The data suggests you might be wrong

I must confess that as a female, there are few things I like to hear better than, you are right.  It satisfies a need, not unlike scratching a pesky itch.

But the data suggests that I’m probably often wrong (although you can still tell me otherwise and score points if you wish).

Let me explain.

As the lead character in my own story, I am the center of my known universe.  As that central character, I am biologically predisposed to relate what I see and what I learn to experiences, beliefs and values that I have.    I don’t do this with malice it is how I am built.

In many cases, this perspective helps me, it helps me to more quickly understand and process the world.   This ego-centric view can also hold me back,  especially if I am not open to the idea that there are other, equally valid, world-views.

Like me, you might also have some invalid assumptions about yourself.

Here are some things that you should know

To be effective leaders, we need to be aware of the risk that our views might be wrong,  and put strategies in place to keep them from holding us back.

The first and most obvious strategy is, don’t assume, ask.  Ask for feedback, think about what it’s saying.  Revisit the feedback when you make new discoveries about yourself and about your world.  Use this feedback to learn how others see the world, and find ways to help them understand you better by first understanding them.

The second strategy is to get help from others.  Get mentors or coaches who can help you see the world from the perspective of the other person.

In the end, there is a lot more to the advice to walk a mile in their shoes than we probably care to admit.

I might be biased against women in the workplace

Oh my goodness.  I still can’t really believe it myself but it seems it’s true.  It appears that I have a personal bias that suggests that career more closely aligns with men and family more closely aligns with women.

Maybe this should not surprise me, since I care deeply about both, but somehow feel I should get extra credit for having grown other humans in my body, my personal trump card in the gender equality [superiority] game.

How did I get here?  To the idea of taking a test to check for bias?

I was from reading  James Chartrand’s confession that he was a woman writing under a  pen name.  Such a well written and deeply personal story of gender bias blew my mind.  I just could not believe that in this day and age this could still be happening.

But, of course,  there are countless studies that say it is, I just figured it was only things like boards of directors in places like the UK and California, not bias against something as basic as your name.

And yet, I gave my daughter a gender neutral name.

I decided to try to test myself to see where I stood in the whole bias discussion.  Not only did the results tell me I am biased, I felt it taking the test.  I could literally feel my brain working much harder to resolve those questions that had career and female together.  Ick!

I must admit I’m still shaken by the result.

We have to face the reality that we are biased.  Each and every one of us.  In America, we are most frequently biased by age, race, height, gender and even attractiveness.

The irony is, that for most of us we really don’t mean to be.  We honestly think that we see everyone as equal but the evidence does not support that. The reality is, that we see the world based upon our own personal experiences.  Our world view is closely tied to what we have seen, what we have experienced, and what we have been exposed to personally.

Social scientists suggest that the key to reworking bias, is experience.  In other words we need to continue to have more role models and we need to continue to see change.

Seeing examples helps us better establish those relationship pairings in our brains that are so strongly rooted in our being. It is entirely possible, that my girls will have a more gender neutral view of the word career.

Or, at least, I hope so.

If you are interested to test yourself here is the link

What to do when you find yourself underutilized

One thing I’ve noticed about high achievers is that they  hate to be bored.  In fact, I think that underutilized is probably the biggest risk of loss indicator for a high achiever.  With achievers it’s  results that builds energy.

Underutilized = less results = badness.

Ironically, being underutilized can happen in concert with being overworked.  You can be completely busy and underutilized.  Some would describe this as soul destroying, or more specifically, I would (and have).

If you find yourself in this situation you need to do an analysis of your job mix quickly, to see if there is something you can do proactively to re-work the job to give you the right sense of achievement.

Sometimes, though, reworking the job is just  not an available option.  Maybe what you want to do will not be available for some time,  maybe you don’t have the kind of job that can be better aligned with your interests.

What do you do then?

At this point you have a few options.

You can wallow in self-pity and spiral into a bad attitude OR you can take control of your situation.   The first step in taking control is to do some self-analysis to determine what kind of challenges you need in your life and set them for yourself.

You could…

Work on your network.  Work on giving back to your community.  Work on being more available to your family.  Work on treating yourself better.   Give yourself new goals to achieve.

The key is to do something proactively to control your energy and your situation.  If you don’t do that, you are degrading your self esteem and you are setting yourself down the path of negativity.

Being underutilized sucks, I know this first hand.  But allowing that lack of utility to imact your confidence is much worse.   At the risk of being a broken record I must repeat, your career is yours to manage.  If your company is not utilizing you properly it is your job to fix it.

My idea about education reform

Those of you with long memories know that I had my innocence taken from me about the California public school system.  Ever since,  I’ve been wondering about what I think needs to change about public schools.

About once or twice a year, I manage to watch Sir Ken Robinson’s TED presentation, and realize that we need to think in terms of the education that our children need for the future.  A future we cannot even imagine today.

I’ve got two very concrete ideas that I think we should pursue for education reform.  Both, of course, are expensive, but I think they are important.

The first is really Gladwell’s idea and that is year round school.  We all know that an entire summer off doesn’t really make sense anymore, at least in the US.  We are not a farm-based economy and no child needs summers off to help with the crops.  In addition, the family norm is now two working parents, and I can tell you first hand, having summers off is an inconvenience for working parents.  According to Gladwell having long summer breaks also causes a sizable education gap between those kids who are economically fortunate and those who are not.

My second idea I believe to be my own, or at least I don’t remember anyone else suggesting it to me.  I think that the public school system should move past high school and into junior college.  I know that local junior colleges are basically public, but the problem I have is that they are optional and require kids to apply.

I believe that kids who do not have a plan of their own, should be automatically enrolled in their local community college and attendance should be required.   Alternate plans that kids could make would include such ideas as trade schools, armed forces, universities or some kind of public service.  This would mean that the default result for kids would be to achieve an associates degree.

I think that having  18 year-olds trying to figure out a plan for their continued education  is just too risky for society and our economy.  Most 18 year-olds I know, have a hard time getting a plan figured out for lunch, let alone their future.

I have heard people discuss increasing the minimum age for a drivers license and I wonder why no one is discussing a change to the minimum age for a “basic” education.  Of course, I know we can’t afford this with our current system structure, but I also believe we cannot afford to continue to leave our kids without the education they need to have a productive future.

Bill Gates, are you listening?  I’m guessing your organization would be ideal to get people talking about this.

More thoughts on Strategic [HR]

Are we all clear?

A few months back Steve Boese spent some time on the question about how to get more strategic.  My comment at the time was focused on the idea that maybe the first goal should be to be seen as helpful.

I am fortunate in my job, to be able to talk to business leaders about what they are looking for in HR systems.  As often happens, I get a lot more than systems feedback, I get some great insights into the HR function.  I find that often HR practitioners want to lead with agenda over relationship.  I personally think this is a bad idea.  Frankly, until you get the relationship worked out it doesn’t matter what agenda you have.

As an HR business partner, you have a choice to be seen as a helpful or a administrative hassle/roadblock.  It doesn’t matter what you know to be important.  If your business leader does not value your opinions, you are never going to be participating strategically.  In fact, you might find your business partner looking for ways to kill your strategic agenda.

Like everything else, a role of strategic influence is one that must first be built upon trust.  A great way to build trust with your business partner is to first be helpful in an area that she cares about.  Give her a sense that you are ready and willing to help.  Doing whatever is required to provide real value and service.

Once you nail that part the rest will get a lot easier.

In addition, you might just find yourself re-thinking what you consider important, as you gain more context about what the business is struggling to accomplish.

Influence vs. Authority

Hat tip to the Anita Borg Institute newsletter for reminding me that I wanted to blog about the importance of influence over title.

I am regularly puzzled when I hear the view expressed that people will only do work for you if you are their manager.

My view is that being the manager is not what is critical, having influence is what matters. The higher you go in management, the more important influencing skills become.

Even at a line management level, the need for influencing skills is growing as the concept of management is evolving. Many predict that management will continue to move from hierarchical to matrix as global teams become the norm.

With all nods to irony, I have a Kiersey type called promoter artisan, that makes me naturally disposed to influencing.  I have countless personal examples where I have seen success for my teams and my products, not based on who had to do things for me due to the organization chart, but on who chose to do things for me, due to their belief that my project was important for them.

If influencing others is not a strength for you, I would recommend you start thinking about focusing on this skill.  The next time you think that your success cannot be attained until you have full authority, I would like you to consider that you might be looking at both the problem, and your ability to impact the solution, way too small.

How do you define “your” responsibility

One of the things I’m most proud of this year is something that I did very little to accomplish, and yet it has changed me in a very big way.

This story is about a very sad bench.

This bench sits at a busy  intersection in my neighborhood.  It is next to a bus stop and at a corner where lots of kids cross (with the help of a crossing guard) on school days.

Many people pass by this sad bench every day.

Clearly, this bench not an official bench, it was a hack job that someone (with  skills) assembled to improve the lives of those who had reason to wait at this corner.

I have watched many people use this bench.

After months of watching this bench survive, I had questions.  Why wasn’t there a “real” bench on this corner.  Why didn’t anyone “fix” this very sad bench?  When was someone going to do something about this.

And then I decided, I didn’t want to be someone who just noticed problems, I wanted to help get them resolved.

In June, I contacted the mayor and asked how to go about getting a better bench.  I considered just going to a hardware store and purchasing one, but decided that would probably just get me in trouble  (I imagined the headline, local woman arrested for attempting to leave a bench...).

After a very little bit of research, I concluded that the best route to pursue was the local bus company,  since they  had other benches on the same street, clearly they would be well versed in the logistics of getting a suitable bench.

So I did what I am good at, I sent emails around asking for help.  I got some responses about how people liked my idea, but there were budget cuts blah blah blah.  I was asked to check back later.

So I did.

A few times.

Then, I came home from a family vacation a few weeks back, to find a new bench on the corner.  I find myself very happy every time I drive by this new bench.

I see this bench as a key learning for me.   That when I find myself wondering the why’s about someone and how they should be doing something, I need to adjust my view and ask that question of myself.

The next time I identify something that somebody has to, I plan to pick out a somebody and do.


Update 1/4/09 I had a few people comment to me, wondering what the new bench looked like.  Today I finally got a photo of it for your viewing pleasure (with crossing guard in action).

More value from goal setting

I know I’m always nagging you to start setting goals.  I am pretty certain I’m not actually converting anyone [yet] but somehow I feel I need to keep at it.

This week I stumbled on a personal goal I had set myself in 2006. The topic of the goal itself is not important, but what is interesting is the progress associated.

My status in Q4 of 2006 had some of the following text

Status => IN

I believe my progress in this area has been unremarkable.  … this is a good goal for me to continue to focus on but it is probably the hardest one on the list and its possible my expectations for this goal are a bit too high.

Interestingly this is still a goal I’m pursuing in 2009 and my Q3 status in 2009 on this goal was gushing with accomplishment, and I had even given myself good marks.

Understand, that the setting and rating of these goals is exclusively for my own benefit.  I do share these goals and statuses with others, but I’m fairly sure no one reads them (I send a lot of email and this one doesn’t have the words “action item” anywhere in the text).

The point is, that having goals (and progress) written down over time can be very rewarding.  It helps give you a sense of accomplishment and shows that some accomplishments take years.

Looking at your goals across the years can give you a better sense of what will work for you, and will help you make sure you are focusing your energy effectively.

I want everyone to have the opportunity to feel good about their accomplishments.  So do consider writing down your goals. It really is a good use of your time.  Feel free to thank me in a few years, when you find yourself reaching them.

A team of stars

Today I express my gratitude for my wonderful team of direct reports.  As an overachieving maximizer, having stars is where I’m at my best.


Unlike developer or individualization strengths, I have less patience to develop people to acceptable capability.  I have a strong desire to take core strength and make it outstanding.

I have a very clear idea of who I want on my bus and I want them to be stars.

This is why the book Good to Great had such a strong impact on me.  It helped me see the need to get the right team as the first step, the bigger the need, the more urgency, the more important it is to take the time to get your team right.

With the right team you can do anything.

With the right team, work is fun, supportive and engaging.  I am not suggesting that it makes things easy, but it certainly makes them easier and more meaningful.

I am thankful for my team, for their inner strengths, for their willingness to be supportive and aligned, even when it’s hard.  I am thankful for their exceptional work and their patience [with me].

I know I am very lucky to have such a team.  This holiday season, I wish the same for you.