Scare Yourself One More Time

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This is a repeat of a pre Halloween post from last year.  I’m up to the challenge again. Hope that you are, too.

The Halloween push is on. Pop up stores dot shopping centers, candy displays crowd aisles, and domestic goddesses like Martha Stewart show us how to transform our homes into Halloween themed party centers. If you are around anyone in the ten years old and younger crowd, the decision about “what to be” for Halloween is among the most important of the year.

Permission to Transform
Halloween gives us permission to transform ourselves.  For one day at least, we set aside the neural connections that form our self-impression.  As David Brooks (2011) describes in his book The Social Animal, one reason why it’s easier for children to get into the spirit of transformation on Halloween is that they are particularly skilled at blending, or the task of taking two mental connections that do not belong together and create something entirely new. It’s the basis of imagination. It’s why a child puts clothes on a dog to create a canine fashionista, or invents their own words to a story. They haven’t formed the strong, rapid cognitive patterns that tell them dogs don’t wear clothes and the story can only have the words in the book. Maybe why children so love the imaginative liberty of Halloween is that for one day, the rest of us get in the act.

The Day After Halloween
For most of us, our adrenaline rush of reinvention ends early next Wednesday just after midnight. The mad scientists’ lab returns to a family room, the witch’s hat goes back in the basement, the dog is delighted to get out of the dress and candy goes on sale. We’ll return to “real” life and our “real” selves.

An Alternative
No, I won’t suggest you go to work masquerading as Lady Gaga. But, I will suggest that there is something about the spirit of transformation offered at Halloween that we can extend into our work lives. The neural connections that Brooks and others have described may help us swiftly navigate days but stymie our imaginations. We don’t lose our ability to blend ideas; it’s just becomes easier to come to the same conclusions.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

Our pattern of looking at the same things in the same ways hit me in a certification workshop with the Team Management System with TMS Americas. First, they challenged us to reexamine what work we do, especially as part of a team. Simple, right? Yet, I was struck by how often we (myself, included) make assumptions about what and how we’ll work together.  We do it the way we did it the last time, without making new connections about different possibilities or approaches.

A second challenge regarded our preferences.  For example, we label ourselves as “not creative” because somewhere along the way we formed that pattern. So, we don’t try to be creative. Often, we label someone else on the team as “creative” and give him or her this responsibility. The same is true of all the “not’s”: not organized, not good communicators, etc., etc., etc. How many times do we wear the mental costume of who we are and what we do and never stop to consider transformation? Even on Halloween?

Moments of greatness are possible when we imagine ourselves, and our work, differently.

  • It may be rusty, but the imagination you loved as a child is still there. Challenge assumptions about your preferences.  Try something you have not done in your job, or try something in a new way.
  • Reflect on your next task, either by yourself or with a team. Ask Is there a better way? There probably is.
  • In areas where you or your teams have a deficit, can you get a little better? As a colleague of mine used to ask: Can you get to The Realm of Okay? You can probably be better than you think you are.

Finally, scare yourself a little on Wednesday. Make it a day when you don’t just try to look different, but try to be different. Look at just one task in a different way, and try just one new skill.  To show that I’m up for the challenge, I’m going to scare myself  by taking my own advice. Check back to see how I do.

To find out more about thinking patterns and self-definition, check out The Social Animal by David Brooks.

To find out more about Team Management Systems, check out the TMS Americas website at http://www.tms-americas.com.

Hear Me Roar: Why Gender Pay Inequity Matters

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It’s taken me days to calm down enough to write this article. The topic of gender wage equity has become part of the discussion in the U.S. Presidential campaign, when the two major party candidates were asked about their views on the Fair Wage Act adopted four years ago.  In my opinion, one candidate’s response completely missed the point and the other did not go far enough.  This exchange was disappointing. Still, I didn’t get mad until I heard two self-satisfied fifty something male commentators, neither of whom I suspect have ever been asked “How can you manage your job and your family?” or “What will you do after the baby arrives?” dismiss gender wage inequity as irrelevant to the campaign.

Gender wage equity is an economic issue. When women make less money, they spend less money.  They buy fewer things that create other jobs. They save less for retirement. They accrue less in benefits like Social Security. Women are already more likely to be poor in old age, potentially resulting in greater dependence on social services. And since 47 percent of the U.S. workforce consists of women,  almost half the workforce underachieves economically. That’s why it’s an issue.

The Stubborn Facts

In the United States, women earn about 77% of every dollar a man makes. Many completely defensible factors go into determining a wage: demand and supply of skills, particular experience, education, and training. It’s reasonable to think there are legitimate reasons for the wage gap. But it’s far more difficult to understand in light of the conclusions from Francine Blau, a distinguished labor economist from Cornell University. Dr. Blau has research results that suggest that even when all human capital factors are controlled, such as the job, level of education and years of prior work experience, women still make 9% less then men. The wage gap remains stubborn. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy research, if the gender wage gap closes at the current rate, it will take until 2056 to reach gender wage parity.

Our Options

We don’t have to wait 44 years for approximately half of the workforce to be paid equitably. We don’t have to water down our expectations for women or over pay for poor performance or unprepared talent. Performance, experience and training are critical factors in determining compensation.  My point is that women who want to be in the workforce and have the ambition to succeed should have a shot at equity. Lots of thoughtful people have considered the issue and made serious recommendations. I like the ideas published by Diane Jacobs in 2010 as a result of a study including 22 large, mid size and small organizations around the globe, representing 630,000 people. Her topic was regarding getting more women in the talent pipeline, but her “Next Practice” suggestions seem relevant to the accelerating progress on the wage gap, too.

The following four practices are a combination of Jacob’s recommendations and those from other sources.  These are not easy and they won’t solve everything regarding wage inequity. But they can make a workplace fairer and fairer is what I’m going for.

1. Enlist Men As Change Agents
Men have the numbers. Approximately 84 percent of officers in U.S. companies are male. They either make the decisions or participate in the conversation when workplace policies and practices are discussed. The workplace can’t change without their engagement. Jacob’s study suggests, and I agree, it is time to skip the “women only” meetings or retreats where solutions are created then presented back to the guys at the top. Invite the men to be part of the process. Develop positive, concrete practices with them. Specifically describe the support necessary from them.  The vast majority of men want to be fair; give them a chance to show it.

2. Measure and Correct
Look at your key roles: the ones with the greatest opportunity for experience and reward. How many are held by women?  How many women are being actively prepared? Examine team or group performance-ratings over the past three years.  Any patterns? Look at compensation awards and ratios.  If there are differences, ask why. Your HR or Compensation department can help you with much of this analysis. There may be reasons for differences. There may be solutions for shortfalls. But you won’t know until you ask. Put this analysis into the annual year-end practice to avoid unintended inequities.

3. Weed Out Workplace Bias
Yes, it still exists. Some studies still show actual discrimination, such as the one that shows women having a greater likelihood of selection to a symphony if they audition behind a curtain.  But more subtle bias also sabotages women.

In her magnificent article Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, Anne-Marie Slaughter  calls out the unintended bias against working parents, especially women who “choose” to work. She describes a scenario that might seem familiar: The single employee who rises before dawn to train for a marathon is seen as goal oriented, disciplined and, an excellent manager of time. The working parent, who rises before dawn to get children up, organized and out the door is to be accommodated. Yes, some women choose to work and have children. But that often makes them more organized, determined and great at time management, not less. And, people choose to run marathons, too. When you hear bias in conversations or talent discussions, call it out.

4. Change the Culture of Face Time
Many organizations proudly tout their “flexibility” policies. Flexibility is an important aspect to attract employees in today’s mobile and wired workforce. But organizations must address the bias of face time to make it a legitimate option. So, what happens to the woman who goes home at 5:00 PM while her male colleagues stay until 8:00 PM? According to research conducted by Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable, she’s more likely to get lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions, even if she logs on at home and works just as many hours as the guys in the office.  Flexibility may cost her money. Read the Elsbach and Cable article in the MIT Sloan Management Review for practices to put in place to change the culture as well as the policy on flextime.

When you ask one women for her opinion, you get one woman’s opinion.  Here is mine: We must encourage and support women who have the capability and ambition to reach their professional potential. We must reward them fairly so they can take care of themselves and their families now and in the future. It’s my issue. In  terms of  its economic impact, it’s our issue. And that’s why it matters.

References (And Great Reading on This Topic)

Weissman, Jordan (2012). Why Are Women Paid Less? The Atlantic. Available online at: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/10/why-are-women-paid-less/263776

Slaughter, Anne-Marie (2012). Why Women Still Can’t Have It All? The Atlantic. Available online at http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can’t-have-it-all/ 309020

Elsbach, Kimberly and Cable, Daniel (2012). Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters. MIT Sloan Management Review,  Summer 2012. Available online at: sloanreview.mit.edu/the-magazine/2012-summer/53407/why-showing-your-face-at-work-matters/

Jacobs, Diane (2010). Women In The Pipeline: Next Practice Actions. Ivey Business Journal, Nov/Dec. 201, vol. 74,no. 6., pp. 1-35. Available online at: www.iveybusinessjournal.com/topics/the-organization/women-in-the-pipeline-next-practice-actions#

Plan For Your Success, Not Just Your Career

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“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

Andy Warhol

Part of a useful self-inventory is the periodic exploration of where and how to invest our talent.  Most of us occasionally consider the career question where do I want to be in five years?  We may reflect upon a title (e.g.), Manager, Director, Vice President, a “C” job like COO, CIO, CMO, or CEO. We might think about a new occupation. Or, we may have no idea other than “something else.”

Much of our consideration about what we want to do professionally is external: the job, the organization, and the field.  As you consider options, think about not only your externally focused goals but also internally focused personal development that prepare you for success when you get there. Don’t fall into the trap of  thinking that the best technical skills always win. The difference between success and failure at senior levels often does not come down to the best technical skills, but the ability to grow and change in ways the job requires.

Consider an example.  The best sales person in a group has superb sales skills.  She knows her products inside and out, knows her competitions’ strengths and weaknesses, has a sharp eye for market trends. Her customers appreciate her knowledge of their strategy and goals.  They reward her ability to present customized ideas with increasingly big orders.  Her negotiation skills are top-notch, allowing her to frequently strike win – win outcomes for her company and her customers.  The bottom line is that she’s developed her technical sales skills to be best in class for her group. So, when it comes time to promote the next first line sales manager, she expects be the front-runner.  She believes that her skills and experience as a sales person will carry her to continued success as a sales manager.

Is she right? Will experience in the field, highly developed selling skills and a track record of results be enough to guarantee her success a sales manager? No.

While her skills and experiences will certainly be assets, they  will not be enough because they enabled success in her last job, not her next job. For continued success, she has to shift her development focus to requirements to the job she wants next.  This re-orientation affects everything about her job: her priorities, how she uses her time, the relationships she builds and the resources she uses.  For our sales person to be successful as a sales manager, she will need to learn how to get results with and through others rather than on her own. She can start her development where she is rather than wait for the next job.

What if our sales manager does not transition her developmental perspective? What if, instead, she relies on the strengths developed in her sales job? After all, she was good at those skills and knows what works. Failure to transition opens the door to negative outcomes for our manager, not to mention her direct reports. First, she has to work much harder, as she tries to do her job and those of her reports. Her people may not develop the confidence and ability to develop the skills that made her successful, so she jumps in for them.  Second, she neglects her role as a developer of people when she keeps tasks that might be fun for her instead of delegating them as important learning opportunities for her associates. She gives up time to observe, coach, or build new mentor relationships because she’s busy doing her old job. Finally, she isn’t able to use the manager position to develop a set of skills that would enable her to advance  because she’s attempting to repeat an old experience, not fully participating in the developmental possibilities of the new one.   The consequences of a failure to reset orientation to new requirements include a talented employee who does  not reach her potential,  a team of sales people who miss important opportunities to grow, and an organization that has less capability in their leadership depth.

 

As you consider opportunities for your time and talent, think beyond the external features such as titles, jobs and occupations. Plan for your personal development needs.  Here are some ideas for discovering what’s required beyond technical skills for future roles:

  1. Interview others you admire currently in your target roles. Ask how they spend their time over a typical week.  How much of their time is spent away from purely technical skills, but on influencing, coaching, motivating and engaging with others?
  2. Get some personal feedback on your interpersonal and leadership skills. Perhaps you have access to a 360 process. If not, seek feedback from trusted but candid colleagues.  Learn how they perceive your ability to engage, influence and motivate others. Determine which of these skills you can work on in your current job to get ready for the next one.
  3.  Volunteer for assignments that allow you to practice the orientation shift required for your desired next assignment.  For example, if you are an individual contributor who wants to be a manager, volunteer to train a newly hired employee on your team.  If you are a functional manager who wants to lead a business unit, spend time getting to know services of the functions outside yours that support business leaders.  What do they offer? How are they evaluated? How do they communicate with the business leaders they support?

As you consider your future, identify not only what you want but also how you’ll succeed.  Add a development plan to your career plan. It will not only increase your odds of success for where you are going, but where you are now.

Two good resources for thinking about jobs in your future and the development they require:

Charam, R., Dotter, S. Noel,  J. (2001) The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Watkins, M.D. (2009) Your Next Move: The Leader’s Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions. Boston: Harvard Business Press.