The Importance of *expletive* Intermissions

It’s the Cabaret Festival in Adelaide, and last night we went along to support a friend’s show – you know one of those things where it’s probably not your cup of tea, but you want to see your people succeed. Well within the first 5 minutes, it was so NOT my cup of tea, I had checked out mentally and couldn’t make eye contact with the one-woman show. It was making me cringe, I didn’t want to be there, I was counting down the minutes until it ended.

And then 1hr 25min into the show, without a break, the one-woman show was singing an upbeat song supposedly from our shared childhoods (I’d never heard of it, and it would have been played on a radio station I would have switched off). And during the song, she spied little ol’ me and my absolute fascination with the zip on my purse. And she walked right to me and sang right to me and made eye contact right to me. And I made some godawful attempt at smiling back, but had murder in my eyes, because all I wanted was for the goddamn show to be over.

Sometimes people just don’t want to sing the same song you’re singing – sometimes folks would rather cut off their arms than sway a lighter to your tune. Last night I felt the most intense desire to be elsewhere and was totally trapped. There was no way I could fumble my way towards an exit without interrupting the entire performance. I didn’t know how to get out, I didn’t know when I could get out. It made me hate that goddamn show even more.

So if you’re suddenly singing a now song in your organisation, and you’re expecting employees to join the kumbaya circle, here are two things I learnt from last night:

1. Don’t bother with the folks who have checked out. Last night I was OUT, and I was not even remotely interested in being brought in. I was looking at my feet, my purse, people in the audience, the stage floor – anything but that horrible show. I even winced a few times at the songs… Could my body language have been any clearer? So when the one-woman show tried to pull me back in by singing at me, it was just a dumb waste of energy for both of us. She should have sung to someone who was loving it, and given them the show they were cheering for.

2. For the love of all things good, give people the path and the opportunity to exit. Last night I was praying for an intermission, but it never came. Imagine how much pain could have been prevented if I could have just left half way through? I’m pretty certain my bad energy was radiating throughout the place, and how unfortunate is that for an intimate cabaret setting? You would have wanted me out, I wanted to be out. Employees who are hating it want out. Show them the way out.

I suppose my conclusion from the ordeal is the importance of the flipside to change management. When you are creating change, and asking people to join in a new song and dance, it’s just as important to focus on those who have said “hell no” to it. There is a seriously slim chance they’re going to change their minds if they have honestly checked out. So leaders have got to be fair to them, and the rest of the team exposed to that ‘checked out’ energy, and give them an intermission. Inter-mission. You know, a checkpoint within the mission to let someone off the bus. Intermissions are really *expletive* important.

They’re also a great opportunity to get more delicious snacks, and I’m always heartily in favour of that.

Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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Be The Asshole Who Says It

Those special relationships at work aren’t doing anyone favours.

Think of that team mate that’s really liked, but needs extra guidance with ‘careful cotton gloves’- they’re not getting the real picture. And that respected colleague who can’t print a document, and isn’t improving despite an extra 20 minutes of daily help – not getting it either.

Nobody will intuitively know the truth about their incompetence if everything is signalling that they’re ok.

And that’s not fair on them.

They need to know about resilience, taking feedback, using initiative and meeting expectations. They need to know about keeping relevant skills, remaining employable, and continuous learning.

Because when change happens – and it inevitably will – the truth will come out and totally blindside them.

And just because I like to harp on to drive my point home, what about this for a kicker? “Research has shown that a teacher’s expectations can raise or lower a student’s IQ score, that a mother’s expectations influences the drinking behavior of her middle schooler, that military trainers’ expectations can literally make a soldier run faster or slower.” 

So if you want to change your life, listen to this podcast, because it will inspire you to never expect anything but the best from anyone ever again. I’m expecting you to be wowed.

Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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My Latest Near Death Experience

It is so good to be back here blogging with you!
I have just had a fabulous week in Australia that exceeded every expectation of awesomeness. Family, weddings, food, cocktails, dancing and laughs – the good life was being force fed to me and all I could say was “get in ma belly!”
Although, as the title suggests, I nearly experienced death. Not like real life death, but an online death. I had no fibre optic cable internet and 3G. By the grace of a higher power though, I got through. I have come back incredibly refreshed after having a real break from everything. My mobile phone had no global roaming. The folks’ internet was so slow I quit trying to use it within the first couple of days. And then I started just getting by without it. Of course, I still had the deep desire to google and wikipedia everything, but life somehow functions without the net. Who would have thunk it? I’m not sure I quite believe that I could really live without the internet on a regular basis, as I do heartily subscribe to the modern Maslow’s theory.
Oh and I could totally be best friends with Tom from Parks & Recreation.
However, I must also say it was a good for the soul to get offline. Try it sometime. In fact, have you got your next holiday booked? It’s not going to just book itself! Pick a week, set a budget, pick a place. If you’re not fully utilising your recreation leave days every year, you are missing out on so much. Say you work for 50 years (18-68 years old, sounds about right for the modern day), and you have 20 recreation leave days available to you per year, you end up having 1000 recreation leave days available to you in your career. With 260 working days in a year (thereabouts), that’s 2.8 years on recreation leave. Really you will be working 47.2 years and taking the other 2.8 years off. For every recreation leave day you don’t get around to taking, losing or getting cashed out, you’re losing those precious 2.8 years out of your life time career to experience life. Doesn’t that number freak you out? Out of your whole 50 year career, you’d have 2.8 years off in it. Makes me want to go and book every last day available to me now, just to make sure circumstances don’t rob me of those 2.8 years I will be able to spend away from work between the ages of 18 and 68. What a precious commodity we so easily never get around to using.
I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into blogging after this break, and can’t wait to enjoy your online company again. The HR blogging community is just a top bunch of people and I’m so glad to be back!
Now onto booking my next holiday… Any destination suggestions?
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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Graduates are Responsible for Their Career Outcomes, Not Universities

Do you know one of the easiest ways to piss me off? Exhibit external locus of control traits*. Blame anyone and anything else for your failure, and I will no longer respect your opinion. Wow, I don’t make statements like that much, I’m so hesitant of possibly alienating others. But that is one core tenet of my world view – I am all about personal accountability. And so with this background, I proclaim:

Graduates are responsible for their career outcomes, not universities.
Please refer to point 2 of the illustration to the right with the catchphrase “No one ever taught me how to write a goddamn cover letter!” to which I reply, “Yeah buddy, that was your responsibility.”

My apologies to Richard (@HRManNZ) and Amanda (@Sterling_Amanda) for my over-the-top passionate response to their musings on a young HR Pro’s opinion that he was not prepared for his job by university. You can see the storify of our conversation here and the original article here.

The idea that universities should prepare graduates to actually perform their job is absurd. We’ve got the purpose of our educational institutions all fucked up. The skills we need to do a job come with experience, not theory. That’s the main difference between vocational education (i.e. trade schools) and university. While you are learning at a vocational institute you are experiencing that skill. Uni, however, is about learning how to learn that skill, and you generally have to finish the learning before you can actually practice the skill. And when we get to practicing that skill in an office, do you know what we meet? Budgets, timelines, personalities, public images, feelings and conditions of service. All that crap that takes a beautiful theory, steps on it, takes a dump on it, rains on it, picks it up and asks “do you still hold up?” It’s no wonder that in a graduate’s first six months of their ‘real job’, they feel overwhelmed and underprepared. They go into the game thinking they know the rules, but are missing the skills to play. That’s not anyone’s fault though, that’s simply graduates lacking experience.

I had the big-education-doubt about 4 months into my first managerial position. I emailed one of my professors and anxiety-attacked “do I need to do my Masters, did my Bachelors actually teach me anything?” He honestly said that my Bachelors should give me everything I need until I get to the point of requiring an MBA. His advice has proven very accurate so far. I had gotten exactly what I needed – I learnt to think like a graduate and can research, prove/disprove and argue accordingly.

However, if you’re really keen on making the university to work transition smoother, then I suggest:
  • attending networking events;
  • gaining industry experience;
  • reading industry journals;
  • participating in industry online forums;
  • holding down a (any) steady job; and
  • being prepared to use nothing you have actually produced in your study, but knowing how to produce similar quality work on any topic thrown at you.

And if you are 100% sure you are not getting what you need from your degree, you have three options of:
  1. dropping out of tertiary education;
  2. staying at the university and capitalising on the brand name of your school; or
  3. changing universities.

University students are purchasing a product, be it training or association with a brand name. They are not purchasing personality traits like initiative, humility, or drive. So don’t expect that when you graduate, and don’t expect it from your graduate employee. The only difference between a graduate with 1 year of work experience and a non-graduate with 1 year of work experience is that the graduate has learnt to argue about their area of study really well – it’s up to their individual personalities to differentiate who can actually do the job.
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

*On a side note – did you go to that linked article? I had a good chuckle at “A downside of an internal locus of control is that, in accepting responsibility, the person has to also accept blame for failures.” Is that really a downside, or could it be a good way to avoid a CEO of a bank still getting a bonus while the bank receives a taxpayer bailout?

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Dear HR, The Cream Will Rise, The Sh*t Will Float, It’s Those Underneath We Need To Support

It’s just so much sexier to talk about fabulous executive career trajectories. Breaking through the glass ceiling, being the best you can be, blah blah blah. Here’s a harsh fact for all of us to come to terms with though, we’re only the best we can be for maybe a short burst in our life, but probably never. Not to say we can’t push ourselves to live vibrantly, but living vibrantly doesn’t mean being the best you can be. Mostly, we are the 99% body of water that the 0.5% cream and 0.5% shit gets to float on. Don’t believe me? Then seriously, honestly, achingly look at your skills, your life and your place – we’re all in the water together my friend and it’s fine. 
Yeah – yeah – obnoxious kid speaking, I get it. But I tend to think we dream about HR’s role a bit like poor US voters for the Republican party. They’re not rich, the republican policy would negatively affect them, but they still want to vote for them because they are projecting themselves into the 1%. Research has shown “people’s views on their financial situation are shaped by their partisan affiliation rather than the other way around.” Aren’t we HR folk a little the same, fantasising about HR practices for great talent under incredible leadership when it doesn’t really apply to our particular staff? That’s not a bad thing and I’m not saying we should downscale our personal career ambitions and ambitions for HR in our organisations. I say that cream and shit is going to make its way up to the top no matter how poor or excellent our leadership programs or equal employment opportunity policies are! 
What I do think is important is acknowledging that as a part of the body of water, despite however close to the surface we get, it only takes a few events to lose our bargaining power. Child care responsibilities, long term illnesses, changes in technology, age, changes in bosses, recessions – this stuff happens to everyone. So let’s use our time in HR to make sure all parts of the organisation have a decent working life.
So, here’s my list of items I wish business magazines (you know, the types that use stock photos of women in ridiculously tight business suits) talked about for the latest and greatest sexy HR initiatives that would actually positively support the 99%, and not just fill our heads with more fancy schmancy air.
1. Benchmarking and grading salaries for equal payment across jobs and genders. Come onnnnnnnn, it’s possible. Do itttttttttt HR, it would be incredible. It would directly affect your pink ghetto wage. Ya wanna? It’s worth it!
2. Support for industrial action for industry recognition by the government, which I illustrate by an example of employers and employees marching the streets to petition the government to raise the minimum wage for the community services sector. The employer seeking to pay fairer wages isn’t pricing themselves out of the market if the whole industry’s labour prices are raised. They also get to keep better employees once they can pay people more lucrative wages. The industry has higher respect when it becomes a career choice with decent returns, and not just something you do for ‘passion’.
3. If theres no government social security for its citizens, then imitate what it would be like through employment practices. Ethics mofos, practice them. Plenty of warning before job terminations, equal opportunity hiring, parental leave provisions, proper healthcare provisions. Just ‘cos you can, doesn’t mean you should treat people like a machine that can be switched on and off, with no food, shelter or love in between usage.
4. Ditch the family crap. Workplaces are Not a family(!!!!), that’s our home life. And seriously, think about the cultural ramifications of what’s being said when we declare “we’re one big family”. Do you know how shitty family structures are in some cultures? The dysfunctional, seriously fucked up shit that comprises of ‘family’ that people are going to be carrying in their heads and then apparently rejoicing in being a part of at work? Shut it down. Respect the professionalism of employees and their expertise by being a staff team. Call them a professional, treat them professionally and expect professionalism in return. Being professional doesn’t mean being inflexible. But it does mean expectations are met, i.e. colleagues talking to each other, as opposed to most families where someone isn’t speaking to someone else.
5. Get rostering & hours in lock down. Get it sorted once and for all. No sneaky expectations that a normal work day is until the boss leaves. The boss is never leaving, he has the comfiest chair in the office and an assistant to fetch him coffee. Exceptions are exceptions, not norms labelled exceptions. Never exploit the care of those who could “care too much to leave”, so they will work until their family life falls apart while they work frantically to do a 2 person job. Whatever the hours are, have it upfront, under agreement, and of course, acknowledged.  
6. Job sharing, part-time work, yada, yada, yada. This isn’t a women’s solution, it’s a workforce solution.
7. Computer literacy – really, really your staff are all computer literate?! I’ve seen Jane try to print a document by hitting the ‘print screen’ key. I’ve seen Larry open Excel to open a Word document, without just clicking on the file in explorer. I can hear Mandy’s MSN Messeger beep-beeps because she’s too dumb to turn off the volume and probably thinks no-one knows what that sound is – but bitch I did my best flirting on that program as a teenager. You wanna chat for free, get an iPhone and enable iMessenger! Then set the phone to silent. Staff suck at computers, we all know it’s true for about 70% of our workforce. Heads out the sand now guys, people are really, really crap with computers! How much time is being lost in the day when people are using the freaking Caps lock key to make capital letters instead of shift key?!  Everyone’s life, job and future career prospects improves exponentially when they know how to navigate a file directory.
None of this is sexy, fun, or the case study for the latest coolest employer profile. But it would be so damn nice to have it in place, so just in case we found ourselves working in a little part time job to tide ourselves over during retirement after we’ve had a hip replacement and the pension isn’t covering our living costs, our workplaces look a bit like this: same pay as the young bloke doing the same job, in a recognised industry, for an ethical employer, that treats us as a professional, is clear about our working hours, allows us to work part time and ensures we have the skill to operate the most basic machinery required of all 21st century employees (a computer) which means we are also employable elsewhere.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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