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Pick a Target
Pick a Target 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

My youngest son Colton turned one year old a few weeks ago.  As with most one year olds, he’s learning to walk.  It’s an amazing process to behold as a parent.  It’s also a truly magnificent example of how learning and achievement works.

As probably most parents do, the “training” we’ve been doing to teach Colton to walk involves my wife and I sitting on the floor about 6-8 feet apart and having him walk back and forth between  us.  He has no problem walking that distance when we are on the floor with him.  When he starts his trek back and forth, I noticed that he sets his eyes on whoever he’s walking to and he takes off without abandon to make it to his target.    We then reward him with hugs and kisses.  And we repeat the process.

What I noticed a few days ago, is that while he seems to have no problem making it 6-8 feet back and forth between mommy and daddy, he doesn’t seem to walk more than a couple steps any other time of the day.  He’s hesitant when he tries to walk on his own and he usually ends up dropping to his knees and crawling to his next destination.  As I watched this, it occurred to me that the difference between the two situations was that when he’s walking between the two of us, he’s setting a target and walking to his target.  The rest of the time, he may be just trying to walk without too much thought about where he’s going.  And his results are quite different.

It struck me that this was a stark and powerful example of the importance of having purpose and goals in our lives.  It remains true for me to this day that when I have a target, my progress towards that target is intentional and steady.  When I lack a target, I flounder.  Having a purpose or goal or target or objective can make all the difference.

Illusion of Reality
Illusion of Reality 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I’m a fan of reality TV.  Think of me what you will, but I find many reality shows entertaining and fascinating for a variety of reasons.  So, I tend to sample a lot of different shows to see what they are about.  Recently I stumbled upon “The Bachelor Pad” on ABC.  The show is the sort of sordid stuff that makes reality TV interesting to peek in on.

This particular show is a spin off of the popular show “The Bachelor” and, as you would expect, an element of this show is matchmaking and romance.  In the particular episode I watched, one of the female contestants had won a dream date on which she could bring one of the male contestants of her choice.  After selecting her partner, they are whisked off to experience a zip line course and helicoptor ride over some  beautiful countryside.  This was followed by a private candlelit gourmet dinner at an exotic resort.  As this date is unfolding, each of the two people on the date are commenting on camera about how amazing it was to be with this other person and how it just feels great to be with them.  They both become convinced that they have an “real connection” to one another.  

I’m always struck on these shows by how easily people become influenced by their conditions.  A tenant of designing a great reality TV show is to isolate a group of people in a controlled situation or environment so that they will behave in dramatic or unpredictable ways.  They begin to accept their surroundings as “normal” versus recognizing them as part of a game, which leads them to make interesting decisions.  As in the example above, do these two people really have a connection or are they just overcome by the romantic situation they’ve been place in?  Might they just be caught up in a manufactured for TV moment?  It’s for this reason, that I think that most romances that start on these shows break up so quickly after the show ends. Turns out real-life romance requires work and isn’t only about yachts and helicopter rides.  Regardless of how fast these relationships break up, these couples are always convinced that their relationship is real and that it will sustain when they return to real life.

Thinking about this made me wonder how much of an effect our workplaces have on the judgement and decisions of the employees who work in them.  Several questions came to mind for me:

  • As in reality shows, to what extent are we creating conditions that cause people to make decisions in ways they wouldn’t outside of work?
  • Do our work environment lead to artificial relationships that won’t sustain beyond the job? 
  • How can we design our workplaces so that the actions and interactions are more authentic to who each person truly is and not who they become when stepping into the work environment?
  • Do I watch too much reality TV?
Not sure I know the answer to these questions, but I think that they are interesting to think about if we are interested in pursuing high performance, innovative workplaces.
Human Resources and Corporate Politics
Human Resources and Corporate Politics 150 150 Jason Lauritsen
As I shared in a previous post, I spoke to a group of HR/OD professionals recently about how to both embrace and take advantage of politics to do the good work we are all called to do.  The main point I was trying to make to that group was that whether we like it or not, politics exist and that if we understand how they work, we can get more good work done.  

The part of the story I didn’t tell in my presentation is that as HR professionals, we have a double-edged responsibility related to corporate politics.  First, we need to become politically skilled in order to navigate politically to get the big important work done.  But, at the same time, we have to work to take intentional steps to crush and destroy politics where ever we can.  

I think that this double responsibility hangs up a lot of HR pros.  Most who I encounter seem to feel that they have to pick sides: either become political and give up on trying to minimize politics systemically OR self-righteously refuse to play any political “games” as a show of their commitment to making the organization less political.  

The reality is that leaders in human resources have to do both.  If you can’t “play the game,” you aren’t in the game.  If you aren’t in the game, you can’t change how the game is played.  

So, the lesson is that HR pros have to invest themselves in learning to be politically skilled so that they can gain the influence needed to attack politics from the inside.  And, the more you know about how the politics work, the better equipped you will be to destroy them.  
Hip and Sage Consultant Conference – Debrief
Hip and Sage Consultant Conference – Debrief 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Yesterday, I had the privilege to be a part of the agenda for a funky little conference in Omaha called the Hip and Sage Consultant Conference.  It was hosted by the Omaha Chapter of the ODN and was largely attended by people who carry a title with Organizational Development in it and other external OD consultants.  I was able to attend about half of the conference and I enjoyed my experience.  Here are some of my observations from the day.

1.  The Hip and Sage part of the name comes from the title of a book called Hip and Sage that was written by Lisa Haneberg.  The conference was wholly designed around Lisa and her content.  She gave the opening keynote presentation to set the tone for the day.  Then, she gave her Hip and Sage keynote over lunch.  Finally, she did a closing exercise for the conference attendees to help them bring together their learnings and leave with something actionable.  This was a cool concept.  Granted, this wasn’t a large conference, but I really liked this format.  Lisa is clearly someone who’s got a lot to say (having written over a dozen books I think) and she had compelling content.  I’m sure she enjoyed having more than an hour to shape our minds, and I certainly think that attendees enjoyed having more time with her.  Certainly, this approach would only work if the person you build your conference around doesn’t suck (because that could mean a guaranty bomb), but if you vet your speaker well enough, it’s a great idea.

2.  As for Lisa herself, I’d recommend picking up her book(s).  Her content seems to be a mix of professional guidance for HR/OD/Training professionals packaged in solid personal development messages.  Check her out if you haven’t already.

3.  Leaving the conference yesterday, I’m more confused than ever about what OD really is.  From what I observed, it seems like most OD people are working on projects in the areas of talent management, learning programs/systems, succession planning, and some change management.  I also heard about things like compensation design and org design.  That all sounds like work I’d consider to be core to strategic human resources, but I found that OD practitioners for the most part consider themselves non-HR.  This was a little disheartening to me because I don’t think that HR or OD folks can afford to bicker over who does what within an organization.  Regardless of what we like to tell ourselves, the rest of the organization puts us all in the same bucket–the people who do people stuff.  OD and HR (and training) needs to work as one.  If anyone should know how to collaborate and work together, it’s us.

4.  My session was on the topic of power and politics in organizations.  Here were my underlying points:

  • Power and politics are not four letter words.  As HR and OD professionals, we need to stop demonizing these dynamics and instead study and embrace them.  By doing this, we can use these forces for good.
  • Politics, by definition, is an unwritten process for how group decisions are made that largely revolves around considerations of authority and power.  Politics, in and of itself, is not good or bad.  If we change our perspective to see our organizations more like a game of chess where politics is the rules of the game, we can be much more intelligent and strategic about how we navigate and get things done.
  • Power comes from many places beyond the formal authority of title or position.  Social capital, resilience, and focus are examples of other types of power than can help you to be effective.  Power is also not something that has to be bestowed upon you, you can build your own power by doing some intentional things.  
  • Finally, the sales profession holds the secrets for how to successfully navigate the waters of power and politics to exert influence within your organization.  If you want to take your HR game to the next level, study sales.  Read books on sales.  Go to sales seminars.  This training will propel you further faster than any HR seminar you will attend.  I guarantee it.  
I was really pleased by how many people in my session seemed to really “get it.”  I hope that they take these concepts and can leverage them to be more successful.  
5.  I was energized by the energy that the people in this room have for the work they are doing.  This was a group of the torch bearers for the good work of development.  They seem resolved and encouraged to do great work to help people grow and in turn help their organizations grow.  
6.  There are a lot of talented and smart folks in Nebraska.  This is an exciting place to live and work because of so many people doing so many cool things within their work and community.  
Thanks again to the folks at ODN for inviting me to be a part of your event.  Great job to Todd Conkright and team for putting on a really cool and valuable event.  
Profundity 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I feel as though I owe you an apology.  It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted here to my blog.  And for some reason, I feel guilty about it, even though there are about 8,000 other HR blogs there for the reading.  

While I’ve felt as though I should write SOMETHING during the past few weeks, the ideas just weren’t there.  And it has been bothering me.  I’ve been wondering why I haven’t had more to write about recently.  Perhaps it was that my short family vacations distracted my attention.  Or maybe it’s that my work has been consuming of my creative energies.  
I don’t think either was really the case.  Instead. I fell into a trap that I think holds a lot of us back in our careers and lives.  When I thought more about it, it wasn’t that I hadn’t had ideas, because I had.  It wasn’t even that I haven’t had time to write (although time has been tight lately).  The problem was that I didn’t feel that anything I had to say was, by my own measure, profound enough to warrant a blog post.  And apparently I had decided that if I didn’t have something profound to say, don’t say anything at all.
I suspect that I’m not alone in struggling with this instinct.  I’ve seen it at work several times.  After a meeting, someone will stop by my office and share a thought or question about what was discussed in the meeting that I know would have been important to the outcome of the discussion.  I’ll ask them why they didn’t bring it up in the meeting and they will reply that they didn’t think it was that important.  Or, they’ll rationalize that if it was really that important, someone else would have also had the same idea and brought it up.  In other words, they had decided that their question or comment wasn’t profound enough to warrant saying it out loud.
This instinct is one that we should resist.  For one, the measure of how profound a question, comment, or blog post is will be determined by others, not by you.  Generally, I’m surprised by which blog posts are popular and which are not.  It turns out that it doesn’t really matter how profound I think the post is.  What matters is whether or not others find it to be interesting, useful or insightful.  
So, the moral of this story is that we need to have the courage to share our questions and ideas with others.  Even when a question doesn’t seem terribly profound, trust your instincts that it’s probably an important question and that others probably have the same question.    
The lesson for me is to write about what I’m thinking about, even when I think it may not be terribly profound.    You never know when I might be on to something.  And, you can always stop reading when it’s not terribly profound.  
Knowing Why
Knowing Why 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, I was interviewing a woman for a position on my HR team.  During the course of the interview, she said something that was really profound and important.  Here’s what she said:

“I like to know why I am doing everything that I do.  If I am just completing a list of steps on a checklist and I don’t know why each step is important, if something goes wrong in the middle, I won’t know what to do to fix it.”

This is so important and it was so refreshing to hear an HR professional say these words.  By simply changing our mindset to question why we do everything we do, not only will we be able to execute our job more seamlessly, our processes and approaches will improve.  And, more importantly, we will find a bunch of things we are doing today that really don’t matter (stop doing those things).

And, in case you are wondering, she got the job.

Executive Coaching and Confidentiality
Executive Coaching and Confidentiality 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

If you spend enough time in HR, eventually you’ll have a situation where you will be tasked with finding an executive coach for one or more of the leaders within your organization.  As you evaluate coaches, there is a big issue that inevitably comes up in the conversations and it tells you a lot about the coach you are hiring.  That issue is confidentiality.  

There are two perspectives you will hear relative to confidentiality when you meet with executive coaches.  The first perspective comes from coaches who believe that the conversations they have with the individual being coached is confidential and that they will not share the specifics of that conversation, even with the CEO or HR exec who’s overseeing the project.  In my experience, you generally hear this from coaches who either have academic and experiential background in psychology or who have studied a coaching model that is rooted in the science of counseling.  This kind of coaching approach makes me very uncomfortable.  Coaching in an organizational setting is about improving performance through development of the individual.  I don’t want a coach who’s going to coach on issues that should be referred to a psychologist (failing marriage, drinking problem, etc.).  That’s not to say that these aren’t important issues, but that’s not what I’m hiring an executive coach to do.  
The second perspective on confidentiality in executive coaching says that while there may be certain details that are revealed through coaching discussions that aren’t appropriate to pass along outside of the coaching relationship, the coach makes the individual aware up front that he/she will be sharing detailed progress reports with the project owner (CEO, HR Exec, etc.).  Since the organization is making a substantial financial investment for the coaching, they are the customer in this situation.  Likely, there are some pretty specific and high stakes outcomes expected from the coaching process, so the customer is entitled to updates along the way on what’s being done and how things are progressing.  Good executive coaches understand the dynamics and will be able to accomplish the coaching goals without unnecessary conditions of confidentiality.  
Questions about Culture
Questions about Culture 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I had the good fortune yesterday to spend a few hours with some really smart folks talking about organizational culture.  The conversation reinforced for me how complex the topic of culture really is.  While I’d love to report that I walked away from that conversation with some great learnings about culture that I could share with you here, that wasn’t the case.  What I did come away with was a list of questions about organizational culture.

Here are some of the headline questions for me:

  • What exactly is culture?  Is it something that actually exists or is it simply a way of describing the impact of the other stuff we do in our businesses?
  • Does culture come before the people or do the people make up the culture?
  • How do micro-cultures within departments and teams affect overall corporate culture?
  • Does culture exist beyond the leader?  Said another way, does the leader always drive the corporate culture?
  • Does culture drive brand or does brand drive culture?
If you have any of the answers or have some opinions to share one way or the other, I’d love to have that conversation here.  
10 Rules to Avoid Getting in Trouble with Email
10 Rules to Avoid Getting in Trouble with Email 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Much has been written about email etiquette, but people still get it wrong everyday.  The biggest mistake people make with email is deciding when an email is appropriate and when it is not.  Because writing an email is a one way communication and it is impersonal, we tend be a lot tougher, bolder, and more forceful in it than we would be in other types of communication.  This can be incredibly dangerous and damaging to the relationships we have with the people on the other end of the email.

Here is a list of my rules of thumb for when to send an email and when to pick up the phone (or schedule a meeting).

  1. If you are simply providing information or updates for review, email woks great.
  2. If you are following up on a conversation with a summary of the conversation or requested information, email is good.
  3. If you have a quick question that simply requests information or clarification, email is okay.
  4. If there’s any chance the recipient might misinterpret what you mean by your email, don’t send it.
  5. If you wouldn’t say the same thing to the person’s face that you are about to email, don’t send it.
  6. If the topic of the email is something that will require discussion, don’t email.  (The only exception would be in situations where a meeting is already scheduled and you are sending the email to give the person a chance to prepare for the discussion).  
  7. If it is an emotionally charged issue, never email.
  8. If you want the conversation to be confidential, don’t email.  
  9. If you are providing negative feedback, don’t email.
  10. If you are providing recognition or kudos, email is okay but sometimes a phone call or in-person visit is better.
Email is a great tool that has become over-used and abused.  These are my general rules of thumb for keeping myself out of trouble with email.  I hope they will be helpful to you.  Let me know if I’ve missed anything or if you have any other rules of thumb that are helpful to you.
Make Better Hires
Make Better Hires 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

One of the things that plagues our organizations are bad hiring decisions.  This had led to an entire industry dedicated to selling us tests, evaluations, and services that promise to help us hire better people.

In my experience, there are two main causes for bad hiring decisions:

  1. We don’t take time to define what we are looking for.
  2. We have pressure to make a quick decision.  
Generally, we are in too much of a hurry to make a hire because we don’t think we can survive without the job in question being filled.  If you do the work to define specifically what you are looking for in your new hire and you find enough time to allow for patience to wait for the right candidate, your hiring decisions will improve dramatically.  
Having patience isn’t easy.  Most of us don’t like the hiring process.  We get tired of interviewing.  We also wear down in the process and it becomes temping to lower our standards.  After seeing five bad candidates in a row, it becomes easy to talk yourself into hiring candidate number six who may not be what you are looking for, but definitely sucks a lot less than the previous five.  Don’t fall into this trap.  
After making the mistake of rushing myself into a substandard hire several times in my career (and living with the very painful consequences), I decided to implement this rule for my own hiring (and I recommend it strongly to others):
If you have to talk yourself into a candidate, don’t make the hire.  

Unless you are fully on board with the candidate in front of you, keep looking.  Every trade off you make will cost you dramatically in the long run.