CategoryHealthcare & Wellness

3 Management Lessons from A Charlie Brown Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas is far and away my all-time favorite Christmas classic.

The show opens with Charlie Brown not feeling any holiday cheer. He thinks Christmas has become too commercialized and focused on all the wrong things. He speaks with his friend/psychiatrist, Lucy, about it and she suggests he take over directing the local Christmas pageant to lift his spirits and give meaning back to the holiday.

Charlie arrives the rehearsal space to find the cast not doing anything that looked like rehearsing. They were dancing and didn’t have their costumes or scripts. Charlie stopped their shenanigans to bring order and process to the session. He began sharing with them his vision for the production. He let them know what his off-stage hand signals would mean. He let them know how honored he was to lead them. It was a lovely introductory speech!

No one listened. They just whispered among themselves — then Schroeder started playing the piano and they all went back to dancing, just as they’d been doing before Charlie arrived.

Charlie got frustrated and yelled at them to stop. He asks Lucy to pass out the scripts and costumes for each of the roles. Once everyone has their items, Charlie is ready to start rehearsing — but the cast declares it’s time to break for lunch.

Charlie goes AWFFFF on the cast and crew for their lack of dedication. They argue back with him, saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing and it’s all his fault the production is a mess and so much time was wasted. Somehow, they convince him to go buy a Christmas tree to make amends with them.

So Charlie heads off with Linus to the Christmas tree lot, where they pick out the tiniest, most pathetic looking tree in the whole lot. The cast and crew berate him again when he returns with the tree. They call him stupid and hopeless and say he can’t ever do anything right.

Completely dejected, Charlie takes his pathetic little tree and leaves. He makes his way home, where he decides to try to decorate the tree using ornaments and lights from his dog, Snoopy’s, house.

He puts one ornament on the tree … and it tips over.

Charlie’s demoralized. He’s done with people and Christmas. He leaves the tipped over tree in the yard and goes to his house to sulk alone.

Strangely, the cast and crew shows up in Charlie’s back yard a few moments later. They had followed him home.  They see the tree tipped over and decide it isn’t such a terrible tree after all. Together, the cast decorates the tree — and it turns out beautiful! They burst into a chorus of Hark the Herald Angels Sing around the tree.

Charlie comes back outside and sees the tree and the cast singing around it. He smiles and joins the chorus. All is merry and bright. The end.

Charlie is a great example of the struggles new leaders face when taking on an existing team.

  • Existing teams want to do what they’ve always done. That’s why Charlie’s friends were dancing when he arrived at rehearsal and kept dancing despite his instructions.
  • Existing teams don’t like change. That’s why Charlie’s friends argued with him about his casting and costume choices during rehearsal. That’s why they initially rejected the tree Charlie bought for them. They wanted everything to be and look like they were used to.
  • Existing teams will try to change — then blame the new leader when it doesn’t work immediately. That’s why Charlie’s friends doubted him and called him terrible names.

So what’s a new leader to do when their existing team treats them this way?

Do what Charlie did!

  1. Charlie anticipated resistance. He came armed to rehearsal with a clipboard full of notes and observations to share with the cast and crew. He was ready to overcome their objections to his ideas and changes with facts and flattery.
  2. Charlie kept pushing his positive agenda.  He started by reminding them of the mission of the group and the importance of the work they were doing. He focused on the positive and didn’t get caught up in everyone else’s egos and ulterior motives. When necessary, he took a break to regroup and remind himself of what really mattered. He stayed on message for the duration.
  3. Charlie forgave and joined the chorus. He got angry and let the group have it! He briefly walked away. But when the group finally embraced his message and mission, he came back to them with the same positive spirit. He didn’t hold a grudge. He forgave them and joined the chorus. He celebrated their progress together, like none of the bad stuff happened.

It isn’t easy taking over as a new leader of an existing group. Not everyone is going to be happy for your arrival or want to see you succeed or immediately buy into your vision of the way forward.

Don’t give up. Eventually, the group will follow you and together you’ll build something beautiful.



One additional notable from A Charlie Brown Christmas: Charlie’s mental health. 

As the show starts, he’s admittedly depressed and seems to be crying out for help to his family and friends. They generally miss those signs. 

The holiday season and winter months are really tough on people for a variety of reasons. Please remember to look for signs of distress and regularly check on your loved ones. Your words and presence could be the thing that help them make it one more day and/or get the help they need to overcome. 

Click HERE to learn more about seasonal depression and resources for help. 

Your Employees Are In Pain … Acknowledge It and Help Them.

In How to Manage After the Events in Charlottesville, I talked about what organizations need to be prepared to do from a policy enforcement standpoint should something like those events happen involving employees in your workplace.

But what about the hurtful and horrible feelings floating around and lingering?

It is hard to watch the news coverage and images surrounding these events without feeling heavy.  It is hard not to form opinions about the state of our country and our world based on this. It is hard not to think how you can get involved and make a difference. It is hard not to worry for your friends and family and community, wondering if your town  or someone you care about could be next.

It is hard to focus and feel positive. It is hard to turn all that off and work like none of it is happening.

So if it is hard for you, it is hard for the people who work with you too.

Look around you and know that everyone is more than likely feeling some of the same feelings of anger and frustration and helplessness and hopelessness that you are feeling.

What are you doing about it?

Most employers don’t know what to do … so they do nothing.

If you’re wanting to walk the talk on diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity, this approach isn’t going to cut it.

You need to do more. You need to do different. You need to do better.

Don’t know where to start? Consider these:

  • Encourage Self-Care … Remind employees of the benefits of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If you don’t have an EAP, reach out to your benefits broker about adding one to your benefits offerings and possibly expanding the existing program if it isn’t very robust.
  • Communicate Candidly … Send acknowledgement of the horrible events and your empathy for the difficulty everyone is experiencing as a result. Send thanks for the continued hard work and diligence during this heavy time. Send reminders about limiting consumption of negative news and images to avoid damage to their psyche and becoming desensitized. Send messages of positivity, unity and hope.
  • Be Silent Together … Schedule a moment of silence for the victims and for our nation and for our world and, most of all, for our peace and sanity.
  • Give Together … Research charitable organizations who are doing positive work to help bring healing, understanding and equality. Encourage your employees to donate to these causes and match the donations.
  • Denounce White Supremacy … Yeah, I know I said this in the last post. I’m saying it again. Take this opportunity to remind everyone in your organization again that diversity and inclusion are celebrated and that the organization will not continue business with anyone who demonstrates they do not share these values. Knowing your workplace is a safe place from supremacy matters to your employees. Don’t let the fear and discomfort stop you from taking the stance if it is in your heart.

We spend half of our waking hours at work. Expecting people to suppress their emotions and thoughts from outside influences during that time is unrealistic. Whether you want it or not, your employees are talking about their feelings with each other. Look for ways to support them in their coping and healing.

Acknowledge their pain. Help them heal.


Healthcare Reform — So What? Now What?

Thursday, June 28, 2012 was a history-making day in the United States when the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was constitutional. It was a decision that shocked many — including me!

For the record, I believe the US system of healthcare absolutely needs reform. And I believe all Americans should have access to affordable care. It baffles me that this battle is still being waged and is so fiercely debated in one of the richest, most powerful countries in the world … However, I also recognize the potential fines on employers could cripple and permanently shut the doors on many already struggling businesses. So I understand why the legislation makes corporations nervous. That reality often makes the legislation feel bittersweet for me.

Ultimately, we’re a long way from full implementation of all aspects of this legislation. Although 2014 is the goal, it isn’t a hard and fast deadline; I suspect there will be lots of modifications to the timeline as the infrastructure is put into place on how this will work. In the meanwhile, I choose to have faith that things will work out for everyone’s good — and I focus my energy on what is going on right now as it relates to the PPACA instead of what could or might be. I encourage you to do the same.

Now that the SCOTUS has ruled in this matter and the PPACA will press forward, it’s time to think about “what’s next” for the organizations we serve. Here’s my tips on that:


  • Strengthen your benefits program. Work with your broker/reps/consultants to find options that will strengthen the options your organization offers. Add new benefits or make enhancements to existing plans where you can. Use caution in making any changes to plans that might cause you to lose grandfathered (GF) status, if you’ve already received a waiver from the Department of Health & Human Services. Once you lose GF status, there’s no turning back! But there are lots of enrichments you can make to your programs that won’t force a forfeit.


  • Monitor full-time and part-time designations. Employers are only in danger of being penalized for failure to provide adequate coverage to full-time equivalents (FTEs). The standards for “adequate coverage” still haven’t been defined and a definition isn’t expected until some time in 2013. However, FTE is a definition that we already know within our state and our organization. Audit to ensure your current workforce is properly designated and make changes if necessary. Keep in mind that designation changes might qualify adversely impacted employees for unemployment benefits and/or might persuade employees to seek employment elsewhere — not to mention general complaints surrounding fairness and employee morale overall. Anticipate issues and make sure you have a plan to address them. Discuss it with your attorney or union as well.


  • Educate yourself. Business leaders, especially HR, cannot afford to rely on television and printed news to gain knowledge about this issue. It is far too complex and politically charged. Instead, we need to find ways to learn about it on our own from sources that are as neutral as possible. I am already seeing free webinars, conference calls and seminars popping up to discuss the impact of the ruling on employers and benefits plans heading into the 2013 enrollment season. Sign up and listen up — for more than just one. If you can’t find anything, check with your insurance broker or with your attorney; I am sure they can point you in the right direction. If not, check with me — I am absolutely willing to help!


There is no doubt that Healthcare Reform is one of the top 5 “Issues of Our Time.” And it gives HR another opportunity to be front-and-center and shine, as we help our organizations to navigate through it.

That’s an honor and a privilege. Don’t screw it up.

Hey You!!! Stop Dissing Obamacare!

And stop calling it Obamacare, while you’re at it. It’s the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — or the PPACA (Pee-pack-uh). Healthcare Reform Act works, too.

But if you can’t say “Obamacare” without obvious disdain or excitement, you should probably use another word. At least while you’re at work. Especially if you work in HR or some related function.

A couple weeks ago, I conducted training with our HR Administrators, Payroll Specialists and A/P Clerks on our benefits plans. Since these 3 groups spend a lot of time working together on our benefits, premium deductions and premium payments; it made sense to bring them all together for refresher and to roll-out updated procedures.

We were about half way through the session and everything was going great. Great discussion, great questions and great nodding in all the right places. I was so pleased.

Then I moved into a segment on the PPACA. It was 4 – 5 slides about the history of the law, the current provisions we are required to enforce, the pending Supreme Court case and what the Court’s decision would mean for us and our plans, depending on what all they decide. I deliberately kept it very dispassionate and middle of the road. I wanted the group to walk away with the facts of what was, what is and what could be as it relates to our company and this law, separate and apart from any personal or political feelings.

Which is why I was really surprised when one of our A/P clerks walked out during the session. I heard her mumble something about “Obamacare” and a bunch of expletives, get up and leave. I was shocked and shaken by it. In over a decade in HR, I’d never had someone get so upset over a topic that they’d walked out of a training before. I didn’t know what to do. So I just kept going. There were 20 other people in the room who were still there and willing to listen and learn. I wasn’t going to further interrupt things by calling more attention to the outburst of one person. She returned about 30 minutes later and the rest of the day went off without incident.

I wasn’t going to just let the incident go, though. Clara the Clerk’s behavior was beyond inappropriate. I spoke with her supervisor about it and learned this wasn’t the first time this woman had an outburst or stormed out when she didn’t like the topic. The previous incidents had not been formally documented.

Well, this one was definitely going to be.

We brought Clara the Clerk into the office to discuss these issues with her. We wanted her to understand that her behavior during the training was disrespectful, disruptive and dangerously close to insubordinate. Since this was not the first time, we wanted her to understand that this was not acceptable and would no longer be tolerated.

Clara apologized for her outburst and for anything she’d said or done that made me and others feel disrespected. She said that wasn’t her intention. She said the current Presidential Administration and its actions upset her so much that she just couldn’t contain herself sometimes. She assured us that it wouldn’t happen again. She signed the warning without any fanfare.

The case was closed, but I still felt … some kind of way … about it.

I can’t imagine feeling so charged about something that I couldn’t even sit through a ten minute review of the subject. And I can’t imagine ever thinking it would be acceptable to walk out on any workplace training because I didn’t like the topic. Perhaps this is another one of the ways working in HR has made me soft? Perhaps I am too deferential, too “company” for my own good?

In this case, I say no.

Ultimately, whether we are in HR or some other support function, we are responsible to know, understand and enforce the laws applicable to our job and our industry. We may disagree with the law and dislike the people who enact it … but we’re still responsible to abide by it. Period.

You don’t like Obamacare … or SarbOx … or OSHA … or whatever the laws and regulations … That’s your prerogative. Now shut up about it and do your job.

Please and thank you very much.

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