HR is not Burger King

Last month I kicked off Kansas City’s DisruptHR event with a talk called HR is not Burger King: How to stop letting people have it their way without being a jerk. DisruptHR is a unique event in which the speakers get five minutes to share twenty slides that rotate automatically every fifteen seconds. The audience is full of energy, as they’ve been eating and drinking for two hours before the presentations begin. (I waited to imbibe until after mine and was happy to go first!) Keep that in mind as you watch the video of my talk:

In five minutes, I couldn’t go into any more about the analogy but had the opportunity to talk with people about it since the event. Some people were concerned that I advocate for HR to stop providing stellar service to colleagues. Nope. That’s not it. Here’s the difference:

  • Here’s Burger King: Hold the pickles? Sure! Hold the lettuce? You got it!

  • Here’s Burger King if HR people ran it: You want Chateaubriand ? Sure! You want white tablecloths? You got it! You want a private room? No problem!

See the difference? Burger King offers to accommodate very simple requests within the boundaries of its business model. Frankly, McDonald’s and Wendy’s would do the same things for a customer who asks. Exceptional service does not mean taking orders from coworkers whose requests are far outside the boundaries and who don’t know the full implications of their requests.

For example, in the video, I share a real example about a colleague who demanded HR re-evaluate a job and rate it higher so her candidate’s salary demand could be met. When HR did that, the colleague didn’t think through how her peers or the candidate’s new peers would see that move. (They hated it because the candidate’s lack of preparedness caused extra work on their parts.) The colleague also did not think through how the rankings of all jobs would come across after that. (They lost all credibility.) HR came across looking like we just made up rules and our policies didn’t matter.

When we say “No” by saying, “Well, that’s the policy,” credibility is further eroded. It looks like we’re saying, “No” just for the heck of it or because we’re too lazy to think through a different solution. It would be better to discuss the implications of the requested action than to outright reject it because of the policy—that would be better service.

At its best, HR provides important oversight into many people-related aspects of a company. At its worst, HR diminishes the people-related aspects by taking orders from people who don’t think through the business implications of it all.

HR can provide relevant service and lead the way to solutions. It doesn’t need to take orders like it’s the counter at Burger King.

(By the way, DisruptHR Kansas City was fantastic! Click here to check out the rest of the speakers for more great ideas!)


9 Ways to save you from being the Red Flag teammate

In the video linked below, Peter Bregman (CEO of a global management consulting firm which advises CEOs and their leadership teams) shares a story about consulting with a company whose staff put a red flag outside the CEO’s office to warn people against going in to his office. He says everyone knew the CEO was difficult, but the CEO didn’t know his reputation was so damaged until Bregman explained the red flag hanging outside his office.

click to open the video on a separate page

click to open the video on a separate page

Why is it bad to be the red flag person?

1.      You might not get to use the full power of your brain or experience if people don’t want you on their teams.

2.      Red flag people cause others to waste time and energy trying to accommodate them or fix their issues.

3.      It can be lonely when no one wants to be around you.

4.      Being a downer might go against your personal mission or goals.

5.      You might get stuck in a spot along your career journey where you don’t want to stay.

6.      It is exhausting to be so negative.

As Bregman says, “When we are not aware of the feelings, they take us with them.” We have feelings all day long without thinking about them, and when we don’t pay attention to them, the feelings can cause us to become a negative force in the office. They can cause us to become the Red Flag people.

While I do not want anyone reading this to be a Red Flag person, I also do not want you to repress your feelings. Some “gurus” tell us not to take things personally or to leave our feelings at the door as we arrive at work. But, I don’t think that helps either.

I’ve written and spoken extensively about being all-in. Living and leading all-in means you bring your brain, heart, hands, eyes, and everything about yourself to your life. That includes work. So, contrary to some popular “gurus,” I do think we should take things personally. Work is personal, and companies do better when people have strong feelings about it. However, we can control how we behave in response to our feelings so we don’t become the Red Flag people.

Bregman’s main advice in the video is to recognize how you’re feeling. Here are nine additional tips to help you avoid becoming the Red Flag person on your team:

1.      Slow down, breath, pause and get used to your feelings. Understanding your feelings can help you deliberately adapt your behavior. Don’t repress your feelings; identify them.

2.      Decide how you need to act to maintain your professional relationships and reputation. You don’t have to address the feelings right away, but you do have to choose your behavior. Unlike a three-year old whose tantrums are cute to onlookers, we can control our behavior.

3.      Refrain from over-sharing feelings, especially regarding personal matters that will be highly scrutinized and may be repeatedly discussed.

4.      Use support resources like your workplace friends, your manager, your company’s internal coach, or other external support.

5.      Honor personal boundaries—your own and others’. Certain topics are not ideal for the workplace and could make colleagues uncomfortable, so be aware of others’ personal boundaries.

6.      If you can’t focus, take time off. The best professionals know when they need to take themselves out of the game to recuperate.

7.      Respect your colleagues’ time. Your best friends at work have their own work to complete each day, and they have their own personal issues to manage.

8.      Respect your job, team, and employer by doing great work. If you’ve decided you can show up for work, then be a stellar teammate while you are there.

9.      Once the situation improves, thank the people who supported you through it.

These tips can help you understand and respond to your feelings without repressing them or letting them steer you toward becoming the Red Flag teammate.

The stench of Tesla’s culture is getting worse

Ten days ago, I wrote about a month’s-long look into Tesla’s culture and how there seemed to be a disconnect between the company and its people. There had been three emails from Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, to all staff, and all three revealed a culture with little warmth. Further digging (including a review of the website, job postings, interviews, and other articles) revealed a culture with minimal emotional connection between the company and its people. It was no wonder employees spoke negatively and there had been sabotage.

Like all CEOs, Musk sets the culture of the company he leads. On one hand, he and the company show very little emotional connection to their people. However, within a few days of that July 2nd blog, Musk, along with teams from Tesla and other companies he leads, were in the news for trying to help rescue the soccer team trapped in the cave in Thailand.

Musk received harsh criticism saying his help was just a publicity stunt. He responded to critics on Twitter about the sincerity of his team’s effort. I supported Musk’s effort via Twitter and a blog update. It was inspiring to see a company known for innovative technology and transportation working to help the rescue effort.

Also this week, Musk committed to fund water for residents in Flint, Michigan.

Here is a company which shows, at least to outsiders, very little emotional connection to its people. On the other hand, it made a significant effort to help the rescuers in Thailand and has committed to helping people in Flint finally have safe drinking water.

So, which is it? Does Musk and his leadership team care about people or not? Do they care about their own people, that is? My fingers were crossed that the answer would be a resounding, “Yes!”

The answer came in the form of this article on Business Insider today, and it stinks: Some Tesla employees say they were ordered to walk through raw sewage during Model 3 ramp-up

raw sewage warnings.jpg

Four employees were so fearful of causing a production delay by walking around raw sewage on the inside of their plant, that they walked through it instead. They claim they were told to walk through it. Whether the plant managers told the employees to do so or not, it appears the plant managers knew people were walking through raw sewage inside the plant.

The linked article includes Tesla’s claim to care about its people and their denial of the report. Think about it, though. Four people said they walked through raw sewage inside their plant. The article does not say how many times, but it sounds like more than a few.

Any company that is not in the raw sewage business and has employees walking through raw sewage has a leadership problem.

There is so much pressure to meet production demands that employees are walking through raw sewage, and management knows. A company that cares about its people would not have a culture where managers believe walking through raw sewage is acceptable.

What are Tesla’s values? Without clear values to guide decisions and priorities, individual management relies on their own. The result is disconnection between company and people, as seen with Tesla. Additional outcomes when values are not the clear guides for decisions and priorities include sabotage (which Tesla also has experienced this year), turnover, secrets, lies, silos, poor performance, and competitive takeovers.

Tesla is going to be able to rest on its laurels as an innovative employer for only so long before the stench of its culture ruins it for good.

Have you been inside a restaurant or sports bar or home that allows smoking? After you leave the place, your clothes reek of the scent of smoke. I’ve strewn clothes on chairs on the back porch rather than put them in the closet hamper with the rest of the dirty clothes. Have you ever done the same? The stench stays on the clothes for a long time.

The stench of a culture that allows people to walk through raw sewage sticks around a long time.

Without culture correction and oversight, Tesla will lose the best thing it has: its smart, innovative, hardworking people. Obviously, investors, another stakeholder of concern, can make money without doing so on the backs of people walking through raw sewage.

Tesla might not have clear values, but a lot of people do, and they care who they work for, buy from, sell to, partner with, and invest in. They will find other places rather than have the stench of such a culture follow them.

I am rooting for Tesla to fix its culture so it can accomplish its mission with integrity. Right now, though, Tesla’s culture not only lacks warmth, as referred to earlier this month, it stinks!