Before ending her twenty-year management career as a C-level executive and beginning her career speaking, consulting, and training, Pam Boyd was a well-seasoned, backstabbing, corporate-hating, finger-pointing, excuse-making, and pathologically negative middle manager. After a proactive boss changed her trajectory, she vowed to help alleviate the suffering that comes from working in high-drama environments.
During this thirty-minute episode, Mike talks with Pam about her topic for the upcoming Strategic Mindset Conference. Pam covers what it means to have a strategic mindset as well as how to develop a strategic mindset.
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Pam’s specialty is helping people live productive and drama-free lives. Before ending her twenty-year management career as a C-level executive and beginning her career speaking, consulting, and training, Pam Boyd was a well-seasoned, backstabbing, corporate-hating, finger-pointing, excuse-making, and pathologically negative middle manager. After a proactive boss changed her trajectory, she vowed to help alleviate the suffering that comes from working in high-drama environments.
In 1998, she launched Dramatic Conclusions, providing leadership, coaching, and management support for businesses, schools, entrepreneurs, and non-profit organizations. She has worked with clients in 50 states, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, the Virgin Islands, and Europe, and is the author of four books, Rescripting the Workplace, The Essential Handbook for First-Time Managers, The Two-Minute Tune-Up, The Miracle I Almost Missed, three screenplays, a daily blog, and numerous articles and webinars.
She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and co-producer of workplace miracles, Bernie Beck.
Pam Boyd: It’s how you show up for people. You can have a really wonderful strategic plan, but you always have to say, “How are we going to show up for individuals, in every place in this plant? How do we do that?” In order to keep that strategic mindset, you have to keep in mind that the goal of all of our jobs, even though we say shareholder value and customer value and that kind of thing, the objective, or the foundation for all of that, is alleviating suffering. How are we doing that?
Mike Coffey: Good Morning HR, I’m Mike Coffey and this is the podcast where I talk to business leaders about bringing people together to create value for shareholders, customers, and the community.
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Okay. I rarely read directly from a guest’s bio, but this paragraph and today’s guest’s bio jumped out at me. I’m going to quote direct here.
Before ending her 24-year management career as a C-level executive and beginning her career speaking, consulting, and training, Pam Boyd was a well-seasoned backstabbing, corporate hating, finger pointing, excuse making, and pathologically negative middle manager. After a proactive boss changed her trajectory, she vowed to help alleviate the suffering that comes from working in high drama environments. Okay.
Welcome to good morning HR, Pam, and tell me the rest of that story. That’s either a super villain or a superhero’s origin story, so give me more detail there. Tell me what that was like.
Pam Boyd: I was working for a company for about seven years and was continually passed over for promotions even though I had the stats, and I always looked at the score sheet by sales and all the other things that they told us to measure. Every year they had a Manager of the Year Award, and every year they promoted to district manager, and I thought, I’m up there.
One year I was number one with all the metrics. They were giving a brand-new Mercedes too, or brand-new cars, at that time it wasn’t Mercedes, I think. A brand-new Mercedes to every manager that had five, that got awards. I thought I’m going to shoot in. It wasn’t me. I’d even picked out the color of my car I wanted, and it wasn’t me. It turned out the guy who got one of the cars was this guy who was new to the company.
I’d been there seven years. I thought I had all the expertise and all the tenure that was expected. This guy had been there one lousy year. He walks away with my car, and then turns out he becomes my boss later. What happened is, right before that, before he became my boss, I had a guy that was my boss, who was a driver sort of, but he wasn’t very personal with his general managers. I thought, he’s going to apologize to me for me not getting that award because look what I did for him and his territory. Of course, he never apologized, and I had to bring it up, and that was embarrassing for me, when I said, “So Jeff, what’s the big deal? Why didn’t you go to bat for me?”
He turned red in the face and started clearing his throat and I said, “What are you not telling me?” He said, “Well, Pam, this is really hard to say, but in the company you’re known as the B word.” I said, “I’m not the B word. That’s my mother.” I just started making all the case for why I was not the B word. Basically he said, “You know what, Pam, what you’re doing right now, that’s why you didn’t get the car.” I said, “Because I’m standing up for myself?” He says, “No, because you don’t listen.” I was so mad. He said, “It’s just hard to deal with you, and this is how people see you in the company, as someone who’s difficult.”
I walked off from that conversation and didn’t change a thing, except start putting out my resume. I was so mad and so hurt. Then shortly after that, this guy that got my car got promoted. He walks in as my new boss and he goes, “Hi, Pam, let’s talk about you being on the team.” I thought I’d died and gone to hell. That now I have to report to this guy. So, we sat down and I was rolling my eyes. He started talking to me about how … He goes, “You know, I looked at your stats and you should be getting more recognition.” I went, “Yeah, that’s true.” This guy, he’s getting me. He said, “But are you willing to do what you need to do to get it?” I said, “Yeah, but I’m not the B word. I don’t care what Jeff told you. I’m not the B word.” This is where my life began to change. He said, “It doesn’t matter that you think you’re not the B word. What matters is perception is reality. If you’ll stay with me, we’ll change that perception.”
He turned out to be a guy who was a developer, a guy who saw me. He wasn’t easy to work with. He wasn’t a guy that was patting me on the back. He was throwing me under the bus, just so that I would learn to stand on my own two feet. He told me that when I started working for him, that within the year I would be manager of the year. I thought, “Yeah, right. How could he promise that?” But it really did happen. I was a regional manager within a year and a half.
I always vowed that after he taught me some things about how to hold people accountable, because the thing is nobody wants to talk to the B word, because they argue, they don’t listen. They don’t change. You waste your time. When I learned how to talk, he got me to listen and it’s a longer story than that. I usually start out my talks with that story, but this is not that kind of story, I’ll make reference to it, but he got me to listen because he knew what I wanted. He immediately starts talking about how to use that leverage, and to get me what I wanted in so that he could get what he wanted. I always vowed that when I had the opportunity, I’d help alleviate the suffering that comes from working with people who don’t develop people, are working with people like me. Because they’re in every organization. That’s the rest of the story.
Mike Coffey: Sure. I want to say one thing. You’ve embraced and admitted the fact that you were the B word, and we’re all adults here, we can say the real words.
A lot of my friends, and I’ve been in HR almost 30 years and I have owned my business for 20, and I’ve got a ton of business owner friends, all that, a lot of them would take exception to a manager calling or even using that term towards a female, particularly a subordinate, or even a female leader. But it’s weird to call a female an asshole. I think that’s part of it. I think you were at least mature enough, at some point in there, to say, “That’s not probably the best language, but I get what they’re saying, and it’s not gender based.”
I think you’re saying that this isn’t because I was a female who happened to be assertive and direct, and all the things that we would want from a male executive. You’re saying that your behavior, you were an a-hole when it came to working with you. It just seems weird. It’s a contextual thing. They call a female an a-hole and so you get that. Okay. Well, that’s interesting, and if anything gets me canceled on this podcast, it’s going to be this conversation right here. I’ll blame you if there’s a group of people in my front yard protesting me.
Pam Boyd: Let me clarify that for you. Being a woman in business, and it was a male oriented business, I could play that card. But I realized after Don Dungey, the good boss, started teaching me that it wasn’t anything about me being a female, that it was really about me being negative and bitter, and resentful. That was just the fastest way for them to explain how I was perceived.
When people say, “Well, I wouldn’t put up with that.” I thought, “Well, I was that though. I thought it was other people, but it was me.” I was all those things that I blame my mother for being. Because I hadn’t learned how to ask for what I wanted, how to set boundaries, and how to make sure that I was on the track that I needed to be on. Because nobody had really told me what was holding me back. All those years. Nobody told me directly what was holding me back because they were afraid I would just argue with them.
Mike Coffey: That feedback is so rare and it’s so valuable. I know in my career early, when I was in my mid to late twenties, I had an HRVP I reported to, who basically had to pull me aside and say something very similar. To this day, I still count her as one of my top two or three greatest mentors. She saw potential, but at the same time, she saw how I was defeating myself with … And I had the arrogance of youth on my side and all of those things. She really helped me realize that being a jerk wasn’t necessarily going to get me really where I ultimately wanted to go.
You were lucky to have that person, I think. I think we’re all … If we’ve had somebody like that and we’ve listened to them and responded appropriately, it’s been a benefit. But anyway, at Fort Worth HR’s September 17th Strategic Mindset Conference, you’re not talking about being a B word. You’re talking about the strategic mindset, and you’re talking about how to get and keep that strategic mindset, whether you’re in HR or whether you’re just a business leader. Talk to me about what it means, in your worldview, to have a strategic mindset.
Pam Boyd: I think what that’s about, is bringing all your passion and bringing your whole self to a place where you can influence the organization at the maximum level of your gifts. Where you can ratchet up the positive impact you’re having on an organization, that’s where you develop the strategy, like the goals that … In the HR world, it’s all about all the activities, hiring and training, and all that stuff and onboarding and retention, and the whole big thing.
Mike Coffey: All the transactional stuff.
Pam Boyd: All the transactional stuff. But it becomes boxes you check. If you don’t keep a strategic mindset and the strip strategy has to be based in your compassion and in your passion. Because a lot of people drift into HR because maybe there is an opening and nobody else wanted to do the job, but some of us go into it because we really care about people. But then you get there and it’s really becomes about just the impersonal thing and not about the end product, about how people are suffering. Whenever you have a great strategy, it’s about alleviating suffering. You got to ask yourself, “Where is the suffering and where do I impact that suffering?” That’s why I go straight for that. I have this HR strategy prayer that says, “God gave me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and give me the strategy to change the things I can, and the wisdom to see through the BS.”
Mike Coffey: That’s good.
Pam Boyd: Because here, the thing is, go ahead I’m sorry.
Mike Coffey: The thing is, you were saying, go.
Pam Boyd: Well, it wasn’t to see through the BS, is because what happens is we lose the difference. We have the strategy here, and the objectives over here. Then we have reality here, and we don’t face the gap. So much so, that the HR becomes depersonalized. I asked someone today who works for a major organization in Dallas. I said, “Give me the first word that comes to your mind when you hear HR.” She said, “Bullshit.” And I said, “Why did you say bullshit?” “Well, because they’re checking boxes and they’re doing everything that has to be done, but you don’t see how it’s personalized to you. So, they become irrelevant, or they become someone to avoid.”
Mike Coffey: The transactional HR can easily be outsourced. A lot of folks are not realizing that until it’s too late. So much of HR, like you said, are people who … And I know some great HR folks who started this way, but they never intended to be an HR. They were in an administrative role, or they were part of the CFO’s team, or in finance, or someplace like that.
Pam Boyd: Operations.
Mike Coffey: Yeah. Then we need somebody to manage benefits, and just make sure those get done, and manage payroll. Just little things like that. Mixing in, you know this person is piled up, and somebody realizes, “Oh, we need an HR director. Let’s give it to Joe. He’s been doing all those transactional things.” Joe wants to make an impact on the organization. But all they’re asking him to do is transactional HR. I think that’s a danger for Joe long-term career wise, if he doesn’t make a change. If I’m in that position, let’s say I’m in that HR role. I really care about the company, and I care about the people, and I want to make a difference, but I’m seeing this as a transactional person. What would you say to that person? How do I change my role in the organization? What steps do I take? It sounds what you would say is, “It starts with me.” What’s the first thing I should do internally, in my head between my ears, to make a change?
Pam Boyd: That’s a great question, Mike. I think the first question always for any job is, “Am I bringing my whole self to the job? How can I bring my whole self to the job?” That’s when we get boring, we get bored. You might be thinking about big things, and then you feel your job is so mundane and you might be thinking, “Oh, I’m going to make this change.” Then you can’t. Then you’re just thinking about getting to the bar. Unless you go into work anticipating your ability to make a difference wherever you are, from the lowest seat in the organization, unless you anticipate that with some self-care before you go to work, that’s the first step is to anticipate, you’re going to get stuff thrown at you where you don’t have time to think about anything except survival.
Especially in the days of COVID and hacking, and all the stuff that we’re up against, and short staff shortage, and all that. In any organization, you get tempted to just get through the day, instead of taking what you’ve got and having a plan, you got to have some kind of self-care plan, so when you walk across the threshold, you’re plugging in yourself, plugging into being able to see where the gaps are, where the pain is, what you can do, because even if we’re in a mundane role, there might be something we can do.
Pam Boyd: Even in Drive, the book Drive, he talks about how people have to make their own … They have to challenge themselves. The people that can challenge themselves to make a difference, those are the people who stay engaged. For me, it was having the answer prayer and the luck of having someone coming in my life that says, “You know, you, you’re thinking, you’ve got potential.” In a lot of organizations, you’re so dependent on that one person being able to see you, and see who you really are. Taking self care, and then putting yourself in a position where you can make a difference with anybody in any little thing, but also being on the lookout and for someone who sees people, they’re rare in an organization. Once you find that person, then you can explode your potential.
Mike Coffey: Let’s take a quick break.
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Now back to my conversation with Pam Boyd.
When I’m talking to professionals who are thinking about making a career change, or maybe soon to be college graduates who are trying to figure out what they want to do, and then somebody connects them to me and they say, “Yeah, I think I want to go into HR.” “Well, why do you want to go in HR?” “Well, I love people.” And my answer is always, “HR will make you hate them. Do not do this just because you love people.
Now if you’re excited about helping a business grow, just like this podcast, bring value to the shareholders and the community through people, then then we can talk. But if you just want to be everybody’s friend, and you want to have days where everybody just loves on each other, you’re in the wrong business.” HR is all about business. But you’re talking about really a personal … Because when we talk about strategy, we’re always thinking about corporate planning and we go on a strategic retreat, we make all these corporate plans and then we horribly execute them usually in many organizations, and we never get there. How does that personal strategic mindset connect to the business’s overall strategy, and how well it executes?
Pam Boyd: That’s what I’ll talk about at the conference, but awareness of the gap and accountability, personal accountability, and how to hold people accountable for the strategy, even if you’re in HR, there are ways that you can be a part of accountability. For instance, say you put out one of your strategic goals is to change retention, get your retention level up. Do you know Rick Horwath? He talks about HR strategy, Rick Horwath, he writes a lot of books about strategy, but also about HR strategy. I love one thing he said about that, where a strategy goes wrong, strategic things go wrong with HR, is that there’s an unwillingness to challenge. There’s an unwillingness to challenge the lack of originality, a lack of accountability. I don’t have his quote handy here, but I do have it in my presentation, is that objectivity’s lacking. We can’t get the objectivity to look past, it’s glittery. We set our strategic goals and we have to bring, it’s on a personal … If you can’t bring it down to a personal level it will not last. It will not last. The quote, I think Harvard Business Review said that culture eats strategy for lunch, or breakfast.
Mike Coffey: That’s right. Yeah.
Pam Boyd: You remember that quote. The thing is that …
Mike Coffey: Is that Jim Collins said that, yeah.
Pam Boyd: Originally was that Jim Collins? I just remember reading it in Harvard Business Review.
Mike Coffey: I think so. Yeah. I’m probably wrong. (Yes, he was wrong. It was Peter Drucker.)
Pam Boyd: A friend of mine too, who’s just my HR role model, who really has had a big effect on the organization, what she said is that it’s like that saying that says death by a thousand cuts, HR has to be culture by a thousand kindnesses. It’s how you show up for people. You can have a really wonderful strategic plan, but you always have to say, “How are we going to show up for individuals in every place in this plant? How do we do that?” In order to keep that strategic mindset, you have to keep in mind that the goal of all of our jobs, even though we say shareholder value and customer value and that kind of thing, the objective or the foundation for all of that is alleviating suffering. How are we doing that when we’re working on interviewing, and we’re working on what our interviewing strategy is, or what our retention strategy is, or what our cessation strategy is, how are we looking and personalizing this HR strategy for these people?
Mike Coffey: The only part of a business that’s going to actually execute the corporate strategy are the people.
Pam Boyd: Your front line.
Mike Coffey: Your inventory is not going to execute. The machinery is not going to execute. It’s people, and if you can sell them on where the company’s going and convince them that what they do is meaningful and it’s going to have an impact beyond just their paycheck, I think that’s a place where a lot of leaders fail in organizations. I think even middle managers, I hate the term manager. The goal should never be to manage people. Because I don’t think you can manage people. We’re not commodities. We bring our whole lives to work, we’ve got our sick kids, we’ve got our ailing parents, we’ve got a mortgage payment to make. Every one of us brings a whole bunch of variety. We’re all a hot mess inside, or at least those of us who are secular enough to admit it, I think. But they walk in the door every day and we’re supposed to manage those to get a certain output.
That’s why if we can get middle managers to think more about being leaders, and how do I help this person who’s got their unique circumstances or unique behaviors, or unique biases, or unique background, execute where the company needs to go at the same time that I’m helping that person achieve the best that they can be. That may be a trajectory outside of the organization. If it is, while they’re here, let’s do all we can for them and get the most for the organization for them, and then help them to the next place. But I think that a lot of leaders aren’t comfortable with that approach.
Pam Boyd: Yeah. That’s really the point.
Mike Coffey: That’s really interesting.
Pam Boyd: Amy Edmondson. Do you know her?
Mike Coffey: Yeah.
Pam Boyd: Let’s see. Was she Harvard business school too? I think. But anyway, she has a chart about being in the high performance learning zone, and the four quadrants and how to stay there. I think with any strategy that works, in any strategic mindset, has to be asking, “How are we keeping people in the learning zone?” Because, you know how it is, you set the strategy and at the end of the year maybe you did one fourth of that strategy, or maybe people forgot about the strategy and, especially in days like these, where we’ve got high interdependence and high insecurity of where things are going to be. That’s what Amy Edmondson says. That you don’t need to worry about these quadrants of the high learning zone, unless you’re in that kind of environment. Frankly, I don’t know anybody that’s not in that kind of environment right now, dealing with what they’re dealing with. What I’m going to do at the conference is put up that chart, and talk about how specifically HR affects, and how in my own past, and I might mention my good boss in that, but how we have to be aware of who, in the organization, is moving people into that high learning zone, and who isn’t, because there’s suffering for people who aren’t in it.
Mike Coffey: If I’ve got a manager in my group who’s not bringing people up, who’s not putting them in that place where they’re going to grow and expand, what interventions do you think are effective? If I’m an HR and I see somebody in an operations role who’s high potential, but they just can’t bring their people along? What interventions do you think are helpful there?
Pam Boyd: That’s a wonderful question. Really, I’m glad you asked that because I need to put that in my talk. When I was a Chief Operating Officer for Sonny Bryan’s Barbecue, the guy who owned Sonny Bryan’s Barbecue, and Sonny Bryan’s died. Then the guy who bought it was from the hotel industry. He had no restaurant experiences, because I had background in that I was doing their training. Then I ended up being the Chief Operating Officer of the company because I had experienced with restaurants. I had to go out and hire someone. He had so little expertise and foundation for how to hold people accountable. So, I had to go out and hire some regional managers. I got this one regional manager guy. No, I think he had hired him before I got there.
The guy was a good old boy. He’d go into the restaurants and prop his feet up on the table and talk football, and then give him a slap on the hand for the numbers that weren’t right. I had to change that. But instead of micro-managing, I just gave him a list of three things. I said, “When we’re going to meet and go over your week, every week. When we meet, I’m going to ask you just three questions about every manager you’re working with. What do they want, what do they do well, and what are you doing to help them reach their goals?” He wrote down those questions, and that was our agenda when we reviewed. The thing was that I didn’t have to tell him, “Quit talking football and get down to business, and see people,” I didn’t have to say that because, in order to answer those questions, he had to really do that. What do they want? Most of the time, we don’t know, we don’t find out what people want. When you manage a person that’s coming from … A Senior Vice President at a big oil company after I’d gone out in the field and done a supervision conference for all their foremen and superintendents, some of them who never worked with people except by the seat of their pants, they had no idea what management was.
I came back and we were debriefing and they asked me. He said, “So, did you whip everybody in shape?” I had to tell him, I said, “Well, it all starts at the top. Frankly, they don’t like you guys here.” I said to the guy, I said, “I think it’s real important for us, as the leader of the organization, to know what people want, what they do well, and what we can do to help them reach their goals. They don’t feel that’s really on the agenda.” The Senior Vice President stood up with anger and said, “I don’t need to know what they want. They need to know what I want.” Well, the organization got rid of him.
Mike Coffey: That’s old school, right there.
Pam Boyd: It’s real old school. But the thing is, is that you can’t start anywhere else. You have to start knowing, just like we have to start knowing what our customers want and what our shareholders want. We got to know, you got to start there. The only way to get people to get there faster, is by showing them that that is the path to getting what they want. Nobody cares about what we want until we care about what they want. At home, in the neighborhood, at work, it’s everywhere. Does that answer the question? Did I go off on too much of a tangent?
Mike Coffey: Yeah. That’s a good story. That’s a good start. I think it’s Jim Collins, he talks about the right person in the right seat. Sometimes you have to escort the wrong people off the bus if they’re not onboard with where the organization’s going. And sometimes that’s scary. Where an organization’s got a high producing salesperson who’s just toxic to everybody else, and sometimes you’ve got to escort that person off and let them go find someplace else. They can maybe thrive better.
Pam Boyd: Set them free for the future!
Mike Coffey: That’s all the time we have today. Thank you, Pam, for being with us, I’m really looking forward to the … You’re the lunch speaker, I think, at Fort Worth HR’s September 17th Strategic Mindset, and I’m looking forward … I’m speaking that morning.
Pam Boyd: Yeah. I’m looking forward to that.
Mike Coffey: You can register for Fort Worth HR’s Strategic Mindset Conference at fwhr.org. You can find previous episodes of this podcast, show notes, and contact info for our guest at goodmorninghr.com, or on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube. Don’t forget to follow us wherever you get your podcasts. Rob Upchurch is our Technical Producer and Imperative’s Marketing Coordinator, Katy Bautista, keeps the trains running on time, and I’m Mike Coffey. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out if I can be of service to you personally, or professionally. I’ll see you next week. Until then, be well, do good, and keep your chin high.