Saying "No" Helps Train the Recipient What "Yes" Looks Like...

If there's a big problem in corporate America, it's that we say "Yes" too much at times.

Yes to that request..

Yes, I can help you..

Yes, I'd be happy to be part of your project team...

Yes, your response to my request is fine...

There's a whole lot of yes going around.  The problem?  Only about 1/2 of the "yes" responses are followed up with action that is representative of all of us living up to the commitment we made.

That's why you need to say "no" more.

Of course, simply saying no with nothing behind the no positions you as jerk.  So the "no" has to have qualifiers behind it:

Say "no" more to peers asking you for things, but then qualify it with how the request could be modified to move you to say "yes".

Say "no" more to your boss, and qualify your response to her by asking for help de-prioritizing things on your plate - which might allow you to say "yes" to the new request.

We say "yes" in the workplace when we want to say "no". We do it because we don't like to say no, and because we are horrible at negotiation.

Say "no" and tell people how the request could be modified to get to "yes".

Or just say "no" and walk away.  Either way, you've helped the organization's overall performance by providing more clarity. 


The Trap of Non-Specific Feedback As a Replacement For Coaching...

If you look around long enough in your life - especially if you have kids - you'll see a pattern emerge.

People are trying to coach others as much as they can, but they default to non-specific feedback that is unhelpful at best and counter-productive at worst.

Want some examples?  Sweet!  Here you go:

"Try Harder"

"You Just Need To Work More"

"Focus"

"Be Patient"

"Give Them What They Want"

Read that list.  Odds are that you've used most, if not all, of these in the course of your day to day life coaching someone - a friend, a kid, a parent, a team member at work, and yes - someone you manage.

Those non-specific words feel like coaching, but they're not. They're proxies for you actually taking the time to figure out why someone is failing (big and small), as well as analyzing how they could help themselves.

Most coaching tools engage the person who needs coaching to ask them what they can do differently.  That's a start for getting to specifics that might make a difference.

But in the corporate world as well as non-work life, it's easy to be prescriptive and tell the person what to do in order to get better results.

That's failure #1 if you're responsible for coaching someone.  You didn't engage them, you told them what to do based on what you see.

Failure #2? Using any of the phrases above or anything similar.

You gotta really try harder.  Focus on it.  Be the ball, Danny.

Non-descriptive feedback sucks.  Stop telling people to focus and try hard. 

Lead them in a conversation about what they can do (specifics!) to get better results in any circumstance/scenario you're coaching them in.


Some Thoughts on Recognition for Blue-Collar Workers...

Recognition. We've been trained to believe that everyone needs it.

Do they?

I think so, but something that's lost in the recognition/engagement market is that for many blue collar workers, getting recognition in front of their peers actually makes them feel Blue collarlike a dork/brown-noser.

Some notes from my life follow...  My dad, Kent Dunn (RIP CKD), was a lifetime telephone/telecom lineman. One of the greatest things he gave me was a work ethic.  The memory of hearing his boots hit the floor and go out the door while I was still in bed before school are riveted in my mind.  He had a bunch of positive qualities you'd want in anyone you hired from a pride of work prospective.

But one thing he never would have been comfortable with is public recognition.  Here's some things that are widely talked about today related to recognition he wouldn't have been comfortable with, with his likely reaction in parenthesis to whoever was trying to reward him with any form of praise:

  1. Recognition in front of his peers in a team setting (Don't ever do that again)...
  2. Recognition 1/1 from his boss (So what? That's my job. That wasn't special)...
  3. Recognition in a company communication (Nobody reads that stuff)...

Kent Dunn would have been uncomfortable with many of the recognition strategies we take for granted in white-collar America.  I think many blue-collar workers we have today in America are a lot like Kent.  When I think about alternative/best ways to do recognition to those folks (mostly older males in blue-collar jobs focused on making a living, not changing the world), I came up with the following two strategies:

  1.  Rather than recognize in front of the group, tell some of Kent's friends the feedback you got on his work when he's not around. Hearing that the boss was talking about your great work in a casual way among your co-workers is a passive, low impact way for the Kent Dunn's of the world to feel good.  It saves them the public humiliation (in their eyes) of praise, but the message is still delivered.
  2. To make sure the Kent Dunn's of the world hear the praise, share what the customer told you directly with him.  The strategy here is this - you praise Kent in the normal way and it feels like you are expecting to hug him, which repels Kent.  You tell Kent that 81-year old Mrs. Adams praised Kent, he knows you don't expect to hug it out and you talk about how Mrs. Adams is a hoarder and has 30 cats, but she's a nice lady.  Trust me, he heard the work context of the praise. 

In both scenarios, the recognition is still there.  The macho blue-collar worker still hears it, but based on how it's provided he doesn't feel like you expect him to come in contact with his feelings.

Feelings are scary for blue-collar employees, especially those of the male variety.

RIP Kent Dunn.  I still hear your boots.


Comparing Job Offers: Always Pick The Best Boss...

From our Kinetix Tips series (email subscribers click through for photo):

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 6.54.10 PM

Of course, I was operating with limited characters in that space, so one elaboration. A potential boss's comfort with that question really doesn't include him automatically saying "yes".  The comfortable potential boss reflects on that question and compares the good and bad he/she brings to the table.

A quick "yes" to the question, "are you a good/best boss?", probably means they're not great at managing talent. Because it's way to hard to be that cocky about being good.

 


Uber, Harassment and HR Business Partner Coverage - Let's Look at the Numbers...

By now, you've heard about this post accusing Uber of creating a hostile, harassing environment for women.  Rather than rehash the claim, I'm going to go to the numbers in this post.  See this post by Tim Sackett for analysis of the situation and see my commentary on Uber's former HR Leader leaving the company before all this stuff broke by clicking here.

Let's run some numbers.  Most of the allegations claim that Uber was focused on recruiting above and beyond all else.  But this post on HR at Uber from Recode gives us some interesting numbers to think about related to HR staffing:

"It’s most glaring overall problems seems to center on how the human resources role was conceived at Uber by its brash and commanding leader Kalanick. UberThe issue: He felt the function of HR at Uber was largely to recruit talent and also efficiently let go of personnel when needed, according to sources.

During the first half of 2016, sources said, the company had fewer than 10 representatives — called human resources business partners — who served to train managers or handle things like sexual harassment for its close to 6,000 employees.

Leadership coaching or training is especially important at Uber and other tech companies, where many of the department heads or top execs are often younger staffers who would work their way up at the company. According to sources, Atwood spent considerable time defending the need for more HR business partners.

But, according to one source, there was one HR business partner handling the entire Asia Pacific region; two handling Europe, the Middle East and Africa; three in corporate functions handling engineering, finance and marketing; and only three working in operations and with city teams.

Uber disputed this and says the company had around 20 people dedicated to that role at the time. Today, the company has 35 and plans to add between 30 and 40 more under Hornsey."

Credit to Recode for being sharp enough to think about employee count vs HR staffing as a potential source of the problem.  

Unfortunately, the numbers don't tell us enough.

10 HRBPs for 6,000 employees.  Is that a heavy workload or just right?  You know the answer if you're an HR leader - it depends what their role is and what other HR resources are available.

If you've got specialists working recruiting, benefits, admin and more, it's possible for HRBPs to be effective with a 600/1 count.

If these same HRBPs are responsible for recruiting and more in addition to employee relations, they are screwed from a workload perspective.

Add the flavor of Kalanick prioritizing recruiting over everything else, and the status of the HRBP doing it all with a 600/1 ratio moves from "screwed" to "total screwed".  Qualifying questions like "did he say he liked your blouse alone or the way it made your body look?" become rationalizations for not digging deeper because the HRBP didn't have time and the organization didn't want to hear about it anyway.

600/1 for an HRBP?  It all comes down to what's behind that HRBP in terms of specialized support to determine if that ration is fair.  

Going to be an interesting investigation.

 

 


ASK THE CAPITALIST: Are "Acting" or "Interim" Titles Ever A Good Idea?

A reader asks...

Hi Kris -

Do you have an opinion on the use of “acting” in title?  A situation has come up where two ppl in an org would be made “acting”…one person – we’ll call her Abby - would be moving into the other person’s (Abby’s bosses’) position and the boss (Maggie) would be moving to a higher level position.  Maggie didn’t seek out the new role, it was offered to her when the position opened up.  It’s fair to say that Maggie has already been somewhat serving in the higher level position, but without the title or pay, which is why she is the CEO’s pick to fill the role.  As part of succession planning, Abby has been groomed for Maggie’s role for years.  The rub is that the CEO isn’t sure whether she’s the right person to take over for Maggie so he wants to make Abby “acting” and feels it would be cleaner if Maggie is “acting” too.  FWIW, the CEO asked Maggie to commit two years to the role and Maggie has agreed to one year and reevaluating at that time.  Any strong opinions on this?

--Sarah from Syracuse

----------

Hey Sarah - 

Well, you've got a lot going on, don't you?

Here’s my take on the use of acting in this situation. Lucy

1. “Acting” in any role is a crutch when you either aren't sure someone can do the job, or 100% know that it won’t work out, but you need the butt in the seat.

2.  In the scenario you’ve laid out, your CEO’s use of acting for Abby seems appropriate, but if the CEO is sure that Maggie is a fit, he should place her in the role without the interim tag.  She’s already got a commitment issue to the role you want her to move into, and the “acting” tag is going to allow her to bail mentally if times get tough.

3.  I’d put Abby into the “acting” role for a quarter and make definitive call at that time.  If you drag it out past that, odds are you’ll end up with commitment and employee relations issues from Abby as well.

4.  What happens at the end of the one year period for Maggie if she doesn't want to stay in the job? I’d avoid talking about periods of commitment for specific jobs, it just leads to the aforementioned commitment issues to the role their in.

5. Will you take care of Maggie if she’s key and it doesn’t work out?  Sure. I’m just not convinced that talking about a one or two year commitment is the right way to go.  Stalin had a 5-year plan – that didn’t work out well for him.

Bottom line – put Abby in the “acting” tag and make your call in 3 months, at the same time put Maggie in the higher role with no “acting” tag and stop acting like she has the ability to come back down the org, even if she secretly does.

It’s all Jedi-mind tricks and Doug Henning-like illusions in the show.

KD

 


Is Your Employment Brand (and Managers of People) Ready to Take On Trump?

As the Donald Trump as President experience reaches its second week, one of the big issues on the table is whether your employees expect you as a leader to take a stand related to your views on the recent policy, actions and tweet activity of our new commander in chief.

There's really 3 decisions you can make:

--Come out against the policy set you see, either overall or with specific policy mentions, Green-card_frontonly

--Come out in support (good luck with that), or 

--Treat it as you always have - not mentioning anything as a company leader related to political policy, because let's face it - you never have and word is you have a few things on your plate.

Still, it's important to note (as John Sumser recently identified) some things have changed in the world related to employment branding specifically related to position on policy. Greatcompany.org is a good example of a small site looking to celebrate companies opposed the recent Executive Order on Immigration, with another goal of shaming big companies that haven't taken a position.

It's a grown up world.  Some companies, especially those in specific geographical locations (what up, Bay Area) have an easy choice.  They're on record as being opposed to the policies - the policies threaten much of their talent strategy and just as importantly, their employee base expects them to take a stand vs Trump.  For everyone else, it's not so simple.

I think there's two decisions in play here:

  1. If you're a company leader, do you take a stand, either overall that Trump's a bad guy or specific policies are bad?
  2. If you're a manager of people/a team, do you take a stand and tell your employees what you think - either way (in support of Trump policies or not)

For the vast, vast majority of companies, it's pretty simple.  Taking stands equal blowback from customers (almost half Trump voters, half voted DNC) and that logic follows to most of our employee bases.  

I'm more interested in the manager of people approach. Again, the vast majority of managers of people are going to have mixed teams with a variety of viewpoints. If I'm a leader of a company, I respect my manager's view on any of these issues.  With that in mind, I'm also paying you as a manager to manage a complex team with various viewpoints - GOP, DNC and everything in between.  The more you forcefully give you views on either side, you're polarizing your team and the result will be some folks disconnecting.

In short, I think managers get paid for balance.  They can let the world (and direct reports) know how they feel, but they have to do it in a way that doesn't shut others with different views down.

Me? My view is that the executive order was short-sighted in that we treated current green card holders and other prime statuses as part of the herd.  Can't treat people from other parts of the world who are effectively wearing a USA t-shirt like that.  Big mistake.  As far as the rest of the order, I'd like to wait and see.

I'm not marching on the airport with you as you seek to run the #deleteuber hashtag.  Last time I checked, I thought even protesters deserved clean rides with no parking costs attached when they want to get to the airport.

But then again, I'm not boycotting Starbucks because Howard Shultz said he wants to hire 10,000 refugees. Hell, that sounds like some people I'd like to meet and a lot like the American dream. 

I'm the center of America.  You know, kind of like the composite of your company - and the team you manage.


Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

Short post today about an important topic.  

Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

First, definitions for some of my readers who aren't HR pros.  Corrective Action is a formal process where you tell an employee, usually in a written document that is delivered in a formal Kick in the meeting with a witness - that their performance is below standards and unless they improve, they likely will be removed from the company in time.

Corrective Action is usually a three to four step process in most companies.  It's designed to reduce legal liability in firing someone, even in "at-will" employment environments.

Back to the question - Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

Well, that depends Sparky - what type of manager are you anyway?

Here's what corrective action means to the players involved:

The Company - "the employee in question isn't going to make it."

The Employee him/herself - "I need to look for another job."

Who's missing?  Oh yeah... The manager.  What corrective action means to the manager depends on what type of manager you are:

The manager as coach - to this type of manager, corrective action is just a escalated tool to show an employee they've been coaching that things are esclating.

The manager as bureaucrat - this type of manager isn't a coach and may in fact be a bit of a coward.  He/she hasn't really coached the employee from the heart, so when they show up with a formal corrective action document, the employee feels like he needs a lawyer.  Of course, they don't have that right.

Again, back to the question - Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

Corrective Action is never a death sentence to the manager who's an effective coach.  That manager is going to keep coaching for improvement and wants the employee to recover.  They've used corrective action to show the urgency and hope is turns around.  Unfortunately, to all other types of managers, corrective action IS a death sentence - because if you aren't actively coaching, your struggling employee has no shot at turning it around.

Which one are you?

 

 


The Heisenberg Rules: What HR Can Learn from Breaking Bad (#2 - Affiliation Matters)

Capitalist Note - I finally got around to binge-watching the former AMC hit Breaking Bad on Netflix, which follows high school chemistry teacher Walter White's journey through a lung cancer diagnosis and his subsequent turn to becoming a world-class meth producer.  This series (The Heisenberg Rules) represents what I was reminded of as a HR leader by Breaking Bad.  If you haven't seen the series, you can view a synopsis by clicking here. Spoilers abound in this series.

Rule #2 in the Heisenberg Rules is AFFILIATION MATTERS:

One of the best things about Breaking Bad is the time it takes to develop the primary characters Pinkman in the series.  In my last post in this series, we talked about the emasculation of Walter White. Would he have turned into the monster he became if those around him could/would have acknowledged his high performance?  We'll never know.

Today we move away from Walter White and take a look at my favorite character in the series - Jessie Pinkman.  Here's a description of Jessie: 

Jesse Bruce Pinkman is the deuteragonist of Breaking Bad. He is the former partner of Walter White in the methamphetamine drug trade. Jesse was a small-time methamphetamine user, manufacturer, and dealer. He was also an inattentive student in Walter White's chemistry class, leading to his dropping out. In his mid-20s, Jesse became Walt's business partner in the meth trade. Before his partnership with Walt, he, operating under the pseudonym "Cap'n Cook", added a little Chili Powder to make his methamphetamine stand out in the market.

Walt insisted on making a pure product, however, and thus eschewed the chili powder altogether, patronizingly teaching Jesse how to make "proper" meth. Walt often treated Jesse like a foolish son in constant need of stern correction. Jesse's own family kicked him out because of his drug use. Despite the friction between them, he and Walt have a deep bond of loyalty. Like Walt, Jesse is horrified by the brutality at the higher levels of the drug trade, but does what he thinks is necessary. He wrestles with feelings of guilt about the deaths, all drug-related, of people he's been associated with, especially his girlfriend Jane Margolis. He often attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings to help deal with these feelings.

Jessie's my favorite character because he actually struggles to cope with all the things he sees in the drug trade.  Still, he's a simple kid making a load of cash with few other options available to him professionally.  

Walter White and Jessie are "partners" only in finance.  As the subject-matter expert, Walter has all the power in the relationship.  The green shading above accurately outlines how Walter patronizes Jessie throughout the series, only appealing to him as an equal when there's a murder to be completed to ensure their safety. 

As a result of that treatment, Jessie is what I call, "gettable" for anyone who wants to take the time to drive a wedge between him and Walter.  

Jessie knows that Walter doesn't consider him a true partner.  That means people willing to treat him better than Walter have a chance to turn him to their side. That ultimately happens when Gus, a drug load who Jessie and Walter work for, instructs his henchmen to take Jessie out of the meth lab to run various organized crime errands with them. They even go to the trouble of setting up a fake robbery that Jessie can save others from, which results in praise, deeper connection and - you guessed it - Walter going crazy that their bosses have Jessie doing work other than being his patronized assistant.

When Walter displays his paranoia to Jessie about the new relationship he can't control, it pushes Jessie to trust his new friends more, not less.

Of course, they're all criminals, so what's the point?

The point is that in any organization, AFFILIATION MATTERS. 

Walter's the best at what he does, but Jessie is treated as manual labor, not a partner.  When the drug lords involved need to make Walter feel unstable and at-risk, all they have to do is show Jessie Pinkman the love he doesn't get from Walter:

--come work with us.

--come hang with us.

--seems like you're doing well - nice work!

It's the same blueprint whether you're developing software, running a restaurant, or yes - cooking Crystal Meth.

If you're treating someone valuable on your team like a commodity, just know this - if there's a market for their skills, all it takes is for someone who needs them (or needs to hurt you) to show them love, affiliation and respect.

Once that happens, they're probably gone.  Or as Jessie Pinkman would say, "YO, MANAGING PEOPLE 101, B***H".