Parting ways


I remember reading a list of things that Audrey Hepburn put together about beauty tips.  There was one point that struck me, not necessarily because I thought it was accurate, but because I thought…how can I do that?

“People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anybody.”

In principle I agree with this.  In practice…well, not so much.

I won’t go as far as saying that I’ve thrown people out, but I have walked away, distanced myself, parted ways, drifted apart, and unFriend-ed (oh yes, I went there) a whole lot of people throughout my life.

I don’t feel bad about this because I have limited space and time in my life for people who are no longer part of my life.  There are friends and acquaintances for moments (that 3-day seminar you are taking), seasons (the fellow student who you partnered with in Intro to Philosophy in first term), and for years (your best friend forever in high school..that you have not had contact with since graduation).

I was friends with this one girl and she was fun.  She helped me get out of my comfort zone, introduced me to new people, and helped me find my backbone.  Unfortunately, by doing all this, the dynamics of our relationship changed – I was far from the DUFF, but my role was definitely meant to be supportive and of the sidekick variety.  When I finally came to realize this and, more importantly, realize I was not okay with this – things changed and we drifted apart.

And this idea works for the relationship you have with your employer.

There are positions and jobs that are meant to teach you something – good or bad – before you move on.  You will always remember it, the people you work with, and the lessons that you learned, but you do not need to re-connect with them weekly or creep their Facebook page.  You just need to move on.

So this is where I am now.  Moving on.

I came to my current employer broken.  I didn’t realize the extent of this  until I was here a few weeks and noticed that my neck no longer ached, that my eye no longer twitched, that I hadn’t had a migraine, and that I was laughing.  Actually laughing.  My friends and former colleagues saw an almost immediate positive change.

I had gone through an experience that was not a good fit for me and I paid the price for it. Word to the wise – do NOT ignore the warning signs during your interview.  You will regret it.

My current role has let me rebuild my confidence, allowed me to find my voice again, and given me hope that despite all the bullshit that HR can encompass, there are people who truly do want to make a difference.  I have been working with people who have been supportive, who have challenged me, and who have accepted and liked me for me.

So, it seems strange that I would say all this and then announce that I’m leaving.  However, like those other moments in my life when I’ve parted ways with people, there is a reason.  Staying will not improve or strengthen my relationship – in fact, it puts it at risk. I would not want to go from appreciating to resenting someone, because of my own personal changes.

I’m also at a point in my life and career when I can step forward and do things for me without worrying about how it might be taking away or impacting others.  Ah yes, the familiar parental dilemma (and yes, I did say “parental” and not women, because it’s friggin’ 2015 and if you think that some fathers don’t feel this way then go back to thinking Mad Men is a reality show).

So now, just like that high school friend,  I’m faced with the fact that my supportive and somewhat of a sidekick role needs to evolve and because of this – I have decide to make a change.

I always stayed on good terms with that girl – when I saw her from time to time over the years I was happy to say hello and find out what was new in her world.

Sometimes that is the best that I can do in terms of not “throwing people away” – it’s not up to me to “restore, renew, revive, reclaim and redeem” them, but I can accept who I have become and what they have become in my life and move forward from there.


Atoning for my sense of humour

I have often thought that one of the reasons that I have been successful in developing relationships in HR is my ability to look at situations through the lens of other people, whether that’s the manager or the employee.  Of course, it might also be my amazing personality and sense of humour.

After all, it’s this same self-decribed amazing sense of humour that helps put people at ease during interviews, helps diffuse tense moments in meetings, put a smile on people’s face when they are feeling a little stressed, and contributes to witty banter with colleagues.

And it’s this witty banter that helps break down the preconceived notion of stuffiness that precedes HR.  It has let me playfully chide managers with extreme ideas, jokingly hint at truths, and laugh (rather than cry) about the challenges we all face.

This sense of humour has opened doors for me and allowed me to sit among colleagues that might have otherwise not been comfortable to have me there.  Specifically, I’m talking about my male colleagues – both before I was in HR and afterwards.

My passcard has been my ability and willingness to laugh about myself, laugh about situations, and laugh about people’s behaviours. This means that at some point and time, I’ve laughed about women and the messed up things we often do.

Please take note that I have said laugh “about” and not “at”.  

This is an important distinction to me.  The problem is that it’s not a distinction that is obvious from the outside and because of that, I have been called out on this…rightly so…and I have had to apologize.

Over the past few weeks there have been more than a few comments made that I laughed along with.  They were jokes and I fully recognize that. They were just comments and don’t necessarily reflect what those people actually think.  I get that.  And I don’t want to be that stoney-faced “HR” that doesn’t have a sense of humour.

Or worse, be called a feminist.  

My sense of humour is a source of pride to me.  I see the humourous side to most situations, I like to laugh and I like to make others laugh. However, this pride in my sense of humour  should not overshadow my pride in being a women.  

My desire to be accepted into the chats with my colleagues should not be stronger than my desire to to be accepted as an intelligent and confident person and a feminist, because it is NOT a bad word.

The reality is that no matter how jokingly it was said:

  • sexual harassment is not funny
  • calling a strong female a bitch is not funny
  • referring to someone a dumb blonde is not funny
  • joking that a male candidate could take advantage of an opportunity to get a mistress is not funny

And so I’m calling myself out.  

Even though I knew what my opinions were on these comments,  I am irritated with what I actually did on the outside and worse, the feelings that I ignored.

Maybe it’s having a daughter who is now a young woman or maybe I’ve finally reached a point where I truly don’t care whether people think I’m being “too sensitive”.

Because when I look at these recent events through the lens of my daughter and of other women, I see that there was humour in these situations, but it was not to laugh about what was being said, but to laugh at the idea that it was okay to say shit like that and get away with it.

No more. I feel like I need to atone for biting my tongue and laughing along when I really should have used my biting humour to make a point.

Happy International Women’s Day.

Faking it

I once had a job where I was “spoken to” because I was too calm.

A VP came up to my desk and proceeded to detail the latest crisis. This was punctuated with gestures and more than a few f-bombs. I listened to him, took notes, and then said something along the line of: “Okay, I’ll take care of that.” He looked at me and walked off.

A few days later a manager took me aside and sheepishly admitted that he was asked to speak to me.  The VP was not happy with how I handled the situation.  I was confused.  Had I not done what was required? Was the outcome not good? Were all parties concerned not satisfied.

Well yes, but apparently I was too calm. And yes, I had done everything…except freak out.

Now, I was really confused.

I was a 20-something when I was in this job, so that will partly explain why my response was something in the ballpark of: “so you are telling me he wants me to “fake it” for him?”

One word: yes.

I worked in many jobs since that one and faced many “crisis situations” and I have learned the value of why my outwardly calm demeanour might have given the VP the wrong impression…even though my actions in getting the job done said otherwise. I can appreciate that people want to know that they are not only being heard, but also that they are being understood.

What I learned throughout these experience was the value of empathy.

Empathy is a big deal.  Empathy is the missing piece in many unfinished puzzles left lying around on the conference and lunchroom tables in the workplace.

However, there is a fine and precarious line between being empathetic and faking it.  And there is any equally subtle difference between wanting people to care and wanting people to be a mirror to your emotions.

What I experienced back in the example that I opened with was not a situation that called for empathy.  You see, you can waste time trying to understand and walk a mile in the shoes of someone who has no use for your soft skills crap – what they want is for you to “get” that they are a big deal and that you need to act accordingly by making an equally big deal.  And they are not bothered in the least whether you are faking it for them…it’s all about the show.

However, in my experience, most people are looking for the real thing – that want to know that you have heard what they are saying, that you understand and that you are demonstrating this in some way. And this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the same emotional response that they are having to actually connect with them.

Empathy skills can be learned, but more importantly they need to be practiced in order for them to be genuine.  Oh sure, you can always fake it, but you would be doing both the other person and yourself a disservice.

Employee branding


You know it’s going to be a tough sell when you have to explain to management  that you don’t mean THAT kind of employee branding.

It’s the newest greatest re-discovery of an idea since vinyl records: Employees ARE the company’s brand.

A cool logo and catchy slogan are a good start – they may get people in the door, but are they enough to bring you back? With exception to label-whores, I would say that poor customer service experience or crappy products will reduce the possibility of a customer returning to your business.  No matter how interactive your website is.

As an employer, it’s not enough to just pay people to do their work.  Why?  Because all you will get are people doing the work. Nothing more. And that will be enough for you to maintain a marginal status.

To move beyond this, you need to create a culture and environment that will allow employees to do more than just their job. Of course, I’m not talking about pool tables and cappuccino bars in the staff lounge. By culture and environment, I mean that you find and hire people who already believe what you are trying to sell / provide.  People that bring to the office all those intangibles that you can’t teach them.  Pride, respect, drive.

Bring in people like this, teach them the business, and reinforce the values and remind them that they are the face and voice of the organization.  And once you are done teaching them and telling them all this – YOU have to do it too.  After all, nothing will kill the culture faster than an hypocritical leader.

There is a lot of talk about branding these days.  Individuals are encouraged to come up with their own personal brand – live it, speak it, tweet it, Instagram it, FB-it.  Make it real.  Make it authentic.  Make it you!

Do you know how hard it is to be real and authentic in a digital environment?  I know there are many out there that are successful at this and perhaps they will roll their eyes at me for saying otherwise, but it’s not that easy.  Particularly if you have brand-conflicts.

What happens if I go through the self-analysis to develop my own brand, which is real, authentic and me, but it’s at odds with my employer’s brand.  As an employee, I need to be the organization’s brand…but I’m my own brand…and now I’m sitting here in front of Twitter, poised to send out a Tweet and I don’t know which voice to use.  So, I blend them together as best as I can, but the results is that both are slightly diluted and neither are truly authentic.

This a challenge that I recently experienced when I was blogging at the HRPA Conference.  I  have my “Accidental HR” brand which is pretty me rambling on and my thoughts are generally fueled by some strong emotion (or red wine).  This, I wisely surmised, was not really reflective of what the HRPA people would be expecting.  So, I had to think about how I could embody this new brand, but still incorporate myself.  I struggled and my writing reflected this – it was forced and did not feel like me.  It was me on HRPA (kids…don’t do HR).

And so we go back to the organization and we struggle at getting our brand out there – making sure it’s recognized, making sure it’s positive.  And many in the leadership sect have learned that it goes beyond the logo and that’s the people, the experience that is the true brand…so they invest a lot into ensuring that their people are embodying the brand that they want to project.

Let me ask you, have you ever tried to put a sweater on a cat?

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Apparently it can be done, but I’m not sure how easy a process it is or how happy the cat is wearing the sweater.  I’m pretty confident that this cat is not going to be cool with projecting the image you want it to.

And so, when it comes to your organization – you need to start with the right people before you start handing out the sweaters.  As Scott Stratten puts it: the best marketing you can do is to hire great people.  You need people who want to be there, people who want to do what you want them to do, people who want to wear the sweater.

Consider this the ultimate in brand-alignment.  Start with the right people, take the time to find them, and you won’t have to develop a 12-week branding training session for your new hires.  Or find a branding iron with your logo on it.

Teams debunked: There is an I

I participated in an organizational event that included a guest speaker talking about the importance of team work.  I’m not going to name the speaker because it doesn’t matter – he was a nice guy, his presentation and sports anecdotes resonated and entertained the group, and his message was a good one; however, he said the one thing that I had wished he hadn’t:

“There is no “I” in team”

That’s right, he went there. This could have only been topped by him mentioning Zappos, which he also did.

What, might you ask, is wrong with saying that there is no “I” in team?  Isn’t it a positive message? Doesn’t it make sense?

Of course it makes sense – any kid in grade 2 with auto-correct can see that there is no letter “i” in team.  I mean, unless you work at Apple, in which case, they might call them iTeams, but I digress…

Rest assured that I recognize that it’s only a saying.  I truly do understand the clever meaning that success is achieved by the accomplishments of the group and not those of any single individual.

Here’s the thing though –  a team is a sum of the parts of which it’s made.  That means that if I’m on the team…then the team has a “me”, and it has a “you”, and a “her” and possibly a “oh great…him”.  And at some point each of these “parts” is going leverage their knowledge and strengths (which is probably why they are on the team) to move the team forward.

And quite possibly, at some point, each of these “parts” is going to do something that slows things down…whether it’s conducting one more analysis, re-formatting the presentation, debating a point, or even just checking-on for a day or two.

As a team member, I have a vested interest in the project succeeding and will likely to do what it takes to get it done – this will obviously include my part, and if necessary, helping someone else with theirs.  That’s teamwork, right? No one gets left behind.

I’m not alone in thinking this – apparently everyone has experienced this.

Don’t believe me, then ask this of your next candidate: “Tell me about a time when you were part of a team and did more than was expected of you” (or alternately, “Tell me about a time when you overcame obstacles to get a job done”)…and see if you don’t get the following answer (or a close fascimile):

In university I was assigned to a group project and at the outset we divided up the work evenly among the members.  Most of us worked very hard to get their part done; however, there was one member who went AWAL – we tried to get in contact with them…called, texted, left messages, but never heard anything.  We advised the prof of the issues and we were told to resolve it ourselves.  I took it upon myself to complete the missing member’s part – putting in lots of extra time – so that we could hand in a complete project on time.  The team ended up doing really well.

Just once, I want to interview someone who admits to being the kid that went AWAL.  I really want to know their story and why they participated in all those group projects…were they a mole that profs planted in each group so that students would have a legitimate answer when they go to interviews.  Or did they just like to screw up the team.

My long winded point is that a team is not made up of equal parts – there needs to be a range and variety of skill sets, working styles, and personalities, which pretty much guarantees that egos and pathological tendencies are bound to emerge.

When this happens and we are trying to motivate teams to get back on track, maybe we should be telling them that sometimes there is an “i” in team…you just need to know where to find it and how to work around it.


Cautionary Tales

I see part of my role in HR to help with damage control.  Actually, I see a larger part of my role as helping people from having to resort to damage control.  It happens though.

Unless you are a lighthouse keeper, you are likely working with or around other people and issues are bound to happen. Sometimes it’s because of people’s reactions to circumstances and other times, it’s because of the people themselves.  And we have all been there, on the cusp of saying what we really think, or responding to that email with a fantastically snarky response, but most of the time we bite our tongue or hit delete.

Most of the time.

Then there are times when we do say exactly what we were thinking or hit send.  Or worse, hit Reply All.

And that my friends, is the ultimate “oh shit” moment.  Seriously.  Close your eyes (well actually, read this first and then close your eyes) and imagine that you receive the 157th annoying all-staff reminder email and you have had it – you are not a child and do not need constant procedural reminders of what to do. Just because other idiots keep forgetting, why should you be lumped in with them.

So instead of just deleting the email, you draft a snarky response and even take a dig at another employee in reply to the sender.  Except, instead of hitting Reply, you hit Reply All. Reply ALL. As in everyone who was on the original email.  As in every single employee on staff, which includes the person you slammed.

Those two words you are seeking to explain that feeling you have: “Oh shit”

I mean, if you were able to imagine this situation with out your stomach dropping and your eyes popping wide open in fear and disbelief, then you are either one cool cucumber or lying.  My money is on the latter.

And this just happened to someone I know (no it isn’t me).  They weren’t the sender, but they were one of the many staff that were copied on the following email response (names have been changed, but the atrocious sentence structure is all original):

Re: Shift Exchanges

I look at it every shift and a fair number of times even if it is confirmed it will not allow you to accept it it says so and so is unable to work this shift. So it won’t change.  As for employees they in many cases don’t OK it themselves Maggie Fitzgerald the queen of shift changes. Multiple not accepted. Don’t know how she remembers where she is supposed to show up and for what shift.

A first glance it’s not really that bad an email – more on the “oops” side of things, but what you don’t know is that this was sent by a Manager to an employee.  This was sent by a Manager at a workplace that is absolutely toxic, with little trust, and serious employee relation issues.  Based on the email above…not really shocking.

What this inadvertent email gaffe did, aside from making the Manager look like an imbecile, is that is has revealed a bit of what happens and what is being said behind the curtains.

I personally think that the Reply All button should have a two-step process – similar to some delete features that will prompt you “Are you sure you want to delete this?”  I’m thinking of how many inappropriate jokes, rude responses, and personal information could have been prevented from being shared beyond the original destination if there was a simple “Are you sure you want to reply to ALL these people?” before you hit send.

However since that doesn’t exist yet, this would be the point in which I would need to go into damage control advice mode to handle and defuse the situation.

When it comes to the preventative part, well that’s easy – how about don’t put that crap in an email in the first place.

Just ask Amy Pascal  – I am certain she would agree with me on that one.


I have a question…

Okay it’s Friday and I’ve got nothing for you.

Well that not entirely true – I have a question for you.

If you had to conduct an interview, with absolutely no time to prepare and were allowed to ask only 3 questions, which questions would you ask?

What are your go-to questions that will tell you what you need to know about a candidate?

I’m curious.

Hoping to hear from you in the comment section.