The attraction of owning it

I was recently asked to consider, as an employee, what I look for in an organization.

I can be shallow at times and my immediate thoughts were: a good cook, great dancer, and an ability to gauge and react appropriately to my moods….uh, I mean, good perqs, willingness to have fun, and flexibility in my schedule.

My filter was working that day and I only thought those things.  What I said out loud (thankfully) was: accountability, communication, and openness.

Do they sound like buzzwords? A bit mothership-ish?  Perhaps, but I stand by them.

Let me reassure you.  I do not have the inclination to write a blog post that covers all  three points.  It’s way too reminiscent of writing an essay and frankly with my tendency to go off on tangents, and an inability to create articulate closing paragraphs, this would be waaaaaaay too long.

So let me focus on the one that resonates the most with me: accountability.

I am a fairly perceptive person and I also have two teenagers, so I am also very familiar with the art of dodge and detract (“Why do you always think it was me that ate the last of the cookies and put the bag back empty?!”  “Nobody told me that I was supposed to feed the cat?”  “I missed the bus because you didn’t wake me up early enough” “The teacher didn’t tell us to do that”)

So when it comes to professionals who won’t accept responsibility or be accountable, I have very little patience. After all, unless I have a picture that you made out of macroni and pipe cleaners tucked away in my basement, I have no instinct to tolerate your shortcomings.

Alright, let’s just get it out there.  We all make mistakes.

We all give the wrong answer, provide inaccurate information, miss a scheduled meeting, forget to do something, or hit Reply All.  Everyone has done these things, but not everyone is willing to admit it.  Well, at least not without making up some elaborate excuse, or worse, blaming someone else, for it.

Repeat after me: I fucked up.  Sorry about that.  (And if possible) I will correct it.

That’s owning up to what you have done.  Now take it one step further…how about owning what you have said you would do and be held responsible for the outcome.

For managers this means that you are not only accountable for your work, but also for the deliverables of your team.  Sound daunting? It can be, but that’s why they gave you the cubicle with direct exposure to natural light.

So when your boss asks you for an update and you realize that someone on your team hasn’t done their part – do not dodge and detract…do not point and blame…accept and admit that you did not follow-up, fix it, and then move on.

And when that really, really innovative program you pushed for and launched finally crashes and burn…do not blame IT…do not blame the consultants that you overpaid to tell you it was a “best practice” (which is essentially the professional version of “all the cool kids are doing it”)…do not fault senior management for not properly supporting it, and last of all…do not suggest that the project team wasn’t committed.  Own it, learn from it, and move on.

When it comes down to it, accountability is probably one of the best ways to attract and retain people.

Because you could cook me the best meal, go all Footloose on the dance floor, and let me sit and read for hours, but none of that would be worth having to listen to you complain about how everyone is out to screw you over or how it’s never your fault.

What the world needs more of: constant reminders and a POP of colour!

Do you know what phrase irritates the hell out of me? ” POP of colour”.  As in, “Hey, do you know what this room needs? A POP of colour!”

Not just a dash, splash or a bit…but a POP of colour!  And yes, the uppercase letters and exclamation marks are mandatory because you have to say it like you’re reading a comic book out loud. (KAPOW!)

Another thing people say that is almost as irritating: “everyone can be replaced”.

I am not disputing the fact that you can replace people in the physical sense.  Ask anyone involved in recruitment…they can have a body in the chair by the end of the week.

I take exception to the fact that some organizations, and by default many managers, feel that this is something worth reminding their employees or openly operating under that premise.  I have heard (and been told) that it’s wise not to get too comfortable in your job because after all… everyone can be replaced.

Well now, that is motivating.  Nothing like knowing that my status is on par with the toner cartridge in the copier.

It’s true, items can be replaced.  Equally true, people can be replaced.    But the impact of telling an office chair that there’s a good chance that it might not be there  next fiscal is probably a lot easier than telling the same to the person sitting in it.

You do not need to stop replacing people when it’s necessary.

What you need to do is stop looking at your employees as though they have dotted lines around their profiles.  You need to stop referring to them only as FTEs, PYs, Boxes, or Seats rather than employees or people.

I realize that in putting this out there, I might ruffle the feathers of a few budget-loving spreadsheet huggers out there who are rolling their eyes about all this  people-loving bullshit.

I’m okay with it if you don’t like it. After all, even you can be replaced.

Drawn to distraction

With the recent stiffer legislation targeting distracted drivers from talking and texting while driving, I couldn’t help but stop to consider is this enough.

We are such an incredibly distracted society.

We have been led to believe and have completely bought the idea that more is better.  Why do only one thing, when you can do two or even three.

Why drive from A to B, when you can do that AND organize a meeting, or go over today’s numbers or referee an argument between your kids or catch up on the latest neighbourhood gossip.

Apparently, at the current rate, distracted driving is set to become the leading contributor to deaths over impaired driving and speeding.

As disturbing as this is, that’s not the part the haunts me.  For me it’s  almost compulsive need of people to always being doing something.  Even when they are doing something.

In a completely unofficial observation during my drives to and from work, I pass quite a few people standing at bus stops or walking along the side-walk.  Well over 50%, and I even want to push this up to like 75%, are talking on the phone, texting or staring at a screen.  My absolute favourite is the mom (or caretaker) pushing a stroller, pulling along a dog on a leash, and talking to whoever is on the other end of her phone.  Now that’s maximizing your time.

Indulge me just a bit more, because it’s not just the drivers and pedestrians who are guilty of this.  I look at my son (and all the other 15-year old boys that he represents). He is never beyond 2 metres of his iPod and/or laptop.  By the way, in case you didn’t know, these are meant to be complimentary devices.  You see, the game on the iPod is very useful in filling the empty void created by the laptop downloading a movie on Netflix.

TV viewers are encouraged to watch shows while simultaneously following on their ipads so they can get the behind the scenes, Twitter feed, and Instagram photos that completely overshadow the actual program.

Lest I sound like some grumpy Gen-X who wants to go back to good old days of Cassettes and Atari.  I love technology, I like the windows it opens (he he), and I have gleefully participated in a FB feed that was 100% more entertaining than the actual presenter we were skewering.

I am not talking about enhancing and get the most out of an event or activity, I am talking about filling space and time just because you can.

What has really made me aware of all this is that I recently got my motorcycle license and have been cruising around the area.  Let me tell you, there is absolutely no room for distraction on a bike.  None.  On a bike you have to compensate for everything and everyone around you.  You have to notice that the person in front of you is staring at their crotch again (people, you are not fooling anyone) and you have to realize that buddy in the next lane who has his phone to his ear does not see you.

But the bonus of all this is that because I am focused solely on driving, it is absolutely liberating and calming.  I can’t think about work, my kids or any number of things that I need to remind myself to do.  Things that I would either try to mull over or drown out with the radio in my car.  Things that I am sure other people try to resolve while they are driving or walking.

We seem to naturally gravitate towards distraction.

Ultimately, distraction has consequences – whether it’s not noticing that your kid dropped their stuffy from the stroller as you discussed what you were going to bring to the potluck, or not catching that you were suppose to finish the draft report and send it by the end of day because you were IM-ing your colleague as you listened to your client on the phone, or maybe it’s blowing through a red light because you had to see who just sent you a text…

You can only hope that what you miss is easily retrieved.

Better yet, you can learn to focus on and enjoy what you are doing.

Negative energy is still energy

You know how there are people out there who are really judge-y and quick to comment when things are going crappy.

Well, it turns out I am one of them.

It’s true.  How sad.

The reality is that my posts were fuelled by all the things going wrong that I saw in the workplace and my personal gripes with all the BS that was floating around.  Based on this, I never had trouble finding material to write about.

However, it turns out that my most recent job move, rather than providing me with a whole new basket of rotten apples to talk about, well…have left me little to nothing to hone in on.

Honestly, I actually found myself internally grumbling about the fact that I didn’t really have anything to externally grumble about.  Work with me people.  Or wait, better yet – stop frickin’ working with me.  Stop being team players and collaborating.  Stop making me feel good about my choices and challenging me. Stop giving me opportunities to learn and most of all, stop with the bloody feedback.

The feedback.

It’s really messing with my mind.  I’m at the point of thinking I know what I am doing that you might actually value my input.  Worse yet, I actually let myself feel appreciated.

This has to stop.  It’s ridiculous.  My blog is suffering for it.

But wait…I guess I do have something to bitch about.

Balance has been restored in the Matrix.  I feel the energy flowing again (but it might be the wine).

Exit Stage Left

Marsha:  John?

John: Yes Marsha?

Marsha: I know that our relationship is ending because you have decided to move on, but I was wondering if I could ask you something…one last small, teency-weency thing?

John: What is it Marsha?

Marsha: John, I know it didn’t work out between us, but I was hoping that you would take a few minutes to tell me why it didn’t work?  Can you tell me what I did or didn’t do that might have contributed to the demise of our love?

John: …

Marsha: And while we are chatting, could you also think back about what I did well, what did I offer you that might appeal to my future partners, and what I need to improve on.

John: …

Marsha: I’m very serious John.  You can tell me.  Was it money? Was it too much attention? Not enough attention?  Did I not tell you I love you enough?  Was my cooking unsatisfactory?  Were the living conditions less than desirable?

John: …um…

Marsha: John, I don’t want you to hold back.  This feedback will be incredibly important for my development – how else will I be able to learn and grow if you don’t share with me.  I know that we are over, but I’m thinking about how I might be more successful in retaining my next partner.

John: …well…

Marsha: I mean think back to when you first met me – what was it that attracted you to me?  Was it my looks, my brains, my reputation?  And when did it change for you…it was after our first anniversary wasn’t it…you told me not to make a big deal about it, but I knew that you were just saying that and that deep down you really want me to go over the top.  I still cannot believe that I embarrassed you, but I had to announce our love publicly.

John: …oh, but…

Marsha: So John…will you do this for me?

John: So let me get this straight – you are asking me now…now that we are finished…what you could have done to keep me? You are asking me to help you be a better partner for the next guy that comes around?  You want me to share all my frustrations and memories now that I am walking out the door?

Marsha: Why yes…

John: And you will listen to what I will say? And you will actually do something about it?

Marsha: Exactly!

John: Yeah, I don’t think so – that’s kind of messed up.

It is isn’t it?

Food for thought

I know that the last time I popped in, I implied that I was coming back.  I wasn’t trying to be a tease.  I honestly thought that I was ready to come back, but I wasn’t.  I frequently thought about blog posts – I composed them, developed them in my ahead and then filed them away.  I just wasn’t ready to commit to writing them down.

Initially I thought I was just getting lazy or even bored, but the reality is that I was dealing with some house-cleaning items that required me to focus on other things.  I know I’m far from the only person to experience this – from what I’ve seen, it’s pretty common.  In fact, it’s the people who never take a break, those that are constantly producing and constantly on that I wonder about.  It seems so exhausting.

So, I will put it out there that this blog post is not going to be very HR-ish.  If you are someone come across my blog because of searching HR, or if you have been here before and are looking for HR insight, you may want to take a pass on this.

This blog has always been for me – I make no apologies for that.  As such, I am taking the liberty to work though one of the many reasons I have been on hiatus (doesn’t that make it seem legit?).

Would you believe that it has to do with food?  Seriously.

It would be so much easier to say that I developed some disease, disorder or allergy that left my in such a state that I was not able to function normally; however, the truth is that I started following a new path and I kind of got lost. And confused.

I have posted a few things about wanting to clean up my eating (which is a good thing) and try to improve my health and energy level.  These are all good goals to have – I don’t think there is anyone out there that would disagree with me on this.  I made a few changes on my own and then started looking for meal ideas and inspiration and came across the Whole 30, Paleo, and grain-free eating.  I Googled and Pinterested my way through some great recipes and started using ingredients that I hadn’t before.  I decided to take the challenge and cut out all grains, exploring the paleo options, and see where this took me.

It went well, I didn’t feel like it was that big a deal…I was pretty much convinced that this was the real deal and was okay with constantly having a modified version of whatever everyone else was having, be it at home or elsewhere.  I was good with my choices.  This went on and well for quite a while – I became more aware of what I was eating, more devoted to my way of eating, and constantly looking for another recipe.

And then almost a year and half later I hit a wall.  I realized that I no longer enjoyed food because it had almost become clinical to me.

One day I was running late and needed a bite to eat. I didn’t have time to make anything and took a quick look in my cupboards.  I froze.  Despite the fact that my kitchen was filled with food, I couldn’t convince myself that there was anything I could eat.  Looking at half a baguette from my family’s previous evening’s meal I was mentally unable to make myself cut a piece to eat.

This was bread made with five ingredients, all of which I could pronounce and identify, and I was treating it like it was a jar of Cheez Whiz.

As a reminder, I do not have any food allergies, I have not been identified as having gluten sensitivity, and have not nor do I have issues with my health or weight.  And yet, I could not bring myself to eat things that I had allowed myself to believe were not food.

The worst was this was creeping into so many parts of my life.  Other things that I previously enjoyed did not appeal to me.  It’s like I was associating anything that I liked doing before with being bad for me.  This left me even more confused about what I wanted and even more, what I needed.

What I do have to admit is that I developed a really messed up relationship with something that I formerly enjoyed.  And I did this at a time when I was deciding to leave my job.  I then decided to join a new organization, a situation, which at its best is stressful.  I did this at a time when I threw myself into a completely new culture, with new people, new expectations, and new challenges.  I did this at a time when I was sure I made the right choice in leaving, but was unsure about where I had decided to go.  Throw in a couple of teenagers and a partner dealing with his own work-related and health issues.

I think I was looking for a way to have control over some part of my life when the rest of it seemed somewhat chaotic and unpredictable.  I became consumed with my consumption and absolutely unsure of whether I was making good choices.

Over the past three months I have had to let go of many things and people and embrace new and sometimes uncomfortable realities.  It was only when I decided to trust myself, things started to smooth out.  I have not gone 180 because that would negate all the things that I have learned both about myself and food,  but I have started to relax and enjoy things again.

The final step in all of this actually wanted to sit down and write, not because I was supposed to, not because I read that I should, but because I genuinely wanted to talk again.  I realized that I needed to start with all of this, which is probably another reason why I’ve put this off.

Again, I am sorry if you were in search of recruiting or employee engagement advice and rants.  Those will resurface, I assure you, but for today I just needed to chew on this.


Addendum: Okay, I couldn’t just end this without some sort of tie into HR.

What I have seen happen in HR and business in general, is someone becoming completely fixated on a new idea, new movement, or new philosophy to the point that they lose sight of why they were doing it in the first place.  It is easy to set off on a path where you are aiming to improve the employee experience or performance management, but then you can easily cross over into zealot-land…a place where you are unable to consider other options or even traditional approaches.

The end result of a situation like this is not unlike what happened to me.  Failure to progress, loss of creativity, and lack of enjoyment.  It’s a hard lesson to learn.  And take it from me, humble pie is allowed on all diet plans.

Be careful what you say to people – they may just listen

So…it’s been awhile. I would like to say it was self-imposed cleansing from all things technological and social media related, but the truth is that I sat back and just didn’t have anything to say. I have been tired, lazy, and drained. But that’s changing.

I’m a firm believer in not talking just for the sake of talking, which is why you will not receive daily blog posts from me and also why I will probably not write that book that I sometimes think I can.

What’s new?

Well, as I’ve both alluded to and directly mentioned, I’ve started a new job with an new organization. It’s been nothing short of a culture shock and adjustment. Do not let anyone tell you that culture doesn’t exist in an organization or that it doesn’t matter. It matters. It matters so much that I left a job because of and for it.

I have been told that I’m a good listener, but the truth is that I listen to what people say and then I am thinking one of three things: 1) How can I make a witty retort? 2) Are they trying to tell me something? ; 3) I really wish they would stop talking.

Ok, I’m not quite that bad, but sometimes it feels that way.

I DO listen to what is being said and even more to what isn’t being said. Sometimes there are subtle messages that can make a big difference in how you will handle a situation or advise someone else to handle a situation. There are often undercurrents of fear, anger, or giddiness that change the meaning to the words that are actually being said.

And then there are messages like: “If they don’t like what we are doing, then they can go work somewhere else”.

On the subtley-meter, that one is pretty low…falling into the blatantly obvious category.

I really hate when people say it. I really hate when senior management says it. And I hate it even more when HR echoes.

What it means to me is: we don’t care about the reasons that are causing you to not like working here, and we do not want to put any effort into finding out if there is something we can do about it.

I know that there are exceptions to this. If the job requires you to work a set amount of hours or do a certain task and you don’t like those things…then maybe you need to find another job that better suits your needs. We wish you all the best in that.

However, if the organization decides to make changes to programs, structures, jobs, people, transparency, irrational decision-making whatever…and there are people that are having a hard time with this, well I am fairly certain that telling them to get on board or get off the bus is not the most motivating thing. Oh sure, you’ll keep people, but they aren’t going to be staying because they saw the light. They are staying because they need to stay employed as they look for a new job.

I mentioned that I hate when senior management pulls this line, and even worse, when HR stands behind it. Well, I was there. I actually said it. And I realized that the message was for me as much as any other employee.

The truth is that I couldn’t get on-board, so I got off the bus.

I was worried about putting this out there because it sounds like such a cop-out. Shouldn’t I have stayed and fought the fight on behalf of others? Shouldn’t I have stood up and said fuck that? Maybe I could have waited to see if things (management) would change and with it the messages and attitudes.

Trust me, I thought of all those things. It still wasn’t enough for me to get past the fact that the people empowered with authority appeared to believe that everyone there was utterly disposible. I don’t mean replaceable – we are all replaceable. I mean disposable in the sense that when they are done with you, there wouldn’t be a second thought (unless, of course, you sought legal counsel).

And I do admit, that it’s a contagious attitude because I sat talking with a colleague and we were going over a recent change, or a soon-to-be released communication and we were talking about the inevitable response and I said: “oh well, if they don’t like it – they can always leave”. And that comment sat with me for the rest of the day (and then beyond), because I had to ask myself whether I actually felt that way?

And the truth is that I DID feel that way, but not towards others, but rather about my own situation. I didn’t like it and I needed to remind myself that I could always leave.

So I did.

See, I do listen. And in this particular instance I selected Door #2: “Are they trying to tell me something?”