An Ode To Entomology

If my thinking is incorrect I offer an apology

I am told the study of bugs is known as entomology

So if that’s true I’m wondering where all those experts are

For the marmorated stink bug has returned from fields afar

 

They’re clinging to the screened porch and the doors that lead outside

The windows are no safer, for into their seams they hide

They’re propagating with ferocity, their will to live intense

The bugzooka has been broken with its suction rife with dents

I’m thoroughly disgusted, by their armor and their shell

By their asserted squatters’ rights which are making my life hell

Please  understand it’s viral, like an insect form of MRSA

These bugs are killing my morale instead of vice versa

Shoop Shoop Shoop – Are You With Me?

Driving home from yesterday’s 4th training session, the “Shoop Shoop Song” from “Waiting To Exhale” was playing in my head.  In many ways it’s also the perfect Friday song, and given some of the posts I’ve read this week, it’s appropriate for the end of what appeared to be a tough week.  Seems like a lot of us spent much of the week just waiting to let it go…

“And sometimes you’ll laugh, and sometimes you’ll cry

Life never tells us the whens and whys

But when you’ve got friends to wish you well

You’ll find your point when you exhale…”

You can add the ‘shoop shoops’ yourself – there are a lot of them.

Yesterday, I facilitated the last training session with the remarkable group of people of whom I’ve written before.  Next week, a colleague will join me for the last part of the program.  So in some ways, I had to say good-bye to a dynamic which has fueled, inspired and challenged me once a week for the month.  We’ll have a great time next week, and the team united as we know will morph naturally by the presence of a new person.  The thought of the upcoming farewells has my stomach more than just a little knotted.

Our topic yesterday was Performance Management – with emphasis placed on the fluidity of the process – the need for it to be a constant loop of communication, not the culmination of twelve silent months with no conversation about a person’s performance.  We addressed some of the real issues managers grapple with – the star employees who don’t receive enough feedback because ‘they know’ they’re terrific and other people require more attention; the poor performers who supervisors avoid because ultimately the anticipated hostility/tears/aggressive/defensive reaction (pick your adjective) is just too painful to endure.  The challenge of actively listening when studies show that adults really attend for about five minutes within a twenty-minute conversation.  How commentary is far more critical than a ‘score’ and how to move a firm and its people away from the numbers and in to substantive feedback.  Including the employee in establishing goals, and how to build those goals effectively.  We went straight through, with a quick break to bring in some lunch, and just kept going until we could go no longer.  They crushed it – figuratively and in a good way.  The examples provided, support given to those with a tough situation to handle, enthusiasm and trust in each other – all were so impressive.  They inspired me more than I can adequately describe.  Do you sense a ‘but’ in all of this?  Good – I’m so glad you picked that up.

When our sessions end, they go back to work.  At best their supervisors ask them if they’re enjoying the program, if they’re getting anything out of  it,etc..  That’s it – the curiousity and interest in the manager and his/her development stops there.   They are coming away from these meetings with new ideas, a renewed sense of purpose, some thoughts about bettering themselves and their department.  There wasn’t one person who affirmed that his/her boss would be interested in pursuing anything other than things as they are.  The most frustrating aspect of this reality, is that I just know what will happen to their enthusiasm, focus and intention.  Worse still, they do too.  I’m committed to being available to them should they need me,  but let’s be real –  as time passes everyone gets caught up in the rhythm of their days, and without someone encouraging movement and effort from their supervisors, there is an inevitable return to the norm.

If you are a director or C-level officer, are you really giving your direct reports the room, support and mentorship they need?  Are you working with them to formulate opportunities to practice that which they’ve learned once training programs end?  What’s your stake in their growth and how do you show that commitment?  I’m just wondering, because from where I stand this seems to be the most important part of your responsibilities and the easiest one for you to minimize or disregard.  I’m just sayin’…I know there are some exceptional senior executives who read this blog – it would be great to know what you do with and for those managers you send for professional development training once they’ve completed the program or class?

I will miss these Thursdays, yet that doesn’t diminish the value they have held for me.  I have met outstanding people, forged a bond that is predicated upon a shared desire to do the right thing for those they supervise and for their firms.  I wish them all the success, growth and all the happiness their hearts can hold.

So it’s Friday morning, and the sun is slowly rising.  The week ends with some exhausted by the emotional toll that the last few days have exacted; others are thrilled that the week has gone so well.  For everyone,  I hope the time arrives sometime today when you get to exhale.  Happy weekend all.

Me? The Terminator?

When I landed in DC, my first boss was an  ‘interesting’ character.   I use the adjective advisedly, in much the same way as ‘incredible’ or ‘unbelievable’.   Shortly after I started working, she brought me a lovely Villeroy & Boch box for my desk.  She told me it was a welcome gift.  Given the environment in which I was working (HR Manager in a national law firm), I was struck by the thoughtful and gracious  nature of the gesture.  She was the least spontaneous person I had ever met.  In fact, she was my introduction to the world of challenging bosses – she was demanding, arbitrary, judgmental, obstinate and more than a little self-righteous.

A week later, she came into my office and told me to terminate G’s employment.  There was nothing in this woman’s file to suggest that she was skating on the edge of the employment abyss.  She was capable, experienced and had the tendency to arrive between five and fifteen minutes late a couple of days a week.  G was also quite confident and never really provided the administrator (my boss) with the deference she expected from everyone.  Of course, that really was the crux of the issue.  I wasn’t prepared to have such a dialogue with an employee who had never been spoken with about her lateness (or anything else for that matter).  So I offered to work with G, with the proviso that if I didn’t get anywhere within a proscribed and sustained period of time, I would do the deed.  The administrator relented – but not before reiterating that she didn’t like G at all and the likelihood of my success was somewhere between slim and none.

To abbreviate the story – G worked out her lateness issues and was more respectful of the administrator’s position in the office hierarchy.  I walked into my office one morning and found a $500.00 check in that beautiful china box, along with a note – “if you had gotten rid of her, it would have been $1,000.00″.  Pretty stunning (please see adjectives ‘interesting’, ‘incredible’ and ‘unbelievable’ above).  A single mom with two small boys; I needed the job even though I couldn’t stand the person to whom I reported.  Yet I wasn’t going to cave on these directives which occurred with far more frequency than I care to recount.  Suffice it to say I was there for two years ‘working with’ a ridiculous number of employees and receiving $500.00 checks instead of $1,000.00, before I was happily recruited away.

It really didn’t matter whether there was documentation to support these decisions.  It didn’t matter that she was exposing the firm to charges of unfair employment and/or discriminatory practices.  Her argument was that employment was at will, and at any given point in time she could decide that an employee wasn’t meeting her standard of likability or talent.  In the most simplistic sense, as an employer she was right.  If an employer is making decisions to hire or fire and those decisions have nothing to do with an individual’s protected class, both employer and employee are free to end their relationship at any time.  However, just as a realtor’s  mantra is ‘location, location, location’, HR people repeat ‘documentation, documentation, documentation’.  Arbitrary decisions more often than not upend peoples’ lives, adversely impact professional reputations and cost money (as they should, in my view).

I don’t like severing professional ties – or any ties for that matter.  I’m way too neurotic in my need to help make things better (as if I alone can do that).  Happily, I have never met a successful HR professional who enjoys the process either.  I maintain that if the time comes when such situations elicit no reaction – or worse yet, delight – it’s time to consider your other talents and re-career.  It is difficult, painful and disheartening to initiate these dialogues and I would imagine it sucks to be on the receiving end even more.

In an ideal world, every employee is stellar, productive, consistently enthusiastic, highly skilled and committed to team play.  All the time.  Oh – they’re also loyal, have the utmost integrity and remain motivated from the first day forward.  Did I also mention that every supervisor is killer smart, engaged, dedicated to their people, visionary…Ok, wake up now – the dream part of this blog is over.  Performance does not occur on one upward trajectory; performance waxes and wanes.  That’s a predictable and honest course of professional – and personal – life.  If a supervisor is offering consistent, regular feedback then an employee knows where s/he is on the performance spectrum (on a separate but related note – if conversations like this become the norm, the evaluation process wouldn’t be viewed with such derision).

After thirty years in this profession, I have arrived at a conclusion I can live with.  If I can say that I have done everything I can do to help an individual improve his/her performance, if I have mentored, advised and documented (and may I add that I can’t use the acronym P.I.P for I always think of Gladys Knight), if I have clearly articulated the expectations and consequences involved if they are not met – and there is no positive result, then I am not terminating the employment relationship – the employee is making that choice.  I realize that this is a little bit of a shift from the way we typically approach this topic.  Please recognize that I’m not suggesting that the employer is divested of responsibility, rather I am leveling the playing field so that these discussions leave no victims or passive recipients of terrible, life-altering information.

I can hear your rumblings in cyber space.  Certainly, there are mandated economically driven RIFs where there are truly victims and I have been the harbinger of those awful messages more times than I would like to recall.  That’s a topic for another day, I hope.  And yes, there are really lousy bosses and ineffective supervisors and employees let go for reasons that elude them and employees who aren’t let go for reasons that elude everybody else.  Perhaps that too is a future subject.  For now though, let’s go back to where we began – you couldn’t pay me to terminate the employment of someone without trying to improve the problem.  You couldn’t pay me to engage in this exercise if I didn’t have the employee’s buy-in to do the necessary work.  When it fails, the individual is making a decision and a choice and when it succeeds?  To paraphrase MasterCard – it’s priceless.

The Hidden Agenda Of Babies

How are babies born with such incredible cunning?  Seriously, if they could talk, I would appreciate it if they would enlighten me.  It really matters little what species it may be – there’s a huge scam going on and I think it needs some exposure.

For reasons that I can only attribute to fantastic visits from the karma truck, I happen to have had the most beautiful babies in the world – probably in any other world too.  I had to negotiate with the nurses to hold them (this was before babies roomed with their moms, so I’m dating myself).  When I was getting my first born dressed to go home, two nurses came in and asked me if I was taking  ‘their baby’.  This filled me with a reasonable amount of confusion for a) I was there and awake when he was born and felt certain that he was mine and b) I wondered if this meant that they were going to come visit.  I decided immediately that if they ever came knocking, I would pretend we weren’t home.

My second son was very anxious to come into the world, despite my insistence that he was fine where he was and encouragement to stay put.  So he arrived six weeks early, fully ready physically to be here, but in a lousy mood.  Regardless of his reaction to this decision, he was eighteen inches long and a tiny round bundle of complete perfection.  Because he was a preemie, the competition between the nurses and I was fierce.  I admit to eyeing them with some suspicion and distrust.  It was fine for them to check his vitals – then they needed to withdraw and find someone else’s baby to coo over.

I met my third when he was three and a half, and in this instance I must give credit to his bio-mom and my husband.  He was so adorable, I spent hours scratching imaginary ‘itchy bumps’, providing endless piggy back rides and making up silly songs just because I was thoroughly besotted.  It didn’t matter that he would engage in lengthy conversations while ostensibly trying to go potty (which in and of itself was also cute but for the fact that this usually  happened when we were in a restroom on the NJ Turnpike), or that he would hold food in his mouth until he turned green.  He had me the first time he shared his Power Rangers.

I loved being a mom with such indescribable enthusiasm (I still do), I would have had more.  I’m not thinking as many as the Duggars necessarily – but the ferocity of love was unparalleled by any emotional experience I had ever known.  You know what I mean – it’s visceral, unconditional, it lives in your skin.  Babies do that.

Puppies, kitten, guinea pigs, bunnies – they melt me too (though arguably not in the same way).  I think baby rhinos are precious, a new foal can move me to tears and I can’t even watch Bambi or Dumbo without dissolving (by the way, am I the only one who sobs when Dumbo’s mom is in circus jail rocking him through the bars singing ‘Baby Of Mine’ – stop, can’t even think about it).  When the boys were little we had a veritable zoo.  The house was insane.  I can’t say I did it for them; they were still too little.  This was my doing – those baby animals lured me, and the boys were happy beneficiaries.

So here’s my theory – they reel you in at the outset.  With each sigh, funny face, cry, nuzzle, bath time…with each rendition of ‘The Muffin Man’, the ever-wondrous delight with magically appearing M&Ms and each belly laugh..they know they’ve got you.  And frankly, I think they’re calculating the goodwill reserve they’re going to need when they get older and move into the snarky depths of adolescence.  Those years when they need not to need you and you still need to be their mom while wondering with no small amount of horror when axillary hair and weird odors invaded your yummy baby’s body.  But it matters little – I can still recall the sensory delight of how they smelled before they smelled.  How wise they are, how cunning.  I’m telling you – these babies are so on it.

And when a puppy piddles, I don’t get mad – look at that face.  He’s a baby too and doesn’t know what he’s doing yet.  Puppy breath and kisses diffuse any frustration over the fact that the window sill in the family room is pockmarked with teeth marks.  Clearly the dog is bored and I need to rush over to PetSmart to pick up some new toys for his entertainment.

Now those babies are grown men, and their goodwill reserve is still full.  I have ‘sucker’ tattooed on my forehead (fashionably covered by my hair) – and they know it.  They tease me when I cry – which happens every time I try to articulate how deeply they are etched in my heart.  Of course, they don’t have children of their own yet.  I am confident I will be redeemed.  The time will come when we will marvel together at the limitations of the English language when trying to explain how a heart can so swell it’s palpable.  And I will be thinking to myself – ‘gotcha’.

Food For Thought

I go to the gym now on a regular basis; I still look like an apple.  My trainer says it takes patience and commitment (two qualities for which I can take little ownership) – after all, it took a lot of years to lose my waist and replace it with such amplitude.  It is true that gravity is no longer my buddy – I’ve shrunk, I truly don’t know what the hell happened to my waist (but it would seem that it’s a developed a frighteningly close relationship with my hips).  And I haven’t experienced this much frustration trying to see my toes since I was pregnant.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t commit to Spanx for longer than a cocktail party – too many people come over and ask me if I’m ok because my face turns an indescribable hue of purple.

I’m also not sure how I feel about having my body type compared to a piece of fruit.  ‘Pear shaped’ seems troubling too.  I was peeling one yesterday to use in a recipe, and all I kept wondering was who I knew who even remotely resembled an Anjou pear.  Instead of saying “you look well”, am I to say “you look really ripe”?  What if you’re short and an apple?  Does that make you a Ladysmith?  Maybe a Macoun – they’re smallish.  Certainly can’t be a Granny Smith – the proportions are all off.

Nora Ephron wrote about her neck.  I beg to differ.  In the interest of full disclosure, I wear a lot of turtlenecks – it seems a kinder, gentler approach to  these pathways that now trace their course around my neck.  My hair is long now – it’s way cheaper than Botox and hides a lot more (like my ears which insist on growing despite my repeated exhortations that they stop).  But it’s the hands!!  Nora, what about the hands??  Have you seen Madonna’s hands?  They reveal all that her efforts deny…the knuckles protrude, what was lithe and graceful is now bony and beginning to gnarl.  This is the greater injustice, I’m telling you.  Let’s not even talk about the little ‘freckles’ that are beginning to create a picture a la Seurrat.  I wonder what they’re going to look like when they start connecting.

Old peoples’ hands.  I know, I know – embrace their beauty.  The tears those hands have wiped, the baby baths they’ve given, the hugs and healing they have provided, the gazillion gestures they have made to emphasize a point.  But they’re right there – reminding me daily that regardless of what I do, my hands blatantly reflect my age, without a skosh of willingness to play the denial game with me.  Porcelana – puleeze.

I know I could have some procedure that would minimize the appearance of these blue rivers that course below this thinning skin.  I could zap away the freckles.  Who knows, maybe they now have knuckle lipo.  I can’t do it.  I mean, there would be way too much work that would have to be done on this body – the hands don’t even make it as a line item on the ‘frivolous expenditure budget’.  I totally get why spouses tell you that you look great just the way you are.  A new roof is more important.  Baby needs a new pair of shoes.

And yet, I’m starting to realize that I better like this body now.  It sure as hell isn’t going to get any better (even if I do locate my waist at some point).  I spent so much of my adolescent and young adult years hating my appearance, it really seems time to give it a break.  For the most part, it does what I ask of it, and I can still rock a pair of Converse sneakers and rolled up jeans.  True, I don’t go to the supermarket in Laboutins and leggings (I’d frighten the produce guy and desperately seek the motorized scooters if I hope to make any progress).  A formal night out requires serious planning – there’s no such thing as just throwing something on anymore and getting away with easy chic.  And it’s hard to use eyeliner without my glasses (you try it, it’s tricky).

All of that said, I still have some constituents out there – ok, mostly homeless men, but they’re very complimentary even on the rare occasions when I don’t give them money.  My husband insists I’m beautiful in his eyes (granted he may be watching a football game as he says this).  But I’ll take it.  Maybe I’ll just keep my hands behind my back – what do you think?