Monthly Archives: September 2009

Words to take outside the HR boardroom…


I wrote recently of HR terms that when taken outside of HR don’t mean much. Now, upon reflection, here are my initial thoughts on words (and thoughts really), worthy of being taken outside of the HR boardroom:

  • A crystal clear understanding of what your organization is trying to achieve, and how it is going about that. In other words, the organization’s strategy.
  • An even more crystal clear understanding of the financial engine of your organization. How does your business stay in business?

Now pause, and make sure that you get these, because if you don’t then you are pure, pure, overhead. Few of the actions you take in your day to day work are driving your organization’s strategy or financial engine forward. Harsh, I know, but better coming from me than your CEO, who won’t actually tell you this. He just won’t invite you to the meeting.

Now, once you have gained a clear understanding of your organization’s strategy and financial engine, you are well on your way to being able to articulate how the work performed by your HR function adds value. Consider the following:

  • Things that drive productivity and performance versus making employee’s happy. I get that these are not mutually exclusive, but us HR types do tend to bias towards the “making employees happy” side of the scale.
  • Things that drive the organization to feed its financial engine i.e. great performance management tools for your sales force; effective management training for new managers; effective onboarding processes that get new employees up to speed and productive as quickly and effectively as possible.

Now go forth and add value, and please don’t say “talent management” 🙂


Beyonce – a class act of leadership

If you have been living under a rock then you may not have heard about what went down at the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday night. In short, sweet seventeen year old Taylor Swift won for best video, started her acceptance speech and was rudely interrupted by Kanye West who grabbed the microphone out of her hand (eeek!) and said that “Beyonce’s Single Ladies is the best video of all time”. Taylor Swift didn’t finish her speech and the look on her face was enough to bring tears to the eyes of the most hardened “I hate country music” fan. Kanye was eventually booed off the stage. But redemption came.

Beyonce won an award later in the evening and after reaching the stage she said the following: “I can remember being seventeen and winning my first VMA with Destiny’s Child, and I remember how nervous I was. I would like to invite Taylor back on stage to have her moment”. Taylor Swift then made her way back on the stage, Beyonce handed her the microphone, gave her a hug and stood behind her. I get chills just thinking about this (good ones!). In one moment, Beyonce distanced herself completely from what Kanye did, and she had the grace and class to ensure that an emerging artist had her moment in the sun. Kanye on the other hand has been dissed by just about everyone this week and had to go on Leno(!!) to apologize. Who do you think needs a bit of coaching on self awareness and their impact on others? Hmmmm…

Time to lift our eyes up?


Built to change is a great book about how to make your organization more flexible and better at changing. A key concept in the book is strategizing as opposed to strategic planning. The key difference being that strategizing is something that happens frequently, not once a year in a conference room. When strategizing, individuals gather to think about the future, play out different scenarios, and choose how to respond to those scenarios in a way that aligns with the identity of the organization. In short, strategizing adopts the philosophy that 80% of strategy is figuring out where the world is going. If you can do that, what you need to do usually becomes obvious.

So here is my challenge to you. After all this hunkering down, cost cutting and focus on efficiency (for good reason), what opportunities are out there? Are there talented people you could recruit to your business because they have been “recessioned” by their employers? Are there opportunities in your market that you can attack before your competitors? Could you pick up a piece of real estate with phenomenal lease or mortgage terms? Think about the future, play out a few scenarios, keep your CFO happy by making sure the numbers work, but start moving forward. You will find opportunities.

Reflections on a top performing team

The extended BBE team

The extended BBE team

Over the weekend I was so fortunate to spend Saturday with my former MBA team and their spouses. During the MBA program we consistently outperformed our colleagues on team assignments, and since the program has come to a close (hurrah!) we happily meet up and spend time together, as we did Saturday. Here are a few thoughts on what made us a top performing team…

  • We had a clear shared goal. The motivation to complete the program and have fun while doing it kept us all pulling in the same direction.
  • We took the time to get to know one another, often over a meal and a glass of wine.  It sounds trite, but I find that nothing accelerates team building like a shared meal and drink.
  • We met each others spouses. We held a dinner party with the full extended team of spouses within the first two months of forming, and continued to do so once a semester throughout the program. Meeting someone’s spouse gives you another view of who they are. It helps you to understand them better, hence building trust.
  • We used some good tools that satisfied our need to view teambuilding as something beyond fluff. Lencioni’s “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, Buckingham’s “Now Discover Your Strengths”, and the “Forming, Storming” frameworks were put to good use and satisfied two engineers, a lawyer, a sales professional, and yours truly 🙂
  • We valued having fun together.

Thanks team! I look forward to many more fun days together.

Are women and men that different? Part 2

I had lunch today with a male colleague of mine at a place called PHAT. I had never been, likely because eating lunch at a place called PHAT seems to be tempting fate and the waistline. But alas, I was able to order a lovely vegetarian sandwich that came with a lovely side of coleslaw with very little mayo. Nice. Also, if you are a single woman – PHAT in Yaletown at lunch time is packed to the gills with good looking men enjoying smoked meat sandwiches. But when our food arrived I had to take a picture to demonstrate boy food versus girl food. You can see by the image that yes, a little different:

boy food versus girl foodgirl lunch vs. boy lunch

Inspired by the biggest loser, until I saw the ads and the sponsor…


Upon some prodding by a girlfriend who is just “so inspired by the biggest loser – I mean, Suz, these people are completely transforming their lives!…” I tuned in on the weekend to watch the grande finale. And yes, wow – even my couch sitting partner said “this is incredible”. The winner lost an insane amount of weight, over 45% of his body weight. All through diet and exercise. Compelling stuff. Until I started to count the number of processed food advertisements I had to sit through in between segments (yes I know, the pvr is a to do item)… Kraft Dinner, Vitamin Water (@#%!@^%#), Stouffers, and the ultimate, wait for it…Hamburger Helper! And then, as I continued to vent my frustration to my poor couch sitting partner, Alison Sweeney (the host) announced the Biggest Loser’s premier sponsor – Nestle 100 calorie snacks. %@&@^!@^#. Here’s why – if you want a 100 calorie snack, have an apple. Or some carrots. Something, anything, that does not come in a box with a wrapper.

Health and wellness are a big deal. Weight issues are significantly on the rise in North America – apparently if you were born in the year 2000, you have a 1:3 chance of developing Type 2 diabetes in your lifetime. You get Type 2 diabetes by eating too much. What does this mean for employers and business? Increased benefit costs, absenteeism, depression to name a few. So yes, I am inspired that the biggest losers lost so much weight, but depressed at the big business of processed food. Next time you hear wrapping in the cubicle next door, offer up an apple.

Performance management in the time of budget cuts, aka no merit increases…

The BC budget is getting a lot of play at the moment and it is all a bit dismal. Taxes are going up and budgets are getting slashed. In recent conversations with clients it has become all too common to hear them say “there will be no salary increases this year”. So my question is, if one has an effective performance management system that drives your merit increases, during times of zero salary increases does the following happen:

  • Your exceed employees become the ones you do everything you can to avoid laying off?
  • Your meets empoyees become thes ones that if you have to, you are willing to lay some off?
  • Your do not meet employees are terminated as soon as possible?

This may be perceived as overly simplistic as it does not take into account roles that may be more strategically important than others. But trying to assess the strategic importance of roles in times of crisis just adds another layer of complexity, subjectivity and ultimately time delay. If you are in HR and your performance management system does not enable you to make these kinds of assessments, well time to fix it. Fast. For employees working in environments with no salary increases, motivation is no longer about getting a raise,  it is about keeping your job. Get moving.

And by the way, any organization that says they are going to reduce costs without layoffs is simply lying, confused or clueless. Salary costs are by and large the largest budget line item for any business. Sooner or later, cuts will happen. You can either attempt to influence them or be caught in their path.