Diversity must be intentional

Diversity image

In the last few days, the Wall Street Journal has published three articles on diversity that have caught my attention. These types of stories are becoming more and more common as we all become more comfortable talking about diversity out loud and in normal conversation. This is encouraging! We need to keep it going.

The first article, Some Firms Push for Gender Parity at Board Level, published in Tuesday’s business section (8.16.16), talks about the steps some firms have taken to recruit and place more women and other minorities on their boards. The author of the article takes a positive position on this and highlights several companies who have implemented specific strategies to increase diversity on their boards. Some of these tactics might be a bit controversial, but the reason for the effort is not – they want their boards to mirror their customer base.

The most important sentence to highlight is this, a quote from Karen Horn, chairman of the National Association of Corporate Directors, “The system produces white male candidates unless board directors deliberately do something different,“(emphasis added). Diversity must be intentional.

The second article, published yesterday  (8.17.16), is entitled Facebook’s Point System Fails to Close Diversity Gap. This article discusses the attempt by Facebook to hire minorities in an effort to better reflect their user base. Despite the fact that their current strategy does not seem to be working well, what they do recognize is this: doing things the way they always have will not yield results, and diversity requires intentional actions.

The last article I want to mention may seem out of place, but I love the way it shows the universal need for diversity. This article was also published on August 17th and is titled “Genetic Studies’ Lack of Diversity May Lead to Misdiagnoses, Researchers Say.” This article points out that genetic studies must use subjects that accurately represent the public or risk causing harm to certain populations. In this case, diversity must be intentional.

One final note on all this. As with any online article there are comments. For some reason, with articles on diversity these comments take on a tone that can be highly unpleasant. The main argument, when you can find it, is that we should always always pick the best candidate for the job. Sounds great, right? I don’t think you could find anyone who would argue with that! If only it were that easy.

For one reason or another, and a topic for another day, the best minority candidates are not being considered for top jobs along with the traditional white male candidates. I take severe issue with the idea that insisting on including women (or other minorities) in the interview/hiring process somehow means that the best candidate will not be chosen. We just need to be intentional about giving her the chance!

Happy Thursday, and keep it positive and smile!

Leadership lesson – Taking a step back so you can run forward

As a habit, I generally have a story on hand to help illustrate my leadership philosophies, some good, some not so good (although that has yet to stop me from using one!). Here is one I have used many, many times to help new leaders understand that sometimes we need to take a step back in order to be able to run forward.

Many moons ago I worked for a car rental company in their management training program. It was one of those companies that will bring a car out to you or give you a ride home when you return your rental. At this particular moment in time, I was the assistant manager of a very large and busy office. On this particular day, the area manager, a helpful but ineffective guy, was stepping in as the manager. I can’t tell you why he decided to do this, but I can tell you it was a mistake.

Around 4pm, he started sending office employees out to deliver vehicles for the end-of-day reservations. Normally, a driver would follow to bring the employee back. This particular day, he decided to worry about that part later. As he sent employee after employee out the door, the phone began to ring with additional requests for cars. Being the business man he was, he sent out additional employees to deliver these cars. Very quickly, he found himself alone in the office with only one driver left. Much to his surprise (but absolutely no one else’s) there was a sudden surge at 5pm of people who were returning cars and now needed rides home.

I mentioned that this guy was ineffective, so you can guess that the ending to this story is not pretty. What he did was send the driver with the first customer, had him come back, take the second customer, come back, and so on. All the employees sat at various locations  (some in people’s driveways!) unable to help in any way. It was well passed normal closing time before everyone was back where they belonged.

Here is the lesson: Sometimes you need to stop and gather your resources (take a step back) so that you can take off running.

Had this manager used his one driver to pick up all the employees and bring them back to the office first, sure, the customers would have sat for a bit, but then in one fell swoop they would have all been taken care of! And the employees might have even gone home on time!

I use this story for training situations, in answer to the statement “we are too busy to train” – it is better to get everyone trained than to leave the difficult stuff to only one person. I have also used the story for project situations – it is better to go back and make sure all the requirements are complete and accurate than to try to fix things as you go later on.

I hope this helps. Happy Tuesday and keep it positive and smile!

Leaders “Must Read” (#1) QBQ!


This is an unsolicited, unpaid review of this book.  I write this simply because it is a great book that all leaders should read!

I want to share with you some of the great books that all leaders should have in their personal libraries, and I am starting with my absolute favorite, QBQ! by John G. Miller. This book was given to me by my father while I was in my MBA program back in 2007. Since then, I have purchased more copies of the book than I can remember and passed them out to all of my management and many of the associates in my departments. I re-read this book often and find value in doing so every time. This book is an essential component to any leader’s collection.

The topic of the book is Personal Accountability, a quality that needs significant understanding and practice in today’s workplace and society.  The “Question behind the Question” (QBQ) is the question we ask after we have dismissed the questions that place blame on someone else, complain, procrastinate, or play the victim.  They are the questions we ask when we take ownership of the solution to a problem, when we make better choices.

Here are John’s 3 rules for asking QBQs:

  1. Begin with “What” or “How” (not “Why,””When,” or “Who”)
  2. Contains an “I” (not “they”,”we,” or “you”)
  3. Focus on action

In order to show QBQs and personal accountability, here are some lousy questions, followed by a QBQ (from the book):

“When will other people pull their weight?” becomes “What can I do to improve the situation?”

“Why aren’t my people motivated?” becomes “What can I do to build engagement and excitement for my staff?”

“Why don’t they tell us what is going on?” becomes “What can I do to ensure I have the knowledge I need?”

Hopefully you can see the power this brings to an individual. Instead of giving away control it puts the power directly into an individual’s hands to fix the situation. As John points out, the only person we can ever change is ourselves. When we don’t own our situations, there is nothing to be done! Nothing will ever improve.

In my experience, this is a hard habit to build. It is so much easier to blame, to play the victim, to explain our current circumstances in terms of what has happened to us instead of what we have done. But it is necessary. We must take control back and ask the questions that have the ability to improve ourselves and our world.

John says, “We need the QBQ so our organizations can be places where, instead of finger-pointing, procrastinating, and separating ourselves into “we” and “they,” we bring out the best in each other, work together the way teams are supposed to, and make great things happen.”

I highly encourage you to check out this important book, use QBQs in your life, and as a leader, teach your teams to do the same!

One other suggestion: I linked to the book on Amazon.com above, and encourage you to use Amazon Smiles so that part of your purchase benefits a non-profit of your choice.  Yet another way to make the world a better place!

Happy Friday!  Keep it positive, and smile!


Leaders – Beware of inherent bias


Inherent bias is an insidious beast. Inherent bias is the opinions and judgement we each hold deep within ourselves that are a result of our upbringing, our environment, and our experiences. Many times these biases are not explicit. Many times we may not even realize we have them. This is what makes them especially dangerous.

Think about the last time you sat in a public place. Maybe a restaurant, an airport, a ballgame. Think about the people you saw there and what you thought about them. Chances are you only had a fraction of a second to observe them, but in that time you made all kinds of assumptions about that person. At the restaurant, was it a couple on a first date? An interview? A family celebration? At the airport, did you notice how tired a businessman was, or how excited a family was, or how differently people are dressed at the gates for a flight to Seattle versus L.A. versus Milwaukee?

This is not a bad thing – we are programmed to be alert to danger and to act quickly when confronted with it. The problem is when these biases are invoked in inappropriate situations, such as in the hiring decision of a new associate, or the determination of who will be promoted.

There are many studies out there that look at this inherent bias and have proven that it exists. Check out Project Implicit to see some of what might be hiding in your subconscious. Be prepared for some startling results! A study by Corrine Moss-Racusin shows that hiring managers make significant judgement based solely on the name a top of the resume.  “John” has a much higher degree of hireability than “Jennifer”. Another study by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan shows that the same is true when comparing “white” names to “black” names. You can guess who scores more interviews.

So what do we do about this? First and foremost, we must acknowledge that this exists, and work to understand how our own inherent biases are affecting our judgement. We need to examine our decisions to be sure we have accounted for these biases. Then, we need to hold ourselves and each other accountable.

The next time you are in any type of position to make a decision involving the choice of one person over another, I challenge you to stop and consider how you are making this decision. Be sure you have not discounted (or over-emphasized) someone for traits unrelated to the job at hand. This is one way we can all work toward a more equitable workplace for everyone.

Good luck, happy Wednesday, and keep it positive and smile!

Employee evaluations – strengths based perspective


It is that time of year again at my company – the Annual Review season.  When the first email came out, you could almost hear the collective groan from the management across the company.  Despite the fact that most leaders have regular communication with their employees and the annual review is simply a written formality, they are still darn hard to write.

This year, I decided to give this some extra thought.  Why are these so tough to write?  When talking with my colleagues, one of the first things they mention is the repetitive nature of our evaluations.  We are asked to evaluate a leader’s communication style in both the “leadership” category and in the “personal skills” category.

The next thing they mention is the formality of it.  We have a form with the requisite 5 boxes, from “far above expectations” down to “far below expectations.” While this certainly allows for consistent data capture from one employee to the next, and one year to the next, we are left feeling as though the conversation is scripted for us, and not tailored to the employee we are evaluating.

My search for alternatives led me back to a favorite subject of mine – strengths based leadership. When we focus on an individual’s strengths, their likelihood of success multiplies.  When we focus on how they fit into a particular box, we might miss the things of value that our employees bring to the corporation.

I decided to do two evaluations this year for just my direct reports as an experiment.  I did the regular, objective evaluation, and then, using resources from all over the web, but questions directly from http://www.strengthspartnership.com I created a strengths-based evaluation.  For this second evaluation, I asked the following questions:

  1.  What has [employee] achieved against the expectations set for her?
  2. What has [employee] done particularly well and what strengths and skills underpinned these successes?
  3. What task and projects will enable [employee] to develop her strengths and skills even further?
  4. What does she have to learn/acquire to get the full benefit from these strengths?
  5. What might be blocking [employee] from feeling fully confident and able to perform at her best?
  6. What weaknesses or unproductive habits need to be managed/mitigated to ensure success?

I will tell you, writing this style of evaluation was much easier, and actually rather fun.  I was able to put stories from the past year into context, and explore what strengths made them happen.  I was able to provide a plan for the future that made sense, was tailored to the individual, and had a much greater chance of success because of this.  I was able to focus fully on the employee instead of the thesaurus (where I had spent considerable time looking for synonyms for “very” and “often”).

Not all of the conversations were as exciting as I had hoped, but at least one of them took on a meaning that would never had been present otherwise. For me, that was worth it.

Regular, on-going feedback is absolutely crucial, and when it comes to the written evaluation, focusing on strengths is the way to go.

Another good read on the subject: https://hbr.org/2013/12/what-if-performance-management-focused-on-strengths

Happy Monday!  Keep it positive and smile!


A word about workplace dress

The move now is toward more casual dress in the workplace. I get it. People want to be comfortable. In an office environment, with everyone in cubes (or as one of my co-workers calls it her “booth”), and customers rarely present, the need to “dress up” for work is  hard to understand. In fact, in my workplace, a notoriously conservative environment where the CEO wears a suit and tie to work everyday and the dress code required stockings for women up until 2 or 3 years ago, a startling announcement came out today.

Jeans day every Friday!

The employees were ecstatic.  My management team, not so much.  Even I winced at the announcement.  Just one month ago, after a special jeans day awarded to the company for one reason or another, I had had enough.  One of my employees was in demin capris and flip-flops.  Another was in an old t-shirt with holes in the neck.  Yet another clearly interpreted “jeans” day as a fall-out-of-bed-and-go-straight-to-work day.  The final straw was the employee in sneakers that looked fresh from a full days work in the garden. I snapped.

Now, I should clarify, I do not wear jeans on jeans day.  I do feel somewhat guilty about that.  As a leader in the area, I should participate and show that I am not somehow “too important” to wear jeans.  And I would….if I looked decent in jeans.  Frankly, I am not nearly as comfortable in jeans as I am in my normal work clothes!  I just cannot seem to make the whole jeans-look work.

So, when I snapped, I sent an email to my leadership team that went something like this:

“Dear team – Quick reminder – Please ensure the staff is aware that jeans day does not mean t-shirt, sneaker, or flip-flop day.  Thanks, Melinda”

I sent the email out.  My leadership team, feeling much like I did, forwarded my email directly to their associates.  Bad move.  As is usually the case, those to whom the email was intended assumed it was about others and the those who were dressed just fine felt they were the target of the email.  That communication snafu is a subject for another day.  Suffice it to say, I started to feel rather guilty about my snap reaction. I got over it, because here is the lesson:

Perception matters.

Everyone in my department works very hard and they all do excellent work.  I want other people in the company to know this and to never doubt it.  If they see people walking around in torn-up clothes with dirty sneakers or flip-flops, they start to associate that look with their work.  The brain looks for every excuse to make short-cuts, and that is an easy one.  Messy appearance = messy work.  I know it is unfair, it should not be that way, we all wish it were different. It isn’t.

So on jeans day/casual day, use it as a day to show off your style.  Find a nice blazer, a stylish shirt, some incredible shoes.  Use the day to improve your personal brand, not destroy it. Be unique.  Be original.  Be you – the best version of you.

Happy Thursday, and keep it positive and smile!