HR Through Rosy Colored Glasses

Working at a University, it’s impossible not to walk around and feel old as you see thousands of young and eager faces going to and from class. While I don’t work directly with students much, I get “drafted” every year by dozens of them to do interviews for their Human Resources or Business classes. I laugh because I wonder if their syllabi say that they must interview an HR professional or if my name specifically is on them. I think I’ll ask next time.

Every conversation I have with them goes the exact same, which shows me a few things. The same, generic interview questions are provided to them and most importantly, hardly any of them really know what they are getting themselves into majoring in HR.

I try to be as candid as possible when I discuss what I do. I also am not one to sugar coat, so I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten an email from the faculty concerned about what I’m telling them. But when you speak to someone that is in “the trenches” so to speak, you should hear the not-so-pretty, non-glamorous, non-text book type of accounts that we’ve encountered since we’ve been out of school.

It reminds me of this song by Bill Withers that was re-recorded by John Legend called” I Can’t Write Left-handed.” In the song, they tell the account of a young man returning home from war. In the conversation Bill Withers had with him, the young man spoke of his experiences and said that “Being shot at didn’t bother him…it was being shot that really shook him up.”

He goes on to account in the second verse:

Boot camp we had classes
You know we talked about fighting, fighting every day
And looking through rosy, rosy colored glasses
I must admit it seemed exciting anyway

Oh, but something that day overlooked to tell me, Lord
Bullets look better, I must say
Brother when they ain’t coming at you
But going out the other way

glassesWhile I’m certainly not comparing our jobs to that of soldiers, because Lord knows I couldn’t be one, our students and young professionals are given these same tinted lenses to wear. No one taught me how to navigate in the business world once I graduated. They didn’t tell me that it would be hell to find a job. They didn’t tell us that dealing with employees and their issues would be stressful. They especially didn’t tell us how the decisions we would make in our HR offices could affect the professional lives of those same employees. The theory around reductions in force, layoffs, terminations, workplace bullying, poor communication between managers and employees and performance issues and self-esteem doesn’t even come close to actually having to deal with it day in and day out.

I remember in a particular job I had that terminations were so commonplace that I almost became numb to them. The more I had to deliver the news, the less and less I thought about what those people had to go through and what they would do with themselves once they left our building. I went from dreading those conversations to executing them without hesitation and with precision. Corrective actions became a habit and a part of my muscle memory.

T’was from these experiences that I began to understand that it was far more productive and humane to identify possible employment issues before they became terminable, and how to keep employees from meeting that fate. Unfortunately it took me having to see it to learn it, as this wasn’t taught. What was taught is that HR is about process, rules and bottom line. I know now that it’s about productivity, development and learning to make the best of the resources that we have.

I honestly believe that if new practitioners and students were shown more realistic pictures of what HR does, we’d have a stronger, better equipped crop of advocates that understand our role in companies…making a difference and not just firing the shots. At the very least, we’d weed out those that didn’t necessarily have what it took to be the right type of leader in our industry…or those that could see early on that this wasn’t the field for them.

So no, I’m not going to paint a perfect picture of what I do, because it is tough. It is oftentimes stressful and difficult. The feelings of guilt come and go as I balance emotion with logic and ultimately decide what’s best for employer and employee.

Unlike the young man in the song that was more than likely drafted to do what he did, we had choices. Those new to this profession have even more choices than we did. So while we speak and share our stories and experiences, we must tell all sides, the good and the bad, to help mold those that are committed to this industry and to give those that are on the fence enough information to make their choice…before they become the poorly equipped and uninformed HR people that we end up complaining about in our blogs and at our conferences.

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A P.I.P. Shouldn’t Be An R.I.P.

It’s so easy to say that employees should just go away when they’re not performing the way we want them to or responding to our management. The hard part is not actually getting them to change behavior, it’s actually admitting that we can do more to get them to where they should be.

image1PIPs or Performance Improvement Plans are often used by companies as the last ditched effort to shape up those “troubled” employees before we ship them out. Others use them as merely a coaching tool to get the attention of their people so that other forms of disciplinary action doesn’t have to be taken. I’ve seen PIPs in memo form, worksheets and templates, and I’ve even seen them delivered in emails. But regardless of how we format them, they should all have the same elements to be effective:

  • Clear areas that our employees need improve upon to remain a part of our teams
  • Challenging, yet achievable goals and deadlines for expected improvement
  • A plan of action for achievable said goals
  • Steps in which the manager can contribute and help the employee reach optimal performance
  • Fair and consistently applied actions that will occur if the desired performance isn’t met

We cannot use the word “Improvement” in the plan if we are not truly trying to achieve it. How we communicate during the delivery, and the words and tone used during the meeting should not feel like a death sentence or as if we are setting the employee up to fail.

There is no need to rehash the issues that we’ve had with the employee, but should focus on the behaviors that cause those issues that need to be altered or adjusted. Bringing up old stuff, especially if those incidents have caused negative conflict before, will surely turn your performance improvement meeting into a counter-productive blame session where no one is listening.

If we want our employees to listen, they must feel as if they are believed in, like they can make it and that they are being supported by members of management. Not only is this communicated in the document and meetings themselves, but by actually following up frequently to ensure that the necessary steps in the plan are being acted on.

So ultimately, a lot of the responsibility comes back to the manager. Not just delivering a document so that we can check a box, but managing our employees to yield the results that we need.

And isn’t that what management is all about? Not just supervising processes and expecting everyone to fall in line, but by providing resources and teaching people how to be successful in our systems.

Joe ClarkIf we want to get rid of someone, let’s just do it and move on to the next. Like Joe Clark said in the movie Lean On Me, “Don’t f#&% around with it…do it expeditiously!” But if we actually want them to get better, we must communicate it, make them believe it and show them how serious we are about them making it through the process.

Stop Hiding

I had a habit of hiding in my office when things get chaotic around the office. At least when that chaos was “someone else’s problem” or responsibility. When I started to hear people getting feisty or when I heard questions being raised up and down the hall, that was my queue to close my door.

It’s my only way to get peace, quiet and to not be pulled into drama or someone else’s mess…right?

Then one day, something happened to my peace and quiet. I started to get intercepted before I could make it to my office and I was forced to be that extra assistance or the different outlook that was needed. I couldn’t not get involved anymore. I couldn’t not give input or offer to fix the issue. And these interruptions changed the way I looked at my role. 

I believe that everyone feels as if they have more to offer than they are being asked to…but when it’s time to cash in we oftentimes don’t want to be bothered. We want it both ways. We want easy and cushy, and then complain when we’re not asked to help solve the difficult. After an issue has been tackled, we run from our hiding place and gripe that we weren’t consulted. If you haven’t done that, I have. I’m guilty.

It took me leaving my current employer and then coming back to understand that I was being asked to participate in the chaos because I was trusted to bring about some order while others were scrambling. I eventually learned that throwing my hands up when I might have had THE suggestion only helped in keeping the calamity and status quo in tact. I was great at pointing out what was wrong but I was not doing enough to change it. 

What I Learned
People in leadership positions are a proud breed of people. They may not outright say, “Hey kid, we need your insight or help”, but instead casually ask your opinion in passing, ask you to make a phone call for them or hand you a document to proof. That is sometimes their way of saying, “What you think matters” without saying, “What you think matters”.  And once I jumped into one of those chaotic situations and helped to calm it down or to make sense of it, the people around me realized what I knew or said silently all of the time…I CAN do more.

If you can do more, do more. Don’t run from the difficult, don’t shy away from the challenge and don’t avoid the uncomfortable..only then to complain that you’re not being used in your workplace properly. The old adage remains, “Respect is earned, not given”, and earning it means getting our hands a little dirty more often than not. Respect is earned by staying in the midst or close to it when things don’t make sense and helping to decode it. Respect is given when our ideas aren’t held for ransom for fear that we won’t be popular, liked or politically correct. 

20140723-064044-24044763.jpgBeing counted on and accountable is tiring, it is busy and it might just make the workdays longer. But isn’t that better than flying under the radar to a point that I’m virtually insignificant and useless? Isn’t that better than my phone not ringing at all? I think so. 

We have enough of those people…the ones hiding behind their doors like I used to. Avoiding challenge but having the loudest opinions about how those forced to deal with it handled or mishandled it. The opinions and ideas voiced behind those doors do us all no good as the real work is done and real respect is earned on the other side of it.

When The Phone Stops Ringing

I so often hear complaints about the amount of calls and questions we get in our Human Resources departments, but what if they stopped coming? 

I’m guilty sometimes too. From time to time I let out a huge sigh or say, “What now?!?!” before I pick up the phone, but I remind myself quickly of one major thing before I answer it to get me in the right head space. Human Resources should be the epitome of Customer Service.

Clients (internal or external) don’t constantly call people they don’t trust or can’t depend on. Every call we get is an opportunity to not only help make a difference, but an opportunity to put our offices on the positive map and boost confidence in our service.

We teach customer service to company employees, but we aren’t exempt from delivering the same level of treatment that we preach. We should welcome the calls and questions, as being the first line of defense helps eliminate the issues where we are the last line of defense. When responding to client issues, it’s important for us to not sound as if we are doing them a favor or as if we are being inconvenienced…because it’s far more inconvenient when we have to deal with escalated situations that could have been avoided had we gotten involved sooner.

Remembering these things helps me to clear up that little attitude I may have before answering calls and reminds me to answer that phone or reply to that email with the very level of service that I expect when I reach out to someone for help. 

Even when we don’t think that we operate in a Customer Service role, everything we do…and more importantly how we do things affects and impacts someone else. This huge responsibility is motivation to be the resource that we have been called to be to our employees and in our organizations. Making someone else’s day will almost always help to make yours as well.

ringing-phoneWhen the phone stops ringing and the email notifications are no longer popping up, it could quite possibly mean that we are no longer on the radar…that what we have to say is no longer welcomed or relevant in the eyes of our public, or that no one wants to deal with us because we are just plain rude. And when we are no longer relevant and no one is depending on us for the answers or assistance, we have at some point failed and fallen short of our purpose, which should include treating every person as a valued customer while contributing positively to the bottom lines of our companies.

ADApting To Employee Needs

Please visit Performance I Create for my new post on compliance and decency in the workplace.  Here is a sample…

ada“The very foundation of what HR professionals do is ensure that our organizations avoid risk and stay compliant to not only the policies that are established for the company but to Federal regulations and the laws of our particular States.

…compliance is not only about rules and requirements, it’s also about decency, advocacy and respect for current and potential employees and clients…”

Click HERE for the full article and please share!

Check out my post and those of my fellow contributors for relevant, in-your-face, performance altering insight at Performance I Create!

A Big Ego

Your department in shambles?  Your employees lack enthusiasm?  Are they no longer offering any new ideas and seem to lack innovation?  Is your office full of bickering and finger-pointing?

One of the biggest mistakes made by managers is the thinking that the blame is all on the employee, questioning their drive, discipline and engagement. Quite possibly it has everything to do with something a manager directly did or didn’t do that has caused the employees to turn for the worst.

20140423-140708.jpgAn inflated managerial ego causes us to think that we can do no wrong. After all, I could not have made it to the top of the corporate food chain if I didn’t know what I was doing…if I didn’t know how to lead. When things are not changing, managers must first take a look at what they’re doing to encourage change or what they’re doing to block it.

No Autonomy
We can’t preach that we want our employees to think independently or decisively if we undercut on every decision they make. When given a task or project, it’s best for the manager to offer suggestions and tutelage, and if it still fails, we all have a learning experience and the motivation to make it better. The old “If you want it done right…” mindset makes employees feel as if their ideas are being dismissed. And why would they continue to be vocal knowing that their ideas and efforts are all for naught? Instead, let’s teach them how to succeed, and be sure to be available and approachable if they need assistance along the way.

Mixed Messages
Publicly saying one thing and then acting on something totally different is a sure way to turn employees off. Consistency from leadership is key to consistency in their shops and key in earning credibility with their crew. Rules and policies are in place to help manage this, but when employees make good decisions based on policy or past precedent and then managers come behind them and overturn it (sometimes as favors to other managers), the employee looks stupid and shaky. And when you have different rules for different people, there may as well be no rules at all.

Managerial CYA*
Part of being a leader is sometimes taking a figurative bucket for their people. When a division does well, it’s “we”. When something falls through a crack it’s “them”. Once employees have enough tire marks on them, they’ll do less to stand out and just enough to stay under the radar. The only thing being encouraged in this scenario is them being encouraged to stop trying to make a difference. When people stop trying to make a difference, we are stuck with the status quo.

20140423-140714.jpgIt’s the little things that make huge differences and it’s the little things that those in charge do that employees pay the closest attention to. Employees can tell when their managers don’t have their back, and more importantly they know if they’re being used or undervalued. Once these trusts are damaged, it’s very difficult to regain them.

Managerial ego must be set aside to save team cohesiveness and to boost productivity. When those that lead think that no one can do it better than them, they’ll find themselves forced to do it themselves.  Unfortunately for them, a prerequisite to being in charge is having someone willing to follow your lead.  When employees don’t believe in who they are supposed to follow, they’ll simply choose their own path…oftentimes right out of the door.

* CYA = Cover Your Ass

Now What?

I am fresh back from a wonderful conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (LASHRM) and I am still pumped up and excited about my profession.

As I emptied my conference bag and began sorting through all of the pamphlets, pens and notes, I reflected and thought to myself, “Now what?”

We go to all of these conferences for development , fellowship, and to meet our Social Media peers and friends in person, but what good is all of that development and fellowship if the organizations that we return to don’t see and reap any benefit?

What are we going to do? What are we going to change? How are we better and will the colleagues we work with daily see it? Or are we just going to hoard all of the cool stuff we learned and keep all of the free pens and water bottles to ourselves.

I saw something special in that convention center, and because of that I’m motivated to share until my colleagues get tired of me.

I had the pleasure of working with my Performance I Create colleagues as the Social Media team for the event. We had a ball, sharing session content, promoting social media, blogging, etc. As the River Center staff began breaking down the exhibit tables and attendees were clearing out, we thought that our work was done. Just then a volunteer approached us and said that there were a couple of attendees that really needed to talk to us. Agreeing, a couple of us walked out to where our Social Engagement Portal was (that staff broke those tables down fast!) and we were immediately hit with a series of questions about how “Social” could help them in their workplace. They wanted to know how to move their thoughts from ideas to execution…and which tools and mediums would be best for what they were trying to accomplish.

connectAs we engaged them (my colleague did most of the talking, ahem), you could see light bulbs not only coming on but exploding. The concepts we spoke of were not complicated. They just needed some of that stuff that we teach and talk about to come off of the screen, out of the blogs and made plain to them in person…right there in their hands so that they could grab it and implement. What they needed was the knowledge that we had gained from doing…ideas that we got from conferences….strategies that we picked up from our peers. They needed it to make sense and tie in to what they were dealing with every day in their organization…and that if they had questions afterwards that they could reach out and get support.

“Don’t just help light bulbs come on, help them explode!” – Justin Harris, 2014

That’s what stuck with me. That’s what made me realize that it’s not that the people upstairs from me don’t care to do things differently, it’s that they don’t know exactly where to start. They have ideas, but they need help planning. Those of us that say we’re experts are needed to reach out occasionally and break it down for them. Because sometimes our messages are too big and they can’t run with that load. If we break the messages into manageable chunks, focus on process instead of the presentation, we’ll see more people grab hold and put the stuff in action.

So it starts in my shop. Being the change that I talk about and helping others to implement. Helping others to get involved and learn more about the tools of our trade. Because the Resources that we have are no good if we are not sharing them with other Humans.