#GivingTuesday – A Special Day for #NoKidHungry

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As we come out of the Thanksgiving holiday, it is easy to lose ourselves in the commercial gorging known as Christmas.  It’s the reason Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday (or at the very least, my favorite in the second half of the year).  Christmas is commercial.  Thanksgiving is about feeding the people you love.  With that in mind, I’m sharing this with all of you in hopes it will catch your eye.  Today is Giving Tuesday, a special fundraising day for No Kid Hungry.  And this year, the amazing people at Hickory Farms are matching donations TODAY.

No Kid Hungry connects kids in need with nutritious food and teaches their families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. The campaign also engages the public to make ending childhood hunger a national priority.  This year, more than 16 million children in America will face hunger. That’s one in five. NKH is working to connect hungry kids with the food they need to grow and thrive.

Every dollar you donate will make a huge impact for kids. In fact, just $1 can help connect a child with 10 meals. And with the matching gift from Hickory Farms, that’s 20 meals for every dollar.  If the number doesn’t do it for you, then imagine you have a dollar, and there are 20 hungry children looking at you for help.  And with just that one dollar, you can take care of them.  If that isn’t a powerful image, then imagine feeding one hundred with a five dollar bill.  Or 400 with a twenty.  It doesn’t take much for you to change someone’s life.

If you have children, seen children or have ever been children, you know that there are many things kids cannot do for themselves.  Overcoming hunger is at the top of that list.  Please consider visiting No Kid Hungry today and making a donation of any amount to help reach the $50,000 goal.

It Will Not Stand

However, I continue to try and I continue, indefatigably, to reach out. There’s no way I can single-handedly save the world or, perhaps, even make a perceptible difference – but how ashamed I would be to let a day pass without making one more effort. – Isaac Asimov

The last month has been an important one for my view of the world. Some of my own naivety has come to the surface, my perspective on interpersonal relationships and power challenged, and I’ve had to rethink things that I was pretty sure I was pretty sure about. None of these, I think, are bad things, and I suppose I was long overdue for this kind of spiritual colonic.

Most of this centers on the ongoing story of men and women, especially as we have seen in play out in the Bill Cosby story. Further, I was jolted out of neutral by this Daily Beast article, that reminded us of the men many hold in high regard despite the things they have said and done in their own relationships. Men like Mike Tyson, John Lennon, Sean Connery and Woody Allen. We hear it, we process it, and we move on. And it often leaves no trace after.

When I started talking about these ideas with others in the HR community, which I’ve always thought of as a safe place for everyone involved, I began to hear a very different story. Tales of not just inequity in the way women are treated, but of behavior that I would never have imagined would take place. Of threats. Of coercion. Of the unwelcome and sometimes aggressive advances in exchange for professional courtesy (or to avoid professional sabotage). I found it all very hard to believe, mostly because of my aforementioned naive outlook. But it happens, and it takes very little digging to start getting to the stories.

What I thought was really interesting were the responses I got from others when I started talking about it, and wanting to speak up. While there was no pushback on the fundamental ideals, and some very verbal support, there were a number of questions raised that, I think, reveal much about the way we see the issue.  I thought sharing some of them a good place to start the converstation. For the record, not one of these came from only a single person.

Why do you think you should speak up on this? (Alternate versions: What gives you the right to speak on it? How are you in a position to talk about this?)

This was the most common response. And it’s a very valid question. Two things immediately come to mind:  First, through this process I learned that people I care deeply about are being hurt in ways to which I’ve been blind, and I don’t know how to say nothing about it. This led to a really interesting question about women “needing” the protection of men, and the implication they can’t look out for themselves. That’s neither the case, nor the message. The strongest, most resilient people I know are women in our community. But despite that, the problem persists. And that’s not something we should be OK with.

The second part of that is about acknowledging the problem. I know it’s not coming from all directions, and I know that there are many men in our world that are mindful and supportive. But those who have acted otherwise have caused real damage. And If I hadn’t stumbled into these stories, I would never have known. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. So it is my hope that by talking about the issue, we can start to hold ourselves to a higher standard as a community.

Do you really think writing about it will make a difference?

I don’t know. I hope so. I know talking about it with others has really made me question some of my assumptions. But I know that not writing about it certainly will not bring change. Maybe that’s enough of a reason to say something. I’m not advocating any specific response or outing of the accused as I was asked by someone if I had planned on doing so. Of course the answer is no. I’ve heard stories, and while I trust what I’ve heard, they are not my stories to tell.

Maybe I’m still naïve in thinking we can bring about change by having an honest discussion of the problem. But I’m hoping it is at least a start.

Do you think there is anyone in our space (or in business) that hasn’t treated women differently in some way?

This question led to some really in depth discussions about power and the treatment of others. One of the most interesting piece was talking about what we often think of as “good manners,” which can easily be looked at as “men must take care of women because they are weak.” Simple things like holding the door for someone, where you stand in the elevator, offering to carry parcels, and general deference can all be seen as expressions of power over others. I’ll admit, as a white male, I’ve never given it much thought before now. I don’t know what it would feel like to be on the receiving end. I’d hope it would be taken as intended, but maybe I’m wrong about that, too.

I’m confident that every one of us, with enough reflection, could come up with examples of their own behavior toward someone from any gender/race/religion/orientation that would be looked on as questionable. Maybe it wasn’t because they were [insert demographic here], but does that matter to the other person? Does experience being discriminated against taint every other negative interaction you have? Again, not questions I can answer, but certainly ones I’ve been trying to think through.

As the month progressed, the eye of the nation turned to Ferguson and the violence that has spread since the Grand Jury declined to indict Officer Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. Whatever your views on the outcome, it has highlighted the ways in which people can be terribly inhumane to those around them, in both the names of protection and justice.  And I as watched this scene unfold just miles from my home, my feelings moved from anger and indignation to sadness and disappointment in myself and our community.

Intentions are often overlooked when the behavior is easy to attack, and we forget that the person on the other end of our actions is just that. A person. And people by nature are fragile, needful of others in defining them, in supporting them, in nurturing them, and in appreciating them. While everyone may operate on different levels of need, there is a place for external validation in our collective psyche that drives us to need each other.

So I’m sharing these thoughts for a few reasons.

First, I am terribly ashamed that it has taken me this long to ask the questions and hear the stories of those I care about. And I don’t want anyone else to move through our community as blindly as I have.

Second, I think it is important that we acknowledge this kind of behavior is not OK. And that goes beyond the treatment of women. It stretches across our treatment of each other, and the things that happen on a regular basis. Bullying, lies, theft, gossip, and general disregard for the humans around us are so much less than we each deserve.

Third, I hope by speaking up I can be part of more discussions on the topic, learning more about the people around me and finding ways to support them. By doing so, I know I’ve already had some of my long held beliefs not just questioned but changed, and I think I’m a better person for it.

For some reason, as I thought through this, I kept coming back to The Big Lebowski and the repeated proclamation, “This aggression will not stand, man.”  At its core, this is about aggression towards those around us.  And it will not stand.

We owe it to ourselves and each other to speak up, to question, to listen, and to commit to being better.  And while a blog post certainly isn’t the answer, maybe it can be part of getting to one.  I hope that you’ll take a moment to think about the issue and talk to those with whom you are close. The conversation might just change your outlook on the world. Or theirs.

 

 

Tension in the Room

I’ve noticed an odd trend over the last couple of years.  I wanted to share to see if anyone else has seen it, or if it is just me.

When you work in HR tech, you straddle the line between two functions.  I find myself in meetings with HR teams or with IT teams, though rarely are they mixed.  And the HR meetings are always, ALWAYS, more tense.

I don’t mean to say there is arguing or undue conflict.  Rather, it seems there is always some unspoken tension that hangs in the air.  The exception seems to be high level HR leaders who know how to command a room and run a meeting.  Their rooms are much less tense.

In contrast, I see IT meetings as being, in many cases, much more laid back.  Some number of people, each with a task to accomplish, and they quickly run through the list and talk about potential issues.  More often than not, the conflict is minimal.  When it does pop up, it is largely fact based and detail oriented.  (I’m not saying every IT meeting is this way, but a lot of them are.  Specifically the ones that are just IT.)

There are two differences between the groups I can see.  First is that, as you might imagine, the HR meetings are overwhelmingly made up of women, while the IT meetings are just as overwhelmingly made up of men.

Second, there seems to be a higher level of confidence on the IT side, as their work is in many ways fact based.  You know it or you don’t. HR work is more subjective, with as many different opinions on how succession planning should really be run as there are people running it.

To be clear, I’m not saying or implying that women are less confident or capable than men.  Nor am I saying that HR is somehow inferior.  But there is certainly a difference in the tone of the meetings, and a level of tension with HR that I just don’t see an much in IT.  Has anyone else seen this?  Or am I imagining it?

Michael Sam – What Most People Missed

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I’m proud to be a Mizzou fan.  Even getting spanked outplayed outlasted by Auburn in the SEC title game was a pretty great moment.  But the coverage this week of SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam coming out?  Even more so.

Yes I’m proud that he’s a Tiger.  And yes I’m proud that the school and program have produced a young man willing to step up share who he is.  And yes I’m proud that he chose to do so before the NFL combine, knowing it could impact his draft position and his contract.  But that’s not what I’m really proud of.  What I’m really proud of is that he came out to his team at the start of the season.  Months ago.  And not only did it not cause any problems, but it also did not get any coverage.

No leaks.

No ugly incidents.

No turmoil.

Just a team.

It would have been easy in this season of Tiger football for someone to make an innocent remark that gets picked up by the press.  It would have been understandable if someone on the team decided to make a big show of their own homophobia and ignorance.  It would have been commonplace for Sam to keep his mouth shut and go through the season quietly, then let his teammates wonder later why he didn’t trust them enough to be honest about who he was.  But it was his trust in his teammates, their solidarity and support, and the way in which they acted as a team that is not only remarkable, but has been mostly missed (though not completely) in the coverage of this story.

We’ve all been members of teams, some of which we trusted, and some we didn’t.  The impact on our performance is noticeable, especially our long term engagement and productivity.  When we are surrounded by those we trust, who work to make our lives easier, and whom we know we can depend on day in and day out, we are better.  What’s more, we are programmed for reciprocity, so our inclination is to return trust and helpfulness.  This can snowball into an amazing cycle of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men (and women) if we let it.  I’ve been part of teams that defied all expectations of productivity and tenure, all because they truly enjoyed working together.  (As an aside, how together was this team?  Sam came out to his teammates in August.  He came out to his parents in January.)

It doesn’t always work that way, of course.  A breakdown of trust can sink a team faster than unrealistic expectations, a poor leader, or cement loafers.  I’ve seen teams that should succeed fail simply because of that lack of trust.  If the Tigers weren’t acting as a unit, this season could have quickly gone from SEC East Champion to complete disarray.  Credit to Gary Pinkel, the coaching staff, the university, and the young men who served as locker room leaders for not letting this happen.  It’s a great example of teamwork and togetherness overcoming adversity to succeed.

I won’t pretend to understand the burden carried by someone who has to hide who they are every day.  But I hope that this at least gives them comfort in the thought that coming out is not an event that you go through alone.  There are people around you that will support and uphold you.  Having a strong team can make even the biggest of mountains a molehill.

(And yes, I’ve heard the comments about “I don’t care if he’s gay, it shouldn’t be a big deal.”  You’re right.  It shouldn’t be.  But it is.  Let’s make it so in a positive light.  Because there are plenty of people out there who will take a opposing view, and do so very vocally.  These young men deserve all the positive reinforcement we can muster.)

 

From the Vault: What’s Missing From Diversity

It’s one of the most popular topics in the workplace.  Either you have a lot of resources being put toward diversity (A policy! A program! A diversity officer!) or you think you are already diverse and want to shout it from the rooftops (Metrics! Team photos! Recruiting strategies!).  And that’s great.  I don’t know many people who are willing to speak out against diversity.  Yes, there are some unintended consequences if not handled properly, but I think we can give organizations the benefit of the doubt in most cases.

What troubles me about diversity, though, is what we so often leave out.  Let’s think for a second about what generally falls into the “diversity” arena:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation

All very traditional topics, and all traits that define who we are.  And all fairly easy to measure.  But there are so many other things that we never really talk about, and that are a little tougher to quantify, such as:

  • Personality
  • Work style
  • Learning style
  • Learning capacity
  • Drive

Ugly list, huh?  But they sure do more to define who you are, in my opinion, than the color of your skin.

A team that represents the all the colors of the rainbow isn’t necessarily a diverse team.  And a team made up of three sets of triplets could be one of the most diverse you’ve ever seen.  Diversity is about finding out looking for the bet talent, figuring out how people think, work and succeed, and then putting them in a position to best utilize those skills so that everyone gets ahead.

Kinda sounds like the foundation of good management to me.

Using Stretch Goals Wisely

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In my last post, I talked about how using stretch goals can have a seriously negative effect on your employees.  There’s good news.  It doesn’t have to end like that.  There is at least one way to make them work where they not only aren’t a demotivater, but they can boost your overall morale and production.  Is that something you might be interested in?

So here’s the deal. The secret. The one weird trick that makes stretch goals work.

Stretch goals work really well for teams. Not as in “everyone on the team has one.” More like “everyone has a goal on their own, and the team has one shared stretch goal that they can only hit if they operate as a unit AND everyone hits their individual goal.”

As an example, you’ve got a sales team of ten.  Each has a goal of $100 in sales, meaning $1,000 total.  The team has a pool of support resources they share, so the work they do directly impacts their peers.  If they each hit their goal, they get a bonus.  But giving them each a stretch goal, let’s say $150, for a larger bonus means they fight for the support resources to sell more, which impacts other’s abilities, which then leads to infighting and an overall demotivated team.  Somewhere between a total goal of $1,000 and a total stretch goal of $1,500, the wheels might come flying off.

If, however, you give them each a $100 goal, and then a TEAM stretch goal of $1,500, everything changes.  Each member of the team getting their $1o0 is important to them, but making sure everyone succeeds is just as important.  They can’t up their bonus unless all members of the team reach the $100, and then they collectively pass $1,500.  Less fighting, better sharing of resources, and a motivated concern for the success of others.  Somewhere between a total goal of $1,000 and a total stretch goal of $1,500, something magical might happen.

Will this approach ensure teamwork?  Of course not.  But it sure does set up the right environment for it.

Would You Pay $5 to Browse?

Saw this story on Business Insider about a specialty food store in Brisbane, Australia, and thought it worth sharing.

The fee exists to stop people from “showrooming” — which occurs when a customer looks at items in a physical store, then makes the purchase online.

The sign assures that you’ll have the five dollars deducted from the final purchase price, so you’ll get your money back if you buy something.

Well that’s one to do it, I suppose.

Let’s think about this from the storekeeper’s side.  There is a cost associated with maintaining a storefront and paying the employees.  In this setup, the only ones paying a surcharge are those who don’t buy anything.  Of course, that also means you have to make up your mind in one trip, I imagine.  And woe upon those who need to go back to the car for something, I guess.  No word on if there is a bouncer at the door checking IDs.

When we talk about culture change and incentives, we have to think about unintended consequences.  Where might this action lead?  Less traffic, the ire of people around the world (who aren’t likely to shop there, honestly), and the loss of goodwill from consumers.

But what else might happen?  Loads of people talking about your store online?  Check.  Reduced traffic, letting the shopkeeper focus on the real customers so as to give them exceptional service and attention?  Yup.  The establishment of a personal relationship, which is likely to grant “friend of the store” status at some point so the regulars don’t pay the surcharge and are made to feel extra-special?  Indeed.

Yes, it’s an untraditional approach.  That doesn’t make it wrong.  Let’s be honest, those most offended by this are the least likely to buy something in the store to begin with.  So the question that must be asked is whether the cost of alienating those shoppers is greater than the value of better service to the “real” customers walking through the door.  And apparently the answer here is no.

Just because people don’t like the approach doesn’t make it wrong.  If anything, it makes it brave.  And that, on some level, should be commended.

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