Archive for June, 2011

Wednesday’s SHRM Report: Between a “Hard Rock” and a Hard Place

I wish to dedicate today’s SHRM update to the fine people at the Hard Rock Cafe on Paradise Road.

It wasn’t my plan to visit their establishment twice, but when you leave your credit card behind nestled quietly in the vinyl guest check holder, you really don’t have any other option but to return.  It meant a morning’s panic, a call to Capital One, an extra cab ride ($30 round trip) and a missed session, but I did finally manage to retrieve it.

What has any of this to do with the conference? The Wednesday keynote featured Michael J. Fox, an inordinately talented and brave man who keeps making lemonade regardless of how many lemons life pelts him with.  In front of a packed audience of 14,000 he spoke calmly and eloquently about “playing the result,” what he calls it when you plan for an outcome and behave in a way that makes that outcome likely. He tells us that we shouldnt play the result but instead believe in the possibilities. “Don’t impose your story or script on others,” he reminds us.  “Celebrate the possibility in people.”

Looking back on my experience with the (temporarily) lost credit card, I realized that in my anxious state of mind I had automatically done everything that Fox warned us against.  I assumed that Capital One would be no help at all. I also assumed that the card was gone and that I would find hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars charged to my account.  I then assumed that, even if it hadn’t been used, the restaurant surely wouldn’t be able to find it–if they even cared to look.  Finally I assumed that my cab driver would be surly and would balk at waiting the few minutes it took me to run into the Hard Rock and check.

I was wrong on all counts: customer service at Capital One was excellent, the people at the Hard Rock had my card and were keeping it safe, and my cab driver gladly waited for me while I ran in to get it. (As a bonus he told me a great story about where old Las Vegas signs go to die. Really fascinating.)

I think we often let circumstances get the better of us and, when they do, we slip into bad habits.  As this conference ends and I head for home I’m going to keep Fox’s words in mind.  How often do we “play the result” impose our script on others?


Tuesday’s SHRM Report: Getting Out on the Town

After a full slate of conference sessions on Monday I’ve decided to break up Tuesday a bit, trading a session slot for a chance to visit the Strip. Having never been to Las Vegas before I wanted to see it at least once, and since the SHRM conference is several long blocks from Las Vegas Blvd. (at the Convention Center) and has a very full schedule, the only real opportunity would be across lunch and into the early afternoon.

First up, though, is today’s keynote from Tony Hsieh, CEO of and author of Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose.  Hsieh talked about having the unique opportunity to build a culture from scratch, believing the right culture at the beginning is the key to ultimate success.  He chose customer service as his focus but stretched the concept to include a fully rounded customer experience.  Every new employee spends time in the call center, Hsieh told us.  This allows everyone to understand what the experience is like, a truly important step for building empathy for customers.

I also spent time in an excellent session on Strategic Planning run by Rich Horwath of the Strategic Thinking Institute.  Rich did a great job simplifying and clarifying basic strategic concepts, then rebuilt them into a solid and useful template based on his three disciplines: Acumen, Allocation and Action.  For a small business owner like myself, this straightforward approach will be very helpful.

Finally my friends and I headed for the part of Las Vegas that is…Vegas.  After spending a while walking around and sightseeing it became clear to me why so many people have a love/hate relationship with this city.  On the one hand there is incredible opulence wrapped into an over-the-top theme park environment, while on the other hand there is an undercurrent of unhappiness that sometimes emerges.  There are a lot of people out of work here; the unemployment rate is north of 12% and many have been hit hard.

What struck me most though, was how often the two worlds collided in just the short time I walked around. It got me thinking: how often do we, as leaders, only notice the good or the bad, but not how they intersect? They are both parts of the same people, the same company, the same culture wherever we go, and I think it’s important that we never ignore one in favor of the other if we’re to draw a true picture of our environments.  How have you seen both the positive and the negative come together with your companies and clients? Do leaders ignore one or the other, or do they embrace the complete picture?

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Monday’s SHRM Report: No Reason to Huff About it!

By three o’clock I had hit the wall. Jet lag had come out to play and I was clearly losing the contest, feeling a bit like a hiker who had looked up at Mount Washington and said, “No problem!” while forgetting that the years had taken their toll. The heat was even worse than had predicted, hitting 111. All of the above–including the fact that I was up at 4:30 in the morning–had conspired to wipe me out.

Fortunately, the sessions I attended today were interesting and motivating, so even with my exhaustion I am still very happy to be here.

Bob Kelleher, author of Louder than Words, gave a high-energy presentation on “The 10 Steps of Employee Engagement.”  His approach is one I agree with and have used with my own clients.  He suggests that employee engagement starts at both ends of the company: the top managers should live the engagement principle and the hiring managers should look for active engagement whenever they interview: the hires of today are often the leaders of tomorrow.  For a quick overview of his approach, take a look at his 10-minute video on

The highlight of the day, not surprisingly, was Arianna Huffington’s keynote address.  While she covered a number of important topics, my main takeaway was her reminder that we “find time to connect with ourselves and our own wisdom.” She added that as we work on workplace problems we should remember to “do it with more balance, more joy, more gratitude, more sleep and more wisdom.”

Wise words.  In my own work I strive for a strong balance between work and life, remembering that they are always a part of each other.  My target–as my website says–is to find the “space, place and pace” to live life to the fullest, both for myself and for others.

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2011 SHRM Conference: The Arrival

Headed off to SHRM’s annual conference yesterday. The day started well enough; bright skies suggested an on-time departure from Manchester into Las Vegas and I was not disappointed.  First though, I had to navigate the baggage check-in at the airport. Had I arrived a few minutes earlier I might have avoided the large group of kids heading off to ski camp, but no such luck. Exactly who planned a ski trip into Las Vegas in June remains a mystery–the temperatures in that part of the country are hovering above 100 degrees–but it was too early in the morning even to rouse the necessary level of curiosity required to ask the question.

Southwest remains a decent airline, though a single bag of Cheese-Nips for a 5-hour flight seems slight. Still, I had several interesting conversations with others on the plane; quite a few of us were heading to the conference.

When we deplaned, my first thought was “blast furnace.” Living in NH has made me forget what real heat is like. Combine that with the ringing of slot machines in the airport waiting area (this is Vegas, after all) and a rumbling stomach, and I was already exhausted.

I waited around for a bit until a friend of mine, Rosanne, arrived on her United flight out of Newark, then we shuttled to the Hilton to check in.  We arrived to find a long line snaking around the lobby, dozens and dozens of other conference attendees waiting to check in. A hasty call to my husband back home got me my Hilton Honors number (the one thing I forgot to bring!) and we were able to avoid the crowd and slip into the preferred check-in line.  We dropped our bags upstairs then headed back down for an overdue lunch.

Later that day we headed to the conference. The expected attendance of 14,000 meant that there were crowds everywhere.  We took a brief walk through the exposition hall but quickly realized that we’d need a plan to navigate our way around, so we left, heading over instead to the main hall where Richard Branson was about to give his keynote interview.  While it was a bit difficult to hear all that he was saying, his passion and dedication to the people in his many companies came through loud and clear. The man is truly a pioneer and an amazing leader.

With the three-hour time shift starting to catch up with me, I headed up earlier than planned to grab a good night’s sleep.  Tomorrow the sessions start in earnest and I’m quite excited.

For anyone interested, I (and many others) will be tweeting during the conference.  You can see my tweets by following @charneycoach.  General conferences tweets can be found by timelining #shrm11.

P.S.: Thanks to my husband for taking my rough notes and polishing them up for the blog!


Brand New or Brand “You?”

An article in the Harvard Business Review caught my eye today, a report on a study about the impact of brand awareness on our preferences. Two researchers, Jennifer Breneiser and Sarah Allen of Valdosta State University in Georgia, recently replayed the old “Coke or Pepsi” taste off, but in a much more controlled and scientifically valid way (and with many more brands). Their hypothesis was that blind tests would result in no real preferences, while a non-blind test–one where the taster knew the brand he or she was drinking–would show a significant shift in favor of brand bias. As we all likely expected (but probably don’t want to admit) that’s exactly what they found.

Brand matters.

Perhaps it’s obvious to many people that we are influenced by brand; perhaps some of us even fight against it.  My husband, for example, will examine ingredient lists like Sherlock Holmes on the hunt and, while I often think he’s just looking to save money (he calls it “being frugal), I often have to admit that I, too, prefer the brand name product for no real reason.

What I began to wonder about, though, is how often we as leaders identify our staff members and peers as little more than brands.  Over there is Peter–you know him, the one who designs a process for everything.  And sitting across from him is Jan; you can always expect her to say something negative.  Across from Jan is Rick, someone you can always count on to agree with you.

Such branding can be subtle and invasive and–most importantly–can actually hurt or help careers, often without justification.  It has to be our job as serious and capable leaders to sometimes put the blinders on rather than take them off, to sample the wares of those around us without allowing ourselves to be weighed down by what we think we know about their brand.

It’s hard. I know I’ve had my share of difficulty letting someone rise above the brand I’ve labeled them with, but when I do I’m often very pleasantly surprised.

I’m curious to hear what others think. Do you have a brand?  Have you applied a brand to others?  How do we, as leaders and HR professionals, overcome the branding prejudice?


Blind Faith

Day One/Scene One: Husband and I doing laundry. Husband takes laundry out of washer and places in dryer. I put new load in washer. Husband sets up dryer cycle by turning knob to desired temperature and then pulls knob to start dryer. Knob comes off in his hand. Husband pushes knob back on and tries again. Same result. Husband and I look at each other in dismay, look at the knob-less spindle sticking out of the control panel, then look at each other again. I suggest trying to pull spindle out with pliers. Husband tugs with no success. Husband and I drag drying rack up from basement and hang clothes on deck to dry. Husband calls Dryer Repair Guy.

Day Two/Scene One: Dryer Repair Guy shows up at house. Husband escorts him to dryer. I remain in my office where I soon hear laughter wafting up the stairs. Husband writes check. Dryer Repair Guy departs in less than two minutes.

“What happened?” you might be wondering. Well…On Day One/Scene One I stood next to my husband while he turned and pulled the temperature control knob – multiple times, I might add – to start the dryer. I, in my “trying to help with mechanical matters that elude me from the get-go” place, attempted assistance with the pliers suggestion. Here’s the problem. The dryer has NEVER started by pulling on the temperature knob. The dryer has a separate knob that controls the on/off mechanism. It’s always worked that way and in the six years that we’ve had the dryer there’s never been a time when the knobs had a secret meeting to switch roles. My husband simply lost his mind for a moment and I, in blind faith, followed where he led.

How many times do we blindly follow others? What would we learn if we stepped back to assess the situation on our own, give ourselves a moment to take a breath, calm our mind and access clarity of thought? What would be new or different?

I work with leadership teams and sometimes observe such blind faith, people following senior leadership even in the face of a better option. In coaching these leaders I’ve learned that there are various emotions or mental blocks that distract them–lack of confidence, fear of making a mistake or a feeling of being overwhelmed, for example. If I were to replay the tape, I’m sure I’d find that my mind wasn’t on the dryer that day, that I was distracted by something else.  If I had stepped back and taken a deep breath I likely would have removed the pliers from my husband’s hands and had the insight to pull the correct knob.

Day Two/Scene Two: Husband says to Dryer Repair Guy, “At least you’ll have a good story to tell, huh?” Dryer Repair Guy says to Husband, “This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. But it usually happens to guys much, much older.”

What do you notice that distracts leaders’ ability to see clearly?