Possibilities

August 17, 2009

I found today’s link thanks to Clay Hebert of fear.less, an online magazine with a spectrum of stories about people overcoming fear. Go read it; there are great things there.

But this post from Michael Hyatt is not so much about fear as it is about perspective: what is the most important question you can ask yourself when life goes off the rails in small ways or large? Is it What did I do wrong? Or Why is everything so unfair/hard?

Me, I think Hyatt’s got the right answer.

Fulfill yourself

May 19, 2009

Yesterday I wrote about an interview with Greg Brenneman that I found not only rich in content, but a great example of modeling the behavior he’s talking about. I thought he made a lot of great points.

And perhaps I most especially appreciate his point that it’s not all about work.

I think it’s important to talk to people about how we’re in a fundamentally different world. Ask the question, “If compensation isn’t going to be the same for a while, where do you get your fulfillment in life?”
 
— Greg Brenneman, CCMP Capital

We’ve all got a different answer to this question. And when times are hard, when compensation isn’t just “not the same” but perhaps the difference between the mortgage payment and the foreclosure, I believe it’s important to remember to do things that fulfill us. Because fulfillment makes us strong.

When we feel fulfilled, we feel alive and active in our most essential self, the self that cannot simply be described by our title or job description. Feeling fulfilled means that we are full in all our best ways, and that fullness, that richness of self, creates within us enormous energy and stamina for the sometimes very hard things we have to do in order to survive.

If you’ve read about me, you may know that I’m a writer as well as a — well, whatever you’d call me when I’m here talking about being human at work. I generally don’t discuss my writing life in this space because I don’t want to confuse issues: this is not my personal blog, although I’m very personally invested in Humans At Work, and in all ideas about excellent management. But today I’d like to point you to a personal essay about the importance of staying connected with our deepest selves in trying times. At work, as everywhere else, we need to share our strength so that we can all be successful together: and strength is not about who works longest or hardest or has the most meetings: it’s about staying aligned and connected with ourselves so that we find the strength we need.

If you are a manager — if you are responsible for helping other people accomplish their work, so that they can pay their rent and feed their families — then do not neglect to replenish yourself. The first rule of airline safety is to get your own oxygen mask in place before you start helping other people with theirs: or, as the essay says, don’t forget to breathe.

Style is substance

May 18, 2009

I think everyone with a job of any kind should read this interview with Greg Brenneman. He distills some of the essential skills of planning, management, communication, engagement, authenticity, and interacting from our values at work. Sure, he’s talking about his experience at the CEO level, but the strategies and skills he highlights are those that any of us can, and should, be using in our jobs. These are all things that will make our work together better.

You’ll notice that Brenneman emphasizes simplicity and focus. When you read the interview, pay attention to his style as well as his words. He comes across as smart and succinct. That’s a marvelous combination in a leader — whenever you find such people, pay attention to how they do it, and notice the impact it has on those around them. When people realize that you’re consistently clear, authentic and on point in a few well-chosen words, they will always pay attention to what you say.

So many managers and leaders reveal their insecurity by needing to say everything in detail at least three times without checking whether the folks they are talking to actually need the repetition. It comes across as either patronizing, or as if you’re not that clear yourself on what you have to say. Be clear with yourself; then be clear with the people around you. That’s effective whether you’re a manager or not, no matter where you work.

Forums hacked (sigh)

April 17, 2009

The HAW Forums have been hacked, and the cleanup will take a while. I’ve disabled them until that work is done.

My apologies to anyone who wandered into the forums looking for a conversation and found the unpleasantness there.

Can anyone tell me the point of this kind of thing? Do they really expect people in a management forum to stop and say, Oh wow, I didn’t realize until just this minute that where I really want to be is on some vile porn website — how thoughtful of them to have stopped by to provide these links!

Most of the time, I think of people who commit thoughtless harm (like, for example, many bad managers) as willing but unskilled; well-intentioned, but in need of tools and techniques to help them get where they want to be. I am not feeling generous in that way toward the perpetrators of spam. I think you have to have a hole in your soul to do this kind of thing for money or fun. And sadly, some of us do. It’s just another way to be human at work.

The power of personal experience

December 23, 2008

Thank you very much to Beth Wallace at A Bigger Voice for this support of Humans At Work.

Beth’s post reminds me once again of the power of personal experience. Data is important; sometimes statistics matter; but humans learn our deepest lessons through our own experience. What happens to us matters — it affects us not just in that moment, but potentially in all our moments to come. And so it also matters how we “happen” to other people.

Human relationships are all about behavior. People can’t read our minds, and when our behavior is at odds with our stated intentions, it’s the behavior that they remember. It is our behavior that shows our love, heals another’s pain, cheers someone on to success. And every human interaction, even the briefest exchange at the cash register or the coffee shop, is a relationship.

Managing each other is one of the most important relationships we have as adults. We all have stories like Beth’s (in fact, there’s a part of the Humans At Work forum reserved for such stories, good and bad — I’ll be posting some of mine there, and I hope you will too). We all know how much difference a bad manager makes in our day, our year, our lives. It’s my hope that one day we will all, every single one of us, know through personal experience the difference that a good manager can make.

Demons

December 18, 2008

Here’s an email I got last night:

Delivered-To: info@humansatwork.com
Date: Thu, 18 Dec 2008 14:03:26 +0800
From: “Alice.Yang”
To: “info”
Subject: humansatwork Domain name Registration

Dear humansatwork,

We are Beijing Himense Technology Co.,Ltd, a domain name register organization in china. We received a formal application from a company who is applying to register” humansatwork ” as their domain name and Internet keyword on Dec 17,2008. Because this involves your company name or trade mark so we inform you in no time. If you consider these domain names and internet keyword are important to you and it is necessary to protect them by registering them first. Please contact us within 7 workdays. If out of the deadline, we will approve the their application unconditionally.

Kind Regards,

Alice.Yang
Auditing Department
Tel:+86-10-81128599
Fax:+86-10-81493938
Email:alice.yang@himenon.cn
Beijing Himense Technology Co.,Ltd
http://www.himense.cn

It only took a second on Google to confirm that this is a fraud, and that domain name slamming by organizations on China is on the rise. Here’s a more in-depth article about the legitimate registration process.

I’ve sent an email to the Chinese authorities about it. I expect it will go nowhere, and that’s fair enough: I’m sure the Chinese government has enough on its plate right now without worrying too much about the status of one woman’s domain name. We all have our priorities, and sometimes they do not meet.

But the incident has me thinking about how much easier the internet makes this kind of anonymous, faceless crime. I think that for many humans it’s easier to bully, to steal, to lie, to harm someone we don’t think of as real. To the people who sign themselves “Alice.Yang,” I’m not real. I’m just a domain name with a bank account at the end of it.

But I am real. And so are you. Neither of us is a gear or a cog: we are human. We won’t always agree. We may not always like each other. But we are here together, and we much more the same than we are different, no matter how different we may appear. Even those people in China, whether they will ever acknowledge it or not.

It’s a small step, in a different direction, from “not real” to “bad.” It’s tempting to demonize people who threaten us. And maybe sometimes it’s right to do so: I’m still thinking that one through. But it shouldn’t be so easy, and it shouldn’t be our first line of defense. Otherwise, we end up demonizing the person in the next cubicle because she plays her iPod too loud. We demonize the bad manager who actually wants to do a good job but has no idea how, and who is so busy protecting himself from his own insecurity that he’s demonizing us right back.

When do you demonize people? And what do you do about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Get happy

December 8, 2008

Here’s a large, long-term study that shows the network effect of happiness. Simply by feeling good, we can influence people we have never met to feel good too. Happiness spreads.

So many people are not happy in their jobs. And yet, I don’t think it’s a company’s responsibility to make employees happy. Because not every person is a fit for every organization, no matter how impeccably run the company is, no matter how much attention it gives to engagement — the same way that two really nice people may just never fit as friends. Sometimes our expectations, values, goals aren’t aligned, and there’s no way for us to engage deeply with each other. That’s okay. It happens. And it’s better to know, and step back, than to pretend that there’s a good fit. Pretending doesn’t work.

The company’s responsibility is to be so aligned, clear and consistent in its own values, business practices, engagement practices, etc. that every employee can then decide for herself whether the result truly is a happy experience for her. She has all the information she needs to decide, “this is a great fit for me, I’m feeling satisfied and valued and like I’m contributing” — or to decide, “wow, if that’s the direction we’re going, I can’t really get on board with it.”

As managers, we can’t make it our mission to persuade everyone to be happy. Down that path lies poor management. What we can do is be direct, aligned, consistent, transparent, clear, and give people the full picture to respond to. If they respond happily, they’ll become even more engaged. And their resulting happiness will spread — to others they work with, to their families and neighbors, and beyond that to strangers. Maybe to you, or to me. If good management can have that consequence, well, so much more reason to do it.

The original article I read on the topic of “viral happiness” came from this conversation on the Employee Engagement Network, a great resource for managers or anyone else interested in ideas about how to engage people at work.

If you visit the specific conversation on happiness, you’ll see many different ideas about happiness. Some people think companies should focus on happiness as a goal, and others (like me) see it as a result that happens when we do other things right. What do you think?

Thank you

November 27, 2008

Humans At Work has been open for business less than two weeks as I write this, and already I have so much to be thankful for.

Thank you to everyone in my work history who helped me learn why it was good to be human at work, and how to best do it. My teams who held me to high standards and helped me meet them, and in whose company I had moments of learning and witnessed moments of grace that still ring within me. My bosses who guided me when I needed it and then let me go figure out the rest for myself. My bosses who taught me what not to do, who weren’t that good as managers, but who wore human faces and had human flaws, so that I learned that most bad management is lack of skill rather than lack of character. And my colleagues in organizations around the country with whom I’ve laughed, shared frustrations, done good work, failed spectacularly, and had some wonderful success. I value you all.

Thank you to the people from around the world who have been so responsive to Humans At Work these last two weeks. Your support and encouragement helps me engage with this new work with enthusiasm and confidence, and that’s what good management is all about. Thanks for setting the example and reminding me that we manage each other in all sorts of daily ways, whether we “work for” each other or not. And that how we treat each other makes a difference.

Thank you to the people without whose direct help — ideas, curriculum review, website testing, encouraging emails, conversations, hugs, hot meals and some very good bottles of wine — Humans At Work would not be what it is: Liz Butcher, Juliane Parsons, Jennifer Durham, Karina Meléndez, Vicki Platts-Brown, Tommaso Fiacchino, Sharon Woodbury. And most especially Nicola Griffith, who daily makes me want to be the best person I can.

Happy Thanksgiving to US citizens wherever in the world you may be, and to everyone else, may your day give you some gift, great or small; so that perhaps today we may all be connected by feeling thankful.