from the hotel.  Might have made someone feel bad if I sent that.  Context is hard via email.

The path of least resistance (for me!) is immediate feedback.  But immediate feedback with face-to-face communication is hard.  Misunderstandings ensue.

I never sent the email.  I put it in the journal and hope to give the feedback 1-1.  Hard to do when remote so much of the time.

Not blowing #### up as a road warrior employee/manager isn't easy.  But if you're not telling someone that they did something right before you give them the notes for improvement, you're probably asking for trouble.

The snacks?  They were excellent.  GoGo still sucks.