Workplace Astigmatism

For the last 10 years, I’ve boasted that my vision has not changed. I laugh at optometrists when I walk into their examination rooms because I know that the result is going to be the same…”Well Mr. Harris, everything is fine…no difference…here’s your prescription.” to which I say buttholishly, “I know! Told ya things are the same.”

eye-exam-checkupBecause of this status quo, I take eye exams for granted; only going when I actually need new glasses due to wear and tear…which is like every 5 years. I actually get tired of putting myself (and my money) out there to have my time wasted…until my visit a week ago.

This trip I entered confidently as I usually do, preparing my normal giggle and forming my mouth to say my usual know-it-all words, until Dr. Eyedude says, “Your right eye has changed. We’re going to switch your prescription and it may be a little drastic.”

When you think that nothing has changed, everything has

Not having had to look through “different” lenses for so long, I found myself being uncomfortable on my way home. The change was making my head hurt. Things were blurry. I didn’t like it. Was it because it was unexpected? Was it because something was different? Was it because it was unwelcomed? Maybe it was because I had gotten too comfortable. Too used to knowing what everything looked like and how everything was supposed to feel. The moment a new process was introduced, a new person was brought aboard, a new policy took effect…wait, am I describing your office or my eyes? Hmm? Maybe both.

As we get older, more experienced, more tenured, we must face the inevitable fact that things must and will change. Our vision, our surroundings, and the ways our businesses must operate all change. We can either roll with it, adjust or we can resist and remain in denial. That denial stems from the fact that we think things are fine just the way they are and we think that if we don’t acknowledge it, it’ll just go away.

Resistance to change can be costly

If I had paid regular attention, not been so arrogant and stubborn, maybe a drastic change could have been avoided or eased into. The gradual change would’ve helped me to make better adjustments. Being open to changes in the way our companies must do business will help our employees make better decisions as it relates to the new normals. Maybe they need regular examinations and consultation…I mean evaluations and one-on-ones…so that any issues can be identified early before they become problematic and cost us in the end.

What’s better? One or two? Two or three?

The next day, I could see things better. The headache had gone away. Those moments of temporary discomfort turned into my new, clearer reality. It took me getting broken down and taken out of my cocky comfort zone to realize that acceptance, flexibility and acknowledgement helped the headaches to go away and for things to seem clear again. I had to be humbled by the fact that I don’t know how bad things are until someone shows me something better, different, clearer.

Does your job give you “headaches”? Is it them or is it you refusing to adapt? 

Let’s not wait until it’s too late to let someone check us out. Let’s take some feedback and let it make us better. Let’s understand that us becoming more seasoned is when more changes need to occur…as opposed to things always having to change to our liking. Yielding to necessary adjustments may be blurry at first, but it can ultimately help you to see your vision more clearly in the end.

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.

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.

Don’t Argue With Fools

Offices are being taken over. Not by members of a specific generation, not by social media, not by unskilled workers, but by negativity.

stop-negativity-300x199Negativity and lack of cohesiveness is hurting our productivity even more than skill gaps and generational work habits. Negativity is universal and affects our offices no matter the stage of one’s career. And while dirty politics, snide remarks and insults are being treated more like personal issues than personnel issues, the lack of employee professionalism speaks more to a lack of management and leadership in that space.

We have all done it, snickered about a fellow employee, and then compliment them when they walk by. Participated in a session where management or a process is being bashed without helping to keep things appropriate for sake that we’ll be talked about next. And while no one can keep people from talking negatively, there are ways to harness the negative energy and to use it to build up your office.

Listen to Jay-Z
In a song entitled, The Takeover, the great philosopher Jay-Z stated “A wise man told me don’t argue with fools; Cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who…”

take_a_good_look_at_yourselfParticipating (sounding just as unreasonable or negative) in these conversations without attempting to provide solution makes us just as bad as the negative employee. From a distance, it looks like total participation. When you are the bigger person, those that constantly stir the pot will either acknowledge your positive suggestions or not speak that way when you are around.

If people are always using you as that type of sounding board and telling you unflattering things about coworkers, management or the organization, you must ask yourself, “Why do they feel so comfortable telling me this?” Are you encouraging it? If you didn’t stop them and their negativity at the door, in essence you are saying, “Ok, come on in and stir up trouble!”

Acknowledge and Learn
While the delivery method of complaints can be a cause for concern, what is just as or more important is what the employee is saying and/or feeling. Why is the staff lashing out? We know that our employees clam up when asked straight forwardly, “Tell me how we can improve our office?” or “How can things be better?” So if employees have plenty to say outside of that meeting space, we need to pay attention to it, admit that there may be validity to the issues that are being raised and use them to improve self or how things are managed in the office.

When leaders catch wind of concerns or problems, management malpractice occurs when the manager does not professionally and authoritatively approach the source and root of the issue. Ignoring it or relying on someone else to eventually say something furthers the notion that management does not care, so we’ll just keep griping amongst ourselves.

Act Expeditiously
An important quality for a leader to have is the ability to respond to an issue or crisis quickly…or better yet, proactively before it becomes a crisis. Managers loose more credibility and respect when they avoid the tough conversations and sit on their hands in the midst of negativity. If not a part of the solution, this manager is a part of the problem…and that lack of action is probably what the employees are talking about in the first place.

“Take focused and decisive action. They will follow you.” – Justin Harris, 2014

New rules and procedures alone will not a change make. Management has to step up, show commitment and be firm in what will and will not be accepted in the office. There must be leadership by example and demonstrative respect of people, ideas and the organization. This change requires those with power to come out from behind their desk and to interact with their people, so their knowledge of what is being said is no longer 3rd and 4th hand info, but a first-hand glimpse into the disconnect…so that it can be attacked first-hand.

Screw Your Pay Grade

When workplace responsibilities become “coastable”, employees often float under the radar until annual review time and ultimately retirement, all while abandoning their ability to be accountable. That lack of accountability, according to Paul Samulski, “diminishes execution and individual and team performance. It creates and reinforces a culture of blame. While everyone is busy pointing fingers, deadlines don’t get met, work remains below standard, and customers stay dissatisfied.”

When employees don’t take accountability, they complain. It’s everyone’s fault but theirs. They don’t want to do anything, but hate for others to be called upon to help. And when things go wrong and they are questioned, they give the infamous line…

It’s Above My Pay Grade
The ultimate cop out. This phrase makes me want to scream not only because it’s the worse excuse to avoid work and maintain the status quo, but because it’s always followed by a buck being passed. If this employee were denied an opportunity and told, “It’s above your paygrade”, they’d be ready to fight and then sue. But given the opportunity to slither out of working, it so easily flows from the lips.

This is why it’s common to see lower-ranking employees given more access and/or privileges by management than their higher-ranking counterparts because they:

  • Are trusted to actually do something with the access or information
  • Are willing to learn to get things done while taking chances and being resourceful
  • Are ready to take responsibility for their newly acquired skills and duties

Instead of spending so much of our attention on employees suffering from “It’s above my pay grade-itis”, spend more quality time in developing your more energetic and ambitious employees. The ones that will accept the extra assignments and go an extra mile or two or three. The ones that care about accomplishing the office or organizational goals and not just doing enough to cover their butts, collect a check and have health insurance. Either three things will occur with those “itis” stricken employees once the engaged ones begin to get the attention, praise and promotion:

  1. They will realize that it truly benefits them to buy-in and help the organization or office succeed.
  2. They will realize that there is no place for that their type of attitude and find employment elsewhere.
  3. They will continue to whisper, complain and be stagnant, only to end up working FOR the very employee that they once ridiculed and griped about. And if that employee was trained correctly, they will encourage them to come along for the ride or managed them right out of the building.

What Would Happen If…?
What would happen if…employees looked for and asked for tasks or projects that were “above their pay grades”? Our annual reviews would be full of examples and instances where we “Exceeded Expectations” instead of simply “Meeting”. We would build portfolios of skills that would make us more promotable.

What would happen if…managers stop creating and allowing a culture of blame to exist in the workplace? While they take the opportunity to identify and develop the willing talent, they must also create and foster an environment of accountability by not addressing mistakes as faults but manageable opportunities. When managers blame, employees blame. They didn’t start off disgruntled.

What would happen if…we stopped hiding our gifts and talents from our managers for fear of being asked to do more work? If we communicate and embrace our talents, we would more often find ourselves being asked to perform job duties where we operate in our gift….actually enjoying what we are doing! The fulfilling jobs can’t be offered if no one knows that those are where your strengths lie.

“Work for the pay grade you want, not for the one that you’re in.” – Justin L Harris, 2014

To Your Network and Beyond

In March of 2013, my Performance I Create colleague Steve Browne wrote a post entitled “HR Evangelism”, charging those of us in the HR profession to “Push” and “Share” the good news of our HR community. I loved his post for so many reasons:

  • Because this type of “evangelism” is how I became interested in blogging and began incorporating social media into my practice of HR.
  • Because I love sharing thoughts and ideas; and we can ALWAYS learn from one another regardless of experience, title or perceived expertise
  • It encourages HR thinkers, practitioners, bloggers, speakers, and whatever other title there is to support one another’s work, projects, websites and endeavors.

One Step Further
One message I’ve heard at churches for years is that true evangelism goes far beyond the structure of whatever your church is. Think about it like this, in a church, most of the attendees already know the “good news”, they may just need reminders, encouragement or a different perspective. But recycling the message among a group of people who already “get it” only does so much good…especially when there are those that have never been exposed to the wonderful messages we all have to share.

I love blogging and expressing my thoughts and views via this site, but what good does it really do to only share my views to the people in my immediate professional network? One thing I hear all of the time is, “Hey UnlikelyHRGuy, my manager needs to read that post!” or “My friend/coworker was just talking about that issue!” The people who may really need the help or some enlightenment are those that may not be on social media or even know I exist!

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  • It may be the middle manager that doesn’t have the best example to follow
  • It may be the overlooked supervisor that has no idea how to effectively motivate his staff
  • It may be that recently promoted leader that has been given all of the online training and compliance webinars, but doesn’t know how to practically apply all of the stuff that’s been crammed in their head
  • It may be the employee at my dry cleaners or my barber or the lady in front of me in the grocery line that’s complaining about work

If our message is so good and if we love our profession so, why are we only sharing it with each other? How good is the news if the same 30 people are the only ones seeing/hearing it?

So in the spirit of Steve’s original charge to “push the great work” of HR, I want to add that we should not only push to one another but to those that we may not normally share with or touch often. We are not writing, speaking and teaching just to prove our value to one another! We expect people to actually use this stuff and to help multiple organizations grow and succeed.

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We must share beyond HR for our message to truly take root and change our workplaces. Take this and articles like it and share them with anyone that has a manager, is a manager, anyone that is looking for a job or needs help with a resume. Share with anyone that has had a bad day at work. Share with anyone that cares about how people are treated or anyone that has been recruited for a position. That means share with just about anyone over the he age of 16! For HR to be effective and for our words to resonate and create change in the workplace, we must share beyond HR and live the life we preach about.