Using Stretch Goals Wisely

stretch_armstrong_650x300_a1

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.

How Stretch Goals Kill Engagement

stretch-armstrong-responsive-622x419

Stretch goals are great, aren’t they?  Don’t just do enough to get by, do something great!  Aim high!  Change the world!  Be the ball, Danny!

I’m a fan of great work.  I’m a fan of goals, metrics, measurable outcomes and continuous improvement.  But I’ve come to believe that stretch goals might be the biggest threat to employee engagement we inflict on ourselves.  The flash of insight came to me while running.  OK, jogging.  OK, OK, plodding.  But when you lace up, you should have a goal in mind.  How far are you going and/or how fast you are going to move.  So let’s say that you set a goal to do a mile, regardless of time.  Specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, time-bound.  Good goal.

Once you get started you might feel pretty good and think, “A mile isn’t enough!  I’m going to do a 5k today! I feel great!”  Good for you.  Then you get through the first mile and think, “Did I say 5k?  Um…maybe not.  But I can do more than a mile, so let’s keep going!”  (By the way, your personal distances may vary here,but you get the idea.)  So let’s then say you double your planned output and put in a good solid two miles.

How do you feel at the end of that run?  You should feel elated, right?  You ran twice as far as you thought you would.  That’s worthy of a high five and a butt slap, no matter how far you planned to go in the first place.  Except….except there’s a little voice in your head that says, “Sure, but you didn’t do that 5k, did you?”

Now how do you feel?  Like you doubled your planned output, or like you failed to reach a goal?

Stretch goals can be a horrible demotivater if you aren’t careful.  By putting a blue sky target out there, you immediately introduce the very real chance of failure.  In fact, some people say that if you reach your stretch goal, it wasn’t high enough. So the odds of you feeling good about yourself at the end of the day are not just low, they are low by design.

It’s good to have goals.  Really.  But they should mean something.  They should be important to the business, and they should give you a sense of direction.  But adding a stretch goal that you know won’t be hit is no way to treat your employees.  Or yourself.

Shifting Loyalties

I was asked to give a job seeker some advice last week.  This is someone who is gainfully employed, has ten years of tenure with their current company, and is good at their job.  And despite all that, is looking for more.

As we talked through the options, the tasks and the stories, a question came up that I’ve heard too often.

“How do I explain that I’m looking for a job when I already have one?”

That question is less prevalent now than its counterpart, “How do I explain that I’m unemployed?”  The economy being what it is, that one is less difficult to handle.  People are unemployed.  It happens.  Being one of those people no longer has the same stigma it used to, despite what some narrow-minded companies think.  (Pro tip: If a company only wants to hire those who already have jobs and are discriminating against the unemployed, you don’t want to work there anyway.)

But let’s look at the first question.  If you have a job, why look?

There are plenty of good answers to this one, and you can find them in all the other blogs about interviewing.  Looking for new challenges, expanding your horizons, seeking out chances to improve yourself and so forth.  All positive, forward looking answers.  And certainly nothing along the lines of “I have my job/boss/team/office/customers.”

But there is another level here to discuss, and that’s the story you tell yourself.  I know people who have spent years at one job and are very good at it.  They like what they do, they like their team, and they are fairly compensated for it.  So what makes them take the call from a recruiter who wants to get to know them?  What makes the most attractive candidates, who by all accounts should be the most difficult to reach, willing to listen to offers?

I think it comes down to a change in mindset over the last few years.  A generation ago, you could realistically spend your who career with one company.  Lifetime employment wasn’t just possible, it was nearly expected.  Now, we think more of lifetime employability.  The workforce is more cognizant of managing their career long term, and are more savvy when it comes to developing portable skills.  They have a better understanding of what makes them desirable on the market, and work to keep themselves attractive to recruiters.

A side effect, I think, of all this is that loyalty to the company is dead.  It’s ok.  Loyalty to the employee died years ago in many cases, so this is a natural development.  (I’m not saying there aren’t companies that are loyal to their employees, of course.  I know some that very much are.  They are just harder to find.)  There is no shame in working to develop your skills and market yourself while still being a productive employee.  It’s a shift from being loyal to an employer to being loyal to yourself.

I encouraged this person to stop thinking of themselves as an employee, and start thinking more as a free agent, a consultant who at the moment is selling their services to one particular company.  They’ve built a good working relationship, and the agreement is going well.  But it is one of undetermined length, which could be ended on either side given proper circumstances.  In that regard, looking for other potential clients who may offer a better partnership isn’t just OK, it’s good business.

This shift in loyalty is a positive trend.  It keeps employees working to sharpen their skills, deliver great work to their current employer, and be prepared to shift if needed.  It keeps employers mindful that the way they treat employees matters and that they need to keep the environment attractive enough to retain the talent they have.  That’s not to say we should discard the idea of employer loyalty.  It has a place in all human interactions, especially when it comes to understanding motivation and actions.  But loyalty in today’s workplace is more about mutually beneficial circumstances than a parental employer-employee relationship.  And that is a better situation for everyone involved.

Never apologize for trying to better yourself, your job or your future.  You’re a free agent.  You owe it to yourself.

Adria Richards, Steubenville and Privacy

**Dangerous waters ahead.  This is a post for rational thinkers and observers, not those who react simply on emotion or reflex.  You have been warned.**

You’ve surely read both stories by now.  If not, here’s the quick recap:

Richards: Goes to conference, takes some pictures, tweets about being offended, gets all involved fired.

Steubenville: Football players party, rape drunk girl, tweets about it, get jail time.

There are links if you want to read more.  Or, you know, Google.

So to me these are both kind of the same issue.  Privacy.  Yes, of course there are bigger items at play, namely harassment and rape, respectively.  But I think it’s safe to say we are all against both of those things.  I hope, anyway.  And yes, there are questions about the details in both cases.  But we move past that for discussion purposes.

There are significant privacy issues in both cases, and it seems that they are being taken from opposite directions by many.  In the Steubenville case, the public is generally appalled at the photos of an unconscious girl being circulated by these young men, and an extra year was added to his term for it.  Assault aside, it was an invasion of her privacy that warranted additional punishment.  And that feels right to most, at least judging by public response.

Richards posted pictures of two men who were sitting behind her making jokes at a conference.  Again, taking the story at face value, she was offended by their remarks, and chose to tweet out their pictures with her displeasure.  One of the men and Richards have been fired over the incident.  And once again the public is appalled, only this time it is much more divided as to for whom.  (It should be noted that Richards’ job is as a technology evangelist, so her company determined she would no longer be able to function effectively in that role.)

Many have cried foul over her dismissal, as she was calling out harassment, at least in her eyes.  Others are angry that the men in the picture were fired because of her tweet.  I find it interesting that there are far fewer people, though, that are referring to these men as “victims.”  They were, by all accounts, engaged in private conversation, and their picture was taken under circumstances that do not include anyone saying, “I’d like to post you on Twitter and complain about your sexist jokes.”

Why is the invasion of their privacy less offensive to us than the Steubenville victim?  From an intellectual standpoint they are very similar.  Their picture were shared without their full consent, and included derogatory content that will effect their life in a significant way.  Yes, there is an emotional element at play, and the damage isn’t on the same level.  But then, getting fired and going to jail aren’t either, so the level of punishment is in line with the crime, I think.

We live in a world where privacy is at a premium.  Your pictures are online, and you may or may not be getting tagged in them.  In fact, getting tagged may be the only way you find out!  Are we OK with that level of access?  Do we not have the right to know when our images or stories are being shared?  Why is it OK, under any circumstances, for someone to take our picture and complain about a private conversation  activity or belief without our permission?  And should anyone, on either side of the transaction, lose their job over it?

I’m interested to know if there are those who are fully behind Richards and are outraged at her firing who are also pleased to see the young man in Steubenville getting extra jail time.  To me they are very similar, and if you support one, you should logically support both.  People aren’t great at separating emotion from this kind of issue, so if you have a response, please try to keep it on the logical plane of discussion.

HR 101 for StartUps

What does a founder need to know about HR? 

When chasing your dream leads you to opening your own business, you have a wealth of issues to deal with.  You’ll have to become an expert in operations, marketing, finance, tax law, real estate, motivation, sales and a host of other concerns.  The Human Resources function is usually not on the list, though it can derail your new enterprise as quickly as any of the others.  There are complexities that must be understood and addressed if you are to be successful, and the time you are able to commit may not be enough to handle the work of HR.  And, in many cases, that’s ok.

Does a start-up with five employees need to spend a great deal of time working on their annual review process?  Is there a need to create a training plan for each employee, or tie it back to succession planning?  Will you lose sleep over the fact that, deep down, you aren’t really sure if your job descriptions are accurate?  Probably not.  But don’t be fooled into thinking you can ignore the HR function across the board.  While the profession is responsible to get the most out of people, it is also very often the function that keeps the company out of court and the officers out of jail.

Determined to make it work on your own?  Here are a few things you are going to want to take care of.

Discrimination

May as well tackle the big one first.  There are a slew of laws to make sure businesses are acting in accordance with our time-honored belief that “all men are created equal.”  The women, too.  Failure to understand the implications of those laws can be costly.  2009 saw more than 90,000 charges of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Hundreds of millions of dollars were paid towards out of court settlements.  Why?  Because going to court and losing can be even more expensive.

Can you protect yourself?  Of course, but it requires spending a lot of time getting to know the local, state and federal laws that apply to you.  You also need to think about anti-discrimination policies, training, knowing the legalities of your own hiring process and the dangers of the wrong steps in your work environment.  Does this matter in a small start up?  That depends on how much chasing your dream means to you.  Would you rather put your life savings into that, or legal settlements for having someone say the wrong thing to the wrong candidate?  A question as innocent as, “Are you married?” can cost more than you think

What’s prohibited?  Generally speaking, there are several “protected classes” of which you need to be aware.  Race, religion, nationality, age (if over 40), gender, family status, disability and veteran status are all included.  Sexual orientation is likely to be on the federal list in short order, if not at the local or state level.  All aspects of the employment relationship, which includes the application process, interviews, hiring, employment details, pay, benefits, work assignments, training, promotions, and terminations are all subject to review.  If you plan to do any of these things, you’d be well served to understand the law or find someone who does.

Wage and Hour Laws

One of the first things to be addressed when building your team will be what roles need to be filled and what you can pay them.  There are a number of tools that give you an estimate on what a role is worth, which will set you on the right path.  But the pitfalls of being an employer go far deeper the simple pay equity.

For example, your office décor makes a difference.  Specifically, the inclusion of a Federal Wage and Hour poster, which the Department of Labor will provide at no charge.  This poster will outline the minimum wage rules and exceptions, such as employees in a role deemed “tipworthy” or those under twenty and in their first 90 days of employment.  Even if you pay far above the minimum wage, the poster still requires a permanent home in an accessible area.

There is also the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which outlines which employees are paid overtime, how much it will be and when it is due.  The FLSA also defines which roles are not overtime eligible (also known as “exempt” roles), including executives, professionals, some sales, some IT, and some administrative roles.  All of this will need to be clearly defined and recorded in your organization files in the event of a government audit.  Misclassification can cost you far more than just back wages.  Per the Department of Labor, “willful violators may be prosecuted criminally and fined up to $10,000. A second conviction may result in imprisonment. Employers who willfully or repeatedly violate the minimum wage or overtime pay requirements are subject to civil money penalties of up to $1,100 per violation.”

Not an expense most start-ups can afford.

Benefits

There’s more than just an employee’s wage to be dealt with.  Employers are required by federal law to provide unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation coverage and Social Security contributions.  In some states, they must also provide Short Term Disability coverage.  These are just the bare minimums.  You are likely to need to offer a more comprehensive package to attract great talent.

Health insurance is one benefit that most workers will consider a non-negotiable item.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), recently upheld by the Supreme Court, changed the landscape significantly for employers and workers alike.  While the law does not require an employer to provide coverage, those with fifty or more full-time employees will be subject to penalties for not providing a coverage option.  This is packaged with a number of other legal complexities, the implications of which are still being discovered.  Regardless, the burden of compliance will rest on the employer to understand and execute.

There exists a range of other benefits to be considered, such as vacation, life insurance, sick time, tuition support, holidays, retirement plans, flexible schedules and more.  Your decision on which to offer and to what extent will have a major impact on your ability to attract and retain talent.

Terminations

Yes, you will undoubtedly go down this path at some point.  Not all employees deliver on their promise, and some must be let go.  In a start-up, there is little room for those who do not add value.

So how do you dismiss an employee without creating a liability?  Do you have grounds for dismissal?  Are they documented?  What are your rights as an employer?

Many states are considered “Right to Work” areas, meaning either party may terminate the professional relationship at any time with or without cause.  This would imply that there is no danger in letting a poor performer go.  The truth, though, is that it has become all to common for a terminated worker to file a claim of discrimination or retaliation, claiming they were singled out because of who they are or because of other non-performance reasons.  Regardless of “Right to Work,” employers can be held liable and face hefty fines if they are not protected in these cases.

The first step is ensuring proper documentation exists, a task that begins well before the termination process.  Tracking employee performance, be it good, bad or indifferent, help create a strong foundation for weighing the merits of each person’s contribution.  If you later need to terminate a low performer, your records will support your decision.

If the decision is strictly financial, as they sometimes are, you will need to have a well-documented process for deciding which employee(s) you terminate.  Poor company performance will not protect you from discrimination claims in court.  In fact, many who put their own assets behind a start-up venture find them defending their actions in court with their home and savings on the line.

Even after termination, there are costs to be managed and duties to be handled.  In some states, a terminated employee is due their final paycheck at the time of termination.  If you have made life insurance or retirement plans available as part of your benefits package, there are rules around how those items must be transferred, terminated or liquidated.  The Continuation of Health Insurance Coverage (COBRA), which applies to companies with twenty or more employees, regulates the health benefits that must be made available to terminated employees.  Additionally, some former employees may file for unemployment benefits, which you may contest.  While it may reduce your unemployment insurance premiums, there will be a cost associated with the dispute process.  Strong documentation will help, but not having a knowledgeable partner who can navigate those waters on your behalf can cost you precious resources.

Your Employee Handbook

Just the idea of a handbook can cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  But many lawsuit outcomes have hinged on clearly defined company polices (or a lack thereof).   It is not enough to determine your stance and obligation on the issues listed above, you must document them as well.

Not all handbooks are created equal.  For many years, Nordstrom’s Department Store was famous for their handbook, composed of one rule.

Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

 Even this iconic rule, however comprehensive it seems, is now augmented with others.  While it is a great basis for your operation, you are legally at risk if you don’t take the time to be clear regarding the basics of your operation.

This is not to suggest, of course, that your first hire should be a full HR team.  On the contrary, start-ups often find exactly what they need (at a price they can afford) by outsourcing their HR work to a consultant or freelance professional.  This allows them to know their fledgling company is protected, while investing their capital in other ways.  It also brings an entrepreneurial spirit to another aspect of the team, which in many ways further the culture of the start-up business.

 

Now THAT’S Engagement

You want to know if your employees really care about their jobs? Use this guy as your measuring stick.

Maybe the bank robber couldn’t see very well through the holes in his mask — the face of Chucky from the “Child’s Play” horror movies — as he walked into Peoples Bank & Trust Tuesday afternoon.

After all, it says right on the door that concealed weapons are allowed in the bank. They’re practically encouraged by the sign: “Management recognizes the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as an unalienable right of all citizens.”

So when the robber walked out of the bank a short time later with a red bank bag full of cash, maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised that bank president David W. Thompson followed him out to the parking lot. Thompson watched the masked robber get in a Ford pickup parked in a handicapped spot up front, then pulled his Colt .380 handgun and pointed it at the man.

“Sir, get out of the truck,” Thompson, 58, recalled demanding. “You’re not going anywhere.”

Leadership? Check.

Action oriented? Doublecheck.

Stepping up for his team? Mega-check.

Engagement? MOTHERFLIPPING CHECK ALL OVER THAT.

Not that we should encourage leaders (or employees) to pull their piece when things get wonky, but I’m betting Thompson gets high marks on his review.

By the way, he followed his actions with praising his team.  They handed the money over to the thief, who wasn’t even armed, as it turns out. His response was that they did exactly what they were supposed to do.

No finger pointing, no chest thumping, no grandstanding.  His organization needed him, he acted.  That’s a guy who cares.

Think anyone on your team would do the same? Would you?

 

Lessons from the 2012 Cardinals’ Collapse

 

As defending world champions, there were high hopes for the Cardinals this year.  What started as a great playoff run with flashbacks to the 2011 World Series (universally hailed as the greatest of all time) ended with three straight losses to the San Francisco Giants.  In the wake of the team collapse, here are a few lessons you can take and apply in your own organization.

It’s Not All About Leadership

The Cardinals made an interesting move this year, appointing Mike Matheny as the heir to Tony LaRussa. While my feelings on TLR are well documented, Matheny came in with no managerial experience. On any level.  But he was a great field general as a player, and he was given a shot.  It wasn’t an easy gig, to be sure.  While the team had hoisted the hardware in 2011, they would face 2012 without Albert Pujols.  Then they lost Lance Berkman.  And Chris Carpenter.  And Rafael Furcal.  And Jamie Garcia.

Despite all that, the Cards had a commanding 3-1 lead in the NLCS over the Giants.  A fine job by a rookie skipper, to be sure.  But the offense, pitching and defense all disappeared in game 5, never to return.  While there were some questionable decisions made by Matheny along the way, the player have to execute.  An no manager in the word can field a ground ball from the dugout.

You have leaders in your organization that will, from time to time, be given too much credit for a success.  The good ones, you may have noticed, pass that credit along to their team.  They may also get too much blame for failures.  The good ones keep that for themselves. But we all know that leaders can only set people up for success. Execution has to happen on the field.

Be Careful In Selecting Your Stars

With Pujols likely on his way out of town, the Cardinals invested a lot of money and years in acquiring Matt Holliday in 2009 and then signing him to a long term deal.  He’s a solid investment, at least on paper.  He’ll hit 25-30 home runs,drive in 100, hit .300 or so each year.  But Matt also has something in common with almost every car I’ve ever owned.

No clutch.

When your talent team is sifting through candidates, trying to find the right person to add to your team, remember that it’s not all about the results.  How you got there matters, too. A leader who makes their goals by burning out their team and running off their players isn’t one you want.  Nor do you want a team member that can’t come through when the pressure is on.  Dive a little deeper, and find the ones that strive when the spotlight is on them.  You’ll be glad you did.

Sometimes It Really Is A Team Sport

The Cardinals may have had a better group of players, more experience, and a bunch of rings that make them the better bet, but they were beat by a team that outperformed them in every aspect of games 5-7.  Would you trade rosters straight up if you ran the Cards?  Probably not.  But the process equation holds true.  The team’s outcome is a function of their inputs, and no two groups of inputs will react in the same way.

When you put your team together, they will form in their own way.  You can’t recreate an old team, even with the same people, in a new place.  And you can’t hope to succeed long term on the backs of one or two people. Pay attention to who you acquire, create an environment that accepts them for who they are and allows them to play to their strengths, and you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish.  It’s why the business world sees David whoop the pants off of Goliath over and over and over.

The Santa Claus Question

 

Anyone who has known me for more than a few minutes could probably guess I love Calvin and Hobbes.  They’d be right.  I still miss Bill Watterson.

One of the strips that occasionally floats to the surface in my cranial flotsam and jetsam is about Santa Claus.  At one point, our hero raised questioned the all-knowing perception of Santa, pointing out that your goodness is really based only on outward perception, and as long as his actions were good, his motives were irrelevant.  This, of course, led to the question of how good one needed to be to reach a certain level of presents.  Fair questions all around.

I think about this when I hear people talk about leadership, engagement, performance and so forth.  We don’t see much in the world when it comes to motives, and instead are forced to examine one’s output to gauge their worth.  I may have every intent of writing a blog post each day, and could spend hours starting and trashing substandard ideas.  (FYI: I don’t throw much away.  My standards are pretty low.)  But if you are looking for content, none of those false starts count.  All that matters is what gets delivered.  So do I need to write continuously, or do I need to publish regularly?  Which is more important?

We want our employees to be engaged, usually defined by the quality and quantity of their work.  But our perception of these two measures are largely influenced by those with whom we surround them.  I have a tough time measuring productivity in a vacuum, but I can easily measure them against each other or against a metric I’ve created.  In fact, my top employee may be able to do the work of four poor ones, so they do twice the work as someone else and spend the rest of their time playing solitaire tidily winks, daydreaming of the zombie apocalypse, or looking for another job.  It doesn’t much matter if reaching their goal is only a quarter of their actual capacity.  So is it important to be a highly engaged producer, or just look like one?

We look for leaders who are courageous, smart, brave and daring.  We want them to live our values and be the standard bearers for our brand/country/ideas. Does it matter if it’s all an act?  There have been some very successful leaders in our nation and corporations who, in the end, turned out to have made some questionable decisions.  (I’m looking at you, Bill Clinton, Anthony Wiener, John Edwards, Rod Blagojevich, Jim McGreevy, Gary ConditRussell Wasendorf Sr., Ken Lay (no relation, I swear), Brian Dunn,  Jamie DimonMark HurdDennis KozlowskiBernie Ebbers, Bernie Madoff, and so forth.)  Yet in most cases, they were very successful and, unquestionably, daring.  So is it important that they be everything we look for in our dream leader, or that they lead to great results (hopefully while keeping their hands to themselves)?

It’s often said that perception is reality, so I’m hard pressed to say the behinds the scenes bit matters to most.  Sure, we’d like to hold ourselves (meaning humans in general) to a higher standard, but until the misdeeds of others are unveiled (and, let’s face it, often afterwards as well), we focus on the delivery, not the method.

So, do you have to be good, or just act good?  And what’s the tipping point between the two?

Changing of the Guard

An interesting development coming out of the 2012 Republican National Convention.  The “big stars” of the past (Bush, Cheney, Palin, etc.) are not planning to speak, nor are they planning to attend.  The minds behind the Romney campaign have decided to move forward rather than look back.  Via Yahoo! News

The idea is to portray a competent, forward-looking party—and that has translated into leaving out a recent president and vice president, some tea party stars, and most of the Republicans who only months ago were fighting Romney for the nomination. The absent former rivals include Rep. Michele Bachmann, who won the Iowa straw poll in 2011; former pizza magnate Herman Cain, who once led national polls during the primary race; Texas Gov. Rick Perry, viewed as a juggernaut before he ran; and retiring Rep. Ron Paul, who is getting a video tribute but no live address.

Fascinating.

From a change management perspective, it makes total sense.  Focus on the future.  Look ahead rather than at the failures (real or perceived) of the past.  Accentuate the positives.  Eliminate the negatives.  Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.

There is no denying that the GOP had a great run at the start of the century, though history has recoiled on them a bit.  Rather than try to hang onto the past, they sweep it away and hope for better out of the next cycle.  Ironically, it’s right out of the Karl Rove playbook, the man who bult much of that success.  It’s an interesting example of revisionist history by those who wrote it the first time.

It’s also brilliant.

The beauty of US politics, I think, it the ability of each side to constantly proclaim themselves as an agent of change, regardless of their track record.  Romney will claim that the Obama administration has failed, and we need a change in the POTUS chair to fix things.  Obama’s team will claim that they are still the party of change, and they are finally making some headway.  Parallell posturing of the exact same message.  Amazing, isn’t it?

The problem would be if the GOP marched the old guard up onto the stage to proclaim themselves “change agents.”  Can’t be done.  So instead, you set them aside, limit them to fundraising (which I understand they do very well), and let the leaders of the new message take to the spotlight. It’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but a great way to signal a shift.

Too often in the workplace, the leaders don’t change, even if the message does.  It is hard to believe in a real changing of direction if the person selling it to you want telling you something radically different last month.  It leads to stagnation, inertia and a loss of credibility.  Yet rarely in our development discussions do we talk about being the champion or leader of change.  It’s an important role, and one that can not only develop people, but support success in important projects.

Don’t be afraid to pull your big hitters out of the batter’s box. Sometimes, letting someone else take a few cuts can make all the difference.

 

Imperfections Make Us Perfect

I’ve been battling a cranky shoulder for some time now. (I’d like to blame it on the SHRM Hockey game, but sadly it’s been with me for far longer than that.)  So it was under much duress that I finally agreed to see a massage therapist to see if she could help.

As I lay there being disassembled by a woman half my size (but with, by all accounts, twice my strength), I listened to “soothing” music that included an unknown artist playing the flute. The tune was lost on my, but I found myself oddly transfixed by the moments where the musician took a breath between notes. It was those breathy moments that I found soothing for some reason, far more so than the rest of the song.

I was reminded of an interview Jeff Tweety of Wilco did with Chuck Klosterman where he discussed the Fleetwood Mac song “I Don’t Want to Know,” and how much he loved the sound of Lindsey Buckingham‘s fingers sliding on the guitar strings. I felt the same way about the flutist. It was that tiny imperfection that somehow made the song more perfect.

People are the same way, I think. Those who are perfect are either fake, untrustworthy or both. We are uncomfortable with perfection in others. I recently had a conversation with a friend about a shared acquaintance whom we both respect and admire. After a few moments of acknowledging how much we liked this person and respected their work, the discussion quickly turned to what their inevitable weak spot must be. It’s not realistic or acceptable to believe there isn’t one, so our conversation turned to finding something. (In this case, we could not come up with one. We settled on the idea we don’t know the person well enough to detect it. It is not conceivable that one doesn’t exist.)

When we encounter someone who is very good at what they do, seems to know their craft, and have shown themselves to be good, caring people, we get uncomfortable. We search for the problem. We question their motivation, what they are “really after.” We create scenarios that, while unlikely, can explain their behavior through some ulterior motive. And somehow this imaginary flaw makes us feel much more at home with the idea of that person.

The workplace is no different, of course. As part of the HR team, though, it is in some ways your role to be trustworthy. To be open, to be honest, to be approachable. And if you are what some would consider a “consummate professional,” never letting your guard down, never taking a wrong step and, to be sure, never showing any flaw in your professional persona, you too will be looked at askance. You will be untrusted, perceived as fake, and will have coworkers and clients alike wondering what your “real story” might be. Even if you have none.

Especially if you have none.

Don’t think for a moment that remaining “above the fray” makes you more approachable, more trustworthy or more admired in the workplace. You can achieve that through competence and imperfection. Be very good at what you do, but make sure you are open about your own areas of improvement. That will make you a much more human, much more approachable, and much more acceptable in the eyes of others.

Your imperfections make you perfect. Embrace them.

Lean HR is using WP-Gravatar