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.

 

The Romper Room of Leadership

romper-room-leadership

Are we still at a point where leaders are unable to provide their employees with constructive feedback regarding their performance?

I’ve recently been made aware of several situations where there are clear deficits in performance from a team perspective in companies. In most instances, everyone on the team knows who is and isn’t pulling their weight and that includes the leaders.

You would think that this should be a slam-dunk scenario whereby the supervisor and/or leader – actively deals with the team members who are slacking off via performance discussions etc. I’m finding that this is not the case. Instead, leaders are opting to have general and redundant conversations with entire teams as an attempt to appear fair in how they delve out criticism.

I would argue that this approach is having the opposite effect. The impact of this approach is employees that are performing at and above expectations are unfairly being subjected to criticism that isn’t a reflection of their individual performance. Having to endure this criticism as a whole rather than individual performance being addressed makes employees feel as though they are working in a “romper-room” environment causing them to not only reject any pertinent criticism that follows; but also creates resentment among team members.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say I am a recruiter on a team of five recruiters for a manufacturing company. We all handle “easy-to-fill” positions, but requisition volume is high as is turnover organization-wide so we are in a constant state of active recruitment. There is an established number of hires each recruiter is required to upkeep on a monthly basis in order to ensure the plant has enough workers to absorb new work coming in via new contracts. In this scenario, the magic number is 30 new hires per recruiter. Three of the recruiters including myself meet and/or exceed the expected number of hires. The other two recruiters consistently hire between 15-18 people and claim they cannot possibly meet the established quota.

The three performers along with the leaders are aware that these two are the weakest links on the team and also recognize that their inability to meet the established number of hires has to do with a mix of poor work habits, slacking and a lack of urgency where they are concerned.

There are a few options in handling this situation:

  1. Continue treating the whole indifferently because parts of the team are not working in an optimal manner by imposing daily monitors of work completed on the entire team as well as threats of disciplinary actions.
  2. Have a performance discussion with the two recruiters who aren’t meeting the standard – while highlighting how they may work more efficiently. Additionally, recognize the recruiters who are consistently performing so they are aware that their efforts are appreciated and being seen.

Number #2 would be the most optimal solution to dealing with this situation. This scenario reminds me of grade school when there would be a student who misbehaved consistently during class. Teachers that had the better sense knew that it was far better to remove unwieldly students from the classroom in an effort of not robbing the other attentive students of quality instruction time.

The same is true here. It isn’t fair to your employees who are doing the right thing to be subject to rules, disciplinary actions or indifferent leadership because you refuse to deal with their co-workers’ performance issues .

Communicate, document, and/or cut ties with employees that aren’t meeting performance standards, if you need to. Just know that no grown adult wants to be treated like they are back in preschool, because you are incapable of addressing performance concerns head-on.

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.

 

Three Tips For Implementing Real-Time Diversity Conversations

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Diversity is on the tip of everyone’s tongues right now. The interesting thing about diversity is people generally give it attention at the 11th hour when missteps and poor practices have already done damage. If some new regulation calls for diversity and inclusion training , diversity mascots  experts are dusted off and asked to provide just-in-time training to show compliance.

As HR practitioners and more importantly business owners, we must all agree that a just-in-time or post-incident training is not a solution to ensuring that we foster inclusive workplaces. Whereas we have been trying to mitigate the instances of intolerance, harassment and exclusion in the workplace – we now have events and circumstances outside of the organization forcing us to have more timely discussions with staff.

The volume is turned up on racial and bigoted rhetoric. Politics are all the buzz as we move towards nominating candidates for the presidential race in the U.S. Through it all, tensions are high online and off. Do you think for a second none of this has the potential of spilling into your workplace?

If you think not, you’re not watching closely enough. More than ever, your employees need to know where you stand and how you expect them to conduct themselves. Times of controversy call for compassion, understanding and real-time diversity conversations.

Here are some tips for implementing these conversations:

1) Be timely and consistent in communicating. It doesn’t matter whether you are addressing concerns internally or externally- you will need to be timely and consistent. Waiting too long to address diversity issues of the moment- can elicit trust issues and undermine your ability to authentically connect with your staff.

2) Make it clear where you stand and what you expect of your employees. I once worked for an organization that allowed the confederate flag to be hung in the offices of leaders. Just a short twenty years ago, this same organization had employees hanging nooses in the offices of African-American employees. To date, it isn’t abundantly clear that they support a diverse workforce and it isn’t implied because it says so on their webpage.  I share this to drive home the fact that you have to walk the talk. Diversity and Inclusion is not just a policy or beautifully-written EEO statement. Diversity should be a part of your organization’s moral fiber. Your employees deserve to know where you stand and what will and will not be tolerated.

3) Keep it simple. Keep it real. Have you ever taken stock of the gestures and faces your employees make before you or any other leader starts speaking in a training or meeting? Employees are like your customers in many ways. They hate contrived messages. It pains them to watch you squirm through a conversation on race knowing that you don’t even believe the words coming out of your own mouth. Keep your message simple and be real. You have to trust that you have fully-grown adults working for you- that are capable of engaging in open dialogue on diversity, inclusion and other difficult topics.

It is our legacy in HR to create policy, procedure and programs. With pressures for businesses to show and prove their dedication to social causes – it is very clear that HR and the business have stock in managing the moral reputation of the company. Using these tips are just the beginning to the effort you need to put into a sound diversity and inclusion strategy.

In my latest “Ask Czarina Live”, I talked about what happened to MAC Cosmetics when they let a diversity debacle go too far. Check it out below.

Have questions about how to take this one step further? Contact me. I’ll answer you in a future “Ask Czarina” video.

Is Your Employee Relations in the Toliet?

Courtesy of Flickr.com

Courtesy of Flickr.com

The HR lesson for this week is about a man who worked for a company for 15+ years and may have let a little toilet paper get between him and his job. I am open to other points of view on his behavior since I am clear on how I would have approached this situation. Let’s just say his performance with this company was impeccable. He was respected by his peers. More importantly, he did his job. This employee noticed that the company would throw away the unused toilet paper in the men’s bathroom whether completely used or not. He found the company to be wasteful in throwing away this toilet paper daily, so he asked one of the janitors to keep them for him. The janitor obliged and one day as he was exiting the bathroom with said toilet paper he was spotted by someone in HR.

What did HR do?

Next thing he knows he is whisked into a meeting with 7-10 people letting him know that they were aware of his theft of the toilet paper. They went on to express their disappointment and the leniency they exhibited by not having him charged for fraud. In the end, they fired this employee and flushed the 15+ years of service down the toilet.

If I take my HR hat off for a bit and examine this, I find myself perplexed by their hasty decision. I also say to myself, why was this grounds for termination? All he did was take toilet paper doomed for the trash off of their hands. I don’t disagree that in this context the toilet paper was company property. However,  I question whether termination was too harsh given this person’s record.

Sometimes it isn’t the blatant infractions of rules or policies that stump us as employee relations professionals; but rather the oddball, infrequent ER issues that crop up.

Here are some of my thoughts around how you might approach this issue:

  • The employee never had any performance issues prior to this incident. I would rather warn this person that this particular behavior is not permitted and issue a warning rather than to lose an otherwise great employee.
  • Did this incident harm anyone, infringe on someone’s civil rights, cost the company money, and tarnish the company’s reputation? If the answer is “no” all around, it  can probably be dealt with internally; without idol threats of legal action or immediate termination.
  • The warning would have been issued with the knowledge that the next time he was found taking this it could result in a write-up or up to termination. Remember that thing called progressive discipline? Yeah that.
  • Less is more in an initial employee relations meeting. It is both intimidating and unnecessary to have 7-10 people in the room at that time.
  • Maybe this is an opportunity for us to look at ourselves from an organizational standpoint. Is throwing unused toilet paper out a waste? I would say so. Perhaps there is room for us to look at better ways of managing this “company asset” going forward.

There are difficult employee relations issues that require swift and even harsh punishment. This one was not one of those instances in my book. Part of being a good great HR professional is having a keen sense of discernment for the organizational situations you encounter and being able to make a sound decisions that match the impact of the problem.

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