Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Worst Practices

A few weeks back I blogged about workforce commodity. I work in Human Resources ~ possibly the most restricted department in any company. If we seek change it does not look like thought leadership. Even change needs to look like a commodity:

Step 1: Develop a Committee
Step 2: Author an RFP
Step 3: Collect bids from 'defensible' potential vendors
Step 4: Select a 'safe' partner
Step 5: Write a policy
Step 6: Train
Step 7: (finally) Implement a 'new' program

...after we've navigated this 7 step process, the cutting edge program has become dated. When our employees actually touch the program it is watered down. No one is willing to make a choice without 8 other people to defend the choice. Hours and hours are dedicated to meetings about meetings, calls about calls, and pseudo on-the-job training (to give the less experienced another hole in the punch card). We call this developing people....it is really systematic dulling down. Compartmentalization. Checks and balances. Safe, uninventive, predictable. In an interview we ask what you did at company X that can benefit company Y. When 'vendors' come in to present their solution we ask what other companies in our industry are doing....

It's a copy cat culture replicated to look the same everywhere with a different logo....and we call them Best Practices.

What happened?

How did we go from a creative culture to a cog burning factory of predictability?

When I was a young up-start I couldn't wait to get to work...to learn, to evolve, to have an opportunity to share ideas, to develop my path for development. I figured that if I worked my ass off I would be rewarded. I thought that if I introduced new ideas I would help the company evolve. I thought I worked for a company that welcomed employee feedback as a means to more fully form our organizational strategy.

Boy, Was I Wrong!

In actuality, I was pee pee whacked for sharing new ideas (aka rocking the boat). If I challenged authority in a meeting I was cast off as 'negative'. The people I looked up to as leaders were professional anglers. The company did not want to evolve...we wanted to stay simple, programmable, systematic.

The way to 'climb the ladder' was to accept every directive and pass along the idea to others. There was no originality, nothing innovative! So, you take young talent, have them report to those who pretend to be leaders, and destroy their motivation. It is massively unfortunate but it works most of the time. The idealists are driven to become lemmings because their thought leadership is admonished instead of celebrated.

I remember my first day of High School football camp. I went into the weight room and immediately went to work. I hit every machine...an elder statesman came up to me and said, "slow down dude, it's a marathon not a sprint". Just then, I knew I was going to be massively successful as a member of that school. If the most respected member of the team was telling me to "slow down", I was going to lap him twice.

Some of us are blessed with talent, others try really hard to measure up ~ both have the opportunity to sell out. The little guy can do steroids, the big guy can set a standard of under-performance....that's what we have become, a tribe of followers: "tell me what to do and I'll do it". It's easier to sit on the side lines with arms folded than to get in the game.

Your unique thought is all you have. If you allow 'them' to take that from you, you become one of 'them'!

Don't Forget to Remember!


Friday, May 27, 2011

What Sucks About Conferences

Memorial Day Weekend is the introduction to Summer....which can only mean one thing....It's Conference Time!!! That's right....the time when your company sends you off to an exotic location to spend 3 days in a conference hall learning about the latest industry best practices. You rub elbows with the experts, make a few new friends, acquire a ton of knowledge....and return home with a hangover and a foam Gieco Lizard for the kids!

I have the pleasure of spending my summer weekends as a 'vendor', presenter, and attendee of several conferences in various industries. My time and practice have helped me develop a rhythm for maximizing quality information intake.

There are 2 distinct types of presenters at conferences:
Those who genuinely wish to educate
Those who grandstand in a effort to push their products

I love attending sessions with dynamic speakers! Those who can keep an audience engaged for 45 minutes and leave them asking for more. These masters of public speaking are few and far between at conferences. Far too often we are subjected to 50 powerpoint slides of bland information hosted by a guy in a suit behind a podium saying ummm every fourth word. This sucks!

Another type of presentation that brings me displeasure is a 'vendor' that sponsors the conference who is afforded an opportunity to present. The session is titled "Strategic Finance Management" - you walk in and see a vendor logo presented prominently on the screen. They proceed to spend 45 minutes going through an introduction of their finance management software.....there is no strategy, no relevant information, and you spend the session trying to find the Geico booth on the exhibit hall map.

There are special events at conferences: Happy Hours, luncheons, dinners, and boat cruises. You want to go back to your hotel and sit at the bar for a half hour before getting some well needed rest but your boss told you that you have to network. You board a crowded bus, get to the Boat, and are bombarded by more 'vendors' handing out logo-ed cups and flashing logo necklaces. As you grab some food and seek an uncrowded place to enjoy your first meal of the day. Then you are joined by 6 young men in matching t-shirts. They proceed to spend the evening telling you about how great their products are and how much they want to work with your company. They give you their cards and take yours.....time to catch a cab back to the hotel!!!!!!!

Then there is the exhibit hall. Your boss has asked you to find an incentive planning partner...there are 46 of them exhibiting. They all look the same and they all have the same approach. Scan your badge, give you a logo-ed pen, and say they will have a salesman call you as soon as you get back home.

After visiting 46 companies that look exactly the same, having your lunch ruined by networking 101 bravado, sitting through a product pushing session, and collecting 923business cards; you finally get to the Geico booth....they are out of foam lizards....FUCK!

As you finally make it to the airport you find an empty bar stool. A nice gentleman pours you a beer and offers you a shot for only $1.00 more. You accept. The thought that crosses your mind as you reflect on the conference...


I've been gorilla marketed to the point that I will have logo sponsored nightmares for months. I sat through sessions that push products without consideration of audience interest. I've given my cards to 100 gel heads that will spam me for months to come....and I didn't even get a goddamn lizard for the kids.

Department Managers: make no mistake about it, sending your Jr Associates to conferences is very motivating! They will do everything in their power to move up the ladder so they don't have to go to that conference again next year!

Don't Forget to Remember!


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Trends in Employee Recognition

In May 2011 World at Work released a report on Trends in Employee Recognition. Much of the information in this report confirms what we know about this facet of employee rewards. There were a few head scratchers. Today, we will investigate the head scrathers...

Disbursement Strategy
70% of organizations offer 3 to 6 different recognition programs. This raises the question as to whether there is a synchronized strategy in delivering these various programs. Let's say the transportation supervisor rewards his/her crew for workplace safety while the sales team administers an incentive performance program. These programs are unique to their organizational sub-culture but they could benefit a larger organizational strategy. Why is safety limited to the operational workforce? Why are incentive programs limited to sales? If the right hand and the left hand are on different dials can the body actually work in harmony? The aforementioned programs run famously within their respective branches of the company but why can't the rest of the organization benefit from their success? If a tree falls in the warehouse, and nobody sees it, does it really count against your insurance premium?

Who's The Boss?
The majority of those surveyed for the World at Work report revealed that Senior Management was neutral to their Employee Recognition programs. We now discover an indifference from those in the boardroom in addition to the unsynchronized strategy. An employee works all weekend to complete a project, a rookie sales executive develops an up-selling initiative, an administrative assistant celebrates 30 years with the company....and the CEO is unaware. That is a shame!

Happy Anniversary
90% of organizations celebrate employees on their service anniversary. The most commonly distributed reward.......A certificate.

One Source - Total Recognition
The employee recognition trends of 2011 are not new. There continues to be a few areas of concern:
1. Inconsistent Strategy
2. Lack of Senior Management Attention
3. Poor Execution in Recognizing Employee Performance

Employee Recognition is the most important element of any organization. Employees leave companies because they feel their hard work is not validated. What makes your company unique? Are you celebrating your irreplaceable differentiators? Everyone in the company should be aware when an employee completes a special achievement. A certificate can mean the world to someone if it is presented in the right way by the right person.

The most meaningful professional reward I ever received is a watch. I'm sure it is valued at under $100 but to me it is worth a million dollars. It was presented to me by my peer's slightly after I was overlooked for a promotion. Their kindness revealed to me that I didn't need a title to be a leader, that my fellow team members mattered just as much as the area VP, and that my effort had changed people's lives for the better. My most treasured gift dispels a few preconceived notions:
* It's a logo-ed watch and I like it.
* The dollar value of any gift is insignificant.
* Praise from any angle feels good.

I've heard CEOs say they don't believe in rewarding people for doing their job...shameful! I've heard employees say they do not want to be embarrassed by being recognized for their achievements....that's a lie! Managers think employees would rather receive a Starbucks card than a watch...have you ever had a cup of coffee that you will never forget?

We humans need to know that our time and effort is worth something. We spend most of our waking hours at work so the least we can do is leave (or better yet arrive) every day with a smile....

Don't Forget to Remember!


Monday, May 16, 2011

Are You A Commodity?

A company had some explaining to do to their investors. Apparently the majority shareholders were not content with the company's acquisition and property management strategies. There is too much $ out and not enough coming back. I guess this is a concern if you are banking money into a fund and seeking returns.

My question: What Does This Have to Do with How the Company Operates?

The Board is watching margins, dividends, stock prices and projections...I would be more concerned with how the Employees are being treated!

Doesn't it stand to reason that if you treat employees well they will produce. If employees produce, profits increase, and share holder value goes up. I know there is a formula that drives a grading scale that makes a company a viable on Wall St commodity. But, the people working 12 hour shifts to pay the mortgage probably don't see their company as a commodity.

If I was in charge of driving revenue I would focus on 3 areas:
* Retaining Talent
* Creating a Unique Corporate Culture
* Mid-Level Leadership Empowerment

That's how much it costs a 20,000 employee company to turn over 7.5% of it's workforce (a below average turnover rate). That's just the hard cost. Client relationships will suffer, product development will be slowed, those with valuable system comprehension will never get to mentor their successor.

You lost $120m, a few flagship clients, and irreplaceable workplace knowledge because you forgot how to say THANK YOU!

People leave employers for one reason: the light at the end of the tunnel fades out.

There has to be a daily validation of effort. A Development Path and Applicable Skill Training is all any hard working person needs. That, and a pat on the back when they perform well.

It's that simple!

What Makes This Place Unlike Any Other?
Next time you are in an interview ask that question. If you get any type of answer odds are the company is trying to discover their greatness. That's all any great employee can ask for.

The understanding of what makes your company great is the recognition of your differentiator. Not all hiring managers can answer the aforementioned question.

Thought Leadership on the Rocks
Every company has a CEO with Vision. All Executive Leaders are smart as hell. You don't get a seat in the boardroom by being a dum dum.

The Problem: The bigger the company gets, the more layers we build between the idea and the people who are charged with carrying it out.

I used to travel across the country to hear our CEO speak. It was worth it. After a week of being back home, I could not remember his message. This because the multi-layers of 'management' between the CEO and I were so thick. The message transformed from Vision to Warnings.

Middle Managers are those who carry the torch in your organization. These are the folks that interface at closest range with the revenue producers and customers. They are underpaid, they are powerless to fire anyone, they have 'rules' thrown down from 20 stories up, hiring is a constant, and they make less money than their top producers. As Middle Managers are forced to become politicians, Leaders become Babysitters - No Fun!

Most companies fail to understand that empowerment to the people with their feet on the street is far more important than repurchasing stock or issuing dividends.

I know what you are saying: there will be no employees if the company is spending money it doesn't have. I get it. I simply wish companies would focus on the little people's blood, sweat, and tears (more than numbers on a report).

Don't Forget to Remember!


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

To Be Honest

" To Be Honest,.... "
" Honestly... "
" I'm gonna be Honest with you... "

This might not be the best way to frame your conversations.

As if to say, I have not been Honest for a second of our time together to this point..but now...I'm going to let you in on something. Here's the thing, I usually lie to everyone I meet...but right now...in this moment...I am going to do you a solid...by telling the truth for once.

You can call it a figure of speech. Be advised, however, that figures of speech are just that...action figures, put in front of words, to mask the genuine intent of your message.

The DFTR readers will recall the danger of using 'framed language'.

It is very difficult to be a master of communication. One way to start doing this is to eliminate the bravado....stop book marking your language with phrases such as:
* At the end of the day
* It is what it is
* Honestly,.....

Thought transition is important. We want to show others that we are focused communicators by allowing our conversation to flow. So we insert a word like..."honestly"...while we derive our next thought.

There are 2 simple lessons to be learned here:
1. If you have been fibbing up until this point, the trust is broken
2. If you have been honest up until this point, the trust is broken

At the wedding of his son, I told my football coach how proud I was of him. "if you would have said that differently, I might have believed you" - he said.


We get caught up in trying to sound smart and frame our language. We pretend to be interesting and alienate our true contributions.

So, to answer your question...."can I be honest with you?'.....The answer is: NO!

Don't Forget to Remember!


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Exposure Point

I remember my 22nd Birthday, I was feeling particularly sorry for myself. The year before my friends had thrown me a massive bash and this year the day seemed to come and go. I went out to dinner with a few friends. We were joined by a person I hadn't met before. I explained to him my self-imposed birthday lull and that the day was no big deal. To which he replied, "nonsense, it's your birthday, let's have some fun". I was expecting him to join in my dismay but he flipped my ridiculous behavior into a reason to check myself. He was so quick and confident in his reply, as if he knew that this stranger was looking for a reason to mope, he wouldn't allow it. I instantly felt shameful for acting like such a wimp and honored the need to enjoy life.

This guy recognized my vulnerability and self doubt. He could have easily turned a cheek and let me wallow in pity. He knew I was capable of more, without even knowing me. This seemingly insignificant moment in time stuck with me. I appreciated the optimism and the validation. I was disappointed that I allowed myself to fall into the habit of weakness. Not because it's bad to expose vulnerability but because a birthday is not something to waste it on.

That's the trick! To know when your doubt is overwhelming your need for help. Exposing your humanity is much different than revealing your insecurity. We all need help but making uncertainty into a 'Daddy Complex' only depletes our existence.

I would ask you, dear readers, to be aware of the exposure point in others. To see in them their strength and to help them remember it.
Putting yourself out there always comes along with self doubt. The outgoing people have tried and been applauded more than they have been boo-ed. I would never blame anyone for giving up stand up comedy if they had been shamefully boo-ed off stage. I would understand the introverted nature of a person who had gathered the courage to give a speech only to be laughed at.

It is incumbent upon us as audience members to encourage the performers.

You will ask...."is it fair for me to tell someone they are good at something if they are not"?

Response: YES!

Let them have it. Allow them to build their confidence. Everyone discovers their own truth at some point. We don't need to tell them they can't before they have a chance to try.

Don't Forget to Remember!

- Dave

Monday, May 9, 2011

Do You Validate?

Another class of students have completed Dale Carnegie's Human Relations Training. A class in which I am lucky enough to be a graduate assistant. I always ask the graduates what their key take away will be. To my surprise, one of the more astute students returned the question.

It's been a while since a student asked something about me.

My reply: I Have Learned to Listen More Than I Talk!

Blogging, writing, and social media citizenship for me has been an exercise in presenting my experience by invitation. As if to say, the reader can unlock my opinion if they so choose....or turn the channel.

It took a Human Relations degree for me to learn to be more aware of my audience. Back in the day, if you extended a salutation, it was returned with a bravado filled monologue. I would tell you how great I was, how everyone else was falling short, and then dart off in the other direction. I was inconsiderate of the opinions of others, conversations were one sided, and a passive greeting was met with a direct (uninvited) fit. This was a time of indecision for me. Instead of benefiting from the input of others, I showcased my indecision. I tried to make sense of my jumbled thoughts by vocalizing them. I was throwing words into a black hole. I was trying to make progress by avoiding what I needed ~ new ideas.

What An Annoying Ass I Was!

Dale Carnegie's 16th Principle to Win People to Your Way of Thinking:
Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers

Early in my career someone told me: Selling is Telling! It is actually the opposite. The best salespeople are great listeners. They know how to take in a prospective customer's goals and differentiate them through their solution. When a person grandstands without asking what you need they invalidate their existence.

Dale Carnegie's 28th Principle to Be A Leader:
Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to

During our course, we have dispelled the assumed principles of Leadership. We have learned that the best leaders are not overtly assertive or commandingly direct. In fact, a ironic skill set of a leader can be vulnerability.

This is where a divine truth reveals itself:
Many Assumed Traits of Leadership are actually Revelations of Insecurity

I overheard a young lady on a conference call the other day. She was using framed language "...we either manage up, or manage out..." - she was trying to sound smart. Translation: I speak confidently so I must be confident. She wanted to be heard not because she wanted to help but because she wanted to be accepted.

Who Cares?

....that's the question you need to ask yourself. Why do you care about asserting yourself in such a fashion. Are you acting for the betterment of the team, or are you simply looking for validation?

I was a person that vomited bravado not because I had anything to share but because I wanted to know that what I was saying made sense. I'm not sure why I didn't ask for advice instead of pretending to know everything.

You will not receive honest feedback from anyone if you hit them over the head with aggressive conversation.

Here's what they are thinking: "dude, I just asked how you were doing....you could have just said fine and continued to the copy room...I've actually got work to do and I don't really care about your misery".

This person might actually be able to help if you asked for their help instead of pretending you didn't need it.

Don't Forget to Remember!


Friday, May 6, 2011

Take The Long Way Home

My Dad's colleague once told me that he was a great leader because he had the ability to determine the outcome of any professional situation before he engaged in it. He did this by researching the people involved and the dynamics of the dispute. So, when you were called into his office to explain your side of the story, he already knew your side of the story....and if you were not forthcoming...you were toast!

My Dad's professional command of conflict negotiation was mastered on me. He would wake up early, read the newspaper, and engage me in conversation as I rolled out of bed on a Saturday morning. He would ask me the particulars of the Laker game the night before, I would retort with my unadulterated emotion, and he would subtly work the facts into the conversation to trump my emotion. I would blame the loss on Kareem Abdul Jabbar not getting back to play defense. He would recite Kareem's triple double statistics and ask me to reconsider my position. Knowing he was right, I would storm off to the kitchen to check the box scores over my fruity pebbles.

Another habit of efficiency that my father had was timing car rides from point A to point B. We're heading the the Forum which way do you want to go....I would choose, he would take the alternate route home, and explain to me why it was more efficient.

Last week, I authored a piece explaining my disproving of proof driven motivation. Now you understand why.

At some point, I discovered that the quickest route home was not always the most pleasing. I can get to Disneyland much faster by taking the 5 freeway but the Highway 1 is so much more beautiful. My mind dances on Highway 1 making the drive more enjoyable. On the 5...I grip the steering wheel and speed ahead the next semi in my way to my destination...not enjoyable!

As our Saturday morning debates continued, I picked up the album "Breakfast in America" by Supertramp. "the Tramp" was awesome. Their lead singer had this incredible beard, he sang into a huge foam microphone, he played great keyboard leads, and they had a saxophone player. All the facts in the world cannot rival the magic of beards, keyboards, and sax solos!

The Tramp had a song called "take the long way home" that endeared me. The thought was presented to me that efficiency might not be as enjoyable as adventure. Bliss! To know that all that had proven me wrong wasn't necessarily right. That you could stop and smell the roses, the joy was in the journey, you can take the long way home!

Time has passed and the debates my Father and I have are now moderated by my Brother-in-law and his I-phone. Damn you Steve Jobs!!!! I learned to be prepared through my interactions with my Dad. His fucking with me an encapsulated the lesson of how to better relate to people. He was right as usual!

I have, however, not lost my ability to see the forest through the trees. I still refute the statistical evidence that the fantasy football geeks claim win/lose the game. There is no box score for diving for a loose ball.

The numbers don't lie but they don't tell the whole story!

As I amble down Highway 1 in route to Disneyland blasting Supertramp, my wife and kids asleep, I have 2 thoughts on my mind:
1. Life is too short to validate our every action
2. Resistance is usually the result of neglected facts

Don't Forget to Remember!


Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I recently attended a Diversity Networking Forum. When I got there a man asked me, "so, why are you here?" As if to insinuate that I needed a preexisting condition to qualify my attendance. I was under the impression that the whole purpose of diversity was to dispel stereotypes...?

I recently heard an interview with a musician. He explained that science dispels magic. That scientists are able to put facts behind a myth and take the fun out of the fable. That no one believes in anything anymore. That we need proof before we can put our faith in anything.

Osama Bin Laden is dead at sea....fish out his body and bring it on a US Tour. We won't believe it until we put our fingers in his wounds.

It's kind of sad that we have become so mistrusting. It is a shame that we need undeniable proof to validate the use of our time. Show me the statistics and I will evaluate next steps with the committee of me.

Maybe there are 2 types of people:
Those who act in good faith
Those who cannot act without proof that their actions will produce results

Are results all that matter? If we only did things with the certainty that it would produce a winning formula would we experience anything new? Would we ever find a new frontier if we feared to travel there without a proven path through the forest?

Data has never been more accessible. So it is incumbent upon us to ensure we have all the facts before we act, right?


We are not robots. Not everything has to have a finite end game. Progress evades so many of us because we are afraid that the lack of proof would invalidate our effort. Our need to have evidence makes us normal, predictable...sad.

We all want to be great but sometimes we fail to recognize that greatness is a result of exploring the unproven. To act without evidence catapults us into the unknown. The exploring of the unknown is a process of education. Every time we try something unproven we get closer to creating something new.

Maybe the aforementioned musician was wrong. Maybe scientists create magic. Their quest being the creation of the magic formula not an effort to dispel our faith in the unknown.

There cannot be a question that trying something new is a wonderful waste of time. With each mistrial comes another door, another path in the woods, another chance to disprove what has been certified.

Without excitement we cannot thrive. Without the mystery of the unknown we cannot generate excitement.

The door is open.....

Don't Forget to Remember!


Monday, May 2, 2011

Determination Interpretation

I live an interesting dual existence:
One Part: Creative
One Part: Competitive
~ This can be a dangerous combination!

As I grow older I find the competitive side giving up ground to the compromise of mutual acceptance. I look back on some of my competitive behavior with shame....because my motivation was flawed. Yes friends, your humble narrator used to be a royal pain in the ass! As a young upstart, I was impatient and only out for myself. My self-motivation was transparent, I only cared about winning, and I didn't care who I flattened in the process. This blatant determination works when you are a High School Wrestler. Such vigorous determination from a 35 year old reveals insecurity.

I have learned to be more collaborative in my business process. This makes for a much happier professional existence. In fact, most of the things that our inherent competitive spirit evokes are unimportant in the big picture. If you are up 5 runs and you yell at the 3rd baseman for missing a throw....your energy might be misplaced. Likewise, if you thump your overworked, underpaid, support staff every time they make an oversight.....you are probably coming off like an asshole!

With all of this said, there is a continued need to be assertive. The question: how can we be assertive without being insensitive?

Here's a few tips I have learned at my own expense:
Keep the GOAL in Mind
Diffuse Personalities
WIN Together

Details, details, details.....
I know so many people who are brilliant at what they do because of their attention to detail. This trait also makes them terrible communicators. If when asked a question you immerse your audience in the detail they will fall asleep.

You have to think bigger picture and simplfy your narration in a language your audience can understand.

We label each other...

Like it or not, when Jane walks into your office you have a preconceived notion of what she will bring to your attention. You cannot let this prejudice steer the conversation before it happens.

Allow the subject matter to drive the task at hand, find the path to the result, and assign Jane an empowering role. It is often hard to release the reigns but people cannot grow if you do not allow them to help!

Without a Loser
You can win without beating someone else into oblivion. I have been a big fan of individual sports (skateboarding, wrestling, boxing) because of the overt personal accountability involved. If you lose, you lose, and everyone knows. This doesn't work in business.

No man (woman) is an island, you cannot do it alone, and there doesn't have to be a loser in every competition.

My life got a lot better when I learned to give more than I was taking. To talk less and listen more. To put my ego aside and help others win.

I teach people these traits and fail at practicing them myself. Such is life!

The key is to know where to put your energy. You can have a determined focus on creating a unique solution. You can eliminate competition and present trophies to everyone.

If you cross the finish line, and no one notices, do you really win?

Don't Forget to Remember!