separated_from_group_400_clr_9554I was an overweight, shy, only-child who moved every other year. I attended 11 schools from K through 12; tough to build friendships.  In college, I made a very deliberate decision to change who I was, I lost weight, found a sorority with like-minded sisters, and learned social skills I’d not learned before. I then was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps, and left that sad child behind. I don’t get intimidated often, but when I do, it is usually the “mean girls” from high school that flip my trigger.

What do I mean by “mean girls?” Well, hopefully the Rachel McAdams stereotype has grown up to be less overt, and more caring. Honestly, if she didn’t I think she will struggle in today’s workforce.

But there is still a behavior of women that triggers in me an instant urge to run away, and it happens when a group women behave as if they are a clique.  When an outsider enters the perimeter, they let the outsider in, but their body language speaks volumes.

Typically these women have worked together enough to know each other pretty well, and be very comfortable that they think alike.  When the outsider speaks, the members of the clique all look at each other to see if what the outsider said was acceptable.  There is usually silence until someone speaks up and explains, for the group, why they do what they do and why change isn’t in the cards.

And they move on while the outsider decides whether to continue with their thought, or be quiet.

They don’t even realize that they have just shut down diversity, and from diversity comes innovation and contemporary thinking.

It seems to me to be a passive-aggressive behavior – it is passive resistance to anyone outside the clique even though they openly claim to embrace new members.

I don’t see this too often, thankfully. I did walk into a hornet’s nest of “Cliques-R-Us” in my last organization, and will forever recognize the signs of wandering eye contact. When the outsider talks, the insiders all look at each other, creating an immediate discomfort for the outsider that she said something wrong. I hope that was an unusual, over-the-top situation, and I am very grateful to not be there anymore.  Until that experience, I believed that the “mean girl” syndrome stayed in high school.

But every so often, I will wander into a group of women and feel immediately like an outsider. Why?

They spend a lot of time talking about their shared past. They jabber together until someone else speaks up, and then there is silence. They are not open to ideas that are different. Even if it is a professional group, the personal, shared stories and jokes are exchanged so easily that creates an intimacy that says, “You are new and different; we are comfortable with who we are.”

I have quite a bit more confidence today than I did when in high school, and so I will typically provoke new ideas and throw out concepts, but after so many attempts, I just stop and move on.

My question is this: how much do we miss when we don’t encourage outsiders to be part of the team and the process?

Talent Management Gone Wrong: The Rest of the Story

tombstone_message_11293In May, I posted a story of a young man who had been identified by a Fortune 100 firm as a high potential and placed into a leadership development program to prepare for the possibility of promotion into the executive ranks.

The story was unfinished, as a month after his Director left the organization and the young man had been appointed as interim Director, the VP told him that they were considering outsourcing the position. The young man was disappointed, but he was determined to show the organization that he could handle the position as interim, on the chance that they decided to keep it in-house.

I described this process as “talent management gone wrong.”

The comments on the post were interesting. Some chastised the young man for thinking that he was a slam dunk for the position. I never said he thought that, but he did have every reason to think his chances were good. Others agreed that the system had failed.

The original story occurred in April and May of this year. It is now early September. In the time between, the organization did decide to post the job, although they never did take outsourcing off the table. The young man posted for the job, and started the interview process. The process, including multiple panel interviews, took three months.

After the interviews were concluded, he was told that they were going to reopen the position to add additional candidates to the process.  They also decided to split the Director position into two positions – one responsible for engineering, and the other responsible for operations.

He went on a planned vacation. On return, he learned that one of his peers had been promoted to Director of Engineering. That was Tuesday. It is Friday. On Tuesday he asked his VP if he could talk with him to understand the decision, and what options there were for him. The VP told him that he would try to find time before he left for out of town. As of midday Friday, there was no conversation.

As a human resource professional, there are several hypotheses I could make.

Perhaps the Director who left was not a high potential, so the young man hitched his horses to the wrong wagon?

Perhaps his work as Interim Director was not what they expected of the new Director?

Perhaps the Director who was promoted was the right person for the job?

Perhaps they just didn’t believe that the young man was ready?

This is a venerated Fortune 100 organization that has received awards as “top 100 companies to work for” and “world’s most admired companies.”  Their website promises trust and reliability, and holding to the highest ethical standards.”

In my May post, I put much of the blame into the system – that it had failed this young man – and I suggested a few concepts that could help ensure something like this didn’t happen in the future.

I’m beyond suggestions right now. The only conclusion I can draw is that the VP is a coward who is too afraid, for whatever reason, to have an open and honest conversation with the young man.

How can an organization as revered as this allow a leader to be so cowardly?  I guess trust and reliability, and ethical standards are simply “words on the wall.”

That’s a shame.  I don’t even have any suggestions. I sense that they would fall on deaf ears.

Hang on…let’s throw out this concept. Teach leaders to lead and hold them accountable for leading. What do you think?

We wonder why employees aren’t engaged? Would it make sense to communicate honestly with them?


Just how important is communication?

A laugh for the day with a serious message.  The video says it all.  The real work is making sure you’re on the same page!  Ever been in a similar situation?