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.

The Danger In Overpraising Employees

Employees that are good at what they do oftentimes don’t hear it. They are so good that even when they do a little extra, it becomes viewed as the norm and is virtually unnoticed. Most times when we see managers praising employees is when they have performed at or below standard and have finally done something extraordinary. This creates a feeling that the only way to get attention is to underperform, then actually do your job. While those that are consistently good are seemingly punished for it.

How often have you seen the employee that has attendance issues rewarded for having a short run of punctuality? On the flip side, how many employees are thanked for being dependable and consistency present and on time. Not as many, because they are doing what they are expected to do.  So is our praise tied more to expectation (or lack thereof) or actual performance?

Meeting minimum standards should be positively acknowledge but not so much that employees believe that average is special.

If/When You Do, Be SpecificGood-job-275x300
Throwing around “Good Job!” just to seem like the nice supervisor actually hurts more than it helps. Generic praise is empty praise. The recipient will not necessarily know what behaviors to continue and build upon if they’re not told which ones caught the positive eye of the manager. Compliments and mentions of specific tasks, accomplishments or behaviors show that those in charge are paying attention to what employees are actually doing to get their results. This helps build consistent performance as well.

Balance in praise is key. We must vocalize appreciation for consistency, and when someone does something that is a big deal, treat it and acknowledge them like it is a big frickin’ deal. Nothing encourages the extra mile more than noticing and rewarding people for running it. But we must be careful not to water-down praise by giving it when it’s not warranted.

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

Does Your Performance Eval Stack Up?

Check out my latest post over at Performance I Create, where we are discussing everyone’s favorite time of the year, Performance Evaluation time! Here is a sample:

performance-evaluationIf you’ve ever dreaded delivering a Performance Evaluation or if employees would rather get a root canal than sit through their review, your evaluation may need to be updated. The only reason for a manager to dread the process is if they know the feedback will lead to push-back and conflict. Employees hate them because they are tired of hearing opinionated fluff.

Please click HERE to view the remainder of the 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!

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.

Unlocking Your Full Potential

I look for analogies and learning opportunities in everything. And while making sure not to miss any teachable moments with my children, I often find myself over-analyzing the shows they watch on television and pointing out the life and work lessons in them. I’m actually amazed that my son is still willing to watch his shows with me.

Saying that, one of my son’s favorite toys/shows is Lego Ninjago. Short synopsis, the four main characters are young ninjas that are charged with battling evil doers trying to take over the city of Ninjago and surrounding areas. Early in their development, their Sensei (Wu) taught that each of them had special and unique powers/abilities that they must find within themselves and tap into. This process was often referred to as “Unlocking Their Full Potential”.

Throughout the season, the four ninjas competed with one another, fought alongside one another, trained and eventually believed in their abilities enough to evolve into the Ninja masters they were born to be. But just like with any team, drama and issues arose because some evolved and unlocked potential before others. So as expected, egos were bruised, jealousies arose and self-doubt set in.

Don’t we all know someone like that? People that are so talented and driven…but never quite realize and/or unlock their full potential. Is that you? Carrying so much promise inside, only to have that potential stifled by fear and uncertainty. Do we too often put our dreams on the shelf and under-perform because we’re worried about what others will or won’t say about us or how are teammates might react.

After 13 episodes, the formula for successfully unlocking one’s full potential looked something like this:

SenseiwuteaAccept Tutelage
When someone is available to teach and mentor, take advantage of it! We miss our opportunities to grow and evolve sometimes because we fail to listen to those that have been in our shoes once before. Sometimes we have to just shut up and listen. There are no new issues, just different people having them. There is wisdom out there to be obtained, we just have to be receptive enough to apply the principles that we acquire from those that have been there before.

Patience Is Still a Virtue
In seeking to unlock full potential, one must understand that just because others around them are moving up and ahead, the time still might not be right for you. Be happy that promotion is in the neighborhood and stopping at your neighbor’s home. Being happy and celebrating others for their good fortune will make your wait better and may even bring about something even bigger and better for you! We must be careful of what we ask for because we just might get it before we are ready for it. But that wait makes receiving it just that much better.

Ninjago GroupThere Is Strength In Numbers
We shouldn’t have to go through everything alone. As strong as we are, we still occasionally need support and someone to help us fight through our development difficulties. From cheerleaders…to people to bounce ideas off of…to people to emulate, we need a good team. And don’t worry about your ideas or opportunities being taken from you, as true potential can’t be stolen from you because it’s predestined to be yours. There is no need to be guarded because those around can’t take what’s rightfully yours…and celebrating your successes are a lot more fun with a great group of supporters.

Each of us has something special on the inside that is just waiting to come out and shake the world up. The only thing holding it back is us. Once we listen and learn how to tap into it, exercise patience and surround ourselves with the right influences, there’s no telling how far we can go and how much evil we can defeat.

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