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‘The Parking Lot Movie’ – A 2010 documentary about a bunch of 20 something, way intellectual, parking lot attendants who really, really love their job.

These guys elevate what some may deem a lowly occupation to something truly meaningful, and apply the kind of dedication, passion and creativity most managers only dream would ever come out of their teams.    They feel free to do this in large part because of their boss, and the environment he creates.  At one point called a spiritual teacher, Chris Farina simply believes that his employees come first, and that customers (which in this case he considers the cars) come second.  I love this film.   If you have a Netflix subscription, you can ‘Watch Instantly’ too.

Andrea Useem at Brazen Life created a nifty post today highlighting 6 Must Watch Career Videos selected from Big Think…all of them awesome.

And finally two videos featuring Steven Johnson discussing ‘Where do Good Ideas Come From?‘.    

The title of this post captures a genuine (albeit vague) request for help from a manager I met with the other day.  The next day I sent over something of a generic brain dump of ideas/perspectives/tips etc. to get him started.    Although it would have been great to know more about the specific challenges he’s facing so I could have customized my advice, I have to say, it was fun to challenge myself to quickly come up with a relatively short list of things that I think are non-negotiables – especially #1!

Here’s my list…send me yours!

  1. Immediately buy this poster for your office – if you remember this simple wisdom, the rest of this list will sort itself out in the end
  2. Thoroughly assess your current state – leverage interviews, surveys, skip meetings, roundtables
  3. Learn from any internal success stories, locate your evangelists, identify toxicity
    • Who has found a way to succeed right now.  What are they doing?
    • Who has enthusiastic energy that is dying to be tapped?  How can they be leveraged?
    • Who are the key influencers?  Are they on board?
    • Who is poisoning the well water?  How are they being sorted?
  4. Articulate a team vision and brand – start with ‘Why’ – keep it simple and measurable
  5. Establish a process by which senior managers can participate in both talking through the vision and determining how the organization will get there.
  6. Establish expectations – what behaviors do managers need to demonstrate to walk the talk, what won’t be tolerated in the culture/environment, what will be celebrated, how will the team see the vision and brand come to life in the environment?
  7. Communicate
    • With consistent messages and multiple platforms (pay particular attention to how leadership is positioned)
    • Leverage your ‘Why’ statement generously, reinforce the brand
    • Be radical – put the people slides up front!
    • Make it conversational and create a leadership brand within the brand – assure all managers are leveraged
    • Ensure managers have the tools they need to stay on the same page – good intranet site for resources, talking points as required etc.
    • Make sure your evangelists and influencers have the right messages to propagate
    • Encourage two-way communication and follow through on it
    • Create platforms that demonstrate what teams/individuals can teach one another
    • Don’t create a platform or process that can’t be sustained for the long-term.
    • Constantly assess what’s working and what’s not

There’s an old quote, variously attributed, that goes something like “Age is mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”   Sadly that’s how many managers seem to feel about employee engagement, as in ‘Employee engagement is mind over matter. If you don’t mind…”

To that point, a friend of mine was recently volunteered for a project that began with the team lead stating that although they had to get busy on pulling together a pretty big piece of work, and it had to be a ‘quality’ piece of work at that, in reality it wasn’t going to mean anything at the end of the day.  You see, explained her manager, no one receiving the work really cared.  They were just going through the motions.   In other words, it was yet another futile corporate exercise that they, the manager included, had no control over.  But hey, they were in it together!  

I tell ya, this kind of stuff makes my head hurt.

Needless to say this manager’s honest (albeit negative) kickoff made it pretty tough for the team to deliver this project with any sense of urgency or dedication to quality.   The team thought – “Well, if they don’t care, why should we?”    Good point.   

I’m told in the end they did an alright job, but I can’t help but imagine how much better it could have been if the conversation had kicked off with a discussion on the value this work would add to the organization?    I’m going to guess much better.   And who knows how that ‘much better’ work could have been leveraged beyond its original remit?   So sad.

Obviously in this instance, the manager allowed their own sense of frustration to trickle down to the team and, well, that’s just not OK.   After all, not only did the work suffer, but it was a real missed opportunity to create greater employee engagement within that team.   Good leaders don’t do that.  Good leaders make their employees feel that they, and the work they do, always matter.

My point is, lesser leaders who ignore opportunities to raise employee engagement at every turn are making a big mistake.  They don’t see that by acting as though employee engagement doesn’t matter, they’re basically saying their employees don’t matter.   And at the end of the day, all human beings want to feel they matter to those they are in relationship with.  If we don’t feel that, where is the motivation, or the inspiration, to be better?    And as an employee, where would you rather work?   

SO if you’re a team member and you get caught in a spot like this, push your manager to help you understand how your work will contribute to the bigger picture – in other words, engage yourself.  Believe me, you’ll be happier.   And if you’re a manager, remember… don’t ever (ever) miss an opportunity to engage your team.   If you do, you may not get many more chances to get it right! 

This past week we welcomed the first day of spring here in NYC.  You wouldn’t know it by looking at the weather which is still hovering somewhere in the 40 degree range, but it’s true, its spring. 

While some may follow Tennyson and believe that spring is meant to turn one’s thoughts to love, I of course think of spring and ruminate on similarities between this time of year and establishment of successful employee programs.  I know, it’s so sad, I must have some sort of sickness – but then again, hear me out…

One of the predominant activities of springtime is gardening, and as every gardener knows the absolutely most essential element of a successful garden is healthy soil.  And so it goes with people programs, if the ground you’re planting your people program seeds in is essentially ‘bad soil’, you can’t possibly expect anything to grow.  Makes sense, right?  Of course right.  Now let’s dig deeper (sorry, couldn’t help it).

As I said, soil is arguably the most important component in a successful garden.  Soil is generally evaluated on fertility and texture. Fertility is a combination of essential nutrients and a pH that makes these nutrients available to the plants.  Texture refers to the size of the soil particles and their cohesiveness.   So too an organizational culture can serve as the ‘soil’ for your people programs.  It, like soil, also needs to be evaluated to see if anything can grow.  While soil focuses on fertility and texture, you might want to evaluate your culture for engagement issues such as team cohesion and trust in management. 

So how do you know if you have bad soil?  The only way to know for sure is to have it tested.  As in a garden, a quick guestimate of your soil’s health can be made by looking at your plants (i.e. employees).  If they are thriving, don’t fix what isn’t broken.  If they are languishing, it would be worth testing your soil.   Then focus on preparing the ground – aerate and provide nutrients to your cultural soil through ongoing communication, weed out issues that can poison the well water, and nurture and tend your culture on an ongoing basis…etc.   I could find a dozen more analogies but you get the point.   

The bottom line is plants won’t grow in bad soil and neither will your people programs, and in truth, ultimately, neither will your employees.  Take the time to create healthy soil and you’ll be reaping the rewards of your garden before you know it. 

Oh and remember, “Gardening requires lots of water – most of it in the form of perspiration.”  ~ Lou Erickson
Happy spring!

You may or may not have heard that Vlogs (or video blogs) are ‘the new black’ of internal communications. If you haven’t, then you heard it here first!  Hooray for me.   Anyway, I know first hand that Vlogs or video blogs can be a very powerful tool to engage and inform your employees.

I have actually produced a few internal Vlog initiatives with great success as part of my communications plans. Based on that experience, here’s list of things I think need to be considered before picking up a camera and popping some powder on your boss’ nose:

  1. First, ask the obvious question – what’s the goal? For example if your goal is to heighten transparency, get your time-strapped leadership out in front of the troops more often, keep the team informed and engaged during a complex time or simply want to demystify an initiative – a Vlog might be the perfect tool.
  2. Is this the right platform for your particular leadership? I can’t emphasize this enough. Focusing on the ‘right’ platform and content for your leader(s) is absolutely critical. Honestly assess your leadership and maybe do a test run or two to ensure they’re fully comfortable in front of the camera. Remember that successfully positioning your leadership will result in greater trust in your judgment, and ultimately in stronger support for your communications initiatives. Don’t let them fail or God forbid be embarrassed, or I can guarantee they’ll never trust you again.
  3. If that panicked warning caused you to take pause, don’t lose heart. Vlogs can be very effective in other ways – think of community building initiatives like employee vlogs, a regional series, philanthropic event reporting and on and on. A casual home movie style of a vlog could be just what you need to create a sense of team in your organization.
  4. Ensure a clear purpose and commitment to transparency. Make sure employees know why you’re doing a Vlog (vs. email etc). And differentiate this platform as representing the height of transparency and ‘unfiltered’ communication.
  5. If measuring viewership is key – send to web link vs. access via email. Natch.
  6. Openness to two way dialogue. As with most platforms, ensure folks know how they can get in on crafting the content, and basically ‘being heard.
  7. Maintain an archive – and share the link periodically. Folks that are late to the party might want to see what they’ve missed. I’ve also found this useful when I’ve received requests from other internal organizations that were seeking to mimic this platform.
  8. Be creative, have fun. Fairly obvious, I know, but still worth mentioning. See Pt. 3 above – find unique locations to film – rotate featured speakers – choose a large topic and break it down into a chapter series etc. etc. Remember, this can be a very fun, inexpensive and powerful tool if used correctly…AND you’ll be the creative genius who made it all happen.

If you have any questions, are still unsure if a Vlog is the right tool for your needs, or have some practical questions on the actual filming process, feel free to ping me. I love talking about this stuff!

Wow, has it really been over a week since I posted last!? Unbelievable how quickly time flies. Too much stuff going on I guess. Not the least of which – I was asked to manage publicity for an Off- Broadway show entitled ‘Friction’ which is opening here in NYC on November 5th. I’ve never done work like this before, and I love learning new stuff, so its been an interesting few weeks. So far I’ve supplied the play’s tagline, the synopsis, press release and am organizating the opening night. Here’s the website if you’re curious or even better, in town, on any of the performance dates! www.frictiontheplay.com

Now to the topic of my post – developing a talent management program. I’ve found that this can, in general, be a daunting task for most organizations. First of all – if you’re embedded in a group, or division etc – you are in reality a team within a team. You need to manage your talent within a larger talent construct. If its the opposite and you’re at the top of the house, you need to corral the cats and ensure the folks down below fully understand and leverage what’s being provided to them in the larger structure. It’s tough any way you look at it, and more often than not the reality falls just a tick short of glory.

To help, I’ve included this one pager/graphic I’ve cobbled together over the last few years that for me continues to provide a blueprint and guidepost for the kind of program I always seek to create when positioned in a ‘talent’ role.

Generic Talent Model by ThePeopleStuff.com

I think its robust, cohesive, and flexible and, when I’ve been able to fully execute on it, it has worked for me a like a charm. Here’s why:

Other than quickly organizaning my thinking and allowing me to accurately assess a current state, this model helps to ensure a few key things:

1. I am addressing all phases of the employee lifecycle – Attract, Develop, Retain and Retire
2. I am ensuring close alignment to the overall business strategy and keeping management in the loop through creation of a Workforce Planning Committee – which consists of the senior management team
3. I am clearly indicating that ‘I can’t do it all’, nor should I, by outlining where responsibility sits with HR, and where it sits with my function

This can all, of course, be modified to suit each unique group and situation, but by leveraging a model of this kind – I assure that I don’t miss the important stuff AND it allows me to communicate clearly to all my key stakeholders in a simple and straight forward way.

In upcoming posts I’ll expand upon each component of this model – so please subscribe for the latest updates. Oh! And if you think you can make this better, or have a model of your own you’d like to share – please do!   I love feedback and believe as Emerson did that “Our best thoughts come from others.”

A few years ago, while working at another investment bank, I received a random call from the head our division (I ran global communications for him). He told me that our CEO had just communicated his vision for a new aspirational culture which was to be based upon several core principles – all of which began with the letter ‘I’. These words became known as the ‘Five I’s’. Rigggght.

Anyway, at the time I was tasked with making sure that EVERYONE in our division knew what these Five I’s were. As ridiculous as the premise sounds, we did come up with some creative ways of accomplishing our goal – but that’s not really the point of this post. (If, however, you are curious about some the methods I used, shoot me a note and I’d be happy to share.)

No, the point of my post is actually this…. it just happened again! Today, I am at yet another large investment bank and was just told we’re going to use yet another set of words all beginning with the same letter, to describe our aspirational culture. Sure there are bigger problems in the world – war, hunger, poverty, global warming – but seriously folks, this must stop!

So I say this to all my tens of readers, please don’t lean on schtick or gimmicks when seeking to develop or improve a team or corporate culture. Rather, lean on honesty and transparency, talk about the real problems and how you’re going to address them, talk about how you’re going to engage employees in helping to solve the problems that are of concern to them, talk about the kind of place you want to be, and about what’s genuinely important to you and about what you value…I could go on, but you get the drift. Define your culture using conversational words that you can stand by through your actions and that (very important) your employees truly understand, can relate to and feel they can follow.

Rather than this…

Our core principles are…
Invigorate!
Innovate!
Investigate!
Inspire!

Work on developing something like this…

In our company we believe in respecting each other above all else, in working hard for our clients, in collaborating to solve problems and in taking care of our people.

Just put down the dictionary and the thesaurus and TALK to people, in a genuine way, about the kind of place you’d like to become. Then once you’re done, work to ensure you are living and breathing that vision, and make decisions that lead everyone down that aspirational path (i.e. don’t preach ‘communication’ and spend all day in your office with the door closed) What’s the point of that?

If you can start with a statement that people can relate to, I guarantee your folks will feel way more Invigorated and Inspired by that than by all the ‘I’ words you can dig out of the dictionary.

Except maybe ‘Ice Cream’ – which actually works every time.

p.s.  I made it to Freshly Pressed today!  So exciting!  Thank you all for reading and if you like what you read please comment, subscribe or share via the links below.  Thanks again!

Thanks to my colleague David Richardson at PIB Worldwide for this useful redirect.    Great stuff!

Margie Blanchard’s Courageous Career Questions

Courageous Career Questions
1. What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months? What were you doing?
2. What would you do more of if you could?
3. What might lure you away? What would we need to do to keep you here?
4. Are you being
• Challenged?
• Recognized?
• Trained?
• Given feedback?
5. What would make your life easier here? Your job more satisfying?
6. What do you want to be doing five years from now?
7. What about your job makes you want to hit the snooze alarm/take the day off?

I’m often asked to create communications plans to support various initiatives. With enough understanding of the initiative (reading through a few presentations etc.), and a quick size-up of the leadership, I can generally create a draft plan with key messages, proposed platforms, key stakeholders, talking points, calendar, blah blah blah and etc.

However experience has taught me that the key to the success of any plan is ensuring absolute clarity of the goal – as in ‘what’s the goal of this plan?’ What exactly am I being asked to achieve? Greater transparency? Employee buy in? Deeper understanding? Overall engagement? All of these and then some?

You’ll find as you pose this question directly that very often your leader/client will struggle with a crisp answer. Sometimes they simply don’t know. I mean, they know they need to ‘get the word out’ but they don’t know really, specifically, what they’re trying to achieve. That’s where you/I become invaluable. It’s up to us to provide the right guidance and demonstrate the power of targeted communication. Use this question to engage in a dialogue about their challenges, their vision and their needs and together agree on the most effective way to leverage communication to achieve their desired results.

Then, once that question is answered and the plan is agreed, establish a clear way to measure your progress towards the goal. Let us never forget…”The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  Damn straight.  Thanks Uncle George.

August 2017
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