Relationship Management 101 – The Stuff of Success?

By, Cari Desiderio

Sometimes the complex is actually simple.  The longer I am in the corporate environment, the less complex is the lens through which I see it.  We are here to as a teams of diverse, talented, well organized people, to create products and services that produce revenue.  Simple enough.  We are successful at this if we are apt at our jobs, and if we can work well with one another to be productive together.  At the center of this all is a little thing called relationship because productivity does not happen in a bubble.

I recently enjoyed a post from SHRM’s website about how to be a “Relationship Management Star!”  The post truly hits on some simple principles that have to do with caring, information sharing, considering body language and signals, communicating and more ( Link to Article ).  None of the principles, I thought, are rocket science. In fact most of us learned the bulk of these behaviors in about kindergarten!

At core of this litany of Relationship 101 steps, is intentional and active caring and inclusion.  Great managers, great employees, productive members of the corporate world, are effective because they can move things forward through people and communities.  This means that they build relationships and choose to see the act of doing business as the act of working together to produce something.

So each day, let’s ask ourselves, what are we doing to make our TEAM a little better and to communicate and relate in a way that makes the day a little brighter?

Happy relating!

“Communication is the real work of leadership” Nitin Nohria



Be a Thermostat!


By, Cari Desiderio

Recently one of my closest friends and confidants was sharing with me something profound she was applying in her life.  She heard it from a friend of hers.  When I heard it, I have pondered it, and then shared it with quite a few friends myself. And now I’m blogging about it.  Truth ripples. So awesome.

She suggested to me a perspective that can be situation altering.  She said she was learning that she should be a thermostat.  You see, as a pretty intuitive and caring person, she has a heightened sense of awareness for people’s state of being.  This is fine and well, she explained. But it has little impact.  It helps little to “be a thermometer” and measure the state of a situation and people.  Instead, “be a thermostat” —  be able to measure a situation, and then do something about it.

Wow I thought.  This can be profound in a lot of settings.  How would my life change if I was a thermostat in my relationships? In my community? In my parenting? Since my blog is about all things HR, I am going to apply to the corporate setting.

One of the most frustrating experiences I have had in HR is when companies conduct engagement surveys and then do little with the findings. I think the perception is that, hey, if we do a survey people think we care and that will help the culture.  Wrong.  Doing an engagement survey (note I do not say satisfaction survey – we want happy engaged people, not happy disengaged people).  In any event, doing a survey like this is essentially the act of being a thermometer.  We typically learn that several of the top things people want are in need of some impact and change.  The most common I have seen are employees will say:

  1. I want to be listened to and respected
  2. I want to see better communication and know where the company is headed, and how I fit in
  3. I want to be developed and see my career grow
  4. I want a boss who is a player/coach and really cares about the team and not just him/herself

Interesting to note – occasionally we see things about income on the top wants list, but rarely.

What a cool thing it is, if we enter into an engagement survey and set out to be a thermostat!  Now, a word of warning, however.  Don’t try to be Superman.  What do I mean by that?  Well don’t set out and promise to fix every possible woe.  Some things are just contextual based on the business model.  You are probably not going to be able to create robust career promotion paths if you are a company of fifty because you are too small.  You are probably not going to be able to offer state of the art benefits and 99% percentile salaries if you are a nonprofit, because your mission isn’t to be a cash cow.  You are probably not going to be able to offer 40-hour work weeks with limited travel, if you are private equity firm with consultants serving the globe.  And so on.

However, within the context of who your organization is, you can still be a realistic thermostat.  You can change things for the better in a way that fits who you are.

The key to this is strong follow through, with action committees led by teams of employees and well coached management to guide the outcome in a thoughtful and committed manner.  Notice I did not say action team led by HR.  HR can facilitate, but if HR is the lone ranger trying to make change, it will actually backfire and be worse than never doing a survey.  Because change only happens top down.

One other critical note when seeking to be thermostats when it comes to corporate culture.  You’re going to have to be incredibly cognizant about who you give the honor and privilege of management too.  Good managers need to be people who listen and are emotionally mature enough to receive and act on feedback.  Be prepared, if you decide to take this stuff seriously, to have an “up or out” ultimatum to any leaders who are not remotely interested in being thermostats with their teams.  In other words, leaders who are stubborn and more interested in #1, and who frankly dislike having to lead people or receive feedback and do something with it.  Because ultimately, employees typically leave their boss not their company.  If you look at the list of common issues, it is the line manager who can most directly impact it.  Managers are commissioned with creating individual development plans for employees.  Managers are the ones with the ability to close or open their ears when employees have ideas, and to create an environment that welcomes ideas.  Managers are accountable to create team environments that uphold respect. Managers have the choice daily to care or be indifferent to those they have the honor and privilege of leading. Managers can choose to dictate, or to be player/coaches.

Be a thermostat. Such a cool concept.  Let’s try to be thermostats in our homes, in our friendships, in our communities, in our workplaces. We’ll all be happier and more engaged, in life! Thanks to my friend Wendy for sharing.




Innovation, Ideation and Igniting Passion – Welcome 2016!

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By, Cari Desiderio

Last year my New Year’s blog had to do with the transformation of HR into a business partner model. This year, no need for grids and diagrams. I think the HR community has captured the message that we are evolving into a new state of being.

This year, let’s focus on simplicity. The hallmark of a strong company, is a company that stands out from the rest. Stands out with unique products. Stands out with special employees. It is time to inspire something new in our companies this year!

This starts by igniting passion by creating a culture that is both attractive and has leaders worth following. A few years back I was part of the R&D division of a large healthcare company. We needed to create a new IT product that was different from anything in the market, to drive our division and allow us to create the kind of clinical analytics and metrics to drive a competitive advantage. In our journey, we realized that the way to get here was to create an environment that great people wanted to be in. We hired some new leaders who were very progressive and positive. We actually redecorated the office with a dynamite employee lounge, snacks, positive and inviting environment. Because we knew that the programmers we needed on the team would be hard workers and sometimes work super overtime, we even installed a small rec area for relaxation and gaming. This fun environment created an environment conducive to igniting passion!

The other elements are kind of conjoined. Ideation is all about drawing out the creative juices in your team. Innovation is all about new product ideas that will create a competitive advantage and be ground breaking in your industry. These two things are all about hiring smart minds, and cultivating those minds. This starts at recruiting. Good branding, good talent attraction and smart total comp packages to hire the talent. This continues with managers who are coaches. Let’s move away from the old school performance ownership models, and into environments of coaching. Give me a leader who cares about me, my development, my ideas and is willing to let me sit alongside him or her at the business decision table. Do that  and I feel empowered and engaged. Finally, this means great talent development and training investments. I owe a debt gratitude to my last two employers who have supported me through my HR master’s degree. I owe a debt of gratitude to two leaders years back who paid for my SPHR and change management training and professional association fees, to grow me. I owe a debt of gratitude to every leader who put time and energy to give me new experiences and to teach me (not just coaching me, but also sponsoring me and putting me in new stretch opportunities). When positive environment intersects with positive leaders and quality investment, we are ready for some ideation and innovation action!

Hats off to all the leaders who are inspired to invest and be positive change agents this year!


Leading Innovation = The HR Differentiator



By, Cari Desiderio

I am reading through Deloitte’s 2015 report on global Human Capital Trends.  One of the best reads this year.  It is a steady reminder that our profession of HR is changing.  HR is truly shifting into two categories. The first is the migration of basic compliance and transaction tasks to shared services, outsourcing and administrative management vehicles.  The balance of tasks then become what one may call true HR strategy.  In a way, we must move into a more mainstream business mindset to survive the HR shift.

What corporations need more than anything, are good HR Strategists to advise and lead optimized human capital performance.  Deloitte’s in depth report, which I recommend be read by any leader in business today, focuses on four key areas: leading, engaging, reimagining and reinventing ( ).

The reimagining and reinventing in particular hits home for me as a manufacturing business professional.  A couple years back I wrote about the skill gap in our field, estimated as 600,000 unfilled jobs in manufacturing due to lack of skilled workers. A new study says that by 2025 we will have as many as two million unfilled positions due to lack of skilled worked ( ). This is certainly shop roles, but also a great shortfall of creative, engineering, R&D and new product development talent.  Harvard and MIT research has made the case that a nation’s ability to compete with complex and successful manufacturing products is a lynchpin predictor of long term economic success of the nation ( ). Not a minor issue.

Now certainly  the need to innovate and drive engagement towards this end is a transcendent issue in every business. Businesses rise and fall on the backs of great ideas and innovative products.

As HR practitioners, I think we need to shift gears.  Upskill ourselves by staying in tune with business climates, best practice ways to coach our leaders and best practice ways to attract and engage great talent. This includes a considerable more focus on learning and development of our employees to equip them to be able to reimagine, innovate and invent new ideas to bring our corporations to next level. Doing this requires dynamic leadership at the top.  The best spent time of an HR practitioner, is the study of leadership principles and the study of how to become very effective executive coaches.

Maybe it’s time to change our name?  Human Resources is not a bad term, but it is not reflective of the high bar calling we now have.

To be effective change agents in the competitive business climate we find ourselves in, we need to up our game and become true leader and human engagers.

Perhaps a good resolution for 2016 – time to upskill and step up to the challenge of becoming the leaders we know we can be!


Diplomat. Strategist. Fortune Teller. Job = Modern Day HR Business Partner


By, Cari Desiderio

The trendy term for HR today is business partner. But, what does it mean exactly?  And how does it differ from the way HR used to operate?

The simplest explanation is to say that HR is shifting away from more transactional work, to become more business focused. This does not mean that we can give up our technical HR and compliance knowledge base.  Just because the day to day task loads are shifting to outsourcing options or in house centers of excellence, does not mean that our knowledge of what the content is comprised of should disappear.  Our knowledge base of HR compliance in all the states or countries we operate in needs to remain.

But, in addition to knowing how to manage files or how to administer FMLA, there is a whole new world of competencies required in order to be valued in the modern day organization.

HR partners who make the cut are those who get the business. And who have an uncanny good ability to advise and lead the type of people decisions that get results.  This is not an easy thing.  In fact, I would argue that successful HR business partners can only be those with a very strong intuition for people and strong intuition for business.  Some of this can certainly be studied and taught.  However, there may be some HR professionals who are hard wired for task orientation and struggle with boundary less terrain that requires utilization of many senses to guide the path.

In a way, to earn credibility and be needed, HR now has to offer a special skill set that the operational and business leaders don’t have.  Strong HR business partners have heightened natural people and situation management acumen. I call this the art of diplomacy.  What does a diplomat do?  He/she engages varying sides and negotiates.   Acts as the peacemaker and integrator of different groups. It’s not much different in business.  A strong HR partner is able to move through all of the crowds and cultures and help them find common ground. There is no better example of this perhaps than a corporate acquisition resulting in the merging of two cultures.  In today’s rampantly changing business world, such activity is commonplace.  My company has been through eleven of these in recent years.  The success or failure of an acquisition is based on far more than the financials and a good product to sell.  If the people cannot come together, don’t expect the business to succeed.  Diplomacy can help smooth the path of integration.

Another critical HR Business Partner competency is what I call the art of strategy.  This is where keen business understanding comes into play.  If you as a HR partner are not studying your business climate, understanding what markets are facing, understanding the global climate, understanding the SWOT analysis, then you best not force any idea on your operational teams.  If however you are a HR partner who studies these things and then looks at ways to shape and move the people performance in the direction of business opportunity, by engaging and deploying talent, then you have shifted to the position of an HR strategist.

My last competency is perhaps a bit comedic. I call it the art of fortune telling.  Silly perhaps and of course I do not mean literal crystal balls.  But, rather, a strong HR business partner necessarily must be a student of culture, people, environments and as a combination of these observations have a good handle on predicting what is ahead.  Some time back I found myself in a culture that was pretty broken and lacking trust.  I assessed this and in a few months time advised the business leaders that if we did not correct course we were at risk of losing a number of very long term and critical members of the team, including critical managers.  I wish that my prediction did not come true.  Through this situation my credibility and respect with the leaders grew.  Call it uncanny intuition if you will.  I call it keen observation of what is going on, followed by courage to respectfully speak up about it.  Know your people. Get ahead of things.  Advise your leaders. You will be invited into meetings and executive committees that you never thought you’d be part of, once they realize you are a true subject matter expert in the art of people leadership. 

The cool thing about being a modern day HR Business Partner is that there is never a dull day!  People and business and strategy are complex, engaging, challenging and rewarding. Hats off to the HR professionals who step up to the challenge and become tomorrow’s business leaders!


The Talent Games – Why Engagement Matters


By, Cari Desiderio

My favorite part of human resources, by far, is the opportunity we get as HR leaders to invest in managers and grow them by teaching them how to motivate and engage their employees.  It is also the part of our field that I take most seriously. And, if I’m honest, that some days I feel ill equipped to teach.

It is safe for most of us to become experts in a technical area. To learn a product.  To become proficient at planning events. Or writing marketing material. Or crunching numbers on spreadsheets.  Things like this can be planned, executed and managed without too many surprises.  Just like any household chore, once I master a task at work I can advance from basic to advanced to even expert levels of proficiency at said task.

The part of business that isn’t quite so cut and dry is the fuel that we need to accomplish business tasks.  Namely, our people.

Do you ever wish your employees came with a user guide?  Say this specific phrase and Sally will perform at 100% level of engagement today, with a smile at all times.  Train John this way and he will consistently and reliably execute on the task you give him.  Send Jane to this sales and customer service course and your customer satisfaction scores will sky rocket. Check the box, check the box, check the box.

Silly, right?

Of course people do not come with user guides.  We are moody, emotional, fragile at times, in need of unique kinds of motivation based on how we each are wired, and depending on the day we may or may not be as perfectly reliable as our managers wish. When we get fed up with bureaucracy at work or your style of leadership, we just might abandon ship and go work for the company down the street.  The user guide didn’t explain how to handle that.

The reason why I have days when I feel ill equipped to teach managers how to lead well, is because if I am honest I am still learning.  It takes energy, care, and a lot of managing with intuition and patience to lead teams well. It takes stepping off of my throne, and looking around to tend to my team members’ needs first.

Yet, without our people, no business will succeed.  Being able to hire good talent and keep good talent will make or break a company. Companies who learn to do this with proficiency will have a competitive advantage over others in their industry.

With this said, no greater investment can be made than an investment in the culture of a company and the methods in place to both motivate and grow talent.  A good read on this topic is this one –

In this simple article, Deloitte highlights some critical pieces to engaging your employees.  The first is to ensure the leaders at the top care about the employees and care about engagement.  This seems a no brainer. But not all companies get this.  You see engagement and good people management is not something one can farm out.  A smart CEO who has little interest in his people will not have a loyal company.  Caring comes from the top.

The last few areas this article points out have to do with making work meaningful and simple.  Make it easy to come to work and get the job done, and provide an environment that is inviting.  The simple part reminds me of a time when I was in an opposite situation where excess rules and a handbook thicker than was healthy, led to a “big brother is watching” culture that disengaged and angered team members.  Similar to raising a child, make rules and standards logical and use the less is best rule.  We may not be children anymore, but the desire for freedom and flexibility is human.  When we are trusted we become more trustworthy. When we are given freedom to create, we innovate. Focus on what counts with your teams. Make goals clear and focus on the minimum required to get maximum output.  Add a bit of meaning to work by showing how your employee’s contributions impact the bottom line. Celebrate this.  Reward this. Give employees opportunities to have experiences and exposure so they can grow.

The last and final point of this article is to get in touch with the Millennial generation.  In other words, be sure we know what the group that will be half the work population in three years wants!  I would extend this sentiment further for the global companies.  Get to know the culture of each group, especially if you lead teams that are not from your native part of the world.  This sounds scary perhaps. But it’s not.  If you are a manager who is curious and caring enough to ask questions and spend time with your employees, you will learn.  Paying attention and caring… go a long way.  You don’t have to be the smartest person on the team to lead the team. You actually need to hire smarter people than you to be on your team. Then treat them well.

Good luck playing the chess game of talent!  May the best people engagement strategists win!

If you Measure It, They will Listen: A Case Study in Why Lean can help HR get its Groove back


By, Cari Desiderio

I often tell people that I am not a very attentive to detail person.  My DiSC score is a high I with some gravitation towards D.  Meaning I move fast, love to talk, love to win, and absolutely hate getting into the weeds.  The thing is, people don’t believe me.  That is because despite my natural orientation, I have changed my behaviors.  You might say I have gotten drunk on Lean Kool-Aid.  This not so naturally detailed lady now loves metrics.  Because metrics done well, spells out success in our field.  The soft and touchy feely field of HR suddenly goes from a field leaders give a half way nod to, to a field our leaders see as crucial to success. This changing of the reputation only happens once we can measure and prove our worth. That’s where Lean, Six Sigma and continuous improvement (CI) theories can help.

My journey in CI actually started with the tenets of Six Sigma, but in recent years I have evolved to embrace business system thinking that infuses a deep culture of CI into the very fiber of culture and people.   Whether it is the Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC) that Six Sigma teaches, or the Kaizen brainstorming and VDM (visual daily management boards) that Lean introduces, there is a common pattern of measuring things.  They teach a culture of constant stretching and improving.  Recently a team member still in her on boarding period asked me about how serious we are about our goals.  I gave her the analogy of standing on her tippy toes with fingers outstretched, trying to touch the ceiling.  Think about the goal as the ceiling.  This is how a good goal feels.  Lean teaches us that when we start hitting our goals repeatedly, the goal needs to be adjusted.  We’ve settled.  We should never contract back to a standing position, or we are becoming complacent.  I told this team member that it’s good that she feels the stretch effect.  That yes for sure we are serious about our goals. But not to be discouraged.  The culture embraced by Lean and CI, embodies a spirit of trial and error and success learned through mistakes and repeats and then, finally, improvement.  But those bumps and ebb and flowing are part of the story.  There is no smooth ride.  The learning happens in the bumps along the way. But if we stay the course, in the end we will win and see strides forward and goals hit.  That is because when CI is applied, with visibility and goals and team engagement not abandoned, some form of success just has to eventually ensue.

Now I need to state a disclaimer. I’m still a bit of a newbie to Lean.  I’m still learning.  But I’ve seen some immediate successes in the recent years and it’s got me sold. My first learning journey in Lean was when I was involved with an action improvement plan (AIP) focused on cross training a plant.  We looked at our problem statement.  It started with an American problem that was impacting our plant and many others. Namely, that close to 600,000 American factory jobs cannot be filled due to labor shortage due to lacking technical skills.  A compounding problem statement is that factory workers tend to be older and the Baby Boomers are retiring.  A third and also compounding issue was that our engagement scores (again – obtained via measurement) were showing that team members wanted opportunities to grow and develop.  Neglecting to do so would lead to dissatisfaction, poorer engagement and more turnover.  Add all of this up, and we have a risk situation around adequate factory labor to make our materials on time and well. So all of these factors led to an initiative to map out the skills and competencies required to hold various positions in different departments in the shop. Direct labor staff members were evaluated on skills sets and given learning plans to stretch and learn new skills.  The outcome?  We were able to avoid numerous outside hires for some of the more complex jobs because we were growing out talent.

A second area I’ve enjoyed seeing Lean applied to is talent acquisition.  In this endeavor we’ve brought more of the formal tools of Lean into play. A kaizen workshop to dissect the process, and using mapping tools to have cross platform teams critique the talent acquisition process and build a future state.  VDM regular report out meetings to dissect the problem areas and adopt a discipline for team members to come together to speak to and address issues regularly.  VDM is great because sometimes by merely exposing issues on a timely basis, they are solved faster and better.  One can also apply formal countermeasure solutions to solving recruiting issues, when issues are more complex.  Easy? No. It takes discipline.  But in the end the hard work pays off.  Over two companies, I have seen time to fill reduced by 25% to 50% using principles of Six Sigma and Lean. It pays off!

The lesson is simple.  Measurement.  Visibility.  Accountability.  Goals.  Engagement and inviting team ideas and ownership.  Eliminating waste. Relentless improvement baked into the culture.  There are many great things that can happen when the tried and true principles taught by various continuous improvement theories are applied to any field. Including HR!  I read a recent report by Deloitte that said HR gets a D+ grade with most operational leaders. Let’s change this story!  By getting serious about measuring our field, we can go from a D+ to an A+. Let’s define what a good HR partner looks like, and starting adding value to the bottom line!