The Movie "JOKER" is a Story about You, Me and Our Complete Lack of Empathy...

With all the workplace and school violence in our world over the last decade, I've picked up on a theme from a few deep thinkers - from students and employees alike.  The chilling wisdom goes something like this:

"I go out of my way to talk to Ricky. When he comes to the school with a bag of guns, I want him to look at me and keep walking."

"I always talk to Nick. He's going to get fired and there's a 50/50 chance he's coming back to take some people out. If that happens, I think he'll let me go."

Crazy, but real. The probability players among us are treating individuals they think are prone to violence differently, planning for a day we all hope will never come to our Arthur fleckneighborhood.

They see someone struggling, and perhaps left behind or given up on by most. They aren't giving real engagement/friendship, but instead performing some type of risk management by acknowledging them by saying hello, sharing a laugh or pretending to be interested.

Is that empathy for those on the outside looking in?  No. But it's a start that might actually result in a conversation or two that leads to real empathy.

These quotes are the first thing I thought of as I watched JOKER starring Joaquin Phoenix last weekend. It's clear that the character played by Phoenix (Arthur Fleck) suffers from mental health issues. The origin story of the Joker, future nemesis of Batman, tracks Fleck through hardship after hardship in the early 1980s.  It's a hard watch as he struggles with mental illness, his treatment by others and ultimately turns to the dark side.

The villain doesn't come out until the movie is almost over.

Let that sink in for a second. A movie - even one as committed to telling a deep story like Joker - can only show you 15-16 meaningful interactions, which generally lead to a good place or a bad place.

In real life, that's more like five thousand negative interactions that a struggling individual has before he turns to violence, goes in cave of depression/addiction or take his own life.

I'm pretty good at holding doors open for people. Like most of you, I kind of suck when it comes to people who don't fit in. I don't do enough to make people who are struggling feel better about themselves.

When you see someone on the outside looking in, empathy and connection is really the only answer. We can have the usual conversations after negative events about drugs, guns, etc. - or we could slow down, reduce our anxiety and try and connect long before those things occur.

I recommend Joker as a movie, but not because the story is a great tale of how a super villain came to be.

The story is about you and me, and the lost opportunities that are everywhere around us.  

We gotta do better.


Amp Up Your Employment Brand Like Domino's...Or Maybe Not...

When it comes to attracting candidates to your employment brand, purpose matters.

Candidates are increasingly seeking a sense of purpose in their work, so it makes sense to embed purpose in your values through connection to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) themes.  Companies like Unilever have gone all in on this approach and even mandated executives assign a purpose to every product in the company's portfolio. An examination of how Uber's company values changed after a period of turmoil show a transition from focusing on winning to working with others, serving community and valuing differences. Intent of your messaging matters.

BUT.... and there is a but....It's dangerous to reach when it comes to the purpose you assign to your business. If you're simply a nice business/company with a good product, don't suggest that you're trying to save the world.

I was reminded of this danger when Domino's used footage of employees as they marketed their Delivery Insurance/guarantee, which says that if your order isn't right, they'll make it right quickly and free of charge.

That's good business, but not a 8.3 on the Richter Scale of CSR and corporate purpose. Watch the following video (email subscribers click through if you don't see the player below) and we'll break it down afterwords:

Amp up your employment brand like Domino's... or maybe not.

“we're going to be expediting this order, people”

If I close my eyes on that audio, it feels like I'm in an emergency room and someone's life is at risk.

Then I remember, "no, Jenny just called to complain and she didn't get the cheesed stuffed crust".

Flash forward from the pizza oven room to drivers running up steps to help get Jenny's calorie count up. What really happens when that complaint comes in? I'd imagine it involves talking about who screwed it up. But someone's Netflix night is in peril, so let's expedite the order and send the fastest sprinter in the room, but let's make sure we obey all relevant traffic laws.

Somebody's going to blow out an ACL if we're not careful.

You get the vibe. Mission and purpose for your company is important. But don't chase world-defining purpose when showing your employees if it doesn't exist. But showing pride and the love of the craft for the people who make the product?  That never goes out of style.

Don't chase world defining purpose with your employment brand if it doesn't exist.  Just be you.


Leadership Signals Week: Steph Curry Says "Bye" to an Unlikable Peer...

Capitalist Note: It's "Leadership Signals Week" here at the HR Capitalist, where I talk about things I've seen leaders communicate over the last couple of weeks that speak volumes about what they want their followers to think.

Communication matters if you're a leader. It's the most visible sign of what you believe, and it drives the intensity and beliefs of those that choose to follow you. Don't be fooled into thinking all communication is part of a formal plan. Some leadership signals are purposeful, others just happen organically.

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Next up on Leadership Signals Week - Pro Basketball (NBA) star Steph Curry (Golden State Warriors).

This isn't a sports post. It's a post about the signals that leaders send when important team members Curry (unpopular to some or all in your company) decide to leave the company.

The history of the Golden State Warriors has a dramatic arc over the last 5 years. Led by the always likable and role-model worthy Curry, the Warriors won the 2015 NBA Championship, then reached the finals in 2016 - but lost to the Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. Along the way, Steph Curry was the NBA season MVP in 2015 and 2016.

Great success to be sure. But after the 2016 Finals loss, Golden State did the unthinkable, picking up another top five player in free agency - Kevin Durant. The roster addition of Durant resulted in two more titles in 2017 and 2018, before injuries resulted in a loss in the finals last summer (2019).

But along the way there was drama. Durant was known to be moody, petulant and hard to please. While the addition of top talent in Durant made the healthy version of the Warriors all but unbeatable, the work product wasn't the same as in 2015 and 2016.  Less sharing, less collaboration and less fun.  The business version? We're stronger than we've ever been as a company, but man, the old days were the glory days - and that executive sure is grumpy as hell.

Flash forward to late last summer, and Durant chose to leave the Warriors in free agency. This combined with other injuries and competitive pressures means the Warriors aren't the team they used to be.

But leadership signals are still important - so in the Warriors first preseason game (and first game without the moody Durant) in a new arena, Steph Curry sent the following message (email subscribers click through if you don't see the video below or click this link to get the video on Twitter):

The message? "The person that brought everyone down isn't here anymore. I'm in charge and work is about to become a lot more fun for you."

Curry's quote after the game: “That was choreographed since, like, yesterday. I was just going to shoot it. Christen Chase Center the right way. Obviously it went airball, but obviously I thought it was fitting to take a wild shot like that and get everybody excited.”

What Curry doesn't say is that there's zero chance he takes that shot if Durant is still a part of the team. Curry had a long history of trying to keep Durant engaged by deferring to him and making sure he felt like a leader the team needed. It wasn't enough - Durant was moody and difficult as a teammate.

Things that could happen in your company when a leader with low approval levels decides (or is asked) to leave:

--The old leader didn't like any music at any company function. First all-hands meeting, the leaders that take over blast Van Halen from the speakers.

--The old leader had a parking spot upfront. The leaders that take over turn that into an "employee of the week" parking spot.

--The old leader didn't like to participate in recognition activities. The leaders that take over do a recognition event within the first week. With music.

You get the vibe. When grumpy, unlikable leaders leave, a celebration of sorts might be in order.  

Steph Curry sent a leadership signal with his first shot that win or lose, this season was going to be fun. Buckle up! Ding-Dong, the grumpy witch is dead took another job on the East Coast!


LEADERSHIP SIGNALS WEEK: Elizabeth Warren Sends a Signal on Values...

Capitalist Note: It's "Leadership Signals Week" here at the HR Capitalist, where I talk about things I've seen leaders communicate over the last couple of weeks that speak volumes about what they want their followers to think.

Communication matters if you're a leader. It's the most visible sign of what you believe, and it drives the intensity and beliefs of those that choose to follow you. Don't be fooled into thinking all communication is part of a formal plan. Some leadership signals are purposeful, others just happen organically.

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First up for Leadership Signals Week, I present democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren

This isn's a political post (I'm a moderate Republican for the record, in many ways an independent), but an analysis of a recent leadership signal by Warren.

So what leadership signal did Elizabeth Warren send to the world recently? She signaled that anyone that doesn't share her values will be ejected from her Warrenorganization and the reason will be openly discussed. Before you cheer or jeer, let's analyze the signal and we'll discuss it length after this excerpt from Politico:

"Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign has fired its national organizing director, Rich McDaniel, after an investigation into allegations of what it called “inappropriate behavior.”

“Over the past two weeks, senior campaign leadership received multiple complaints regarding inappropriate behavior by Rich McDaniel,” campaign spokesperson Kristen Orthman said in a statement after an inquiry from POLITICO Friday morning. “Over the same time period, the campaign retained outside counsel to conduct an investigation. Based on the results of the investigation, the campaign determined that his reported conduct was inconsistent with its values and that he could not be a part of the campaign moving forward.”

In a statement, McDaniel said, "I have separated from the campaign and am no longer serving as National Organizing Director. I have tremendous respect for my colleagues despite any disagreements we may have had and believe departing at this time is in the best interest of both parties.

"I would never intentionally engage in any behavior inconsistent with the campaign or my own values. If others feel that I have, I understand it is important to listen even when you disagree. I wish the campaign and my colleagues well."

So what's the leadership signal sent here?  The real signal isn't a termination due to something that certainly seems harassment-related (most of us get that and would likely do the same if evidence warranted)- the real signal is the fact that Warren put the reason for the term openly and aggressively on display for the outside world.

I've written before about your options related to communicating reasons for terms to the rest of your organization.  Most of us aren't presidential candidates, but we still term people from time to time, and if we communicate that someone is no longer with the company, we generally just throw out a note of "separation" indicating that John Doe is no longer with the company, etc.

Under normal circumstances, the lack of detail that the employee is leaving for another opportunity signals the fact that the term was for some type of cause. But, if you fired the person for a good reason and the company is better off without them, communicating in this type of fashion is a bit of a missed opportunity.

By putting the detail for the term out to the media, Elizabeth Warren sending an extreme signal.  The signal here is not just that "those who don't match my values won't be allowed to work in this organization", but that "I will aggressive eject and tell the team why I made this call in clear terms".

Of course, the cynics will say that this termination/ejection is good for her campaign. Maybe. You never want to term someone for the reasons stated, but doing so and communicating the reason with such clarity does send signals to her voter base.

But we all have a decision to make when terming folks who fall short (in a variety of ways) of our value structure. How do we communicate? Making the decision to fire fast when you see a values gap is a good leadership signal. Many in your organization will understand without you saying more.

Communicating the reason for the term in more specific fashion to your base (for most of us, that's not voters, it's employees) is going hard in the paint.

It's either genius or incredible tone deaf - I waffle. But it's a clear leadership signal, and that's what this series is about.

"Results may vary".


Emerging Skill for Leaders: Making All Feel Welcome & On Equal Ground...

I read this post recently by William Wiggins at Fistful of Talent on Transgenderism. It's a simple, insightful piece on being aware. 

Prior to reading William's post, I finished Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac. It's the story of how Uber rose from humble beginnings to become a Unicorn, then stumble from the top as it's bro-tastic culture caused it to be tone-deaf to the world around it via PR fiasco after PR fiasco.

Both are highly recommended reading. One is 500 words and one is 80,000 words.

There's a lesson in reading progressive takes on emerging workplace issues, many of which have involved orientation/gender, then combining them with cautionary tales.  

The lesson? Being a leader in modern times is tricky. Consider the following realities:

  1. You're a leader.
  2. You're full of personal thoughts, a specific background and some form of bias.
  3. When change comes and you're asked to consider the rights of yet another special class of people, it's easy to react as if it's a burden or worse.
  4. You can say it's all gone too far. Many will agree with you.
  5. But - You'll ultimately acknowledge the rights of the class of people in front of you - or you won't be allowed to lead anymore.

History shows this cycle to be true.

What if you weren't late the game? What if you decided that rather than be late to the game, you made it a priority to make all feel welcome and on equal ground in your company or on your team as a leader?

What if?

I'll tell you what if, my friend.  If that was your approach, you'd find the people in question - the special class of people currently causing others discomfort (the groups change over time) - incredibly willing to work for you and just as importantly, freed to do their best work.  You'd be maximizing your ability to get great work from the resources you have.

When you're early on inclusion, a funny thing happens. Performance and the ability for someone to do their best work goes up.

None of us are perfect when it comes to the change cycle outlined in #1 through #5 above.  But I feel like we're moving quicker through the cycle to acceptance, and that' a good thing.

Performance goes up as bullshit goes down.  Just be crystal clear on what's bullshit in this cycle (Hint, it's the ones slow to acknowledge those with differences).

 

 

 


Chick-fil-A: Observations from the Road About Talent and Culture...

I travel a lot for work. Over the last nine years, that's meant a bit of travel fatigue and recent attempts to reduce my total number of nights in hotel rooms.

Reducing nights in hotel rooms generally means getting up as early as needed and hitting the road for mid morning meetings - rather than going in the night before.  Being up early means a need for coffee and food somewhere along the way - especially on trips where I drive into the meeting in question.

Enter Chick-fil-A

Most people know Chick-fil-A for specific reasons:

--Kick Ass chicken sandwiches (you're weak, @Popeyes. Don't @ me).

--Great service at the counter.

--You say thanks, they say, "My pleasure".  You can say thanks 5 times, they're always going to come back and say that phrase.  You could say, "I appreciate how you're going with the company line to such extremes, you robo-cop of chicken sandwich love" - you know what they're going to say?  "My pleasure".

But I'm here today not to applaud Chick-fil-A for the normal things you associate them with.  Instead, let's talk about subtle signs of how they treat people.

I generally walk into Chick-fil-A's in the morning because the restrooms are always clean, etc. I'm around about 4 or 5 Chick-fil-A locations during my normal power commutes of 3 hour trips in the car, and you know what I always see?

I ALWAYS SEE GROUPS OF ANYWHERE FROM 3-6 CHICK-FIL-A EMPLOYEES IN THE SIDE SECTION OF THE SEATING OF THE  RESTAURANT, EATING TOGETHER AND GENERALLY TALKING TO ONE ANOTHER.

I don't want to go off on too much of a rant here, but when's the last time you consistently saw that at a fast food location? 

Try never.  And I see it all the time at the Chick-fil-A locations I'm around.

I've never seen it at another fast food franchise.  It's haunted me a bit, because like any HR geek, I want to know the people practices behind what I'm seeing. I thought about asking the employees but paused due to the jeepers/creepers factor, and have thought about asking to speak with a managers and then I saw this in a social post (email subscribers, click through if you don't see the photo below):

IMG_0058

Makes sense - free food every shift.  Taking care of people, and a meaningful perk for many they employ.

I'm sure other chains offer that as well but DAMN - I always see these Chick-fil-A employees eating with each other and they're actually engaged with each other. It's staggering and meaningful from a cultural perspective.

It all comes down to how they hire. If you know anything about the company, you know franchise are owned by individual operators who are highly vetted. A living wage doesn't hurt. They're offering family discounts as well as free food and you don't have to work Sundays.  All of those things add up to provide a place as an employer of choice, one you see in the service you experience vs other chains (airport locations excluded).

You love the chicken sandwich. I say "screw the chicken sandwich, did you see what's happening on the side?"  They have people engaging each other on THEIR OWN TIME.

Staggering. Well played, Chick-fil-A.  I see you.


@Google: Stop Talking About Your Opinion and Get Back to Work...

Without question, candidates with options in the job marketplace are looking for companies with a purpose behind their business.  That's why you see the rise in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) as a topic and companies like Unilever not only revamping their corporate values, but also mandating that every brand in the portfolio have a mission/purpose that people can get behind.

Funny thing about all this mission talk - It's OK for companies to dictate what the purpose-drive reason is for their corporate existence, but once employees start dictating what the purpose should be, it all goes straight to hell. Atn

That's because we live in America. We can't talk about most topics of meaning and generate a better than 60/40 split in agree/disagree.

Welcome to the difference between "purpose-driven mission" and "employee activism".  One wants to save the planet. The other?  Let's just say it's bound to be divisive.

So divisive that Google - the standard for employee voice and the company who's primary value for years was "don't be evil" - recently placed limits on what employees can say in the workplace related to their views.  

More from Recode:

"Google announced new rules on Thursday about what employees are allowed to say in the workplace — including restrictions on political expression and guidelines on internal debates about company activity.

The new rules come as Google faces increasing scrutiny from politicians, the public, and its employees on a number of issues. Republicans, including President Donald Trump, continue to make unfounded accusations that the company’s products display a bias against conservatives. Employees on both sides of the political aisle have accused Google of retaliating against workers on the basis of their ethical and political beliefs. And internal debates over controversial projects, like a censored search engine for China, and company decisions, like how to moderate abusive content on YouTube, have created a growing rift between employees and leadership.

In an email sent to employees Thursday evening, Google CEO Sundar Pichai explained the company’s revised community guidelines, which now explicitly discourage workers from discussing politics on Google’s thousands of internal mailing lists and forums, several of which are devoted exclusively to discussing politics and related topics.

“While sharing information and ideas with colleagues helps build community, disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story does not,” the guidelines state. They warn employees that their primary responsibility is to “do the work” that they’ve been hired to do — “not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics.”

The new rules are a radical departure from how the historically open company has always functioned, and they demonstrate how seriously Google is confronting its ongoing struggle with internal dissent among its rank and file and external accusations of political bias.

Hidden in the announcement and spin from Recode - activist employees don't speak for the employee base as a whole. Whether the topic is politics or a strong opinion about providing products and services to the US government, activist employees represent the polar extreme of a viewpoint.  Many of our employees have differing views, and the majority are moderate and exist somewhere in the middle of the spectrum on any issue.

Google has chosen to address the activist employee voices and get everyone back to work and doing what they're paid to do - create great products and services.

When it comes to purpose-driven work, the new rules at Google provide clarity on a reality - defining purpose is the domain of the corporation/organization - not the employee.


Can the Young Star Ever Earn Less Than the Employees They Manage?

Capitalist Note - Got an email about this from a young gunner over the weekend, and sent her this post.  Felt like I should share again.  Cliff notes - you play to win the game, not win today.

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In a word, yes.  It's rare, but it happens.

Here’s my take - most star managers on the upswing of their careers have usually faced the prospect of either managing someone who has either:

a) earned more than they have, or

b) earned close to what they have. 

It happens more often with rising stars who are relatively young in an organization, because they tend to aggregate additional responsibilities beyond their years.  You’re aggressive with the star within the definition of “aggressive” within your company, then the department of the star has to grow, you move people around internally to work for them and BAM!  You also experience the reality that in order to hire people with the skills to work for the young star in the growing department, those new hires need to come in at or around the salary you have the star at…

Is that a problem?  Many would say yes.  To anyone (this message is for you, young star) who finds themselves in that situation, I would say "have patience, young grasshopper".  If you are that star who finds themselves managing people who earn more or close to what you earn, you're right, there should be more of a divide.  However, note this - you got to where you are because you are viewed as a high, high potential asset to your company.  There's probably only one way you can mess that up if you continue to perform - by not handling the situation with class.

If you make it about the money, some people will chalk that up to maturity, and you might see theMo money upward arc of your career slow down a bit.  If you find a classy way to bring it to someone's attention without demanding any immediate action, I can guarantee you one thing: You're going to make a LOT more money than the people you're currently managing over the course of your career.
 
To the stars of the world who find themselves in this situation, I say: "Be the ball, Danny".  Don't let pride or some shortsighted advice from your Uncle Tommy drive your reaction to this situation.  You've managed to be different than everyone else to this point.  Keep being different. 

Play to win the game, not this possession.


Headphones at Work - Individual Contributor vs Manager of People...

In case you missed it, new research from AVS Forum polled 800 individuals for perceptions of people who wear headphones at work, at the gym and on public transportation. The full summary graph appears below (email subscribers, click through to my site if you don't see the graph).

TL:DR: Headphones don't make you viewed as pretentious as you might think - they've never been more accepted in the workplace, which makes 100% sense given the open floor plans in most of our organizations.

Headphones

One thing that the research didn't address was level of employee - my gut tells me headphones are most accepted for individual contributors, and maybe even for those who want to remain individual contributors for the foreseeable future.

So let's talk about upward mobility and headphone/earbud use.

First up - I'm not anti-headphones or a member of the abolish headphones at work party.  I get it - people can getHeadphones_at_work into a groove with certain types of jobs (creative, transactional, etc.) with the vibe that music provides.  That's cool and I'm all for it.  I also get that headphones are often an attractive option for dealing with the noise intrusion that comes with living in a cube environment.

But here's the reality that goes along with headphones in the workplace:

1) Managers of people probably need to limit their headphone time.  Managers can't afford to not be aware of their surroundings and be approachable.  Managers take calls and walk-ins from other managers, external partners and their superiors who put them in the job in the first place.  More importantly, managers are expected to be available for the teams they lead.  Nothing says, "I'm not approachable" more than a manager wearing headphones or earbuds. 

Well, maybe a closed door all the time says that to a greater extent.  But you get my point.

2) Employees who want to be upwardly mobile into the manager ranks typically take less headphone time. The type of employee who migrates into a managerial role is naturally available.  They thrive on the walk-in traffic and a service orientation to those who approach them.  For that reason, they wear headphones less than others.  The resulting service and approachability contribute to the organizational logic that they're good candidates to manage people.

So, if you are wearing headphones and are productive - ROCK ON.   It's all good and whatever makes you productive is a good thing.

Just be aware of what that says about your desire to lead teams if you have them on for 5-6 hours a day....

I'm just sayin'.....


WORK TEXTING: Nothing Good Ever Happens After You See These 2 Things...

Back in the day, you sent an email and if someone didn't respond, you weren't sure it was because they thought your idea sucked or they were just behind on emails.  

Not so with text.  The immediacy of texting means we get feedback in real time.  Usually, it's quick bursts of texting to react to ideas or share information - occasionally it's to ask permission or gain approval.  It's rare that you don't hear back from someone on a text. 

However there are times when a middle ground is present. Tai

It’s called the “typing awareness indicator", the little bubbles you see after you send a text.  It means that someone is texting you back.  Which is fine, except for these two occasions at work:

1. Someone takes more than 30 seconds to respond, and you see the awareness indicator the whole time.  Nothing ever good came after 30-60 seconds of that indicator being on.  The message is usually complicated and adds drama to your life at work.

2. The typing awareness indicator is on for the pre-mentioned 30-60 seconds, then it goes off, never to return. They thought about it, then thought the better of it.  Meh.

Both mean that the quick approval or consensus you're looking for won't be happening.

I turned off my typing awareness indicator. I found myself staring at it for periods of time that were unhealthy.  

I'm more sane at work as a result.  It's the little things that matter the most.