Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Why I Hate the Law

Do you know what I find frustrating?  Laws.  I find them frustrating because the effort to follow the law often neglects to bring resolution to the problem it’s intended to resolve.  My clients often engage me for this very reason.  They want to bring real change, but simply keeping with the law doesn’t get them there. 

Take for example AB1825, a law enacted in 2007 requiring Sexual Harassment training.  While businesses dutifully follow it, thereby demonstrating legal compliance, there has been no discernable drop in the prevalence of sexual harassment claims in the decade since its inception.  The EEOC study report on these findings was released this summer.  They also found that policies to address discrimination and harassment, though less studied, have similarly poor results. 

Sadly, none of this information surprises me.  Why?  Because AB1825 gave employers a single answer to a multi-faceted problem.  Much like many other laws, the outcomes were an afterthought.  And, once this ‘solution’ is given, businesses no longer have the same responsibility to figure it out for themselves. 

Of even greater concern, the law helps insulate the businesses from legal action.  As a result, businesses who are not inclined to improve, have even less reason for doing so.  The EEOC found evidence of this.  In fact, some of the most pernicious forms of discrimination and harassment were largely ignored by organizations as they were done at the hands of a “superstar”.  Rather than risk the loss of this rainmaker, businesses found ways to work around the problem, often by transferring victims or taking other steps to mollify them. 

So, what can a business owner or HR do?  Here is my multi-faceted suggestion that you can use to bring change to your workplace.

Clarify the Problem
As each business environment is as unique as the people working in it, begin by identifying the people or circumstances that are at the center of complaints.  Then ask yourself, What would need to be different for the problems to stop?  What could make the problems resurface?  As you ask these questions, you begin to hone in on what needs to be done.
Get Creative
Begin by brainstorming – with a small team of thoughtful individuals.  Initial ideas may look like those tried in the past, write them down but keep going and explore alternative ideas.  Create the goal of generating 10 new ideas.  Doing so forces out-of-the-box thinking and is likely to bring you novel and workable ideas. 
Test the Success
Enact the best solutions and see what happens.  Does change come?  Are there unexpected consequences?  Continue to work between creativity and testing out solutions until you find one that yields desired results without dire consequences.
Share Outcomes
The business world needs more ideas – so share what works.  Blog, speak or Post your ideas below!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Lochte-ing Down On Bad Behavior

Ryan Lochte, it seems, has been given a chance to redeem himself to the American public by “Dancing With The Stars.”  I for one, don’t intend to give him that second chance. 

Ryan Lochte embarrassed not just himself, but his team and his Nation on the International stage known as the Olympics.  Once caught, he didn’t even have the decency to apologize or take true responsibility.  He vandalized, he fabricated, and he lied. Ryan Lochte’s behavior is noteworthy beyond the Olympics – because within this incident, is a lesson to be learned for all businesses. 

The Lochtes of the world exist in every industry.  You know who they are.  The marketing genius, the legal whiz, the one who breaks sales records month after month.  They are the champions of their business – and the ones whose bad behavior gets a pass. 

This isn’t about a single incident or indiscretion.  This is about on-going, escalating, and potentially reckless behaviors.  Behaviors that are largely ignored because the benefits (increased sales, new clients) seem to out-weigh the drawbacks.  And in the short term they may.  But high employee turnover, poor morale, damage to the reputation of your business, all have a far greater impact than a quarterly sales bump.

I don’t know Ryan Lochte, but I am certain this was not his first mis-step.  The crime, deception, and repeated lies to cover it up are not the act of a first time offender.   These are the actions of someone who believes they are untouchable and above the rules.  Someone who has been given a pass or a slap on the wrist, but has never been forced to suffer the significant consequences which teach us to adjust our behavior.

Who is like this at your company?  How can a business “Lochte-down” on such problem behaviors? 

1.    Honor the business by building a culture that values long term successes over short term gains.  Especially where sales numbers or share-holder returns are important, it can be easy to become short-sighted.  Remember, the damage done by a tarnished reputation is far more devastating and lasting than a quarterly win.
2.    Address problem behavior every time.  Especially when there is a pay-off for the business.  Yes, you closed a big deal, won the big case, or thwarted the competition, but if these wins came unethically – they aren’t really a win.  And to ignore the problem behavior suggests that it is condoned, or even acceptable.  Every member of the team will become aware of what the company values, and will either jump on that band-wagon (like Lochte’s teammates), or leave the company. 
3.    Hold them accountable.  Have and maintain high standards of behavior.  If an employee behaves inappropriately – be it toward another member of the staff, with a client or toward a competitor, have an action plan for dealing with it.  This may include a write-up, suspension without pay, even termination.  Keep in mind, without a consequence or down-side, most problem behavior will not change.  Ultimately it is the company that models the behavior others will follow – by demonstrating what is and isn’t acceptable.  
      Side-note:  Handle consequences, and even termination, with a level of respect that makes the person want to improve.  (See my article on Off-Boarding.)
4.    Engage in coaching.  Perhaps you can’t bear to lose a champion of your team no matter how bad the behavior has gotten.  Address the behavior directly by bringing in a coach and being crystal clear with the concerns and objectives.  This builds on #2 (Address problem behavior) because there must be honesty about the reason for the coaching if you want it to bring about change.
5.    Speak of the integrity of your business – and demonstrate the sincerity of that message.  Employees want to hear a positive message - one they can stand behind.  They also want to see actions that back up the words.  They will take notice when positive and appropriate behaviors are rewarded, just as they do when challenging behaviors are condoned.    
      Each organization must find its own place of pride, just as each Nation does.  The strength of many, can be overshadowed by the mis-steps of a few.  Take steps to "Lochte-down" problem behavior, before it impacts your bottom line.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Ideas Matter

The news is tragic and yet repetitive. Again we are hearing, and seeing, footage of unarmed men (and occasionally women) dying at the hand of local Police.  In Dallas, we’ve just seen a horrific attack in the reverse.  As appalling and distressing as it is, the actions in Dallas were carried out as a form of retribution for the reckless treatment and perhaps intentional slaying of these victims.  A situation that has been complicated and escalated by our judicial system which so often shields these Police officers from responsibility and consequence.

My greatest struggle with the needless deaths that we are seeing, is the on-going lack of accountability.   How can this be allowed?  Why isn’t it changing?  I believe there are many good cops out there, so why aren’t they leading the public outcry?    

For me it’s frustratingly similar to the infuriating circumstances that led to the housing crisis and collapse of our financial markets nearly a decade ago.  There too, a lack of accountability.  And there too, we felt powerless.  As I see it, our Country is running toward chaos at an ever faster pace.  A look at our political front-runners gives evidence to our dismay and disgust. 

Is it unsolvable?  I don’t think so.  I think we remain stuck because the problems seem too big, or our ideas too small.  I have an idea.  It is small, but perhaps also powerful.  It attends to one piece of the pie - responsibility.  And it's frighteningly simple.  It requires our Police Departments to make a concrete effort to bring change, and to take a firm stand to uphold it. 

Allow me to give an example.  For seven years I ran a Peer Mediation program in two public middle schools.  In that time I trained over 270 student mediators and supervised their conducting of more than 900 peer to peer mediations.  We know that youth in this pre and early adolescence are given to social pressures, gossip, and rumors.  Yet in the seven years I ran that program there was not a single incidence of broken confidentiality.  How is that possible?  Tightly held standards.  

During the recruitment process confidentiality was a major point of questioning.  Did they understand it?  How would they handle issues related to it?  During the training phase confidentiality and its sanctity were again discussed.  It was explained that the nature of their role required complete trust, and that any diminishment of trust would damage the reputation of the whole program.  Finally, before training was completed, students were told how breaches of confidentiality would be handled – with immediate dismissal from the program.  The process was clear and it was fair.  As the head of the program I would investigate any claim of breached confidentiality.  Regardless of whether this yielded proof that confidentiality had been breached, or merely resulted in lingering concerns that the claim was true, the accused student would be dropped from the program.  There was no grand punishment, no humiliation, no other consequence.  And yet it never once happened.  There was pride in being a part of the program, and an awareness that their job as mediators was to help.  I believe that pride and those values are just as strong in the majority of our Police officers.    

If middle-school students, grappling with peer pressure and gossip can be held to this high a standard, how is it that our own Police officers are not?  There are ample opportunities to spell out the consequences of reckless or haphazard performance during recruitment, during training, and during the tenure of a Police officer.  It could be managed with annual bonuses that are denied officers who are suspected of engaging in behaviors that diminish the public’s trust.  This would include questionable uses of force, and convenient losses of body cameras.  Another option would be to place any officer who inappropriately discharges his/her firearm on restrictive duty/desk work for a period of at least 6 months.  These simple solutions create an environment where Police officers are encouraged to make better decisions and take only appropriate actions.     

There is a definitive need for personal responsibility from our law enforcement, and an even more imperative need for a rebuilding of trust with civilians.  We need to share our ideas, however small, and we need to work together to build solutions to this chaos.  We need to focus on creating a world where all lives matter.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Re-thinking the Millennial Puzzle

Millennials.  The business world has spent the last decade fixated on this growing part of the workforce, and still seems to be getting it wrong.  Armed with a belief that this population requires flexibility, fringe benefits, and fun to be happy at work, businesses are bending over backwards to make that possible.  Engagement efforts range from telecommuting to meditation rooms and are being offered whether they make sense to the business or not.  And guess what?  Retention rates remain low among Millennials.  Worse still, the effort to cater to them has led to resentment and frustration from older generations.

The problem is, we keep trying to engage Millennials based on beliefs that just don’t hold true.  Of course Millennials want high pay, loads of benefits, flexibility, and a full assortment of other goodies.  Who doesn’t?  Those perks may lead to placement, but they don’t build loyalty.  Loyalty is a by-product of motivation and has differed with each generation.  For Traditionalists of the Great Generation, loyalty was connected to fears of unemployment and the hope of a pension.  Workers didn’t qualify until they’d held their job for 20 years.   Boomers were enticed with health benefits and, as they were commonly the sole breadwinner of their family, job security led to loyalty.   Gen X’ers who often came from broken homes or latch-key childhoods, wanted security for themselves and their children – more loyalty.  Things are different today in ways that have nothing to do with coddling our youth.  Motivating factors just aren’t built from what they used to be.

To understand what Millennials want, consider how they are different from us – including how their up-bringing differed from that of any prior generation.  More Millennials come from families where both parents were actively involved.  Both at home and in extra-curricular activities (which with two involved parents was the norm) their egos were protected.  They routinely enjoyed heavy encouragement and received “participation” awards from coaches regardless of their skill or prowess.  The outcomes of this have both benefits and drawbacks.

An advantage of being raised with a high degree of familial security and a low sense of competition, Millennials matured in an environment that was highly inclusive and accepting.  As adults, they are far more equality based than any preceding generation.  Millennials are the first to see the LGBT community, mixed race and blended families, as normal and healthy parts of our society.  The disadvantage, as we often see it, they don’t recognize corporate and hierarchical structures in traditional terms.  Millennials are likely to have an inflated sense of self-worth and they are apt to over-step their authority or feel restricted by supervisors who try to reign them in.

But Millennials aren’t merely a product of high egos and doting parents.  Along with the feel-good environment Millennials experienced through their coming of age, they were also exposed to a world paralyzed by fears stemming from terrorism and a global financial crisis.  Through the internet, they possessed greater access to news and information, both local and international, than any prior generation.  These challenges and freedoms impacted Millennials in their development as well.  On the up-side, their awareness of global issues and needs reduced their egos and caused many to strive to find ways to make a difference.  On the down-side (for the business community), rather than finding security in long-term employment, they find it through social connectedness.  As such, Millennials are not likely to consider long hours and working over-time as respectable priorities.

So yes, Millennials are different.  But not in the selfish, self-centered way that they are often depicted.  Like every generation before, they look at life through their own lens.  To motivate them and build loyalty, you’ll need to call to their sense of purpose and their desire to bring positive change.  This may be environmental causes, local initiatives, human rights or global concerns.  Find out what inspires and encourages them (and other members of your workforce) and help them find a path where – through your company – they can make a difference.    

If you are looking to build loyalty from a Millennial, match perks to their vision of the future.  Hint – they aren’t really in it for themselves.