Category Archives: Business Success

Fear and Loathing in Orlando

I’ve just returned from the SHRM-affiliated HR Florida state conference. What an experience!  Organized and executed entirely by SHRM chapter volunteers, this conference had over 1,400 attendees in a beautiful and roomy resort in Orlando.  Carol MacDanielLori Goldsmith , Stephen M. Geraghty-Harrison and the entire team did a remarkable job in bringing a content-laden and interactive experience to the attendees.  Truly a terrific experience.

Here’s something that was validated for me in Orlando about HR professionals and social media.  Of the 1,400+ attendees at the conference in Orlando, maybe 200 were engaged actively in social media.  That’s 14%.

Knowing that this would be an issue, the folks at HR Florida did a superb job of providing sessions, support and encouragement for the attendees to start to engage with social media.  A very robust effort.

Trish MacFarlane over at HR Ringleader noticed it too.  And I agree with her identified reason for the lack of engagement:  fear.   I’m not sure what they’re afraid of, but here are some suggestions to those of us who do “get it”:

  • be encouraging
  • be role models
  • be generous with your time
  • teach and mentor
  • be patient

Despite the conventional wisdome that social media is only for the younger generations, a post on The Social Graf blog by Erik Sass gave some interesting data about the adoption of social media by those who aren’t young.  Here’s what it says about survey data collected from Princeton Survey Research Associates on behalf of the Pew Internet & American Life Project:

  • Among Internet users ages 50+ overall, social network use increased from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010. To boot, 10% of the 50+ cohort uses Twitter or a similar “status update” service, either to post updates or check other people’s updates.
  • Looking at specific age cohorts, social network use among Internet users ages 50-64 surged from 25% to 47%, with 20% of this group saying they check into social networks on a daily basis — up from 10% last year.
  • By contrast, social network use among Internet users ages 18-29 appears to be reaching saturation, growing from 76% in April 2009 to 86% in May 2010.

There’s a message here for HR professionals.  It says more of our employees are engaged in social media than aren’t — and not just the folks we assumed were engaged!  We have a real opportunity, perhaps even an obligation, to get out in front of our employees.

Because if they’re using social media at home they’re using social media at work.

But I get it.  It’s scary.  I held my breath when I jumped into social media when I was the Chief Operating Officer of SHRM.  And guess what?  I lived.  More to the point, SHRM lived.  My adoption of social media paved the way for greater engagement of members and non-members alike.  And it also paved the way for SHRM to begin to step up organizationally to the opportunities active social media involvement creates.  Their new public relations campaign, We Know Next, has significant social media outreach strategies embedded in it.

As a profession, we need to be able to lead the social media policy discussions, not abdicate them to the legal department or the marketing department.  As business leaders, we need to understand the implications of the use (and misuse) of social media on our corporate and employer brands.  As HR leaders, we need to be out in front of our employees and understand the impact of social media on employee engagement and our cultures.

This is the work of Human Resources.  It’s new (for most).  It involves technology.  It’s scary.  So let’s step up and support our colleagues in learning these new applications for engaging our employees and building stronger cultures.  Let’s not let fear paralyze our profession from doing its essential work:  providing strategic business leadership that positively impacts employee and customer satisfaction.

After all, isn’t that our job?



Filed under Business Success, China Gorman, Culture, HR, HR Conferences, Leadership, Social Media

Don’t believe your own press!

I’ve spent the last few days trying to make sense of a couple of things that happened within the same 24 hour period. 

First was my response to the PR announcement about my role as a track leader at RecruitFest! in Boston in October.  It made me really uncomfortable.  The announcement made me sound like the leader of the free world of HR – which I’m not.  I know we’re trying to drive attendance, and I know there are some folks who think I have important things to say (and I’m grateful for that), but I was uncomfortable being lauded at such great lengths. 

Not that I haven’t accomplished some pretty terrific things in my leadership career.  I have.  But.  I didn’t accomplish any of them in a vacuum.  I always had a team of exceptional colleagues who worked with me and alongside me to accomplish great things.  It’s called being a leader.  And I think that – especially today – successful leaders need equal doses of healthy egos and equally healthy humility.  The healthy ego part is the part that makes us think we can be leaders.  That we do know where to go and how to get there.  The healthy humility part is the part that makes us human; that makes us authentic; that enables us to engage our teams in the work and vision for the future.  And keeps us grounded in the knowledge that we’re not terribly unique and can be replaced at any time.

So when I read with sadness about Mark Hurd’s dismissal from HP I thought to myself, “here’s another leader who got the humility part of leadership wrong.”  Because it’s the lack of humility that tells leaders the rules don’t apply to them.  It’s the lack of humility that leads them to believe the stuff their PR departments publish. 

By all accounts Mark Hurd was thought to be a good guy.  Fudging expense reports isn’t on the same level as Charlie Rangel’s alleged improprieties, or Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling’s criminal looting of Enron, or Eliot Spitzer’s total moral collapse – or is it?  I think the case could be made that fudging expense reports is the conscious choosing of ego over humility that says:  I’m more important than anyone else; what I want is more important than anything else.  More important than being honest; more important than my integrity; more important than the the organization I lead.  Even if he hadn’t been caught, wasn’t this the first step to a total disregard of the humility required to be an authentic leader?  

It seems to me that too many leaders (in business as well as politics) start to believe their own press and then start to believe that they’re so special/so effective/so beloved/so famous that the rules don’t apply to them.  Humility is subsumed by ego and the ability to lead evaporates. 

So the question remains:  why do so many powerful and effective leaders start to believe their own press when the consequences are so clear? 

The learning for me as I look for my next leadership job is this:  I don’t believe my own press today and I won’t believe it tomorrow.  I promise. 

(But still come to RecruitFest!.  It will be awesome!)


Filed under Business Success, China Gorman, Leadership, Uncategorized

Why isn’t your culture a tourist attraction or a profit center?

If you’re reading this blog post, you’re either a participant in the world of social media, or you’re my mom.  (Hi, Mom!)   If you’re a participant in the world of social media, you’ve heard of Zappos.  Because Zappos has been the poster child for the effective use of social media to drive sales through customer satisfaction for the last 3 or 4 years, they’re mentioned in every presentation on social media I’ve ever seen.  Heck, even I referenced them in a talk I gave to the Human Resource Policy Institute at Boston University last year.   It seems as if Zappos is everywhere in social media and more and more in traditional media – and I hear that HR professionals are starting to tire of hearing about Zappos’ success with all things social media, its engaging culture, the free tours of its headquarters (which they do 4 times a day!), and their 10 core values. 

It does seems as if Zappos and its CEO, Tony Hseih, are everywhere in the traditional print and social media scenes these days.  (Check out the current Harvard Business Review article, “How I did it…Zappos’s CEO on Going to Extremes for Customers.”)  And the topic is always the same:  Tony’s conviction that culture drives organizational success.  Period.  

Since I moved back to Vegas last month, I took the opportunity to go on the Zappos tour, meet some of their leaders, and do a little poking around.  I can understand HR folks being skeptical after all the coverage.  Usually when something seems too good to be true, it is.  But before you throw them overboard, ask questions.  Go visit.  Test them.  Don’t decide not to talk about them because you think they’re overexposed.   Because here’s the thing:  what they’re doing is working.  The hype matches the reality.

The leadership of the company is singularly focused on creating a culture based on 10 core values and it’s clear when you visit that the employees know them and live them.  Check out this video.  And you can see and hear CEO TonyHsieh talk about the culture here.   

And the results and stats are impressive.  Their turnover is low, their customer satisfaction (which they track daily through net promoter scores) is enviable, it’s harder to get a job there than it is to get in to Harvard, and they’ve successfully weathered being acquired by Amazon.  Here’s a memo the CEO sent to his colleagues last week at the one year anniversay of that acquisition.  (Note that he tweeted the public availability of this memo after posting it internally.)

You’ve seen all this before.  But here’s where the rubber meets the road.  Not only is the culture the foundation for their success, they’ve created a new company, Zappos Insights, to share their learnings, provide support, and create a community of culture focused leaders.  In other words, they’ve turned their successful culture into a profit center.

I attended a Zappos Insights Gold one-day event last month.  There were 13 of us in the group:  three leaders of a small tech firm that had just been purchased by a major telcom company; two leaders from a hip shoe business in New York City; a team of seven (including the Director) from the customer service division of a major cruise line; and me.  It was an illuminating day to say the least.  We got to talk to HR and recruiting folks, the pipeline (training) leader, managers from the Customer Loyalty Team (call center), with lots of time for interaction and Q&A.  We started, of course, with the tour of the headquarters and got to see the Zapponians at work in their natural habitat. 

I’ll be honest.  I was skeptical.  But I have to tell you the culture was palpable.  There was a positive energy in the place that I haven’t felt for some time.  With a 36 year old CEO and over 400 people in the call center, it wasn’t surprising that the average age felt like it was well under 30.  But to be fair, it felt good.  Really good. 

I had read Tony Hsieh’s new book, Delivering Happiness, before the event, so I was current on the Zappos history (which is so important that there’s a course on it in the pipeline (training) curriculum).  And I attended as a participant, but also as an observer of this phenomenon.  Gang, they’re doing great stuff.  The participants of that one day event came away with concrete information – right from the source – about how to select employees and treat customers to create a culture of success.  Adding membership to the experience keeps you in touch with others who are trying to achieve the same results and gives you a constant influx of interviews, how to’s, and other useful, practical information from the Zappos leadership team. 

So I don’t know about you, but I think there’s something to this.  Creating a culture that’s so strong it draws tourists and can be turned in to a profit center seems like a good thing to me.  What do you think?


Filed under Business Success, Culture, Customer service, HR, Leadership, Uncategorized

New Job: Editor-at-Large

Most of you know that as of June 4th I’m a free agent.  I left my job at SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) to move back to my home base in Las Vegas and to return to my career path of running organizations in the human capital space.  So I’m looking for a job.  My resume is completed, I’ve started networking and I’m having fun doing all the things you need to do to find that next career step. 

One of the things you do when you’re looking for a job is to find ways to increase your professional visibility.  Like writing a blog.  (And here we are.)  Like public speaking.  (See the HR Florida badge to the right of this column.)  Like being on boards.  (See the Smartbrief on Workforce badge at the top of the blog.)  The trick is to create visibility in ways that are compelling; to connect you with people you don’t know; and these days, to create a powerful social media trail.  And in all of them add value, grow your expertise and contribute to your chosen profession.

So I’m doubly pleased to announce that I’ve accepted the offer of SmartBrief on Workforce’s Mary Ellen Slayter to take on the role of Editor-at-Large for this emerging newsletter.  Mary Ellen is a gifted editor and has done a superb job of establishing what is quickly becoming a primary go-to source of daily HR information and best practice.  If you haven’t subscribed yet, I recommend that you do it today.  I’m grateful for the added professional visibility, but I’m honored and pleased to be able to contribute to the profession in this way. 

SmartBrief on Workforce is one in a very large family of newsletters.  There are Smartbriefs on Leadership, Social Media, Sustainability, Your Career – and more than 100 others focused on specific industries.  A great business model.

Besides SmartBrief on Workforce, I also subscribe to the Smartbriefs on Leadership and Social Media.  Informative reads every day and I’m always interested in the selection of sources for the articles and blog posts that appear.   The sources range from the traditional media like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, and Inc. to blogs I’ve never heard of before – and everything in between.  I value learning about new sources as much as I value the daily information. 

Thanks, Mary Ellen, for inviting me to part of the SmartBrief team.  I look forward to working with you and the stellar team of experts you’ve lined up for the Advisory Board.


Filed under Business Success, China Gorman, HR, Leadership, Uncategorized

Will the earth be moving under our feet?

We scored great seats tomorrow night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena here in #VegasBaby to hear James Taylor and Carole King

And that’s gotten me thinking about this theory that I have that the music that you listened to in your high school and college years is your music for life.  It’s what was playing in your head during the most formative experiences in becoming who you are and it is sort of imprinted in your brain as your music.  And it’s the music that still moves you to tears or to dance.  It’s true for me.  There are James Taylor and Carole King songs that, when I hear them, transport me to a specific dorm room, a specific “dance in the gym,” or a particular heartbreak.

And, odd as it may be, that makes me think about CEOs and their expectations from HR.  I think that CEOs look to their current HR for what HR gave them in their first general management positions.  I think the HR they got then is their HR for life.  So, if in their first divisional GM role their HR support was compliance oriented, transaction focused and created more hurdles than solutions, then that’s what they expect from their HR now – and it’s hard to break out of that expectation set and learn to demand a new set of solutions. 

Think about it.  If true, then we should be feeling the earth move under our feet soon.  We should be seeing some great strides forward in the strategic role HR plays as the current generation of CEOs gives way to the next generation.  Because the next generation of CEOs worked in organizations where HR was led and is being led by some of the great HR leaders who operate strategically and are true solutions providers to the business.  I’m talking about the Libby Sartains, Dennis Donovans, Dennis Dowdells, and Rick Beyers of the world:  HR leaders who look, sound and act like business leaders.  They – and lots just like them – have trained a whole new generation of executives to look to HR for solutions to the most important business issues of the day.  And when those executives get to the CEO’s office HR had better be prepared to start swinging for the fences!  Because the expectations for business solutions from HR will be huge!

So… the music of our college years stays with us just as the HR of fledgling management years stays with business leaders.  Makes sense to me.


Filed under Business Success, China Gorman, HR, Leadership, Uncategorized

This just in: chef says my expectations for toast are too high!

My second post (after the one graciously published at The HR Capitalist) was going to be about culture, leadership and business success using Zappos’ approach to customer service as a case study.  But here’s the thing:  once I started thinking about it, I see examples of wretched customer service everywhere I go.  Take this morning, for example.

My husband and I are on vacation celebrating our 27th anniversary and my xxth birthday at our favorite place in the world (after Positano, Italy):  Lake Tahoe.  If you’ve never been here, it’s a must for your bucket list.  I’m looking out the window of my hotel room and see the breathtaking gradations of aqua in the water, the still snow covered mountains rimming the lake – all under a canopy of the bluest blue sky I’ve ever seen.  Inspiring.

We went to breakfast at one of the great places the “locals” frequent (we lived here 17 years ago).  We sat on the deck overlooking the lake and watched all the folks streaming in to the area to stake out good spots from which to watch the fireworks this evening.  Our breakfast order was pretty simple.  French toast for me, bananas on the side and the potato/sausage skillet with runny, over easy eggs and sourdough toast (toasted “golden brown”) for my husband. 

The server was a chipper and pleasant gal in her early 20’s.  No problem on the eggs and certainly no problem on the toast.  We were optimistic.  Well, the eggs came hard and the toast wasn’t even toasted.  Just kind of warm.  When my husband asked her to make them right she got all “Miss Thing” on us and tried to convince him that the warm toast really was golden brown and the clearly hard egg yolks really were runny.  He didn’t buy it. 

The eggs came back a second time and they were perfect, but by then the skillet part was cold.  And the toast, well, the toast was burned to a crisp.  When my husband pointed out to the server that the toast was inedible she got really defensive.  At that point he asked to see the manager.  My husband’s a big guy (former Division I football player) and knows that he easily intimidates people even when he’s not trying.  So he was not aggressive or demonstrative at all.  In fact, I would have been a lot stronger in my expression of displeasure.  My “Miss Thing” act is pretty convincing.

The manager – actually the chef – came over and was sort of apologetic and offered to buy our breakfasts.  We accepted.  But he ruined the save by becoming defensive and puzzled that we would be less than pleased with the service – after all, the eggs came back the second time as ordered.  And the toast, well, toasters are tough machines to work with and we shouldn’t have such high expectations for toast.  Really?  Our toast options are slightly warm or burned to a crisp?

I know that being a server in a restaurant isn’t easy.  I certainly couldn’t do it.  I’d be dropping plates, breaking glasses and spilling stuff — probably on the customers.  I would be a disaster.  But I think that service businesses of any size should be paying more attention to the cultures of service they’re trying to create and select their staffs with that culture in mind before they start evaluating the skills of applicants.  And then some training around building relationships, exceeding customer expectations and taking a long term view of the customer experience might be helpful.  Clearly none of that was happening here. 

In the broad scale of things, poor service from a small, locally owned restaurant isn’t that big a deal.  Except that we expect  and accept bad service so consistently that when we experience good – or even great – service it shocks us to our boots!  And here’s the thing:  it can’t be that hard!  I know people will and have made observations that no American wants a service job anymore and that the Gen Xers were brought up in such a manner as makes them totally unable to get outside themselves to think about others or take personal responsibility for anything.  I don’t buy either argument.  I think there’s great power in serving.  I think there’s no greater satisfaction than in helping others.  I think that we’ve given up expecting good from our fellow human beings and expect everyone to be selfish, in it only for themselves and unwilling to set self aside for the greater good – especially in the commercial world. 

And that’s why the Zappos’ culture is so noteworthy.  Here’s a CEO, a company culture and employees who exist to rock our world with the best customer service known to humankind.  Think about that.  They’re not in business to sell shoes, apparel or housewares.  They’re in business to provide the best customer service in the world.  Makes me want them to sell cars, homes, travel (Zappos Airlines, anyone?) and everything I buy!  I’ll explore that a little more next week when I get back from vacation.  

In the meantime, do you agree with the chef?  Are my expectations too high?

Here’s hoping your egg yolks are always runny and your toast is always golden brown – if that’s the way you like them!  And Happy Birthday America!


Filed under Business Success, Customer service