Off balance


This is a balance.

It’s purpose is to give each side equal weight so that things are brought into a state of equilibrium. This would mean that if I put a kilo of coffee beans on one side, I would need to add a certain amount of another object to counter-balance the beans until they were of equal weight.

Let’s say, my other object is a feather.

Now beans on their own don’t necessary weigh a lot, but they do weigh more than feathers. I’m guessing that at least one pillow would have to be destroyed to counter-balance my kilo of beans.

So, if we were to talk about work-life balance…what is the individual weighting of work? What about “life”? How much work is it going to take to balance out life?

If I have a crap ton of work – it’s fiscal year end, performance reviews are due, a department has decided to re-org, and there’s the equivalent of an After School Special being played out in one group…how much do I have to add onto my life side to keep things in balance?

Or what if I’m dealing with a medical condition, two teenagers, aging parents, financial concerns, and a neighbour that’s decided to wage war on our household. How much work do I have to pile on to bring things into equilibrium.

It doesn’t work.

Work-life “balance” is a fallacy.

Sometimes you need to give more to your job. Sometimes you need to give more to your “life”. Ideally, you’ll flip back and forth – so maybe work-life “averaging” is a better term.

The problem isn’t about being unbalanced, it’s about a failure to recognize which side you need to focus on or worse, when you are unable to do so.


Take Your Parent to Work Day

Today I watched and then weighed in on a Twitter-dialogue about those damn Millenials.

Someone whose views I respect (@spydergrrl) made a Twitter-observation that some organizations are going so far as to add waiting rooms for the parents of Millenials that are coming in for interviews. The response was quick and in some instances nasty, saying that no way, no how would they EVER hire someone who showed up with their parent.

And while I have to admit that my own initial response to reading that was: Pfftttt. I quickly took exception to how black and white some people were being.

Then my thoughts went off in two directions:

1- I KNOW parents who would accompany their kids to an interview and quite honestly, the kid may not have a choice. Yes, I know we are talking about young adults here, but you have to keep in mind that these kids have had their parents plan and hover over them their entire lives. Check it out here and here. Do you think that the parents are just going to back off now?

How hard is it to tell a parent to back-off? Well, I’m newly 42 and still can’t manage to make my own mother understand that I am perfectly capable of managing my life. And she isn’t even a “helicopter parent”. When a parent decides to dig their heels in…it’s for real.

2 – So what? So what if your candidate shows up to an interview with someone who happens to be a parent? What if they came in with a friend or a sister or their boyfriend/girlfriend. Would you react the same way? Or would you think…hmmm, guess they brought along moral support.

I’m not saying that this is ideal, but all things considered…is it the worst thing they could do? I mean, we are talking about the accompanying parent sitting in a room and waiting, not speaking on behalf of the candidate or trying to come into the actual interview.

In fact, many organizations are going even further than this and have encouraged employees to bring their parents to work. In this article, Lynn Lancaster, the co-author of The M Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace, is quoted as saying:

“…it’s all about finding an appropriate balance. On one hand, becoming a self-actualizing individual is a key step in the maturation process. On the other, young people are closer to their parents than any previous generation, which isn’t a bad thing.”

“Millennials have grown up seeking their parents’ counsel on everything – soccer teams, picking a school, creating a résumé – so in some ways the extension of this relationship into the early professional years makes sense,” says Lancaster. She agrees that smart companies are figuring out how to make a connection with parents. Smart millennials, meanwhile, should remember that getting a job isn’t a team sport.

As the parent of a 17-year old, I am frequently challenged with not crossing the line. She recently had a job interview and yes I coached her, helped her prep her answers, and would have even driven her to the interview if I had been available. I would have likely chosen to stay and wait in the car, but then I would have been keen to debrief with her afterwards.

As a parent, I think that you have to be able to distinguish “caring” from “controlling”.

As an employer, I think you have to be able to differentiate between “wanting support” from “being dependent”. And I’m not whether any employer who would automatically eliminate a candidate based on them arriving to an interview with a parental figure would be able to make this distinction.

In the same article, Lorne Friese (Talent Egg) pointed out with respect to Millenials:

“Of course, a prospective employer isn’t going to tell you that you didn’t get a leadership position because you brought your parents to a job interview,” says Friese, “but there is still the matter of the impression you make.”

I do recognize that it’s probably not the best move to bring mom or dad along with you and that you have to take a lot of other factors into consideration: the nature of job, the candidate’s stage in life, etc…but the point is that there should not be one answer to this situation.

Part of me wonders whether some of those people on Twitter that vehemently stated that if a Millenial “can’t stand on their own two feet”, or “need to cut the cord”, or are “incapable of being a mature adult” they won’t make it, might not be a bunch of bitter latch-key Gen-Xers who are still pissed off that mom and dad didn’t attend their dance recital back in 1982.

But then that would be generalizing, wouldn’t it?

Top 5 Reasons Why Context Matters

Let’s imagine for a minute that it’s Friday and someone turned to me and asked me the random question, “Julie, what are your Top 5 Movies?”

I would think for a few moments trying to come up with a list that is true, relevant and not too revealing.

So, in no particular order: Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, Fargo, Fight Club, and Roman Holiday.

But if they had asked me “what are the Top 5 movies that truly made an impact on me”, then my list would change to: Breakfast Club, Stand By Me, Midnight in Paris, Million Dollar Baby, and Little Miss Sunshine.

And again, if I was asked… “which movies are you absolutely powerless to not watch if they come on the television”, then my list would change again: Pitch Perfect, Notting Hill, Ratatouille, Happy Gilmore, and any of the Harry Potters.

Can you see why context matters?

Can you see why when you ask generic questions in an interview that don’t provide a bit more sense of what you are looking for then you will likely get the socially acceptable answer that is true, but at the same time is only aiming going to tell you what they feel you want to hear.

Like asking “what are your strengths?”


Let me tell you what you are likely to hear in an interview:

My strengths? My time management skills are excellent and I’m organized, efficient, and take pride in excelling at my work. I have received very positive results in all of my performance reviews. And I get along with everyone.

Is it a lie? No, probably not, but it’s likely an exaggeration because everyone knows that no one gets annual performance reviews. But the reality is that they have told you what they think you want to hear that will cover almost any situation.

What if you asked the same question with a bit more context. Let’s pad it a bit more:

What would you say are your strengths when working on projects for which you have been given little guidance and are in jeopardy of missing the timeline?

Okay then.

Sure I realize that most candidates are not going to admit that they suffer panic attacks/ scream at their team/ drink heavily, but there is definite less wiggle room and it is closer to what we want to know. They are going to have to dig a little deeper and be more specific.

Of course, there are those that refuse to be drawn in to these questions and never fully disclose for fear that you may not like what they have to say.

I mean, it’s like the movie question. Even if I was asked the question with more context…like “which movies would you never, ever admit to watching more than once”. I would never, ever admit that I have watched the Twilight series more than dozen times.

Never. Ever.

So what about you? What are you top 5 movies?

A measure of common sense


I was given these measuring spoons as a joke gift (click on image to see them up close), but I absolutely love them. I have been known to moan about what the hell a “pinch” of salt actually is. I rarely add salt to my food, but I realize that it is an essential ingredient that can enhance flavours, so I know I can’t skip it. But a pinch of salt to me is going to be an amount so minimal that you will actually be able to count the grains, whereas when I watch cooking shows, their pinch is almost as much salt as I ended up with when my son unscrewed the top of our salt shaker one night (true story).

So obviously a pinch is a matter of perspective.

But how can this be?

I’m currently following an online course called Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science (Harvard University…for free!). I am learning so much and one of the most important take-aways has been how cooking is very much a science in that you can’t just arbitrarily throw in ingredients or eye-ball amounts. Well of course you can, but it will change the outcome from what the recipe predicts. This could be a positive change or it could be disastrous.

So understanding what an important factor “quantity” is and knowing that each person’s interpretation of what these are may vary, why do cooks and recipes insist in using terms like a pinch, or a hint, or smidgeon?

Why indeed?

I am trying to image a senior management debrief, or even an all staff meeting, where we provide directives and updates that include these types of vague and subjective terms.
Oh wait…we already do.

By a show of hands, how many of you have either heard or used the following:
• Things are improving nicely
• We are falling short of our objectives
• We are expected to resolve this issue in the near future
• The employee had sub-par performance
• We need to be the best
• I give my all in project work

All of these statements could mean something different depending on the audience. For example, the third point…”in the near future”…to the CEO, this means this quarter, to the Manager it means this Fiscal Year, and to the employee it means probably never.

One constant complaint that I’ve heard at the various organizations where I’ve worked is that communication could be improved. Employees never seem to be satisfied with the type communication that comes their way and Management feels that they are providing what is necessary.

More times than not though, management is providing pinches, smidgeons, and dashes of information, when employees need more concrete measurements. Something they can actual see, compare, and use.

Maybe we need measuring spoons for business. We could call them….metrics. And they would eliminate the subjectivity in terms of how we are doing and when we say we are “almost at the finish line”, then everyone will be able to see that means we are 10% away from our target.

Alas, I am but a dreamer…

Of course there needs to be a certain amount of common sense applied in cooking – when I don’t have exact amounts, I just go for it when it comes to determining a pinch of salt and I adjust things to my taste. And although it’s not implicitly stated in your job description, it is implied that you should use your common sense at work too…if you are not comfortable with the vague directions and updates that you are getting – then ask for clarifications or go for it and adjust as required.

Forget thinking…I want to work outside the box

A few posts back I wrote about my experience at Impact99.  I have now had more time to digest the day and have come to the conclusion  that I’m screwed.

You see, I am not a lazy person at all.  I like to work.  I like to be accountable for things.  I like to help people.  I like to see results.

What I don’t like is doing things for the sake of doing it.  And what I’ve found is that we have made these kind of things such a big part of our jobs and work environment.  We stick with the tried and true…like meetings with paper flipcharts, or status upates that are light on value and heavy on the justification, or coming into an office and working on a computer.

I know.  That last one is a bit off, but hear me out.

This week I woke up on Tuesday, thought about my day ahead and immediately put myself into a funk because I knew that as I hauled my sorry butt out of bed (at the same time I did the day before  and the days before it) that I would go through the same routine of getting ready, do the hour commute in to work, and sit myself down to work on things that involved focus and staring at my computer screen.  Of course, there would be interruptions, because I’m a person sitting at my desk just begging for someone to come by and ask me something. I would then pack up and do the hour and half commute home (yes, I know…weird), enjoy my evening and then get ready for the next day.

Wash. Rinse. And Repeat.

What had me so out of sorts was that I could have broken the routine…got ready and then instead of hanging with 100 of my BFFs on the bus for an hour…I could have been working.  And the hour and half with the going-home crew…I would still be working.  And that time that I was chatting with people about the proper level of punishment for those who steal other people’s food from the fridge…yup, still working.

You see I want to work.  I just didn’t want to go to work. And it frustrated me so much that I couldn’t just make that decision.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  I could have made that decision, but then I would need to be subjected to the conversation about how we want to be a flexible work environment, and we will accommodate people, but on an exceptional basis. And with approval.  And due consideration of the optics of HR being given special privileges.  So, I weighed the pros and cons and considered which battle I wanted to fight that day. And my revolutionary bad-self lost.

I used to joke that retirement was wasted on the old because there is so much I wanted to do and things I needed to take care of, but didn’t have the time.  I wanted the freedom and flexibility of not working NOW.  However, I’ve come to realize…I do want to work.  On most days I like working, but I’m really struggling with the idea of having to be so structured and regimented in my schedule – regardless of what’s in my calendar.

Going into the office because I have a meeting, or interviews, or need to work closely with a co-worker makes sense.

Going into the office because someone has decided it’s important that I be seen there does not make sense.

Sometimes you can have a sense that something is off, but you just can’t put your finger on it.  You look at it from multiple angles, Google it, talk to people about it, and just want to understand what is it that’s wrong.  Well finding out the answer isn’t always better.

Now that I’ve identified what it is that is bugging me, I’m at a cross-road of how to proceed.

I know that when Jody Thompson spoke at Impact99 and talked about ROWE that her ideas excited some people, frightened others, and didn’t resonate with others. I would put a bit of me in each of these categories. I simultaneously love the concept, can’t imagine trying to implement it at my work, and feel it might just be too out there.  I did not come back to work thinking that I was going to convince our CEO to go ROWE.  If I did, I would likely have to change my blog to Accidentally Unemployed HR.

What I came back with was a sense of how can I make this work for me.  And I mean that in the most unselfish way possible.  I don’t mean I’m only about me…what I hope to accomplish is a coming of terms and possible negotiation that will work for both me and my company.  Maybe through small babysteps I can set the tone and demonstrate that it is possible to work differently.

The organizers of Impact99 gave each participant a nice card when we left and on the cover was the following quote:

“I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that.  Then I realized I am Somebody” – Lily Tomlin

Yeah. What she said.

Succession Planning: Corporate Snakes and Ladders

There has been some serious buzz about a mighty little HR e-book called Humane, Resouced pulled together by David D’Souza. It is made up of the musings and thoughts of various bloggers about HR and HR-related topics.

And guess what? One of my blog posts is in it!

On purpose.

Despite this, I think that you should still read it. Right now. Go on, buy the damn thing – all the proceeds are being given to charity (and no, it’s not me). Honestly, it’s a great collection from bloggers all around the world proving that HR challenges are truly universal.

But in all fairness – the book was meant to be about collaborating and sharing our ideas. The intent was not to make money…so, you can actually get the book for free starting next week. And to tease you just a bit more…here is my contribution:


Succession planning is the ultimate real-life version of Snakes and Ladders.

Let that sink in.

As anyone who has been a part of a succession planning exercise, whether it was as someone looking for a successor, as someone identified as a successor, or an unfortunate HR rep caught in the middle, can tell you – it’s all fun and games.

In principle and on paper the concept of succession planning is great: reviewing an organizations’ management team and critical positions, reviewing the existing staff, and drawing some dotted lines between potential matches. Establishing where we are now, where we want to be in the near future, and what is missing to get us there. What skills, knowledge, and abilities are missing…and how far off course are we. Can we take the risk of investing internally or do we need to go externally?

But in this game there are two sets of players: those who need to find successors and those who want to become successors, and if a childhood of playing board games has taught us anything, it’s that players are going to play…and not everyone can be a winner.

Most people will agree that succession planning, in some shape and form, is needed and worthwhile. Done properly it can improve your talent management, recruiting, and development programs. It doesn’t need to be complicated, convoluted or “corporate” (the three deadly “C”s).

But when the game starts and the dice are rolled, things can get murky.

You see people work hard to get where they are and while most dream of the day when they can say “See you later suckas – I’m outta here” , when it comes down to it, they are worried about leaving. Because for some, the idea of having someone take over what they are doing seems threatening.

Deep down, people don’t like to think that they are replaceable; they want to feel that they will be leaving a legacy. Identifying some up-and-coming “Hi-Po” (btw, I HATE that term) can feel like writing your own obituary.

So, they go through the motions of identifying a potential replacement, someone who will never be quite ready enough and keep them hanging in there just one more year…and ultimately send the successor sliding back down a few spaces.

There is also the fact that not everyone wants to be a Manager/ Director / Vice President. It’s true. While this might be difficult for some senior management to believe, not everyone follows the same career path – some people recognize their limitations and boundaries and are more than happy to do their work, get paid and go home. They just enjoy playing for the sake of playing, with no burning desire to kick-ass.

Remember the big Baby Boomer scare circa 2008? Seriously, this was right up there with Y2K, except instead of running out and stocking our basements with batteries and water and wondering whether our VCRs were ever going to work again, we started panicking about how our organizations were going to function when 25% of the workforce and workplace knowledge headed for Retirement-ville.

Except it didn’t play out like that and all those identified potential successors are now barely recognizable. Those that didn’t go M.I.A have resigned themselves to the fact that they are not going up the ladder any time soon.

Succession planning is a guideline and snapshot…not a guarantee. Anyone who thinks that by anointing someone as a “potential successor” they are going to ensure loyalty and continued success is delusional. And any successor that thinks that they are sitting pretty until Joe moves along may have a rude awakening.

When it comes to packing up the board and going home – who really owns succession planning? Well, it depends who you ask. Employees will tell you it’s Management calling the shots, Management will blame say it’s an HR initiative and HR…well, we say things like “HR will facilitate the process, but it ultimately belongs to (Senior) Management and Employees”.

At this point, the game starts to look more like Twister than Snakes and Ladders.

Succession planning is about holding a mirror up to your company to see what it looks like now and then making some serious decisions – do you have the people you need to get you where you want to be. If the answer is no… then you need to think about whether you are going to put in some strategically placed ladders or whether you going to wait and see if people land on a snake that takes them down.