Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Communication Is Still #1 Needed Skill

Years ago, I had the privilege of attending an IT conference in Pensacola with my spouse. At the time I wasn't a presenter, but just a lowly HR generalist. I struck up a conversation with a young IT guy who was just starting out in management and we were casually conversing about our jobs. He was a team lead, aspirations of becoming a manager, and found himself eager to learn how to deal with communicating effectively with his team members and wanting to know how to connect in meaningful ways. "I just feel like I need more training..." and my overly compassionate leadership development heart broke. Over the years, what I was seeing in my workplace and the industries I served (especially in tech) - severe lack of management skill training. Specifically I kept keep seeing managers (young and old, tenured and nontenured) struggling to have genuine, sincere, and productive communication with their teams. Managers, employees, everyone wants to know how to connect better. Let's start with: why is it important? 

  1. Productive communication is the most asked for skill in the work place. Managers request it for their employees. Employees request better communication from managers and colleagues. 
  2. As STEM jobs increase and a focus on technical skills in an increasingly tech environments we’re seeing a lack of communication ability. Much of these has to do with a shift in how we communicate (email, Slack, teams, text, etc.). 
  3. More and more companies recognize that small teams are innovative and agile and able to do more than lone employees or large groups. Project teams (especially in tech world) are increasing and the need to be able to communicate effectively is necessary
  4. Put simply, the more we talk and communicate with those different than us, the more we are able to understand our differences. Understanding opinions, thought processes and justifications for actions helps us to relate and empathize – we makes it easier to navigate relationships. 
As I've said before in a previous post: we crave human interaction. Research proves it: 
  • Accenture Strategy published a report (2016) on the disconnect that digital has caused in customer engagement, calling for companies to “re-calibrate their investments between traditional and emerging digital channels” Or rather asking for there to be more of a mixture of human and digital. Humans are fed up with what researchers call “human-less customer service.” And that even digitally native consumers crave personal communications. 
  • Physical touch and in person communication is still craved, because research on shaking hands has shown that people “feel” more comfortable, more open to discussion, cooperation, or negotiation and are less likely to think someone is lying when shaking their hands. 
  • A 2004 study on “The Mirror-Neuron System” when you see a person take some action, your brain fires up the neurons associated with the same action. So when someone smiles, you tend to smile too. We’re hardwired to interact this way.
  • We pay attention more when we have face to face interactions. In a 2010 White paper, people pay better attention more in face to face meetings than in phone conferences and even video conferences (where we attempt to “multitask”). 
Nicholas Christaski (a Yale sociologist and author of Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of A Good Society) talks about the “social suite”: 
"a crucial set of capacities we have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, including love, friendship, cooperation, and teaching... these traits remain remarkably consistent throughout the world, regardless of whether a population is urban or rural, and whether or not it uses modern technology.”
While technology increases, innovations did not (and will not) change the fundamental aspects of human behavior. Managers (and employees) will continue to need communication skill training regardless of how technologically advanced the world becomes. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Book Review: You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero

A friend recommended this book to me because I'm currently unemployed because she said it's uplifting, and so I figured it'd be a good motivational read. I always try to keep non-fiction, fiction, and self-help in rotation in my reading because I'm moody my mood shifts. Right now, I'm enjoying reading Tipping Points by Malcolm Gladwell, an excellent sci-fi series called The Broken Earth, starting with The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, and re-reading The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (no judging).

I'm a voracious book note-taker with my self-help and non-fiction. (Which is why I prefer physical books to audio or digital.) If you want to borrow a non-fiction book that I adored and just spent 5 minutes speed-talking about - sorry, it's got writing and tabs all over it, and I won't part with it anyway. Recently, I've started transcribing these notes into OneNote for future research (more about that another day). So with that, let's dig into my most recent one.

"We need smart people with huge hearts and creative minds to manifest all the wealth, resources, and support they need to make their difference in the world." Jen Sincero

For motivation and "actively talking to you," You Are A, Badass by Jen Sincero (2013) gets five gold stars. I felt like this was a peppy life coach or motivational speaker there to cheer me on, tell me that I'm going to be okay, and hit me with some meaningful quotes and tips on how to persevere. Sincero shares a bunch of stories from her past (her struggles with money, her writing, her travels) that help to invoke an emotional connection on how it feels to be either lost, frustrated, anxious, and most of all, self-doubting. You genuinely get that she cares, and she wants you to succeed. 

Where the motivation is high, the actual applicability is low. Plenty of Sincero's references to research, studies, science, or even everyday storytelling seem like they were plucked from some seminar or book she read, but not scholarly referenced. She gives lists on "how to" but they are either repetitive, vague, or not rooted in any analysis. It may just be the grad student speaking in me, but when someone says, "Only 5% of people who sign up for something, like a course or seminar, actually do anything with it." I want to know where that came from, who said it, is it credible so I can copy it. I could have gone for some actual research and more practicality in how and why she makes her points. It seemed more rah-rah-rah and not enough ah-ha. 

"Lame, vague goals are the best way to live a lame, vague life." Jen Sincero

Which brings me to my next two points. First, this book does have what I like to call "woo" in it. Sincero uses words like "The Universe" and "vibrations" and "energy" that may be off-putting for some, but it's not so much that it makes you want to chuck it at your cat. There's a chapter at the beginning that's dedicated to "woo," but otherwise, it's peppered casually. Just a small moment of evangelizing but it's brief and peripheral. Second, her perspective and tone definitely screams "privileged white female" and anyone else reading may not relate or appreciate that. Her anti-money attitude in her previous life and her stories of spontaneous travel made me roll my eyes at times. She relates well to a certain demographic and if that happens to be you, then you'll enjoy the book. 

Lastly, there are some great quotes, great motivational messages, and it truly is a quick, fun read - but, ultimately, it lacks substance. As a student/professional working in training design and a seasoned speaker/facilitator, I'm super-hyper aware of "takeaways" and what the audience/trainees need to learn (the gaps we're trying to fill). Here the message was clear - You are a badass. But the execution was discombobulated, disjointed, and to be quiet honest, not appealing. I found myself writing confirmations of other people's work ("resilience" = Grit by Angela Duckworth or wholeheartedness = The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown). Perhaps it's just my years of hearing the same "you can do it" message, and that could be true, but I felt this book was a stream of consciousness and not end-user (reader) focused. I wanted so much to learn some concrete steps or planned goal-setting, but it never got there. Suffice it to say; I didn't walk away feeling like I had an objective - I just walked away feeling good. And maybe that's all Sincero wanted to do. 

Because so often when we say we're unqualified for something, what we're really saying is we're too scared to try it, not that we can't do it." Jen Sincero

Moving on to my next read, a book I found while I'm packing to move cross-country, Amy Cuddy's 2015 book Presence. Stay tuned for my thoughts on that one. 

Have you read You Are A Badass? What did you think about it? Any books you're currently reading that you'd like to share? 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Pursuing an I/O Psychology Masters Degree (Part 1)

In 2016 I started my journey towards finding an I/O Psychology masters program. As of this past summer 2019, I'm officially a student in CSU's Masters of Applied I/O Psychology. I've had a few people ask about I/O Psychology and how I came to this decision so here's a bit of background. 

A halfhearted MBA. 
About four years ago I (halfheartedly) applied to LSU to get my MBA and was denied. Twice. Mostly I was rejected due to 1) my own inflated sense of self that they only really wanted my exorbitant executive level fees and 2) that LSU has a bazillion applicants and really doesn't care about having one with an online degree. Snobs.  Regardless, I've always yearned for the higher education. Some of it stems from proving that my undergrad (from University of Phoenix ten years ago - when it was new) really has worth, despite being an online college that suffered from accreditation issues. Also, specialization is where I imagined my career would go. But what to specialize in?

"Is this just a job for you?"
In 2015, I was asked to be on a leadership project with 20 other hand-picked, high-potential employees. It involved a 2 day informative get-to know-you, a team building exercise, and then given a strategic planning assignment, taking a specific facet of the company's business and either increase sales, decrease expenses - one way or another making it better. It was a 4 months long process ending with a report and presentation that was very rewarding and I was overjoyed to do it. While it was hard work, I had amazing teams members and we had great feedback from leadership on what we delivered. This is the kind of stuff I get excited to do. Neuron explosions.

One specific member of the leadership team contacted me to discuss my participation and told me how impressed they were with my presentation skills. This is not something new to me. They stated that I was a natural talent in training and presenting and could have a great career in that and hoped to find a place within the company doing more of it. But then they said something that I didn't expect, "You really seem much more qualified then what you're doing... it just makes me wonder... is this just a job to you?" Gulp. How can that be possible? It made me realize that in some ways showing your talents and full potential can sometimes leave those wondering - why is she in that job?

Unfortunately people can't see our intentions. And many didn't know our ambition and plans for the future, especially our bosses for fear of looking like we're moving upward and outward. I politely explained that my kid was still in high school at the time and that I do have plans for furthering my career just when the timing is right. The question haunted me. Like an arrow to the heart, it really pierced my conviction. Am I just working a job? Am I progressing?

My cynical nature scoffs when I hear someone say "Follow your passion" or "Do what you love." But I know what excites me and I know what I dread doing on a day to day basis. After 15 years as a professional I needed to do some soul-searching to really find out - What do I want to be when I grow up?

Why are you in HR?
I went on a search to find people who are doing things that I find interesting and I could see myself doing them. I set up appointments with various owners of consulting businesses, executive leadership coaches, and fellow colleagues and friends. All of them were wonderful to take the time to meet with me and each of them had a unique perspective on how they got to where they are. Some stories involved taking "leaps of faith" with little money and dove into the career they wanted. Others would tell me it fell in their lap and they were "just lucky" to have been in the right place at the right time.

The Work Human conference in early May 2016 became my ah-ha moment. As an HR Generalist and with no authority over my company's employee recognition program, my only real interest in attending the conference was to learn and network. During my networking I tried to engage in as many conversations on "what do you do" and "how did you get into that" with as many people as possible. When people asked about me I replied with "I'm a woman looking for the next big thing." I went there with the intention of asking questions and gathering info.  One thing rang true in many of my conversations  "Why are you in HR?" Oh the irony of going to an HR conference and being questioned in such a manner. 

Do the thing. 
While at the conference, I followed one session on twitter that I didn't get a chance to attend called Cultivating Grit: Leveraging Resiliency and Optimism for Career Success by Caroline Adams Miller and it peaked my interest. The real reason was due to some "millennial-hate" that made me eye-roll I saw tweeted about the session but I was also intrigued by the speaker's topic of "those who succeed work through adversity." A stick-to-it type of mentality. I admire that. 

Along the same train of thought, my husband brought home a book called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. A book by a psychologist who did research finding that natural talent doesn't always determine success, but instead, those who have "grit." In reading the foreword I felt compelled to really reflect upon the message of the speaker's message and the overall message of this book. Do I have grit? What does grit mean? And I came to one conclusion about my career and grit - Those who "do the thing" are doing the things.

To call yourself an artist, you have to make art. 
To call yourself a writer, you have to write. 
To call yourself xyz, you have to do xyz. 

How I fell into HR. 
For a while I thought that due to my Business Management background and my curiosity of operations and how things function in a business meant that the MBA was the natural route to go. I have a head for business. I enjoy watching a company responsibly grow and profit. Going into operations and potentially executive leadership, would be a good direction. However, I spent over 10 years in management but ended up in HR. Why? While I learned multitudes in accounting, loads of info on finance, and gained experience in day to day operations, I found myself more concerned with the human aspect of the business, the interactions between departments, and the overall emotions that ran through the office hallways. Also I disliked the day to day drudgery of HR and accounting. I oftentimes joked that I needed a chaise and a pipe for the free therapy that I gave out to employees and managers in their career-crises. So I sought out some continuing education in HR Management and have been in HR ever since. 

Ignite the neurons. 
But as with all living things, time eventually fosters evolution. If a job seeker told me they want to make a career change I'd sit with them and discuss options of how to get there. One of those options would be - go back to school. Going back to get a HR Management masters would solidify my role in HR. HR people like other people with HR degrees, but (imho) rarely is it useful outside of HR. It'd also mean that I'd end up progressing to a HR Manager or HR Director position. I'd be managing HR people. While I'm sure I'd put forth effort to make it succeed, that doesn't really ignite the neurons in my brain. Being a Generalist for over 15 years I've come to the understanding that I need to combine my natural talents of empathy, presentation skills, inquisitive mind, and leadership  with the experience I've gained. I need to go towards a direction that makes the most sense. During my "phone a friend" research many recommended business consulting, training & development, executive coaching, organizational development and the like. It's not a far step for someone like me and many who practice these professions were/are in HR.

The conclusion. 
A reverse search into these types of careers (job postings, Linkedin profiles, etc.) targeted me towards an applied masters (MA) in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. What does that mean? To put it in layman's terms: the study of humans in the workplace. While I won't be doing research (like a PhD), instead I'll be using the knowledge to solve business problems, particularly the as it relates to the workforce. Also, I won't be a licensed psychologist, simply a practitioner of this knowledge. I'll be able to combine "the human aspect" with research-based problem-solving. Seems like the next good step towards future career goals. Neuron kersplosions. 

Stay tuned for more posts where I talk about how I choose schools, admission requirements, and going back to school after 10 years.