Memory, empathy & the pathway forward.

It’s said that every time you recall something you change the memory. So in fact our memories are never an accurate reflection of what happened, precisely. They a version of our truth, but not the ultimate truth. It becomes the story that we tell ourselves; not the reality to which we have experienced.

But the abstract connection with reality doesn’t lessen the impact of the story (or the memory) on us as people. So that’s where it get’s complicated.

If this is indeed all true, then challenges we face at work (or in any part of our lives) to resolve conflict and come to a common understanding of a situation can seem impossible. How do we reconcile two stories that while similar, are nuanced with slight differences?

I’ve sat in what I call the middle of the table, between a manager and employee; listening to two people argue about essentially the same thing, searching for the pathway forward.

The pathway forward would be easier, had the relationship been founded in empathy and compassion, long before the conversation being had in that moment.

A foundation where there is a common understanding that each of us are unique individuals battered and bruised in someway by life’s daily joys and turmoil. That while we see things differently, different isn’t bad. Where we are compassionate enough to recognise intensity of emotions and feel safe enough to know that when there is a problem to overcome, that we ourselves are not the problem. It’s not about blame – it’s about understanding.

We all come with a story. The story we have crafted for ourselves about our life which casts a shadow or a light over every interaction we have.

Understanding that there is another side to the coin, a blind spot, a perspective that we can’t see – having the patience to hear it and explore it.. well that’s the pathway to a better relationship – with whoever is on the other side of the table.

** If you’re feeling like some brain food, this video about Empathy vs Sympathy is one I find particularly insightful.

This blog post from Seth Godin is also intriguing when it comes to exploring our inner narrative.

This article in the New Yorker is longer form and explores memory even further and its connection to emotional responses.

Image credit: Nancy Kamergorodsky

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Why should anyone be led by you?

I recently heard this statement at a leadership course I went to – click here if you want to know what course I attended, highly recommend.

Why should anyone be led by you?

Well sheeeezyyyy,  when you say it like that..

Brings it back into context that leadership isn’t about you. Well that’s what I believe anyway. I’m not alone in my thought’s many a great leadership influencers talk about leadership being a privilege, a sacrifice, not necessarily a one way trip to glory (gives me some grounding that I’m not crazy). 

From what I have seen from my …what 13 years of working, even back when I was a McCounter chick, was good leaders going bad. What did we do? Well people respond to their environments, put good people in poor conditions and sad things will happen. Put great people in positive workplaces and see the fire spark alive.. you get my drift.

We incentivize self-centred leadership, maybe accidentally (or on purpose). The minute you make budgets the greatest incentive (cut X% of the wages) you have put money before people, and many leaders will begin putting themselves first. Imagine that you’re not the saint you are perhaps pretending to be, if you were out in a position where the formula was: hey, if you save $15,000 in wages you’ll get that promotion – your entire leadership experience has become about you.

That was an overly simplistic example, but it brings me back to the words..

… why should anyone be led by you…

Because people have options, they aren’t bound to your business – why should anyone stick around and be led by you? What do you offer… is it…

  • impossible deadlines
  • a workplace with immense pressure to impress shareholders
  • being too busy to really care about your team, so you forget what’s important

or..

  • a workplace where people are treated like people, not transactions
  • a team where achieving goals with a purpose matters
  • opportunities for development including the tough, uncomfortable feedback
  • a relationship with you that includes you saying the words “i’m sorry, I stuffed up, how can we fix this together”

I don’t expect the leaders I work with to be perfect. Far from it, kind of like in any relationship, it’s the imperfections and the flaws that draw you closer, it’s the honestly and the candid conversations that build a connection. Pretending your perfect does nothing, because we know you are pretending.

So, why should anyone be led by you?

 

Further reading.. love this excerpt from HBR – https://hbr.org/2000/09/why-should-anyone-be-led-by-you

We all know that leaders need vision and energy, but after an exhaustive review of the most influential theories on leadership–as well as workshops with thousands of leaders and aspiring leaders–the authors learned that great leaders also share four unexpected qualities.

The first quality of exceptional leaders is that they selectively reveal their weaknesses (weaknesses, not fatal flaws). Doing so lets employees see that they are approachable. It builds an atmosphere of trust and helps galvanize commitment.

The second quality of inspirational leaders is their heavy reliance on intuition to gauge the appropriate timing and course of their actions. Such leaders are good “situation sensors”–they can sense what’s going on without having things spelled out for them.

Managing employees with “tough empathy” is the third quality of exceptional leadership. Tough empathy means giving people what they need, not what they want. Leaders must empathize passionately and realistically with employees, care intensely about the work they do, and be straightforward with them.

The fourth quality of top-notch leaders is that they capitalize on their differences. They use what’s unique about themselves to create a social distance and to signal separateness, which in turn motivates employees to perform better.

All four qualities are necessary for inspirational leadership, but they cannot be used mechanically; they must be mixed and matched to meet the demands of particular situations. Most important, however, is that the qualities encourage authenticity among leaders. To be a true leader, the authors advise, “Be yourself–more–with skill.”

 

Do you need a uniform policy?

Uniform policies for me fall somewhere in-between the policies I really think you need and the completely useless fear driven policies. I started in the working world within a quick service giant and worked my way through to becoming a Store Manager, so I feel I know first hand the pain and agony implementing this policy. Working with Team Members who are in their teens, constantly telling them to do their top button up, tuck their hair up, wear the right shoes, taking out their piercings was a daily part of the job as was the passive aggression they exuded after you told them no.

At the end of the day, I didn’t really mind if they had multiple ear piercings or blue hair. If they were excellent team players friendly to customers and looked showered and tidy, I was just like, yeah cool – I’ve got better things to do. Then my Operations Manager would come for a site inspection and I would see on my action list “address blah’s appearance, has a visible tattoo”. ehhhhhhhhhh.

I think in the grand scheme of business issues uniform adherence is not something I rate highly, as in it’s not a conversation I have much time for. It’s a simple a conversation I want to exit quickly. I don’t want to sit there discussing how you feel about a specific part of company uniform – just do it, you accepted the job, it’s not exactly a surprise that we have dress standards. If you genuinely have no idea what I mean when I say professional dress I am more than happy to go to google and show you pictures. Every minute we discuss uniforms is a minute I can’t spend on developing tools and systems to help you develop your career or have access to great benefits.

Are you creating a policy because you are too awkward to talk to that one person in that one site….

…..so you have declared WE NEED A POLICY (so you can hand it to them and they will subtly get the hint), that’s what is comes down to. I am struggling to have a human to human conversation so allow me to get my A4 paper to navigate these tough waters. Maybe that the purpose of a policy is to help you have those discussions, but too often we throw down the policy in place of the conversation….

Is it enough to just say “employees are expected to dress professionally and managers may provide feedback on your appearance in line with brand standards”. Should you just have a couple of pictures of role model employees in uniform with a blurb in the handbook.

The more prescriptive you make the policy the more you have to police it. When drafting a policy I would think about your brand and your customers. Who are your customers? Are you high-end or down to earth? Are they going to be offended by an arm tattoo? Would you benefit from company issued compete uniforms? Is blue hair the end of the world? Most of the time people will do the right thing, we spend a lot of time policing the 1% hmmm……..

 

 

Courage is the missing ingredient in HR

Joining the discussion is important and there are those within the HR community who have awesome ideas about we should be operating. Over time (some) people become very popular, not for their action but for their ideas. They speak at conferences, get on the circuit and begin this journey of sharing with those in the trenches their effective strategies for “growing talent” or “executing HR Strategy”, with very little practical understanding of the emotion and risk behind those recommendations.

It’s very glamorous to be a Thought Leader. You know what’s not glamorous? Being an Action Leader. Executing these great ideas takes courage, commitment, conquering risk and putting yourself in the firing line. We need everyone to move on from joining the conversation to going and facing their fears. You can talk about it all you like, but the second you get the opportunity to try it – do it. Do it and then talk about it – feed the conversation with heart felt and messy experience not just ideas. Tell me about the heartache of launching a program to develop leaders that fell on its face – tell me how you shook it off and tried again.

Tell me about the time you removed traditional performance appraisals in favour of something else; instead of woefully writing about how much you dislike them. Show me the eLearning module that you put together that defied expectations and share your tail of heroic activism as you fought for change.

Leave out the buzz words and jargon – give to us straight and please do not use the word HR Disruption.

The one thing our industry is really missing is courage. Let’s stop talking about courage and actually be courageous. Let’s make the discussion the safe place build our confidence and bring Action Leading to life!

I want to hear about your most courageous moments, big and small. We are excellent at sharing ideas – the HR community is amazing at that. We aren’t so good at the courageous execution of our ideas for a whole host of reasons – starting with the fact that we are human. We have bills to pay, families to support, holidays to finance and dreams to fund – so staying in the safe space of discussion is easier.

But if we want to change the way HR is perceived, which we need to – we can’t do it without courage. It’s just not a thing that’s going to happen for us without it.

Start small – you don’t need to change everything overnight. It could be as simple as researching a new software to relieve the administrative burden or making the time to prioritize what matters most to your role.

Like all habits, they become second nature with practice. Start small and build your way to full-blown courage. It’s a journey we are all on – you’re not alone in this.

A place I used to work for used to describe this as getting out on the skinny branches – get on out there!

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Creativity, stories and surprises – why I dig HR!

People ask me why I like working in HR. They seem to think my days are spent listening to complaints and disciplining people – which is actually a very small part of my role (maybe I’m the exception not the rule?). So I thought for a bit of Monday happiness I’d share my favourite parts of working in HR.

#1. Creating weird names for things.
I reflect fondly on the many times my HR counterparts and I sat around brainstorming the name of the next performance appraisal, what theme the next quarter should have or how we could inject the fun into policies. It’s like unleashing your inner Advertising Guru, only you are not a guru you just hope that some random catchy genius will find you.

#2. I get inspired by cool people
Some humans are just god-damn amazeballs. Some of my highlights include: watching people complete qualifications for the first time; seeing coaching in action; getting to know team members with big ambitions; and witty rhetoric with employees who really live the vision, mission and values. I tip my hat to all of you.

#3. I’m continually surprised 
Whether it be people sharing their funny anecdotes with me, or making epic work faux-pas, the laughs never stop when you are in the know when it comes to people’s lives – such a privilege.

#4. I am get great pleasure and amusement out of HR stereotypes
I adore the way HR is portrayed in mainstream media, it’s glorious! The first time I saw Archer and was introduced to the character of Pam I laughed myself silly. I enjoy a good joke about HR and most of all I enjoy smashing the stereotype.

Happy Monday!

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The Graduate Problem

I see posts on LinkedIn across all kinds of forums asking for advice on how to land a role. People offer the same advice:

  • apply for internships and volunteer your time
  • network with others in the profession
  • get your resume and LinkedIn checked out by a professional

This is what I call a band-aid fix. Why isn’t it part of all university degrees to actually do this stuff?

Universities are places where you learn to think, critically analyse stuff, recite the work of others and train your body to live on Red-Bull. Whilst the shift is happening across the education sector to move towards practical application, we have lost sight of why we go to university.

Our job seeking graduate problems started way back high-school when we are learning about what it means to establish a career. Preaching higher education is misleading, we need to be talking about the attainment of quality skills for the role you want to get. University is cloaked in prestige, your first job will not be.

University should be about building a portfolio of tools and experiences that you can sell to prospective employers. Instead, university students are walking into a flooded job market struggling to land their first role.

There will always be the portion of grads who have what I call the gift.

They are driven, resilient and were smart enough to make the university system work for them. They pursued every opportunity and made their own.

They chose part-time jobs that allowed them to pursue volunteering or gave them the ability to practice at least of some their talents. These grad won’t have too many drama’s – they will be employed pretty quickly. These are the grads that ignore the BS recruitment advertisements that say Graduate Position – must have 3 years of experience. They apply anyway because they are champions, when others will get discouraged.

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But there is a robust portion of grads who don’t have this gift. It’s not their fault, we are all different with varying levels of confidence. University needs to stop selling the prestige and start delivering on the promises of education. Help students help themselves. It’s a two-way street, you can’t do the hard work for the grads, but there is little point in a degree if you can’t get a job. Grads paid between 20-50K on average for that degree, the least you could do is provide better transitional services.

I’m not saying don’t go to uni, I went to uni and I wouldn’t change a thing, I enjoyed my uni experience. But you need to be prepared to make it work for you.

Youth and young adult employment impacts us all. Without getting all down in economics we know the lower the unemployment rate the better off we are as a country. This only scratches the surface of what is a real social and economic problem driven by an education system struggling to remain relevant.

Humanity, Culture and Performance Reviews

Performance reviews spark fear in the hearts of managers and employees everywhere. You know you are going to have to sit down with your manager, justify your performance, possibly get a reality check and hear some tough feedback. All accross a boardroom table, fully documented and ready to submit to HR. Then if you don’t improve we are going to use that document to support the performance management process, right through to termination. No pressure people – Performance Reviews are supposed to be fun.

I believe that people working together in communities who share common goals are naturally cooperative and collaborative.

We want to to help each other to support enduring success. Naturally collaborative and cooperative people are always receiving feedback and training, the group calls out bad behaviour and the team develops. Think about a team that you know that works really well together, could be a sports team or a family setting. Do they need a performance review to keep them on track. No, no they don’t.

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Perhaps the reason we dislike performance reviews as we know them is because they actually grind against the core of how we want to operate.

We want to be open and honest, receive feedback in the moment and not feel we need to defend ourselves on paper. We just want to do our jobs, receive feedback and contribute. Performance reviews often symbolise a one time a year feedback session fraught with frustration and headaches for everyone involved. Despite the various attempts to rename it as a performance discussion or one-to-one they are what they are. The manager providing feedback disguised under the veil of a two-way-dialogue.

Performance reviews are personal. Sadly there are lots of managers who don’t connect with their team. If your team doesn’t respect you they certainly don’t care for your feedback. They are most likely job hunting as we speak. We have all been there, working for a manager we don’t trust and couldn’t really give a toss about. Yet they are entrusted to give performance enhancing feedback. Seriously. Just. No.

I don’t have the answers about how to improve this dismal situation and neither do the 1000000000 other HR articles on the internet so it seems.

I do think however that the secret to the Performance Review is closely tied to how and who we recruit and the culture we develop. For some reason, I think if you can truly nail recruitment and you have the right people in the right roles at the right time, trained to do the job they are in.. and they enjoy their work – Performance Reviews will just happen and they will be a natural part of coaching and mentorship.

Right now the situation for many is a performance review system to satisfy performance management needs. Not a process born from a great culture.