What’s the YOU experience?

I work in the field traditionally known as HR. I call it HT, for human talent, as I’m pretty sure that we have moved away from an era of considering people as resources–the same word we might use to describe the copier or computer. In HT, we often discuss people’s experiences in relation to employment: What kind of work have you done?

We've all been there...

We’ve all been there…

What experience do you have in this particular (field, industry, job)? We have a whole segment of the HT industry that focuses solely on communicating people’s experience, and we have a form for that experience called the resume.

Defining and describing the culmination of one’s experience can be daunting. It is often the part of the job finding process that people find most nerve wracking, as if summarizing our experiences is a judgement on who we are as people. Does our experience deem us worthy? I’ve spent countless hours with clients on this process, some whose emotional responses to the exercise of highlighting their experience have ranged from screaming to crying to hysterical laughter–and sometimes all three. Why do exercises like this cause such emotional responses? Because experiences–our own experiences at work or in our non-work lives–are extremely personal. Our experiences are lived through our senses and with an engaged brain. We internalize experiences, and they become memories we can recall, stories we tell, and lessons we pass on. It’s difficult to summarize something that touches so many parts of who we are in a bullet pointed list and call it good.

These days, experience is taking on a different kind of meaning and importance in the world of business. Brian Solis has a new book out entitled “What’s the Future…of Business”, in which he (spoiler alert) tells us it’s all about the experience.

Solis asks #WTF of business, but #WTF of YOU?

Solis asks #WTF of business, but I’m asking #WTF of YOU?

He signs the book with #wtf, and when I opened my email today I found that companies have already begun to answer that question. BuiltNY’s header for their most recent email campaign was “welcome to an all new BuiltNY experience”.  And when we walked Santana Row in SanJo (my abbreviation for San Jose, California), there was a Tesla store right next to the Tumi store and across the street from the lululemon store. Walking in, we not only saw models of the crazy cool car, but experienced how they are built, what it’s like to customize one for ourselves, and how we might experience a whole new sense of positivity about ourselves not only because we would be driving a Tesla, but eliminating our CARbon footprint at the same time. The experience was so palpable that I’m amazed we didn’t end up walking out having purchased a slate gray version to be delivered to our door.

Tesla is providing consumers with a new kind of experience.

Tesla is providing consumers with a new kind of experience.

A few weeks ago, I had my own “experience” moment. I had a conference call about my products and services with a company that is interested in how my products might work for their customers. At the end of the call, while discussing our next steps, the woman executive on the call says to me, “we want to kick the tires…more importantly, we want to know what the customer experience is like. What will our customers’ experience with you?”

I loved her comment because I’m in the midst of building a company and I’ve had many discussions around brand and product and technology. But her question wasn’t about the logo or the interface, it was about the whole of the experience someone would have with my products–how would they engage, what impression would they leave?

As a self described word girl, I think it’s fun when different meanings of the same word converge on a moment.

Right now, at the same time was are watching the rise of the new customer experience–one that will interactively engage us, visually captivate us, and emotionally become part of us–we are also watching the rise of the talent economy. It is at this juncture that as individual contributors to the world of work we begin to think of experience not just as a culmination of tasks and knowledge and achievements on a resume, but begin to think about how the world of work EXPERIENCES US.

What kind of experience of us do we foster in our world of work, our careers, our everyday jobs? How are we, as individual talent, fostering interactive engagement? How are we captivating our audience–be they our co-workers, direct reports, managers or customers? What personal impression are we making, what will be memorable, and will those impressions become part of stories others tell or cautionary tales they pass on? In this moment of convergence, each of us is more than the culmination of our work experience as spelled out on our resumes: each one of us is an experience. The question is: what kind of experience do we want people to have with us? And have we adequately set the stage for that experience?

When I read the subject line of the email from BuiltNY announcing their “new” experience, I took a moment to recall my past experience with their brand, their company.  And then I wondered what would be different about the new experience. What were the perceptions they were targeting? What were they hoping to change? Brian Solis talks of designing the experience with intention, and I thought that was a great way to think about how we might start building a “new” experience of ourselves within our worlds of work: intentionally.

In case this seems a bit theoretical, let’s think about it from a practical perspective. An experience is something that comes through our senses and engages our brain. So, in what way would we want to change how someone experiences us at work?

Yeah, don't let this be the YOU experience that people remember...

Yeah, don’t let this be the YOU experience that people remember…

Could we create a sharper visual image–in wardrobe or hairstyle? Maybe genuinely smile more? Could we enhance the interaction we have with coworkers through a more constructive approach to problem solving, or being more positive in how we discuss workplace concerns? Could we be more memorable by being more informed about the things that concern our bosses or that our customers care about– bringing them more value in our conversations and solutions? Could we get to know them more as people and not just as customers or coworkers, take a bit more care with them?

Of course how we design our personal experience for others will depend on what we want to change or what we want the experience to achieve, so understanding and outlining outcomes should inform your “experience design”. Perhaps you are in sales and want to increase your personal sales in the company; or maybe you want to be happier at work and have less drama with coworkers; perhaps you want to get leadership buy-in for a new initiative. Whatever your goals, understanding that YOU make an impression on the other people in your workplace and that impression has an impact, is important in becoming intentional about the impression and impact you want to have to help you achieve those goals.

So, in this moment of experience convergence, my encouragement to you is to design with the end in mind, be intentional about how you want to be perceived and received, so that the experience of YOU will be engaging, personal, and Tesla-palpable.

When designing and providing the YOU experience…

 

 

Adrienne is the founder of HumanTalented, a talent analytics and career development company.  She often writes on human talent and business.

Less Drama. More Substance.

I think we have a scary epidemic on our hands. It seems that youth isn’t the only thing we are culturally obsessed with. And while the youth focus has bled it’s way into the medical field (hello Botox) and the office (hire the young guy! The kids understand the new technology!), I’m pretty sure that ugly thing which has us in its grips has some serious consequences of its own. So what, prey tell, is this awful scary thing we should be aware of? Drama. And I’m not talking about the kind you’ll find at the local high school’s rendition of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

Of late, I have become emotionally intolerant of the drama that I see affecting almost every facet of our lives, from family gatherings in which we share whispered conversations about the shortcomings of those with whom we share our genes to the offices of commerce in which we feed on the personal and professional details of coworkers and clients.

It would be one thing if drama was harmless, if engaging in the hype of what’s happening in each other’s lives was even helpful…but how often have we come out of a total drama fest at home or at school or at work and found ourselves exhausted and twisted up over what would happen next? How much time do we spend analyzing and rehashing what happened, who knew what and what we should do about it all, worrying and fretting, finally wanting to avoid it for awhile from pure exhaustion? That’s not the first reaction, of course, or we would not have a scary epidemic on our hands. The first reaction is excitement, even glee. Oh goody! Something is happening! We seek out more details, the smallest of tidbits adding fuel to the fire. We work for ways to be relevant to the conversation. We become emotionally invested in the life of the drama and its participants. But later, after the high, we face the anxiety and the letdown of the loss of the excitement–and even though we hate the letdown, we loved the high–so we seek out more drama–or create it. If this high/crash/jonesing cycle sounds somewhat eerily like a description of a crack addict, it is: drama is addictive.

20140421-113631.jpg

And because of our addiction, feeding it has become a multi billion dollar industry. From products like The Real Housewives of (fill in the blank) to every gossip rag you’ve ever read while waiting for a flight or getting a mani/pedi, we feed on the drama of strangers if we can’t get enough of it in our own lives. And we think nothing of it–after all, it isn’t like drama is killing people…right? How bad can it be?

Beyond contributing to the pharmaceutical industry with spikes in prescriptions for anxiety meds and antidepressants, or eroding strong talent cultures in companies and relationships between family’s members, drama had a more insidious effect: it slowly starves our emotional selves of real substance.

And what IS real substance? Let’s think about that for a sec. I am going to define it as productivity–physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. When we are productive, we are often creating, learning, building, problem solving, and contributing in some way…maybe to our community, our family, our friends, our coworkers or our business, or our chosen charity. We are working for the GOOD of something and/or someone, not feeding on their potential demise or failure. I believe that substance provides nourishment to our inner lives. Think of it like the difference between eating sugar, which has few positive effects on our health and leaves us hungry, and eating protein, which builds muscle and satisfies hunger. Drama is like sugar and Substance is like protein. Substance fosters fulfillment, wisdom, and problem solving because we are engaged in the acts of productivity. Substance is found in learning moments between us and our kids, in honest conversations between spouses and friends, in positive problem solving discussions between coworkers and business partners.

I’m pretty sure that future medical scientists will discover that exposure to long term drama is as dangerous to our systems as crack…but like all addictions, it’s hard to go cold turkey in a society that hands us drama for free and with both hands, daring us to walk away from it. Still, unless we want our children to be addicted to the drama and the negativity it breeds, unless we want the talent cultures in our companies to be mired in it, unless we want our relations to stink of drama, we have to find the will to choose differently, to foster something else in our lives.

The title of this post is more than a catchphrase: it is a mantra, a reminder, a touchstone to help us remember that we want MORE in our lives, our relationships than gossip and comparison, feeding on the failure of others while they wait for ours. So, if you, like me, are tired of the drama at home and work and with your friends and family, let’s adopt this phrase for our own and work at it. Let’s choose substance and with it, productivity, positivity, problem solving, nourishment, wisdom, and fulfillment. Let’s break the cycle of addiction. In moments when we want to reach for the drama, let’s choose differently. Let’s reach for an encouraging word. In the break room, or with friends over a beer or coffee, let’s choose to offer transparency and truth rather than gossipy tidbits. Let’s strive for the higher ground. At the family function, instead of sitting in the corner and complaining about our in-laws, let’s consider solutions and grace. In private moments let’s reach for what will nourish us, not addict us. We can do it. We can beat this epidemic. Let’s start now–Let’s work for Less Drama. More Substance.

 

The Consequences of Transparency (or Ruminations While Sick)

No one will meet with me today after I let them know that I have strep. You can’t tell I have it because I’m asymptomatic. I’m a “carrier”, which means that while I have the illness, I don’t experience the nasty effects–but am still contagious and can give the illness to others. I like to think of it like a kind of twisted superpower, that I could use for good or evil. Since I’ve never been one for the dark side, I err on the side of truth telling and let the cards fall where they may. Today, that means hours of solid work time rather than meetings.
And here’s where I started to think about how this example goes beyond strep: Sometimes transparency and truth telling leave us standing alone for reasons that have more far reaching ramifications in our lives or the lives of others than a momentary illness. Like being a carrier of strep, being a carrier of the truth can leave you lonely. Question is: do you choose it anyway, especially when you know the stakes are important?
I like to think of such moments as show and tell. Choices made in critical moments show others who we are and tell a story of our values. You’ve heard the phrase “when people show you who they are, believe them”? Show and tell moments are chock full of personal info worth noting, in our personal relationships and business. And the more show and tell moments we encounter and witness, the more information we have upon which to base our judgements. Patterns emerge.
So, what are you bringing to show and tell moments? What are you showing others about who you are and telling them about your values? What kind of patterns are emerging for others about you in your personal life and your business life? What would you change?
It is my hope that we could all take a “sick day” from time to time and reflect on these points…and upon reflection, perhaps aspire to be the kinds of people who, in show and tell moments, have track records for truth telling and integrity, even if it means that sometimes we will be left standing alone.

Poison in the E-Suite: Is there undetected trouble in your organization?

The Plague of Executive Unproductivity

We’ve all experienced working with unproductive coworkers who make our lives miserable because they do little more than muck about and make messes for the rest of us to clean up. If it’s bad, they usually get away with it for awhile until enough people catch on and call them out on it.  From an employee engagement perspective, this person can be poisoning the work habits of others for an average of 18 months before they are called out and their direct effects are halted.  Still, the ongoing effects of their unproductivity may last much longer, often embodied in others within the organization who were infected.  And while this is awful when it happens at the line level or non-management level of the organization, it can be devastating when it hits the Executive Suite.

Is your organization slowly being poisoned?

Is your organization slowly being poisoned?

Lack of productivity in the E-suite can happen for several reasons: stagnancy in a long time employee who lacks motivation while having long term tenure and significant organizational influence (let’s call this exec “the deadwood”), an executive who relied heavily on key staff and when those employees who were really doing the work left the organization, the executive could no longer perform to standards (“the hide-behind exec”), or an untested, looks-good-on-paper, outside “friendly” executive  is asked to fill in a key position for an interim period, but instead of moving on or assisting in finding a more qualified person,  they manage to hang on to the position while covering up their inability to do critical parts of the job (“the interim-loper”), or perhaps it is the Peter Principle at work in which managers are promoted to their level of incompetence and there they remain (“peter performers”).  Whatever the reason, let’s refer to non-productive executives collectively as NPE’s.

A quick caveat here: this article does not assume malice on the part of an NPE to poison the organization.  Not all NPE’s are devious or purposely out to ride the coat tails of the organization for their own benefit for as long as they can.  There are many NPE’s  that are in over their heads and may not be sure how to ask for help, and they may be employing some of these poisonous tactics in an effort to survive or get their head above water.  Motive or not, when there is poison in the bloodstream of the organization it needs to be eradicated, and the first step is knowing how to recognize whether your organization is being poisoned.

The reasons for how an executive can remain in their job while being unproductive may vary, but the effects on the organization do not.  Effects of an NPE can be seen in lagging sales, ongoing operations inefficiencies, confusion around projects and timeframes, erosion of customers due to waning confidence in the company and its leadership, internal erosion of confidence, tension in the company culture and potential loss of internal talent, and loss of productivity throughout the executive’s span of control. These effects will be seen in the bottom line and cost the company real dollars, but may not be immediately attributable to the NPE.  And this is why non-performance at the E-level is like a poison–it can kill and leave no trace–unless you are looking for it.

Is Your Organization Being Poisoned?

So, how does a company begin to recognize the signs of executive non-performance?  There are several ways that non-performers at the highest levels of the organization can mask their ineffectiveness.  Here is a short list of five, and if an NPE is avoiding work, accountability and detection, they are probably employing all five, which are sure to have an ill effect on the organization.  Quickly, these are: Divert, Confuse, Flatter, Relate and Piddle.  Let’s address each poison in turn.

1. Poison: Divert

Hey! Look over there!

Hey! Look over there!

Reason to Use: Avoid direct accountability for lack of progress/performance

How it is Administered: Consistently, by shifting the focus away from NPE’s non-performance to a different pressing issue

Why it is Effective: Concern about other issues looks legitimate, timely and like it comes from a tuned-in manager.

Symptoms to Look For: An executive who constantly lacks clear and timely progress toward deliverables, lacks transparency in activities and accountability for delayed deliverables

When there are questions about their projects, lagging deliverables or other performance concerns, NPE’s needing to avoid accountability will often divert attention from their lack of performance to other issues within the company that they know need to be addressed.  It’s the organizational version of “Hey! Look over there!” This tactic is simple, but effective at turning the heat onto another person or organizational fire, especially if the executive has been “collecting” issues or things that need to be addressed for exactly these moments.   Here’s how this poison might be administered in an executive meeting:

CEO: “So, where are we on finishing the operational plan for next year that was due two weeks ago?”

NPE: “Well, I’ve had a hard time getting information from the IT department, since they are having issues with the architecture for the new product that the sales team has been selling but haven’t been able to deliver to customers.”

CEO: “Why is this the first I’m hearing about architecture issues, CTO?”

CTO: “Well, it’s not.  Although we’ve been…”

And just like that, the NPE is off the hook. If they can keep dodging for the rest of the meeting, the NPE will have successfully dodged being accountable to their peers for their lack of performance until the next meeting.

Diversions are often other fires within the organization and an NPE often knows which execs care about which issues (i.e. the CEO caring about new product rollouts and sales), so will divert with focused relevancy.  Diversions work because by bringing up other fires, they allow the NPE to look like they really care about the issues and want to get them resolved, all the while avoiding accountability for the fires of their own that they are not addressing.

How do you know if you are being poisoned by diversion?  Examine the status and accountability record of your executives.  Do you have an executive whose work progress is consistently hard to track or seems tied to the (lack of) progress of others in the organization?   The net result of an NPE using this poison is that the status of projects and deliverables of their projects are often unclear.  It will be consistently difficult to get straight answers on progress and there will often be finger pointing and a lack of personal accountability for their lagging progress.

2. Poison: Confuse

So. Confusing. (but sort of on purpose.)

So. Confusing. (but sort of on purpose.)

Reason to Use: Delay/Buy time through seemingly “legitimate” means

How it is Administered: Sprinkled throughout an NPE’s days, projects and interactions

Why it is Effective:  Confusion can be a natural, unintentional part of diverse and complex working environments and some level of confusion is unavoidable and may even be expected.  Thus, when confusion is used intentionally it is often undetectable.

Symptoms to Look For: Ongoing lack of clarity around an executive’s work, schedule and use of resources.  Minor delays at first, although the delays can become costly if they result in lost customers, contacts, external confidence

Confusion is a brilliant ploy on the part of an NPE to avoid detection.  Confusion works well when there are few accountability mechanisms in place to track progress on projects or where time is being spent.  Since execs are often hired because they are professionals, their time and use of resources are often not addressed or tracked until or unless there are massive failings in projects, cost containment or bottom line performance.

NPE’s can hide behind a myriad of confusion excuses, such as:

  • lack of email response from others (“I never heard back from those important investors” usually means they never connected with them to begin with)
  • no project management system or managing by email, which can get lost (“I didn’t get the email” or “my email is such a mess I can’t find the thread to our project” or “I thought so and so was handling that piece of the project?” usually means that they’ve done nothing related to their pieces of the project),
  • attending meetings but not writing anything down  (“I never got the meeting notes.  Wasn’t so and so taking notes they were going to pass along to us?  I don’t recall our next steps.” usually means they are just not following through after meetings–wasting everyone’s time),
  • lost email (“I didn’t get your message” hampers communication and thwarts progress)
  • flight delays and changes in schedule (“there was bad weather and we had to change the flight and then all the meetings had to be pushed back a day or two” also causes delays and slows progress).

These just outline a few of the “confusion variables” that an NPE can employ, their main goal being to delay in order to buy themselves more time.

The reason this poison is effective is that it can go virtually undetected. Confusion  looks legitimate because these are variables that can be somewhat outside of the NPE’s control. While an effective, highly productive executive will use a moment of confusion to clarify and move forward on a project with greater alignment and closer communication, an NPE will use confusion to veil their unproductivity and disorganization and create delays.

How do you know you are being administered a dose of confusion poison? Examine the quantity of “confusion” events (lost email, lack of responses and follow up, constant changes in scheduled meetings or deliverables).  If high, then you have confusion poison in your organizational bloodstream.  If an exec has these or other reasons for constant delays and restarts, take a closer look at their performance…and expect to find insufficiencies in their performance.

3. Poison: Flatter

enough said.

enough said.

Reason to Use: Shift attention away from direct questions regarding lack of progress around projects/work

How it is Administered: Often in response to criticism or direct questioning from another executive

Why it is Effective: It looks like the NPE is handling a critical moment professionally by being positive when they are actually avoiding accountability by changing the subject and focus of the discussion; very effective when male/female interaction

Symptoms to Look For: Executive who consistently dodges direct questions around deliverables and progress, whether in meetings or one-on-one

We’ve all heard the phrase “flattery will get you everywhere”.  Indeed, flattery makes us feel good about ourselves, especially because it seems genuine.  NPE’s know that the quickest way to get the attention off of themselves is to put the attention on something or someone else.  While diversion is one way of doing this, the other is flattery. The difference is tone and subject.  Diversion usually means taking a moment of criticism and redirecting the focus to a different problem in the organization (negative tone/organizational subject), while flattery takes a moment of criticism and redirects the focus on a positive, personal trait of the personal making the criticism (positive tone/personal subject).

The reason flattery works well for NPE’s is because they are executives themselves and know that executives have egos that like to be stroked.   Executives like their contributions to be recognized.  They like for others to see how they are making a difference in the organization.  Additionally, since executives are often competitive, when one executive comments on how great a system, plan, process, or product another executive put into place is, the executive being flattered is apt to believe the flattery since it comes from  someone who might be considered a “friendly competitor” with perhaps little to gain by the flattery. It also tends to diffuse a tense moment with a spark of positive energy, which can bring a subtle sense of relief.

Here’s how this poison might be administered in a one-on-one meeting:

CEO: “I really need you to finish the slide deck for our investor meeting and I’ve been waiting for it for months.  What’s the delay?”

NPE: “You’re right.  I’ve been working on it for months and each time I think I’ve got it, I just scrap it and start over.  You have such a finesse about how you put together the decks we use…and your strategy is rock solid.  Perhaps you could forward me a template of the kinds of things you would like me to use?”

CEO: “We do need to make sure we send the right message…so if you are unsure of the message…”

NPE: “I just want to be aligned with your vision…”

CEO: “Of course.  Sure.  I can send over an outline for you to use…”

And in a flash of flattery, the NPE has transferred their work to the CEO! Even after months of waiting for it, the NPE diffused the CEO’s frustration through flattery.

A keen NPE will know the “flattery points” of the other execs on their team: what they are most proud of or what they like to be complimented on or how they like to work.  In the example above, the flattery is very effective with a CEO who is mentor/team oriented and strives hard for alignment of vision.  The NPE who is people savvy will often use this poison.  It is also effective when used between male/female execs (i.e. a female NPE flattering a male exec).

How do you know if you are being poisoned with flattery?  Once again, it is about the number of incidents in which this type of situation occurs.  Is this a behavior that is a pattern with an executive?  Do they often interject a flattering shift in the conversation when directly questioned? And do they, perhaps, combine this behavior with other poisonous behaviors discussed?  If so, it will probably indicate a desire to shift attention away from their (lack of ) progress/performance. 

4. Poison: Relate

Am I reading this right? Are you using personal influence right now??

Reason to Use: Desperation; When NPE’s professional value to the organization is being questioned or position seems tenable. Reminds other execs of NPE’s personal connections and influence

How it is Administered: Usually one on one, in a friendly conversation/text/email prior to or following a discussion regarding the NPE’s progress or performance

Why it is Effective: This poison is most effective if the NPE  is well connected or has personal relationships to other execs/customers. The NPE subtly “threatens” the loss of their connections or subtly “reminds” others of their influence with people of importance.

Symptoms to Look For: Executive who drops names of personal contacts or bring them up in conversation when there has been a conversation about their progress or performance.

This is such a subtle poison to detect, which is why it is so very effective at masking the lack of productivity for an NPE who wants to continue in their organizational position. With this poison, an NPE will often name drop or discuss the events and goings-on of influential people when they feel their role/position is being called into question.  It might go something like this:

(Text Messages between NPE and their Boss on a weekend)

CEO: Looking for financials you were sending over today. Expected them Friday. Need them right away.

NPE: Yes, working on them with virtual team.  Should have soon.

NPE: Had dinner with Board member at large tech company last night, interested in what we are doing. Thought could introduce you.

CEO: Would be great. Thanks.

NPE: We were discussing your BBQ techniques – very interested in your process! You two will hit it off!

In this scenario, the NPE switches the focus of the conversation away from their late deliverable to their importance to the organization in terms of their connections and influence which the NPE knows is valuable to the Boss.  In addition, the NPE intimates their personal relationship to the Boss, reminding the Boss of how well they know each other.  Taking punitive actions against employees where there is a personal relationship is much harder for most managers than when the relationship is strictly business.  An NPE with personal connections will often use personal relationships to their advantage not only to avoid accountability, but also to get what they need from others within the organization.  NPE’s will often choose personal venues for meetings and create scenarios in which other executives feel “indebted” to the NPE, thus making the Boss or other execs less likely to call the NPE out on their lack of progress/productivity.

How do you know if you are a victim of this organizational poison?  If you have an executive who is especially well connected and/or peddles in influence AND they seem to discuss their influence and connections or seem especially keen to focus on your personal relationship around times when they are late with deliverables or lagging in progress, then you may have “relate poisoning”

5. Poison: Piddle

Reason to Use: It looks like the NPE is getting something done, the executive version of “look busy”

How it is Administered: In spurts, when under scrutiny over progress and productivity on important projects

Why it is Effective: This poison is the least effective for thwarting true skepticism over lack of progress/performance, but provides evidence of ability to perform and thus reduces concerns over ability and may alleviate the sense that perhaps the NPE should be replaced.

Symptoms to Look For: An executive that seems to have problems prioritizing their work, focusing on the less important projects over the truly critical ones.

There is an old illustration  of “piddling” often used in management to underline how managers are expected to prioritize their work. It goes something like this:

One day an old professor of the School of Public Management in France, was invited to lecture on the topic of “Efficient Time Management” in front of a group of 15 executive managers representing the largest, most successful companies in America. The lecture was one in a series of 5 lectures conducted in one day, and the old professor was given 1 hour to lecture. Standing in front of this group of elite managers, who were willing to write down every word that would come out of the famous professor’s mouth, the professor slowly met eyes with each manager, one by one, and finally said, “we are going to conduct an experiment”.

From under the table that stood between the professor and the listeners, the professor pulled out a big glass jar and gently placed it in front of him. Next, he pulled out from under the table a bag of stones, each the size of a tennis ball, and placed the stones one by one in the jar. He did so until there was no room to add another stone in the jar. Lifting his gaze to the managers, the professor asked, “Is the jar full?” The managers replied, “Yes”. The professor paused for a moment, and replied, “Really?”

Prioritize the stones, not the sand.

Prioritize the stones, not the sand.

Once again, he reached under the table and pulled out a bag full of pebbles. Carefully, the professor poured the pebbles in and slightly rattled the jar, allowing the pebbles to slip through the larger stones, until they settled at the bottom. Again, the professor lifted his gaze to his audience and asked, “Is the jar full?” At this point, the managers began to understand his intentions. One replied, “Apparently not!” “Correct,” replied the old professor, now pulling out a bag of sand from under the table. Cautiously, the professor poured the sand into the jar. The sand filled up the spaces between the stones and the pebbles. Yet again, the professor asked, “Is the jar full?” Without hesitation, the entire group of students replied in unison, “NO!” “Correct,” replied the professor. As was expected by the students, the professor reached for the pitcher of water that was on the table, and poured water in the jar until it was absolutely full.

The professor now lifted his gaze once again and asked, “What great truth can we surmise from this experiment?” With his thoughts on the lecture topic, one manager quickly replied, “We learn that as full as our schedules may appear, if we only increase our effort, it is always possible to add more meetings and tasks.” “No,” replied the professor. “The great truth that we can conclude from this experiment is: If we don’t put all the larger stones in the jar first, we will never be able to fit all of them later.

The story illustrates the problem with “piddling”, or prioritizing the smaller, less important tasks (pebbles and sand) over the more critical ones (the stones).  NPE’s will often focus on smaller, less critical work, projects that can be done will a relative amount of success relatively quickly and perhaps with less effort than the larger, more complex work they need to do.

The reason piddling is considered a poison to the organization is that it also has slow, and subtle but very deleterious effects.  NPE’s who piddle are always busy and their days are filled. They seem to be functioning and performing.  When asked how things are going, they will often talk about how busy they are.  Still, when scrutinized more closely about the larger projects, they will point to the work they were doing on the smaller things.  They may call these smaller things “fires” to give them weight.  The inability of the exec to prioritize, placing their focus on smaller, less important tasks is a behavior that will set precedents for those within their span of control. Direct reports may also feel that ad hoc time management/prioritization is acceptable.  Once this poison is fully running through the organizational bloodstream, it will be very difficult to get critical projects delivered on time.

How will you know if you suffer from piddle poison?  Examine the priorities of your execs.  Where do they spend their time–and how do they manage the priorities of those that report to them? Be prepared: this scrutiny may put an NPE in a defensive position in which they employ another form of poison such as diversion or confusion.

Like each of these poisons, they only work if there is enough of the poison being administered to the bloodstream, so an organization will need to examine whether there is a consistent and ongoing lack of clarity around the NPE’s progress/performance and then look at whether the above poisonous behaviors are modes of operation for them.  The organization will need to examine just how often an NPE employs these methods, either individually or in some combination.

The Antidote to Poison

The antidote is accountability

The best antidote to the administration of subtle and deadly poisons into the organizational bloodstream at the executive level is to identify it, address it and create accountability mechanisms to stop it.  It may be necessary for the accountability mechanisms to be placed throughout the organization to ensure others aren’t acting out of these poisonous behaviors learned from an NPE.  Here are some quick ideas on how to eradicate poisonous behaviors:

Identify it:  Use the descriptions to determine whether your organization suffers from an NPE who is using one of these types of poison.

Address it: The best way to address non performance is to set very clear expectations for how accountability will be handled.  This is best done with everyone versus singling one person out.  Explain that this will be a change from previous ways of doing business and there is a business need for this change (i.e. project are experiencing unacceptable delays, erosion of customers or loss of confidence, etc). Discuss ways that there could be greater transparency and accountability.

Account for it: Implement the appropriate accountability change at the exec level and track changes in behavior, especially with the NPE you’ve identified.  Keep addressing the issue with the team until the appropriate level of change has been made (i.e. reduced diversion, confusion, piddling).

If it makes more sense to address this with the individual NPE, then some tactics for addressing each individual poisonous behavior are below. Keep in mind, it may seem remedial to have to use these tactics with people who are expected to be professional managers.  Still, if the team is important to keep in tact and the NPE is trainable, then utilizing these tactics may save the NPE while also saving the organization from further damage.

Poison: Divert

Antidote: Circle Back: Always circle back to the NPE who has diverted the conversation away from their progress reporting. Make sure the question of progress on the NPE’s projects is answered clearly and sufficiently.

Require Accountability: If the progress reporting answer reveals unacceptable progress, ensure that the NPE takes personal accountability for rectifying the situation.  Have them state out loud what they will do and how they will handle it.  Do not accept “let me get back to you” or other delay tactics.  Be watching for the use of other poisonous behaviors (flattery, confusion).Have them follow up their statements with written communication that is circulated for clarity and accountability purposes.

Poison: Confuse

Antidote: Clear Communication: When there are high incidents of confusion in communication, require the NPE to increase their level of communication to the team. Make sure there is a track record of project goals and sufficient levels of communication that leave no room for delay and confusion.

Hard Deadlines: Create hard deadlines for deliverables, removing the ability to shift travel and meetings and due dates which are the result of confusion.

Require Understanding: The best way to ensure someone understands what they are supposed to do is to make them repeat it.  For an NPE that uses confusion, have them write down their understanding of what they are supposed to do and when they are supposed to do it and have them email it to their boss or team members, fostering both clarity and accountability.

Poison: Flattery

Antidote: Circle Back: Again, instead of letting the NPE divert the conversation with personal flattery, perhaps thank them for their kind words, but return to the issue of progress and work.  Let them know what is expected and when.  Clarify and repeat this point. Have them repeat it back and commit to it.

Poison: Relate

Antidote: Business First: Ensure that if there is a personal relationship (i.e. friend, relative) with an NPE that the NPE understands that business matters must take precedence over the personal relationship.

Be Debt Free: Don’t let an NPE peddle in personal favors at the expense of their performance in their exec role on the team.  Focus on their performance.  If the NPE refers to favors or influence, restate what you need and why it is important and how this is a business performance issue. Don’t become indebted to an NPE that would use that debt to shield them from accountability.

 Poison: Piddle

Antidote: Prioritize Big Stuff: Make sure everyone understands what their “Big stones” are and how they differ from their “pebbles” in terms of how they prioritize their time.

Track It: Use performance management software to track the progress of large and small projects.  Ensure its use is mandatory.  If performance management software isn’t possible, have the team track what they did everyday for a week, writing it down and bringing it to the next meeting.  This will force transparency around priorities and how the team is spending their time and resources. Discuss each team members log and where they might have maximized their time, gained time to focus on their big stone priorities. Ensure this is a positive, constructive discussion.

While these suggestions won’t solve all the issues of an NPE, it may help you to identify some of the more subtle forms of poison that may be sabotaging your organization’s productivity.

I would love to hear your experiences with poison wielding NPE’s in your organization and how you handled it.

America: Decline or Fine? (Part 1 of 3)

“America is in decline.”

This is the idea lodged in my brain, condensed down from the mosaic of sources over the past few years. From political science research to talk radio to online news, the focus on how developing countries are eating our (American) lunch in terms of economic and political importance left me worried and a bit depressed. UGH. Really? We’ve lost our relevant place in this world?

I would listen to even more news of manufacturing being taken over by China, hear how American real estate was being snapped up by middle eastern businesses or see how India was becoming more and more part of the landscape of our business and fret about what advantages, if any, my country still had that might keep us from spiraling into complete irrelevance. What would we keep adding to the global conversation?

I tend to travel quite a bit, and lately much of it has been internationally. These trips have been shifting my perspective of what America is and where we stand in the world. In the next few blogposts I’ve decided to discuss briefly some of the perspective gained through these travels and how they have informed my thoughts on what it means to be American in the 21st century.

The Relevance of Russia

Last fall, my husband and I were in Russia for business. Amidst business meetings and touring a Russian manufacturing plant, we took several guided tours through the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and then in Moscow. While at the Kremlin (which I discovered is not “a” building, but a walled and guarded area of the city that houses not only the government buildings but historic cathedrals as well), we took a tour of the Armory, which is the oldest museum in Russia and houses treasures from dignitaries and royalty dating back to the 5th century. While the immense wealth of jeweled bibles, gold and silver platters and serving pieces, jewelry, royal gowns and even carriages housed within the rows and rows of of glass cases was so overwhelming it was hard to comprehend it, what struck me most was that these treasures were not from various countries across history and the globe; these were treasures from ONE country’s history–dating back to the FIFTH CENTURY. (Okay, where were your ancestors in the 5th century?)

And we think 1776 is old...this stuff dates back to the 5th century.

And we think 1776 is old…this stuff dates back to the 5th century.

While Russia was often considered a socialist country and this term gets bandied around a great deal at the current time in American politics, I started thinking about it while interacting with Russian people and businesses.  At some point I asked our Muscovite guide, Maria, if there is a middle class in Russia. Maria is like an encyclopedia of Russian history and the speed at which she provided facts and tidbits about her country was matched only by her walking pace. We literally trotted through Cathedral square. So, I was pretty sure that when I asked Maria about Russia’s middle class I was going to get an informed, historical perspective. Maria paused before answering. (There still seems to be much suspicion in Russia for whatever reason, and I learned over the week we were there that pauses might be less about having an answer and more about how much of an answer or whether giving the answer would be prudent.) “…No. Not really,” she finally responded in an uncharacteristically slow manner. “We’ve had so many changes in our economy that have affected us…russian people.” She went on to tell me what I had heard from others during the week: the rest of the world thought Gorbachov was a hero for ending the Cold War and championing capitalism, but the Russian people suffered economically. Major critical industries such as agriculture suffered. People had to grow their own food to survive. Even now, the country gets much of its food from Israel. This economic shift took place so quickly that it created economic havoc in people’s lives. One of our business associates told us that his parents lost the pensions they had worked their entire lives to save. So what choice did they have? They started a garden and went back to work.

I was thinking about Maria’s comments later as our friends pick us up from dinner in their current year 740 BMW, the wife asking about my jewelry and my bag. It struck me as odd that without a sense of economic stability there was so much focus on materialism…AH! And it hit me that if I had experienced the same level of economic upheaval in my life, I would probably place less value on my savings account and just buy whatever my current money would get me. Whatever the future holds could be much worse than the present moment, so why wait?

I was also thinking about the typical response we received to our being American. While on one hand it seemed that there was a constant need to impress us (everything was “most impressive”, as in “our most impressive subway stations”) with the richness and superiority of their history, on the other hand it seemed that we were also treated with a big sigh, like one might give if you had to entertain your younger-and-annoyingly-perky-upstart-of-a-distant-cousin. And after viewing the Kremlin, I think I have a sense of why that might be the case: this COUNTRY has endured CENTURIES of change. Not two centuries, like the US has. Another “AHA!” moment was realizing that if I were Russia, I, too,  would probably be unimpressed by a young country like the USA, billed as so relevant even though it was clearly too young to know anything when the history of my country had survived the ravages of oh so many things.

Russian Roulette?

Toasting with Constantine. That's not water, people.

Toasting with Constantine. That’s not water, people.

And then I thought about my country. We returned from this trip a few weeks before the presidential election. My Facebook account was crazy with partisan vitriol from “friends” on both “sides” of the election. And since then, the gun debate has had a similar effect on my Facebook account. And while I think it would be easier to “mute” all of it, I learned quite a lot about my friends and how they think about this country. And I wish that they could’ve been with me in Russia. Why?

Because what Russians know that Americans don’t is that divisive issues CAN break us. We can foster such social and political divides, ramp up the negative spin, and create a situation

that would require drastic measures to reconcile neighbor with neighbor. Russians know that governments can be broken, that you can create instability that takes decades to recover from. Russians, above all, know that you can go from being relevant to being irrelevant very, very quickly.

While I understand the finer points of how we are fundamentally different in our origins and our history than Russia, I cannot dismiss that the people living every day in that country suffer from decisions made throughout their history–and we could also suffer. America is not unbreakable.

Words give voice to thoughts and lead to action. Use them wisely.

Words give voice to thoughts that lead to action.
Use them wisely.

What became even more clear to me after Russia is the value of our freedom of speech COUPLED with CIVIL dialogue and CIVIC engagement. We are fortunate that WE THE PEOPLE are the government, that we are our own problem or solution. That how each of us foster the dialogue matters. That the ways each and every one of us discuss politics and important issues like what happened at Sandy Hook is important to our future as a nation, that is, if we care about our nation’s health and sustainability and relevance in the world.

As any marketer or ad executive knows, the message matters and words have impact. There is a billion dollar industry built on that premise. So, as we face these difficult national issues, why take the chance? Before we repost that snarky material on twitter or Facebook, let’s take a second and think about what kind of country we want to foster, and maybe we will post something less antagonist and more thoughtful…because we care about our neighbors and our friends. Perhaps we can take a minute and have a real conversation rather than spit one-liners at each other, because we don’t want to break something like our great country that might take much longer to fix than we can imagine (like it has in Russia).

Problem: Solved

One of America’s greatest strengths and I think one of the things we keep contributing to the global conversation is INNOVATION.  America continues to innovate (I will talk more about this in Part 2 of this series of blogs in relation to a visit to China) in all sorts of areas, although the constant noise of negativity can cause paralysis in this area as well.  My mother used to tell me, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.  So, along those lines, here’s a suggestion: let’s be problem solvers, innovators rather than nay sayers and negativity purveyors.  Let’s beef up our innovation and problem solving in our words and our conversations. Let’s foster our innovative spirit.  Let’s try saying something constructive, adding value to the table rather than more squabbling and blaming and anger. And then let’s put those innovative words into action. Let’s DO MORE GOOD and TALK LESS SMACK. Heck, it may just be what keeps us on a path to fine and away from decline.

Germs and Other Invisible Stuff that’s Real: A Few Thoughts

Let’s start with Germs

Here we are in the midst of a full blown flu season.  And cold season.  And how many people do you know have bronchitis or pneumonia?  It’s ugly out there.

Still, even in the midst of news stories about this diseased and sometimes deadly season, people seem to be in denial about the existence of germs.  As if they will be immune to their effects because they can’t see them.  Crawling all over their phone.  Which they hold right up to their faces, their mouths, and breathe into.  Our phones get handed to our kids to play with. They get put on all sorts of public surfaces in all sorts of public places (think: workplace restroom).  And it isn’t like germs are a new phenomenon that we just realized cause disease even though we can’t see them with the naked eye.   I mean, I could understand if we were living in the 17th century or something, before Louis Pasteur introduced this crazy idea of tiny little monsters that can wreak havoc on our bodies…and our dairy products.  But we are living in the 21st century, where we can go to Costco and buy a  jumbo 4-pack of Clorox wet wipes and de-germ our entire lives for under $15.

And you put that thing near your mouth?? Sanitize your phone, people.
Save us all some germy grief…

And it isn’t like these things that seem invisible cannot be measured. They can.  And have been.  Thanks to some really helpful research, we know that cell phones are truly cesspools of germs.  And the really gross kind. Fecal germs. EW. 

We have a “protocol” at our house (since the hubs isn’t really into “rules” as such): you wipe down your phone once a day. With antibacterial wipes. And lest you think I’m only concerned about germs on phones, there are protocols about shoes in the house (no), and luggage (wiped down after every trip, wheels especially), among other yuck.

And Germs relate to Social Media HOW?

But enough about germs. You get the point: they may be invisible but they are VERY, VERY REAL.  Okay, so the article about germs got me thinking about this conference I spoke at last week.  I was asked to be a guest speaker at a conference on the topic of social media.  Now, I’m not going to tell you which conference (although if you follow me on twitter, it wouldn’t be too hard to find out), but it was a group of professionals in the agricultural industry.

Now, before I go any further, this is an important bit:  These guys are business savvy and their industry is technology heavy, from engineered seeds to multi million dollar tractors that can plant straight rows from a GPS satellite feed with nary a farmer behind the wheel.  So when I tell you that the majority of these guys honestly believe that social media and social technologies aren’t really applicable to their business, I’m telling it to you in a “shake-my-head-in-disbelief” tone of voice mixed with a bit of “OMG, I’ve just discovered the last industry on earth that hasn’t adopted social media for marketing and sales” look on my face.

Precision farming utilizes the sophisticated technology built into the machinery.

A lot like germs, these guys just don’t SEE that social media has an impact on them (ah HAH! there IS a connection to the germ rant!). And even after the social analytics slides provided by my friend Erick Watson who works for Metavana, these guys were like, “yeah, people in our industry don’t use social media.”  And while I hate to bring up this site where people complain all over the place about the farm equipment from every manufacturer, they should know that even if they aren’t part of the online conversation, people ARE talking about them..and just like germs, that negative social talk can have negative effects.

I talked to one woman in the room of about 200+ who told me that her boss is afraid of the negative side of social media–that being in the social conversation will open up all sorts of negativity.  I was pretty clear with her: the negative stuff is already being said, but since you aren’t there to speak to it, the negativity is going unrefuted and unaddressed–and that is sending a loud and clear message to your customers that you just don’t care.  And while that may not be true–you DO actually care–, not caring is what gets conveyed through your silence online.  Burying your head in the sand and saying “we didn’t know” doesn’t make people like you more.  You need to be in the social conversations to engage your customers, to build positive and transparent relationships, to answer their concerns.

One owner told me they already text their customers, thus taking care of the issue of communication.  It’s direct to their customers (and not a shot gun approach, like the guys doing print ads), and also two-way, since their customers could text back.  “Okay,” I said, “but are you getting a ‘network effect’ from your texting?  And how are you able to measure the impact of the texting campaigns?”  These were just two of the questions I asked, but really there are a ton of responses to why texting is not as powerful as social media.  (And if you want to give your two cents to this conversation regarding texting versus social media, please comment below!)

There were others who wanted me to come and work with them, and a few in the audience who are using social media for lead generation…but there is little adoption, much less sophistication, in the approach.  While it wasn’t my job to convince these guys that social media can be tied to direct KPI’s and indirect benefits,  it was my job to show them that the world of social media hasn’t been about the donuts that you ate for breakfast for a really long time…

no, this isn’t about the donuts…

But I guess some people need to get the flu before they start wiping down their phones.  Still, my best advice to those guys is to google social analytics and call me when they’re ready to see how a social media strategy can give them an ROI with their KPI’s.  I’m easy to find in the socialsphere.

Seriously, Germs and Employee Engagement?

Yeah, and then there’s another area of business which is near and dear to my heart: the people!  And while many companies understand that engaged employees means higher productivity and greater profitability, there are a few still out there who aren’t convinced.  I was recently working with a company that had high turnover and couldn’t understand why.  When I mentioned measuring employee engagement, it was met with some skepticism.  What will that tell us?  Why does that matter? Much like the Ag guys with social media, these clients couldn’t see how employee engagement mattered to them. But much like germs, if disengaged employees are left to hang out in their respective departments too long, they not only have reduced productivity of their own, they begin to reduce the productivity of the employees around them–and soon enough you’ve got a disease in your company.

you can gauge your people, people.

Employee engagement is an indicator of corporate health, since there are few companies that can exist, much less thrive, without people.  People are the backbone of your company…your internal customers, so to speak. And if you aren’t engaging them in the place and process you are paying them to be a part of, then your backbone will crumble and so will your company.  Was that blunt enough?  We know that the flu can kill you, but a company is like a living thing, and a disease in the talent ranks can kill it, too.

The crazy part of corporate health is that there isn’t a regular flu season–the germs of dissatisfaction can invade your talent pool at any time.  What’s the vaccination?  Gauge your employee engagement on a regular basis.  Use the feedback to foster engagement–and make some healthy changes.

Just because you can’t see it…doesn’t mean you can’t measure it

So, the lesson that comes from all this germ-ridden talk is that just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. And if it IS there, it can probably be measured. (As a social scientist, I love quantifying things.) The number of germs on your cell phone can be measured.  The sentiment about your brand and your business can be quantified.  The engagement of your employees can be gauged.  Don’t turn away from something just because you can’t readily see how it might impact you…because that invisible thing might just be the bug that bites you…and do you really wanna be sick?  An ounce of prevention, my friend…an ounce of prevention

ONE Thing YOU Should Know for 2013

It’s tough out there.  The economy is still struggling, which means that businesses are still struggling, which means people are still worrying about getting or keeping their jobs. If you happen to be one of these people, I have a few things, well, really only ONE THING you should know this year.

Okay, so let me explain.  I was eating lunch today, alone, in my kitchen.  Since I work from home, this is a common occurrence.  I was ruminating on two particular friend events that had happened around breakfast: 1) A San Fran friend who is ridiculously intelligent, has a PhD, a JD, and a killer resume is without a job.  And she’s confused as to what to do next.  She was texting me all of this, of course, which takes some serious thumb time. 2)  A college friend on Facebook posts that she was let go from her job yesterday.  She is a comedian by nature, so the post was funny, and at first I “liked” it because I hadn’t been reading carefully the part about her losing her job. Yes, I clicked “unlike” the moment I realized my mistake. I’m sure there are a few people who are still thinking I’m a jerk for the few moments they witnessed my liking her status, but hey, I’m only human.  So, two friends in the space of a couple of hours both openly discussing career concerns.

Mwahahahaha!

And then I thought about dinner the other night with a couple my husband and I think are pretty fun people.  At some point we asked the husband in the other couple what he was up to in his job.  He told us he quit a few days earlier. We were stunned. Of course we had to hear the story.  He’s a senior mucky muck in the company, and they LOVE him, so it was bound to be a juicy story.  It was.  Turns out the CEO of the global company he worked in set a mandate to cut millions out of the expense side of the business—so they focused on the “human resources” expenses first.  Without prior warning, our friend was asked to sit around a table with all of the other mucky mucks and offer up the names of people who work for him that he would fire. They would be gone within a week. Once around the table, twice around the table, again and again for hours until millions in salaried dollars could be recouped.  Instead of this process, he told them to take his salary and he would quit.  They were shocked and refused his resignation.  They had big plans for him! But our friend was resolute.  He felt that their decision to treat people so callously was a strategic error.  So, here he sat: jobless.

That is three people in my immediate world discussing career transitions in less than a week.  I guess it is a new year, and big changes often occur in January.  But still.  I know these three are not alone. Because YOU are still reading this.  So it occurs to me to tell you that YOU are not alone, then, either.

But back to the ONE THING nugget…

All this got me thinking about my advice to my friends, what I would suggest, given my work (I am completing a PhD focused on identity and occupational aspirations, choice, persistence and organizational use of human talent.  I also have a company that operationalizes these concepts in the real world.  Here is a shameless plug for my company: www.ventuscareers.com ).  I would ask them to be reevaluating where THEY wanted to be, what THEY wanted to be doing; reassessing their values given where they are in their career lifecycle.  And yes, I know how counter intuitive that seems, since these people feel like their employment stock has just lost some major value.

You see, in these scenarios when we are in a tough spot, we begin to doubt ourselves.  We begin to think that the worst about us is actually true.  We forget about the context that surrounded the reasons for the employment shift and remember only that we are out of a job while everyone else—who must be better than we are—went to work this morning.  We tell ourselves that this is because of some personal defect.  We start the comparisons with those both brighter and much, much dumber than ourselves who are all employed and being valued for their contributions if only by the sheer fact that they have a job.  How is this possible? Why them and not us? And thus, we return to the flawed concept that this is about how the worst about us is true.  Clearly, we are replaceable.  We are interchangeable.  We are not unique. We are just another brick in the wall.

But here is your ONE THING to know this year:

YOU are NOT a COMMODITY.

Commodity thinking reflects a work culture familiar to most of us: efficiency.  This model reinforces that we are just cogs in a big machine and we are just there to meet some productivity standards.  We may have nicer office digs than the dreary factories of olden days (if you consider cubicles to be nicer), but the idea is pretty much the same:  Time is money. Chop-chop.  If you can’t do it they will find someone else who can. Faster, cheaper, leaner. Commodity approaches to people in companies tell us as employees that we ARE interchangeable and that there is nothing really special about us.  And if we lose the job it is because there was a “defect” in us…just like any other bad product that gets discarded. But this is a faulty way of approaching people in an ever changing, highly competitive marketplace.

I teach classes on social media to businesses, specifically social media and human resources.  The first slide of any consequence tells companies that their world is shifting and that the shift is outside of their control.  My presentation tells companies that their process of treating people like cogs in wheels is costly, and a losing proposition, because their world is shifting beyond their control.  And what is causing this shift?  Three things: a new generation of workers who don’t give a flying flip about efficiency models of work, greater global competition and social technologies.  These three things are forcing companies to reevaluate how they view “resources”.  My suggestion is that they reimagine people as TALENT and not resources.  And this is why: human talent is what keeps every company in every country in the world in business.  It isn’t the machines.  It’s us.  Humans.

The literal cog in the wheel…which YOU are NOT.

Companies that operate on the efficiency model actually limit their productivity even while trying to increase it because their approach doesn’t take into account human potential.  This ultimately hampers their ability to sustain competitive advantages and they eventually find themselves in a frustrated situation which often results in reducing their “inefficient” workforce to save money to remain in the game.  Companies that recognize the value of human talent approach work with an appreciation of the human dynamic and motivate contributions to the company goals by fostering environments in which people are working from a place of their greatest strengths each day. This approach helps maximize what each individual contributes to the whole, often with a great sense of pride and commitment on the part of the individual, and often with results that leave their efficiency-oriented competitors in the dust.

Remember my friend who quit his job as a senior mucky muck?  Well, it turns out that he has now crafted a consulting job with his previous employer in which he will help fill the gaps the company has created by letting go of people with key institutional knowledge.  Our friend knows that institutional knowledge is more than big data and standard operating procedures: it’s the relationships with customers fostered by the talented people they just got rid of; it’s the ability of trained and talented employees to recognize problems and to synthesize information into creative solutions to those problems. He will be laughing all the way to the bank as he now creates his own little consulting firm (probably hiring many of the same people the company fired) to solve the problems his old employer created for themselves by firing the human talent they saw only as cost centers.  That company will now pay a premium for the talent they violently hacked out of their organization like a disease.

Late last fall I attended a conference with some of the top CEO’s globally who meet once a quarter to discuss their industry and their challenges. I was only a guest, so not privy to much of the inner dealings of the group, but I attended dinner one night where a top executive from Thomas Reuters presented while we ate.  Over salmon and a nice pinot, he told the large room of top brass in key industries that one of the largest global challenges facing companies was talent…and that there is a huge war going on for talent. He isn’t the first to say it, and it has been repeated again and again. Talent wars. This will be one of the key phrases for 2013.

Huh.

So, if you are reading this and wondering how there could be a war for talent at the same time people are being let go from their jobs, I want you to think about this not as a business problem for you to solve, but as a personal opportunity.  What the war for talent implies is that companies need talent. Human talent. Like yours.

And let’s talk about yours for a moment.  In all of history there has never been anyone with your exact genetics, experiences, ideas, talents and skills. Ever.  Nor can you be reproduced–which makes you really awful for a commodity driven business.  Because you are unique, so is what you bring to the table…and that means you are a true talent find.

The Wright Brothers. Great example of unique human potential that CHANGED.THE.WORLD.

Companies who are vying for talent—who understand the value of talent to the sustainability of their business in the shifting culture of work—aren’t looking for a cog in a wheel, or a brick in a wall.  They are looking for a unique person with talent and skills and experiences.  They realize that you won’t be perfect.  They will work with human, because they know that human talent is prized by lots of other companies who need you.  They know that a cog in a wheel, efficiency approach to their work will not move them to the next level, will not give them out of the box thinking, and will not produce the next Facebook or iPhone app, brownie brittle (Google it. It’s crazy good.) or whatever other product, technology, marketing idea or way to do something better that they want and need. They know that people do that, in companies that foster their potential. Humans. Talented, non-commodity, humans. Companies need that talent to foster. They need YOU.

SO NOW IT’S YOUR JOB* to remember your own value, to remember your unique approach to your work and your skills, to stand a bit taller in what you know and how you do things.  Take some pride in being different, revel in not approaching problems and solutions like everyone else. It may just be those things that fit exactly with the next opportunity with a company in a real war for individual, non-commodity, human talent.  YOUR TALENT.

It’s 2013: Here’s to YOU, TALENTED HUMAN.

*and if you need some exercises to help you connect with the truth of this in relation to your skills and experiences, just post a comment below or send me a message.

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