Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


Leadership Tips That Make a Difference

  1. Managing starts with clarity. The time a manager spends getting clear about what needs to be done will pay off in focused effort from increased understanding.  When things aren’t clear, the day doesn’t go well. Minds and bodies gravitate toward something that does seem clear. The world dislikes a vacuum. When one is created, people will fill in the blanks with their own content. That content seldom matches your intent.
  2. The Manager is the Mediator of Meaning. Clarity is the first part of the issue. The other part is taking the time to show exactly how “what” you are proposing to do is directly connected to the success of over-arching goals. Your kids will tell you to “make it realistic.” Your employees are thinking it.
  3. Managers Understand How People Learn and Work. Intellectually, we all acknowledge that people learn differently and work differently. Really successful managers take time to pinpoint what those styles are and genuinely acknowledge their inherent value. Hands-on ‘Doers,’ Readers, Questioners, Ponderers. . .
  4. Managing Means Knowing How to Orchestrate the Experience. When to have a meeting or not have a meeting; who needs one-on-one attention? What isn’t negotiable and what will work best with a full discussion? Is the objective really achievable–at the level of quality desired–in the originally designated timetable? Managers, go ahead and add your favorites to this list.
  5. Managers Lead from Every Proximity. You’ll spot a good manager out in front of the group; alongside of a direct report who is struggling; or standing in the back of the room listening to a discussion and only joining in when re-direction or a fact is needed. And everyone knows how they’re doing in relation to what’s expected.

Consistently add these five to your repertoire and you’ll bump up your game exponentially.


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The deceptive nature of flattery

The most common form of manipulation comes packaged in the form of flattery – it’s also the most dangerous. The veils of most “hidden” agendas are also
typically cloaked in flattery.  I have worked with many senior leaders who fall into this web and begin to really believe that anyone who disagrees with them or their idea is wrong, mostly because insincere flattery has fed their ego to no return.

The deceptive nature of flattery is that it becomes most powerful when it is given to those who thirst for it. Leaders who place their need for adoration
and acclaim above serving the needs of others are high value targets for those who would abuse the misplaced trust given to them. If you take one thing away from this post it should be this – the power that comes with a leader’s ability to positively influence others is only trumped by the power given away as they are adversely influenced by others.

The problem with the old saying that “flattery will get you everywhere” is that those with less than pure intentions not only believe it, they understand that
flattery has the power to influence, corrupt, undermine and deceive – they wield flattery as a lethal weapon against the undiscerning.

Before I go any further it is important to understand that praise and flattery, while often used interchangeably, are not synonymous. “Praise” is most commonly defined as: the expression of favorable judgment or sincere appreciation. “Flattery” is most commonly defined as: excessive and insincere praise. The naive, the needy, the impressionable or the ego-centric view flattery as genuine praise. Discerning people understand flattery may be
disingenuous, or false praise motivated by an agenda.  Here’s the thing – In times past it was a bit easier to discern authentic praise from false praise because the methods by which relationships were constructed was different. We used to build our relationships slowly and carefully based upon personal history and experience. Trust was earned over time through personal observations of a person’s character, actions and decisions.

In today’s digital world speed has influenced every aspect of our lives-perhaps most notably how we build our relationships and who we grant access to.
If you examine the speed at which people build their friends, fans, followers, and connections on social networks.

Personally, I prefer sincerity to flattery. It was Socrates who said, “Think not those faithful who praise thy words & actions but those who kindly
reprove thy faults.” What leaders need to become cognizant of is that flattery comes with the territory. The more influence you have, the more you’ll be prone to attract flattery. The question is, can you discern fact from fiction and can you handle it?

Well I realized things really haven’t really changed all too much as I read this quote from a letter written in 1520 by Martin Luther to Pope Leo: “The ears of our generation have been made so delicate by the senseless multitude of flatterers that, as soon as we perceive anything of ours in not approved of, we cry out that we are being bitterly assailed; and when we can repel the truth by no other pretense, we escape by attributing bitterness, impatience, intemperance, to our adversaries.”  Interesting, isn’t it.


HR’s true role

I’m always amazed by HR people who are not only great at what they do for organizations and employees, but what they do for the leadership as a whole.  In a recent article by Tim Sacket, he really puts the role of HR in perspective at least for me.  Tim is convinced that it is HR’s job to make sure all departments are working together for one overriding shared goal or sense of purpose. Well, plenty of HR professionals out there would tell you that is management’s role, not HR.   So, should we leave it to the other leaders in the organization?  The problem we face by demanding this of other leadership is they get lost in their own department or groups, individual goals, and have a hard time understanding, or even knowing, what the goals are of the other functional areas of your organization. Someone has to own it, to make it happen – that is where HR can be very valuable.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an insightful article at the New Yorker called “Connecting the Dots” that looks at a number of historical scenarios in which could have been stopped or changed significantly, if someone would have connected the dots (think 9/11 type scenarios!). Gladwell doesn’t look to place blame, he looks to discover the truth and how, if we get another shot, is a better way to do it all over again. In his article he points out how competing interests, and in an organizations case, and competing groups can cause a failure in connecting the dots that could benefit everyone involved.

Think of a classic HR problem? Some senior leader comes down and is adamant on stopping Turnover (or some other metric they believe will solve all of problems.   Emergency HR meetings take place. SWOT teams are formed. Councils are created. There are No Sacred Cows. Change must happen. They want to see blood in the Hallways. Now.

So, we do stuff. We do stuff that will stop Turnover, or fill critical openings, etc., etc., etc. And it “fixes” the problem.  And, Leadership is Happy. That is until we see the fallout from the changes that were made – and there is always fallout.  It’s a tough organization problem to stop.  Why because it takes leadership that is not willing to go from one extreme to the other every time a problem pops up, and that has strong enough communication and foresight to understand that the dominos they tip over today, will knock over some more tomorrow. But it helps if there is a voice of reason yelling from the back row of the conference room (a brave voice – I might add!). It also helps, if we in HR can lead by example – and stop in our zeal to correct a problem, create more problems for the future.  HR owns the role of connecting the Dots for our organization. Someone has to do it – I pick us. We tend to be the voice of reason anyway, so it fits. But go into this role eyes-wide-open, it won’t make you popular – no one likes a voice of reason when there hell-bent on change, but eventually those will half a head on their shoulders will figure out your value, and that’s more important than popularity!


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Not just once a year – Performance Coaching

A critical part of the manager/employee relationship is open communication between the two.  What is  expected from the employee and how well are they accomplishing their responsibilities.  How should they expect you to lead them. Most Companies have a formal Performance Management Program used to evaluate performance on an annual basis, but informal, on-going performance coaching is critically important.  Reviewing performance should not just be an annual event, but rather a continuous cycle.

More specifically, performance management:

  • is a shared responsibility between you and each individual who reports to you; some of us forget this
  • provides mutual understanding between the manager and employee regarding what is expected of the employee and how well the employee is meeting those performance standards;  Employees can’t meet expectations, if they don’t know what they are.
  • empowers the employee to perform a variety of tasks, and face new challenges for growth;
  • sets and monitors progress against clear goals;
  • includes regular documentation of performance;
  • includes timely feedback on performance between the manager and employee;
  • includes discussion on professional development;
  • recognizes hard work and success; not just areas for improvement!

An effective performance management program provides many benefits to the organization and to its managers and employees.  Good performance management results in:

  • focused movement towards organizational goals;
  • informed employees;
  • more successful and productive employees;
  • more meaningful work for employees;
  • better working relationships between managers and employees;  Mutual respect
  • increased communication;
  • legally defensible management decisions;
  • all around better quality of interaction.

Remember regular communication and feedback doesn’t need to be complicated or a long process, it just needs to be regular. Some simple steps and commitment is all you really need.

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Empowering HR drives business success

Cover of "Strategic Business Partner: Ali...

Cover via Amazon

A recent research study released by Bersin & Associates in January confirmed for me something I have believed and lived by throughout my career.  It’s not the quantity of your HR team; it truly is the knowledge and skills they bring to the table and the empowerment and support given by the organizations CEO and other senior leaders that makes it successful.  You can say I have been lucky enough to work for extremely dynamic CEO’s.  In some cases it’s true, I have worked with great leaders, but I have also had my share of the closed mindset CEO who doesn’t know or care what HR does as long as people get paid and have benefits.  It was up to me and my staff to demonstrate the value they were missing out on.  

This study looked at 720 organizations globally and found that the days of bloated HR organizations focused on administrative tasks is over.  This is great news for HR Leaders, who are often so tied to all those administrative tasks that they can’t look at technology and other options that will enable them to get to the business and people needs.  It proves that lean, technology-enabled, well-trained HR teams are able to take advantage of modern talent practices and partner with business leaders to drive impact.

These findings emerged from a two-year global benchmarking study that looked at 14 talent management and HR effectiveness measures across global businesses.  Among the measures examined include a company’s ability to:

  • Source the best talent.
  • Hire and onboard top candidates.
  • Identify and develop leaders.
  • Build a culture of learning.
  • Allocate compensation effectively.
  • Drive high performance through coaching and feedback. 

The research determined that Companies that empower key HR professionals to take on a strategic business partner role create HR teams that outperform the average HR organization by 25 percent or more.  This means these HR leaders are working closely with line executives on hiring the right people, coaching, leadership, succession planning and yes process improvement.  

HR still needs to continue to excel at the basics. Payroll, benefits, and administration are still critical factors in business success, and today these functions must be modified to be able to deal with a highly contingent workforce.

The report, The High-Impact HR Organization: Top 10 Best Practices on the Road to Excellence, includes benchmarks, tools, case studies, operational frameworks and proven service models that define best-practice human resources organizations.

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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.”