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End of Year Rituals, Personal and Professional

This week I’m taking off work to be with family. Christmas is a special time of giving and we love the spirit that is wrapped around this holiday. As I think about the next two weeks heading into the new year, I think about how much my priorities and my rituals have changed for this time of year (and how they haven’t, in some ways).

I’d love for this to be an encouragement for you to think about how you spend your time during this part of the year as well as how you plan for the year ahead.

Before Kids

A ritual, by definition, is a series of actions or type of behavior regularly followed by someone. However, rituals can change over time.

For instance, before my kids were born, I actually worked every day over the holiday weeks except for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. I loved the time when nobody was in the office so I could catch up on tasks before the new year. To be honest, I loved working when there were no emails coming in, because that meant I could focus on what needed to get done, not on what someone else needed me to get done!

I also used the time to do strategic planning, looking at what big things my team and I would try to accomplish in the coming year. I learned that practice from the best manager I ever had. She would create a theme for the year for our HR team and find a way to weave it into the big projects we were planning to work on, such as “service” or “fun.” They usually aligned with our core values which made it even more valuable for us to be sharing that from an HR perspective.

She taught me so much at a critical time in my career. I learned from her that little mistakes are, in the long run, little mistakes. She loved to say, “We can only do what we can do.” With a small team and a rapidly growing employee base, it was comforting to know that while we were working as hard as we could on a day to day basis, we were also human as well and she didn’t have unrealistic expectations of us. She also emphasized family first, which is uncommon in many high-growth organizations.

After Two Kids

Back to the rituals, my approach has changed over the years. Once our first two were born, I started taking off an extra day or two around Christmas and New Year’s to be home with the family a bit more. I shifted my planning back into late November and early December for the most part. And if I did any work during the holidays it was cleaning out the inbox, organizing the office/desk, and clearing off my electronic calendar from all those things I need to do, will never do, or still need to think about.

The rest of my time at this point was spent with family. Both my wife’s family and mine live within 30 minutes of us, so the holidays involve a lot of driving but in short, concentrated bursts all around where we live. Add to that the fact that our families have about 7 birthdays between November and December and there’s not much time left for other things. :-)

After Four Kids

In the last two years or so, I’ve worked mornings but taken off the rest of the day after lunch to be with the family. However, this year I’m taking off pretty much the entire time both the week of Christmas and the week of New Year’s. I get up a few of those mornings and work for about an hour before the sun comes up and the kids wake up, but otherwise I put everything away for a few days as best I can. Now that the older kids are in school, I appreciate those times with them even more when they are out of school. On top of that, I travel a good bit for work during busy seasons, and I treasure these times I’m at home where I can build deeper relationships with each of my kids.

On a nerdy level, one of the most fun conversations I have with the older kids are about what jobs are, how you get them, and what it’s like to “be your own boss.” They ask such intuitive and interesting questions and it’s so fun to see them growing into sharp young women already.

Add to that the fact that our little ones seem to be growing by leaps and bounds and I quickly realize that life is fleeting, and I won’t have an unlimited number of holidays to spend with them while they are small.

Also, on an even more personal note, my faith is a big part of who I am, and my wife and I have had to work harder and harder over the years to intentionally insert these beliefs in for the kids over the holidays but also into the turn of the new year. The holidays are about giving, about joy, and about kindness and goodwill towards all those around us. We see giving as a key part not just of our faith but of who we are as a family. The older kids are now big enough to experience this with us and we had them personally shop for kids on the angel tree this year to have an opportunity to bless someone else.

Paradoxically, the stress of the holidays makes this sentiment hard to come by sometimes, but we have some family rituals designed to bring us back to that center on a regular basis. In terms of the new year, I’m an optimist by nature, but we’ve also been promised that good things are in store for those who keep the faith, and that’s a belief we are trying to pass down to the next generation.

The Next Phase

I imagine that this will become the standard approach while we have young children for the next 10 or so years, but after that it’s hard to say what might change with the ritual. I don’t ever see myself working full time again during the holidays, so maybe we will plan something else around this time of the year, like a race or a trip. I had hoped to run a race this New Year’s Eve but unfortunately strained something and am trying to recover for a bigger running goal that will happen in March.

Another idea might be a family (or partial family) mission trip. One of the best experiences I had back when the kids were very small was taking a mission trip to Guatemala during the week after Christmas. Spending that week in another country and loving on those people as they celebrated the New Year was quite humbling, and when the oldest girls are a few years older, I plan on taking them to participate in an even deeper experience of giving and service.

What’s Yours?

What is your ritual around family and/or work during the holidays? Do you take time off? Work extra? Take a trip? Has it changed over the years?

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Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (Book Review)

range bookI’m a generalist. While I specialize in my career field as a writer, speaker, and researcher, I have to use a wide variety of muscle memory to make that happen (for instance, the skills that help you dig into a large set of data are different than the skills it takes to share that data from the stage).

And in an increasingly specialized world, generalists win.

This is the thesis of the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.

(Note: If you like HR book reviews I have done dozens over the last ten-plus years!)

The book is a long one, but it has so many great findings and scientific insights into what powers human performance. Plus it busts some of the key myths we all have come to believe, like “if you want to be great at something you have to specialize as early in life as possible and never do anything else,” which the author calls the Tiger option (after Tiger Woods, the legendary golfer that started playing before age five).

Six Key Ideas I Loved

Continue reading

Hiring the Best Remote Workers

place-of-work-women-3346613_1920Remote work has been around for a while, but it’s only in recent years that the conversation around the phenomenon has grown. With better Internet connectivity across the globe and a changing work culture, remote work has become increasingly popular. It also benefits employers with Owl Labs finding that full-time remote workers are 22% happier in their jobs than people who never work remotely. According to the same survey, remote workers have increased productivity and focus, less stress, and a better work-life balance. Owl Labs also found that employees offered work from home arrangements reported better company loyalty.

The Internet has changed the working landscape in more ways than one. Fast Company reports that remote worker will only continue to get more popular, and companies who want to take advantage of the benefits of more flexibility will need to adjust the way they approach hiring. To make the process of hiring remote workers easier and more effective, here are a few tips HR managers can take into account. Continue reading

WOH 71: How to Scale HR with a Growing Business

As a business grows we hire more people, but how do you manage the growth of the HR team? What roles do you hire for? How do you align with the business?

In this conversation, Ben interviews Kellee Webb about the firm’s growth from 80 to 500+ in the last 10 years, including key details about what HR Roles they hired, when they hired them, and how the HR team aligns closely with business strategy.

To learn more about Kellee Webb or Cenikor please visit the following:

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kelleewebb

Twitter: @PurposefulHR

Email: kwebb@cenikor.org

Website: www.cenikor.org

 

4 Steps that Businesses Can Take to Maintain their Growth Trajectory

career-3386334_1920All businesses have growth patterns. Rather than being a straight line to profitability and rapid growth rates, they tend to run in a prolonged pattern, followed by one or more periods of stagnation.

Often, companies never get out of a stagnation period once they fall into one, so it’s important to extend the period of growth for as long as possible. 

Here are four steps to maintaining growth in your business.  Continue reading

How To Keep Your Remote Workers Happy

thailand-2113685_1920With the advances in technology and the ability to stay connected from just about anywhere in the world, careers that don’t require an office have become really popular. Why be tied to a desk or a city when you can get your work remotely from wherever you want and still be a valuable team member?

It can be a true asset to build your team from remote workers. You don’t have to worry about providing a storefront or an office where you can all meet, and you can give your team members the freedom and creativity to do their best work. With the right coordination, you can still gather your team members for a virtual meeting from anywhere and save on business travel expenses.

With no face to face interaction, it can be a challenge to maintain a high level of credibility and motivation. Even when your team members are not in the same location as you are, their comfort and satisfaction as part of the company remain important. 

Get their feedback through innovative quizzes and surveys and always insist on an open flow of communication. Follow these other tips to help you keep your remote workers happy and productive. Continue reading

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How AI Can Influence Diversity and Inclusion (for Better or Worse)

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Recently, news broke that an AI-powered facial recognition technology used by law enforcement was actually biased against, well, pretty much everyone other than white men. This news hit the public like a slap in the face, but it’s something I’ve been seeing behind the scenes for some time now. Artificial intelligence as a technology isn’t good or bad – it just is.

AI, at its core, is like a toddler. Over time it learns and can improve its capabilities, but it isn’t smart enough to know the context and impact of its decisions in most cases. If we use it properly and with care, we can improve outcomes (including those related to D&I). If we use it carelessly, we can hamper our efforts and limit success both for our people and for our organizations more broadly.

In my book, Artificial Intelligence for HR, I talk about how employers can leverage AI technology to hire, develop, and engage their people, helping them to achieve the best results. It’s really a book about how to be more human at work (with fun stories and examples sprinkled throughout). Today we’ll explore some of the insights from my team’s research to make this conversation more concrete and actionable.

Negative Effects of AI

When you think about the negative impacts of artificial intelligence, your mind inevitably goes to something you’ve probably seen in a science fiction movie. Robots. Killer AI It’s a cliché, really, but the AI that I’m talking about today is less overt in nature.

Artificial intelligence algorithms are now being used for everything from child welfare to recidivism rates. If incorrect data are used, or if the algorithm has an underlying bias, then the results could be disastrous for those on the receiving end of the decision.

Within the workplace, AI can cause flaws in recruiting decisions, causing employers to avoid hiring qualified women and minorities. Amazon was courageous enough to come out last fall and share its own challenges with this process. Though some have disparaged the company for its results, I believe sharing the cautionary tale is a laudable act on the company’s part if it helps other firms realize the challenges that may exist.

Positive Effects of AI

At the same time, the positive opportunities presented by AI simply can’t be ignored. In a recent podcast interview with IBM’s Distinguished Engineer Lisa Seacat Deluca, she explained to me that the best way to create unbiased algorithms is to have a diverse team creating the software. This prevents groupthink and helps the team to think through outcomes for a variety of diverse individuals, not just a single group.

Let’s look at a few use cases for how AI can help in the workplace:

  • Uber uses an algorithm to set pay rates and schedule shifts for drivers, which allows it to cut the gender pay gap by half of what it is in the open market, improving pay equity for the more than 2 million drivers across the globe.
  • Unilever utilizes automated assessments and asynchronous video interviews to find talented, diverse college graduates to join its team. Moving away from a purely human-driven approach has increased diversity and candidate satisfaction.
  • Last fall I coached a startup in the HR Technology Conference “Next Great HR Tech Company” competition. The firm uses a chatbot to consume employee feedback surveys and performance review data to help coach managers on their individual performance issues, developing them into better leaders. If we developed all leaders, including diverse ones, then we would see more representation in the C-suite than we do today.

As you can see, the value in having an unbiased approach can lead to better outcomes on a range of factors, including diversity. That’s because machines are really great at certain things, but they’re terrible at others. That’s where humans come in.

The Core Human Skills of Work

When we look at history, every time automation has happened the resulting jobs are more human than the ones before them. We automate the more “robotic” components of the job, leaving it fundamentally changed. This means jobs will continue to shift into more human components, and soft skills will become key traits for employers to develop and seek. In researching dozens of sources, I found a core set of skills that we need to prioritize as employers so we don’t get tackled from behind by this algorithmic era.

Those skills include compassion, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and curiosity. I share more about them in this article, if you want to learn more, but it’s essential that we look for ways to develop these skills in ourselves and in our teams. Work is an essential component of being human, and these core human skills will set us apart from the AI, algorithms, and bots for the foreseeable future.