The Power of Intuition

I recently was talking to a CEO who asked me what I thought the most important skill was that a quality HR professional brings to the table – great question and certainly one that I am sure would have many different answers.  For me, though, the answer is clear….INTUITION.  The hard thing about intuition is that it is a skill everyone has, but one that is rarely trusted.  We all have our gut feelings, we all “knew something was going on” but we don’t often give homage to that sensation.  Yet, to be really exceptional at HR, you have to trust your gut.  

In a previous blog, I wrote about how intuition played into an Employee Relations issue that showed itself with a can of tuna fish.  Well, perhaps not as dramaticly, that tuna fish plays itself out all the time with HR professionals.  Here are just a few ways:

*You have a “feeling” about a candidate – either good or bad – and you find it difficult to justify looking just at a resume.  I remember when I was a recruiter for a company – I was trying to fill a high paying VP role and the executives had a very precise vision of who the ideal candidate would be – years of experience, glowing resume, proven abilities.  I brought in lots of candidates that fit the bill but just didn’t seem to fit the company and then I took a gamble and brought in a 24 year old new college graduate.  My Intuition told me she was the one though I could not put in words why.  After my begging with the executives to at least talk with her, and after 15 interviews, they finally hired her.  Ten years later, she is now the COO.

*You sense that something is “off” about an employee who has come into your office.  This is definitely a feeling to heed.  I remember one employee coming into my office for the first time.  Hard to determine if he was “off” since I had never had a chance to benchmark his behavior but something didn’t sit right with me.  After 5 minutes of pleasantries, he spent the next hour ranting about how the company was involved in a conspiracy to short change its customers.  After security responded to my silent buzzer, he was escorted from my office and shortly after was admitted for a psych eval.

You know when you are not getting the full story.  One of the challenges in HR is that we are often brought into “segments” of a business decision or move.  A fine tuned HR Professional will use their intuition, combined with their experience, to piece together all the moving parts and effectively make recommendations from the HR angle.  If you don’t trust your intuition – or your experience – you will stay with just a piece of the story.

Hidden agendas.  I remember once sitting at a table with heavy hitters.  As a former psychologist, I often find myself sitting back and observing group dynamics and there is no better group for this then CEO’s and top executives of companies.  As I was watching all the bickering going back and forth I noticed one leader sitting back and watching, inserting key words every once in a while to seemingly infuriate one side or the other.  That same leader became the CEO of a massive company – and the two who were bickering were released from their jobs.  His whole agenda was to pit them against each other so he could assume power.  As I watched him that day, I had both an intuition that he was up to something…and also an intuition to steer clear.

So again, I think that without trusting our intuition, HR Professionals only get a piece of the puzzle, only hear the surface story, and only recruit to model.  We should never be professionals who go by a script, by rather by our guts.


The Silent Impact of Sandy

The disaster that is hitting the East coast in the form of Hurricane Sandy and its subsequent superstorm is unmistakeable.  Thousands are without power, there have been 11 reported deaths in the US alone, and business’s both big and small stand to lose unbelievable revenue.  Add to this, the headaches of the countless numbers of insurance claims that will be pouring in over the next few days and weeks and we may never have a true estimate of what this storm will cost.

Hidden from the intense media coverage of a darkened Times Square there is another cost of this storm, and all other storms for that matter that take employees out of work – that cost is lost wages.  Seems simple to comprehend – if a business isn’t open then employees aren’t working.  I have found, though, that many leaders don’t equate how profound this cost can be.

Many workers live pay check to pay check and have very tight budgets in order to just survive – the reasons for this are many and I’m sure will come up in future blogs – right now, though, I want to focus on the impact of this storm.  There is an anticipation that many shop owners and corporate heads will be closing their doors until the end of the week at the earliest.  That means that the average non-exempt employee will not see pay for almost a week.  For the exempt (or salaried) employee this storm may just equate to a nuisance or, and I believe this will be true, most of them will work from their home computers once power is restored.  For the hourly worker, though, this is often not an option and so they will wait out the storm with increased stress over what their paychecks will look like.  This may mean, that even when power is restored they will not be able to pay for it.

We had a blizzard in Colorado once that closed most companies.  My CEO at the time called me from home upset that he was being advised to close the doors.  He kept thinking about what it would cost in revenue and how that would hurt the bottom line.  True enough.  When I brought up how we would handle hourly folks who would lose a days pay through no fault of their own and suggested that we pay them for a full day, he was completely resistant saying that they should “learn to budget better”.  How hypocritical!  He cared about the loss of money to his business but would not let his employees worry about the loss to their paychecks, a loss that many of them would deeply feel.  When the doors opened two days later, employees desperately asked how the company would handle their lost wages and the CEO said there was nothing that could be done.  We saw a spike of turnover in the next few weeks and when I asked the reason, inevitably the lack of care shown by the CEO was the reason.

Simply put:  When a business closes due to no fault of the employee, that employee should not be punished by a lack of pay.  Yes it will cost the company but that contingency could be budgeted for every year and may not even be used.  For those times when it needs to be used, see how much loyalty taking care of your employees in the face of natural disaster will get you.

Are you listening East Coast?

The Power of WE

Ok, so another football analogy (look, I live in Bronco country so it is to be expected).  I was watching the Bronco comeback win last night and the interview right after the game with Payton Manning.  The interviewer, still amazed about the 2nd quarter comeback, kept asking him what “he” did to win the came and how “he” felt.  Payton, without missing a beat, kept responding by using the word “WE”.   This player, who many feel is one of the best to ever play the game, directed the reporter to look at the whole of the team, not just him.  It was refreshing.

If you think about it, the football field is not much different than business.  There is a leader on the field (QB) and lots of support around him.   There is a board of directors (all the coaches) and a financier (GM).  There are team captains who are in charge of motivating each specialty of play.  There is a vision, a mission, and a goal.  And each team has its own culture.  What is different (aside from the paychecks) is that there also is a sense of WE.  Each player, even those who break out for amazing plays, know that they could not do their jobs without every other player on the field.  There is a deep respect from the “Leader” to the “Workers” because he knows he could not do what he does without them and they in turn respect him because he actually leads.

I find it ironic that in a profession that is often very ego driven, they get the concept of WE but in corporate settings, also often very ego driven, you find silos.  How do we get the team concept into business?  I know many have tried and there are tons of slick productions out there that companies can spend millions on to teach them how to work as a team.  Yet it rarely is sustained, if achieved at all.

As I think about it, perhaps it is because football players have been taught from the time there were little tykes that this is how a team works.  They come to respect the importance of each position.  They listen to their coach and are okay that their quarterback is telling them what plays to run.  They know that when they are playing their positions the best that they can, they will win games.

Makes me wonder what we are taught about business.

NFL Replacements: Not Much Different Than Corporate America

What tremendous outcry this country had regarding the replacement NFL referees, what pure animalistic anger!  Google for articles about the replacement refs and there are over 3 million.  I am sure my fellow psychologists are having a field day analyzing the implications this has had on our nation.  But are my fellow Human Resource colleagues, or better yet, CEO’s, realizing that we play this same game all the time?

If we were to break it down, everyone was a bit oblivious to what was happening between the refs and the NFL, that is until game day and it was soon discovered that the “replacement refs” were not skilled enough to take on the task. They had some experience, and knew football, but could not handle the pressures and the pace of the game at the pro-level.  Once bad calls started coming in, football viewers everywhere took to tweeting, posting on facebook, picketing, and holding up signs at games indicating their dissatisfaction.  Last night, when the “real refs” came back on the field, they received a standing ovation.

This same scenario plays itself out in Corporate America every day.  Skilled, talented, knowledgeable employees able to handle the pressures of the game are replaced with less skilled, less talented, less knowledgeable employees.  The reasons typically fall around cost (it costs to have someone who knows what they are doing) or inept management who are often threatened by more skilled employees then themselves.  Balls are dropped, confused calls are made, customers are not happy.  Yet do we see the outcry that we did with the refs?  Nope, but we hear the same complaints.

How many times have you heard – “Company X has horrible customer service, they really have gone downhill”  or “I don’t know what happened to Y Company, they used to be great”.  If you look closely, I bet you see some “replacements” in the employee ranks.  With our economy as our excuse, many companies decided to “cut back” on its employees to save costs.  They often released the higher paid talent and replaced them with cheaper talent.  That is not to say they didn’t look to make sure the cheaper talent had some skills, just like the NFL made sure their replacement refs knew football.

Instead of getting mad at the “replacements” we should question the thought process of the decision makers.  There was a lot of talk before the refs went on strike but the NFL thought they could get away with just “hiring others” to take their place.  Companies also have a lot of talk before they take their steps to replace workers.  It is my hope that in the course of those conversations someone says “Hey CEO, do you remember the game between Green Bay and Seattle?”

The Stage of Corporate America

All the world is a stage…and I have found all the drama right in my own company.  It is amazing to me how much time is wasted in business dealing with the emotions, interpretations, perceptions, agendas, and moods of those we work with.  Your end goal in business might be a very simple one but it often will become complex because those involved are all coming from different angles and with different purpose.

The company that can harness these different perspectives and somehow keep the emotions out of it have really landed on a special formula.  As an HR Professional, my job is to deal with the human element of business which includes the dynamics of people working together.  Think of a kindergarten playground – you have your leaders and your followers, your bullies, your wimps, yours nerds, jocks, and cheerleaders.  Now picture a corporate boardroom – not much different.  Where the difference comes is how we handle it – where in kindergarten, students are sat down and educated on how to play nice the boardroom or any part of a company often ignores the dynamic and so these relationships are allowed to grow and fester leading to a tremendous loss of productivity.

And note I said take the “emotion” out of it – not the passion.  We need to get jazzed up about what we need to do.  There is nothing as exciting as thinking you have finally arrived at a solution, or come up with the next best thing.  Passion drives us but emotions get in our way.  I can not tell you how many times I have been passionate about some work I am doing…seriously, I can not tell you.  Instead, I am often dealing with the emotions of those around me that truly zap me of all my energy.

When I was younger, I went to an acting school for the summer in the East.  I am a Colorado girl and had a laid back way about me but found out quickly that I was up against a very hungry acting crowd.  When the first script was distributed, people pushed, bit, and snarled their way to the audition for the desired roles.  I found myself holding open the curtain or designing the set – I just did not have it in me to backstab just so I could land the lead role in Guys and Dolls.  And so I dropped out of trying to be an actress only to find myself years later with a similar group of people backstabbing, biting, and pushing over something they found critical in business. That “thing” never got done, and actually was forgotten in all the chaos.

So why don’t we all take a deep breath and relax.  Brainstorm. Work together toward a common goal. Actually do our jobs.

And cut…..

The Lessons of a Dog

Much attention has been given to a story in the Denver area about a newscaster who was bitten by a dog she was showcasing during the newscast.  Some history: this dog, a large 83 pound Mastiff had fallen into a freezing reservoir the day before and had been dramatically rescued.  He does have an owner and had broken free from his yard that morning.  He has no history of aggressive behavior and had just met the reporter.  Now you may be asking, why is this blogger writing about a dog on a HR blog?  Because this dog could teach some serious lessons to managers and HR Professionals alike.

The animal behaviorist who was called in to look at the tape of the show said the dog was showing signs of distress.  He was panting excessively, his ears were back, and he was trying to get away but kept being pulled back.  The news reporter was holding his face and put her face in his…and so he bit.  The humans on the scene did not read the signs of a dog in trouble.  So too managers often don’t read the signs given by their employees.  I can’t tell you how many times I have dealt with employee relations issues that come about because an employee “cracks” or “couldn’t take it anymore”.  These employees show signs of distress.  So, a few things to look for:

  • Behavior Changes:  Most humans are creatures of habit.  A good manager will begin to know the habits of their employees – their attention to their schedules, to detail, how they handle being given criticism.  If you notice changes in any behavior pattern something is up.
  • Changes in Appearance: Ok, we all go through “phases” where we might try something new with our look but if these changes are dramatic it probably is indicating we have something happening.  This is also true if we suddenly don’t seem to care about our appearance.  Lack of grooming is almost a tell tale sign that something has changed.
  • The subtle gestures – you know them and probably associate them with your teenager.  Eye rolls, “whatevers” ignoring you, doing the exact opposite of what is being asked.  Seem rebellious?  It is!
  • Who your employees hang out with – yep, just like high school we tend to “clique” and just like high school many are very influenced by the leaders of the cliques so know who they are.
  • Basic Performance: If I used to knock it out of the ballpark and now seem to not even care who is pitching, you might want to chat.
There are many other signs but these are a few.  So, if an employee is giving off these signs what do you do as a manager?  Don’t be afraid of actual conversation.  Many managers don’t know where to begin with addressing these issues and so often don’t until they have become areas for formal corrective action.  If you don’t know how to have these conversations, your HR Professional should be able to give you some guidance.  My advise always has been to be, as they say, straight up.  I am not big on sugar coating but I do like conversations to show respect and empathy.  Managers should also know what benefits are offered by their companies – EAP programs especially are a great way to get an employee help if they have something going on outside of the company.  Be ready with an action plan – training or retraining, coming up with how communication can/should/will happen, putting a definitive time frame on the plan, and making sure employees are crystal clear about expectations are always points a manager should have in their back pockets.
If managers don’t pay attention to the warning signs given by their employees they too will get bit, at least figuratively.  And so, typical HR brain working, I thought of them when watching the news about the dog and the reporter.