Demand excellence in relationship building on your teams

Building relationships at work and requiring it of managers is hard for a few reasons. But mostly, because there is a lot of work to be done that seems to be much higher value and importance. Maybe it’s getting a product out, or a patch to a customer, or closing a big sale, or doing an implementation for a customer. These actions are impactful and revenue driven. It’s hard to imagine that we should shift our focus to something, or anything that might impact the achievement of these things.

What if we did set a high expectation of managers and team members having a relationship? And, we can all be clear about the word relationship: an appropriate business relationship between human beings.

A few months after I moved into a new-to-me townhouse, my furnace caught fire. (I replace my furnace every time I move now. It’s become an irrational quirk.)

The weeks after moving in were busy – unpacking, busy at the office, getting ready for the holiday season – and so I hadn’t had time to meet my neighbours. It was on the list, though. In fact, I was going to take some chips and wine around to meet people. Tomorrow, for sure, tomorrow. Okay, maybe the day after, but that day for sure. Next week. You get the idea, the day didn’t come.

Before I could introduce myself, the furnace caught fire and the fire trucks introduced me instead.

Like many catastrophic or chaotic events, all is well that ends well, but we could have scaled some efficiencies.

What if I’d taken the few hours to meet my neighbours as I’d planned. What if I prioritized my community and my self and not work or cleaning the floors or putting up decorations? What if they’d become neighbours, or even friends, and not strangers in a calmer, gentler time? Instead, these strangers offered my tea and a place to sit while the firefighters swept up the glass they’d had to break to get into my home and rescue my dog. A stranger held my dog after he was passed out of the house by a fire fighter.

The same thing applies at work. Why wait for the fire?

We can sometimes look backwards instead of forwards when it comes to doing hard things. When we have to downsize a third of the company, we build a communication plan and jump in. We are managing a change and building trust at the same time. A tall order. It takes time to recover from that, to build back up to the same or higher productivity levels.

If we take the time to build a relationship first, we can recover much more quickly. We can move back into productivity faster. We have less downtime. We reenergize faster. We can support our team so much better if we know about them as people.

It’s not easy. We do not easily build relationships with every person we meet. But we canhave a relationship with all of our employees. They won’t all be BFFs but we can be connected. Building a connection is the goal – not converting everyone into someone to have lunch with all the time or someone to play ultimate frisbee with.

Every now and then I hear a story about someone who was in an accident or had their body fail them. The doctor says something like, their recovery will be quicker or easier because they were healthy or in good shape. The effort put in at the beginning impacted a moment of crisis or chaos. Same goes here. The effort we put it helps us in the end.

And unlike a fire or an accident, hard times at work are guaranteed. No company rides the wave all of the time. No department is the best department all of the time.

It looks like this: reserve a few hours each week to spend one on one with your team members with NO agenda. Figure out a regular cadence that works for you and the team member. You may only meet with someone you know well every month, while a newer team member you meet with each week. And the rest of your team falls to a biweekly cadence. You get the idea.

If you’re the kind of person who could very nearly die without an agenda – start with this one – find something the two of you have in common in thirty minutes together where there is no work talk. In the next meeting, find something they do that you know nothing about and learn about it for the next time you get together. Do not talk about work – this can be the hardest part because it’s the easiest thing to do, we already have it in common because we work at the same place. Talk about them. And, a little about you. Create a common space to be two people together.

Imagine what you could do with these hours a week? Imagine how much money you could make from a customer. Imagine how much coding you could do. Imagine how many calls you could make. And then let it go. Learning about your team, building a solid foundation, creating a common space is worth it. When you need to call on it, the money you feel like you missed out on or the coding or the customer calls will be right there.

The time I got a job while pregnant

I told two men, who owned their own business, who were considering hiring me that I was newly pregnant. The kind of newly pregnant that the baby’s father didn’t even know. I work in the HR field. I know the advice I’d hear from my peers – don’t say anything, they’ll never hire you. But I couldn’t stop myself. Not telling wasn’t an option.

Of course, we live in a country and province that wouldn’t allow for discrimination because of pregnancy.  And of course, again, it would have been very easy to not hire me for any number of reasons. Including that huge umbrella called ‘fit’.

Instead of them finding an excuse not to hire me, or offering a contract instead of a permanent role, they shared in my joy. Later down the road they shared baby clothes, toys, and tried and true methods.

They gave me the job. They paid me more than I expected. They watched me balloon to too many pounds and nearly pass out in the office with high blood pressure. I am a very good mother. But, I did not thrive with the baby part. Without judgement, I was welcomed back to work after just a few months of maternity leave.

I am so grateful to have transitioned to motherhood in such a nurturing space.

 

PS: I told my kiddo’s dad very shortly thereafter and he quickly forgave being the fourth person to know that we were making a human.

The Amrita List

Many years ago, one of the most kind and intelligent women I’ve ever met shared some advice with me. It’s simple when I look back on it, but at the time it was immensely helpful. I had heard about writing out a list of qualities that important to you when it comes to finding a partner. People would write down things like want kids, good with money, warm relationship with family. But, I’d never thought to do the same when it comes to a job. Amrita did!

She helped me to build a list of qualities that are important to me in my job and with the organization I work with. At the time, I was beginning a search for a new job. The time I spent on this exercise pointed me in the right direction when it came to looking for opportunities and the kind of managers I wanted to work with.

This is an exercise I ask my team to do now. I love the clarity that comes from it. It helps connect me with a purpose.

Here’s some of my Amrita list:

  • An organization that cares about its people
  • Achievement and outcome focused
  • Doing good for the world
  • Fast-paced
  • Strong sense of accountability

What’s on yours?

Different IS fair

It took me a while to wrap my head around this concept – different is fair. It flies in the face of my kindergarden teacher’s whole schtick. Everyone gets the same number of blocks. Period.
It didn’t occur to me at five to ask about the kids who didn’t want to play blocks, or were keen to stay at the sand table or wanted to continue reading books.

I get it now. All 20 of us were different people. We were interested in different things and motivated by our own unique needs. We shared the same desire to graduate to first grade, meaning we learned the requirements. But our ‘whys’ were divergent. We wanted to use the gigantic grade one door, or give up the blue cots for nap time, or maybe make our parents happy.

Here I am at work, learning that the same applies – the people I work with share the same desire to experience success, but our whys are our own. Helping people figure out their why can help them find more meaning in their day. It means the manager and the team member can speak the same language. It might even mean that team members can connect around shared whys.

It means that treating people differently IS being fair. Making everyone use blocks wasn’t fair – it was completely uncool for those not into blocks. Just as making everyone approach work the same way is not fair – we are all different. We should all find our own blocks, so to speak.

What’s your why? What are your blocks?

Being consistently inconsistent

I’m not very good with routine. I get bored. Some people tell me that this just means I should do it harder. Until it’s not boring.

This is not a blog post about that.

What works for me is being consistently inconsistent. I can be consistent about the big picture stuff – personal development, mental health, financial management, goal setting, and so on. Setting aside regular time for personal development, health, spiritual discovery, self care, and so on is easy for me. In fact, it is motivating and energizing.
The idea of going to the same yoga class every Thursday, though, makes my brain go sideways. Setting aside time for myself to do something physical or for my health every Thursday is easy. I just have to be inconsistent about what I do – yoga, walk with my neighbour, batch cooking (not brownies), bike ride, etc.
I spent years thinking ‘I fell of the wagon again’. I was constantly feeling like a failure for not sticking to the same things.
No more! I’m consistently inconsistent. I need more than one wagon. I can stick to my commitment without sticking to just one thing.

Office Aesthetics

I think office aesthetics matter. There, I said it. I feel shallow. But, I shouldn’t. I have good reason for thinking office aesthetics matter. I believe that our environment fuels creativity and mental health. Fresh air is so good for us. Daylight is so good for us. Nature feeds our brain’s ideas. I think we should sit, and stand and walk, in workspaces that inspire us. That fuel new ideas. That calm us when we feel stressed and that amp us up when we need it.

I don’t think we have to run around and gold plate things, rather be thoughtful about creating an environment that is clean, welcoming and thought provoking. The image on the wall in my office is from Ikea. It’s an image of the sun shining through a dense, green forest of maples. It wasn’t expensive, but it does allow my mind to escape for a few minutes. To work through a problem or help generate a thought.

Spend time on the experience of your space. You don’t need to spend thousands on a design. Your mind is full of great ideas, and if your mind is tired, the internet has lots of ideas.

Stop sucking it up

Dear women on my team,

Thank you for coming to a women’s event with me. Thank you for being interested in moving women forward. Thank you for being interested in women at work. Thank you for thinking about inclusion for everyone.

To each of you, please do not ‘suck it up and deal with it’. Whatever ‘it’ is, please do what is right. Be forward looking. Make life better for others.

Our team recently went to an event with a panel of women speakers. One woman told the story of going to the strip club with her executive team. She talked about watching the dancers walk off the stage and then approaching them to hit them up for investment business.

The crowd roared with laughter at her revenue strategy.

Her advice to the women in the room was to suck it up like she did. She joined in and went to the club. She sucked it up and dealt with it.

I did not roar with laughter. I looked in horror at my team.

Women on my team, please don’t just deal with the cards you are dealt. If your team goes to the strip club, demand better. If your team does business on the roof top patio, demand better.  If your team does business at the golf course, demand better.

Business takes place where it is accessible to all. If your team is a group of golfers, the golf course might be the perfect place. If four or five out of six or seven of your team golf, the golf course is wrong.

Thank you for being on my team, women. Thank you for being open and honest. Thank you for giving me feedback. Thank you for making me better.

The role of HR in the execution of the business plan.

 

Recently, I’ve been doing some soul searching, the business kind, to figure out my role as the people strategist in the execution of the business plan. Sure we support talent needs, create a productive environment, but what role do we have to push tasks to completion?
We own the tools for performance management and sometimes even own the tool for business plan tracking. But we tend to take a bit of a backseat or administrative role in the process. We tend to leave the driving of the execution to the business.

Let’s not do that anymore. Let’s jump in, roll up our sleeves, and drive the plans forward.

What does that look like? Ask to be the owner of the business plan execution tool if you’re not already. Run business plan update meetings. Set regular update reporting where managers report in. If you don’t already, learn what the roadblocks are and share suggestion for how to solve them if you can’t solve them on your own.

Gender biases in interview questions

My mind has been blown in the last few weeks as I continue to read about how gender bias plays a role in interviews. Among other places. The simplicity of the placement of words impacts the results of an interview.

Women are more likely to attribute success to their team, hard work and good luck. While men are more likely to attribute success to skills and innate qualities. Thank you leanin.org for the intel.

I often ask an open ended, warm up question, like tell me about your path to here, right now. Boom. Just walked right in to gender bias if I’m not careful. Men are more likely to tell me about their skills and the qualities they possess that got them here. Think, my ability to close the biggest deal got me a promotion manager. While a woman might say, I’ve had really good luck with customers and the deal closed which led to the promotion. Would I walk away thinking that the man was smarter? I mean, the woman got lucky, but the man used his ability.

I learned to spend time thinking about what I want out of my questions. Why do I want to know about their path to here? I want to know about their interests professionally. I want to know about decisions they made during their career path. I learned to take these and make specific questions, to drive out the answers I want and to account for bias. Instead, I can ask, what skills do you think got you here? It specifically asks each candidate to talk about skills. Instead of relying on their own interpretation of what I’m asking.

Mind blown. Bring on the interviewees.

Let’s talk about the use of anonymous surveys

Our organization runs an anonymous survey to our entire employee base every quarter or so before a townhall. We try to gather thoughts in to themes and make sure we speak to them in the townhall. I love the idea of hearing what people think. I love the opportunity to hear what happens at the watercooler or whatever people talk over now. What do people talk over now? Is it still the watercooler? Maybe the foosball table? Espresso machine? Doggy daycare? I digress.

I love anonymous feedback tools. I, like most HR people, would prefer that we have created an environment that is so open and welcoming that people can say anything. But we’re all humans and some days we’re still trying to figure out how to tell our boss that she has a seed stuck between her teeth. So, anonymity can be helpful.

 

A few months ago, the survey came back saying that I was unapproachable. While this comment didn’t leave me feeling the same joy I feel eating a Starbucks oat fudge bar, it didn’t sting. I took it to heart. Someone was struggling so much and had nowhere else to turn but this anonymous survey. That had to change. More on that in some other blogpost.

 

I work on a team of wonderful humans. And the humans showed their wonderfulness by being worried about my feelings. In truth, the outpouring was unexpected. Emails, visits, notes, texts, IMs, even a box of doughnuts. It didn’t matter if they agreed or not with the anonymous commenter, they disagreed with the forum. With putting me on the spot like that.

 

It’s funny that one person’s complaint led to so much support. Life can be like that.

 

I still love anonymous surveys. I still think they serve a purpose. I’m still trying to create the perfect environment. Where everyone says what they thinks and we solve problems in the open. But, in the meantime, keep surveying!