Friday, August 29, 2008

Empathy verses Sympathy in your Professional Life

So there has been alot of talk lately about hearing peoples problems and how to react to people who may share too much. I have been fortunate to learn some important lessons on this front and will share them with you. I was told early in my professional career when hearing employees problems you want to empathize with them and not sympathize. For a refresher here are the definitions of each:

Empathy means the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
Sympathy means in a relationship between persons in which the condition of one induces a parallel or reciprocal condition in another.

There is a difference in identifying how a person is feeling and feeling what that person is feeling. By identifying someones emotions and why they feel the way they do you are able to understand that persons point of view. The key to this is to NOT sympathize with them as well. By giving someone sympathy you are feeling what that person is feeling and losing your objectivity in the emotion-fest that the discussion has become.

When dealing with difficult personal issues of employees you need to set boundaries within yourself. Be careful not to get so wound up in their emotional state that you start to make decisions on how they are feeling. Understand their emotions and attempt to understand why they feel that way, but keep in mind the objectivity you will need to help them accomplish a desired outcome (whatever that may be). Emotions are a normal part of life, however, if you go through your professional career feeling every single strong emotion that comes through your office you will quickly become burnt out. I sense this alot in HR professionals and Human Service workers in particular.

It is fine to care about your employees and I am not suggesting that everyone become an unfeeling automoton. What I am suggesting is that you acknowledge those emotion, have enough life experience to understand what that emotion feels like, and finally act without those emotions getting in the way of good judgement and solid decision making.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Performance Management and College Football

Ok, lets talk. I was never a football player in either high school or college. Also, I never started liking football until my mid-twenties. The NFL, to me is easy to analyze, you suck and you get fired. I can understand that. There are some very smart business people that own NFL teams (Even if you hate their guts). Heres the problem, I am a University of Washington fan. Yes, I said it UW Huskies. I didn't graduate from there (although my dad and a bunch of my friends did), but I just inherited a love for the team.
So here is my issue, Tyrone Willingham is the current coach of the UW football team. Even though he has had mediocre success with the three seasons he has coached so far, he has brought a sense of class and discipline that the UW football team has been lacking in the years prior. This season is a make or break season for his job, many pundits say that if Tyrone Willingham does not get a winning season he will not be retained. College football is one of those "semi-businesses" out there. College Presidents feel the pressure to make money with their big ticket sports to pay for a myriad of other extra-curricular activities that the university provides. However, Tyrone Willingham has been set up for failure ever since he took over the team. He was hired for the position with a brand new Athletic Director after many scandals had plagued the UW athletic system:
The above article gives some highlights that are a bit more than bad grades and college tomfoolery (ie rape and domestic violence to name a few). What we had was a culture that was completely anti-social in it's nature.
So the question is: "How long does it take to change a criminal culture into a healthy one?" I think those in business would say quite a bit. Merely creating a culture of respect and discipline in an organization when it has sunk that low is quite difficult.
I find it amazing that since Willingham has taken over the team he has completely changed the attitude and reputation of the team while still attracting big name talent.
So in the case of this college football environment, is a results only metric for measuring Willingham's success fair? Four years in any other culture, business or otherwise, is a short time in which to work. The mere fact that rape and abuse allegations have stopped under Willingham's tenure should certainly count for something. The Athletic Director that hired Willingham was also recently fired. Was Willingham ever given the tools he would need to truly succeed amidst scandal, fines, and leader turnover.
Leaders need to be judged according to realistic goals and expectations. The above story shows that while results and business success certainly matter, long term strategy is also important. When one is facing extreme cultural barriers to success and change, success is the least of their worries and creating a functional organization takes precedence. When the support structure is ripped away from that leader it makes the task almost impossible.
Class is worth something I would hope that supposedly non-profit institutes of higher education would realize that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sir, you need to STFU

I was watching the news tonight and the coverage of tomorrow's impending Democratic nomination of Barack Obama as their candidate for president struck me. Here is a link in case you missed it.

I am wondering how many HR pros or other business types out their shudder a little bit when their boss wants to make a big speech to his employees. Obama is making a speech on a stage that was created to resemble an ancient Greek temple or the Capitol depending on who you talk to. This may or may not go over well (we shall have to wait and see). But, I am more concerned with the business community. I have had bosses whom I just wished would not talk at all. I have heard the gamut of campy, meandering, and useless drivel come out of supposedly motivating speeches. As HR people or subordinate managers should we tell them that they aren't connecting to their employees when they speak? Almost as bad as the people who can't string a coherent thought together are the people who want to make sure all the staging, lighting, timing, etc are perfect for them to distribute their pearls of wisdom to the masses.

On the other hand, I have also experienced people who can just jump on a picnic table and motivate the hell out of me and everyone else in attendence. I will admit since I was in the Army most of the time their were a good amount of swear words involved. Interesting to get people's thoughts on this.

Where is this Going to Lead To?

Read an article from Bloomberg News about Boeing using the internet to begin an informational campaign to convince their machinists not to strike. Address: than anything I find this quote indicative of why organized labor in the private sector is on the decline in this country:"Boeing has ``shot itself in the foot'' by involving workers in the give-and-take of early talks rather than letting labor leaders sell a negotiated -- and better -- deal to them, said Wroblewski, president of Seattle's District 751 for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.I am sorry, but when has providing information to anyone who wants it, going around the Union? Granted, the employees need to know that it is the company putting out their point of view. But, the ability to see each offer presented in real time is bad? As an employee I would love to see the process as it unfolds.The fact is, that while we often talk about holding large corporations accountable for their actions and push free flowing information, why don't we expect the Union to do the same? In the future I believe that it is going to be near impossible to hide contract negotiations from employees. No more back room deals or pretending like everything is a victory. Ultimately this strategy might fail for Boeing, but I firmly believe this is where we are all going in collective bargaining.

What the Heck Does one DO With a Daughter??

So after a long string of boys in my family (I am one of 3 boys and my father is one of 8 boys) my wife and I found out that our second child will be a daughter come January. Besides having no clue what to do with a female child (My hobbies include coaching wrestling, boxing, martial arts, and guns), I am wondering if any successful females have any examples or moments in their professional or personal development that had a positive impact in their lives. Specifically, what in your life boosted your confidence? What hurdles did you have to break through? How many times have you been called "sweetie" in the workplace? I am curious what the difference is between the professional development men and women recieve if any. Any light bulb moment will be much appreciated. I might be able to pass these lessons along.....but.....I will probably just teach my daughter how to kill men with her bare hands and hide the body real well.

Here we go

I fell into the blogosphere as I made a recent career change. I read alot and it was natural for me to start to read some of the great philosophies out there by sites like HRCapitalist, PunkRockHR, and many others. I have to say that there is no hate in my relationship with the HR profession. Although there are many people who will say they "love to hate it". I have found nothing but pleasure in my recent HR studies (finishing up a masters degree) even though I recieved my bachelor's degree in Political Science. I like HR because we are the people who are supposed to bring ethics into the corporate world. I also like HR because it is a broad enough field where one can find a niche or not according to personal preferences. I also have to admit I tend to like being an "expert" and HR professionals are expected to be those experts whether they have the chops for it or not. I enjoy having a "plan" and a communications strategy...and not just because someone told me that it is a good idea. But, above all I am entirely fascinated with the idea of organizational culture and how to change it.

One of my current pet peeves and tirades has been on the idea of a push verses pull culture in regards to communication. A push communication culture requires information to be given to you by random overseers who dole out information in their expertise as they see fit. They are the masters that decide who should know what and how much. If you do not know this person (or department) or are not a person considered in the "need to know", you will never get a single piece of information. More importantly once you know that this person has information that you need, you must ask this person to give (push) this information to you which may take some sort of process as he 1. Tries to figure out who you are and 2. Decides if you are worthy of his effort and time.A pull culture is the opposite of the above. Through the use of open source information, company intranet, etc one can create a communications culture where everything is available "on demand". If I need the sales figures from last month I search on the intranet for the data and retrieve it. I do not have to ask for access or request it to be sent to me, I simply grab it and use it.This applies to any large organization that has semi-decentralized operation. Odds are you reinvent the wheel alot. As a leader, do you really expect your employees to struggle to solve problems that other people have already figured out? By sharing information on basic business processes that are similar across the company, the time and effort spent doing the simple stuff will be minimized so that your employees can focus on the specific problems facing your organization. HR people talk alot about a learning culture (hold on one second, I threw up in my mouth a bit)................................................................................................................................... However, I think too often we expect people to just learn what we want them to. By allowing full (to a reasonable point of course) access to all aspects of an operation you are allowing your employees to better utilize their point of view to possibly make connections that you wouldn't have made. I don't want a bunch of people like me working for me (for one, I am lazy). I want different perspectives that force me to conclusions I would not have made on my own. In order to facilitate this, I cannot control the information they choose to use to reach their conclusions.This is a pet project of mine and I welcome comments :) Not very "Blue Collar" to start out but so you know where I am coming from.