Archive for November 30, 2011

Growing Older with a Modicum of Dignity

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I’ve been getting quite a bit of mail lately from the AARP; email, snail mail, postcards.  Thank goodness they don’t have my phone number.

Now granted, I’m closer to 50 than to 40, but seriously?  AARP?  That’s the organization my grandma belonged to.  She had some kind of membership and received their magazines that had cover stories featuring people like Bob Hope and Debbie Reynolds and Tip O’Neill.   The articles were all about enjoying your golden years and keeping your arthritic joins well-lubricated.  Human interest stories talked about 85-year-old grandmas who lived in Sun City, Arizona and stayed active bicycling and I swear there was a monthly column with tips for bridge players.

Now perhaps it’s true what they say; baby boomers changed the definition of the senior citizen forever.  A Grandma no longer sits in a rocking chair, wearing a shawl, and watching Lawrence Welk show reruns on PBS.  Grandmas and great-grandmas alike are putting in a day at the office like everyone else. 60 is the new 50 and all that.

All I know is that I don’t feel anywhere near as “old” as I probably should. Case in point – I got my first tattoo at age 40 and have added several more since then.  I’ll be in the workplace for quite some time yet and my coworkers will, I’m sure, continue to be all ages – some will be AARP members and some will be the “30 under 30″ crowd.  Gen Z coming in; Boomers hanging on.

Am I going to hit some point in my life when the highlight of my week will be the regular visit to the beauty parlor to have my permed, grey hair set and styled?  Wow.  I hope not.

Leftover Turkey, the FBI and Cyber Monday

I’m back at the Schoolhouse after an extended Thanksgiving break, moving my brain back into HR gear after some well-spent time off with the family and an almost total absence from social media channels.  So what’s kept me busy over the last few days?

  • I went to see J. Edgar over the weekend and found it to be an interesting character study of a complex, secretive and powerful guy.  Leo was fantastic.  At one stage in the narrative, Hoover says  something along the line of  “historians tell their story without recalling the context in which people acted.”  It struck me how true that is; we second-guess and debate the wisdom of decisions made or actions taken years ago without understanding the circumstances in which things occurred.  It gave me pause and made me realize that seeking to understand time and place and context can be a valuable tool.
  • On an HR related note, the scene where Miss Gandy and Hoover are reviewing employment applications (late 1920’s) debating the family status and personal characteristics of candidates before deciding to accept/reject them is intriguing (simpler time?).
  • I also discovered that some members of the movie going audience in my town get pretty offended at a chaste and fairly non-sexual depiction of homosexuality.  During a few scenes, audible gasps, pearl clutching and clucks of disapproval floated up from the row in front of me.
  • I did not go shopping on Black Friday; nor did I do any Cyber Monday online purchasing.  I did take a trip to the local mall on Saturday and found it to be relatively quiet and not any busier than a typical weekend day.
  • I learned this morning that Barney Frank is retiring.
  • The Saints won!
  • We got fairly creative with leftovers and learned that homemade BBQ turkey pizza was a pretty tasty concoction.

I hope my Americans readers had a similarly restful and rejuvenating break.  Do anything fun and exciting?

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And now, back to school.

Enable is not a 4-Letter Word

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The concept of enablement has gotten a bad rap over the years.  How many times have you heard a variation of the phrase “Wow, Joe’s a real enabler!”  Naturally, as we all know, this gets uttered when gossiping talking about a third party (in this case Joe) who’s making accommodations/excuses for another person’s destructive behavior.  The classic scenario is the addict whose codependent spouse cleans up messes, makes apologies and takes steps to ‘help’ their partner.

However, the definition of enable is actually a very positive one:

  • To supply with the means, knowledge or opportunity
  • To make feasible or possible
  • To give someone the opportunity, give someone the means

                                                                                    (from the Free Dictionary)

So let’s take those very same bullet points and add the phrase “managers will to each statement.  (sort of like when you’re out with a group of friends at a Chinese restaurant and you all open your fortune cookies and add “…in bed” at the end of your fortunes and giggle and giggle like a bunch of 13 year olds.  Know what I mean?)

The Manager’s Guide to Enabling

  • Managers will supply their employees with the means, knowledge or opportunity
  • Managers will make things feasible or possible
  • Managers will give everyone the opportunity and give everyone the means

So go ahead managers.  Feel free to enable all you want.

So Here’s How you REALLY Get it Done…

Organizations are interesting places.

What once began as a guy in his living room with an idea and a dream, can easily have grown into a gigantic, bloated, rule-laden and bureaucratic entity with complex org charts, handbooks, policies for every conceivable aspect of human behavior and lots and lots of vice-presidents.  This journey may have taken several years or several decades.  But look at most any successful business entity and you’ll probably see that inevitably, with growth, has come layers of complexity and the need to obtain 4 signatures on a purchase requisition form in order to get a box of envelopes delivered from the office supply company.

I recently read some interesting articles regarding bureaucracy that drew from the work of Max Weber, a German sociologist/economist who studied organizations at the turn of the 20th century. In his book “The Theory of Social and Economic Organization” he identified the characteristics of an ideal bureaucracy as being impersonal, efficient and rational.  For further clarification he defined the key features of such an organization to include (1) the  ‘authorities’ disseminating and reinforcing rules and codes of practice and (2) having all rules, decisions and actions recorded in writing.  It was Weber’s work which popularized the term “bureaucracy” as he studied and defined the classic hierarchy with lines of authority which we have all come to know and love curse each time we stand in the line at our local DMV.

Thanks Max.

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But in their time and place, bureaucracies have served us well.  Right?

  • Clear delineation of who is responsible for a given action/decision/expected outcome
  • Readily accessible understanding of required levels of skill or competences for a position based upon the ‘spot’ in the org chart
  • Defined levels of authority

Sadly, however, our organizations ran amok with the concept.  Calling someone a Secretary didn’t sufficiently identify action, authority and level of skill did it?  So we added Secretary II, Secretary III, Secretary IV and Senior Secretary.  Your Executive VP has a corporate jet and revolving credit cards; your Assistant VP can’t sign a purchase order over $250 to cover lunch for her department.

And because of the complexity built up over time, when someone truly wants to get something done they have to find ways … also known as the “work around.”

  • “Don’t apply with the HR Department, your resume will get lost in that ATS – take your resume to Joe and he’ll get it to the Hiring Manager.”
  • “You’re starting to  work from home but aren’t at a high enough level to have the company immediately add you to the corporate credit account to get your internet connection billed correctly?  Run it through an expense report; those are paid within 48 hours.”
  • “Sorry Mr. Big-Shot Customer, I’m just a Billing Rep II; you need to talk to a Billing Rep IV to get the charges reversed on that incorrect invoice.”

Layers and levels and rules and order.  Put in place, once upon a time, to add efficicency and ensure only those with the proper amount of authority made things happen.  And over time, common sense walked out the EXIT door.

At the end of the day, the Average Jane just wants to get stuff done with a minimal level of fuss.    And so do I.

What about you?