Transformational Play

On January 31st I was invited by my colleague Cheng Zeng (pictured above on the bottom row holding a bottle of wine) to lead an improvisational play session with people who were quarantined throughout China. The last thing I thought of that day was that 6 weeks later I, too, would be sheltering in place due to the COVID19 pandemic. Since then, I have been awed by the transformational power of play.

As a faculty member of the East Side Institute, I began to lead free play sessions with co-facilitators from around the world. We had sessions with more than 100 people playing together across borders, sharing our emotions and experiences in a virtual space. I also ran some smaller play sessions with facilitators, coaches, drama therapists, activists and educators to offer training in how to use play to help people connect and build community during these trying times in our world.

A human resources leader who I had worked with in the past, joined one of these sessions and subsequently brought me in to run a play session for employees who are struggling with the isolation of working from home, away from coworkers and who were experiencing a great deal of stress and anxiety. This same HR leader introduced me to a colleague of hers, and when I thanked her she responded, “I’m happy to pass along your services because you really are helping people through an important time in our nation’s history.” This is the power of play.

Over the past few months, I have volunteered, along with an amazing group of play and performance activists, improvisers, clowns, musicians, educators and therapists, to create the Global Play Brigade. We are now a grouping of 160 activists from over 40 countries. We believe that integrating and utilizing play, improvisation, clown, theater and therapeutics into everyday life is a vital methodology for creating hope, possibility, emotional well-being and development.

Sometimes people view play as frivolous or about “having fun,” but I like to say that play is serious business! In play we can be who we are and who we are not/who we are becoming at the same time. We can be isolated, anxious, frightened, angry and upset and yet – we can perform. We can play with all of the difficulties in our world to create new responses, new emotions and new ways to come together with our differences to create a better world.

Humanize the Interview Process – Become a Relational Recruiter

There have been some interesting reports about employee retention and turnover that started me thinking about why people look for new opportunities and how that impacts recruiting.  The Society for Human Resource Management recently published a report entitled “Skills Gap, Turnover Are Top Talent Concerns” in which they found:

About one-fourth of employees reported that they are likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months. They cited unhappiness with current salary (23 percent), followed by looking for a better opportunity (19 percent), not feeling valued (16 percent) and unhappiness with growth opportunities (13 percent). just published their Talent Attraction Study: What Matters to the Modern Candidate in which they found:

71% of people are actively looking or open to a new job, and 90% of people hired within the past year actively looked for a job within six months prior to being hired. Also, 65% look at new jobs again within 91 days of starting a new job, leading us to believe that no one is “passive” about their career in 2015.

Indeed’s conclusion that “no one is passive about their career in 2015” led me to think about what people mean when they say they want “a better opportunity.”  On one hand, there is always going to be a grouping of people who will opportunistically move for better compensation packages.  Resumes that show a new position every 2-3 years are often representative of the person who is moving for better salary.  On the other hand, the more interesting question is what do we need to do to make people “feel valued” from the moment we reach out to them in the recruiting process.

All too often hiring managers and recruiters can forget that every aspect of the recruitment process is an opportunity to let potential hires know they are valued.  Recruitment agencies and internal recruiters ought to convey in their initial outreach that the human equation is what matters, not filling the job; we are in a relationship-oriented business.  All too often the relational aspect of recruiting and hiring is second to the need for speed and efficiency in recruiting which can lead to a commoditized process in which candidates feel like a cog in the wheel, rather than a respected and valued future member of an organization.

Interestingly, I read an article yesterday – The Trouble With Behavioral Interviewing – that is quite relevant to how we recruit talent.  I especially appreciate this comment from author Liz Ryan:

We are human all the time. We are foolish to turn job interviews, such potentially fun and fizzy human processes, into tense and grovelly affairs.

As a recruiter who is also an improviser, the activity of creating conversation is where I put my focus.  Again, I appreciate Ryan’s perspective:

If you care about talent, you won’t want to interview people from a script. You’ll want to sit down with them next to a whiteboard and brainstorm like crazy. How else will you know whether your energies resonate together?

Once I’ve established that a person is qualified for the role, I abandon “interview questions” all together in favor of having a wide-ranging conversation.  We can learn valuable information about a candidate when we allow ourselves to explore who someone is in the world, how they express their intellectual curiosity, and discover their goals both personally and professionally.  In the long run recruiting is about building rapport.  It is refreshing to create the conditions that eliminate the hierarchical framework that comes with a more traditional recruiting paradigm in favor of getting to know each other.

Grading Employees Fails Us All

BT-AB319_RATING_12U_20150420175718Every once in awhile my husband likes to tease me about the fact that I didn’t receive grades, and therefore had no grade point average, as a student at Sarah Lawrence College. Our professors wrote evaluations about our work and the progress we were making in our studies but we never received grades. One of the many things that I have come to value about my education was the privilege I was afforded in attending an alternative high school and a liberal arts college that were not grading students.

Not having to worry about grades meant that we were was able to focus on learning instead of worrying about competing against each other. There was never any thought or concern about grade point average and whether or not we would make it to “the top of the class.” We were fortunate to have been participants in developmental learning environments where students were encouraged to be co-creators of our education. I began thinking about the positive impact that this had on my life when I read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal: The Trouble with Grading Employees.

For many professionals receiving a grade determines opportunities for promotion, raises in compensation and annual bonuses. As the article correctly points out, grading is a subjective activity that is often demoralizing. I was happy to read about the Gap’s approach to evaluating employees:

The Gap’s new approach dumps ratings in favor of monthly coaching sessions and frequent employee-manager conversations. But HR executives had to convince leaders that the move wasn’t “sacrilegious,” according to Eric Severson, the company’s co-head of human resources.

For as much as our culture values competition, when we are offered the chance to work (or study, or play) in a cooperative environment, people perform at a higher level.  Having monthly coaching sessions and ongoing conversations relates to employees as creators of their work environments. Relating to each other as co-creators frees us from some of the constraints of the roles we play in the workplace, i.e., employee, manager, over-worked boss, disgruntled worker, etc.

Being a co-creator is one of many things that I love about improvisation.  A well-trained improviser is always focused on making their partner look good.  It’s almost impossible to keep an improv scene going if you are competing to be the funniest, cleverest, scene-stealing person on stage.  Improvisers put their focus on “the other” as we listen and build with whatever our scene partner gives us to create with.

When I read the quote below my response was to say, “Really? I beg to differ!” –

 “We don’t want to be in a place where everyone’s an outstanding,” she said.

The fact of the matter is that we can transform the workplace by self-consciously creating the conditions for developmental learning environments where everyone is an outstanding!

For more about developmental learning environments check out the website and work of my colleague Dr. Lois Holzman, a leading proponent of cultural approaches to learning and development.

Recruiting? Make Your Candidates Look Good!

I’ve been thinking about the process of recruiting talent into an organization.  In close to 20 years of recruiting it is the rare organization that puts the human equation before all else when it comes to recruiting.   Ironic as it may seem (because it is), the focus all too often for recruiters, human resource leaders and hiring managers is to create a process that works best for them and for their organization, without much thought for the candidates they are seeking to hire.

I was very glad to come across this article in the Wall Street Journal, “Building a Process for Recruiting the Best” by Scott Weiss.  Although he is describing a recruiting process for startups, I think Weiss’ suggestions apply to any organization that wants to create the conditions for successful recruiting of top talent.

Too often organizations have an arrogant posture throughout the interview and recruiting process.  The performance of the interview team is analogous to conversing with a person who is “all about me” — and we all know how difficult it can be to spend time in conversation with someone who disregards “the other”.

It’s important to ensure that in every step of the recruiting process the candidate feels welcomed.  Too often I’ve seen hiring managers and other interviewers keep a candidate waiting beyond the scheduled time for the interview.  Of course the underlying message that is being sent to the candidate is, “I have more important things to do.”  Having the right talent in leadership roles is critical for a company’s success yet the process that is often put in place doesn’t conform to the need.

Recently a client told me about an interview he had with HR that consisted of what he experienced as “trick questions”.  Creating an interview process in which the goal is to trip up a candidate rather than bring out the best in her/him is an example of what I see as an “arrogant / all about us” recruiting process.

Here’s where using emotional intelligence and having the ability to create a space for  intimate conversation comes into play.  By intimate I mean creating a conversation that goes somewhere unexpected, perhaps the interviewer shares something from her/his work experience that didn’t go well as a way to ask about times the candidate has failed and what s/he learned from their failure.

A smart organization is thinking about which managers are in the best position to create a thoughtful and efficient interview process that allows the team to really get to know the candidate.  Not everyone has the capability to do this.  Some interviewers will sneak a peek at their emails while interviewing, will take a call or even step out of the room and leave the interviewee sitting there dumbfounded.  I’ve heard this kind of feedback from candidates more times than I’d like to think possible.

Creating and training a talented interview team is key to good hiring.  Not only do interviewers have to know the right questions to ask, perhaps the more importantly, they have to work on their performance during the interview.  Simple things like a strong handshake, eye contact and a smile can make all the difference for the candidate.

When putting together an interview team some questions to ask might be: Does this interviewer have a high level of emotional intelligence? Will this interviewer make a candidate feel comfortable? Is this interviewer an active listener?  Can s/he create a conversation that might very well go somewhere unexpected? Can s/he frame questions that help the candidate do her/his best at conveying their unique qualities, experience, creativity and ability to add value to the organization?

How can organizations create a better recruiting process?  By putting themselves in the shoes of their candidates.  As one of my recruiting mentors used to say, “It’s simple, treat people the way you want to be treated.”  Put your focus on “the other” — be giving.  A good performer always makes her/his fellow actor look good.  Make your candidates look good and see how that changes your recruiting process.