The Self Made Man and the Future Of Learning

This week I have been preparing to speak to the sponsors of a single mom’s ministry and educational program geared to help empower young women to get to a place where they can make self-sustaining choices and, eventually, be vocationally set to stand on their own two feet.  My part of this program is to create a fall course to teach principles of career selection, learning and development and goal setting.  This experience has been one of great renewal and has made me thankful and self-reflective in ways that have probably blessed me more in the process than I will ever be able to give back and bless others through my training.  Certainly it is better to give than to receive, as always.

But more than anything this journey this year as I am building the curriculum, has changed my perspective on learning and development as a field.  I have sprinkled bits of the field of HRD into many of my career choices.  Never full time but enough to appreciate the field and motivate me to earn a master’s degree in training. Several years back my team installed a learning management system and bolstered the company corporate university, in order to achieve the board requested goal that this company double training and take strides to become a true learning organization. In two organizations I built leadership coursework and material to train managers and supervisors to lead / motivate / develop all talent, from high performers to those struggling, to the person dead center of the nine box.  The thing is, in all of my professional endeavors to train and develop employees, I have neglected to emphasize as richly one singular and engagement catalyzing principle that I am learning in my program with these single moms.  And that principle is one of motivation and ownership (of the learner/achiever) in their learning journey.  All too often I think in Corporate America we fall into the trap of training, but never achieving organizational changing learning. This I honestly think is why training is one of the most under funded parts of businesses today.

I was unbelievably moved last Monday night when I attended a graduation celebration for three ladies who are graduating from this above mentioned single mom’s program.  Some of the students got up in front of the group and shared a piece of artwork they created that showcased their learning and achievement and life goals they set out to attain as they joined this program.  One of the ladies put me in tears as she shared her journey to obtain her bachelor’s degree, and her part in authoring a book that will tell her story of overcoming domestic violence.  Wow.  Talk about motivation.  The children of these ladies listened to their moms and clapped and cheered.  Man I thought.  I have never felt this kind of fulfillment after finishing a series on leadership training and giving each one of the managers on my team a book to read to keep up the journey of good management. Or after printing out the coursework for one of the students who finished the LMS certificate program when I set up my learning center at the healthcare organization.  Why I thought?  Simple.  When the learning was just about mandatory training to satisfy the employer’s requirement, there wasn’t much engagement in that equation. It was a monotonous task.  Contrast that with a motivated woman who is earning the path to success and turning the page in her family’s life fate by working hard and getting the education that will buy her a ticket to a good paying job. Nothing monotonous here. Rather, she was passionate. She was engaged. She was all in, all the way, no going back.

Flash back to American History class.  Remember reading about Frederick Douglass’ famous speech about the self-made man?  The story of breaking through and grabbing life and fate and fighting to overcome and win.  The story of Americans creating a future and carving out a destiny covered with success and freedom and blessing.  Many people have achieved great things when they had something that lit a fire light inside them. Something inspiring.  But that motivation comes from within.

So how about the day to day learning that happens in Corporate America?  Is it possible to make a stretch assignment exciting?  To build a Corporate University that is actually dynamic and engaging? This almost seems silly even drawing a comparison, don’t you think?  With many “learning and development  programs” being no more than a series of cheesy online classes on how to avoid harassment and deal with conflict (typically with bad actors), how can we actually make people get motivated about learning at work?  It seems comedic, right?

Well, there is probably not going to be the kind of passion and fire light as in a single mom earning a ticket out of poverty and abuse.  But what I think we can learn from this is that if there is not compelling motivation of some type embedded in the Corporate University and the development planning process, there will probably not be a whole lot of return on the learning investment.  It is critical linchpin to be able to engage employees in the process of crafting their learning journey.  I have seen success in this when I have had an employee who really wanted to earn a promotion.  Or who had a dream to break into some area of the field never touched before. I then joined them there.  We built a personalized IDP (individual development plan) that showed them the connection between learning and achieving.  If you take this communication and organizational class series, I will let you apply in this stretch assignment. If you succeed in this stretch assignment and begin to influence the organization I can then recommend you for this promotion, that assignment, etc.  The message being, there is not ever a cookie cutter approach to learning. Outside of obligatory training to keep regulations pacified (which is not learning but merely training), there is frankly little fruit to be gleaned from any learning and development program that is cookie cutter and the same for all.  So, take a risk.  Ask your employees to share a couple of vocation dreams with you.  Meet them there and invest in them. Draw a connection between their dreams, your company needs, and the learning plan can can connect the two. If we had a few more “self-made men” (and women!) in Frederick Douglass style, we just might see more break through ideas and engagement in the workplace!

When Leading Change, Let Intuition Guide You

change signpic

By, Cari Desiderio

It took me a number of years to understand why I am a person who thrives in the midst of what many deem crisis. Consistently for my last four companies I have managed to be an integral team member in some major change. Significant resource reductions and a call for a new method of operation, rolling out a new system that radically changed how our practitioners did business, moving a facility, starting a new process from scratch that many people are not comfortable with, and so forth. For some time I honestly thought I must be a little “weird” or “off” to kind of get my energy in the midst of leading serious changes that were not always that popular. I remember back to my first formal training on how to lead through change. My boss Leslie sent me to class downtown Chicago and taught me how to project plan with the consultants and design blueprints for change. She was great because it was under her leadership that I learned the criticality of making sure people were valued and respected through the process of change. It was here that I (well not me but a medical director) coined the phrase “blueprint for success” which served a nice euphemism for blueprint for change. I use this phrase to this day. From working sessions to create tools to support peers through change and to learn to encourage one another, to finding symbolic ways to mourn and bury the past and forge forward into the present, to intensive sessions mapping out the project steps to get to new states, I have found many creative ways to help people move forward into the new corporate terrain. Every change I have led, there has been a sense of immense accomplishment at the end.

I soon realized that it wasn’t so much that I was dysfunctional to enjoy what many deemed the hardest seasons of career. Rather, I got my energy from a challenge and from navigating the muddy map of human emotion and motivation to shine a little flashlight and guide a pathway to future state success. The thrill of arriving at the new state post change, and seeing the possibilities with the new structure, the new system, the more efficient resources that can fund new break through, was like a high to me. Still is. Give me messy, confusing, team disrupting change. It is a challenge. People come out stronger through change because they create a new destiny for themselves. Change management is probably a little cliché of a term by now. But being part of the architectural team for a future state is really what change is all about.

And so, let’s get back to the title of this blog. When leading change, let intuition guide you. While it is critical to have adequate project management staff and tools through change, this is not the center of it. I remember back to my time in healthcare when we paid I hate to think how much to an outside firm that sent us an army of project management professionals to map out our project into a document with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of task assignments. We would religiously get on calls to check status. All important things mind you. But the black and white linear thinking of this team is what I remember most. I might as well have been talking to robots. They were more concerned with checking the task completed box than attempting to provide me insight into how to manage the screaming employee that just visited my office. In reality, our team needed some human touch and time and talking and motivation through the change. As much as the spreadsheets did organize us, it was the team training and team building sessions and the investment to fly team members from our 27 state territory in to meet and learn and work through the change, together, that lit the change fire ablaze. And there is not really a very good math formula to help you get through tough conversations with people. There is no engineering approach to motivating change champions and igniting a sense of pride in accomplishment that helps people get through the tough stuff. Rather, this is about emotional intelligence. There is a lot more gut instinct and people intuition in change than there is project management.

Change is the new world. The organizations that survive and thrive are the organizations that are ever focused on the future. They are full of leaders who inspire employees to dream and then make their dreams reality. Building dreams typically requires leaving the current state behind. The future is all about new, scary, exciting, break through stuff.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams

Grow Baby Grow – Planting Seeds That Keep Your HR Career Alive!

grow baby grow

By, Cari Desiderio

This year I’ve been trying to keep up with what seems to be a more quickly evolving competency journey in our field of HR than many years past.  Similar to planting seeds and nurturing them until a fresh harvest of food is produced, it is critical that we plant seeds of learning and career development to avoid being quickly outdated in the field of human resources.  Human knowledge is doubling roughly every year (soon to be a quicker pace – some say it could get to 12 days). With an ever changing world this means that the pace of jobs, the kinds of jobs needed and the organizational structures that support a global workforce, will change at equal speed.

In our field, there is no trend more loud and clear than a shift to become more strategic and agile in the ways of leading and shepherding the human capital of organizations.  This shift really began about ten years ago with the introduction of HR shared services centers of excellence to shift much of the transaction based work in HR to a call center, in order to free up the field staff to work on more strategy level things. However, this leads to an environment where quickly you are either on the strategic HR bus, or not. Because if the more linear and transaction based work is no longer on my plate, then I’m left to prove my stuff in the strategic space.  One of my favorite, and simplest, articles on this topic is from the Harvard Business Review. In their article, A New Mandate for HR, the key competencies for HR leaders is boiled down to just four things:

  • Strategy Execution
  • Administrative Efficiency
  • Employee Championship
  • Continuous Transformation

What is interesting is that we don’t see things like understanding labor laws and compliance, or administering benefits, or payroll on the list.  Why?  Isn’t that stuff core to HR?  Well the short answer is both yes and no.  Yes, it is critical to understand what new form needs to be submitted to the IRS to report on insurance minimal coverage next year in order to comply with healthcare reform laws.  Yes, it is important to keep up with the ever changing FLSA laws as pertains to defining exempt and non-exempt jobs.  Yes, it is important to fill out those I-9s on time when an employee starts and have enough HR good sense to not discriminate by telling them which form to bring from the list. Yes it is important to follow the FMLA regulations and protect worker jobs during periods of illness and not terminate employment prematurely.  Yes it is important to understand how to operate a PC and use a basic HRIS system. All of this is still part of HR.  But it is assumed that a good HR practitioner will know these things.  The compliance and basic financial and data maintenance side of HR is only a baseline.  If we were looking at a Maslow’s Chart these things would fall at the bottom of the pyramid as “must haves” before one can advance up the pyramid.  After all a chef should know how to boil spaghetti and chop vegetables. But these things are not the blocks at the top. They are not the sauce and flavor that prove the chef can actually cook.  Or prove the HR practitioner can actually lead people.  Rather, it is critical to use our baseline HR knowledge to make wise people and risk decisions.  To make good health plan choices that support a wellness program that drives healthy workers, or drives attractive compensation package to retain good workers.  To use the data and systems to analyze trends and recommend changes in HR strategy.  To use an understanding of FLSA to reorganize a department so that work shifts and more workers can be hired on an exempt basis and accomplish more impactful work without spending more money. To survey the workforce across a region (or the globe) and suggest org changes that drive cost efficiency and lean ways to achieve more with the human capital base.   The point is, the basic HR knowledge base should be there, but then one has to advance to strategic thinking to prove one is useful as HR practitioner and adviser.

So what’s a HR professional to do?  Grow, baby, grow!  Make sure you are plugged into places to develop the crucial skills you need to not only grow and gain promotions, but frankly to keep the job you have.  This can be joining your SHRM chapter. Going back to get a HR certificate (PHR, SPHR, SHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP, CEBS, ATD’s coaching certificates, and more).  Maybe it is reading business books or other functions outside of HR like finance and operations.  And, most critical than all of this, make sure that you seek out stretch assignments.  Having been in HR for 14 years, I have found that development of self takes a little bit of assertiveness.  There will be those very special leaders who just are all about cultivating and growing you. I’ve had two I’d say in my career that really did this well (and one became my life career coach).  But you most frequently have to be your own career champ.  Seek out projects and assignments that pull you in new directions and grow you.  I was frankly terrified last year when I was given a stretch assignment to create a shared service recruiting team.  But it’s built a HR muscle in the talent arena that I could never have learned own my own or in any textbook.  Experiences grow us best.  Every new assignment becomes hands on learning that will get you to next level.  And make sure to surround yourself with a network of like minded career professionals to just learn from and support each other.  It is not only fun to do coffee or lunch with peers in the field, but it’s crucial to have a support system to draw from.


Harvard Business Review: A New Mandate for Human Resources

Glenn Beck – Knowledge Article: