The Importance of Proper Preparation

Just as a good chef carefully prepares all aspects of a meal before plating each dish, successful HR professionals carefully map out every aspect of a task before executing it. In fact, HR professionals are probably some of the most well-prepared individuals in an organization—or at least they should be.

While thorough preparation is undoubtedly stressed in most professions, HR veterans have learned the value of being able to “expect the unexpected.” HR professionals know that all tasks require preparation. That’s true regardless of whether you are implementing an unfamiliar system, conducting a routine meeting with an employee, or pitching a new idea to senior management.

Although every situation requires specific preparation, here are some universal tips to keep in mind when approaching a task:

(1) Know the background. Being the most knowledgeable person in the room never hurts, but that is not always possible. Get as much background information as possible so you will understand the story behind the situation. Walking into a meeting without understanding why the meeting is necessary in the first place is not just uncomfortable, it is also irresponsible. Always take the time to research events leading up to a meeting, especially if you are a latecomer to the situation. Do not hesitate to reach out to other employees for a rundown of the situation. Keep in mind, however, that everyone has a different perspective, so it is a good idea to check several sources.

(2) Organize the evidence. Organization and preparation go hand in hand. When doing your prep work, make sure you stay organized so you can use those hours of preparation effectively. For example, if you spend hours investigating and preparing a response to a grievance, sitting down and writing the response will be much easier if you take the time to organize your notes into meaningful categories.

(3) Anticipate possible counterarguments and reactions. It is absolutely critical to anticipate push back from others. Sometimes laser focus on a matter prevents us from taking a step back and evaluating other perspectives. A lack of preparation will be noticed immediately when you are unable to effectively manage adverse reactions or counterarguments. For example, during a termination meeting with an employee, don’t take any chances. Hope for an amicable conversation, but prepare for the worst.

(4) Develop a Plan B. Being fully prepared means that you have already thought through a Plan B. Most of us have experienced situations in which our original concepts either didn’t pan out or were not accepted by senior management. Ideally, you should come prepared with several alternatives, but you certainly should have a solid Plan B. If you end up needing a Plan B, you will be very thankful you prepared one in advance.

The better prepared you are to tackle a challenge, the more successful the outcome will be. Your preparation (and resulting success) will not go unnoticed. Developing preparation skills will enhance your reputation as a reliable “go-to” person in your department and organization. Being a “go-to” person will allow you to know that you are valued by others and that you bring value to your organization. As an HR professional, it is your job to be an expert. Make sure you are prepared.

Originally Published in Words on Wise

Guest Columnist: Cassandra Lewis

I Will Huff and I’ll Puff! The Challenge of Re-Engagement!

3 Little PigsRe-engagement: Coming Back from a Difficult Time and Culture in an Organization

We have said that engagement begins with the individual, grows among team members, and shapes the future of the organization. However, this is not always a smooth progression. What happens when there is a loss of engagement? The loss may be due to a difficult relationship or event, or the more far-reaching impact of a culture shift in the entire organization.

How do we re-build when there is not only a lack of trust, but a loss of trust? Can the promises that once worked create a sense of confidence among employees who are “once bitten, twice shy”?

There is good news and bad news about re-engagement. To offer the bad news first, regaining trust has special challenges. The process must begin with an understanding of what went wrong, and the dedications to make the necessary changes to be sure it won’t happen again. As in the story of the “three little pigs,”  the right materials must be found to make sure the house isn’t “blown down” each time a storm of controversy arrives at the door.

The process of identifying the problems and their impact must be sensitive to the fact that different people may have been affected in different ways by the events that created the loss of engagement. Those affected by the problems and those responsible for them must find a way to identify solutions which everyone can accept, in spite of their differences.

It is only as plans to move forward and implement the solutions materialize, that there is the opportunity to re-establish a spirit of engagement. The good news is that as this happens, there is the opportunity to reap the rewards of what has been learned to create a stronger and more “storm proof” environment for the future. Individuals will be able to apply what they have learned about themselves, their team members, and the organization, as they seek to make a greater contribution. Heroes can emerge in this process who had not assumed this role before. Employees can assume a greater commitment to not only create a spirit of engagement, but to recognize its fragility, and their role in building the engagement culture “brick by brick” each day. In this way, employees can see how their contribution is needed more than ever to keep their work environment safe and sound.

As with individuals, fluctuations in engagement in an organization are inevitable. They create difficulties, but also opportunities for insight and growth. They point to weaknesses, and highlight areas of strength. The important thing is to approach them with more engagement and openness, not less, and to build engagement strength through increased resistance. In this way, employees will not to be left with no structure to support them, like the pigs in the woods!

In building your culture of engagement, it is important to discuss in advance what you will do when the wolf comes to the door. What are the values and outcomes you will protect at all cost? How are individuals in your engaged culture empowered to identify and communicate concerns before they increase in size? What resources are dedicated to reviewing the issues of concern and determining what action, if any, should be taken? How will this process be monitored? What result is anticipated, and how will this contribute to the success of the organization and its engagement  culture?

Dr. Edward Morler, an organizational psychologist who works with leadership teams, refers to “integration” or “disintegration” in describing individual personality characteristics. His point is that as individuals assume a more “win-win” mentality, they adopt the best characteristics of other personality types. On the other hand, if they are less committed to what is best for others, they may adopt some of the less desirable characteristics of other personality types.

The challenges faced by an organization suffering a loss of engagement present the opportunity for the to move to a more “win-win” environment, adopting new positive characteristics along the way..  It is a process that requires patience and commitment, but is well worth the effort.

What challenges to engagement does your organization face? How are they addressed? In what ways can they help you to become better, and stronger in your commitment to engagement, than before?

Individual Engagement – A Conscientious Choice

jameslawsonmugHave you ever thought of individual engagement as the root of activism?

Clearly, engagement is a personal choice, and although collectively we can create an environment that fosters engagement, no one is actually engaged by others.

Instead, individuals are attracted to, or find themselves employed within, organizations that to some degree foster or inhibit engagement. The individual’s response to this environment depends on the personal commitment to engagement they brought with them. This commitment is not passive, as in the passivist – but active, as in the activist.

Appropriately, the first part of the word “engagement” is an active verb – “engage.” As you look at the following definition of this word, consider the scope of the commitment you are making when you choose to be engaged:

1 a : to pledge oneself : promise

b : to make a guarantee (he engages for the honesty of his brother)

2 a : to begin and carry on an enterprise or activity (engaged in trade for many years)

b : to do or take part in something (engage in healthy activities)  c : to give attention to something; deal (failing to engage with the problem)

3  : to enter into conflict or battle

4  : to come together and interlock (the gears engaged)


As you can see, engagement is not only about the confidence you have in yourself. It is an expression of your confidence in others. It is a commitment to an enterprise, to take part. It involves coming together. It even involves, in some cases, engaging in conflict or battle.

I would like to share with you a story about an individual who made the choice to engage, and whose actions changed an institution and a nation.

The effect of his actions continues this month at a place very close to many of you.

In 1960, James Lawson was a third year student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, preparing to take his exams. James decided to engage in a cause he believed in by participating in a peaceful civil rights demonstration – a “sit-in” at a restaurant. James invited several of his fellow students to go with him.

As the astounding events that followed were recounted by one of those students recently, the response of the University was swift and fierce.

The Chancellor of Vanderbilt University demanded that the Dean of the Divinity School expel James for participating in the demonstration. The Dean pleaded James’ case – asking if James could at least be allowed to take his examinations. When he was told no, the Dean took matters into his own hands. He advised his faculty that he was resigning his position.

Following the Dean’s conscious choice to engage, all of the professors in the Divinity School became engaged. They informed their students that there would be no more class, and that they were resigning their positions. A student who was in one of those classes felt the faculty members ha had decided it was more important to set an example, than to discuss examples.

The Divinity School faculty was not alone in its conflict for long. Word of the developments spread to the Law School, whose faculty responded that they would also resign their positions if the policy of the administration was upheld. The Medical School faculty chose to support the actions of their fellow faculty members by writing a letter to the Chancellor and copying the Chairman of the Board of the University, Harold Vanderbilt, in New York. Mr.Vanderbilt flew to Nashville in his private plane, and the Chancellor retired his position.

Sadly, the Divinity School could not be saved, as many of the faculty and students had James Lawsonleft by the time the issue was resolved. However, the School eventually reopened, and James Lawson, the student whose choice to engage put his degree at risk, is a faculty member at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University today. Students of this school, from diverse cultures and backgrounds, are learning from successors of the courageous faculty of 1960, and meeting new challenges and opportunities.

Meanwhile, this week at Vanderbilt University, a town hall meeting was held to debate a new issue concerning religion. The University’s policy of inclusiveness on religion is felt by some campus organizations to be threatening to their relationship with the University. The quarterback of the Vanderbilt football team spoke passionately at the town hall meeting, which created so much interest that people were turned away at the door.

We can only wonder what James Lawson is thinking as he views these developments. We are safe in believing, though, that he would agree:

Engagement is a Choice. Each of us makes that choice consciously or unconsciously every day.

Engagement is Collaboration: Art in the Making

Underwater SculptureLast week I said…”It has been said that human beings use only a small amount of their true abilities, cognitively as well as in their roles at work, in performing their duties each day. If each of us can do so much more, can you imagine what highly engaged people can do in teams? However, every bit of the benefit of teamwork depends upon collaboration – an art that has been lost as we focus on what we can do individually.”

This week I want to highlight what is possible when we do have a higher mission than ourselves and we can cut our self-interest enough to truly collaborate.  Watch the video below that highlights what can happen when two parties collaborate not quarrel.  It will surprise you!


Live Strong Or Die Armstrong: Trust, Engagement, and the Impact of a Brand

“A little circle of trust.” You may remember this line from the popular movie, “Meet the Lance ArmstrongParents.” It is used to describe a wedding ring. The symbolism is that the individuals involved are encircled within a trusting relationship, with no beginning and no end.

Organizations and brands are expressions of a much larger, but just as important, circle of trust. When this trust is broken, many more people are affected. The ripple effect of the loss of this trust reaches people in obvious ways, and through extension, many more people in less obvious, but equally serious ways.

One recent and especially painful example of this is the events with Lance Armstrong, and their impact on his brand and the Live Strong ethic and programs. Lance is not the only, but only the most recent, icon to fall amidst charges of “serial cheating.” The trail of destruction begins with Lance himself. Recently, in a television interview, his confidence seemed superficial, and his body language showed him hiding his face behind his hand as he spoke.

We can view Lance himself as a victim in the loss of engagement and trust, through the mishandling of his talents, and the loss of a tremendous opportunity to make a lasting, positive impact in the world. He was robbed through his actions of the opportunity to know what he could truly have accomplished on his own, something so important to each of us.

Even more sadly, all the opportunity for good Lance created through his brand is at risk, as well. Live Strong, the symbol of his achievement and his overcoming of all odds in the face of illness, and those who most desperately depend on his inspiring story, are at risk. Financially, it is disastrous, but in human cost, even more so. In addition to his family, friends, business associates, and fans, other brands that depended on the promise of Live Strong and Lance’s talents are affected. These brands include those who sponsored Lance, and many others that were influenced by his fame, spirit, and the markets that were enhanced because of them.

We must not overlook the Tour de France event and organization, and the sport itself, that have been forever changed. Certainly, other participants will be affected by the response of the organization to these developments. Then, there are the contenders in the races Lance won. Those who trained with him, raced with him, and were inspired by him. Several individuals lost the opportunity to win the Tour de France fairly, and without scandal, because Lance’s actions stole that opportunity from them.

What does this say about engagement, trust, and the ability to make a difference? Clearly, trust and engagement are inseparable. Engagement thrives in an environment of trust, and can be destroyed when trust is absent or broken. This story reminds us, like so many stories before it, that each of us can make an impact. Even if we are not famous athletes, the impact of what we do reaches those closest to us, and others we may not consider in our actions. It has been said, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room!” Although it is an extreme example, this joke certainly holds true.

As we follow the story of Lance Armstrong, we do still seek to Live Strong. Perhaps this is the opportunity for redemption and benefit for all of us from his experience. We must rededicate ourselves to making good choices, remembering that what is built over a lifetime can be lost in a moment. We can consider our family, friends, colleagues, and our personal brand, as well as our corporate brand. What good can it do? What is its impact? Who is affected? How can we show trust and engagement, and encourage these qualities in others? How can we take this opportunity to ensure that our brand “Lives Strong?”

Do we have the strength to be lead?

FollowersAs the New Year begins, I would like to wish you a safe, healthy, and prosperous 2013!

For those of you who are clients, I would also like to thank you for your continued engagement with Performancepoint! I believe you will find some exciting new things waiting for you this year in our experience together.

In that spirit, I would like to share with you some thoughts adapted from Missy Park, Founder of TitleNine, a women’s sports apparel company.

EVERYTHING I know I’ve learned from coaching others. For today’s competitive world, I thought I’d share their criteria for a good team captain (leader).

    • A captain should really WANT to be captain.
    • (S)he does not have to be the best player, but she does have to be a REALLY HARD WORKER.
    • (S)he should LISTEN CLOSELY, but she does not necessarily have to act on everything she hears.
    • (S)he should be “up” even when, ESPECIALLY when, others are down.
    • (S)he has to be able to say the things we MIGHT NOT WANT TO HEAR.
    • But most importantly, the team must recognized that in order for a leader to be successful, (S)HE ALSO HAS TO HAVE REALLY GOOD FOLLOWERS.

That is the tricky part for all of us, isn’t it? How do we support our leaders, even ones we did not vote for, we do not get to choose, even when we disagree?

Here’s to hoping that we all have the strength to be good followers.