Finding Serenity During Change

My grandmother was in AA for 32 years and she lived by the Serenity Prayer which reminds us to have “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”.  I am not a religious person but this message has always spoken to me and I try to go back to it in times of uncertainty and struggle. Needless to say, the last month has definitely been one of those times.

I am very lucky.  My company was able to move to work from home pretty seamlessly and has not been devasted by this economy like others have.  My husband and I have a pretty good set up for us to be stuck at home together and our three furry babies love having us around.  But having to stay home, not being able to go to the gym, go to our local restaurants, enjoy movies and concerts and just being kept from the city we love has been emotionally draining.  The first part of every day is checking in with people in my life and the members of our team to make sure everyone is ok and ask what I can do to help.

I have read so many amazing articles with best practices about making the shift to working from home but I wanted to share some tips about another piece of this unique time we are experiencing.  We as leaders and HR partners (and humans) need to help our teams through this change. Below are some best practices I recently shared at Disrupt HR Westchester, less than a month before our whole world changed.

Help them understand what is changing and what is not changing.   During times of change, it feels like the rug is being pulled out from under you and nothing is stable.  As a leader, help them see what is not changing. Are their overall goals still the same? Are their managers and direct team members still the same?  Are their day to day objectives still the same? Try to build in some recognized normalcy into their day – daily standups, recurring 1:1’s, team meetings are some ways to create a sense of stability in an unstable world.

Give them space to work through the change as humans.  Some days are going to be easier, some days are going to be harder.   And there may not be any reason why. Two weeks ago, on a random Thursday, I woke up totally beside myself.  I had just had it with the constant updates of what was closing/being canceled. I needed to take some time to work through that and get myself re-centered.  I was honest with my team that I was having a tough day so bear with me. They got it, they were going through the same thing. Ask them how they are doing each day.  This is going to be a time where not every day is going to be someone’s best and we need to give them permission ahead of time to have a bad day.

Show them the opportunity during this time.  On the flip side of this, there will probably be opportunities during this tough time to build some new muscles.  You will need people to lead through this crisis in ways they haven’t had to before. People will need to rise to the occasion to help others when they are down.  They are going to have to think of new ways to advise clients or an internal team during this unprecedented time. Those are all development opportunities they might not have had otherwise.  Help your team see those opportunities and support their development so they can come out on the other side of this not just making it, but thriving through it.

I hope these tips helped!   For further ideas on how to help your team through change, check out a webinar I did with GoCoach last summer.  We talked a lot about the importance of humility, communication, supporting managers & leaders and most importantly, reminding teams of what they can and cannot change.  Hopefully, that will help you and your teams find a bit of serenity through such uncertain times.

Determining the Right Employee Experience for Your Team

IMG_2816Fifteen plus years ago I made the move from theatre to HR because I wanted to help people find success in their careers.   We all work way too much in this life – and I want to make sure people actually enjoy what they do.

As the VP of People at Ordergroove, I am responsible for creating a great employee experience for our team, one that will drive and scale our business.   Employee Experience is a key strategy for any great organization. Companies are focused on creating a great place for people to work, a supportive environment and a sense of community for the teams.  That will evolve over time. A few months ago, I spoke with Stephen Vincent’s EX Podcast about how to create an environment where change is expected and the ability to evolve with the business is key.  

Notice how I didn’t say culture.  Culture is important, but it’s becoming a little buzz-worthy in my mind.  What does culture really mean? How do people create a unique culture for their organization?   Well in my humble opinion…they create it through their employee experience.

More and more organizations realize one of their top assets is their people.  And those people are actually humans. Humans that have needs and want to feel supported, recognized, motivated and who care about the work that they are doing.  I am not saying they are dainty snowflakes who should get a trophy for showing up to work on time. Part of creating a strong employee experience is to identify what good looks like, find strong people and, sadly, help those that aren’t the right fit find a way to move on in a respectful manner.  

It’s important to consider what the right employee experience is for your organization.  I just spent two days at the EX Impact Winter Summit.   Speaker after speaker shared their stories of how they create great employee experiences.  From onboarding, to using design thinking to think about internal mobility, to creating a company identity, to the importance of integrating work and life priorities, to using analytics to build strong recruiting practices and culture champion programs.   Great ideas across the board. But you can’t copy and paste what someone else does, use the ideas to inspire you to think about what is the best employee experience for your company!

 

Pushing Yourself Outside Your Comfort Zone

Most of my life I tried to be the responsible one who did what was expected of me and played the role I was supposed to be, or what I thought I was supposed to be.   But as I matured through my 30’s and I became more confident in life, I was learning new things about myself and things that I wanted to try.   As I inched closer to the big 4-0, I wanted to change my thinking to “wouldn’t it be neat if” or “I always wanted to try that” to “I’m going to do that”. And I figured the beginning of a new decade was a good time to turn that around!  I made a commitment to a “year of action”.

I went skydiving (exhilarating).  I did a Spartan race at Fenway Park (and we took our picture in front of the Green Monst-ah).  We went away more to be more present with each other.  I tried new foods and found a sense of relaxation in baking.  I pushed myself to explore new ways to energize how I felt about my work.  All of this has given me a new passion for life that was felt in every piece of who I am.  It’s amazing how if you feel stuck or uninspired in one area of your life it affects others.  What are you intrigued about that you haven’t had the courage to try yet?  What is your “wouldn’t it be nice if” thought?  How are you going to commit to yourself that it will go from a “will do” to a “did”?  Here are some things I did to help build this new muscle (literally and figuratively!).

 
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Write down all those “will do’s”.  Whether it’s a vision board or a journal.  Find a way to capture it so it inspires you!  I personally started a notebook where every time I found myself using that “maybe” language, I would write it down.  It didn’t matter how big or small, far out there or easily attainable, short term or long term, I wanted to capture that desire when I felt it and the “why” behind it.
 
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On a regular basis (monthly maybe) pick one thing you are going and one thing you are going to start planning for longer-term  I know not everyone can go to Ireland tomorrow (that’s on my list!).  But you can find a new hike to take or sign up for a new class (painting, cooking, cake decorating, whatever is piquing your interest) now.

 
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Find an accountability buddy.  Who is going to push you to take these leaps in your life?  While one of my best girlfriends is my race buddy, my husband is always my biggest supporter, while still pushing me to get outside my comfort zone.  He and our pup are my favorite hiking and country weekend buddies.  We get outside the city and enjoy the quiet…and usually a backyard to play ball in for hours!
 
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It was also important that I pushed myself in my career as well.  I started doing more speaking engagements.  I even wrote a book!  For anyone who knows me, this is probably one of the last things you thought I would do (next to skydiving maybe!).  But it has helped me fall back in love with what I do.  
 
At the end of the day, I just encourage you to get outside of your comfort zone.  It will help you continue to grow as a human, have little regrets and maybe even find a new passion.  It’s never too late to try something new!  Coming up next?  My first speaking (actually first trip period) outside of the US, a half marathon, a painting class, and a daily yoga challenge…and something from my journal I haven’t picked yet!

Common Struggles Leaders Encounter as You Scale Your Culture

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I have worked with many leaders as their companies grow.  It’s exciting to see a company hitting its goals, having a strong fit in the market and teams scaling to support the business.     But it can also be tough to keep the culture strong during high growth.
Below are three areas I have seen many companies struggle with the most as they scale.  If you can partner with a strong Culture Partner (HR, People Ops… it’s not about what you call us….just that you call us!) you can create a great employee experience and keep your team motivated and engaged as you go through your exciting growth!
             1) Communication – Leaders struggle both with how often and the right channel to do it in a way that is meaningful for the team, specifically: What should be delivered in person? What can be in a slack/email? What should come directly from leadership?  What should be done as a company or in smaller groups?  When thinking about the best way to communicate something think about what the impact will be to the team, the level of “controversy” (amount of push back you could get), if it is informational or do you need to create buy-in and enthusiasm, or will different teams have different questions.  This may help you think about the best way to communicate your news.
             2) Timing of Hiring – We have all heard the stories of the rocket-ship growth, which is exciting and gets you a lot of press.  But we also see those companies crash and burn because they grew too fast.   It’s tough to find the balance of being lean and smart while not overburdening your teams.   To know when to bring on additional managers and experts/specialists versus relying on everyone to do a little of everything.  For example, a leader that has too many direct reports is not going to be the best strategic thinker because they just don’t have the time.  Or if your business is growing, it might make sense to create “pods” of specialties within CS (onboarding, account management, retention).  The key thing to consider when looking at your org structure as you grow is can some of those new roles allow other people to be more impactful or efficient in their roles, which is a better use of your headcount costs, even if you are adding to the budget!
             3) Right people. right time –  Now let’s chat about your current team members.  Some of the most impactful work I have done is talking to leaders about helping a long-tenured employee move on from the organization if they aren’t happy (or can’t adapt) to the new stages of company maturity.  The rockstar you hired when you were 25 people may not be the rockstar you need at 100 people.  They may not want to be at a company that size either (some people really enjoy that early early stage of a company).  And that’s a really hard conversation on both sides.  Hopefully, you have created a culture that is open and trusting.  Where people feel comfortable being honest about their goals and motivators.  The worse thing you can do is let an employee struggle and it turns into a performance conversation.  In a 1:1, just be honest with what you are seeing, ask them if they are still enjoying the work they do or the direction the company is heading.  And give them permission to make a change on their own to find something that better aligns with their passions.
I have shared some of my biggest learnings on helping scale a company culture on the Scaling.NYC podcast and a webinar with 15Five & Think Human.  How have you found ways to evolve your culture as you grow your business?   Are you struggling with any of the areas above (or something else)?  Let’s connect and see how I can help!

How to Start a Career Leveling Framework for your Organization

Image result for career ladderAs a company grows, it’s important to set expectations around each level in the organization.   This is important for hiring, performance management, and career development. Below are two examples of leveling frameworks (leadership & individual contributor) and some examples of what could be noted in each area.  While this can be a helpful starting point, it’s important that you take this framework and adjust it to your culture (wordsmithing!) and expectations.   I’m here to help, reach out and we can talk about the best way to create a career leveling framework for your specific organization.

Leadership Levels

Manager Director Vice President
Headline Manages the performance of a team or sub-function Recommends & Implements strategy for the function Sets the strategy and goals for a department
Scope Given the execution plan, determines and manages KPI’s Takes the strategy, brings it to life for the teams and determines execution. Makes final decisions on administrative or operational matters and ensures effective achievement` of objectives. Sets vision and direction through resource allocation decisions for multiple significant organizations or business units.
Complexity & Impact Works on complex issues within their area of focus.  Acts as an escalation point for the team. Expected to keep projects on budget and schedule (which was set by the senior leader).  Requires in-depth knowledge of the work the team does and overall understanding of business strategies and company goals. Works on complex issues where analysis of situations or data requires an in-depth knowledge of the company. Participates in corporate development of methods, techniques and evaluation criteria for projects, programs, and people. Ensures budgets and schedules meet corporate requirements.  Requires in-depth knowledge of the functional area, business strategies, and the company’s goals. Through assessment of intangible variables, identifies and evaluates core issues, providing strategy and direction for major functional areas. Influences long-term vision and strategy of corporate consequence. Requires in-depth knowledge of the company, competitive environment, technology and economic or social implications of organization activities.
Discretion
Policy Making
Supervision
Interaction
Other Considerations Bonus plans, option packages, severance levels, contract/expense approvals, other perks (ex cell phone reimbursement)

 

Individual Contributors

Associate

Specialist

Partner 

Lead 

Typical Years of Experience

0-2 years

2-4 years

4-6 years

6+ years

Technical Skills

Developing has baseline knowledge but needs training on anything outside of the norm, doesn’t know what they don’t know yet

Strong fundamentals, can start anticipating issues or concerns, able to make recommendations for possible improvements

Able to handle complex projects, provide feedback and mentor others on the teams

Expert-level skills, there isn’t anything they haven’t seen before, able to manage escalations from the team in the absence of the manager

Problem Solving

Communication

Decision Making

Is able to follow instructions and training provided to make simple decisions

Is able to start to use skills to suggest decisions outside of the normal scope of the role, needs to get approval from their manager for anything outside of the normal scope of the role

Is able to look at complex situations and make recommendations; empowered to make decisions on projects

Empowered to make decisions on projects they are not working on as an expert on the team

Scope & Impact

Indicators of Success

 

Setting the Stage: 3 Tips to Prepare for Any Feedback Conversation

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Shameless plug, I just wrote my first book and it’s available on Amazon!  It started as a grad school project that evolved over the last 10 years.  I would share it with people, to be helpful, and more and more I was hearing, “You should publish this”.   So I finally did. The feedback (no pun intended) has been so supportive and rewarding. While I hope people continue to find their way to the full workbook, I wanted to share some of the biggest takeaways I hope people gain while they go through the exercises!

Prepare your script  – Take the time to prepare for your conversation.  The worst thing you can do is rush into a conversation.  Gather feedback from others, if appropriate, so it’s not just your point of view.  Have examples of the behavior or skill gap ready. Think about is this a change in performance, and if so, why that might be the case.  Be ready with a proposed action plan to help turn the performance around (or how they can double down on something they are doing really well).  

Remember feedback should be a dialogue, not a monologue – Especially if you are nervous, uncomfortable, or excited about the feedback, it’s easy to rush through your talking points without taking a breath.   This should be a feedback conversation.  Ask questions and get their reactions.  Ask what you could be doing differently as their manager (or more of to encourage/recognize the positives).  Involve them in determining the next steps. This is a partnership and your team members will be much more willing to make the change if they are bought into the action plan coming out of the meeting.

These are not characters on a page, they are living humans – I know that sounds obvious, but it’s sometimes hard to remember.  They are sitting in front of you, formed by their background, life experiences, natural behavior tendencies (think MBTI or DiSC) and carrying their baggage (or expectations) from previous conversations or manager relationships.   And you are human as well! Approach each conversation with the perspective of best intentions (everyone is trying to do their best). And if something goes unexpected, try to navigate as best as you can on the spot. Reflect after the conversation to see if there was anything different you could have done to avoid the land mine you stepped on at the moment.  

Even when sharing positive conversations, prepping to give feedback is hard and not something to take lightly.   But luckily you aren’t alone. Your HR Partners are there to help. If you are that HR Partner, remember you do this every day and it’s still working to prep so be patient with your managers!   And lucky for you, you know me, and I’m here to help as well. Check out my workbook on Amazon for more exercises and advice on how to prepare for an upcoming feedback conversation.   Or reach out to me directly to set up a coaching session (one free session with the purchase of the workbook!) and we can work through it together.  Good luck, you got this!

Going Beyond the Survey to Improve Company Culture

Image from iOS (3)Every company I have worked for has done employee surveys.  There is a lot of thought of how often to do the survey, what questions to ask, how to capture demographics (dept, tenure, etc) to get the most valuable feedback.   The trick is always what happens after the results come back.  I recently spoke at the EX Impact Summit in San Diego about my experiences at Ordergroove, how we dig into the feedback we receive and identify opportunities to impact change.  Below are two key take-aways I hoped the audience walked away with that they could apply when they got back to the office.

Think like a Product Manager

Hopefully, you get a lot of interesting feedback through your culture surveys.   But it can sometimes be overwhelming and it’s important to look at the correlation between the quantitative data (scores) and the qualitative data (comments).   When reviewing one survey a few years ago, while the numbers were just ok in one area, the comments crushed my soul.  It provided so much more context and specifics that were missing in the ratings.  It helped really focus and see the need to make a clear change in that area of the business.  So think like a product manager – get customer feedback, don’t make assumptions about what will work, talk to your users to get their insights.

Be scrappy – try something, learn, adjust, try again

One of my biggest learnings as an HR leader was to not let myself get lost in the design of a new program without getting feedback.  I love what I do and I am very action-oriented.  So it’s easy for me to just go into a corner, design the “perfect” thing, and go straight to rollout.  But you waste so much time designing something without knowing if it is actually going to produce the result.   So once you have a hypothesis, put together an MVP and test it with your audience (or a subset of your audience) and get their feedback or test it for a while to see if it starts to drive the desired results.

In the case study I shared with the audience, I took the feedback received in the survey, focused on one specific area of improvement and then did the follow-up work before moving to an action plan.   I shared the results with the leadership team and some key trusted team members to get their reaction.  Then I brought together a working team to help me dive deeper into the feedback, got additional examples and started brainstorming on ideas on how we could change the behaviors.   I put together three things that we could try as an organization and tried them out for six weeks.  I did a pulse check mid-quarter to see if we were heading in the right direction.   As expected, a couple of things were helping but one wasn’t.   But as with all “failures”, there were new learnings in even the trial that weren’t working.  We adjusted and finished up the quarter with a significant increase in our engagement score in the area we were trying to improve!

How can you go beyond your next survey to improve your culture?  How have you found ways to be more agile in how you approach your work?   Feel free to reach out to me to chat more or to hear more details about the case study!

 

 

Nailing Change Management

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Photo by le vy on Pexels.com

Raise your hand if you have ever been through a change.  Whether it is at home or at work, we have all been through numerous changes.  Some planned, some unexpected.  Some exciting, some scary.  But no matter the circumstances, I bet it was hard at the time you were going through it.    That’s because change is takes a lot of energy but it is necessary to evolve and grow.

I recently joined GoCoach’s panel of change experts to discuss some advice, learnings and experiences to best lead a team through change.  The three biggest themes were Communicate, Collaborate, Execute.  

  • I realize, of course, that there may be some sensitivity to full transparency, you can’t always share everything.  However, the rule of thumb is that you cannot over-communicate when it comes to change.  Even if the answer is “we don’t know yet”, that’s better than avoiding a topic (people will always fill in the gaps with the worst possible scenarios).
  • Partner with people around you, you can’t do this alone.  Whether it is working with other leaders in the organization, leveraging change champions that can help rally the troops, or talking to your HR partners across the organization about the needs of their specific groups, do not try to lead through change in a silo!
  • Put together a plan.  Think through who is going to tell what to whom and when.  Determine milestones to recognize wins along the way (including mini-milestones).  Determine a feedback loop to give the team a channel to share their questions and concerns.  Map as much out as possible before you start communicating.

The most experienced change leaders will tell you: You aren’t going to get it all right.  You can plan every talking point, identify all the benefits and risks, celebrate milestones and still have a reaction you weren’t expecting.  When that happens, take a step back, see what didn’t resonate and adjust.  Be honest with the team that you heard concerns and you want to try to explain it in a different way, or share more details that might have been missed the first time.  Don’t dig your heels in or hide from the feedback.  Listen to the feedback, show vulnerability and figure out how to move forward to help people adapt & accept the change better.

For more tips and stories about how myself and others have led teams through change, check out GoCoach’s webinar, Nailing Change Management, How to Drive Change Like a Leader.    What are some times you have seen change initiatives be successful?  What are you biggest learnings from when it didn’t go well?  Jump over to Let’s Connect if you want to chat directly or if I can help you prepare for an upcoming change in anyway!

Scaling a Feedback Culture

We all want our team to be the best they can be.   The best way to do that is by creating a safe and supportive environment where feedback is wanted and expected.   A culture that recognizes great performances and helps people grow their skills.   Where managers “catch people in the act” and give feedback on the spot.   And an organization that doesn’t shy away from tough conversations because it’s in the best interest of everyone.

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Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

I recently had the chance to join leaders from Think Human, 15Five, Namely, and Compass to discuss the best ways organizations can create a feedback culture.   It might have been one of the best panels I have had the chance to join, so many smart people and such thoughtful points about the importance of feedback!

HR for HR Sake

HR has a come a long way – I mean it’s not even HR anymore…People Ops, Talent Management, Employee Experience.  But no matter the title, we need to challenge ourselves to make sure we focus on the ways we can drive value for our organizations, even if it means we don’t do the new cool trends in our field or the fun project we really want to do for our own rockstar status.

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Photo by Wendy Wei on Pexels.com

I remember a few years back I got the opportunity to create a new manager and leadership training program from scratch.  I was beyond excited, energized and would stay up all hours to keep working on something because I was loving the work so much.   I presented this completed program design, schedule and content to my HR Partners and they look at me like I have two heads.  Sure, I did a needs analysis of what the managers needed, but I never asked my HR peers what they (or the teams) could actually support.   I was crushed.  But it was my own fault.  I put myself in a bubble and didn’t think about what was actually possible or what was going to have the most impact at that moment.   But I also didn’t in the feedback loop of how the first couple of sessions might go.  Or how our team would respond to the new platform of attending sessions via a webinar.  I spent way too much time designing without testing and iterating.  Ever since then, I always look at projects in phases.  Try it, get feedback, learn and adjust.  You can always expand and grow a program.  But don’t put all the work into something you don’t know is going to work.

But on the flip side, we also need to make sure we are thinking outside the box and not just doing something because we are supposed to based on everything we have learned in our careers.   A perfect example is performance reviews.  I talk to a lot of my peers and we all want to get outside of the traditional formats, even get rid of ratings, but then how do you think about calibration and definition of “good” and then…salary increases!  It’s stressful for sure and it won’t be easy.  Some managers will need a lot of hand holding and we will need to flat out call them out when they are being biased.   But imagine the world after that first cycle or two where people are focused more on development and actually taking in the feedback and not obsessing about what number they got.  And where increases are fair because they know they are amazing, not if they are #1 or #2 on the team.  It takes thinking space and the right culture and leadership team, but we don’t have to do things just because we are supposed to…not just for HR sake.

I had a great chance to talk to Bruce Marable on the Employee Cycle Podcast about this exact thing.  I share more about the stories above and how I have tried to not just do HR for HR sake and really focus on what our team and our culture needs at that time!