PowerBall succession planning

Do you play the lottery? Even if you don’t, you must have seen that PowerBall was up to $750 million last week. I heard on the news that a single ticket won the jackpot. The radio announcer said he didn’t know if it was one person, or a group who went in on the purchase, but one ticket won the whole thing. I got to thinking – what if it was a group of coworkers? What if they worked in my organization? What if they worked in yours? Are you ready for a mass exodus of frontline employees? It’s unlikely that you’ll have an entire team win the lottery together, but all it takes is one person’s spouse getting a new job in another state, someone else retiring, one with health problems and one internal promotion and you’ve got a perfect storm in one department.

We talk a lot about succession planning for those at the top of the org chart – the need to identify talent and transfer knowledge so that key positions aren’t left unfilled. But I don’t believe we spend enough time planning for turnover within departments and teams. Certainly HR needs to be proactive regarding engagement and retention so that our turnover rates are low and stable. But every once in a while events will come into play that require us to get an entire team restaffed overnight. When we think succession planning, this needs to be part of our strategizing.

What would you do? Do you have a talent pipeline queued up? Do you have a relationship with a staffing agency you trust to supply a cadre of temporary help? Do you have recruiters and a recruitment process that can be scaled if a sudden need occurs? Do you know who among your frontline employees are the natural trainers and cultural leaders, who might be transferred from one department to another if a situation arises? Even more, do you treat that training ability and cultural leadership with the same weight that you treat other key positions? Are you identifying newer employees that can be trained to carry the cultural torch if your frontline cultural leaders are the ones with the winning lottery ticket?

There are transitions we can see – aging workforces that we can predict will retire, unhappy teams that we can see preparing to jump ship. But even in engaged, highly functioning teams, outside forces can impact our business in seemingly random ways with no warning to speak of, just like a group of coworkers winning the lottery and heading to Tahiti without a backward look. When you do succession planning, are you considering every angle?

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The value of reflection

Think about a project that didn’t go the way you planned. How did you handle it? What about a time you were on a team that didn’t work well together. Was the team able to accomplish its goals? What role did you play? Think of a time you failed at something. What was it? What did you do? What’s the hardest piece of professional feedback you’ve received? Why was it so hard to hear?

Sound familiar? If you’ve ever been interviewed or conducted an interview, you’ve probably heard or said something like this. We ask these questions on interviews because we want to see how people react when things don’t go as planned. Are they reflective when they fail? Do they own up to their own mistakes? Do they learn from them and do things differently because of them?

I’ve read several articles recently that advocate moving away from ‘tell me about a time…’ interview questions to ‘what would you do if…’ questions. I’m a fan of this. When a candidate tells us about something in her past, we can’t know the entire context. But when she talks through how she would do with a new challenge, we get a sense of how she thinks and her approach to the work. It allows the candidate to take those past experiences and use them to create something new, which is what we want. We see what she’s capable of, not just what she’s done.

However, there is still huge value in asking someone to reflect on past experiences, especially experiences that were frustrating or didn’t go well. How someone frames their story tells us a lot about how they think of themselves, their work, and their relationships. I personally don’t want a candidate to spin everything to a positive. I want candidates who can own their own weaknesses – it tells me they are self-aware. I would never toss out every ‘tell me about a time’ interview question; I want something more than what someone did. I want what they learned – how it changed them.

Just last year I was on the other side of the table, sharing my stories of failures and what I’ve learned from them, and it was a valuable experience. Interviewing forced me to take time and reflect on things that I’ve done well in my career, and things that I didn’t do so well. Today I’m in a job I love, with no thought of ever interviewing again, but I want to retain that sense of reflection. When a project or interaction doesn’t go the way I thought, I want to make sure I’m reflecting, learning and growing. Our successes spur us on to greater growth, but our failures should do the same.

We ask candidates to reflect, and we should spend time in reflection ourselves. As HR, how can we be the guide for all employees in accepting feedback and learning and growing from failure? How can we better create a culture that welcomes feedback and reflection, seeing the strength it takes to own our mistakes and become better people, creating a better workplace for everyone?

With the best intentions 

We judge ourselves by our intentions, but we judge others by their actions. For years this saying has stuck with me. When I’m driving and I accidentally cut someone off, I feel bad but know it was unintentional. When another driver cuts me off, do I just assume they are a rude jerk? It’s my inclination to think that way, and I suspect that’s human nature and we all do it. But when I think back to this saying and ask myself ‘am I judging them by their action or their intention?’ I find I can give that driver the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t see me and they are in their car feeling awful.

I’ve used this saying as a barometer to help me give that benefit of the doubt to others in many situations, and it’s helpful. I’m less likely to react, and more likely to seek a solution if I go into an interaction assuming that other people’s intentions are positive. When coaching staff members, whether it’s managers addressing performance issues or coworkers navigating miscommunication and hurt, I caution people against attributing motive. Just address the actions you see, don’t assume you know why they act that way. This opens the door for real communication.

While thinking this way has been helpful in my interactions with others, recently I’ve been realizing that I’ve only been paying attention to half of the saying. Yes, it’s important to look past others’ actions and see the intention behind it. Often people don’t realize how they are coming across, and delving into motivation and intention can actually change behavior.

But what about me? I tend to give myself a pass on my actions because I know the intention behind it. Is that good enough? Other people don’t know my intention, and even if they do, does that help? In my traffic analogy, if I cut someone off they still have to quickly react to another car in their way, hit their brakes, prepare for the unknown. If they know I didn’t see them and feed badly about it, will that lessen the adrenaline response? Not really.

We spend a lot of time in HR helping others navigate interpersonal relationships. We expect them to focus on actions and behaviors, and to learn to work together with people that they might not choose on their own. But what about our interactions with coworkers? When we blow it, with the best of intentions, are we quick to apologize? If our words or actions are misconstrued, do we take ownership for the miscommunication, or do we assume that it’s on the other person to figure out what we meant? We spend a lot of time and energy working to make life better for our staff, and it’s important that they see us as knowledgeable professionals. It can be humbling to say ‘that came out wrong’ or ‘that’s not what I intended’ or simply ‘I’m sorry’ with no qualifiers (no ‘I’m sorry, but… or ‘I’m sorry you felt that way’). I’m a fan of the now outdated expression ‘my bad’ because it takes ownership. It was my bad, not yours.

I’m challenging myself to stop giving myself a pass just because my intentions were good. I’m owning my actions, however they come across to others. Can I challenge you to do the same?

The power of dreaming

I’m a self-confessed daydreamer. On the Clifton Strengthsfinder assessment, my top strength is ideation. I love ideas, and thinking about ideas. When I sit down to write a blog, I write it in about 15 minutes. But that doesn’t mean I only give my posts 15 minutes of attention- I’ve been thinking about the topic and playing with the structure, outline, examples, and even some of the particular turns of phrase I’ll use. By the time I sit down and start typing, I’ve been living with my post in my head for some time.

I know not everyone works the same way I do. For many people, outlines and numerous drafts are the way you process your thoughts, whether to write a blog post or craft a policy, send an email or create a power point presentation. It’s important to know and embrace your style, because you are at your most effective when you are true to yourself.

But even if you are a list and outline maker, may I challenge you to build a little dreaming time into your life? In HR, there are so many I’s to be dotted and T’s to be crossed. We are tasked with compliance, and documentation. There are constant ‘fires’ that come when humans are interacting with each other and we are the ones tasked with helping them navigate when the interactions become tricky. It can be easy to lose sight of the forest because we are constantly looking at that tree right in front of our path.

But all of those everyday tasks are part of a larger HR picture. Our goal is to make the world a better place for our employees so they can be their best, most authentic selves who do their best work. We want this so that our organizations can thrive, in whatever way thriving means for our different places of work. Does documentation and compliance help our employees be their best and work their best? Someone thought so or we wouldn’t have that particular policy or requirement, whether governmental or company. But oftentimes the daily grind is keeping us so busy that we don’t remember how that policy plays into the larger picture. We run from fire to fire without taking the time to plot a way to keep ourselves from burning.

Can you take a minute to dream about what it would look like if everything you did was really helping your employees be and work their best? Can you envision what your own work would look like if you made that happen? We need to be careful that we aren’t so busy that we don’t have time to dream and strategize. Daydreaming looks different for everyone. Maybe it’s being quiet and letting your mind wander – that’s what I do. But maybe it’s getting different color markers and drawing a spidermap on your office whiteboard. Maybe it’s listening to the right music. Or reading a bunch of HR blog posts and then pondering how you can take pieces that resonate back to your office. Whatever it is, where can you fit a little bit of dreaming into your schedule?

When loving your job isn’t enough

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Have you heard that saying? I personally think it’s garbage. First of all, I love what I do. I’ve had three careers in my life – my first one was as a stay at home mom. Then I went back to work as a sign language interpreter. Now I’m an HR practitioner. I’ve loved all three, passionately. But let me tell you, in every one of these careers, I worked. HR is rewarding, but it’s not easy. Wading into the messiness of people’s lives can be exhausting. Still, I wouldn’t trade it.

The other reason I hate that saying is that it presupposes you have the luxury of choice. I’m pretty sure that not all the folks ringing up orders or stocking shelves find the same kind of career satisfaction that a ‘profession’ brings, but implying that anyone’s job is ‘less than’ because it doesn’t involve passion or calling takes away from the dignity of that person, and the dignity of work. If you make a living by asking ‘do you want fries with that’, and you bring your best to each interaction and earn your paycheck, you deserve to be treated with respect, not looked down upon. Not everyone has the luxury to make career choices based on passion.

Why is that important for us in HR? Two main reasons. First, if we believe that we must love every part of our job every day, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. No matter how much we love our chosen profession, there are things about it that are work. For me, invoice reconciliation will always be a necessary evil. Not only will we experience disappointment, but we can trip ourselves up if we expect the love of the job to overcome the hard work of the job. If you expect to ‘never work a day in your life’, do you doubt your career choice every time you have a bad day? That’s no way to live. HR is fun, and we can practice it on purpose every day. Some days that is our experience. Other days, that is a deliberate choice we have to make.

The other reason that ‘follow your passion’ is dangerous to believe is that we cannot, as HR professionals, serve our employees if we expect all of them to be passionate and called to their work. Many of our employees come to work each day primarily for a paycheck, and that’s ok. An employee who didn’t choose their job out of love can still be a fully engaged employee. And isn’t that part of our job as HR? To figure out how to make the employee experience positive in spite of the nature of work? If the work alone brought everyone intense satisfaction, we wouldn’t need to worry about employee engagement, stay interviews, organizational culture, and all the rest.

HR needs to be looking for ways to affirm the inherent dignity of work, regardless of the job, so that our employees at every level will know they are valued and respected. We need to be sure that we are valuing each employee’s experience and whatever drives them to come to work each day. In that way, we make room for them to do their best job. How are you looking past the ‘do what you love’ mantra to make room for engaging your employees whose primary driver is a steady check?

Are you a thermostat or a thermometer?

Do you know the difference between a thermostat and a thermometer? A thermostat sets the temperature in a room, and a thermometer reflects whatever the temperature is. It’s summertime right now, and I’m a huge fan of air conditioning. If the room gets too hot, a thermometer will show me just how hot I am. But it won’t help cool me off. A thermostat, however, will trigger that A/C to kick in and make us all more comfortable.

Which one are you? Are you someone who feeds off of the emotion in a situation? When senior leadership panics, do you jump into full panic mode alongside them? If an employee comes to your office to rant about a situation, does your blood pressure go up with theirs? If employees are disengaged, do you get depressed and think that nothing will ever change?

HR should be the thermostat for our organizations. We should be the voice of reason when everyone is panicking. We should be the calm in the storm, the ones who help that employee see their situation objectively. The ones who calmly respond to senior leadership with knowledge and expertise. When engagement is low, we don’t sink, we roll up our sleeves and get to work reengaging our workforce.

It can be so easy to get caught up when emotions are high. And some of us are really wired to feed into emotion. But it’s critical for HR to be the ones who bring everyone back down to a reasonable temperature. If you find yourself getting swept into the emotion of the moment, there are lots of ways to center yourself. Practice mindfulness, take a break for a minute, tap into your #HRTribe, count to 10. Find the ways that work for you, and put them into practice. Your employees are counting on you, and you’ll keep that hard-won credibility when they know you can be depended on to cool the room down in every situation.

Which one are you – a thermostat or a thermometer?