HR & Society: HR Can’t Fix Human Flaws

HR Can't Fix Human Flaws

HR’s job has always been evolving. We have gone from administrative paper pushers to devising strategy that has operational impact to the organizations we serve. Are we headed for another evolution in this tumultuous political environment? I think so, but like many other human-related issues within organizations it isn’t really something HR can fix with a sweeping policy, focus group, or strategy.

Let’s consider a few factors. Before November 9th of 2016 how much did you think about employees’ or co-workers political ideologies? Probably not much, but when you consider that those ideologies could be tied to human flaws particularly the flaws of intolerance and hatred – what policy of strategy are you going to devise to combat that?

Better yet, if you are an HR professional of color who is now met with an emboldened employee who is anti-anything White, Anglo-Saxon, how motivated are you to work with that person and better yet serve them? How about if they verbalize their disgust for gender-neutral bathrooms despite the current regulations in place and several members of your team are part of the LGBTQ community?

Humans are flawed and messy. That makes our work in HR – flawed and messy.

I’m not suggesting that everybody wear their political ideologies on their sleeves and draw a line in the sand. Obviously, nothing would get done if we did that. However, I think we often paint a pretty picture of how things could and should play out without considering what has a real possibility of happening. That is to say that if people are protesting in the streets and having heated arguments/differences both in real life and online that are starting to reveal some character flaws; there is little if anything that any one-size-fits-all diversity, inclusion or HR program you could do to combat that.

The challenge of our work in HR is anticipating human behavior and balancing it with checks and balances through programs and policies. If we’re honest, we have never been able to control human behavior. All we really have success in is creating the best possible circumstances for our workforces to thrive. We have never truly been in control of the outcomes. If you disagree, I will kindly ask you to go back 5-8 years, search any common HR concern and count how many of the topics are recurring from year-to-year.

Where we get better is in rethinking how we approach the recurring and new issues that crop up, with the understanding that how it all plays out is dependent on something completely out of our control – human intention and behavior.

Back to the initial concern of the political environment, the same old policy and focus groups are not going to cut it. Now, more than ever we need to be sharing our experiences as a collective community and brainstorming better solutions. We need to not be afraid to say to the C-Suite that just-in-time training and reactive policy development will no longer do their company any good. This is a time for every HR practitioner to listen more than they speak. It is time to get comfortable with uncomfortable discussions about racism in the workplace, politics, pay disparity etc. I have met way too many practitioners in my travels that all too often have these items on their yearly HR to-do-list, but consciously put them off because it either doesn’t affect them or they can’t be bothered.

If you think what is going on outside the walls of your company doesn’t have the ability to spill into the day-to-day operation, you are kidding yourself.  Your employees need a little more of the “human” out of Human Resources right now.

Here’s how you give them that “human factor”:

  • Do not ignore complaints or concerns raised around employee relation concerns. This has always been true, but right now it is even more important. You need to have a handle on any discrimination, bullying or violent behavior that may be brewing in your organization.
  • Make sure you are advising your C-Suite leaders regularly about the climate within the organization. It is important that the C-Suite and HR are in alignment on how to deal with sensitive matters. Encourage your leaders to be more visible than perhaps they are accustomed to.
  • Communicate with your workforce regularly and let them know you are available. Yes, I know you are swamped and don’t have time for people traipsing in and out of your office all day. However, would you rather that you catch an issue early or when you’re in court? Will you sleep better at night knowing you settled an employees’ concerns or would you rather see them as a number? Regular communication keeps gossip and assumptions at bay. If your employee’s know where you stand they don’t need to wonder or conjure up alternative facts. See what I did there.
  • Time to look at your programs and get some real feedback on its effectiveness. Yes, it will sting if you get negative feedback. However, the goal with any program or training is to actually usher in change. If your goal is to keep the organization afloat during these tumultuous times and keep the workforce progressing on an upward trajectory – you ought to evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it.
  • Add some levity to the workday every week. It doesn’t have to cost a lot or be overly time-consuming. What people need is a break from reality. Regardless of what our individual ideologies are, we can all find some commonalities among us. Have a “bring your favorite board game to work day” or an ice cream sundae social. Give people a chance to see the good in their co-workers .
  • *Bonus* Watch the HR department carefully. You can’t have people so-called dedicated to making a difference for entire organizations be simultaneously pumping their fist for all muslims to be banned from the US in the breakroom or be rallying for the KKK off-hours. It is a bit of an oxymoron; don’t you think?

Creativity and heart have always been the answer to most of HR’s woes. There is no better time than now, to put both of them to use.

 

Letting Go: Three Functions HR May Want To Delegate Responsibility For

Letting Go-Three Functions HR May Want To Delegate Responsibility For

These days you can’t evade commentary on what HR should be doing and assuming responsibility for. The list is endless and maybe even unreasonable.

How organizations structure their HR departments differs based on an innumerable amount of variables. For starters, complexity of the organization, functional clarity and employee headcount are some of the more common variables that account for how HR gets structured within an organization.

The nature of work is changing and so Human Resources is also changing as a result. This means rethinking the way “the way we have always done things”. In shifting from the “Personnel Mindset” to present day HR, we must also realize and admit that some of the ways that we chose to operate never worked and as such will not be sustainable in the current business climate.

I’ve spoken a lot in the past about how we move forward as a discipline, but there is an elephant-in-the-room and it is about how we are structured. It doesn’t matter how many strategies, tips, or insights I or any other expert provides to you as an HR practitioner, if your HR department is so fat that it is bulging from all of the unnecessary sub-disciplines dragging it down from a both a functional and financial perspective – HR will be inert.

We can’t be all things to all people…

Perfection is impossible and while we are still collectively trying to get there – we miss the mark everytime, because some of our beloved sub-functions need go or need a makeover.

Here are three examples:

  1. Exhibit A: Payroll the odd HR stepchild. If you are a small to mid-size company, Payroll may be fine under HR. Still, I never understood how this was an HR function at all. I get that there is FLSA and other labor considerations that scream HR. Nevertheless, anytime a function is handling funds for an organization – I immediately think Finance. If you ask me, Payroll belongs under Finance with maybe a dotted-line reporting structure to HR because of the nature of their work. Why HR in many organizations remain responsible for this function is beyond me.
  2. Exhibit B: Very few employees trust Employee Relations/Conflict Mediation owned by the HR function. Let’s talk about transparency and HR’s “open door’ policies around employee complaints and disputes. I worked as a recruiter for many years. Transitioning to a Talent Management professional was easy, because I had so much practice being an ear for employee’s who didn’t trust HR let alone the conflict mediation/employee relations process.

Some of the concerns expressed over the years have been:

  •  ” The ER Specialists never listen to our side, they immediately jump to defend the managers and/or organization.”
  • ” I told the HR Business Partner something in confidence about my work environment and now everyone in my department is treating me indifferently.”
  • “I see my manager go to lunch with the ER Specialist all of the time, I could never go to her with my issue.”

When it comes to Employee Relations, it may make sense to have this be a standalone function separate from HR. HR needs to be aware of the volume complaints and may even partner with them on approach and resolution of larger organizational issues. Outside of that, you may find employees being a little more transparent with what’s going on when this is no longer under HR. Additionally, I like when functions that have a direct effect on Talent Management report directly to the CEO. It gives frequent ER and discrimination issues the visibility needed to stop them in their tracks.

3. Exhibit C: Diversity and Inclusion should be an organizational strategy not a slapped-together group in HR. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m not. Unless there is a true dedication to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment from the top, HR is where Diversity and Inclusion strategy goes to die. Why you may ask? Every organization I have been in has suffered a year or more of a meager HR budget. In almost every instance, the first function to have their funds tremendously cut, was the Diversity group followed by Learning & Development. I don’t think any organization can afford to defund or piece together a Diversity function lacking in both financial and strategic support in today’s social and political climate. In my humble opinion, this sub-function needs a direct-line to the CEO as well.

I could make the case for a few more functions to move based on company specifics. The point is: no one should be structuring HR as it has been for the past 30 years because that is what has been done. The focus and challenge for HR is to be lean and flexible. To be both means we need to take a hard look at what we have on our plate and start creating smaller, smart portions of HR so we are able to focus and add value where we are truly needed.

 

Tread Lightly: Why You May Want to Reconsider Befriending Your Boss

Image courtesy of Flickr.

 

It’s a fabulous thing when the stars align and you gain a great boss in taking a new job.

What makes them “great”?

Perhaps, they have a great personality. They aren’t the usual stuffy leader. Maybe, it’s because they are concerned with your well-being. They ask about the family and how things are going. All in all, there are a myriad of reasons why your boss may be “great”.

It is human nature that we become comfortable with people who make us feel at ease. How comfortable we become is a matter of discernment and individual disposition.

When it comes to the people you report to – how friendly is too friendly? Is there such thing as being too close for comfort?

In my humble opinion, I think there is such a thing as being too familiar, too friendly and too close with your boss. I have been too close for comfort and it has gone wrong and I have been very familiar and it has been just right.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to befriending your boss:

1) There is a difference between being “friendly” and being “friends”. You may come to know things about one another in time, but it wise to not misconstrue friendship with pleasantries. If you have ever had a seemingly “great” boss, you will know why this is important.

2) Your personal business is none of your boss’s business. I don’t care how friendly or nice your boss is – there are limits to what you should share. Oversharing gives them too clear a window into your life and may or may not give them fodder with which to make decisions surrounding your employment and/or career opportunities.

3) Listen more. Observe more. Speak when necessary. It could be the introvert in me, but I like to observe people before I become friendly. I need to assess people and watch how they operate. It has helped me to do this, because it gives me a leg up on understanding whether I need to tread lightly or if I can loosen up a bit.

4)  Never gossip with your boss about co-workers or others in the organization. Notice that I said “loosen up a bit” in #3. After you have observed your leaders and decided “hey, they are cool”, stop yourself short of gossip. Some of them will gladly indulge you in this kind of talk- especially if it allows them to blow off some steam about people you work with. In the long run, talk gets around and it will never be them that looks poorly if you were involved in a gossip session. It will be your ass on the fire- always!

5) Numbers 1-4 will not apply to every boss. The key is understanding and knowing what makes them tic and considering in advance what could go wrong for you.

If the pros outweigh the cons and you have yourself a good egg, go for it – skip through the meadows with one another. However, if you are unsure and you are just a happy go-lucky person with everyone – stop yourself and consider a friendly, but professional relationship.

Working with leaders with varied personalities, agendas, and management styles can be challenging. Don’t be too quick to befriend before you consider the ramifications of a more personal relationship with someone who manages you.

Beware Knowledge-Poaching Leaders

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Two years ago, I wrote an article about things I needed CHRO’s to know about what the organization needs from them. I wanted them to know what kind of leaders their employees deserve. I find myself wanting to have this discussion again after yet another anecdote about an ill-equipped CHRO.

I have often heard that leaders don’t need to be knowledgeable in every facet of their employees’ work to be effective. That may well be true in some scenarios. However, it is my belief that time spent in the trenches is valuable not only for the purpose of understanding what your employees go through – but also so you bring something other than a title to the table when you are called to it.

Some of the best leaders I have known have worked their way from the bottom to the C-Suite. I also know people that haven’t held every role on their way to the top, but are relentless about rolling up their sleeves and keeping themselves current on all things HR. As a business owner, I  know what I know and I know what I don’t know. As such, I seek out the people and resources that are needed to help me execute my tasks and business goals. I may not be an expert in everything, but I am willing to learn and/or I research what I don’t know so I can have an intelligent conversation about the work that needs to be done.

Here’s a thought…

Don’t become a leader , if you choose to be a figurehead rather than a team member. The world can use less people who look the part versus fitting the part. Personally, I have had enough of watching people in the C-Suite sitting in meetings and town halls completely oblivious to what is going on in their organizations. It isn’t becoming to not understand the basic tenets of your niche – when it is that very expertise that you got you hired for the job in the first place. It is equally uncool to take credit for your teams knowledge and expertise.

Experts often say you shouldn’t be working in your business day-to-day as a CEO. I both agree and disagree with this sentiment. I know that going forward I will need to delegate work so I can work on business development and other aspects of my business. Conversely, I have been all things in my business out of both necessity and utility. I now know what has to be done in all aspects of my business and how it should be done.  It would be impossible for me to provide the proper direction and vision to a future employee – without having experienced being in their shoes.

Additionally, if my team members bring something new or innovative to my work that was previously overlooked by me, I have a duty to give them the credit for their effort and ideas. Being a knowledge-poacher is not only disingenuous, it is a morale killer.

Put yourself in the place of one of your employees for a second. Think about how exhilarating  it is to think you have come up with a solution to an issue or to know that you created a unique program or initiative. Imagine the pride you would feel as an employee to hand the deliverable off to a manager or leader realizing its potential for recognition by the right people – only to have said leader take credit for your work. How would you feel?

As a leader, you don’t have to know it all or be everything to everyone. You do have a duty to ensure that your employees efforts and great ideas are recognized. You are not less of a leader, because your employees excel at things you don’t. If you are a knowledge-poaching leader take a good, long look at yourself.  Heed the following warnings because this is your plight:

1) Employees who are victims of knowledge-poaching leaders eventually move on to greener pastures where their talent can not be hidden (I am proof of this).  This likely means high turnover for your organization.

2) When the victims of your poaching do move on, everything will eventually crumble around you. It only takes that one key employee to leave for the weakest links to be exposed. This run of hiding behind other people’s talent never lasts indefinitely.

3) Your poaching affects all of your employees whether they are the ones being poached or not. In the case of one of my colleagues, he questions the ethical, moral, and organizational ramifications of not speaking-up in defense of a co-worker whose knowledge, expertise and efforts are being poached. 

True leaders aren’t insecure because their teams are strong. They celebrate the strength of the team with pride and acknowledgement.

Don’t be a knowledge-poaching leader!

 

The Untouchables: Why you should stop salvaging bad employees at every level

The Untouchables- Why you should stop salvaging bad employees at every level

Are you one of those companies that would rather preserve everyone than let them go? Right now, I know of at least one organization -where despite lackluster performance, poor behavior and the disbanding of their team of direct reports- a leader is being salvaged beyond their time because no one has the balls to let go of people who are detracting from the organization.

Let’s be honest employers…

With the exception of a select group of companies, it has been my experience that many of you see your workforces as being dispensable. If business is down over a period of time and tough decisions have to be made- you layoff people without blinking an eye. If one of your employees doesn’t exactly fit the mold or doesn’t flow with the way of the company- get rid of them is what you say. Oh, but there are a select “untouchable” few that get to stay for the ride. They have a certain pedigree these untouchables. If you went around and did a very unofficial survey of your workforce at the moment to find out who people believe are “untouchable” in your organization they would either be reluctant to answer and/or with some further assurance of no retailiation -they would give you at least one name. Note: silence is also an answer.

Sometimes these people are at the staff level. In the eyes of their peers, they are disruptive to an otherwise healthy work environment. They do very little or sometimes they do a lot. Whatever they do, they are not interested in assimilating and working cooperatively, because they don’t have to. Despite any complaints or even visual cues that they are contaminating your ecosystem- you, the employer continue to reward poor behavior by promotions that they aren’t worthy of. You offer these “untouchables” opportunities that your other employees would die for. In fact, they may be dying for said opportunities- as they continue to work painfully hard hoping that it will someday be recognized and rewarded.

What of the untouchable leader?

This is probably the most damaging of all of the untouchables. You all know at least one leader that you have encountered that shouldn’t be allowed to lead anyone- let alone be employed by a company in such a capacity. They are not always the vile characters we often think about. Sometimes they are just cunning, undercutting, always playing and dealing a card at the right time. Everyone on their staff sees them for who they are. Internal and external partners even see it. The trouble is when HR ignores the smoke and the C-Suite is blinded completely by charm and other artificially-sweetened personality trickery. There are usually attempts to dethrone this person, but they are usually thwarted by a lengthy list of reasons why the person cannot be fired.

You may be saying: “this is how it is”. If that is your stance, you should also be made aware of the damage these people cause.

Here are some reasons why you should stop salvaging bad employees now:

1) You are setting a precedent that good performance and showing up everyday in a positive manner has no bearing on an employee’s success in your company.

2) These people disrupt the office environment. People tip-toe around them, avoid them and are sickened by having to share in office events or the presentation of yet more accolades for someone who really isn’t deserving of any of it.

3) It causes a slow and painful deterioration to both employee loyalty and effort. Some will hang in there with you unwavered, but many will see your allegiance to an untouchable as a personal affront to their career aspirations. If the sentiment is the latter, you will either lose people or see people do less, because they will figure working hard isn’t a worthy approach in your company.

It’s important to be cognizant of the messages you send about what success looks like in your organization. It’s fairly easy to write down a mission and values statement, but what does that look like in practice? Be sure that the picture of success that you woo candidates with is the same view they have as they progress through your organization.

More insights on this topic will be on The Aristocracy of HR You Tube Channel tomorrow. Click here to tune in.

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