Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spring is sprung

It must be Spring.

The kids don't want to do work - their main focus on being anywhere but the classroom. Homework...why bother. They are counting down until summer vacation.

Also, they are trying to get away with wearing flip flops and shorts already. The spring giddiness is contagious and all forms of oral communication have increased significantly in volume.

Giggling is at an all time high. Hair tossing too.

So I go to work and...um...have to go through the same damn things.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dirty Laundry

So I typically take care of the laundry in my household. As far as "chores" go, I really don't mind. Besides, there are only so many "accidental" sweater shrinkings that I can handle.

After the last chaptick ran through the dryer (incidentally heat + wax + clothing = mess) I made it perfectly clear to all that I would be checking any and all pockets in clothing. This meant that if there was anything that people didn't want me to find, it better be gone by the time the clothing item was in the laundry basket.

And I feel that this concept lends itself very nicely to the workplace. If you don't want people to find out crap about you, don't bring it to work.

Don't attempt to negotiate a better custody arrangement with your ex over the phone...even if it's lunchtime.

Don't use the photocopier to create a paper trail for your upcoming personal tax audit ('cause you KNOW you'll leave something on the glass).

And for god's sake, "I was sick" is a completely appropriate and complete answer to "how are you"...I DO NOT need to know the extent of all your issues.

My point is that you need to clean our your pockets before you come to work. Besides, if I need to start sorting through dirty laundry - you just never know what I'll find.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

When life hands you lemons...

I have a tendency to mull things over a bit, which is why I'm only now posting about it.

Everyone once in awhile you hear something that absolutely resonates with you. Perhaps it applies to what you are currently going through or maybe it's that elusive thing that you were looking for to describe what you went through.

I've found both in a simply phrase and philosophy shared by HRD..."embrace the suck". I'll just let you read it since he says it best.

Honestly, it's good advice both to live by and to give.

When life hands you lemons, you can try and make lemonade. However, some days, it's just as good an idea to accept the fact that you have a bunch of lemons and move on.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sigh.

This is a repost of one of my older musings. My son is now nine, but a recent discussion with him made me think of this conversation. I still don't have an answer for him


I’m teaching my son how to play chess and he has picked up the concepts very quickly.

He takes a long time to think about his moves, which is a good thing in chess (not so much when it comes to picking out a gum flavour at the store).

During the game last night, he spent more than a few minutes studying the board and double-checking with me how each piece can maneuver.

Finally, he looked up and asked why the King is the most important piece when all of the other pieces do the fighting, moving, and sacrificing (his new word of the week). He added, the King doesn’t really do anything – it can only move one space at a time and without protection it will get killed. So, how come it’s the most important?

(Silence)

I debated how to answer this one since six seems awfully young to be jaded.
I told him that’s just how the game goes.

He’ll find out soon enough that it’s also how life can be.

Especially in the work world

Mentorship: the blind dating of the workplace

I've been known to give things a try that I'm skeptical about. Like sushi and the Tomb Raider roller coaster at Wonderland.

As it turns out, I really like sushi.
The roller coaster...not so much.

So, it was with some skepticism that I signed up for a mentorship program through an HR organization. In principle I believe in and like the concept of mentors. What I had a hard time with is the "blind-date" aspect of this program.

You listed what you were looking for and where you are in your career. They provide you with information on mentors, who have filled in the same information.

This smacks of the pre-screening I do on a daily basis - and it has a purpose, you eliminate the definite no-nos. The problem is, in recruiting, I generally call the remaining candidates and even meet with some of them to further determine whether there is a fit.

In this program, there is none of that.

You potentially get matched up with one of the five mentors that you've selected based on two or three lines of credentials. If you're lucky - it works out. If you're unlucky - not so much. If you're me...it's ok.

I was fortunate to be paired with a nice woman who certainly has more HR experience than me, but maybe had different expectations from this program. In her, I've gained a good contact, someone I would call to ask a question. What I was looking for was more guidance, coaching...you know, Obi-won/Luke kind of rapport.

The key to me is that there needs to be a good rapport. And this is where workplace mentorships fail.

Matching an employee up with a more senior person or manager, regardless of whether the person is technically and managerially a good fit on paper, is not likely to go far.

Yes it needs to be based on respect and professionalism, but there needs to be some common ground. Whether it's outside interests, a sense of humour, or even working styles, or even being completely opposites...you need a connection.

And to make matters worse, there's little to no spontaneity. It's scheduled meetings, it's regulated, it's formal, and sometimes forced.

Let's face it, you could get fixed up with what your best friend says is the "perfect guy". He's everything that you said you wanted and more. But, if there's no spark, what difference does it make if he meets all your requirements.

Would you insist on continuing to meet with him...to schedule regular dates, to discuss pre-agreed upon topics, and to miss out on opportunities with other potentially better suited guys because of this arrangement.

Simple answer: no.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Celery soup for the bottom line

I make a mean celery soup. I am not exaggerating.

My kids and husband rave about it every time I make it.
Honestly – they love it. And vegetables are practically kryptonite at my house.

This is a made from scratch, all natural ingredients kind of soup.
De-lish.

One evening that I wanted to make it, I realized that I didn’t have any spinach. Figuring that since the main ingredients were celery (hence the name) and leeks, I thought that substituting lettuce wouldn’t have a big impact. It didn’t. In fact, they liked it better, which is good since generally lettuce is cheaper and more likely to be found in our crisper.

Another time, I didn’t have actual chicken broth, so I substituted water with one of those chicken bouillon in a cube deals. No one even noticed.

Last night however, I had only three of the necessary ingredients…celery, leeks, and an apple. I used plain water; I threw in fresh parley for the leafy greens, and skipped the cream.

It was okay.
We ate it, but there was definitely less love for this soup.
Oh who am I kidding - it sucked.

Where am I going with this?

With all the cuts and cost-effective measures being put into place, you may still be able to provide a product or service, but you need to make sure that what you are cutting isn’t going to impact the final result.

There are likely many aspects of business that can be paired down, roles that can be eliminated, budgets that can be tightened, but if you take it too far you risk losing what it was that attracted customers to it in the first place.

Go slow, be thoughtful, and evaluate the impact before you take it too far. You may still have the main ingredients on hand; however, you cannot discount the importance of the secondary ones…the spices…the flavours…

A bad batch may happen, but if it becomes the norm - you can expect people to start turning away.

I mean, watered down, flavourless soup is truly unappetizing. (Just ask my kids). In the same vain, so is a weakened service or a shoddy product.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Don't ask the question if you don't want to hear the answer

So I had this good friend in junior high/high school. We liked similar music, read the same authors, and just hung out together. He was one of my best buds and despite some people’s assumptions – we did not like each other “that way”. In fact, he would ask me my thoughts on girls that he liked and I would tell him stuff about them that generally guys wouldn’t know (I know, I know, I probably broke some cardinal “girl” rule…that’s probably why I hung out with guys).

One day I crossed the line though. I asked him for his feedback.

Some fifteen odd years later, I would like to apologize to him for my reaction and rant. I sincerely hope that I did not scar him or have a negative impact on how he dealt with women, as he got older.

I asked him how he would describe my looks. After a few minutes of mulling over his answer, he said, “cute”.

I freaked out. I ranted and raved that bunny rabbits were cute, kittens were cute, smiley faces were cute, kittens with smiley faces and exaggerated pupils were cute. I did not want to be in the same category as these things.

At this point, I’m sure it dawned on him that he said the wrong thing, but he probably had no idea what he should have said.

I can imagine that he thought – “crap, what do I say that won’t hurt her feelings, but won’t make it seem like I’m into her. Is this a trick question? What does she want me to say? Beautiful? No, too old-fashion. Sexy? Gawd no. Pretty…hmm maybe, I know… cute. Cute is safe.”

Sigh.

In retrospect, it was a bit of a trick question since, although I asked, I didn’t ask someone who was in the right position to answer (he was a bud) and because I wasn’t really ready to hear the answer.

This can be said about seeking feedback at work. In order for the feedback to be genuine and helpful, you have to consider two things – the source and your willingness to hear it.

Asking for performance feedback from someone who does not evaluate your work, know exactly what you do, or is in direct competition with you is useless…or at the very least, it doesn’t provide you with an accurate picture.

Feedback needs to come from someone who can step back and speak honestly.

And you have to be willing to hear it. Don’t ask if you don’t want to know. Seriously. If you are looking for hand-outs, ask your coworker that sits beside you and doesn’t want to “rock the office boat”. She’ll tell you that you are doing a great job.

Want to know how you really are doing – ask the end user. Ask the person in billing that you have to provide information to, ask the manager that you do research/reports for. Ask someone that will give you concrete examples of what you are or are not doing and then be prepared to listen.

Getting feedback is only part of the process - doing something with it is the other.

(Oh and the only correct answer to my question, would have been the 80s version of “hot”…which if memory serves me would have be “a babe” or even “schwing”.)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Take your time

Today I sat with a supervisor to help her prep for some difficult conversations with some employees. I helped her develop some talking points, which she seemed a bit surprised to have me suggest. I think she felt that she should justhave a general idea and then wing it.

Why?

When my kids are preparing for a 3-5 minute speech, it takes no less that two weeks of work. There's the picking of the topic, the researching, creating a point form of what to say, the first draft, the second draft, the mom-corrected draft, the back to the way I had it draft, then final version, the cue card version, the memorizing, the practising in front of the mirror, the practising in front of mom and dad, back to the mirror, back to mom and dad. Then the big day.

All for 3-5 minutes of talking.

So what happens to us as we grow up? Why not invest even half this effort in what we are trying to say.

In HR we often have to deliver not-so-good news. Sometimes it's really crappy news, as in "effective immediately" and then there's performance issue kind of news.

In any case, it's important to take the time to plan what you are going to say, prep some words, and rehearse...it's in your best interest in terms of delivering the message you want and in their best interest, so that there isn't any miscommunication and you aren't left backpeddling saying, "that didn't come out right..."

We are busy people. Sometimes we don't have the luxury of weeks, multiple drafts, and mom and dad's feedback, but when you can take the time or help someone else take the time to prepare...it can make all the difference.

Might as well do it right the first time.