October 03, 2011

Knowing Where to Start...Learning Lessons Along the Way

In the BC Employment Training industry, Business Transformation is having a huge impact on organizations. For some, you are realizing that you were not successful in your bid and with this realization the reality of what comes next hits you. Hard. Right between the eyes.  I get it - I've been there. For others, you are realizing that you have been successful with your bids and with that comes that feeling of "oh boy, now what do we do?".  Change has a way of doing that to people - it's the "be careful what you wish for" syndrome.

In the meantime, the BC government is in the process of informing agencies of "legacy programs" what to expect and what to do between now and March 31st, however managing the logistics of this change is far bigger than developing a list of clients to hand over to the next agency.  Leaders of organizations are facing the daunting task of perhaps growing, shrinking, or the worst case scenario of closing.  This is where 1001 questions come into your head and you give your head a shake to try and get rid of them!  I get that too - shaking my head just wasn't successful!

In my blog post on Resilient Organizations, I spoke about when I had to close a non-profit society in 2005.  It was the end of November when we decided that we were going to close and we had to shut the doors March 31st.  Not a lot of time to get a lot of things done while at the same time fulfilling our current contract deliverables.  It was a jammed pack four months and I was on a constant learning curve. Every day was a new challenge with more decisions to make.


Looking back, I learned some very valuable lessons in those four months that I will carry with me for the rest of my career.  I wouldn't give those months back for anything; as tough as they were they have shaped who I am as a leader today.




Lesson 1 - It's a Choice.
Once we figured out we had lost 90% of our funding, we realised that while we could stay open, the look, feel and mission of the Society was no longer present.  We made the choice to close.  This was a critical milestone to the journey we were on.  We made a choice.  Between staff and Board, we chose to return small contracts we had and we chose to close.  And as a result, I spent a lot of time with staff discussing the fact that they too had a choice.  They could choose to stay in the government funded Employment Training field and work within its parameters or they could choose to take their talents elsewhere. But it was a choice. We did not spend the next four months being a victim. We focused on what we could control and we gave people the room and the freedom to explore what else was possible.

Lesson 2 - Communication is Key.
Throughout this experience, open communication was critical to the process.  I openly shared information about what was happening, what I knew and what I didn't know.  There were no secrets and there were no taboo topics.  The more people felt informed and included the more open conversations we could have about how they were feeling. For example, giving people permission to openly discuss their job search created an environment of taking control of our individual destiny. There was also no shame in discussing our feelings, our anger or our successes.

Lesson 3 - Indecision is a Decision.
Every day was a new day filled with leadership moments to make decisions and take action.  Sometimes the decisions were difficult and sometimes they were easy but one thing was for sure, there was always a decision to be made. It was challenging at times to know what to do or which direction to take on issues and there was never enough time to mull things over.  What I painfully realized was that not making a decision was akin to making a decision and that sometimes, it wasn't the decision I wanted.  So, I learned that I had to put tools and supports around me that helped me make quick decisions.  Whether it was consulting my team of trusted advisors to help me talk things through or monitoring my timeline to make sure I didn't miss milestone moments, I had to take control of the decision making process before it got away from me.

Lesson 4 - Support comes from many places.
The role of leader in a non-profit organization can be really lonely at times. You are responsible for the direction of the organization and the outcomes that it produces. You are, at times, the "monkey in the middle" between the board, the staff and the funders.  There are not a lot of people in the organization who see the big picture like you do and also not a lot of people who truly understand the challenges and the pressures that you face.  Having said that, keep an open mind as to where support may come from during these times of transition and change.  Don't shut people out as you stress about what is coming - let people in and accept their love, support and encouragement. Remind yourself that being a leader doesn't mean that you don't have feelings or vulnerabilities, so let your team of trusted advisors in on how you are doing and feel the support that they can provide. Don't have a team of trusted advisors? Then build one. Don't forget those other leaders out there in other organizations. Some of the best support I got was from the other leaders in the service provider circle. We all went through various emotions at various times and there was always someone who was able to lift me up and help me put everything into perspective. At times, that uplifting person was me and at times I needed the lift.

Speaking of support, another way to get support is to learn what you can about what is ahead.  I have partnered with the BC Career Development Association to talk about just that.  Join us for a free webinar called Knowing Where to Start - Strategic Steps to Managing Business Transformation on October 18th from 9 to 10 am.  Share your thoughts and questions and build a network of others who are interested in the same topic.

To learn more about this webinar, go to the BCCDA Blog or Register Now.

I would also love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What comes to mind for you as you think about the lessons to be learned from change, transition and making big decisions?

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September 25, 2011

Taking Recognition to the Next Level


In my previous post, I discussed ways to develop a Culture of Recognition and thanks to everyone for reading!  I am a firm believer in developing an organizational culture that focuses on acknowledging people's contributions and, as Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner say in A Leader's Legacy, no one likes being overlooked, ignored or dismissed.  And certainly no one likes to be taken advantage of.  In particular, everyone wants to be significant (pg. 11).

Kinda makes you stop and think - how am I showing recognition?

There are various layers to recognition.  Beyond outwardly expressing appreciation and saying thank you, there are both informal and structured recognition approaches.  To me, these are like rungs on a ladder and each step gives each action a bit more credibility.  Jumping directly onto the top rung of the ladder can actually do more harm than good. You want people to always feel that recognition is being given from the heart, that you are genuinely wanting to recognize someone's contribution and there is nothing contrived about it.  Skipping rungs on the ladder and moving directly to a structured program can make the recognition feel artificial, obligatory and disingenuous. I would hazard a guess that this is not what you are going for!

So, let's assume that you have mastered the art of saying thank you, recognizing milestones and providing ongoing feedback about the impact someone's contribution is having on the business.  Here are some ideas about what the different rungs on the ladder can look like as you move up towards creating a culture of recognition.

Informal Recognition Tips
  • Flexible Schedules:  let people start and stop their work day based on what works for them.  Allowing working parents to share drop off and pick up responsibilities at school can potentially eliminate the need for day care.  Trust me, this is huge for parents!  Does it really matter to the function of the employee's job if they work 6 am to 3 pm instead of 8 to 5?  Or maybe it will make the world of difference to someone if they are allowed to extend their lunch hour by 30 minutes a couple of times a week so that they can attend a Pilates class. You know they can be trusted to make up the time by the end of the week.  Providing a flexible schedule to allow for a healthy employee is money in your pocket in things like less sick time and improved mood.
  • Special Projects:  make a point of giving projects to staff that allow them to grow and use skills in new areas.  Maybe you have a staff member who loves to plan events but that isn't part of their job.  Ask them to join the planning committee for your customer appreciation wine and cheese or your staff annual BBQ.  Give employees an opportunity to get involved in areas they are passionate about and they will equate that passion to their overall enjoyment with work.
  • Volunteering:  provide staff with time off to contribute back to their community.  It is proven that people who volunteer live longer and are more satisfied with their lives. Check out this article from BC Living that discusses the health benefits of volunteering.
  • Communicate:  as discussed, thanking staff one on one goes a long way.  As you move up the ladder of recognition, you can also create opportunities to thank staff more publicly.  Perhaps it is a mention in your quarterly newsletter or an email blast that is sent company wide when a project completes.
    A great resource to come up with more informal strategies for recognizing the contributions of staff is the book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees.  Some of them are a bit over the top and some of them are perfectly easy, appropriate and fun to do.

      Structured Incentive Programs
      As you continue up the ladder of recognition, you may decide that a more structure incentive program would add value to the informal strategies that you are using which have become embedded in your people management culture.

      There are programs that you can get involved with that allow you to provide employees with gift cards towards purchasing items.  According to an article on WorldAtWork.org, these kinds of programs are gaining in popularity.  These might be used for events such as the birth of a baby, the achievement of a significant number of years with the company, or perhaps recognition for an ongoing demanding workload and the employee has risen to the challenge in an extraordinary way.  Just because it is a structured program, doesn't necessarily mean you have to stay within a box.  In one company I worked for, we actually sent a gift card to the spouse of an employee because we wanted to recognize her contribution to the company as her husband had been traveling extensively for months which was above and beyond what was normally expected.  We considered her to be a key member of the team when it came to making that work load and schedule work.

      Here are some gift card programs.  I don't personally have experience with these programs, I just wanted to give you a sample of what you can find online.  I like these kinds of programs for a couple of reasons - one you don't have to be physically in the same location as your employee so this is great for recognizing virtual team members and the other thing I like is that people have the pick of a variety of options and they can make the reward work for their needs, wants and likes.

      Ribbon Gift Card program - part of Amway
      BetterWorks
      Gift Tango
      Kudos Now

      Another great way to give recognition to an employee is to provide them with a KIVA gift card.  This allows them to provide a micro-loan to an entrepreneur from anywhere in the world.  It is the gift that keeps on giving and is an empowering way to show employees that you think beyond your own world and want them to have an opportunity to make an impact on other's worlds as well.

      A low cost way to be able to provide a thank you in the moment is a Starbucks Gift Card.  I received one recently as a thank you for a presentation I made to a group of students. I was happy to donate my time but it sure felt nice the next time I purchased a latte to know that I had made a difference in someone's day and they thought enough of what I did to buy me a coffee!

      There are lots and lots of ideas I have on how to show recognition to employees and I could go on and on!  Lots of people have written great articles and blog posts about this as well so I thought I would share with you some of my favourites!

      GloboForce.com
      WorldatWork.org
      RecruitingTrends.com
      The Power of Positive Employee Recognition - article on about.com

      Thanks for taking time to think about employee recognition.  You are already up one rung on the ladder just by thinking about it and considering some of these ideas!

      Do you have other ideas you have tried? What has worked for you?  What have you done that didn't work?  Stories from you are always welcome!

      September 18, 2011

      Creating a Culture of Recognition

      With the Emmy Awards on TV last night, it got me to thinking about recognition and celebration.  Something that in today's workplace isn't always top of mind.  In many cases, these things are either not done, glossed over or done in such a routinized way that any benefit of doing it is lost in the cynicism of an inauthentic action (which employees can smell a mile away, but that is a blog topic for another day!).

      How do you create a culture of recognition, you ask? Well, first you need to understand why you would do it.  Once you understand the why behind something it, it is easier to buy in and commit to the cause, so to speak.  There are really two "whys" behind an employee recognition program.  There is the business why or the business imperative. Similar to the saying "happy wife, happy life", "happy employees, happy bottom line" (I know it doesn't rhyme, but you get the idea).  But that seems to simple, so let's go through a more detailed list of the benefits of employee recognition.

      Strategic employee recognition is the stepping stone to a great deal more:
      • improved sense of job satisfaction leading to increased employee engagement
      • increased employee engagement leading to increased retention of employees
      • increased retention leading to increased customer satisfaction
      • increased customer satisfaction leading to increased productivity 
      • increased productivity leading to higher profits 

      All in all, a pretty powerful list of business reasons and that is just a sampling!  The second reason why, well, that is a personal reason. There is nothing that feels as good as giving to someone else! Try it - do something for someone without an expectation of anything in return and see how it feels. It is actually a selfish act and it feels great and the more you do it the more you want to do it!  One thing about employee recognition programs that I would encourage is to do some of it yourself. Don't hand it over to HR and have them reap all the rewards!  As a manager, a CEO, a co-worker - get involved!  Feel some of the love and do something for someone else at work in the form of recognition.

      Having said that, let's get down to brass tacks - what does a culture of recognition really mean? In my experience, it means that recognition is embedded in everything you do and all of your employees are living and breathing it.  It means that the mission and values of your organization are aligned to your belief in recognizing people for their contribution.

      When walking around your workplace, you are seeing evidence of thanks. This might be a white board in the hallway that allows people to make comment about a co-worker's contribution. Or maybe people's cubicles are decorated with thank you cards from customers. Perhaps the kitchen has leftover cake from a recent celebration of a project launch, or from the welcome lunch to new employees who started that month.  And when stopped in the hall and asked "When was the last time you were recognized for your contribution to this company?", the employee doesn't frown and say "hmmmm, I can't really remember but maybe at my review last year?"  They smile and say "Well I just came from my Manager's office where we discussed my latest project status and as I was leaving he smiled at me and told me I was doing a great job."  and off they go to enjoy some of the cake in the kitchen.  Now that is a culture of recognition!

      Stay tuned and in my next blog post, I will share tools, techniques and resources for incorporating both structured incentive programs and informal recognition strategies into your people management practices.

      September 14, 2011

      Resilient Organizations? What does that look like?

      Recently, the concept of resiliency has come up in my life a number of times, in a variety of different situations, so it appears that this is something I am supposed to pay attention to!  So what is resiliency?  There are lots of definitions out there so paraphrasing them, I would say that resiliency is the ability to overcome adversity and to bounce back from challenging situations.  Last night, I was at a networking event and the speaker was Charmaine Hammond who spoke on building resilient and inspired teams.  Charmaine's message was focused on the importance of "bouncing forward" verses just bouncing back after challenging times.  Sitting at my table was a woman who had completed a PhD on the resiliency of children from 9 war torn areas of Africa.  She was consistently amazed at how happy kids from these areas were and yet they came from such challenge circumstances.  Talk about resiliency!  And this week, in my most recent e-newsletter, I posted an event about Resilient Leadership being hosted by the BC Career Development Association on September 23 & 24, 2011.  This is a perfect course for managers and supervisors who are leading through challenging times.

      This got me to thinking...as individuals we go through difficult times and can show resiliency but what creates a resilient organization?

      There are difficult and challenging times in career development organizations all over BC right now. The Career Development industry in BC is under the strain of a full scale shift in how business is to be done, both now and in the future. Generally speaking, the career development industry is a resilient industry.  The government programs that traditionally fund the industry have always forced organizations to change on a dime and to do more with less.  This is nothing new, and yet there seems to be something more significant this time. The transformation is bigger, the pressure on leaders is stronger and the ante has been raised on the resiliency factors required. The industry has to "transform" and organizations in the industry have to provide services in a way that many are either not prepared for or are just not willing to do.  And for others, this is just another change that they will rise to the challenge of and meet head on.  So what makes for a resilient organization during this challenging time? What resiliency factors are at play?

      In 2005 when I worked for WorkStreams Employment Society and we had to close the Society down due to a loss of funding, we were a very resilient bunch!  We focused our energies on doing a great job in areas we did have control over, most specifically client service, and we supported each other by sharing the load.  When one person was particularly down, another person would be particularly optimistic or hopeful to balance things. During that very difficult time, one thing that made the biggest difference to our resiliency was that we, each and every one of us, made a conscious choice to be in our profession, or not.  We weren't the victims; we were the players and we were choosing whether or not to play in the game.  The key factors in us as individuals? Flexibility, empowerment of choice, adaptability, hope, optimism and ultimately, a belief in our value as individuals.  Is this much different for organizations?

      Based on my experience, it is no different.  In times of transformation, a certain kind of organization does well.  Organizations that thrive are engaged in the adversity and the challenge from a position of strength.  They are actively participating, they are flexing and adapting and they are always looking for new and interesting ways to address challenges. They are leading the pack in how they are responding to challenges and adversity.  They have an unwavering sense of hope and optimism.  They are pro-active and they empower their teams to be the best they can be, despite the challenging environment. Most importantly, they hold firm to their belief in their value in their people and in their organizations.

      We all know organizations are made up of people and people in organizations look to their leaders for their direction. This time of transformation, transition and change in the career development industry is a time for leaders to have the most personal resilience and to lead others to do the same. It is a time for leaders to reach out and support each other and to build their skills where they need to. It is a time to celebrate what has been achieved and be proud of the difference you make in communities.  Doing all of this will build your organizational and personal resiliency.

      So, what about you? Do you lead a resilient organization? What techniques do you employ to build your resiliency?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

      September 06, 2011

      The "Why" Behind Career Development Connections

      Since launching Career Development Connections in April of 2011, many people have asked me what it is and why they should get involved.  So here it is – in a nutshell.

      Career Development Connections is an initiative of my HR consulting company, Engaged HR.  I have had my foot in both the HR and Career Development camps my entire career and really, believe they are deeply linked, as many would attest to.  So, during this time of intense change for the Career Development Industry, it only makes sense to me to provide specialized services to organizations in this industry to enhance their ability to thrive and adapt to the new world of “business transformation”. 

      These industry changes are not new for me.  In 2005, I was involved in the closure of an agency for the very same reason that many organizations are undergoing tremendous change now – “Service Amalgamation” it was called at that time; “Business Transformation” today.  So, I get it. I get the implications of all the current changes and I get what kind of challenges it presents to you and your organization. You are faced with potential growth, potential downsizing and just plain old fashioned change to service delivery models.  And I get how difficult that is.

      Over the last year, the thing that keeps coming to mind, over and over, is the people who work in this industry.  I feel for Executive Directors as they manage multiple changing priorities, for Career Practitioners as they consider their job options in this field, and for the support staff who are dedicated to providing good service and are confused about how best to do that. 

      Over and over, I have heard from people that they need a place to be connected; a place to go to find out what is going on and a place to go that helps them be pro-active in their career planning.  When Career Development Connections was launched I was overwhelmed by the support.  Emails came in thanking me for setting up something that provided them what they needed – support, job options and information.  Thank you to everyone who has supported me from the beginning!

      So, I created Career Development Connections to connect people, to share information and to provide service where service is needed. My goal is to serve this industry and to share my learning from my 15+ years in this industry. And of course, my day is made when I can make a positive difference in this community!

      To learn more about Career Development Connections, go to www.CareerDevelopmentConnections.com and if you want to know how I can help you thrive in this industry, be in touch at Denise at EngagedHR (dot) com.

      images courtesy of Google Images

      September 04, 2011

      The Power of The Breakfast


      It’s a Monday, three years ago this July, and Carolyne Taylor, Member Relations Manager for Vancouver Island, and I are having lunch and talking about a breakfast event we have planned for Friday, just 5 days away.  This is going to be an HR 101 workshop for business people in Victoria. We have a room booked and breakfast is ordered.  Problem is our registrations are non-existent!  (Ugh...we’ve all been there!)  We don’t want to cancel the space, so what do we do….we email our BCHRMA members and offer them breakfast.  Come and have breakfast with your peers we say – learn about what they are doing, what they are good at and how we can connect with each other.  It’s like a BCHRMA mingle but more…intimate.

      Well, who knew that exactly three years later we would have such a great event continuing stronger than ever!  Today’s breakfast saw 19 amazing BCHRMA members making connections right, left and centre.  We had the right number of people, in the right place at the right time and the connections were amazing.  Today in particular seemed to strike me as more powerful than usual so I asked myself Why?  Why today? Why this breakfast?  I don’t have the answer to “why” but I do know what I was witness to which was pretty phenomenal.  I met people who came to this particular breakfast from communities as far up Island as Courtenay and from countries as far flung as Dubai.  I felt the energy when the entire room collectively winced in empathy for a woman who was going to be moving her daughter to Alberta to go to school (talk about feeling support!) and I watched as half the table turned to look at one job-seeking individual as a lead to a job that would be perfect for him was announced, smiles on all faces in excitement.  Talk about the hidden job market in action!  There was a sense of celebration in the air as congratulations were shared with a new attendee who just moved to Victoria to start a new job and even temporary housing connections were made.

      So, we shared job leads, offered housing help, talked about HR, made international connections and signed up mentors for the BCHRMA mentoring  program – in 60 minutes.  Pretty productive Friday morning if you ask me! And to top it off, great food put on by Cabin 12, our go-to restaurant that opens at 7:30 am just for us!

      Who knew that an invite to breakfast three years ago would produce such an ongoing, powerhouse event that is on people’s “don’t miss” list each month!   Be sure to join us on Friday, September 23rd to get in on the action!   Oh, and don’t forget, you have to be a member to attend!  Just one of the many fabulous benefits of membership!

      See you at Breakfast!

      Denise Lloyd
      Chair, Vancouver Island Region Advisory Council
      denise@engagedhr.com

      Note: originally posted on August 26th on BCHRMA blog


      The Inaugral Post!

      A sunny day, the final long weekend of summer and I finally get a blog up.  It's been on my list of things to do all summer and finally - I am figuring it out!  Deadlines are funny things. I set up a deadline for myself to do this weeks and weeks ago and I just wasn't making it a priority.  If this was for a client, I would have done it immediately but it was just for me - so easier to put off!

      It wasn't until the leaves started turning colour and the mornings had a chill in the air that I felt that summer was coming to an end.  And with that, the pressure to get everything off my summer To Do list was ramped up.  Must be the pressure-prompted ISTJ in me!  My list of things to do is much smaller now as I wait for the leaves to fall and as the activities of a busy month ahead kick in.  Feels great!

      What about you? How do you deal with deadlines? Do you get things done when it is only you that you are accountable to?