Archive for January 31, 2011

For He Who Would be King

I saw “The King’s Speech” (finally) over the weekend.  I teared up and cheered and clapped as the theatre broke into spontaneous applause at the rousing conclusion.  My friend Matt Charney over at Monster Thinking interviewed Tom Hooper, the director of the movie just last month.  I encourage you to go and read it here for some good thoughts on leadership.

The future King George VI seemed terrified at the concept of being thrust into a role for which he didn’t feel prepared.  Nor could he imagine disrupting the commonwealth by ascending to the throne over his brother.  But not only did he rise to the occasion, this ‘Reluctant Leader’ admirably rose to the challenge.  The film chronicles not only the development of his own self-confidence, but also shows us the development of a deep and abiding friendship between the King and his speech therapist.


The film got me thinking, however, about the flip side to the Reluctant Leader – the individual who wishes to be a leader.  That individual who is desperately aching to impart their vision to others and move their group, company or organization towards a better state.  A person who is bursting at the seams to change things, provide new thinking or bring a blast of excitement to the status quo.

Your organization quite probably has employees who have the ideas and the energy and just wish they could share them.  But they are finding it difficult to be heard.  Maybe they’re early in their career or maybe they’re simply in a company with well-defined ideas of hierarchy and protocol and top-down decision making.

These individuals have a great desire to make a difference, implement change, focus on moving things forward.  And they feel they can’t.

Are you providing an environment where your “would be leaders” are given the opportunity to flex their leadership muscles?  Do you have a way of identifying these ‘would be Leaders?’  And once you do, are you allowing them to lead projects or activities?  Are you providing them with experiential learning. feedback and some form of mentoring?  Have you provided them with goals based on their development needs… and are you assessing and evaluating their achievement?

Sometimes it’s easy to get hindered by the thought that leaders are defined by the title they have or the office in which they sit.   But you have ‘would be Leaders’ all around you.  Don’t let them wither away.

Feasting with the Masses

Ah yes – food and work.  I’ve had some thoughts about it before.  The act of sharing food can be a bonding experience for people at work.  And it was nice to revisit this topic when thinking about next week’s Carnival of HR which will be hosted by the marvelous EvilHRLady Suzanne Lucas.

So bring on the cookies and cakes; pile high the break room table until it’s groaning under the weight of the boxes of doughnuts, bags of chips and homemade fudge.  But be warned that there’s a dark side to food at the office.  An unsavory underbelly of despair and sadness.  To wit, times when food and co-workers don’t mix:

  • The office pot luck where the self-professed “amateur baker,” not known for the cleanest cubicle, trustworthy personal grooming habits or most appropriate bathroom behavior brings a batch of homemade bon bons and insists upon personally handing one to each attendee.  With his hands.
  • The business lunch with THE BOSS.  When THE BOSS has a nice, leafy green piece of lettuce affixed to his central incisor.
  • The fancy-schmancy corporate dinner/awards banquet when a lovely piece of fowl is served with an enticing creamy aromatic sauce on top.  A sauce that contains shellfish.  Yet no one is aware of this fact, least of all the employee with a severe allergy whose neck immediately swells when she takes a bit of the delectable sauce.
  • The department or office lunch-outing when phones are forwarded, lights are switched off, and everyone travels down the street to the local Applebee’s  for several hours to partake in the 2 for $20 deal.  Well, everyone that is except for the Receptionist who no one thought to invite because, well, SOMEONE has to stay and keep the office open.  Plus she won’t really mind… will she?
  • The friendly lunch with a new coworker who seemed like a polite, well-mannered, decent chap sitting down the aisle from you in his cubicle.  But apparently, his mama never taught him any manners because the food moves from plate to gullet in an open-mouthed orgiastic frenzy of mastication that is truly a wonder to behold.  Like an accident on the side of the road from which one cannot avert one’s eyes.  Yeah – just like that.
  • The company picnic, planned and executed by the HR Assistant and HR Rep, when there are torrential rainstorms the day before, and the picnic grounds are flooded. Which means that instead of the expected attendance of 500 frolicking employees, guests and children, there is a rather dismal turnout of 150 people.  This, unfortunately, results in the HR Staff having to make an emergency run to the nearest grocery store to purchase every available roll of aluminum foil and every single plastic food storage container so they can pack up the leftover ribs and spit-roasted chickens in order to take them to their homes for the weekend.  And then bring all these containers, along with the vats and vats of potato salad, cole slaw, brownies and dinner rolls TO THE OFFICE on Monday because the CEO wants the employees to be fed the picnic food that they could have eaten in the mud along with the dedicated and die-hard employees who actually showed up at the damn picnic.  Unfortunately, the beer was in kegs and the beer distributor didn’t allow the party-planners HR staff to load the kegs in their cars to take home as consolation prizes.  Damn beer man.

Food is fun.  Food is even better when shared with people.  But sometimes it’s good to just say no to dining with co-workers.  The scars to one’s psyche can last for years.

And I’ve told you before that HR people shouldn’t have to plan picnics.

It’s OK…You Can Tell Me

Recently, both Marissa Keegan and Kris Dunn wrote about the ability of great HR pros to get people to talk and, as Marissa put it, “spill the beans.”

It got me thinking about some of the interesting pieces of information I’ve been able to pull from employees and candidates over the years.  I’ve gotten personal revelations about times that people:

  • Cheated, lied and stole
  • Drank on the job – excessively
  • Used and/or sold drugs and other illegal substances… on the job
  • Mistreated a patient (health care)
  • Wrote threatening letters or made threatening phone calls to co-workers
  • Made extraordinarily unwelcome sexual advances to co-workers and customers
  • And on and on

And as I pondered back on some of these situations, I realized that many of them were incidents that occurred with no witnesses (he-said/she-said) and without any substantive ‘evidence.’  And in the case of the candidates, not necessarily the sorts of things one has any specific expectation of uncovering during an interview.  But still, people have told me the most extraordinary things.  As Kris pointed out, there may be attributes that a strong HR Pro possesses and uses to create the right setting/climate for getting that information:

“Empathy.  Patience.  Acting.  Perhaps even an open mind going in, which translates into empathy that’s believable and authentic.”


Having those conversations is not always easy and not always fun.  But it’s definitely rewarding when an employee or candidate feels safe enough to disclose and purge… whether I’m investigating a workplace incident or probing during an interview.

And while getting the information is important, there’s also the need to close the loop at the end.  Sure, bad stuff went down and action needs to be taken.  But behind the bad stuff is a person who made the wrong choice…exit them from the company or the interview process with as much compasion and understanding as possible.

The Old Bait and Switch

Back in the day when I was a younger and much more impressionable consumer/shopper, I made a pilgrimage to a big electronic box store to purchase one of those new fancy VCR players.  They had advertised a GREAT DEAL in the Sunday paper, so off I went with my checkbook  in my left hand and the Sunday circular in my right to make my purchase.  But once I got there, I found that the advertised GREAT DEAL was all sold out (hmmm) and the nice young man in the blue shirt instead sold me a nicer more expensive model.   While it was perfectly serviceable, it was not what I wanted nor was not necessarily what I had budgeted for.   My resistance was low and perhaps I was a bit desperate to finally get one of these fancy new gadgets home and hooked up, so I caved and I purchased.

Does this still happen?  I’m sure it does.  Although, I’m happy to report, no longer to me.

But the old bait-and-switch also still exists in the world of job offers and hiring practices.    And much like eager-buyer me with my checkbook in hand, job hunters, particularly those who have been unemployed for a while, may be quick to accept a job and then find out that it’s not quite what they expected.  So why does this happen?  I think there are several reasons:

  • The company needs to hire people – but they haven’t taken the time to define what kinds of people – or even what skills and backgrounds those people will need to bring.  So they hire, not on any sort of job fit criteria (since there is no real job defined), and end up with new employees who become quickly disillusioned as it is surely not the job they thought they were accepting.
  • The company may ‘oversell’ its job to get someone on board… dancing around duties and opportunities and professional challenges that the candidate can expect once on board.  One warning sign – are there conflicting descriptions between a job posting and the interviewer’s description?  Is it “entry level” yet still also requires 3 to 4 years of experience?
  • The company realizes they have a hard position to fill – due to travel, hours, goals, location, or any other number of factors.  So they purposefully sugar coat or don’t disclose certain things.  I have a friend who, within the past few months, was told (and given a written job description) listing 20% travel.  She received an offer letter, clarified some job duties including the travel before accepting the job.  However she found out on Day 1 when provided with a DIFFERENT job description, that the travel was 90%+.  She was the second person in 2 days to quit on Day 1 of employment in this position.
  • The company, through its eager recruiter or HR professional, has heard that one needs to build a pipeline of candidates or a talent pool – so they run postings for job openings that don’t really exist merely to gather resumes.  Creating frustration for the job seekers submitting resumes/applications and ruining their brand reputation at the same time.

Buyer beware – at the electronic store AND at the interview.