As an introvert I visibly cringe when I hear the words, “step out of your comfort zone.”  My cringe is for various reasons.  The first reason is that the line is way overused and often just an attempt to get someone to do something they do not want to do.  The second reason is that stepping out of your comfort zone means lots of self-examination and then action on the part of the person working from home in their pajamas (that would be me).

I talk to people every day who are miserable in their current role.  When I ask them why they are not doing anything about it, I get one of three responses:

  • I do not have time to job search
  • The devil you know is better than the one you don’t (man do we love our sayings)
  • I know what I am doing here.   A new job means learning a new company, new role and new way of doing things.

What all three of these say to me is that we are often comfortable being uncomfortable.  Doing something about our misery is too much work for us or too scary.  As much as I hate the saying about stepping out of your comfort zone, doing so is often the only thing that brings about positive change.

Here is what I suggest.  Take a step back and think about whether you are truly unhappy where you are – not just your boss made you mad so you want to quit today, but over a period of time you have become increasingly unsatisfied, unchallenged and unproductive. If the answer is yes, start to do something about it.  What would make you satisfied, challenged and productive?  Find that thing and pursue it – make the time to update your resume, connect on Linkedin and go after it with everything you have.

Get uncomfortable with just being comfortable.  The devil you know is still a devil.  Learning new things never hurt anyone and might actually make you happy – get comfortable with that!

I have officially been on the job hunt for just over a week now.  I have so many asking me how it is going on a daily basis that I thought I would do a weekly update until a job is found.  Here is my first update.

First and foremost, I have been overwhelmed by the number of people on Twitter, Linkedin and in my personal life who are willing to help me in any way they can.  Whether it be retweeting my job search info, connecting me with recruiters on LinkedIn or just giving me an encouraging word, the response has been amazing and very much appreciated.  Ben Eubanks even mentioned me in his post today – and I didn’t even pay him to do that! I am very lucky to have so many willing to help.

Second, I did have several contacts last week about potential jobs.  While none of them worked out, I am encouraged by how quickly leads seem to be coming in.  I hope that trend continues.

Third, being on this side of the line has opened my eyes to how it feels to be the job seeker.  I have spent the last 11 years on the other side, the recruiter side, and I have to admit I like that side much better. The uncertainty, waiting for responses and general anticipation you experience everyday is enough to make you crazy.  It will certainly change how I treat job seekers in the future when I am back on the other side of the line.

I am very happy with where things are and where they are going.  I know that the right job will come through at the right time and until then I will be patient, uncompromising in my priorities and open to new opportunities.

Thanks for your support and I will keep you posted!

Chris Ponder (@chrisponder on Twitter) started a great series last week allowing those interested to be a storyteller.  He poses three questions and allows anyone willing to answer.  He is going to compile the responses which you will be able to read on his blog, Xtreme HR, later this month.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the responses from everyone and thought I would compile all of mine here.

Question 1: Why did you choose your profession and how did you get your foot into the profession? (Read Chris’s post here)

I completely stumbled into HR by accident.  I majored in Business Management and worked as a teller in a bank all through college.  My plan was to stay in banking.  I applied to many jobs when I graduated and no one seemed to be beating down my door.  I began to get a little desperate, and by desperate I mean two weeks from moving back in with my parents, when a customer at the bank told me about an opening at her daughters place of employment.  It was for an HR generalist role.  I had thought about HR a little in college and had taken a few courses, but did not really understand what they did.  Nonetheless, I applied and got the job.  I quickly realized that I loved HR.  I believe it takes a different type of person to be in human resources and apparently, I’m a little different:).

Question 2: Biggest Challenge and How did you get where you are? (read Chris’s post here)

The biggest challenge I have faced in my career came during my second job as a Nurse Recruiter in a very competitive time.  I was hired in the nursing department only because they were desperate for recruiters – typically these roles only go to RN’s and I am no RN.  I had a huge learning curve ahead of me.  I was in a new town with no connections, new industry with no prior knowledge, oh and there was this tiny thing in my way called a shortage of nurses.  It was challenging to say the least.  Luckily, I had youth on my side and was able to tap into a market that this particular hospital had overlooked – new graduates.  That is probably the job I learned the most in regards to owning your own development, learning the job you are hiring for so you sound credible and what it takes to succeed when you come in the underdog.

I have been very lucky in my career to have two different people take chances on me when there were probably more qualified candidates out there.  Those two ladies propelled my career to where it is today.  The first hired me for a HR manager role when I had never managed individuals before and the other promoted me from that role to a Director over multiple sites, expanding my responsibilities immensely.  It isn’t that I didn’t have the qualifications for these roles, I did, but I’m certain there were others that were probably more qualified.  For whatever reason, they chose me.  Those two roles allowed me the opportunity to learn and grow in ways that I would have never had if they hadn’t taken the chance.  For that I am forever grateful.

Question 3: Have the past three years (meaning the economy) impacted your career and the way you operate? Have the past three years made you reevaluate whether or not you want to change your career – this can be due to losing a job, changes in how the job functions, etc.? Why? (Read Chris’s post here)

The past three years have definitely changed the way I operate.  About two years ago the company I worked for started experiencing reductions in force.  Being a HR Director meant I was always part of the team who had to deliver the bad news and deal with the aftermath.  Telling large groups of people that they will not have a job in 90 days affects you.  You learn to not take things for granted. Then in May of 2010, I was impacted.  As I’ve said in numerous posts, it was the absolute best thing that could have happened to me personally, but it is yet to be seen how that layoff will impact me professionally.

Since the layoff I have had a lot of time to think about what I want to do next.  I am in the fortunate position to be able to be picky.  I have thought long and hard about whether HR is the right space for me going forward or if a complete change of pace is needed.  I entertained many other ideas and have now put them all out of my mind.  HR is where I want to be.  I am leaving my options open as far as the role or capacity, but I know that I still want to play in the HR sandbox.  I have had my time away and now I am ready to get going again.

That’s it for me.  Thanks to Chris for starting this great series (which I understand is going to be a quarterly thing) and for allowing me to participate.  Hop over to Chris’s blog and add your own story – any profession and any story is welcome.

S T R E T C H Goals!

January 6, 2011

Before closing out this first week in January, I have to say one more thing about setting goals.  Be bold, aggressive and really challenge yourself.  Set goals that stretch you well beyond what you are currently doing.  Of course, they need to be realistic, but what fun are goals that are easy to meet?  Goals that take no effort to achieve are not really goals, they are tasks.

Maybe it is just one goal – one big area where you want to really stretch yourself.  Put it out there and then set plans to achieve it. Most people feel really good about achieving goals and the bigger the goal, the better the feeling.  It can be personal, professional or both.  It should be something that matters, that will make you feel like you have really accomplished something.

During #careerchat on Twitter Tuesday, several participants were sharing their secret goals for 2011.  I loved this discussion as people were unafraid to lay out some pretty lofty goals and got tons of encouragement in doing so.  It really got me thinking about something bold I could set as a goal this year.  Hopefully, once I know where my career is taking me, I’ll be able to set something aggressive.

So this is my challenge to you.  Think about something that seems a little out of reach, something that is pretty bold and takes you out of your comfort zone.  What’s the harm in setting it as something you want to accomplish in 2011?  You do not have to tell anyone about it if you do not want to – that way no one can say you failed.  Or you can put it out there and receive encouragement from friends and co-workers to keep you motivated.  Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

I am often discouraged by the number of people who say their manager only gives them performance feedback, or any type of feedback for that matter, at review time.  This is an absolute fail on the part of any leader.  Feedback, good, bad or indifferent, should be given on an ongoing basis throughout the year.  If you are a leader who is not doing this, make that your new years resolution – for your employee’s sake!

The start of a new year is a wonderful opportunity to meet with your staff and ensure your goals are aligned, that they understand areas of focus and opportunities for development.  It is also a great time to let them tell you areas where they would like to learn and grow.  Here are a few topics to cover in the meeting.

  • 2010 is over – move on.  Regardless of whether 2010 was a good year or bad year for this employee, it is over.  The new year is here and all anyone can do is move forward.  Agree to put the past behind you and focus on what is ahead.
  • Ensure strategy and vision are aligned.  You might be amazed at how many employees have no idea what the vision or direction of the company is for the upcoming year.  Do not let your staff go one more day without being completely clear on the vision.
  • Determine a few short-term goals.  Have your staff help you determine a few short-term goals that can be achieved over the next 30, 60 or 90 days.  This will help break the year down into more manageable parts as well as give you another reason to meet again and go over the results.  Make sure this is done together.  Employees are more likely to buy in to their goals, if they have a part in creating them.
  • Ask for feedback.  Your staff may need something from you in 2011 to really help them achieve their goals.  It may be more one on one time.  It may be less email.  It may be in the way you divide the work.  Whatever it is, ask them for feedback and then respectfully consider what they say.  A small tweak in the way you do things may mean a huge change in their performance.
  • Determine opportunities for growth.  Are there training classes they would like to attend?  Is there a project they would like to work on or something that you do that they would like to learn?  Give them the chance to tell you something they would like to work on for fun.  It makes the mundane parts of their jobs easier if they have something better to look forward to.

However you structure this first meeting, it is important to walk away with a clear understanding of what you and your team need to accomplish in 2011.  You will never meet your goals if everyone does not understand what they are.  Take the time to ensure you are all on the same page and let the productivity begin!

2011 – I. AM. READY.

January 4, 2011

I am so ready to get this year going.  Not because 2010 was a bad year, in fact, 2010 was probably one of the best years of my life.  My son was born in January, I was laid off in May (don’t cock your head and say sorry, it was the best thing that could have happened to me) and I was lucky enough to take the year off.  I also dove into social media more than ever before and have learned so much.  Yes, 2010 was a very good year.  Yet, I am ready for 2011.

I have said before that being a stay at home mom long-term is not in the cards for me.  I have enjoyed each and every minute with my son and could not be more thankful for this time that I have had with him, but it is time for that chapter to be over.  He needs interaction with other kids and I need interaction with other adults – even ones who act like kids.

So as his 1st birthday approaches, my stay at home mommy duty is coming to an end.  I am officially back out in the job market.  I have no idea what my future holds, but I am so excited.  I may branch out on my own and do a little recruiting.  I may join a company close to home and jump right back into the HR trenches.  I really don’t know, but I know that I’m ready.  For now, I’m keeping my options open and am just going to let things happen as they may.

While that is going on, I’ll also be launching a new blog soon.  The title and look will be changing, but the focus will still be centered around employee engagement, management and general HR issues.  The plan is to have the new site officially launched on February 1st, but if I can get it up earlier I certainly will.

Thanks to all who have stayed with me since I launched this site and I hope you’ll join me on my new adventure.

With so much sensitivity around the holidays, HR departments spend a painstaking amount of time ensuring that people of all race, religion, personality and food group are included in the festivities.  What happens then when you have  total Scrooge on your team?  A person who is not against holiday festivities for any religious or ethnicity beliefs per se, but is just a non-joiner who believes all the hype around the holidays is eventually going to bring about the world’s demise?   If they just did not participate then all would be well, but they have to not participate and ensure that everyone around them hears why over and over and over again.  For every holiday game, gift exchange or event, they have comments.  These self-professed Grinch’s can really put a damper on everyone else’s excitement and enjoyment of all that this time of year has to offer.

The easiest (and I use that word loosely) thing to do is ignore the person.  If they want to sit in their cubicle and mutter disgust under their breath then fine.  Hopefully, if everyone pretends they do not hear it, they will stop.  I have often found however, that these protesters are willing to take it even further to a place where intervention is necessary.  If this is the case, then the basic tips from this post will help, but I want you to consider one other point as well.

It has been my experience, that nine times out of ten, these naysayers actually have nothing against all of these activities.  It is just that at some point they took a stand for whatever reason and to back down now would discredit them in ways they are not willing to accept.  If they suddenly joined in on the annual white elephant gift exchange, co-workers would give them a hard time saying things like, “Oh I thought you did not believe in this sort of stuff.”  Or, an example I have seen in my own life, a person suddenly brings something to the holiday potluck and no one wants to eat it for fear that it is poisoned.  That rejection makes Mr. Grinch go right back to criticizing all holiday events and making everyone else miserable.

My advice, before it goes too far and you actually have to resort to some sort of counseling or discipline, is to let the person know that you and the rest of the team would really like them to participate, but if they do not they should not hinder anyone else’s participation.  Recruit a few members of your team to also let this person know that they wish they would join but understand if they do not want to.  Sometimes, people are just looking for an invitation, attention and the knowledge that their presence really does mean something.  Once they feel it is ok to back down now without facing ridicule, they may become the merriest employee you know!

The number one complaint I hear from employee’s is that their managers have no idea what it is like to be them.  They claim that their leaders do not understand the pressure, workload or frustrations that they deal with on a daily basis.  I am convinced that nine times out of ten, employee’s are not looking for a way out, less work or more money.  They are just looking for a little understanding.

It is true that until you have walked a mile in someone’s shoes you have a hard time knowing what it feels like.  Leaders who have never served in their company’s entry level positions really do not have a clue what it feels like to do so.  They can guess, but are probably wrong.

What about those who have served in entry level positions and were promoted, they get it right?  As someone who has done so, I can readily say how quickly we forget!  Once you move up and embrace the duties of your new position, you do forget some of the hardships that you were faced with before.  Also, things change.  Just because things were one way when you held the position does not mean they are still that way.

So here is an idea – call it a Christmas present for those you manage.  Offer to trade spaces with them for one day.  Sit in their chair, answer their phone and do their work to the extent that you can without messing things up (and really if you can not do their work then that is a whole other topic).  Conversely, let them sit in your chair, answer your phone and do your work to the extent they can.  If a whole day is too much, how about a half a day or an hour.  Or maybe instead of actually trading spaces you just sit with them and watch them work (in a non-threatening, non-creepy way of course).  You may discover things they are doing that you did not even know about.  You may be able to offer suggestions for ways they could do things that would cut hours off of their workload.  You could…are you ready for this….act like their leader.

The insight you get will be extremely valuable in managing this person.  Even more valuable is the feeling they will get that their boss actually cares about what they have going on.  So do it.  Offer to trade spaces with someone on your team and see what happens.

I will admit it.  In my career, I have enjoyed managing some more than others.  I have encountered employees who got the job done well enough, but something in their personality was a direct conflict with mine.  I have also had employees who really did not do as good a job as others, who I enjoyed spending time with more.  It is common knowledge that we are drawn to people like us and this can make it difficult when you are the leader of someone who is a complete opposite.

Personality differences can turn into personality conflicts and an opportunity to play favorites if you are not careful.  Here are a few tips to avoid both.

  1. Focus on the job, not the person.  Business is business and although it is easy to treat it like a social outlet, the reality is that you and those you lead are there to get a job done.  As long as that job is being done, nothing else matters.  Employee’s who are different from you still deserve your time and attention as much as those who share your same interests.
  2. Try to find common ground.  It is impossible, or at least it makes for a boring day, if all you talk about is work.  Even though this person may have a different idea of fun than you, there is probably one thing you can find in common.  Find that thing and use it as a way to better understand them.
  3. Ensure they are included in outings or non-work related discussions during meetings.  Only going to lunch with employee’s whose company you enjoy more sets yourself up for favoritism (real or perceived) issues.   Initiating pre-meeting small talk around topics you know will not interest some can make that person feel isolated.  As a manager it is your job to make sure everyone is included.

It is human nature to be drawn to some more than others.  As managers, it is our responsibility to set aside personal preferences and focus on the job at hand.  Differences in the workplace should be determined by performance, not personality.

Life Happen’s Days…

December 14, 2010

I’ve been absent from posting over the past couple of weeks due to some life happens days.  Holiday travel, doctor’s appointments and Christmas shopping has filled each day with more stuff to do than hours in the day.  As my to do list piles up, blogging moves to the bottom.  I do not know what I would do if I were working and had to find a way to do things after work or on the weekends.  More things would move to the bottom of the list I am sure.

So that got me thinking.  How do companies balance the need for its employees to have life happens days and still conduct business?

I loathe attendance policies.  I have always worked for companies whose employee populations mandated the necessity of an attendance policy and it’s strict administration.  I hated it.  I hated that we could never get it right.  No matter what our policy was, an overwhelming amount of employees couldn’t follow it and had to be terminated.  I hated that we would re-write the policy over and over expecting different results and get none.  I hated that my managers, who should have been spending their day on more strategic tasks would be bogged down with deciding whether an employee’s last absent was termination worthy.  It felt like we were always spinning our wheels and fighting an invisible giant.  If we could only see him then we would understand him and fight him appropriately.

So I’m lost on this one.  If your company has an attendance policy that really works, I would love to hear about it, especially if you have a heavy non-exempt population.  How do you ensure your employee’s have an appropriate amount of life happens days while not being too punitive or relaxed?