Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Journey’s End


Eight years ago, when we first discussed writing “the book every HR person threatens to write,” we never imagined it would be a journey. Okay, some of you are saying, “What took them so long? What about those contests to write your novel in 30 days?” Well, let’s share a bit about how this book came together and why it is coming out in 2020 and not in 2012 when it all began.

Our plan was simple, or so we thought. Interview a hundred or so (well, not that many) of our HR and business colleagues and friends. and ask them to share their zaniest stories of workplace behavior. With those stories in hand, all we would have to do is write them up just like we’d written The Big Book of HR. (“It won’t take us very long to write.”) After all, we wrote The Big Book of HR in less than six months. Once written, it would be edited and published – probably within a few months. 

It didn’t quite turn out that way. First, enter our publisher, who kept asking us for more books – three to be exact and a revised edition of The Big Book of HR. Next, we realized that gathering the stories was fun and easy, but we couldn’t tell them exactly as we heard them. We’d have to use the idea of the stories, but camouflage the details to maintain confidentiality and assure we’d have friends left when we were finished.

What to do? The answer was simple. Write a creative nonfiction book that is like historical fiction where you take a part of a story or fact and create a narrative around it. How to do it? That was our challenge.

Since the other books we’d written together were nonfiction, we had much to learn. So, we took classes, attended writer’s conferences, and listened to podcasts and webinars to learn about story arcs, writing dialogue and transitions, and creating characters. Then we created a fictional company and characters and used them to tell the stories. And don’t forget the endless reviews, rewrites, and edits – which every writer goes through. Finally, we have book that portrays the people issues that can arise in any workplace; tells stories that spotlight the world of HR leaders and how they keep things on an even keel; and provides a glimpse behind the scenes into compelling and relatable tales.

It’s time to announce that They Did What? Unbelievable Tales from the Workplace is finished. To say we are beyond excited is a vast understatement. It will be available on December 1 either directly from our publishing partner at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/they-did-what or wherever books are sold. See our website https://www.bigbookofhr.com/they-did-what for more information.

No matter your preference, ebook or physical book, there’s a copy available for you from your bookseller of choice. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it. And positive reviews on Amazon are always appreciated.

Thanks for being on this journey with us.

Cornelia and Barbara

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Celebrate Managers – Boss’s Day 2020


If ever there were a year where we needed an excuse to celebrate, it’s 2020. Our world has been turned upside down. We’ve all been thrown by the pandemic into work and life situations we weren’t prepared for by the pandemic.  

Last month we wrote a blog about Management by Walking Around – the concept introduced in the 1980s by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their book, In Search of Excellence. “How’s that working for you?” as Dr. Phil would ask. When we wrote the award-winning book, The Manager’s Answer Book, one piece of advice we offered for managing remote workers was to use technology. Let’s take a pause on that for a moment.  We’re all weary and stressed from screen time and Zoom meetings these days. If we can’t walk around (managers and employees alike), and if we’re stressed from technology overuse, maybe it’s time to return to some other old-school methods of engaging. 

I remember the year I joined the corporate HR team in a Fortune 500 company. That holiday season I was stunned to receive a holiday card from our vice president. We lived and worked on different coasts and didn’t have much daily interaction. It wasn’t the card itself that touched me; rather, it was the personal note he took the time to write. Every year thereafter I received a card with a note, as did every member of the staff.  The note was either something about a work project or a personal event that he was aware of.  All these years later, I can still remember what some of those notes said. Talk about a motivator and a real leadership quality.

A personal, hand-written note to staff members is a powerful way to keep them engaged. With texts and emails and social media, we’ve lost the art of letter writing. Time to pick it back up. Another old-school method is to simply pick up the telephone and have a one-on-one conversation. It doesn’t have to be long. Just take the time to check in, ask how someone is doing, and mention something positive about their work. 

Of course, this works both ways. Team members should recognize that their bosses are stressed these days as well. If there were ever a year bosses needed to hear how appreciated  they are, it’s 2020. Being a manager is hard work, and being a great boss is even harder. Normally, we’d advise doing something festive for Boss’s Day, which is this Friday, October 16; but remote work and social distancing take away the options of decorating offices and having team lunches. What if everyone sent cards to the boss’s home, or ordered a pizza lunch for the boss and their family? If you want to send them a gift, consider a copy of The Manager’s Answer Book for their library.  We’d be honored if you did so.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg—Role Model and Inspiration

 Like so many of us, I was saddened when I heard one of my role models had passed away on Friday, September 18 after a long battle with cancer. Somehow, even though I knew she was 87, I really believed she was timeless. She had been seriously ill several times over the past years and bounced back, but not this time. Pancreatic cancer is not something the notorious RBG could beat.

The morning following her death was a perfect day in Washington, DC—bright blue sky and temperature in the high 60’s. I love this time of year when it is warm but not humid. I decided I needed to join the crowds as the Supreme Court to honor Justice Ginsburg.

The atmosphere outside the beautiful Supreme Court building was respectful but sad. I saw countless women with their daughters. I saw lots of young women on their own or with friends. I saw fathers with their children. One young girl was riding on her dad’s shoulders holding a bouquet of yellow roses while her dad was clutching more flowers.

There were flowers just lying on the ground which bothered me at first. I’ve never understood why people take something living like a beautiful flower and just lay it down in front of a fence. I remember seeing this done was when Princess Diana was killed, and it seemed like such a waste. But, as I was standing quietly right in front of the building, a woman—a total stranger—handed me a long-stemmed white rose. 

It took me a few minutes to deal with the emotions that flooded my mind and then I leaned over and placed my rose on top of the other flowers. Tears were streaming down my face as I turned away from the crowd and started my walk back to the Metro to return home. I’m grateful to that stranger who helped me connect with what I was feeling by handing me the flower, and I am grateful to Justice Ginsburg for all she did for me and for so many others.

I read interviews with former law clerks of hers who had wonderful stories to tell. One resonated with me because as an author, I constantly struggle with using the right words and the right number of words. According to attorney Ruthanne Deutsch, she instructed her clerks when writing to, “get it right and keep it tight.” I’m putting that up on my computer as a new motto!

Ginger Anders who clerked for Justice Ginsberg said in 2004, “She didn’t tell war stories and she rarely talked about herself. She simply showed up every day and did the very best work she could.” Now that’s advice we call can take to heart.

One of the many homemade signs I saw on Saturday was a quote from the Justice that read, “I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the best of her ability.”

To say, “She will be missed,” seems like such a trite way to end this memory, but it’s the truth.  Since she was all about the truth, I will stop here and just say thank you to a wonderful woman who definitely will be missed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Management by Walking Around


Some of you may remember Tom Peters and Robert Waterman’s wonderful book, In Search of Excellence. If you don’t know it, I highly recommend it. It’s filled with good business practices that, while from the last century (and yes, the last Millennium), still hold up.

I was reminded of this book while on one of the many Zoom calls this week. When an applicant, responding to a question about his management philosophy, he mentioned he was a fan of managing by walking around. Simply put, MBWA, as it’s sometimes known, is getting out from behind your desk or out of your office and being seen by and talking with your employees face-to-face in their environment.

Great idea and smart managers were doing this a long time before it had a name. However, this started me thinking if and how this concept can work in our current (and maybe forever) remote environment. Today, managers may be thinking, “If I’m not seeing my employees, other than on a screen, how will I have the connection I want, a connection which used to happen when I walked around the office or spent time on the factory floor?”

I used to work for an organization where the CEO was the best at managing by walking around. Every day, and I do mean every day, he started the day by speaking personally to every employee while walking around the office. The employees loved it and were comfortable talking with him and sharing ideas and concerns. (I think some of the middle managers were less fond of this practice because he learned things they didn’t know, but that’s a subject for another blog.)

I’m thinking that in our remote world when managers don’t see people in person anymore, the only way they can have that personal, one on one connection is to call each one and have a chat. I know this is time consuming, and I’m not suggesting it is something to do every day.  However, maybe it’s a practice that might create that all important connection we crave in our remote world.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Sharpen the Saw


Life for the last six months has been anything but normal. So much of what is happening around us is negative and frightening. However, there is one positive thing. It has provided me with time to renew my acquaintance with some of the classic business books, including The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

While this book was first published in 1989 and has sold over 25 million copies worldwide, the concepts Covey writes about hold true today.  Over the next few months, we plan to blog about the seven habits from Covey’s book and to get started, we’re actually beginning with number seven—Sharpen the Saw. The reason for starting with the last one will be obvious when we consider what our lives are like in this time of a pandemic, heightened racial tensions, and a highly divisive presidential election in 2020.

Habit 7 is all about self-renewal. Covey talks about “preserving and enhancing your greatest asset, yourself, by renewing the physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional dimensions of your nature.”

Self-care is now what used to be referred to as self-renewal. Self-care is described as a conscious act people take to promote their own physical, mental, and emotional health. Sounds like what Stephen Covey wrote about over 30 years ago. Especially now, self-care is critical to managing stress. Unfortunately, even though we know it’s important, many of us still see self-care or self-renewal as a luxury rather than a priority.

How are you doing at Sharpening the Saw? 

  • A healthy diet and regular exercise are necessary to take care of our physical health. But have you thought about how important sleep is to your physical health?  
  • This time of quarantine has reminded us of the need for social interaction. Have you found ways to stay in touch with friends and family—even when we can’t be together in person?
  • How are you nurturing your spirit? Maybe it is religion or meditation or whatever works for you, but don’t overlook this important part of self-care.

Covey tied self-renewal to something that highly effective people made a habit of doing. This is a good time to think about how you Sharpen the Saw.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Trust, Transparency, and Vulnerability


Sometimes, people link trust to transparency as if they are either interchangeable or one is dependent on the other. I do believe a successful leader must be trusted by their followers and that a leader should be as transparent as humanly possible -- especially when so much of our work is being done remotely.

We know that trust isn't something a leader can demand or even build. Trust must be earned. Trust is earned when we demonstrate competence, reliability, honesty, and kindness. According to Rachel Botsman, an academic and author at Oxford University, "trust is earned in the smallest moments, not through heroic deeds or highly visible acts."

We also know that employees always seem to want to know more than they probably need to or should know. And if you say you are being transparent and then legitimately hold back information the staff thinks should be shared, will their level of trust be diminished? Maybe yes, and then what?

Here's a thought. What if we didn't link transparency to trust but instead coupled it with vulnerability? How might that help leaders earn trust?

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, says that strong leaders are the ones who aren't afraid to show vulnerability -- especially when they admit they don't have all the answers. When we show vulnerability to our employees and it is authentic, we're going a long way toward earning the trust of our teams. A vulnerable leader can inspire greatness and engender trust.

Showing vulnerability can also encourage questions that might lead to workplace solutions. When the leader acknowledges they don't have all the answers, it encourages others to share their ideas and maybe even share their own vulnerability. 

Other ways to build trust are:

  • Live your values every day
  • Listen more than you talk
  • Get to know your employees and trust them to make good decisions
  • Operate in a way that encourages openness and transparency
  • Treat everyone with respect
  • Show your employees that you value them as individuals -- not just for their work
  • Communicate often
  • Set clear expectations and hold people accountable

Be transparent when you can, trust your team, and let them see your "not so perfect" side from time to time, and odds are you will earn the trust of your staff. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Imagination & Creativity - A Tip From The Manager’s Answer Book

Did you ever think about what gives you a different perspective?  Is it a new setting, or situation, or circumstance? Did you ever hear people say that they’re most creative when they are not at work? There’s something about stepping out of your usual routine and environment that allows new ideas to flood our brains.  When you expand your perspective, you expand your horizons as well. 

In 2020, we’ve found ourselves in new and different situations and circumstances. These days people are not at their usual place of work, but are still working, and working amidst distractions and interruptions. Enough to stifle anyone’s creativity, but it’s certainly bringing a new perspective to the way we do things. To paraphrase the title of a Tony Schwartz book, the way we used to work isn’t working anymore. 

Manager’s Tip:  During these difficult times, don’t lose your perspective. Opportunities can grow out of chaos and crisis. Potential can be unlocked creating positive and lasting change for your organization. It’s the time for new ideas and energy, for taking action, and for putting people first. You just have to expand your perspective. One silver lining I see from this pandemic, it will retire, forever, that tired phrase we’ve always done it that way!

As leaders in your organization, you recognize that creativity and innovation are critical – whether it’s developing new products or services or just finding improved ways of doing things.  You want nurture that innovative self inside each and every employee. You

need to start by letting your employees know that you are open to new ideas and suggestions and that you value their creativity. However, recognize that in these times, idea generation is going to take more time and effort. Be patient. Let the process be organic. 

You can read more about imagination and creativity on page 98 of The Manager’s Answer Book a proud 2020 Winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Award. The Manager’s Answer Book is available from Amazon -- https://tinyurl.com/y8umaqpz - Barnes & Noble or your local independent bookstore.

And remember “What you imagine you create.”