Guest lecture

Guest lecture

Monday, February 9, 2015

Change Performance Management, But Don't Kill It

The deepest fear we have, 'the fear beneath all fears,' is the fear of not measuring up, the fear of judgment. It's this fear that creates the stress and depression of everyday life.

Do you like going to parties and events where you meet new, non-HR,  people?  Do you enjoy the small talk about what you do for work?  That used to be so easy when I was a lawyer.  Everybody knows what that is.  But now that I am in HR, I don’t really like to answer this.  It is not because I don’t like my work.  I do.  In fact, I am really passionate about work.  It is just that I don’t know how to explain it well.

It always goes something like this:  “What do you do”?  Me:  “I work for Sanoma? “   Then: “What do you do there.”  Me: “I work in HR.”   And then the response is:   “oh” or “huh”  or “really” or “oh no”.    It never seems to  impress or inspire anyone.   I know, I know;  it shouldn’t matter  what others think.   But, instead of just letting it go, I find myself being very defensive of my career choice and end up cheerleading HR.  Because it is such an exciting and important field and I want everyone to understand that.  And sometimes this works.  At least for a little while. 

But, inevitably, things get tense when we get to the topic of performance management.   That is what I do.   And here,  the pleasant small talk turns a bit edgy.   Everyone who has worked in a company where performance was rated seemed to have had a bad experience.  No one likes it, and most hate it.    And I always get the feeling they blame the likes of me for their bad experiences. 

So, why do we keep doing it and why do I like it.

Critical Clarity

First off, performance management is not just about rating and judging.   The frustration and anger is always about this part.  But, the first and foremost goal of performance management is to make clear what you expect of people.   
We all want to know what we are expected  to do.  Clarity is critical.  Great managers will also show how we fit into the bigger picture.  So that we people feel part of something bigger than just their own job, team or department. 

And when you know what you’re expected to do, you obviously want to know how you are doing in meeting those expectations.   And here it gets difficult.  Here is where things go wrong.  Because here someone needs to pass judgment on another person.  This is inherently uncomfortable.

Courageous Feedback

For feedback to work, both the giver and the receiver have to understand their part.

If you are the feedback giver, you need to care enough to give constructive feedback.  You need to mean well, be honest and open.  And you must say so in clear, convincing and actionable terms. 

That takes courage.  Because when you speak up you are crossing a social boundary.  You may be rejected, or scolded or made to feel dumb.  Plus, your hope that things might change just may be crushed.   This happens when the feedback receiver feels attacked, deflects blame and points fingers.  

You run the risk that your relationship will be forever be scarred.  And many don’t bother. 

If you are the feedback receiver you need to care even more.  You need to be open to the constructive feedback, savor it and dive into it.  It is wise to receive it with an open mind.  It is a gift that is not offered often.    And you’re lucky someone cared enough. 

Dare to differentiate

But it does not stop here.  There is also the rating and the ranking   The “guts” of performance management.  Here you need to let people know where they stand – how they’re doing today and what their future looks like.  Are they a star, just average or below?  The critics call it “Rank-and-Yank” which means that companies supposedly identify their worst performers once a year and then, boom, fire them (yank them).   And there is tons of criticism.

But, rating and ranking is about differentiation.  Lets face it, not everyone is performing at the same level.  People come with their talent.  Different talent.  Talent is just not equal.  Period.  We all know that.  We should not be looking for equal but instead we need to think of what is fair. 

Let’s start by acknowledging that fairness has nothing to do with treating everyone equal.  No company’s strategy is to invest equally in all employees.  The last time where everyone got a trophy was in kindergarten.  Differentiation is what we want and expect.  Fairness is recognizing that some contribute more than others.  And the ones that contribute the most should get the biggest piece of the pie.   This is the practice of differentiation and it is powerfully effective.

There are many who feel that the bell curve aspect of differentiation is “cruel.”  But we do not find this a problem in school where we grade children as young as 9 or 10.  And we are totally fine with this in sports and play as well.  Why is it then that when we rank at work people can’t take it.  Explain that one to me. 

Differentiation is about consistency, transparency and candor.  Candor is absolutely essential to make differentiation work.   Great managers know that you owe candor to your people. Why should anyone guess what you think of them. Most people appreciate this reality check, and today's "Millennials" practically demand it.

Satisfy your Stars
So much of the criticism is about the value of ranking when it comes to motivating mediocre performers.  “I am afraid that she will be totally crushed and demotivated if I tell her she is not as great as she thinks she is”,  “he will stop putting in any effort if I tell him he is not great.”   

Obviously, mediocre performers do not like it.  It is calling attention to the fact that they are not meeting expectations and letting their team down.  Being told that you  aren’t making the grade is ego-threatening and generally unpleasant.  But they need to know. 

This is why we need great managers who can give courageous feedback. 

But, let’s not stop here.  How about the high performers.  What about them?  Shouldn’t you not be even more concerned with your stars?  What do they need?

Stars like the outcome of performance management; the rating and ranking.  Stars are motivated by being the best in their class.  They want to win, it is part of their DNA.  Or else, if stars  do not care how they stack up against others, they want to  be as best as they can possibly be.  To be as close to perfection as possible. Ranking then is recognition for a job well done.

Stars also like ranking because it protects them from low performers.  They do not like working with people who do not share their commitment to quality and productivity.    

High performing folks like to work with other high performing folks in a high performance culture.  Ranking and rating are a critical part of creating this culture. 

Don’t be a Foolish follower

The blogosphere is full of pleas to do away with performance reviews and ratings.  Because employees and manager alike hate them.  They take lots of valuable time from our managers and its effectiveness is ambiguous at best.    These stories are compelling and they make me feel as if I am a bit old school for still doing it.  The last thing I want to be accused of is being old school.    

But hold on a minute.  Can it be that simple, just get rid of it?  Does that not sound too good to be true to you?  It did to me.  And it is too good to be true.  The fact remains that every company has limited resources for investments (salary increases, development and promotion).  If you get rid of your measuring stick (rating), how are you going to make decisions?  Because decisions will still be made by someone somewhere.  As said before,  no company’s strategy is to invest equally in all employees.  So, without this process those judgments are now completely hidden

This total lack of transparency is certainly not what we want, right?. 

So, we need this process.  But we can do better.  No one likes a lousy process 

Measure more things

One of the criticism on differentiation is that the focus in on individual results and that it kills teamwork.  But, that is not necessarily true.  If you made clear from the start that you expect people to act as team players, it is part of what is being measured. 

The same thing goes for values.  Defining what you expect of people should capture the company’s mission (where it's going) and its values (the behaviors that are going to get it there).

Finally, the forerunners are starting to include personal achievement goals, totally unrelated to company goals.  Here are some examples:

  • complete 3 chapters of a novel

  • broaden social network

  • lose 20 pounds

  • add 6 pounds of muscle

  • create a healthier home environment

Why?  Because this has everything to do with caring for someone’s well-being and thus company culture.  Supporting employees in their personal goals has a direct impact on their performance in the office.

I am following this with great interest.  I believe that well-being is the next big thing.   And I am not alone.  Well-being has been put on the agenda for large multinational CEOs and governments all over the world. 

Measure more often

Employees need and want regular feedback (daily, weekly), so a once-a-year review is not good enough.  Regular coaching works best.  For the poor performers it is absolutely necessary to address the performance issues immediately.  And praising high performers in real time is much preferred.

Google is using the so-called OKR (Objectives and Key Results) and many start-ups have copied this secret sauce.  OKR process is a quarterly process where you define an objective and have measurable results toward reaching that goal in simple terms

Interestingly, quarterly OKRs are NOT performance reviews.  The performance review is a separate process.  As part of the performance review process, Googlers need to reflect on their performance.  OKRs are a perfect tool for that.     

Not many will argue that once-a-year review is enough.  It is the absolute minimum.  And doing it once is better than not doing it at all.   

More people measure

Most performance reviews are done by just the manager.  It is about his/her opinon; a manager knows all – type- of- process.  But manager and employee relationships are no longer 1:1.  To get the true measure of performance lots of peer input is needed.

The pioneers here are going much further.  They believe that we’re on the cusp of a major change that uses the power of social to fundamentally shift from a traditional, top-down management hierarchy to a new bottom-up approach.  They will be using the wisdom of the crowd or crowdsourcing.

The idea is that a group of independently deciding individuals will make better decisions and more accurate observations than those of an individual.  By leveraging social tools and data, managers can better collect, evaluate and share information on employee performance. 

We better watch it.  It will disrupt all of HR.


Back to the party.  So, how would you explain it well.  Let’s face it, it would be incredibly obnoxious to lecture anyone at the party who does not share a passion for HR.   In fact it would be totally uncool to lecture at all.   I don’t want to be that person.  I want to be the person that doesn’t try to be interesting, but interested.  I want to be that person that is actually listening and not just waiting to talk.     

So, I am going to think of a new strategy for small talk.  And do the “lecturing and cheerleading” at a more suitable place like ….. here

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hack HR and other learnings from HR Tech Conference

I used to loathe conferences.  As a lawyer I was obligated to attend to keep my license valid.  They were sooooo boring.   When I was a consultant, the conferences were hard work; I had to entice potential customers to buy our services.  I did not like that at all.  

But now that I am an HR professional, I get excited to go to conferences.  Good forward thinking conferences cover topics I care deeply about and make me feel that I belong in HR and am part of the movement that pushes for change. 

Last week’s HR Tech Europe conference in Amsterdam was definitely one I would call forward thinking.  With its great speakers and topics, it inspired me, I learned new things and most importantly I got back in touch with my purpose for doing what I am doing.  Here are some highlights (and some not so high points) I’d like to share.

Day 1 –

Keynote speaker Yves Morieux – Boston Consulting

Yves really woke us up.  After showing stats about the productivity and engagement crisis in our companies he asked us bluntly "what the hell have you been doing in your HR departments."  Ouch.  By the way, imagine what that sounds like when said with a strong French accent.  That hurts even more.

His thing was all about collaboration and how collaboration comes at the expense of individual performance.  He made his point by showing us a very cool Olympic relay race where the French surprisingly beat the Americans.  How French.   
Anyway, Yves was an engaging speaker,  a joy to listen to and he made a very compelling case for collaboration. 
My favorite quote: “Blame not for failing, but blame for failing to help or ask for help”  

What I learned:  Be even more focused on collaboration in designing HR strategy and processes.  

Thomas Davies – Google

Admittedly, I am in awe of Google.  And apparently, I am not the only one who wants to learn from this amazing company.  The room was packed, with people needing to stand in the back due to lack of chairs.   Here is a tip to event organizers;  Put Google speakers in your biggest rooms;  they’re very popular. 

Thomas did not let me down.  He had lots of energy and was great to look at.  But, most importantly he had a real nice authentic way about him.  He talked about their new product “Google for Work” which is all so cool.  But, what intrigued me even more was his thing about “relevance.”  He encouraged everyone to think about  how you can be relevant in your role.  Think about your purpose and innovation will flow. 

My favorite quote:  “Organic ideation is fueled by relevance”

What I learned:   Think more often about how I can be more relevant

Robert Hohman - Glassdoor
Glassdoor is the for finding jobs. Robert's goal is to help people find jobs and companies they love.  Glassdoor lets employees vent about their jobs and rate their companies.  It is one of the most disruptive companies in the HR space.  And I think Robert is on to something. His commitment to bring greater transparency and accountability to the workplace is the most compelling aspect of his company and the key to its success.  But, I still wonder about his business model (companies pay for analytics and advice).   Sounds a bit like a conflict of interest, no?  But, then again, I may just not get it. 
My favorite quote:  “Barton's 3 laws of the web:  #1 If it can be shared, it will be shared, #2 if it can be rated, it will be rated and #3 if it can be free, it will be free”
What I learned: we should not fear, but embrace transparency and recruitment as we know it, will be gone.
Day 2 -
Keynote Speaker R "Ray" Wang
Wow. What an energy. I loved it.  He is one of those people you wish you could be around more.  He elevates your thinking and inspires you to be better.  His topic was "The Future of Work In A Digital Era- The Impact of Massive Transparency".  It wasn't all new, but he was connecting the dots. I liked how his brain worked although Ray was going a million miles an hour. So, I'll just share some of the stuff he was talking about:
  • The 5 generations in the workforce, not by age but by proficiency;  digital natives, digital immigrants, digital voyeurs, digital holdouts, and digital disengaged
  • Companies no longer need to sell products, but need to keep brand promises
  • Sell experiences and outcomes, not products
  • Employees also want to design and manage their own experiences
  • Mobile is not a device, but a way of working
  • Brand authenticity is in everything you do
  • We need not just CDO, but all CXOs must be digitally savvy
  • What is your company's DNA: market leaders (5%), fast followers (15%), cautious adopters (50%), or laggards (30%)
  • In Digital HR and IT collaboration is key to success.  HR needs simple, scalable and sexy, but IT requirements are safe, secure and sustainable
Pffff, and there was so much more.
My favorite quote:  We need to find more digital artisans and put them in every aspect of our business
What I learned:  I need to read his book.  I need to get this, all of it.
Kim Wylie and Yvonne Agyei - Google
In separate talks, Kim and Yvonne shared some of the insights in Google's culture and their experiences with transformation.  They said that if you give people freedom they'll do amazing things and I believe them.  What I particularly like about the Google people is that they seem so unassuming.  They work for one of the most admired companies, yet do not seem arrogant.  I have to admit that they do intimidate me;  not the individual people, but the company.  They have such a fundamentally different way of looking at the workplace.  Can what works in Google be done elsewhere; where in the world do we start?
Favorite quote: “if you give people freedom, they will do amazing things”
What I learned:  Think different is not just what they say, it is who they are.  It is possible. 
David Wilson - Elearnity
David is an independent analysist and reviews the European HR technology industry.  David is straightforward and brutally honest.  No sugarcoating the message here.  He is quite critical of the HR IT vendors.  All of them. They are not delivering on their promise because his stats show that the clients are not happy.  He went on to say that HR and IT have a reputation problem as well. We are the most hated in the company.  Ouch.  But, the best part was that he highlighted the infuriating conclusion of a panel discussion with the big vendors: "vendors take credit for the success of technology, but blame the users for the problems".  Yuck. 
Favorite quote:  “vendors take credit for the success of technology, but blame the users for the problems”
What I learned:  Vendors, all of them, have a way to go when it comes to customer centric thinking. 
All boys panel
This was the low point of the conference.  When all of the “zone” moderators were on the main stage to talk about themes, it became blatantly apparent; “where are the women?”  What a bummer.  Old boys network yet again.  Aaargh.  And inexcusable.   You guys gotta do better than this. 
Favorite quote:  Not sure what his exact words were, but Euan Semple seemed genuinely uneasy that there were no women. 
What I learned:  Keep pushing diversity. 
Keynote speaker Gary Hamel
Luckily, the conference did not stop there.  The best was kept for last; Gary Hamel.  He is the #1 Business Thinker in the World according to the Wall Street Journal.  And he did not disappoint.  What a story. 
His thing was that the real innovation needs to happen in management and leadership.  It is easy to buy obedience, diligence and intellect, but what companies need is initiative, imagination and passion.  Prof Hamel thinks that HR is suffering from ADD (Ambition Deficit Disorder).  The problem HR should be solving needs to be meaningful, something bigger.  Like how do we get the deeply human things as creativity and passion back in the workplace.  For that to occur we need to humanize the workplace.  True innovation happens only if we can find a way to rouse the human heart at work.  How beautiful is that.
He substantiated his statements with real life examples, he turned fairytales into reality.  Just imagine:
·         Abolishing titles
·         Crowd source strategy
·         Employees chose their colleagues
·         Employees elect their leaders
·         Sharing all compensation data
·         Setting salaries through peer review
·         Managing with a 1:400 span of control
This is really happening in the most innovative companies. 
Prof Hamel made the case that technology and a revolution in employee expectation will profoundly shift in how companies are led and managed and HR’s role is to engage the whole organization in an open conversation.  And as to HR, Prof Hamel thinks we should call upon every employee to help “hack” HR.
And finally, he called upon us to take action.  He cited a quote where Pope Francis, the “People’s Pope”, slammed Vatican leadership.  Prof Hamel tweaked it to apply to the business world:  “Past CEOs have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their staffers.  Bureaucracy is the leprosy of our organization.  A top down model ignores the world around it and I will do everything to change it.”
His final comments were about what our purpose is, as HR leaders.  Are we ambitious enough?  Are we going to do everything to change what is not right?  Are we committed to find that way to rouse the heart in the workplace?  It is HR, it is us;  we should be in front of the inevitable transition to humanize the workplace.
I do not know about anyone else in the crowd, but that call to action really hit home.  That is exactly the reason why I am in HR.  So, thank you HR Tech Europe for inviting Gary Hamel and thank you Gary Hamel for reconnecting me to my purpose…

Monday, June 16, 2014

Beating the fear of public speaking

A couple of weeks ago I delivered my first big speech.  It was for a Dutch HR leadership crowd in Bussum, the Netherlands and it wound up being one of my best professional experiences ever.

In March I received a call from the organizer asking if I wanted to participate in the HR leadership conference.  When I asked for some more information about the program, I learned that there were no female speakers yet.  Not one.  At an HR event....

I voiced my surprise and disappointment to the guy on the phone.  "It is a reason for me NOT to attend the conference"  I told him.  A few days later someone from the event organization called me back and asked if I'd be interested in being a speaker.  Yeah well, how could I say no.  Not after faulting them for the lack of diversity in speakers.   But, more importantly, I did not want to say no.  I was scared, but I also felt honored.  They liked what I had to say, apparently. 

Now what should I talk about?  The woman from the organization would like me to "set the tone"  and "wake the audience up." Something about the digital transformation disrupting our industry and why we need our HR leaders to make a difference.

There are so many subjects that crossed my mind.  All of them I feel strongly about, like  
  • HR must learn to speak the same language as business leaders.  That is the key to impact.  
  • HR needs to be way more data driven and strategic.
  • HR has a negative reputation. Often I feel defensive when I explain what I do to non-HR people at network events.  That really bums me out.
  • HR needs to improve.  We need talented people who get it.
  • Having digital natives/Millenials/GenY/GenC, or whatever you want to call it; as customers, employees and leaders.  My favorite subject.
I asked some help from a professional.  His initial feedback was a bit confrontational.  "Everybody knows this stuff already.  You're not telling them anything new."  "What is your main message?"  "What do you want to leave your audience with?"

Well, that is a really difficult question. I really struggled with it.  One thing was clear.  I needed to talk about my journey, my own story.  About why I decided to make the switch to HR.  And where that passion has brought me today.   I knew full well that this was quite different from most talks at these types of events.  But this was my chance to dare greatly. 

So, I dared.  I wove my personal story into HR content.  I decided to stay away from powerpoint and used a prezi with just pictures to support the passion and emotion I wanted to deliver in the talk.    

On the day of the event, I was scared but also quite confident.  I had prepared well.  My husband's words kept going through my head; "No guts, no glory."   I found comfort knowing that I was going to try.  I may fail, but at least I tried.  And I was proud for pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

The host opened the event with a short speech.  After that he explained that the crowd could choose between 2 speakers; me and another guy.  The expectation was that half would stay in the room and the other half would watch me in a different room.   But, the host made my introduction sound a lot more attractive.  He said "Maja sees herself as an HR outsider.  She was a lawyer and consultant before she came to HR.  After she lived in the US for 20 years, she decided to move from New York to Heerlen."  The other guy was going to talk about implementing some system. 

So pretty much everyone got up and came to my room.  There were not even enough chairs.  More chairs were brought in which delayed my start.  The pressure was on, but I kept my cool.  I did feel very excited.  I was secretely celebrating :"They want to hear my story.  How awesome is that?" 

With a pounding heart I started.  And it felt good right away.    I could feel how the crowd was engaged in my story.  They were with me all the way up until the end.  After 25 minutes I closed with my main point "Find your purpose, find your passion.  Because it is up to us in HR to make our workplace a better place.  Not only for our digital heros, but also for our kids.  A place where everyone thrives and can be their best, as employees and as parents"

The audience applauded loudly (I thought).  I was soooo psyched.  I did it.  What an AWESOME feeling.

The immediate feedback was really great.  Different people got different things out of the talk.  Some connected with my personal story, others with the HR content.  It was good.  The talk was good.  I even got three more invitations to speak. 

This was very big.  It felt like a huge victory.  It was the ultimate proof that I had overcome my biggest fear.  A fear that had paralyzed me for years; public speaking.  I really sucked at it.   I still crinch at the thought of those experiences.  I used to be so nervous that my voice would start to tremble.  I could not control it.  I sounded like I was going to cry.   People in the audience pitied me.  I could see it in their eyes.  They felt sorry for me.  Just humiliating.

Then, 4 years ago I did a presentation training.  Just 4 years ago.  Twenty years into my career.  Better late than never, right?  And ...  I fixed it.  Just like that.  My shaky voice was gone.  And it has not come back since.  It was not even that hard.   I was so happy with the result because it opened up a new world for me.  It changed me. 

I promised myself right there and then to not hide my past failures.  Instead, I should try to inspire others.  Others that want to fix their fear of public speaking.  I am living proof that anyone can overcome it.   It is possible to learn even if you really suck at it. 

So, here's to everyone who fears talking in front of a big group:  You can learn it!  You're never too old!  It is not that hard!  You might need to get some coaching, but you can do it!      

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why be vulnerable?

When I posted my last blog post, “I can’t do anything right”,  I was doing what I set out to do:  write about my experiences in corporate life.  Good and bad.  

But, did I go too far?   I did for some.  When I first realized the story’s impact, my first thought was "shit" .  What did I do?  People now think I am an emotional wreck.  That I can’t handle stress.  What the hell was I thinking?   I shouldn’t have published this story. 

Of course, there were the real positive responses.  Friends and colleagues who encouraged me to keep writing.  They connected to the story because they recognized and related to it.  Mostly women though, only a couple of men (Millennials). 

Others felt really bad for me.  A kinda “poor you” response.  One of my girlfriends even stopped by my house after she read it with some flowers. To make me feel better.  

But the most upsetting feedback was not written in the comments or in mails.  I felt it when I asked for reactions.  The comments were something like:  "That was really personal stuff,"  "I would never publicly talk about that."  Clearly, these people felt it was too much.  Why did I show so much vulnerability, laying myself open like that, and share it with everyone?  Why would anyone in their right mind do that?
So, why did I do it? 

It all stems from my belief that we need a new kind of work environment.  That business as usual is about to be over.  That work is not solely about "rational" processes.  I believe that if we want to get the best out of our people, we need to become more human in the workplace.  And that means caring - treating people with respect, empathy and compassion.   

And yes, this touchy feely stuff has a place at work.  Not only because I think so.   Much is written about humanizing the workplace and unleashing people's potentional. There is a consensus that being human is good for business.  If we want innovation, if we want creativity, if we want breakthroughs, we have to open our hearts to the people around us. We need to care. To connect. To extend ourselves authentically.

But, we need to make sure that these are not just big words and noble ambitions. It is not so much about what we say.  It is about who we are. 

In the months leading up to the big transformation announcement, I saw colleagues who, like me, were trying to cope with the extra pressures. With the long hours and the massive workloads.  Who, like me, were struggling to keep the right balance, stay positive, motivated and not get overwhelmed.    

This is the reality of so many people, not only in our company.  With the economic downturn, a rapidly changing world, the restructurings, the lay-offs, we are asked to step it up all the time; we are expected to do more with less.  This is the world we live in.   
We also live in a culture of “never enough."  Where the fear of not being ____________ enough is rampant.  
Just fill in the blanks
Not cool enough
Not perfect enough
Not powerful enough
Not successful enough
Not smart enough
Not thin enough
Not tough enough 
Not strong enough
Not resilient enoug
Not political enough

My goal was to write a “me too” story. How I was dealing with the transformation, the stress, the balance and workload. How the fear of not being good enough affects me in my work.
The self-doubt I tried to describe is all-too-common for women.  I believe this is one of the main reasons why not more women rise to the top. 

A few years ago, I heard the CEO of my previous company talk about it.  He explained that men and women respond very differently to his question: "who is ready for a promotion?"  The men all raised their hand immediately.   The women were not so eager.  The women needed to be sure that they were ready, good enough, for the bigger job.  

Although men tend to be more outspoken, take more credit and display (over) confidence, that does not mean men have no fears.  According to Brene Brown, men are equally affected by not _________ enough.  "Basically, men live under the pressure of one unrelenting message: Do not be perceived as weak." 
Men are taught that being afraid, show fear or being vulnerable is just not acceptable.  Don't be a pussy. Man up. Pull it together.

And lets be honest, we like to see strength, dominance and confidence in our leaders. We do.  We prefer strong, bold and even aggressive people to be our leaders.

So, we tell women that if they want to make it they need to hide their self doubt and adopt the more masculine traits, like (over) confidence, taking credit, being outspoken.  

But, we want men to care more, to be more empathatic, to show vulnerability.  But, do we really mean that? 

We want that vulnerability because we want to be an agile, modern, successful company where innovation is part of our DNA.  We want it because we're told that vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation and change.   Innovation is putting an idea on a table that half the people in the room thought was stupid. That the other half questioned.
We, as leaders, are called upon to exhibit the vulnerability that we want to see in our people.  That is not only about sharing innovative ideas.  It is also asking for help, saying you don't know, admitting you are wrong,  admitting that you failed, being afraid.  

If we want our people to feel comfortable coming up to us and saying "Hey, I don't really understand this and I want to understand it, I need some help," then we must open up ourselves, show our own vulnerability.  We have to be role models for taking risks and failing.
But it is not that easy. We all get very mixed messages. Make no mistake; showing vulnerability requires a lot of courage. Being vulnerable is truly disruptive. No one wants to do vulnerability. It sucks. It is scary. And it is risky, because vulnerability is still seen by many as a weakness.   And no one wants to appear weak.


The "me too" story I wrote is all about trying to connect.  Because connection is why we are here.  It is how we are wired as human beings.  It gives purpose and meaning to our lives.  Connection is about knowing that we're not alone.  To experience connection, we have to experience being vulnerable.

Also, I wanted to reach out to other women.  If more women understand that we all, even successful women, have a whole range of fears and insecurities, more women may go on to shatter more glass ceilings rather than succumbing to self doubt.

But, if my goal was to connect, did I succeed?
Honestly, I don’t know.  Did I show too much vulnerability?  Did I let it all hang out there?  Was I oversharing? 
What I do know is that vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust.  We don’t bear our souls the first time we meet someone.  We don’t start with: Hi, I am Maja and here is my darkest struggle.  That is desperation or woundedness or even attention seeking, it is vulnerability gone too far.  Being vulnerable can lead to increased connection and trust.  But, showing too much vulnerability too soon can do just the opposite; causing disconnection and distrust. 

So, did I increase connection and trust with my story?  I think it depends on who you talk to.  We all speak different languages.  We tend to give what we want to get, we communicate in the way we want to be communicated with.  Even if it isn’t what the recipient wants.

There are many who do not do vulnerability.  They won’t get it.  They won’t get me.

But, as Seth Godin, so eloquently put it:  “real change comes from finding and embracing and connecting and amplifying those that are inclined to like you and believe in you.”
So, I will stop trying to win over the critics and focus on the ones that get it.

Knowing what I know now, would I do it again?
Hmmm, I am not sure.  I hate the idea that some people may have winced at my story.  The “too much” reaction still stings.    

But, I tried to connect and build trust and humanize our transformation and work. 
I dared greatly.  And that is what counts most.  For me.