The Entire Catalog

This weekend I had a ton of yardwork facing me. I relish time in the yard even though it wears me out. I always make sure to have music playing as my work accompaniment. It helps pass the time and I love having tunes constantly playing most of my days. My phone was acting a bit wonky before I headed out so I pulled out my old, yet reliable, iPod. Yes, iPod.

I’ve had a classic iPod for almost 20 years. Sure, it’s old school, but it still works. One other great thing about it is that its music I enjoy. I know that these days you can stream the music you enjoy and make your own channels. Trust me, if it involves music, I’m on top of it. One of the differences with storage units like iPods is that you can load an artist’s entire catalog onto it.

Years ago when people had to purchase albums, tapes, or CDs they usually bought a complete collection of songs. You could get singles but I rarely did. I wanted to take in everything an artist created. It gave me a broader picture of their vision and talent. There were some “misses” on these pieces of work, but somehow they seem to fit the picture as well. When albums and CDs were the choices you had to get music, I would work on purchasing everything artists recorded. I enjoyed the hits that were usually in the tracks, but I also loved the deeper cuts that few listened to.

The longer I was in the yard, the more songs played. I heard a variety as it randomly chose one tune after another. I was able to add 12,449 songs to my iPod before Apple decided to no longer support their once popular music system. I had more albums and CDs to add, but it is no longer supported. But I digress . . .

I was able to think and let my mind drift during my tasks and the endless flow of music made me think of “talent” in our organizations. You see, I think we are making a few mistakes as we look to add people to our companies. We all look for rock stars and I’m sure we have some success in doing so. However, when we source, recruit, interview, and eventually hire people, we only ask for and look for, a person’s “greatest hits.”

It’s how we write our job descriptions and it’s how we frame the gauntlet for people to get through in order to join us. We only scratch the surface of who these people are and what their capabilities truly are. Digging too far into those deep cuts takes too much time. Something we convince ourselves that we just don’t have. The pressure to find people in an ongoing talent shortage takes precedence over fully considering someone.

It doesn’t stop us from adding people. The problem with only looking for people based on their greatest hits is that those wear out and they get stagnant because they’ve stopped creating new material. This brings us to our second miss . . . we stop thinking of people as “talent” once they’re hired. Even the term we use is talent acquisition which means that acquiring is key. Odd isn’t it? Shouldn’t we look at people as talented all of the time?

I think we can change this narrative if we decide to hire people and their entire catalog !! That means valuing their strengths, understanding where and how they can grow, and how they can be aligned to contribute over a longer period of time. During the time they work with us, you’re sure to get some great hits from them. They may even have enough to build their own greatest hits album from their efforts. Wouldn’t that be amazing ??

It’s time for us not to only ask people to bring their whole selves to work. It’s time for us to engage, elevate and embrace their full talent from the time they join us until the time they leave. The organization has an obligation to create a culture that is holistic and expects people to be able to play every track they’ve recorded. It will make our companies and our team members richer. Make sure you’re tapping into the entire catalog of the talented people around you !!

(The track on the screen in the picture is from the album The River in Reverse by Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint. Here’s the tune so you can enjoy a deep cut from a catalog of one of my favorite artists !!)

Just My Imagination . . .

Last week my wife and I were able to do one of our favorite things – go to the theater !! We saw the incredible show – Ain’t Too Proud – which chronicles the remarkable career of The Temptations. The moment you see the marquee lit on the stage you can feel tingly anticipation. We were pretty familiar with many of their songs and when the first note hits you were instantly transported back to 1960’s Motown.

The show is a mix of hit after hit sung beautifully by the cast while also being craftily narrated by the character playing Otis Williams. He is the founder of The Temptations and the only living original member at 80 years young. The group’s story is filled with a series of amazing highs as they reached the heights of fame over several decades. They broke barriers and crossed over from being seen only as a black R&B group to becoming one of the all-time best-selling and recognized groups around the world. Their music is timeless and has outlived their heyday.

As magnificent as their success was, they were also plagued and marred by dramatic lows including struggles with egos, infighting, drugs, alcohol and untimely death. The show candidly covers these lows just as much as they did the aspects of success. The destructive behavior of some of the original members led to the difficult decision to ask them to leave the group. When group members were replaced, they experienced the magic of being a Temptation until their humanity crept in and the same set of harmful behaviors started showing in new members as well.

Towards the end of the show, Otis shares that there have been 26 members that have been Temptations over their 60+ years of existence. It’s a factual, sobering statement. It’s not one of pride and joy. It’s more an observation of survival.

Like most things, I see a parallel that applies to HR in my life experiences. When it comes to talent in our organizations, we will often overlook behavior that pulls teams apart if someone is talented “enough.” We will suffer through whatever shenanigans they do because they produce results. We need to be honest about this. Leaders will turn the other way and say things like “that’s just the way __________(insert name here) is.” We excuse detrimental actions without so much as a peep.

Otis Williams did just the opposite. David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks were once in a lifetime talents as musicians and performers. However, when Ruffin’s drug addiction and Kendricks’ dissension about the group’s direction tried to alter the trajectory, Williams asked them to leave. Think of the courage that took. It was very possible they wouldn’t survive the loss of these two originals. Thankfully they did.

It’s very challenging when talented team members become “bigger” than the organization. There is no doubting their skill level and contribution, but there is more value in having a collaborative and cohesive culture. ALL people are talented, not only a few. Make sure that you keep consistency in your culture and value the contribution from every person. That has far more longevity than focusing predominantly on the bright shiny stars.

One of The Temptations most stirring hits was “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” As I close, take a listen and see the power and beauty of a group that performs as one. Let’s make sure we do the same in our companies !!

Right Role, Right Time

WHO DEY !!!

I know this isn’t the traditional way to start an HR blog, but I’m a Cincinnati Bengals fan. I have been for decades. The last time they were this good was just after I moved to the Cincinnati area in 1986 !! Sure, we’ve had a few years where we made the NFL playoffs since then, but there hasn’t been this type of excitement for 30+ years !!

To be a Bengals fan is to be someone who has known long-suffering. For years, you’d watch games on TV and listen to the broadcasters talk primarily about the other team. They’d list the multiple years the team never won a prime time game. Or, they’d talk about how we hadn’t won a playoff game for over 30 years. Last night was the first “away” playoff game they won . . . EVER !!

It’s hard to capture the joy and exuberance that I experienced when our rookie kicker hit the game-winning field goal as time ran out. I was clapping and screaming in my family room by myself and I didn’t care. It was wonderful to see the local media, social media and the entire city come together to celebrate. In fact, our local news is covering every possible Bengals aspect for the majority of each broadcast. It’s ironic to see how something so simple can drown out the noise, negativity and divisiveness that tries to fully consume every moment of every day.

What made Saturday’s victory over the Tennessee Titans even better was listening to the post-game press conferences. Every player and the head coach talked about the team as a whole. When pressed to talk about their own personal play and accomplishments, they deferred and talked about how other players did better. They are performing as a unit and they understand that each member of the team has something of value to offer. They wouldn’t be swayed to lift one individual over another. It was refreshing to hear how they’ve adopted a culture that proves that ALL succeed when you play TOGETHER.

Of course, it made me think of HR and organizations today. I think we aspire to have fully functioning teams made up of people who are aligned in roles where they can perform. I truly do. However, I don’t think we do all we can to organize our companies in ways that can make this come to life. I feel that most still follow old models of identifying “hi-po’s” and force rank people to falsely put people into more significant roles. Our approaches are still laced with inherent bias and a popularity contest where those we “like” can advance. It’s tiring for people to know how to maneuver the hidden internal politics on a daily basis just to ensure they have a place . . . at all.

It’s time to ditch the old models completely. They have never given us the sustainable outcomes we’ve aspired to. Never. Aren’t you tired of complaining about people who seem to be out of place? I don’t fault employees for this misalignment. I think it falls to senior leadership to be equipped by HR to get this fixed. What would your day be like if everyone was in their “right” place and all they did was perform? It would be magnificent !!

You see, we’re riding a short-term dose of euphoria as Bengals fans. We’re caught up in the swell of the moment. Nothing wrong with that. The difference is that the team already believes this is the beginning of how they expect to perform not only for this postseason run but into the future. They don’t want it to be another flash in the pan or flavor of the month. Sound familiar ??

I’ve been taking the approach listed in the picture above over the past year of having the right person in the right role for the right time. It’s tough to do. Honestly, you fight decades of how people have been crammed into roles more to fit a job requisition than being thoughtful in getting people where they can excel on a regular basis.

This is the good “hard work” that lies ahead of us as HR professionals as we navigate this new landscape of work. It has to happen if you want to see your people, and your organizations, thrive. I’m tired of decades of aspirations just as much as I was being a Bengals fan “hoping” that things would change. Do what you can to assess, realign and get people where they need to be. They’re longing for it personally and the company is yearning for a set of teams full of talent to move things forward.

Oh, and for at least one more week . . . WHO DEY !!

The Music in You !!

This past weekend my wife and I were invited to a friend’s house. We’ve known this family for 20+ years and our children grew up together. It’s not uncommon for all of us to see each other from time to time, but this was a momentous occasion. Their oldest son, DJ, is a junior at Miami University majoring in Piano Performance. We were invited to come over to see a preview of his junior recital.

I was so geeked to be able to attend because I knew he had been working very hard to get ready for this show. This preview would give us a glimpse of his real performance that will occur next week. As we entered their house, we were given a program DJ had composed sharing his theme of the recital and the pieces he’d be playing. The theme is “In der Nacht” (At night) and had pieces from Johann Sebastian Bach, Sergei Prokofiev, Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert Schumann. The house was filled with family and friends who caught up on life, shared stories and our anticipation of the in-house concert we were about to witness.

DJ showing us his incredible talent !!

We all took a seat around a well-worn grand piano which engulfs the family room. As DJ came into the room, he set up a camera to videotape his performance and the room fell silent as he addressed us. He told us the inspiration of his recital theme and why he chose each musical piece. He encouraged us to read the descriptions he had written so we could try to hear the music as he did with its variation of emotion and the “stories” they each told. After he set the stage for his performance, he turned toward the keyboard, took a seat on the piano bench, stretched his arms and fingers, and then lightly placed his hands above the keys. He drew in a deep breath and let loose !!

You need to get some context about the difficulty and complexity of DJ’s recital. The first piece by Bach has seven movements alone. The Prokofiev piece is radically opposed in style and pace to the Bach suite. Beethoven’s sonata has two masterful sections, and the Schumann piece has eight sections. I followed the sheet music from the Schumann piece which is over 30 pages long. DJ had memorized the entire recital. The ENTIRE thing !! There wasn’t one piece of sheet music used. He played for 45 minutes and it was simply magnificent. When he finished the last piece, tears were streaming down my face.

DJ’s talent was evident. I can’t imagine how much practice occurred to get to the stage we witnessed. It had to be hours upon hours. I was touched about his performance for a few reasons. First and foremost, I was proud of him because I’ve been in his life since his birth. To see him reach this level of accomplishment was personally fulfilling. I was proud of him as were his parents and everyone who had gathered.

Secondly, his performance gave me a picture of looking at talent. You see I play the piano. I took lessons for eight years from Mrs. Lindemann. She was a dear older woman who taught me scales, notes and songs in the hope that I’d learn how to play proficiently. I can still “play” but I never reached the same expertise as DJ. I never had wanted to put in the time and dedication needed. I enjoy playing, but it’s more of a hobby for me.

That is how talent works. Both DJ and I can use that same 88 keys to make music. Where he can play Bach as it was written, I can play some songs from my youth that interested me from Billy Joel and various rock artists. The instrument is a common tool for us to use, but the type and level of our talent is vastly different. Each one of us has the ability to bring music out from pounding the keys to release the hammers upon the piano’s strings.

In organizations, we try to evaluate, measure and judge the talent of people. Instead of releasing their talent, we do our best to confine and restrict it in order to keep some misaligned semblance of order. What if we saw each of our employees as a keyboard just waiting to be played? What would happen if we allowed them to share their talent in the manner they did best? Can you imagine the incredible variety, creativity and ingenuity that could be released?

It’s time we gave our people the tools they need in order for them to share the music locked in each one of them. They all have a recital ready to perform. They know each note and their contributions will range from the majesty of the most complex classical composition to the simplest banging out of Chopsticks. Each song that comes forth is needed in order for the good work of organizations to perform and move forward.

This week pull up a bench in front of the proverbial keyboards in your workplace and encourage everyone to sit down and start playing. Release the talent that is all around you. When you do, you’ll see that you’ve been surrounded by virtuosos this entire time !!

Just to give you a taste of the recital I heard, here’s a video of another pianist playing the Prokofiev sonata DJ shared. Enjoy !!

Take the Stage !!

This past weekend my wife and I took a trip to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Knoxville, Tennessee. It’s always great to get together because we’ve always been very close siblings. Unfortunately we don’t live as close to each other as we’d both like, but that just means that when we do get together it’s even more meaningful. After the normal “catching up” about our gaggle of adult children, we settled in to just visit and talk.

One of the wonderful things about my family is that we’re very easy going. We don’t feel the need for a ton of structure which allows us the flexibility to be more adventurous. We had never really explored downtown Knoxville together, so the four of us decided we’d try to fill our Saturday visiting some very local attractions. We kicked off the morning meandering through the East Tennessee Historical Society, and it was magnificent !! The displays were thorough and interesting. Each artifact revealed a point in time with such flavor and color. We were near the end of the exhibits when my brother hustled us along because he had a surprise planned.

I was a bit bummed that we rushed out, but our next stop was well worth it. We walked down a few blocks to the Knoxville, Tennessee Visitor’s Center. I wasn’t sure why this would be better than where we had just been. However, my brother was right. It was incredible. In front of us were two sections of folding chairs with five rows in each. Ahead of the chairs stood a stage and a microphone on a stand. You see, the Visitor’s Center is also the home of the public radio station WDVX. It’s also the home of the “Blue Plate Special” radio show which offers a “heapin’ helpin’ of live music.”

My new magnet and reminder to unlock the talent in my organization !!

As I’ve mentioned several times in the past, I’m a music freak !! I enjoy most forms and genres of music – especially if it’s live. On the stage was a young musician named Jared Hard. He was singing his original music which was being simultaneously broadcast on WDVX. He has an engaging approach along with fantastic skills as a storyteller. The Blue Plate Special show only airs original music from local and regional artists. So, some of the people who appear are there for the first time to share their talent and get more people to recognize them. This was the case for Jared and I was geeked that I was able to hear his music and appreciate his talent. I will make sure to keep an eye on him and pick up his new album.

After listening, it made me think of how this applied to HR. I loved that this public radio station set the example of taking a chance on talent. Is this something that we do in our companies? Do we give people the stage or just expect them to show up in their cubicle or work space? Have we tapped into all that someone has to offer, or do we expect them to fit neatly into some typed job description?

Unfortunately, I think far more time is spent confining people to pre-defined roles than allowing them to show what they can do. We still follow the outdated model of someone earning their stripes over some imaginary gauntlet that we say “everyone” had to go through. Why do we continue this practice when we complained about it happening when we began a new job?

We are overdue in eliminating this approach. I feel we should learn from this local hidden gem and set up the “stage” for our employees to come forward and show what they can do. You are sure to find some true artists who’ve been yearning for their chance. You have nothing to lose in trying this. The more you learn about what people can do, the better they can contribute across your enterprise.

We have to understand that “talent” isn’t only about hiring the best possible people. It’s allowing them to flourish and share all they can do. Unlock the hidden talent in your company. Let people take the stage !!

The Second Day

Have you ever started a new job? Do you remember what it was like? I remember anxiety about what I wore, how to drive to the office, where to park and what would happen. You weren’t sure who you were going to meet and wondered what they’d think about you. What would your work space look like? Where do you eat lunch and when do you do that?

The are countless questions and thoughts that run through your head. Most of them also assume the worst even though nothing has even happened yet. After you settle in the parking lot wondering if you’re in someone’s space, you hesitantly go to the front door and the receptionist. All of a sudden you’re warmly greeted and they call into your new boss who comes out and takes you to their office to explain how your first day will unfold. Your shoulders relax and you let out a heavy sigh. The first day then flies by with the mandatory HR paperwork, a tour of the company, multiple introductions to people who say their name too quickly, and then you land at your desk. Lunch is still a mystery because you seemed to either miss it or work through it. Then, the commute home.

You’re all geeked up after a positive experience on day one. You liked the majority of people you met. The work seems to match what you heard in the interview and you dig your new boss.

Day 2Then the second day comes . . .

You’re first day fears have been squelched and you are comfortable with the commute and how to get into the building and to your desk. Oddly, no one is there to greet you and the receptionist is already up to their eyes in guests, calls and e-mails. You go past your boss’s office and they wave, and say “We’ll talk later” – which never happens. You go to your desk and you have to figure things out on your own. You still don’t know what to do about lunch.

Sound familiar ?? It happens every, single day in companies across the globe regardless of industry. No one ever explains the existence of “assumed culture.” This is where we just think employees will “get it” because we don’t want to spend time with them because we’re too busy with our own work. When we miss those new folks they start making decisions as to whether they’ll stay or not much more quickly.

I’m heading to the SHRM Talent Conference and I’m geeked !! I think the sessions will be great and I’m looking forward to meeting new HR folks from around the country. I’m also sure that the majority of sessions will encourage HR to look at employees as “talent” because we honestly don’t. We are still stuck in the mire of filling job requisitions and keeping hiring managers calm. Also, the focus will be on the front end of the business or attracting and recruiting people.

Until we start viewing ALL employees as “talent” within our organizations, then our labeling of them will not change. I received some great advice from my boss when I started in my current role some 10 years ago. He wanted HR to be with employees for their entire life cycle – from candidate until the time they leave the company. He wanted to make sure that people didn’t get lost on Day Two.

This is another opportunity and reminder that HR needs to firmly be focused on people and not processes such as on-boarding. New employees aren’t things and tasks and we need to keep that in front of us.

This week see who’s joining the company and make sure their first day rocks, but also greet them on the second day  . . . and every one after that so they know that they truly are the talent you sought in the first place !!

Talent Takes Time !!

This weekend I had an incredible time with my son and 5,000 other Boy Scouts at Peterloon.  This isn’t a post about scouting, it’s about talent.

You see, this weekend my son was the “Senior Patrol Leader” meaning that he was in charge of the entire weekend.  He made sure everything was packed, ready to go, the camp was set up and the boys/adults had a productive time during the event.  He had to organize activities, keep track of details, encourage great behavior and address behavior that was a little more “challenging.”

During the camp tear down, I was about to “direct” some scouts to take care of things, when my son stepped in and said, “Dad, that’s not what we’re going to do.  That’s not a good use of our time.  I want to see the boys move the dining flies, tear down the chairs and then put things in the trailer.  Then we’ll eat.  We need to get these things done so we can stay on track.”

Did I mention my son’s 15 ??

This is the same young man who has done all of the goofy things boys do.  He’s incredibly funny, creative, witty and caring.  I am sure he will be successful in whatever he chooses to pursue.  His ideas are so far out of the box as to how to approach people that he finds people following his lead and innovation.

He’s a great example of why talent takes time.  If you would have told me that my son would become the young man I saw taking charge this weekend when he was young, I would have laughed out loud !!

Too often in organizations, HR follows the bright shining star who bursts onto the scene.  Everyone follows this person exclaiming their talent and the gold mine of leadership that he/she is sure to be for years to come !!  At times, this plays out.  However, too often the supernova is just that – a super nova.  They dazzle, draw attention and may do something short-term that astonishes everyone around and has great initial success.

Talent happens over a slow burn.  Talent is sustainable.  Talent is consistent and remains constant . . . over time.

So, when you clamor for the next “Talent Management” seminar or best practice, step back and review the employees around you.  Who is that person or department that consistently builds others up?  What person(s) make others shine through bringing their whole team along?  Are you trying to develop a series of supernovas, or true talent?

I can’t wait to see what happens in the future for my son.  I know it’s impossible to predict.  He’s surprised me so far.  I’m sure the great people around you will surprise you as well . . . if you just look out for the talent all around you !!