5 Conversations Your Millennial Employees Are Longing To Have

Morgan (a family friend who also happens to be a millennial) was practically screaming in frustration as we began our mentoring session, “Arghhh, Karin, I’m just so frustrated. They want me to do all this crap… none of it seems important, and it’s getting in the way of my real work.”

It would have been tempting to just take Morgan’s word for it– that the “crap” she was being asked to do made no sense.

After all, I suppose I should be on Morgan’s “side,” but as I dug below the “crap,” I could see a logical explanation for almost everything she was being asked to do.

K- “Has your boss explained why these things are important?”

M- “Nope.”

K- “Do you think your boss has your best interest at heart?”

M-“Sometimes.”

K-“Well let me try to explain why I think they’re asking for all this.”

She let out a palpable sigh as I went through the possible explanations. (Keep in mind that I have no idea if these were the real reasons… but just connecting her dots with my experience.)

Imagine how much better that would have been coming from her boss.

I stand by my view that millennials are just human beings doing the best they can, like the rest of us. The more I work with this generation, however, I realize that it’s not that they their needs are that different, it’s that they are more vocal when things don’t make sense.

Thank goodness.

Asking more “whys” can be powerful, positive disruptive force
in our organizations, communities and world.

And of course, the flip side of this conversation is that there often is a very good “why” worth listening to. We need to all get better at explaining and listening, even if we don’t like what we hear.

Five Conversations Your Millennial Employees Are Longing To have

If you’re running into frustration with your millennials questioning everything and not “getting with the program,” consider tackling one of these five conversations.

  1. How can I show up authentically (be true to myself) and still be effective? (Help me navigate the politics.)
  2. Why do we have to do it this way? (Explain the why behind all these policies and processes that seem to be wasting my time)
  3. Why does my work matter? (Help me find the greater meaning in the work I do.)
  4. When you say “I’m not ready” for a promotion, can you be more specific? (And how do I get ready beyond just putting in my time?)
  5. I’ve got some ideas for how we can do this better. (Please listen to me and take me seriously).

The best way to bridge the generational gap is open dialogue. Let’s have more.

Who Leads Next? What Every Employer Needs to Know To Develop Your Millennial Employees

As David Dye and I prepare for our Winning Well Asia Tour this Spring, we continue our dialogue on with Michael Teoh, author of the Potential Matrix and founder of Thriving Talents. To hear more, you can listen to this recorded webinar in which we discuss:

  1. How to Build a Culture that Develops Leaders before they have Titled Responsibility
  2. Ways to Talk with your Younger Talent to keep them Engaged and bought into the Development Process
  3. Key Mistakes to Avoid – Don’t Push Your Leaders Out The Door!
  4. A Process to Identify and Draw Out the Best from Your Emerging Leaders

 

Teachable Moments: Learning to Win Well the Hard Way

When I told “John” what I did for a living, he chuckled. “Oh, I learned how to be a good leader the hard way.” 

Don’t we all. 

It’s often our most klutsy moves that teach us how to Win Well.

John’s Story

Here is “John’s” story. I hope you’ll share yours with our LGL community in the comments below.

I was the VP of well-known hotel chain. We’d been preparing for a month for Bob, our COO’s,  annual visit to our region.  This was our moment to shine. 

I’d staffed that day with our top-notch managers who were all on point to be sure every guest was getting white glove treatment. I’d personally done the rounds to ensure we were prepared. I checked everything from the lightbulbs to the kitchen inventory.  I even had the staff practicing their elevator pitches for any skip level meetings, to ensure they could discuss their results in just the right way.

 I’d left nothing to chance. Or so I thought.

The day of the visit, he asked to walk around unescorted. I wasn’t worried, my staff was ready to show him all our best practices.

You can imagine how shocked I was when he pulled out his Moleskin on the way back to the airport with a long list of problems he’d uncovered. The brakes were squeaking in one of the shuttle vans.  One hotel was consistently running out of shampoo. One manager was having terrible trouble recruiting maid staff. The list went on and on.

Embarrassed, I looked at Bob and asked how he’d possibly uncovered so many issues in such a short period of time.

Bob said matter of factly, “I just asked every employee I met if there was anything they needed to create a better customer experience.  And they told me. Simple as that.”

“When’s the last time YOU asked?”

That was a critical turning point in my leadership journey. 

I’d been so busy working to tell people what needed to be done, I’d completely overlooked the obvious point. They were the ones with the answers. I needed to ask, not tell.

I’ve found that’s the answer to almost every real management challenge. Ask more questions. Listen. And respond. 

Questions You Should Ask Your Boss

Ask Don't Tell: 3 Questions That Will Make You a Better Leader

You know that asking the right questions will make you a stronger leader. But it’s hard. Not all questions have the same impact. And it’s risky. You never know what the response will be–which means you need to stay fully present to be helpful.

“When you ask a question you’re giving up some of your power. It means you’re willing to sit in that discomfort for the good of another person’s growth.” -Michael Bungay Stanier

In my continued quest to surround myself and learn from others aligned with the Winning Well philosophy, I had an opportunity to interview Michale Bungay Stanier, author of The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, & Change the Way You Lead Forever.

3 Questions That Will Make You A Better Leader

1. “What’s On Your Mind?”

Have you ever noticed that’s the prompt that Facebook asks as the invitation to post? It’s so simple. Asking “What’s on your mind?” And then staying quiet and really listening to the answer can be a tremendous gift. Michael shares: “Because it’s open, it invites people to get to the heart of the matter and share what’s really important to them. You’re not telling or guiding them. You’re showing them the trust and granting them the autonomy to make the choice for themselves.”

2. AWE – “And What Else?”

Michael shared that in many circumstances the easy-follow-up, “And what else?” can open the door to deeper conversation. “There are three reasons it has the impact it does: more options can lead to better decisions; you rein yourself in; and you buy yourself time. ” It helps you to stay curious and not jump right into offering advice. The deeper understanding you have of the situation, the more you can discuss viable options.

Let’s play this out.

“What’s on your mind?”
“My boss is such a jerk, he keeps freaking out.”
“Oh, that sounds just terrible. That must be really hard.”
“Yeah.”
“And what else is going on?”
“Well, he’s extra mad this week because I screwed up the spreadsheet.”
“Oh boy, what happened there? (a slightly different version of ‘and what else’).”
“I don’t really know how to do pivot tables.”
“And what else?”
“And I’m not really comfortable with all the formulas.”

And BINGO… you’re down to a solvable problem

3. The Foundation Question– What do you want?

the coaching habitI must say this is my favorite question in his book. Michael shares:

“I sometimes call it the Goldfish Question because it often elicits that response: slightly bugged eyes, and a mouth opening and closing with no sound coming out. Here’s why the question is so difficult to answer. We often don’t know what we actually want. Even if there’s a first fast answer, the question, ‘But what do you really want?’ will often stop people in their tracks.”

Being able to know what we want, articulate it respectfully, and then be willing to accept an answer– know that sometimes it will be “no–is a vital component for having healthy conversation and productive relationships. As a leader, being able to help others identify what they want is a good place to start.

You can learn more about The Coaching Habit and download some additional free tools at thecoachinghabit.com.

Why Have We Stopped Talking About Diversity At Work?

I’ll never forget attending a leadership development program at a fancy hotel in the early 1990s. The main topic was diversity. John, my well-dressed, articulate, black peer, came back from the coffee break with tears in his eyes, saying he was standing outside getting some fresh air, when some guy handed him his keys thinking he was the valet.

He looked right at me, and said, “Karin there is no way on God’s earth this will ever happen to you.”

It’s 20 years later. I’ve gotten a lot of fresh air just outside of hotel lobbies.

It hasn’t.

We clearly needed that diversity program. John’s experience was raw and real. Talking about unconscious bias wasn’t comfortable, but I know it shaped my perspective as a leader and as a human being.

Perhaps you remember the “diversity” era.

If I were running LGL in the 1990s, I’m quite sure “diversity” would be all over my website.

I just did a search. “Diversity” is nowhere to be found.

Is diversity handled?

Sure, we have the occasional debate about where our transgender colleague should go to the bathroom, but diversity has stopped being top on our list of people issues.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Of course, it’s better.  Thank goodness. Many companies turned those strategies into polices. Blatant discrimination is less rampant. Ratios continue to improve. It’s better, no doubt.

At the same time, in Baltimore where I live, the city imploded this year with racial riots over injustice. That can’t be happening on the outside of our businesses without impacting our insides. These issues are touching humans inside all of our organizations.

No one forgets their concern about how black lives matter just because they’re driving to work… and yet sometimes this conversation gets stifled when folks pull into your parking lot.

Am I advocating for a return to the Diversity strategy rhetoric? No. Do I want you to hire me to help you build your diversity strategy? No.

Do I think we need to continue to have real dialogue about diversity, inclusion, and the mess we’re still in as a Nation? Yes. At work? Yes. Even if it’s uncomfortable? Yes, yes. Uncomfortable leads to progress.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I encourage each one of us to consider how we can best re-open the conversation.

“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

So here we are. It’s up to us. How will we continue the conversation?

Is Your Team Prepared for a Safety Emergency?

I was about to start my presentation, and was told that we couldn’t begin until we had “the safety briefing.” I was intrigued. The team went into a well-orchestrated checklist delegating contingency emergency assignments and ensuring that everyone knew where the nearest exits and fire extinguishers were.

  • “Okay, if anyone has a medical condition that could need attention, please write that down and put it into your right pocket.”
  • “Raise your hand if you are CPR certified. Okay John you are on CPR.”
  • “Who will be our runner?” Meaning doing whatever it took to deliver information.
  • “Who will call 911?”

Now I had taught in that room for three semesters before this executive retreat. Not once had I given a thought to the location of the fire extinguisher. I looked to the right of the podium–they had brought their own defibrillator.

Now this may seem extreme, but this company’s number one mission is safety. And if I told you who they were, you would be darn glad that was their priority. Their safety impacts ours.

Making a Safety Plan

A month later I was visiting their corporate headquarters for some follow-up consulting. I entered the conference room and noticed the safety cards you see pictured above in the center of the table. I asked, “Are these part of the visual aids for your action learning project presentation?” Nope. Every single conference room has them. Whenever two or more people are gathered in a conference room, they are required to make their safety plan before they begin their work.

Wow.

No one expects to come to work and face a 911 emergency.  But turn on the news, and the need for a contingency plan feels a bit more pressing.

We prepare for what-ifs in our strategic planning, and if you work in a big company you likely have a formalized disaster recover plan, with an annual drill. When I worked at Verizon, I was listed as mission critical in the safety execution plan, but the truth is if a bomb went off, I’m not sure I would have had the wits to remember to grab that binder. Yes, yes, plan for the big stuff. I would encourage you to also consider having more regular discussions to keep safety top-of-mind and making a plan to keep your team safe in case of emergencies.

A Thanksgiving Challenge

I cried as I read his note.

I’ve been wrestling with how to share this with you ever since. I thought about writing about it generically but that fell flat. I couldn’t write it in a way that kept the impact. So here’s my pre-apology. This is not a “look what I did, follow my lead” post.

It’s a “Look what HE did, and OMG do we need more of that in this world!” post.

If even half of the LGL readers would just thank one person who didn’t expect it, we’d have a powerful force field of positive reinforcement for the behaviors that matter most.

A Thanksgiving Story

It had been 7 years since this store visit. I was his bosses’ boss driving seven hours to visit his store for a first meeting after he joined my team through a merger.

Neither of us work at Verizon now. There was no follow-up note asking for something. It was a genuine note of sincere gratitude.

I never got to tell you this or express my genuine thanks for something you did when I started my Store Manager journey when I was with Verizon. I got the store ready, changed every light bulb and dusted every fixture. You came in and had genuine enthusiasm, only to meet me at the time in a time of hurt. My grandfather was close to dying that day you visited. I remember standing in the showroom floor and Ryan informing you of what was going on personally with me and not only your look of sadness–actually you had tears in your eyes–and you looked at me and said “Why are you here?  Go home, go where you are supposed to be right now.” I never told anyone about that car ride home and how much I cried, not only tears of sadness but tears of thanks. So with that said, although the strongest most courageous man in my life passed away that day, you gave me happiness that day. Thank you is putting it lightly.

I had no idea.

My tears as I read his note where for the courage and effort he took, and for the lack of courage and effort I’ve made over the years to go back and say, “Thank you. What you did in that moment made an impact.”

So my Thanksgiving Challenge to each of us, is to pick one person in our career for whom we are truly grateful… perhaps for a simple moment of human kindness… or perhaps for just a bit more and TELL THEM.

If that feels too far out of the blue, blame me;-)

I’m going to write to Ray. I’m pretty sure that he has no idea of the impact he made on this growing leader.

7 Strategic Questions Your Team Should Be Able to Answer

I’ve never met an executive who said, “My team’s just too strategic. I just wish they would focus on the day-to-day work.” Nope. In fact it’s quite the opposite concern. “How do I get my team to think more strategically?” “Karin, I just don’t think anyone on this team is ready to take on my role…. and I can’t get promoted until I find a successor.” And the phone call of the week is, “These millennials just don’t seem to get it. There’s no long-term commitment. I don’t think they care. (PS: if this one sounds familiar, click here and scroll down to download my FREE e-book Mentoring in the Age of the Millennial.) I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, if your team is not thinking strategically don’t write them off, until you take a good look at what you’ve been sharing. It’s impossible to connect the dots if you only see a third of them. If you wait until everything’s fully baked to share it with the team, they’ll never learn to be bakers. Not sure where to start without going out-of-bounds? Start here with these 7 strategic questions, that won’t get you fired.

7 Strategic Questions Your Team Should Be Able to Answer

translator1. Why do we do what we do? Note: “to make money” is not the only answer. Dig deeper. I ask this question every time I go into a focus group. You would be surprised how few can articulate a compelling answer. Start here. Talk amongst yourselves. Challenge one another. I promise this is worth every minute of time spent not “doing work.”

2. How does our team’s work contribute to the company’s mission? This one’s more tricky. At the levels closest to the customer, it’s easy to feel like a bot, and that’s precisely where it’s most dangerous.

3. What do our customers really want? Your team knows. Write it down, and then be sure your policies and procedures align.

4. Who are our major competitors and what differentiates us in the market? My guess is that some of your team will be all over this and others won’t have a clue. Having the dialogue will offer great opportunities to explore perceptions and promote learning.

5. How does the way we do our work impact other departments? Some time spent here,  looking candidly from both directions, will save days (maybe weeks) of unproductive time.

6. How can we better articulate what we need to the departments we rely on? Make a short list and use it.

7. What’s the most important thing we’re working on and why? This one seems tricky, but it will open up a hornet’s nest… so why do we?  Resist the urge to blame others for stupidity. If something really feels stupid, have the managerial courage to lift up the concern. The best way to help your team to become more strategic is to teach them to talk strategy. Imagine the possibilities if you were “that guy.”

6 Simple Techniques to Help Your Employees See the Big Picture

If you’re like most managers, you know the importance of helping your team see the bigger picture. You would do more, if you only had the time. The occasional all-hands meetings help, but without interim reinforcement, those motivational meetings can feel like a fire hose of plans and numbers. If you want your team to truly “get it,” sprinkle little bits of big picture reinforcement into their week.

6 Ways to Get Your Employees to See the Big Picture

“The big picture doesn’t just come from distance; it also comes from time.”  -Simon Sinek

1.”Postcards”

It’s easy to forget that the main reason many employees don’t think more strategically is a lack of information. It’s hard to connect the dots when a third of them are invisible.  It’s also tough to translate all you heard three days later. What I’ve found works quite well is just to send soundbites out via text message throughout some of the more strategic meetings I attend.

I make them fun and relevant to their roles. It creates interest and sets the table for the more robust conversations that follow.  These have worked for years, long before 140 characters was the way of the world. “Oh boy, Competitor X just launched new plans that will change the way customers think about our pricing. Let’s talk more on Monday.”

2. Gamification

It’s easier than ever to turn learning into a game. In most of my keynotes I use kiwilive as a simple platform to poll or ask questions, poll everywhere is free for up to 25 responses (no, neither of these companies are paying me).  Participants can “compete” on who knows your big picture fun facts from the convenience of their phone.

3. Bring-a-Friend Staff Meetings

Sometimes the best way to understand how sausage is made, is to help make it. Giving people exposure to the conversation and thought process, not just the outcomes of strategic decisions, goes a long way in helping people connect the dots. Every time I’ve held a “bring-a-friend staff meeting” where my direct reports each bring one of their direct reports, you can almost see the light bulbs going on.

4. Field Trips

There’s a reason every elementary school takes a trip to the zoo. You can read about giraffes all you want, but until you have one bend down and lick your face, it’s hard to really understand what they’re all about. There’s real power in taking a “field trip” to another department and seeing how they really think and operate.

5. Mentoring Circles

I’ve shared this idea with you before. I’m repeating my self because mentoring circles work. Click here for more information.   If you want more information on mentoring you can download my FREE eBook, Mentoring in the Age of the Millennial from my new ecourse landing page.

6. Teaching Operations Reviews

Another one of my key go-tos. For step-by-step instructions click here.

Effective managers are translators. Help your team see the bigger picture. Before you motivate, translate.

BONUS TRACKS: FREE Webinars, Radio Interviews and HBR

Karin Hurt Promo

reorganizationIf you’re free on Wednesday October 28, I’ll be out in the online-world making a bit of a ruckus.

At 1pm, I’m joining Twan van de Kerkhof on a panel: Is the Future of Leadership More Personal (I bet you can guess my POV).

At 2pm EST I’Il be on Faces of Success Radio talking about David Dye’s and my upcoming book, Winning Well (click on the image to enlarge).

Also, I was recently interviewed in this article for HBR on about What To Do and Say After a Tough Reorganization. Such circumstances can hurt or help your career. If you’re faced with a reorganization, I hope this helps.

Do You Hear Them Now? 11 Signs You Have a Listening Culture

I once sat in an executive meeting where the SVP explained that Bob, a junior level executive who reported to her had “gotten away” with challenging her boss, the COO’s, ideas. She shared, “When Bob started to challenge him, I was really afraid for his career, but Joe (the COO) actually seemed okay with it.” She laughed as she said how lucky he was that he wasn’t fired, and how other people hadn’t faired so well in the past. Everyone else laughed along uncomfortably. Bob didn’t smile.

I’m still wondering exactly why she shared that story. I think it was an attempt to portray her boss as more reasonable than his reputation allowed. But quite frankly, this one-off story reinforced that an executive really listening to someone a few levels below was not the norm.

We all had a feeling that Bob had been sitting in the “ready now” box of the performance potential succession planning forever. He was a confident and humble rock star and we all knew it. His tenacity was highly valued with his immediate boss and amongst his peers, but something was holding him back.

Maybe his willingness to speak up was part of the issue. I’m pretty sure everyone in the room left being just a little more cautious of what they said.

If you’re keeping score, that’s not a sign of a listening culture.

11 Signs You Have a Listening Culture

My regular readers may have noticed I’m on a bit of a listening culture theme. In addition to how imporant listening is, there’s a pragmatic reason for the deep dive.

After a meeting planner read my post, What Happens When We Really Listen, she invited me to come work with 15 CEOs/CFOs of large manufacturing companies to talk about how to create a listening culture. I’m calling it, Do You Hear Them Now: How to Build a Listening Culture.  I’m headed out to conference this week, so I’m inviting you to continue to steep in, and weigh in on, what a listening culture looks and feels like. Ideas:

Sign #1: Imagination abounds: People at all levels are thinking about the business and sharing ideas.

Sign #2: Ideas trump titles: A great idea is a great idea, regardless of who thought of it.

Sign #3: Customer feedback is encouraged, not gamed: Employees at all levels are really listening to what customers are saying, not encouraging them to say what they to hear to improve their scorecard.

Sign #4: Feedback creates change: Feedback is taken seriously, and often acted upon.

Sign #5: Everyone is asking good questions: And getting real answers.

Sign #6: No one freaks out when an exec shows up unexpectedly: MBWA is just that (management by walking around), not OCHTC (oh crap here they come).

Sign #7: Meetings are conversations, not readouts: Meetings are used to make decisions and build relationships.

Sign #8: No one is shocked by the employee engagement survey results: Because they’ve been listening, they know what’s working and are already working on the trouble spots.

Sign #9: Hourly workers have regularly planned time to meet and share ideas about improving the business: Time “off-line” improves the business.

Sign #10: Employees feel an obligation to speak up when something feels stupid: Because they know they’ll be heard, they feel and obligation to share.

Sign #11: Personal issues are treated with compassion: Real listening happens when people open their hearts, set aside their biases, and care.

On a related note: 5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings continues to be on of my most read posts. If you missed that one, and are working on creating a listening culture, you might find it useful.

5 Ways Listening Like an Anthropologist Will Make You a Better Leader

When I was in grad school, there were clearly two camps (and they didn’t respect each other all that much): The scientests out to prove their hypotheses through experimentation, control groups, and statistical analysis, and the qualitative researchers who showed up, listened, and let the theories emerge.

Being in business, and studying at night, I was initially drawn to the power of proof. But as I grew into executive roles, it became clear that the most important research skills I learned during that time were the ethnography skills of the anthropologists. See also The Power of a Road Trip.

As you move up the ranks, there will be others to crunch the numbers, and yes, you must be able to interpret them and make decisions. But most execs never fully master the art of showing up subtly, without pre-conceived conclusions and letting the data inform their hypotheses.

The good news is it’s not that hard (close your ears, ethnographers, I’m on your side.)

Karin Hurt’s Big Rules of Showing Up Like an Anthropologist

I label this as such to prevent losing my status as an adjunct professor in a prestigious MBA program, or to make anyone roll over in their graves. This is not based on a scientific review of the literature in the field as applied to business. Just my gut. Here it goes.

1. Truly believe you don’t already know

Quite frankly if you can’t pull this off, you’re better off staying in your office. Great Translators know they must listen first. If you’re out and about to “teach them a thing or two” know that you’re missing the most important point…and so will they. See when MBWA becomes OCHTC, you’re won’t learn beans. Like a good anthropologist observe what’s happening to you as you live in community with your employees.

2. Dress the part

Don’t show up in your power suit. Meet them where they are.

3. Shut up

Yes, you may think you have all the answers. In fact, it’s quite possible you really do. Save it for later. Sure it’s more efficient to turn the tables right there and then. What these folks need most right now is to be heard. Yes, yes, let it inform your communication plan. Yes, yes, explain your perspective. Yes, respond back in a personal message to them. But remember for this moment, don’t express your shock at the buried bodies. You are a listener. Concentrate on doing that well.

4. Collect unbiased themes

Honestly, I’ve attended skip level meetings with execs where they missed 90% of what they needed to hear, only to take away the stuff that proved everything was working just fine. And worse: that’s what showed up in their report! That works for a minute, but it’s no way to win well or achieve long-term success.

5. Engage

This is where I’m going to get into trouble with the scholars. But if you’re an exec, your intervention is, well, an intervention. Don’t argue or retort, but do show up with huge appreciation and an appetite for more. Explain why their perspective helps to improve the business. If there are immediate actions you’re taking away for goodness sakes say that.

Imagine the possibilities if you showed up like an anthropologist every now and then.

7 Ways to Create a Listening Culture

If you could wave a magic wand and suddenly make every employee in your organization proficient in one behavior what would that be? Critical thinking? Customer-orientation? Sales?

No matter which behavior I consider, I’m hard pressed to come up with one that would be more impactful with just a bit more listening.

Listening transforms relationships.

Listening makes customers feel valued.

Listening gets to root cause.

Listening attracts business.

Yet, in most organizations I work with, people talk a heck more than they listen. Most of us can’t claim that we consistently listen well.

So how do you set out to build a culture of effective listening? Start with these 7 steps.

1. Tell the Truth

Nothing will make people tune out faster than smelling BS. If you want people to truly listen, be sure they can believe what you say. A culture of real listening can only happen when people can count on one another for candor. Encourage transparency and truth telling, starting at the very top.

2. Be Interesting

Sounds basic, right? If you want people to listen, speak in an interesting way. Tell meaningful stories  Ditch the 35 page PowerPoint deck and explain why your project really matters.

3. Show Up Like an Anthropologist

Anthropologists don’t go to a scene with something to prove, they show up subtly and listen carefully. They ask great questions and make meaning from the responses. Imagine the possibilities if more executives approached their field visits with the attitude of an anthropologist. Or if more sales reps worked to truly listen to what customers were saying about their lifestyles and values.

4. Be Interested

To encourage deeper listening, be a great listener. Approach conversations with empathy and compassion. Let your words, body language and actions show that you’re very interested in who they are and what they’re saying.

5. Reward Transparency

If you freak out every time you get bad news, all you’ll get is Diaper Genie feedback, where the poop is disguised in so much packaging you can’t even smell it. Thank people for bringing you the truth. Surround yourself with those who will challenge your ideas. Promote those willing to speak up.

6. Encourage Field Trips

One of the best ways to build a listening culture is to have encourage cross-departmental visits. Give your teams permission to visit their counterparts upstream or downstream in the process. Let them share their challenges, pressures and successes.

7. Get Social

Social media provides amazing opportunities to listen to customers. A good social care strategy listen’s beyond the # and the @. Social platforms can be great for internal listening as well. One of my clients recently implemented Yammer and is delighted by the informal conversations forming and how they can trend what’s most important on people’s minds.

Why Job Descriptions are a Dying Art

A client called. “Karin, I’m going to send you the job description for the new role we designed, but ignore all the HR mumbo jumbo. Just concentrate on the competencies and see if they seem right to you based on the strategy we’ve been working on.”

Game on. We were going to have the conversation that was most worth having: How do we find the right person with the aptitude for this vital job? The 25% this, 37% that of traditional job descriptions was a crap shoot at best. We needed a thinker who would work with us to be as creative as possible and build this role into more than we ever imagined.

Planning out roles and functions is vital. Pricing jobs for fair market value makes sense. But when job descriptions serve to confine, or “swim lanes” become too narrow, you’re headed into dangerous waters.

I remembered the time the union fought so hard to prevent “service reps” from doing higher paid “customer rep” work, and kept a careful watch–telling both groups to be careful not to do too much outside their “role.” Once the lawyers got involved, the higher job was eliminated, and the career path disappeared, and really great people were disappointed, and stopped trying. I was devastated to see good people with hopes of moving up crushed by the instruction to do less, because some artificial boundaries said that would help. It didn’t. It never does.

It’s not just in union jobs. Recently, I failed to convince one of my MBA students in the power of thinking beyond her current low level ” job description.” She sings opera on the side and was asked if she would like to sing at her company gala (with external players). She said only if she were paid for the gig since this is “not in her job description.”

She had a big opportunity to get noticed and to differentiate herself. She didn’t sing as a matter of principle.

As a musician myself, I get it at some level. But, I’ll also never forget the time we were  in the middle of a touching measure of a huge rehearsal and the conductor put down the baton between beats, because it was time for a union break.

Most examples are not this dramatic, and often not articulated. But in almost every company I work in I see signs of the “it’s not my job virus” gaining momentum… and the “A Players” are shooting themselves in the foot while the mediocre get by just fine.

Why Job Descriptions are Old School

I can’t claim to fully understand every circumstance, and I know there are grave situations where good people are being exploited. I’m not talking about that. What I do know is the hundreds, at this point likely thousands, of people I’ve met over the years in reasonable paying jobs, whose fear of working outside their job description absolutely damaged their careers and sabotaged their long-term earnings.

And it’s even more critical now.

We’re in a knowledge and technology economy when even lower level jobs change faster than HR can keep up.

Your job description is the skeleton–the unimaginative view of minimal requirements. Many will stop there and stay put. And that’s a tragedy.

The game changers will understand this limited view, and know that the real work is to think past the basics and add value that changes the game. In most cases the money will follow. If not, know there are plenty of companies hungry to hire people willing to change the game.

The Call to HR

Of course you need job descriptions. It’s just time to get more creative. Imagine the possibilities if every job description had the 75% skeleton as it exists today, and then 25% encouraging innovation and additional contribution?

  • Continuously seeks new ways to enhance the customer experience and shares them with peers
  • Collaborates across departments for innovative solutions to improve quality and reduce costs
  • Builds a deep bench of talent through recruiting, mentoring and organic employee development

Let’s Discuss

The old Field of Dreams idea of “build it and they will come” sometimes fails as a short-term solution. But I’ve never seen a genuine effort of a competent person giving a little more than expected over time fail.

I’m wide-open to real dialogue here. Let’s talk about this important issue.