Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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Education vs. Experience: The debate

I’ve drafted more job descriptions than I care to admit, and the majority of the time I beg the question “Is a degree required”?  Can experience make up for the lack of a college degree, or does formal education provide some value that experience does not? Is one more valuable than the other? Talk about a discussion that will have you chasing your tail! It’s truly a trap debate because the right answer is “it depends”.

When Captain Sullenberg lost both engines and had no power on his Airbus 320 airplane, he had to think fast.  Is it a valid argument that formal education alone could not have brought that plane down safely on the Hudson River?  Many would agree it was his many years of flying experience that allowed him to quickly assess the situation and react accordingly to bring the plane to a safe landing.  His success was the result of his level of experience.

Obviously, there are specific cases where the question is moot. If you’re looking for a surgeon, you’re probably seeking someone with the highest degree possible, plus A LOT of experience. However, the scope of positions that may or may not require a degree is broad and wide. This is true for most industries.

Frequently, the decision is based on company cultural or personal preferences. When preparing the position requisition, we want the ideal candidate, right?  Why would we settle for less? A candidate with a degree would fulfill this expectation, or would experience sufficiently outweigh the need for a degree, still resulting in an ideal outcome?  These are fair questions that may not be considered due to a number of factors including: Company hiring philosophies, personal biases or paradigms.  As a result, the hiring manager often justifies the decision to require a degree based on their experience.

Whether it’s a completely strategic discussion about your organization’s policies or a discussion involving a specific position and candidate, this issue continually resurfaces in organizations. And depending on what side of the fence you sit, this issue can be very personal and emotional. Regardless of your personal preference, my suggestion to you is to ponder some basic concepts to help you make a sound decision.

In my next Blog I am going to share certain characteristics employers typically associate with someone who has a college degree as well as those characteristic that employers may be missing out on, when disregarding business success and work experience.


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Maintaining a Great Culture

In 2009, Honest Tea was named a “Best Place to Work” by Bethesda Magazine, and this year, it was picked as a Winning Workplace by Inc. magazine.  Miri McDonald an expert on organizational development, recently spoke with Debra Schwartz who is the director of human resources for Honest Tea, a beverage company based in Bethesda, Md.  They spoke about Debra’s role in cultivating the company’s progressive culture. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.

What factors do you feel have contributed to winning these important awards?

Culture, which starts with hiring. The only way to maintain a culture is to hire the right people. Anyone we interview, no matter what position, is asked: “Why do you want this position and why do you want to work for Honest Tea?” The answer has to be creative, passionate and real for them to make it to the next round.

You are a member of Honest Tea’s executive team. Some companies don’t include the director of HR as part of their leadership. How do you think this decision has benefited Honest Tea? What do you say to companies that don’t include HR as part of the executive team?

HR belongs at the table for many reasons. HR brings an internal perspective and represents the employee’s view.  If you leave us out we cannot be the business’ advocate to the employees, we cannot explain all points of view.

What do you think are the top five trends for human resources over the next few years?

  • Use creative models to add value. That means being creative with salaries, bonuses, and benefits without taking anything away from the employee. At the end of the day if we are not making money, then HR doesn’t exist.
  • Position HR as customer service and internal marketing. HR is here to make the lives of employees easier and better.
  • Make smart use of fringe benefits. This term has long been associated with company cars, lavish expense accounts and the like. The new trend is wellness-related benefits.
  • Be limber. Don’t box yourself. As long as you’re not doing anything illegal or unethical, it’s OK to break the rules and bend with the business to make employees happy. Happy employees lead to even more loyal customers.
  • Remember the personal follow-up. Employees like to know that their company cares about them. Whether someone is new or has been there a long time, a personal touch such as a call, e-mail, or short interaction to ask how they are, and what is going on in their lives goes a long way in building relationships.

I am proud to say that Honest Tea is ahead of the pack and already making strides in these areas.

What other advice do you have for human resource professionals that strive to make their companies a better place to work?

It is HR’s job to take care of the employees, their needs and their families’ needs so that the employee can take care of the business and customer. Listen, really listen to their needs and wants, and adjust accordingly.

Potential candidates may have the experience, education and skill set to do the job, but what do you include in your hiring practices to ensure your next hire will be a representation of your organizational culture?


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Guidelines for resolving intergenerational conflict

I’ve heard from many employers and employees lately about the conflict diversity places in the work force today.  However, they are not talking about gender or race, they are speaking of different generations working side by side in todays workforce.

For the first time in history, there are five generations working side by side: the Traditional Generation (born pre-1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980), Generation Y (1981-1995), and the Linkster Generation (born after 1995). Since conflicts often arise in a multigenerational environment, it’s helpful to have some understanding of the differences between employees of distinct generations.

Each has been influenced by the major historical events, social trends, and cultural phenomena of their time, shaping their ideas about expectations and perceptions about what the working environment will provide, as well as company loyalty and work ethic.  All generations bring different values to an organization and those leaders who cultivate those differences will place themselves ahead of the crowd when it comes to recruiting and retention in the coming years.

Here are some guidelines for resolving intergenerational conflict:

  • Look at the generational factor. Is this conflict generational, or is there something else going on? For example, Traditionals and Baby Boomers don’t like to be micromanaged, while Gen Yers and Linksters crave specific, detailed instructions about how to do things and are used to hovering authorities. There is almost always a generational component to conflict; recognizing this offers new ways to resolve it.
  • Consider the generational values at stake. Each generation is protecting a distinct set of values, and conflict may threaten these values. For example, Baby Boomers value teamwork, cooperation, and buy-in, while Gen Xers prefer to make a unilateral decision and move on — preferably solo.
  • Air different generations’ perceptions. When employees of two or more generations are involved in a workplace conflict, they can learn a great deal by sharing their perceptions. For instance, a Traditional may find a Gen Yer’s lack of formality and manners offensive, while a Gen Yer may feel dissed when this older employee fails to respect her opinions and input. Have each party use “I” statements to avoid potentially negative confrontations.
  • Find a generationally appropriate fix. You can’t change people’s life experience. But you can work with the set of workplace attitudes and expectations that come from it. So, for instance, if you have a knowledgeable Boomer who is frustrated by a Gen Yer’s lack of experience coupled with his sense of entitlement, turn the Boomer into a mentor. Or you may have a Gen Xer who is slacking off and phoning it in. Instead of punishing him, give him a challenging assignment, the fulfillment of which is linked to a tangible reward.
  • Find commonality and complements. When we study generations, some common and complementary characteristics emerge — and these can be exploited when dealing with conflict between them. For instance, Traditionals and Generation Y employees both tend to value security and stability. Traditionals and Boomers tend to resist change–but both crave training and development. Gen X and Gen Y employees place a high value on workplace flexibility and work-life balance. Boomers and Linksters are most comfortable with diversity and alternative lifestyles. Gen Y and Linksters are technologically adept and committed to socially responsible policies.
  • Learn from each other. Each generation has valuable lessons to teach the next. For example, Traditionals and Boomers have a wealth of knowledge and tricks of the trade that younger workers need. Generation X employees are widely known for their fairness and mediation abilities. Generation Y workers are technology wizards. And Linksters hold clues to future workplace, marketing, and business trends.

How do you manage generational differences in the workplace?

This was posted in Smart Briefs by Mary Ellen Slayter.   Larry and Meagan Johnson, the father-daughter team behind John Training Group, co-authored “Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters — Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work.”


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Organizational Values

Several days ago I asked some colleagues to share how they have implemented core values  in their organizations .  The answers were pretty much unanimous across the board.  Once values are defined, they should impact every aspect of your organization. You must support and nurture this impact or identifying the values will have been a wasted exercise. People will feel fooled and misled unless they see the impact of the exercise within your organization. If you want the values you identify to have a true impact on your organizational culture, the following must occur.

  • People at all levels demonstrate and model their values in action in their personal work behaviors, decision-making, contribution, and interpersonal interaction.
  • Organizational values help each person establish priorities in their daily work life.
  • Values guide every decision that is made once the organization has cooperatively created the values and the value statements.
  • Rewards and recognition within the organization are structured to recognize those people whose work embodies the values the organization embraced.
  • Organizational goals are grounded in the identified values. Adoption of the values and the behaviors that result is recognized in regular performance feedback.
  • People hire and promote individuals whose outlook and actions are congruent with the values.
  • Only the active participation of all members of the organization will ensure a truly organization-wide, value-based, shared culture.


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Core Values and Organizational Culture

Values exist in every workplace. Your organization’s culture is partially the outward demonstration of the values currently existing in your workplace. The question you need to ask is whether these existing values are creating the workplace you desire.

Do these values promote a culture of extraordinary customer care by happy, motivated, productive people? If not, you will want to:

• Identify the values that currently exist in your workplace;

• Determine if these are the right values for your workplace; and

• Change the actions and behaviors by which the values are demonstrated, if necessary.

To really make a difference in your organization, you need to do all three. I have had the opportunity to serve organizations that have written core values and those where core values were communicated by actions mostly – in the ways in which business is conducted on a day-to-day basis, and not so much in words directly spoken or written. I am a firm advocate of demonstrated values more than written or spoken – actions speak louder, but I also believe that written values that reinforce and support specific actions, and specific actions that reinforce and support written values, make a powerful combination that far exceeds one or the other by itself. If it is written down and demonstrated in action, we can really hold our feet to the fire when we need to. Effective organizations identify and develop a clear, concise and shared meaning of values/beliefs, priorities, and direction so that everyone understands and can contribute.

I have asked some colleagues to share how they have implemented core values  in their organizations and will share that feedback in a few days.  How does your company demonstrate their core values?  Are they just written words or philosophical pillars upon which your company is built?


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Not all Leaders are CEO’s

Not every leader can be a CEO, just like not every CEO is necessarily an effective leader. However, even if an employee doesn’t have the potential to become the next CEO it does not mean that their leadership skills can’t be developed and nourished.

 Successful organizations seem to have ability and a passion for leadership development throughout their organization. One recurring theme in this type of organization is the fact that they hire well and they fire better. Generally their managers have been trained on the interviewing and hiring process.  Unfortunately, not a common practice. Ask yourself how many of your managers have really been trained on the interviewing and selection process? Companies that actually do train their managers have a high success rate for finding and keeping good employees is above average. Recruitment and retention becomes part of their culture and the responsibility of everyone. Leadership is more than just a word in these companies and leadership potential is sought out, encouraged and developed.

Every successful leader I have ever known has taken direct responsibility for the development of leadership in others and some have not had  official leadership roles.

It’s never too late to accept the responsibility for your personal leadership development or the development of leadership skills in your subordinates. One of the biggest needs today in the majority of organizations is the unique leadership ability to transform the organization to win in tomorrow’s environment. This is not just the responsibility of the CEO. Leaders at all levels of the management hierarchy need to develop this type of leadership. Then and only then can an organization create and maintain a competitive advantage.

An effective leader must be able to interact with employees, peers, seniors and many other individuals both inside and outside the organization. Leaders must gain the support of many people to meet or exceed established objectives. This means that they must develop or possess a unique understanding of people. The ability to coach-mentor and teach leadership skills to others is the driving force that will create a winning organization. Being an effective leader requires the understanding of the principles that govern employee behavior. Accomplish that and success is imminent.

If you can teach and develop leadership in your employees, your personal leadership effectiveness will improve. That old saying; “If you want to learn something fast — teach it.” holds true for leadership development.

There has been much debate about being a “Born Leader” vs. “Learned Leader”.  I won’t get into that, but I will say that either way, effective leaders go through a never-ending development process. You never stop learning, you never stop growing and you should never stop teaching and developing leadership in others. So read, attend classes, hire a coach, do whatever you can do to develop yourself and those around you.


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Great Leadership Practices

Whether you manage a small group or a large organization it is vital that as a leader you are able to effectively gain the cooperation of your team.

As Dwight Eisenhower said, Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.

Here are seven proven practices that great leaders exhibit regularly that enable winning teams and respected leaders.

  • Acknowledge the importance of other people. The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.
  • Show enthusiasm and energy. Enthusiasm is by far the highest paid quality on earth, probably because it is one of the rarest; yet it is one of the most contagious.
  • Encourage and facilitate two-way conversation. Education is a kind of continuing dialogue, and a dialogue assumes, in the nature of the case, different points of view.
  • Ask other people’s opinions? People love to be asked their opinions, and share their opinion’s.  In many cases you will find the best solution where you least expected, you just have to ask.
  • Ask questions instead of giving orders. Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what you want them to achieve and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
  • Show sincere gratitude. God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say “thank you”?
  • Give strength centered compliments. The life of many a person could probably be changed if someone would only make him feel important.