This is the time of year that predictions are made and data is shared about what the strategic and operational goals are for the upcoming year. Although management firms spend an inordinate amount of time and money collecting this data all year long for these much-coveted reports, there is rarely anything earth-shattering about what CEO’s, business leaders or professionals have to say about where their focus will be in the new year. The usual banter will be about increasing engagement, improving candidate experience, technology, finding the best talent etc. As you can see, nothing really shocking.
However, 2017 has been illuminating. I wanted to say “different”, but that would mean that what I am about to share is new as of this year and it isn’t. In fact, what I will share is the result of something somewhere in the archives of time that started off as a snowball and is now an avalanche of end-of-the-world proportions crushing souls and careers to boot. This thing I speak of is the erosion of integrity and values in business.
2017 is the first year in my existence where just about every month there has been some company, company head or public figure who has come under scrutiny for either illegal or unethical practices. There have been so many “sorry’s” and “apologies flung around this year that it is becoming nauseating and unbelievable. The travesty in it all is that people who knew that all of this unethical and illegal behavior was the very thing that contributed to the fame, fortune and prestige always knew the things we see playing out. They were just waiting and hoping that the rest of the world would see it someday. So what has changed this year? For the first time ever and for reasons unknown to me, people were willing to believe the stories otherwise known over the years as individual gripes, “crazy talk”, imaginary happenings, urban legends and conspiracy theory this year. Suddenly, what was always in the shadows and dark got its much-deserved light via social media, blogs, livestreams, and a lot of bravery on the part of people who chose to break their silence.
In a lot of ways, this year has been one huge coming-out party and not in a good way. Whether it is our government and the corruption of the day or the growing list of sexual harassment and assault charges following the Harvey Weinstein debacle, it has not been a good year for US companies and more specifically humans as a whole. The latest debacle is set at Huffington Post. According to an article published yesterday by Gizmodo, Arianna Huffington ignored sexual harassment claims made by workers in her New York office while she was still running the company. The article goes on to state that one such former managing editor whose sexual misconduct was known to her also garnered a transfer to HuffPost India as a result of an HR investigation. How an investigation that leads to the proof that an employee of yours is engaging in sexual misconduct doesn’t result in a termination is beyond me.
Without diving too deep into this particular story, I prefer to examine the over-arching narrative of CEO’s and leaders, in general, both men and women who consistently overlook, engage in, and embrace unethical and illegal practices as a means to secure opportunities, line their pockets and the pockets of their shareholders and investors. I would be lying if I said I had never encountered leaders or employees behaving unethically who somehow managed to keep their jobs, lives, and lifestyles intact. It has disgusted me. I often spoke up about it only to be met with “Well you know it is John Bae. Yes, he is a jerk and misogynist, but he brings in a shit ton of money for the company, so we have to tread lightly”.
Frankly, I am glad 2017 raised a proverbial mirror to all of the things that make us suck at being human. Now, that we all know and finally see what we all knew was commonplace in business how do we move forward in trust? Can “building trust within my organization” really be on your scorecard when your foundation has been flooded with the truth and is now crumbling as a result? Can you genuinely accept that accolade for best company for women when you have investigations sitting on your desk overlooked and predators collecting checks on your dime? Can you really call your company culture “diverse and inclusive” if you secretly donate operating budget to the KKK or 45’s ongoing campaign? Note: “Diverse” and “inclusive” is maybe not appropriate if the latter applies.
Suddenly, no company, CEO or person is safe from the truth. Your money, prestige, and power are on a timer and the time is nearly up. The only thing leaders should be thinking about going into 2018 is integrity. I’m not sure where along the journey, so many decided that money trumped having values, meant destroying lives and doing it with a smile. Now is a time to ask your employees to blow the whistle internally before the public has its way with you and your brand. It is time, to be honest, and say sorry because you mean it. It is a good time to make amends and provide whatever you must to make it right with the people who show up daily to impact your bottom line.
Everybody needs to take one long hot shower to wash the filth of 2017 and before off and start anew in 2018 with a focus on treating employees, customers, and citizens of this world with the dignity they deserve as a matter of being a fellow human. It may cost you revenue. You may piss off your board of directors and investors, but isn’t it time for “good” to make a comeback?
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:
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.
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.
There is nothing but trouble to follow when we believe that we can be all things to all people. We also endanger any good we have the potential of doing by feverishly jumping on every fad. I can remember so many days in HR reading articles about the trends for the year the next year. I would start counting from the day that I read the article (especially if it was published in SHRM, HBR or Forbes) to the few days after-when I would inevitably be asked about the article. The next request was always for me to start sourcing for ways to implement whatever was being touted as the “best-in-class” practice. While it might seem harmless- like we were keeping up with the times; it was indeed harmful. There was seldom any consideration of what we excelled at as a business and why adopting any of these suggestions were worth our time. It was merely a knee-jerk reaction to hearing what seemed like good advice.
Having worked in STEM and Healthcare, every new technology or methodology was not always for us. Composed under these disciplines are an inordinate amount of regulations at the state and federal levels and stringent requirements for doing business that is unlike any other industry. To make sound decisions about how we progressed was a consideration that required a lot of discussion and conceptualization of how to assimilate “the idea” of new ways into the a very rote, and established ecosystem. I repeat, “the idea”. Getting buy-in to potentially purchase was another round of discussion and conceptualization with several layers of approval.
For example, I was with a company that was in dire need of a new ATS and HRIS. I knew they outgrew what they had and all of our internal customers had their complaints about the system as well. To even begin sourcing for a new system, “the idea” was exposed to a six-sigma evaluation which took a few years and only then were we able to present the case to management for why this was needed. What they wanted was something “perfect” with all of the “bells and whistles” that would somehow give others the impression that they were being “innovative”. In striving for perfection and racing towards innovation, they forgot to focus on what they truly needed. What they needed was something with a simple interface, robust reporting features and the ability to streamline what we were doing from a hiring and on-boarding standpoint.
You may ask why were they worried about having “bells and whistles” for the new system? It was because they tuned into the same publications and reports as every other HR department and assumed that because “consulting firm x” says that it is the best then it must be so.
Can we stop with the “best-in-class” or best practices lingo?
What is best for me as a company of 15 is very different if I’m a company of 40,000. Similarly so, the best-in-class mantra does not necessarily work when there are two different companies in the same industry with the same headcount. The differentiating factors between businesses (especially those under the same company umbrella) are endless. Hence why, it is absurd for anyone to assume that every suggestion for innovation, change or disruption should be answered by an obligation to implement.
Disruption shouldn’t be a call-to-action for hasty moves. It is meant to keep us all aware and awake to how the nature of our work is changing. It is up to us to decide what changes make the most sense for the organization.
Consider the following when evaluating the ever-growing list of things to change:
1)How will these changes impact your workforce? In the implementation of the ATS that I spoke about, we actually spent too much time on this aspect. It’s important to understand how change will impact the people that do the work, but you must also be sure that you don’t stifle forward movement in an effort to be a crowd-pleaser.
2)Will these changes benefit you now or in the future? It’s important to consider how you stand to benefit from a short-term and long-term standpoint. If it isn’t clear how these suggestions will benefit you in either regard; it may not be the move for your company.
3)Is leadership prepared and invested in making these changes? It has been my experience that disruptive ideas die a slow and painful death without leadership being invested in the process. The real question is: Are they truly invested in making this change or is this a whim? Many ideas seem novel on paper, but being truly dedicated to the process and willingly traversing the hurdles that inevitably crop-up is something altogether different.
There’s no question that we must always be looking for ways to improve and better serve our customers. The key is not to make moves under duress, but from a place of being informed and prepared to take action.
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Have you ever worked for someone who couldn’t understand that you don’t need to have your hand held through each of your tasks? I have encountered this many times over. I get it as a parent can be with their child or a person with a spouse or boyfriend- some leaders have a dysfunctional and almost abnormal need to feel wanted and/or needed. These are leaders who like a dependent team not an independent team. They derive their worth from micromanaging every aspect of their teams work and day.
There are some employees on your team that will appreciate the extra hand-holding or may need it. Another percentage of the bunch, will be annoyed with your constant meddling. In either scenario, you are doing your employees a disservice by operating this way. In the first scenario with the needy employee, they need you, you need them- it is the perfect situation- right? No. On one hand it is great for you to provide the individual support that one of your team members may need to be successful in their position. In contrast, you are so hands-on that this person never spreads his or her wings. They will never realize the joy and sense of accomplishment that comes from working through a problem and ultimately fixing it without anyone else’s assistance. This level of problem-solving and critical thinking are the same skills that become important from a developmental standpoint and could hurt the person’s chances of moving up the proverbial ladder. With your independent players, the liability here is that they will feel like you are purposely trying to stifle them not only in their positions, but also from growing beyond their current rank.
When I went through this, I just remember thinking: “Wow! This lady is a nutjob! Can I breathe? Let me do what you hired me to do.” The beauty of leadership is rooted in remaining flexible to the needs of your team. If one person needs a little more attention, you give it. If you have a few high-performers who require simple guidance and behind-the-scenes support, move out of their way and let them get the job done. More importantly, if you are a micro-manager, you need to redefine your worth within the parameters of your job. You are not more successful as a leader when you are giving orders and trying to manage everyone else’s desk plus your own.
What your micromanaging proves is that:
1) You have no faith in your team to execute their tasks accordingly.
2) You have issues with true delegation and that should be addressed.
3) You prefer the visibility to be on you and not your team which is why you won’t allow them to do their jobs.
4) You fear the potential for failure when you are not in a position to handle a task or project.
5) You are not interested in developing your team so they can eventually move into other roles. Keeping them dependent allows you to stagnate the very skills that would propel them ahead.
No matter what the needs of your individual team members are; have faith in them. Empower them. Allow them to problem solve and critically think through issues. Create a safe-haven for failure so employees don’t fear failure, but see it as an inevitable outcome in business. Support your team so they bounce back from those inevitable failures wiser and better than before. This is what people have wanted in a leader in the past and present. Equally, this is how leaders will have to operate in the future.
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Working in HR you get your fair share of discussions around the need to have a town hall or to administer a survey. I’m pretty sure most of the workforce is over surveys, because two things happen: 1) They end up answering questions leadership knows the answers to and 2) There is usually no action behind the surveys- making employees’ efforts fruitless. I believe in soliciting feedback from the very people we serve: employees and customers. Despite the stigma around surveys, they still have an important use in many areas of business when utilized appropriately. It is clear that, businesses focused on new ways to serve their customers and employees are poised to see continuous growth in their organizations. It goes back to the old saying:”You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” How can businesses stay ahead-of-the-curve while operating their businesses blindly? The truth is they can’t and many CEO’s are adjusting to this new reality of data-driven decision making.
A 2015 Global CEO survey by PWC found that 60% of CEO’s are concerned about threats to their businesses given the increased transparency around business operations in the past few years. Additionally, they found that 67% of US CEO’s feel their are more opportunities for their business today than three years ago. Even in this instance, you can see the power in surveys and soliciting feedback. We simply have no way of knowing where we have been, where we are currently and where we are heading; unless we ask the those connected to our markets how we are doing.
You can question the efficacy of surveys, but what I do know is closed-mouths stagnate our progress in business. If a product is terrible and doesn’t do what it purports to do- the business never knows they need to make a change unless consumers speak up. If a business process is slowing down the productivity of employees, leadership has no clue and carries on as usual- if none of the employees speak up. One of the ways we get people to let us know where we can improve is via surveys. Per my earlier sentiment, if those customers and/or employees don’t think their voice is important enough to record their thoughts in a survey; nothing will change.
This is why I am so happy to be working with ProOpinion as a brand ambassador. ProOpinion allows business professionals to make data-driven decisions that will drive results. Essentially, they are a survey partner for businesses that need to get feedback on their products or market behavior from professionals like you and I. I just completed a survey today about business communications, the providers I use and why I use who I do for my communications needs. I have had so many trials and tribulations with phone and internet providers that I was actually happy to provide some feedback on my experiences. Will my feedback change certain providers behaviors? I certainly hope so. However, I can rest easy knowing I didn’t sit in silence when my voice and opinion could have made all the difference.
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