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Above All Be A Good Human

Human beings are intrinsically good.  I truly believe this.  However, In some areas it seems like we have strayed a bit from our general humanity.   The most notable is of course social media where there are millions of examples of folks tossing common decency and humanity out the window for a cheap laugh or to make themselves seem smart, funny or superior.  I hate that and I try to avoid the venues for that sort of thing as much as I possibly can.     Another place where humanity seems to have taken a vacation lately is at work.   Well, not all workplaces but some and it’s my goal to shine a light on this and hopefully make an impact.     Let me share a couple examples as food for thought on the topic.  

The first example is very close to home for me.  I was having drinks with a colleague the other day and she indicated that she was recently promoted at work but that she was embarrassed to tell anyone.  Naturally, my first step was to go nuts congratulating her and ordering a celebratory cocktail.   Viva Promotion!   Then I dug into the embarrassment factor.   Unfortunately, at the company they work for, promotions are not celebrated effectively.   As a matter of fact, they are almost secretive and not really celebrated at all.   It goes something like this, your manager informs you of your promotion but tells no one else.    They often say a communication will be coming out soon to announce ALL promotions.  There are sometimes actual rules articulated that advise against announcing promotions before the broader communication.  This leaves the person who has been promoted in a weird spot.  You just sit and wait for the promotion communication which can take up to a month to come out.  In the meantime, word of the promotion will probably leak out via the grapevine and someone will give you the weird, “Hey, did I hear you got promoted?”    It’s awkward and far from celebratory because now you are kind of forced to roll your eyes and say, “yeah, I did, it’s no big deal.”  UM, IT IS A HUGE DEAL!    Colleagues will ask why you didn’t tell them as if it’s your job to celebrate your own promotion.     You didn’t tell anyone about your promotion because it’s not your job to announce your promotion.    It’s the company’s job and they failed miserably at it. 

I am passionate about this not because I worked for this company and experienced this secret squirrel promotion nonsense myself.   I am passionate about it because as a leader, I can’t believe how anyone could believe this is ok.   In most organizations with flat management structures, an individual may only see a promotion once every five years.   Imagine working for years to attain a promotion and then having it downplayed so significantly.    It boggles the mind how internal process and layers of management and HR policies can get in the way of being human.   No one intended to make the process crappy, the organization just can’t get out of their own way with stuff like this.  And smart, wicked smart people don’t even question it.   They are often conditioned to accept this as just the way it is.      On The flip side, there are some organizations who do promotions right!   Promotions are a HUGE deal.  They shout promotions from the rooftops and not just in the organization, but outside it.   I’m a big fan of the impromptu meeting with the surprise promotion and the raucous applause and hugs that go with it.  Yes, I said “hugging” in the era of Joe Biden and #metoo but more on that in a future blog.   I digress.    Back to humanity. 

The second example in the humanity shame express is something that happens everyday in workplaces across the world.    Simply put, an employee has LIFE happen to them.    It might be good or bad, but a personal, family or health situation “might” impact their work, so they do the right thing and inform their employer.   And someone, usually a frontline manager, takes a blowtorch to humanity.   

I’ll never forget the time I witnessed a female employee approach their manager to inform them that they were pursuing in-vitro fertilization and hoped to be pregnant within 3 months.    The manager completely fumbled.  They kept their “manager hat” firmly in place and started to ask all kinds of questions about potential missed work time and projected maternity leave time because well, you know, “January is our busiest month of the year!”    UGH.  YUCK.    BOO!    This employee graciously answered but you could also tell that she was dejected, now forced to think about whether this pursuit would negatively impact her career. Not our finest hour as an organization.     I am pleased to report that she persevered and had a bouncing baby boy and continues to flourish in her career with the company.   I am also happy to report that this inexperienced manager’s humanity has also been rehabilitated.   

After the interaction, I met with the manager and asked them how they might handle the discussion differently.  He immediately expressed regret that he hadn’t shared enthusiasm for her news or empathy for the difficult road to building a family.   He was just an hour late in removing the manager hat and putting on the human hat.    And it can happen so easily when you are trying to be effective as a manager and a human, it’s not the easiest balance in the world.   Let’s face it the questions about time off and planning need to be addressed but should that be our first question?      I always ask managers to replay the conversation but imagine you’re in the produce section of the grocery store and a friend approaches you with “life Happens” news.  The usual; pregnancy, divorce, illness, new job etcetera.   Your first reaction as a friend is usually; Congratulations or sorry, or how can I help?    Why the hell isn’t that our first response as a manager in the workplace?    Because somewhere, we may have gotten the idea that being too human makes us ineffective as a leader.      Maybe we were taught that being neutral or unfettered by friendship would make us more effective and efficient.     No, no, no, no, no.   Just no.  

It is my contention and I believe it with every fiber of my being that leading people is all about heart.   And humanity.     The highest performing organizations build and foster a culture of caring and trust and above all else, being human.    Those are the companies I want to work for and with.  Those are the companies that will last a long time and weather recessions and market changes and automation.     They celebrate success, they empathize with the tough stuff and above all, they ask their employees, “how can I help? rather than “what does this mean for the company?”   Like all human beings should.      

So. what’s the bottom line on all this?   Whether at work or the gym or the produce section of the local grocery store let’s all try to be good humans.    You don’t have to be an empath to be empathetic and you don’t have to be besties to show someone respect and honor for whatever it is they are experiencing whether it’s the joy of promotion, the struggle of creating a family or the difficulty of divorce or the frustration of trying to create a damn pivot table.    Be human first., you simply can’t go wrong.   

Naturally, this week’s addition to the inspireal playlist is an oldie but goody from the Boss himself.

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Jill Parker