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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing humanity in the workspace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and author of “JoyPowered®” and “The JoyPowered® Family.” With me is my good friend Susan White, a national HR consultant.
Our topic today is “HR Naysayer to HR Thought Leader” and how to use communication to connect. Our guest today is Alex Perry, the founder of Practically Speaking LLC. Alex, why don’t you start by telling us more about you, your background, and your company, Practically Speaking.
Well, hello. So Practically Speaking was born out of a desire that I had to coach and work with professionals on their communication skills. So I work in three different buckets. I work on executive presence, public speaking, and storytelling. I do that with one-on-one coaching workshops and then large scale speaking opportunities.
I have to tell you, Alex, it makes me a little nervous talking in front of you.
Makes me nervous talking in front of me, too.
Oh, that’s funny. I’ll tell you what, be kind to us today. So I would love to hear about your passion for helping professionals with communication, because I think it’s an area that many of us feel a little insecure about.
By way of background, I’m a speech language pathologist, so I’ve spent my career working with people who have struggled to communicate in one form or another, so from birth all the way up to 105. From that, I’ve developed a real passion around how do we communicate and how do we do it well. My why, for me, myself, is that I live by this quote by Daniel Webster, which is, and I’m going to paraphrase here, if you were to take away all of my possessions save one, the one I would keep would be communication, because by it, I would regain all the rest.
Wow. That’s heavy.
It is heavy. And you think about that…I think about that all the time, because it drives me to be a better communicator. And I just…again, I think when you have watched or sat with someone who’s lost their ability to communicate or didn’t necessarily have all of the things in line to communicate well from the start, you just gain…I have gained a new respect for what it takes to be an effective communicator. So that’s what drives me to learn more about it and to teach others and help others be better.
So I’d love to hear how you describe a naysayer versus a thought leader.
So naysayer versus thought leader really boils down to the optimist versus pessimist. So it’s the people who say “how can we do this?” versus “we can’t do this.” When you think about how people, like, really effective leaders communicate…there’s a research study by the Quantified Research Communications Group, and they looked at Fortune 500 top 50 leaders in 2015 and they analyzed their speech. And they looked at multiple different options, but they specifically looked at how optimistic their speech was and compared it to a pretty large normative sample. And what they found was that world leaders, so thought leaders, use 36.6% more optimistic language than their average peers. So that, to me, describes what a what a thought leader is versus a naysayer.
It’s looking at the possibility as opposed to why we can’t do something.
Right. And do you think, Alex, that that’s a trained skill or that that happens naturally with thought leaders?
I think it’s a trained skill. I think that people who are really effective communicators, number one, develop self awareness around their communication, number two, seek out ways to…to improve it. But, yeah, that they…they work on skills specific to being an effective communicator. Everything from tone of voice to word choice, even non verbals and body language, all of those, I think, play into how we are perceived as a…as an effective communicator.
Well, JoDee, I have to say, you being one of the most positive people I know, I’m gonna start thinking of you as a thought leader.
Oh, I like it.
Although I have to tell you, Susan, I’ve always thought of you as a thought leader.
Aww, yay! Feeling the love in here, feeling the love.
Why do you think that HR in particular kind of gets a rap as being naysayers?
So there’s really three things that came to mind as I was looking at this particular topic. First of all, you guys have had a huge cultural shift in your role. So when I looked back at what the history of human resources is, you guys really started – you can correct me if I’m wrong here – but you started off as personal admins, like, it was the administration piece, it was very, you know…
Yes, tactical. So that’s brought a lot of shifting and changing. It’s changed over time. So it’s been difficult for human resources as a whole to clearly define who they are, let alone the organizations that you work in defining who you are. So when you have that, there’s a lot of, I think, just confusion and lack of clarity. You’re perceived as the rule keepers. So because of that admin piece, because of that, we did the clerical part for so long that you’re placed in situations where no is the answer and not necessarily always given the skills in how do you say no and still open up opportunities for here’s what we can do.
You know, I find that to be true, there…because we’re pushed into a compliance role so often.
To make sure that that company doesn’t get in harm’s way in how they treat their people, how they hire, so on and so forth. That we do sometimes have to be that heavy or to be that kind of police inside of a company. It sounds like it’s how we do it that really makes a difference.
Well, I think about…many people report having had a negative experience with HR as well. So in some form or another, because of either…either HR’s role in and of itself, of that person, and/or that HR has been put in the role as the henchman between an executive and an employee. It really is kind of a recipe for naysayeresque stereotyping.
So do you have any suggestions on how we as HR leaders could communicate in a way that might influence folks looking at us more as thought leaders as opposed to naysayers?
Yeah, so…and I would say this, because I know it can seem like a little like we’re picking on HR, so know that I would say this to any executive, any communicator in general. There’s lots of things that we can do to change our language and how…how we’re perceived. So first of all, the first step is always awareness, so start paying attention to what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. If your first reaction is to number one and if you’re always thinking of the response you’re going to give versus listening to the other person, change that. And then also think about, what’s a different…what’s another way I can say it? You have to be willing to plan for your communication, thinking ahead, not just about what you’re going to say, but what questions are you going to ask. Thought leaders ask more questions versus deliver more statements. So going into…
Yeah, I hear…I hear HR say, I want a seat at the table. And so you have your seat at the table, I think now, in many organizations, HR really has that seat at the table. How you use that seat really matters. So going in and showing that you’re willing to ask questions, and ask questions not just about your specific area, but as to how the business works as a whole, really changes things.
I have to tell you that I learned from a colleague of mine in HR just within the last couple of weeks about the power of listening when you’re trying to be really a member of the management team. And what she does is she keeps a little note that she carries with her that says WAIT. W-A-I-T. And it stands for…Why Am I Talking now? Or Why…Why Am I Talking? And so it really helps her figure out, do I…should I be listening right now or should I be talking? And she’s a real extrovert, so I think it’s been a nice reminder for her to sometimes dial it back a little and listen.
So…why are you there for you? But the other two important questions that I think people forget to answer before they walk into a scenario is…why am I there for the other people? And then why am I there for the organization? What is…what is my…how does my role play out in this particular scenario? How can I best help the organization as a whole? The other things that you can do is make sure that your language is clear and concise and direct and shows a depth of understanding. So knowing your topic well before you go in, and that means not just your angle of it, but everyone else’s. And then checking for understanding is something we don’t do frequently enough as communicators as a whole. So, did you really understand my message? And taking that extra moment to say, “Can you paraphrase that for me? Tell me what you understood.” You know, not just “Are we on the same page?” Because “Are we on the same page?” means yes.
Yes. It’s changing the language around that to say, “Tell me your understanding of the issue,” or “Tell me how you would explain that.”
I love thinking about it in those terms, because I know for me, I think the way I would have answered that question about why are…why is HR viewed as naysayers, is because of the compliance and that I think so many times HR people just think, no, we can’t do that.
You’re gonna go to jail if you do that.
Right. Right. Or we’ll have to pay a fine or something, the Department of Labor will be all over us, and I…it takes me back to literally my very first day as the owner of Purple Ink. I met with my very first client and he said to me, “I like for people to tell me why I can do something, not why I can’t.” And many times I’ve had to tell him what he wants to do might not be a good choice, but I have really been thoughtful about how I answer his questions and thinking of those terms. And I…and I have to say, I’m very cognizant when I’m with him. This whole conversation is a good reminder for me to think about that with everyone, really, and how I articulate my language. But because he said that to me on the first day years ago, I am very aware of it with him.
I have found that when sometimes I do have to say no, especially to a client or to an executive who wants to do something in their company, I’ll come out and I’ll say, you know, we can’t do that and here’s the reason why, but let’s talk about what is it you really want to achieve, and let’s figure out if there isn’t a way for us to get there, but do it in a way that’s legally compliant, that makes sense with the culture that we talk about here, and so on and so forth.
Right. I love it. I love it. I actually…I spoke at a conference last week about personal branding, and that was the first time I’ve specifically spoken on that topic. And I’ll add that Alex is my speaking coach and helped me prepared for this topic. But it really made me think a lot about my own personal brand and how I presented myself to others. I mean, I’ve done a lot of speaking and training, so I think about it from that perspective, but really asking myself…what is my brand and how do others perceive me? And then, of course, I was there to to share with others how they could build theirs. But what do you think…what are some ideas that both you have on leaders building their brand, maybe specifically around this concept of not being a naysayer, or how can we project a sense of more positivity in provoking…or even how we want us to be viewed as individuals, but also as HR?
You know, what I think is LinkedIn is probably one of the most valuable resources we have and tool to be that platform for the things that are important to us. I know I’m particularly interested in helping people with disabilities get jobs, so that’s really my passion is, where I do my volunteer work. So I try very hard when I’m involved in something to put something out there on LinkedIn about the event or about that it’s coming up, really encourage other people to do it. I do think that’s part of my my personal brand. It’s a passion of mine. So I will use LinkedIn frequently for that.
I love it.
I say consistency of habit drives your brand. So when I think about someone like you, JoDee, I think about you are consistently demonstrating in your words and in your actions what your brand says, which is joy. So when someone interacts with you, you speak it, you talk it, you live it. So how do you develop habits around however you want to be perceived? And the other thing that I think when it comes to developing your personal brand is having the willingness to ask other people how they’re perceiving you. You went through this exercise and having people…How do you perceive me? How would you describe my brand? And then taking a look at that, finding the pieces that align really well with what you’re going for, and then taking a good look at the ones that don’t and deciding, what do I need to change, either about my language, my actions, my color choices, I mean, anything. What do I need to change to make sure that I’m in line with where I want my brand to be?
Yeah, so the exercise that I did that Alex was referring to, what…I asked the participants at the conference to text four or five people and ask them for three words that they would use to describe them, and so, a few days before the conference, I did it myself. And it was a very fascinating exercise for me. Of course, as an extrovert, I asked about 12 people. So it was interesting for me to see what words came back that were in common with each other, and what words were different from each other. And I was really fascinated by the exercise. So.
I was privileged enough that JoDee asked me for my three words. My problem was stopping at three, but I did. I am a rule follower, I stopped at three. So I do think there’s other things that we can do about our brand, to answer your question. I do think that we need to…whatever it is that we feel our brand is, we have to continually grow in it and stay educated in it. So if it’s positivity, you know, what are you doing personally to make sure that you are continuing to recharge your battery on that front. If your brand is organizational skills, you’re really an organized individual, I think it’s important that you’re always looking to see, are there new methods out there to get yourself more organized, so on and so forth. So I think a brand always takes, I think, continued work, refreshment, and energy.
Right. I think being a subject matter expert on a topic can be another way, too, that…that we become a go to person for a particular topic. Maybe it’s organizational skills, but maybe it’s disability hiring and recruitment. Right? Or HR in general, right? What do people view you as? What would people call you about when they had a question about it?
I don’t know, in your conference, did you talk at all about when you have a brand and it’s one that you really are living and breathing, about maybe how to mentor or coach other people who aspire to do some of the things that you’re good at?
I didn’t, but I wish I would have, because I like that. Yeah. But I think that’s a way, too, then of being able to share that knowledge in talking to others. It’s a way of talking to others about what you’re passionate about or what you are that subject matter expert in or what…what your brand represents.
Great. Well, I know you gave us some good ideas about the difference between a thought leader and a naysayer, and maybe some ways that we can try to improve our opportunity to be more of a thought leader, specifically as it relates to communications. Do you have any maybe specific skill building exercises or anything that we could do to get better at being a thought leader?
First and foremost, and I said this earlier, but I can never stress enough that planning for your communication in advance is key. So I teach a really simple strategy for people. I call it WTF, but it’s the Why, the To, and the How. And so thinking through those steps before you launch into communications with people is really important. So your whys are…Why am I here for me? Why am I here for other people? Why am I here for the organization? Your tos are really…Who am I talking to? What do I know about them? What can I expect from them? What sorts of questions are they going to ask me? And always, what sorts of questions do I hope they’re not going to ask me? If you can prepare for those, then you…then you’re ready.
And of course, those will be the questions that will be asked.
And then…How do you show up? And how do you show up is…and it’s not even just how do you show up, but it’s all the other hows, it’s the…How do you show up, position yourself? How do you follow up? What sorts of steps do I need to take from there? And when you think about those, those all play into your brand, too, those are the things that you become known for. So that’s…that would be the first thing I would say that people need to do when they’re planning their communication. Timing communication is important. So knowing how to read the room, and when is it…when is the right time to say something and when is it not?
And that takes, really, experience, doesn’t it?
It takes listening. And then some simple things to do is start noticing when are you saying no, and asking…taking that moment and asking yourself, do I really need to say no to this, or am I just saying no because it’s the first thing that comes to my mind? Am I phrasing this in a positive light or am I phrasing it in a negative light? To your point earlier, you said something along the lines of, you know, I can’t do this, but here’s what we can do. And there’s all sorts of variations on that particular phrase that you can use that phrase things in a positive light, and I’m also a big proponent of leading people through questions to the no.
Help them self-discover.
You don’t always have to tell people no. We can have a…all right, if we’re going to do this, if this is where, you know, for…to your point with that gentleman, JoDee, I would…I would have maybe led him through some questions of…Well, if we do that, what does that look like from a budget perspective? What does that look like from a people perspective? Do we have the resources to provide for that? What is that going to mean in terms of training? And that’s really thought leader type behavior…
Thank you. Very helpful.
You’ve mentioned a couple times about the power of consistency. And how can we deliver messages consistently throughout organizations maybe as…as an HR leader or as a business owner, really, about anything…maybe, specifically, if we want to think about strategic objectives, but what are some ideas around being more consistent on those?
So the first step is developing a practice of how…what is the most clear, concise, and direct way I can say this to people? Because that’s going to play well either up or down in an organization, when you can explain things clearly and concisely in a simple manner, everyone can understand it. Then you’re not trying to tailor a message one way for this group and one way for that group. Use consistent messaging all the way through, consistent wording. The other thing is know your audience. There’s two types of speakers, right? So there…if you’re talking to direct speakers, know that…that you’re going to lead with the ultimate message first. Those are going to be your executives, those are going to be…your CEOs are almost always direct type of speakers. On the flip side of that, if you’re talking to indirect speakers, know that you might have to deliver that message first, but then give them all the details that they’re going to want and need to know so they feel comfortable. Indirect speakers love detail. And then, again, I want to point back to timing. So when is the right time within…and I don’t know that this is really answering your question about consistency, but maybe being consistent about how you time the messaging throughout the organization. Like, are we delivering this message to everyone at the same time? And if we’re not, why are we doing that? And taking yourself through a process of decision making around that.
Yeah. I was working with a group yesterday, actually, this is just…I wasn’t thinking about these questions at the time, but now it’s coming back to me that they were talking about sort of branding an idea, a strategic objective in the organization, a lot of which was really not that new to what they were trying to accomplish, but that hadn’t really been working all that well, either. And they were suggesting that by branding it, it created maybe a more powerful message to people that…that they were able to communicate easier by having a brand name around it and calling it their vision. Is that…can that be a better way? At first, it hit me, or I think someone in the group sort of felt like that was a little deceiving, almost, but others in the group felt like there was real power around branding a message and having a name for it.
Kind of like putting a name on an initiative.
As they drive it through the organization.
Yes, thank you.
Give me an example.
Well, I mean, they called it Vision 2030. It was their strategic plan to drive forward, but yet, a lot of their initiatives…some were brand new, but some were really staying the course on what they were already doing. But they wanted to put more emphasis around it and drive home…they felt like they hadn’t done a good job in the past of maybe articulating what that meant and how it would lead them forward into 2030. So I thought that was a neat idea to just kind of rebrand the initiative itself.
I think it’s an interesting question. Because when you brand a message like that, and you name it something like vision whatever, the immediate question that pops into my mind is…Does everyone understand what that means? So that that would be my question there. I don’t know that…I think branding works for many things. A good story behind that branding…
…really helps carry a message through. We know that people remember and relate to stories better. So those would be my questions surrounding it. Was it good or bad? Hard to say. But…
Yeah. And I think they get that sense that in the past, people didn’t understand it, and that by having a brand, that then it would hopefully help them to tell a better story and to set better expectations and to share the message better.
I hope it works for them. I certainly wouldn’t do a plan that was a vision for 12 years, though. Half those people will be gone…
…you know, before 2030! I think I would have made it a little more short term, but I wish them well.
Alex, what’s one thing that you can share with us that we won’t find in your marketing material?
Oh, I think…I was thinking about this question, because it’s a fun one. I had you answer this question at one point. So if you were to look at all of my marketing material and all of my stuff, I definitively have a brand. What you won’t see in that is probably my extraordinarily eclectic taste in music and all things people. So fun things, you know, like, if you were to pull up my playlist, it’s got everything from opera to rap to heavy metal.
I don’t think people would necessarily gauge me as that person that’s got, you know, heavy rap on in the minivan as I’m driving down the street.
Or opera, either.
Or opera, either, right.
Well, we are in a recording studio, so when we get done with this podcast, we’re gonna let you cut loose.
You’re gonna let me do that?
And actually, speaking of your marketing material, Alex, how can people find you?
So you can go to my website at www.pswithalex.com, and you can check me out on there. I’m also on LinkedIn. I’m on Facebook.
And I know one other place where people can find you. You’ll be speaking this summer at HR Indiana.
Which is one of the largest state HR conferences in the country and one of my personal favorite events of the whole year. Susan and I have both been speakers at this conference. And this year, it will be held in Indianapolis from August 20 to the 22nd. And you’ll actually be sharing more about this particular topic on HR naysayers. Why should our listeners come to hear you at the HR Indiana Conference, Alex?
That’s a great question. I don’t know who my competition is for these time slots. But in reality, yeah, I think, number one, we can all improve our communication skills. So I offer a fresh perspective as how to do that. I’m also very tactical in my…myself. So I will give you takeaways of ways things that you can do immediately to start improving your self-awareness, your word choices, your question choices, that you can…you can actually go back and do instead of just wondering, okay, well, I know I need to improve it, but the how tos, the deeper…the deeper ways to look at it.
So Alex, I know you do individual coaching, but do you also go into businesses and help do, maybe, executive coaching programs or training programs? Would that be a service that you offer?
Absolutely. So I do one-on-one coaching, I do group coaching, and I do workshops and speaking myself like what I’ll do at SHRM.
Oh, that’s great. Well, I feel like I’ve learned from you already today. So thank you for coming in.
Yeah. Thanks for coming in.
We also had a voicemail from a listener this week, Susan. Rita in upstate New York said, “My employer expects departing staff to give a two week notice, but I just got a great opportunity and the training class starts next Monday. Do I have to give up the opportunity, or can I quit effective this Friday?
Rita, congratulations on the new job. The fact is that unless you’re under a contract with that employer, they probably have reminded you annually and since day one that you’re an employee at will, which means should business circumstances change at any point, they can ask you to leave without any notice. And by virtue of that, you are able to vote with your feet any day of the week. Now, I will tell you, and I’m sure all of us who grew up in the world of professional employment recognize that the right thing to do is to try to give notice to an employer. And usually etiquette demands two weeks’ notice, some jobs longer, but usually two weeks The purpose of that is to enable your employer to do some replacement planning, get a job posted. They may not have it filled before you leave, but at least they get the ball rolling and you can do some knowledge transfer. But the fact is, you are not required, unless there’s a contract that says otherwise for you to give notice. JoDee, any input from you?
No, I totally agree. If it makes sense in your position, you know, sometimes I’ve seen people say, hey, I have this new opportunity, I’d like to go to training next week for it, I could come back for a week after. I mean, if…if both parties agree, that can be a way to sort of help out both employers by getting you to the training, but then coming back and sharing with your current employer, too.
As I tell my career coaching clients that you owe your employer 100% every single day that you’re there. By virtue of you accepting a paycheck, you owe them 100%. But you don’t owe them tomorrow, you don’t owe them next week, and honestly, should they have the business need, they would let you go on a dime.
Yeah. Very good. Good advice, Susan.
In our in the news section, I found something I thought would be fun for our listeners. Careerbuilder recently commissioned a study on people who were late to work, and 25% of the respondents said that they were late to work at least once a month.
Oh my gosh.
I was really surprised by that.
I believe slipping into work late is never a good idea, but some people are more creative than others in rationalizing their tardiness. SHRM posted an article recently about this, on reasons that employers use for being late to work, and we thought you would enjoy some of these.
First one. I had to bail my girlfriend out of jail. Oh dear.
How about this one? I had to get my dog neutered.
I rode in the wrong direction on the subway.
I’m getting my carpet stretched.
I’ve had to have my dog re-neutered, because it didn’t take the first time. A police officer was following me all the way to work, so I had to drive slower than normal.
I had to watch a soccer game being played in Europe.
Now this one’s really sad. My pants split on the way to work.
Or I thought it was Saturday. Even wackier, one worker explained that he was late – yes, he – because he had morning sickness.
Oh my gosh. Finally, a female explained she was late because her false eyelashes had stuck together.
So 60% of employee employers expect employees to be on time, which was interesting, really, that only 60%…
I would think 100! Yeah.
…would think they need to be on time. And 43% have fired someone for not meeting that expectation.
So bottom line, get to work on time.
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