Last day. Super bummed when I woke up, too! I felt like I still needed to learn more and more.
The closing session with Laila Ali didn’t start until 8:30, which was awesome because it meant the hotel breakfast was actually an option for us instead of the dozens of free breath mints I’d picked up from the various vendors. We checked our bags at the hotel and jumped on the shuttle to the convention center for one last time. Yep, I did say Laila Ali. You didn’t read that wrong. Boxing, reality TV, HR – it’s all really the same.
I’m not going to try to pretend that Laila Ali was the best speaker I’ve ever heard in my life because she’s not, but I also don’t think she’d be surprised if I said that to her… but she’s a really, really good boxer so I might not say that to her. Hearing her story and the different types of changes she’s had to make in her life, both personally and professionally, to get to where she is today. She tried to tie it into HR a couple of times, but it was a pretty tough stretch even though there are some days where I have wondered how often managers might consider hand-to-hand combat instead of approaching difficult conversations. The short of the message I felt like she brought to the table was something like this: Life isn’t easy. Things get in the way. You make your own path.
Of the course of the conference, it was fascinating to watch how more and more of the attendees became more comfortable talking to each other as they trekked across the convention center. Some of that might have been because we’d all been seeing each other for the past four days, either in sessions or somewhere in the French Quarter. I also couldn’t help but wonder how many of those people had taken something away from what they were learning in different breakout sessions or maybe even by following #SHRM17 on Twitter where they were hearing the repeated theme of PUT DOWN YOUR DAMN PHONE. Either way, I think if the conference would have lasted for a couple more days, we all would have been BFFs. That’s what HR professionals do, right?
There were two more sessions to wrap up the day before heading back to real life.
How to Deliver Bad News and Build Trust at the Same Time with Andrea Howe and Gary Jones
First off, Andrea Howe (co-author of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust) and Gary Jones present really, really well together. I think this topic is something that everyone wants to master in about five seconds, but I think we all know that’s not how we get better at harder things. Anyway, Andrea and Gary were engaging, they drew the audience in with partner activities that aren’t painful and I really appreciated the way they applied things to examples that actually made sense. I also took three pages of notes and have already referenced some of the takeaways in a couple of work situations of my own. This is my one big takeaway, which is also broken down into four parts, but also the four biggest reminders to keep tucked away for those difficult conversations/bad news:
- There are four main problems with delivering bad news. While I can think of about 3920 more problems I have with delivering bad news, here are the four that problem work for everyone:
- It’s uncomfortable. This makes us naturally not want to have these conversations, because they are terrible and horrible and nothing good will come of them. Not true, but it’s still something that lingers in our brains. We also have the fear that having these conversations will hurt what trust we have. And really, it might, but it’s still the right thing to do if anyone is going to succeed. Candor is important. (More to come on candor because I’m obsessed with this podcast and still want to read Radical Candor.)
- Conventional wisdom really sucks. Being objective and factual at this moment in time is fine, but you have to remember there’s more to it than that. You need to lead with vulnerability at this moment in time if you expect the other person to do the same way. Don’t automatically jump to answers and provide all of the solutions and tell them everything is going to be “just fine”. You’re not the one sitting there getting the bad news, dude. Let them have a moment to react and process. When they’re ready for answers or next steps, then you get there. They need room to react and, really, they might not really care about the solutions you’re ready to provide after getting that bad news from you. You need to be okay with that, too. You’re a human, they’re a human. There’s no difference.
- It’s a tug of war. Ooh, what about a difficult conversation with – GASP – someone above your pay grade? Whaaaaaat? Oh, it’s gonna happen and the delivery might even feel even worse depending on the type of relationship you have with senior management. The thing is, the people that are in those senior management positions have probably had to have difficult conversations, so they’re going to know where you’re coming from. You might have to deliver bad news to your boss because you skipped a big part of something you were supposed to do. Major suck. But when you own it, admit your mistake, fall on your sword, whatever you want to call it, it’s one more step in getting better at this bad news thing. And then you learn from it.
- People are watching. Oh, man. They sure are. From an HR perspective, I absolutely know that there are people who watch when someone walks into our office and waits to see what kind of expression they have on their face when they walk out the door. If that person walks out shell-shocked or in tears or full of rage, everyone else that sees that person for the next hour is going to feel that in some capacity. It could be co-workers, customers, other managers, you name it. That’s a hard thing to avoid and that’s why I’m glad my HR team doesn’t handle those conversations in our office and why we partner with our leadership team to handle them on their own. It’s my belief that a direct manager is going to have a much better way to address their own employees than HR.
There was a second session. I don’t remember the name of it. Probably because there was a tornado warning five minutes after it started and our entire session got evacuated since the room we were in was against a wall of windows. I grew up in tornado country and don’t get too worked up about tornados. People in New Orleans get even less worked up. Here’s all I have from that last session. I call it Die Hard HRing in an Interior Hallway. SHRM emailed out the presentation and the actual session itself since most people weren’t able to find room in any of the overflow rooms, but I haven’t had the chance to check it out yet.
We had lunch. Took a Lyft to the hotel to get our luggage and to the airport. Flight had been delayed an hour but we got home before midnight. I just wanted to get home by 9am the next day to go to our unborn baby’s ultrasound.