Archive for January 31, 2012

Beware Managers Bearing Gifts

trojan horse pic

I have been laid low.  Some sort of cryptosperidian-esque illness or something that has just knocked me out for several weeks.  Other than going to work and the doctor’s office, I’ve barely been out and about in public because all I want to do is sleep.  One good thing?  It brought to mind this old story….

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Early on in my career job history I had a super glamorous job as an office assistant/receptionist at a staffing agency.  It actually was a pretty fun gig and was my first leap into HR and recruiting.  We were the satellite office of a larger entity and the staff was comprised of a temp-side recruiter, 2 Sales Managers, 4 recruiters on the “perm” side, and myself.  We had a new-fangled fax machine, kept our client information on index cards (it was my job to keep them organized), and usually had a box-of-wine chilling in the refrigerator at all times.  The recruiters ran their desks with precision, phones rang off the hook, fools were not suffered, and ashtrays overflowed.  We rocked and rolled at that office.

One day the owner decided that it was time to add a Branch Manager to the mix so into this happy little group strolled a beaming ray of sunshine named Suzi.  With an “i.”  She was freshly scrubbed and perky and arrived with a few years experience under her belt working in staffing and sales.  She held some sort of degree in business but this was her first job as a manager-of-people and other than me, she was by far the youngest one in the office.  But wow was she earnest.  For which none of us blamed her – after all, she had been given some pretty deep responsibilities and took her role seriously. 

And, as newly minted managers often do, she worked hard to find her way and define her style.  She said she wanted to give us autonomy and let us run our ship as we had done, but she also believed that being the manager meant crafting rules and policies and procedures.  Suddenly we had charts and processes and more charts and more processes.   Her need to know what was going on (certainly valid) turned into micro-managing and approving every little item.  We had to sign in/out for lunch.  She questioned every move we made and made us feel as if, well, she didn’t trust us to do our jobs.

And then one day I was sick.  Laid low.  It was a sinus/sneezing/head cold sort of thing with all the accompanying chills and fevers.  The ability to navigate in an automobile let alone sit in the office and answer phone calls, process job applicants and administer typing tests on the IBM Selectric was just not in the realm of human possibility.  So I called Suzi and told her I need to take a sick day and stay home and sleep.

Which I did.

Until about 2 PM when my doorbell rang.

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I looked out onto the front porch and there stood Suzi, bearing a giant gift basket filled with tins of cookies and cheese and crackers and all sorts of things which, at that particular moment, made my stomach churn at the mere thought.  I contemplated letting her stand there but remembered she was my boss.  Sigh.  So with my flyaway bed-hair and in my best flannel pajamas and well-worn bathrobe with wadded up Kleenex oozing out of the pockets, I opened the door and ushered her inside.  As she clucked and cooed and told me how she hoped I was feeling better, a knot of cynicism festered deep in my gut.   She really wasn’t stopping by to see if I needed anything – she was checking up on me.  Her lack of trust in her employees not only manifested itself in a variety of ways in the office – it trickled over and invaded our home life.  To the point where the woman got in her car, stopped off at the Swiss Colony kiosk at the mall, and drove 20 minutes to my home to make sure I was really and truly sick.

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Almost twenty-five years later this still rankles. 

I sure hope Suzi (with an “i”) has had a meaningful and successful career. 

And I sure hope she learned to stop doing this kind of crap.

Leaders, Doppler Radar and the Art of Forecasting

Embedded within the huge field of meteorology is the sub-network of observation and weather forecasting.  And let’s face it – when we think of meteorologists, this is what we think they do – tell us what the weather was today and let us know what it’s going to be tomorrow.  Naturally, this is based on familiarity with our own local news channel meteorologists with their Live-5D-Doppler-Hologram technology.  But they do more for us than tell us we broke a heat index record and act as the spokesperson for the station’s annual “Coats for the Needy” campaigns.

  • they understand the atmospheric sciences and all the sub-disciplines  – things like climatology, atmospheric physics and hydrology as well as how these interact with and relate to each other
  • they evaluate the impact of weather on things such as agriculture and aviation, i.e. how weather impacts air traffic management and whether the local farmers can expect a good growing season
  • they forecast the weather by applying science and technology to make predictions on the state of the atmosphere at a future time and in a future location

We rely on their expertise.  We expect that when we tune in to the 10 PM news the meteorologist will let us know if we need to bring an umbrella with us the next day and how much perspiring we can expect to do.

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And we look to our organizational leaders to do the same thing.  We anticipate that they will have the ability to use their expertise with inter-related systems, their knowledge of the appropriate ‘science and technology’ (with a little bit of Art?), and keen evaluation skills to ‘forecast’ for the future.

High expectations indeed.

What is a leader, in any professional discipline, to do?  I think it begins with an awareness that as a leader it’s crucial to develop strengths in the following areas:

Understanding Systems: With an understanding of systems  - “two or more  parts that work together to accomplish a shared aim (Deming)” – a leader can then move forward to the critical task of identifying important changes that occur within a system and/or predicting with accuracy when they may occur.

Evaluating Consequences:  A leader needs to hone their ability to determine the consequences of a change in the long-term or future and weigh the risks vs. the opportunities (upside-downside) in order to take the best course of action.  Leaders also realize that the situation may change (“the hurricane has changed direction!”) and they know that evaluation is ongoing; definitely not a one-and-done.

Forecasting (and managing) the Future:  A leader can evaluate all the pertinent factors, including looking at risks and goals, and will make confident decisions and educated predictions.

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Leaders are often the ones who are responsible for visioning - developing an image/vision of an ideal state of the organization and then setting the course to get there.  And this is where forecasting can move from the science . . . to the art.

p.s.  if that Doppler radar hyperlink isn’t working, well, it’s because today is the wikipedia-shut-down-day

You May Now Help Me Down off my Soapbox

Earlier this week I was up at Women of HR with the following post.  Are you reading Women of HR?  If not – go forth post haste and schedule the RSS feed/subscribe.  Great stuff from amazing folks is the order-of-the-day.

While each writer for the site is free to devise posts around whatever topic they wish, I find that when I sit down to put together a piece for WofHR I tend to focus on the “women” more so than the HR.  I think it’s important to remain committed to feminism which, contrary to what some on the extreme ends of the political or religious spectrums may believe, does not diminish the status of men.  Rather, when we remain committed to defining and defending equality (whether social, political or economic) for women, I believe we also enhance the status of men. 

Small incremental changes along this historical timeline interspersed with cataclysmic explosions has been the hallmark of the feminist movement.  Each generation of girls and young women enters an easier world due to the efforts of the women who came before them.  Let’s never forget that. 

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Several weeks ago I sat next to a very nice older couple on a plane.  I estimated their ages as close to 80 which means they were probably born at some time in the 1930s and came of age in the 1950s.

In between watching Law and Order: SVU episodes on the airplane TV service, I was scribbling some notes on a legal pad as I reviewed some work materials I had brought along with me. This prompted the Mrs. to open up a fresh line of chit chat with me, as she, with a wide-eyed look on her face inquired,

“Do you work outside the home?”

I have to admit…I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question in my life.  Nor, quite frankly, did it ever occur to me that anyone would think it even was a question to be phrased that way.  I’ve heard “what do you do?” or “where do you work?” but I don’t think I’ve ever been asked if I worked.  And needless to say, explaining to this lovely woman precisely what Human Resources professionals do presented somewhat of a challenge.

But the conversation got me thinking about the varying perspectives we have of women in the workforce; viewpoints that are often glimpsed through a cultural or historical lens.  It’s quite probable that a young woman coming of age in the post WWII era was content (perhaps) with her life and resigned to the fact that her role was to work ‘at home.’  A woman reaching the voting age in the 1950’s was but one generation removed from even having the right to vote.  Thanks to the feminist movement, the Mrs. was able to head to the polling place and pull a lever to show that she did, indeed, “Like Ike.”

But it’s possible she doesn’t want to acknowledge or express any gratitude to feminists; that’s somewhat common. Whether first wave (primarily focused on suffrage and reproductive issues), second wave (primarily focused on equality) or third-wave (challenging and redefining ‘feminism’), feminists have often made men and women uncomfortable even while pushing for societal change that forever changed the lives of women:

  • In 1848, the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. At the end of the convention, some radical resolutions were adopted – shockingly calling for equal treatment of women and men under the law and voting rights for women.
  • In 1870, for the first time, the US Census counted “females engaged in each occupation.”  At that time, women comprised 15% of the workforce.
  • In 1920, the US Department of Labor formed “The Women’s Bureau” which was tasked with collecting information about women in the workforce and ensuring safe working conditions.  Later that year, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was signed into law, granting women the right to vote.
  • Between the 1930s and 1950s, a number of business and school districts enacted “marriage bars” which allowed them to fire single women when they married and also allowed them to refuse to hire married women.
  • In 1961, President Kennedy established the President’s Commission on the Status of Women and in 1963 the Commission issued a report documenting substantial discrimination against women in the workplace.  Specific recommendations were issued by the Commission including instituting fair hiring practices, offering paid maternity leave, and ensuring access to affordable child care.
  • In 1968, the US Supreme Court ruled that sex-segregated help wanted ads in newspapers were illegal.

I’ve thought of this conversation quite a bit lately.  It’s entirely possible that this couple have no children or grandchildren. For surely if they do have grandchildren they’ve found that many (dare I say most?) young women fully intend to continue their post high-school education and work outside the home.  While there are some people who yearn for a return to a society with strictly-defined gender rules based on religious reasons, I find it hard to believe that the majority of westerners don’t appreciate how the role of women has changed.

I, for one, tip my hat and raise my glass high to salute Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan and all the other brave women who paved the way.

Now let me get back to work.

Chaos Rules

Freakazoid_by_MaLkAvIaN_GiRl

I’ve got a friend who works in an industry-leading organization where the motto might as well be “We’ve got the need for speed.”  Everything, and I mean everything, moves at a rapid go-go-pace.  Business units are shut down, people are moved, and resources are deployed – stat.  Large-scale initiatives are dreamed up one day and implemented 10 days later.  Meetings with all the necessary players are scheduled for “10 minutes from now;” plans are put on hold, vacations are cancelled.  “All hands on deck -  there’s no time to waste people!”

Chaos rules.

I have another friend who works in a much more sedate (and also very successful) organization where the motto might as well be “Don’t worry, be happy.”  No one is in too much of a rush about anything; deadlines (daily, weekly, monthly) are met on a smooth timeline without too much fuss or bother.  Plans for expansion or changes or resource deployment are mulled over, put on hold, and revisited several months down the road.  Far-reaching initiatives are little teapots filled with thought-bubbles that percolate on the back-burner of someone’s mind….sometimes for years.  Meetings are calm and predictable with minimal off-the-chart agenda items.  “We’ll get to it one day people; and you’ll know about it when you need to know it.”

Chaos rules.

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Now I can’t imagine either of these two people swapping jobs/companies.  While each of them periodically, in somewhat wistful tones, talks about their desire for a slower faster different pace, they’re somewhat used to being in organizations that operate in an extreme way.  Would they be able to adjust to a radically different pace and way of getting things done?  I can’t see it.  Nor, would I guess, that they deep-down truly want something radically different from what they have.

Which got me to thinking about my ideal state of chaos.

I guess, when all is said and done,  I’m just like the average American voter. Hanging in the middle.

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image of Freakzoid