The Armchair HR Manager

Advice and Commentary from an "HR Fan" – whether asked for or not!

Why did YOU come to work today?

Having been working in HR for many years now (ok, not THAT many but enough) I have seen, heard, read and experienced a multitude of reasons for why organizations are experiencing record high levels of turnover and lack of employee engagement/motivation/commitment. There is a ton of research and articles out there about why we are experiencing these problems (most start and end with leadership). These same articles also carry forward in the same theme that the problem is a top down one. While I fundamentally don’t disagree with that, I feel that if we all continue to look skyward for a solution to come down from above, we will all be disappointed to not receive that manna from heaven. (Sorry to go all biblical there).

How does YOUR job measure up?

How does YOUR job measure up?

After having had many discussions over the years with managers, employees, colleagues, friends and family about why they are unhappy in their own jobs, I have struggled at times to help coach them through their personal situation(s) when they are feeling this way. Just because I work in HR doesn’t mean I am perfect! (That was a little HR humour). Here is the thing, I have come to realize that if you spend every minute of every day pining away for a better job, a better life and/or a better company to work for, you will just end up being even more miserable each and every day in your current job. There are, after all, only a handful of Google and Zappos-like companies to work for. Also, for most people, they can’t afford to simply quit their job and walk away to search for the next great employment opportunity; if they could, they wouldn’t have stayed working for a lousy company/manager in the first place!

So what to do? As I alluded to above, instead of being miserable, resentful or feeling trapped, you need to ask yourself this question – “Why did I come to work today?” There could be a hundred responses to this question, none of which are wrong. The key thing is to come to terms with your own personal “why” and make peace with it. Focus on this “why” and what your end game is instead of focusing on what is working against you, what sucks about your job and why you are unhappy.

For a lot of people, the answer to this question is “a pay cheque.” The thing is, that is fine answer! You work and your company pays you for it. This allows you to pay your rent/mortgage, put food on the table and pay for your kids’ braces. That is fine. Focus on that. That is your own “why” and it is important – keep your eyes on that prize. Keep the focus on what is important to you – and this way, you will also do well at work. Remember, the better you do at work, in theory, the more secure you will become in your role. This could translate into you obtaining another/better role where you are now or make you more marketable elsewhere. Either way – you win!

Perhaps your “why” is that your job allows you to balance your work and personal life really well. Maybe you have a special needs child or perhaps you are the sole caregiver for an elderly parent? Either way, your current job, with all its warts, allows you to maintain that balance. Keep your eyes on that prize because it is important to you and that is why you come to work each day – to be there for those important people in your life when they absolutely need you to be there.

Maybe it is because you work with great people? Sure I get it, your job is boring, you aren’t challenged, maybe your boss is a bit of a nincompoop; but at the end of the day, you work with great people. You support each other, you have some laughs and for the most part, you genuinely enjoy seeing them each day – good thing as you spend at least 1/3 of your time with these folks. You can’t put a price tag on that. Remember that next time you get the job “blahs.” You might not get that if change companies.

My point, and I do have one, is that sometimes you need to look at the big picture. Perhaps those drivers of perceived dissatisfaction in your current job are really just minor annoyances? Everyone gets P.O.’d, frustrated, etc. at/with their job at some point. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to move on. Get yourself a bit of perspective on things and ask yourself, “why DID I come to work today?” The answer might surprise you. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn/

Know your Recruiting ABP-C’s

No, that isn’t a typo – I didn’t mean to put ABC’s! Indulge me for a minute and I will tell you why. Back in January 2013, I blogged about what the key attributes are that exceptional recruiters possess. One of those attributes was the ability to effectively downstream candidates through the proverbial recruiting funnel. What I mean when I refer to “downstreaming” is the recruiters’ ability to pre-qualify a candidate by removing potential obstacles/barriers that would prevent the recruiter from actually closing the candidate with their client. The logic here is that by asking the right questions and removing obstacles (to closing), the recruiter then knows what they are up against from a timeline perspective and can also properly educate their clients if they are dragging their feet during the decision-making and offer process.

ABC BlockFor purposes of this post, I wanted to take this concept of downstreaming a bit further and hone in on one aspect of it that I feel is of utmost importance. Most of us are familiar with the (somewhat) famous scene from Glengarry Glen Ross where Alec Baldwin tries to “motivate” a sales team by getting them to focus on the concept of ABC – Always Be Closing (Warning – language alert if you choose to play this clip). The same applies to recruiters as well; however, I wanted to add one more letter to that acronym – a P. In this case, the “P” stands for “pre”, as in Always Be Pre- Closing. In the recruiting downstream funnel, it is of utmost importance that recruiters are always pre closing their candidates. In other words, recruiters need to be pre-closing during the downstream process vs. the actual offer process. The act of extending the offer should be merely a formality as it simply recaps all the previous discussions in a written and formal format. An effectively pre-closed candidate receives an offer with a response akin to “this is as we discussed, where do I sign?”

So the real key to not experiencing offer rejection is the discussion during theLetter P downstream process. As a recruiter, you cannot wait until your client (whether you are an in-house or agency recruiter) comes up with a formal written offer before presenting the terms to your candidate. You need to be discussing these items during the downstream process so that when you advise/work with you client to prepare the actual offer, it is reflective of what the candidate has discussed with you (and your client). A big part of your role as the recruiter is working with your candidate and client on the back and forth of potential terms so that the final offer is realistic (for both parties) and all the major stumbling blocks have been covered. So the real question is, what sorts of items should the recruiter be “pre-closing” their candidate on? Here is a simple checklist to keep you on track:

  1. Salary and other compensation – always one of the most important items but best to deal with it up front. You need to get a feel from your candidate what they are looking for and understand what your client is able to pay.  You need to find out what your candidate’s current comp is and work upward from there, especially if the job you are presenting to them represents some upward career movement and/or added responsibilities.  If the position involves a bonus structure, this should be discussed and pre-closed on too – i.e. What is the ceiling amount? How is it earned? How is it paid out?   You should also pre-close your candidate on overtime compensation for the position. i.e. Is there any? When does it kick in? Last but not least, if there is relocation compensation as part of the offer, this too needs to be discussed and your candidate pre-closed on how this will look (terms) in the offer.
  2. Overall benefits package – this is important to look at in terms of how it relates to the salary as well. Are there disability plans (short term/long term) as part of the package? Who pays for them? Is there a pension plan? Is there a matching RRSP program? All of these items can represent value as part of the offer – you just need to understand what is important to your candidate (and what your client can offer) and the pre-close accordingly.
  3. Title – this sounds silly but can be a stumbling block. It should be clear as to what the position title is going to be and at what level, organizationally speaking, it slots in at. Is it a Manager level job? Director? Other? Understand what is being offered so that there is no surprise in the written offer. I have seen far too many cases of everything else lining up but the actual title in the offer is off and it throws the entire process off track.
  4. Vacation allowance – this is a key element to be aware of both in terms of knowing what the candidate currently has vs. what your client may offer. It is hard for any candidate to take less vacation than they currently have. So know what your candidate has now and know what your client can offer. Often companies can’t/won’t move on salary (budget) but can/do move on vacation allowance.
  5. Professional development – what is being covered here? What needs to be covered? This can be anything from professional dues, tuition, conference fees, etc. but often are items of great importance to the candidate.
  6. Start date – another obvious but critical element. You need to understand when your candidate is able to leave their current job (what notice period they have to/want to provide) and when they can start the position you will ultimately offer them. Do they have vacation time they are looking to take /do they have a previously booked trip? Ask the questions and make sure that the start date in the offer is a start date that the candidate is comfortable with. You don’t want to get into a back and forth with the candidate and your client on start date – this is one of those items that can go off the rails pretty quickly.
  7. Spouse – while this has nothing to do directly with the offer, it has everything to do with offer rejection! Good recruiters always pre-close candidates with their spouses. That is, they make sure the candidate has discussed things with their husband/wife/partner to make sure that they are onboard with a potential change. Often the spouse is the true decision maker (i.e. household budgeter) and they need to be comfortable with what the offer will include. This factor is 10x more important when any offer involves relocation. If need be, get on the phone with the candidate and their spouse and pre-close them both together.

By taking the time to effectively pre-close candidates on these seven areas, your actual offer review/acceptance process will become a mere formality. In fact, by pre-closing on these key areas, your overall offer acceptance rate should dramatically increase and there will very few of those “surprise” offer rejections you may be seeing now. What about you? What other areas do you feel you need to pre-close candidates on? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Block image courtesy of digitalart/

Letter P image courtesy of screations/


The Art of the Skip Level Meeting

One of the more effective tools that manager can employ is the use of a skip level meeting. Simply put, a skip level meeting is one where a manager’s manager meets with employees to discuss department concerns, obstacles, opportunities for improvement, etc. with a focus on maintaining and/or improving overall communication. For example, let’s say you have a Manager of Customer Service with 12 direct reports and this manager reports to a Director of Operations. A skip level would involve the Director of Operations meeting with the 12 direct reports of the Manager of Customer Service, without the Manager of Customer Service being present, in effect, “skipping” a level over them.

As mentioned previously, in their purest form, skip levels should be used to either maintain or improve overall communication and build more effective relationships with employees. Skip levels focus on opening and sustaining lines of communication, something which we all can agree is critical to organizational success. However, before going ahead with skip levels, it is important to distinguish what a skip level is (purpose) vs. what it isn’t, when to conduct them and what to discuss.

Skip LevelMost importantly, a skip level meeting is not an opportunity to get “dirt” on a manager. It is not to be used as an opportunity to solicit feedback to put on the manager’s performance review because you have been too lazy to manage them effectively. Treating a skip level this way defeats the whole purpose of the meeting and essentially renders the department level manager redundant and organizationally neutered. In order for skip levels to be effective, there needs to be an environment of trust established – both with the manager of the team and the employees themselves. If, as in the example above, you as the Director of Operations suddenly schedules a skip level meeting, without having spoken to the employees in the months prior, don’t expect them to open up to you! Likewise, don’t expect the manager of these employees to be receptive to the skip level idea either!

If you are conducting a skip level meeting, sit down with the manager of the team first. Explain to them why you are looking to conduct the meeting, what you are going to ask and what you will do with the information you obtain. You need to get the manager’s buy-in; otherwise they will think this is a witch hunt. Ultimately, the goal should be for you provide better coaching to the manager of the department vis-à-vis some of the information you obtain from the skip level. The skip level will also help open up (or keep open) lines of communication with the staff, establish better relationships and allow for a different perspective to be presented and shared. The information you obtain from the skip level can be discussed and shared and through 1:1 coaching, it will allow you to help the department manager be a more effective manager themselves.

Here is a key point – if you, as the manager’s manager, have not had any type of regular contact or visibility with these employees for some time (or at all), you need to start doing that first before holding skip levels. So, get out and walk around, be seen, strike up casual conversations. Do this for several months before scheduling a skip level. Now, assuming that has taken place and you have established some sort of street cred with the staff, you should then make sure to provide an advance communication about the skip levels. Let them know the when/where/what/why in advance. This gives them time to prepare based on the goal(s) of the skip level. It is important you are upfront about the goals – i.e. open/maintain/improve lines of communication, etc.

The types of things you will want to discuss during a skip level meeting with the employees are things like:

  • What works well in the department right now? (i.e. systems, processes, technology, feedback, etc.)
  • What needs improvement and/or what obstacles are preventing them from being successful? (i.e. technology, top level support, more feedback, etc.)
  • What is one thing, as a department, we need to START doing right away to be more successful?
  • What is one thing, as a department, we need to STOP doing right away to be more successful?
  • What is one thing, as a department, we need to make sure we CONTINUE to do in order to be successful?
  • Alternatively, you can ask what they need MORE/LESS of from their manager and yourself in order for them to be successful as a department and in their roles.

Remember, the focus of the skip level meetings always needs to be maintained and feedback kept as objective as possible with a focus on issues NOT people. As the manager’s manager, it is up to you to draw inferences and conclusions from what you obtain in the skip levels and ascertain whether you have people or process issues that need to be addressed. At the conclusion of the skip level, you need to make sure that you follow up with the department manager as soon as possible to discuss the group feedback, what the trends are what the next steps are you both need to take

Just as importantly, if you had takeaways from the skip level, you need to get back to the employees with responses as soon as possible and practicable. This helps cement the trust that has been established, it gives credibility to you and the concept of the skip level and it truly reinforces the intentions of the skip level – to improve communication and build relationships.

What about you? Have you used skip level meetings before? Were they effective? Why did they work or not work? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/

Do you want me to be candid or compliant!?

Allow me to paint a picture for you. There is a group of employees sitting around a table. Their manager is at the front of the room “leading” a SWOT analysis of their department as part of the inputs into the organizational annual planning process. The manager indicates to his staff that he is looking for their honest and candid feedback as inputs into the analysis. The employees then begin to provide their individual perspectives and opinions on what the department’s strengths (s), weaknesses (w), opportunities (o) and threats (t) are. The manager, upon hearing what the staff thinks and feels, then begins to override what everyone is telling him. He starts to rationalize and then outright dismiss the feedback from his staff so as to paint a rosier picture of the department SWOT analysis. This ultimately helps him complete the SWOT analysis faster and move on to something else he would rather be doing.

ComplianceDoes this scenario sound familiar? Whether the exercise at hand is a SWOT analysis, business planning session or employee focus group, the manager has attempted to disguise their ultimate communication goal (or end game in this case) from their staff. Whether it is due to the manager’s own insecurity, lack of preparedness or general sociopathic behaviour, they simply do want to hear what their employees’ have to say. Here is the thing, they know that they are ‘supposed ‘ to ask for input and solicit feedback, but they truly do not want to hear and accept the inputs that they receive. The manager is simply going through a check in the box exercise with their staff to show that they have done their job.

Here is the thing, as a manager and as a leader, you either want your employees to be candid with you or not. You can’t ask for them to be candid when your words and actions demonstrate that you are looking for them to be compliant. What managers need to understand is that employees know when their manager truly doesn’t want them to be candid, despite the fact that that is what the manager ‘says.’ Ultimately, this mixed messaging erodes the very fabric of the employee/manager relationship. It completely destroys all credibility and trust that the manager might have had with their employees. At the end of the day, you (as the manager) will be left with a disengaged employee base. Your staff will only do the minimum required to be compliant and keep you off their backs. Is this the type of ‘team’ that you are looking to have?

I have often found that managers exhibit this type of approach when they themselves are doing something that they don’t believe in. For example, say that the organization taps each department head to lead a focus group into improving operational processes. A particular department manager doesn’t believe that the processes need improving, that the processes are needed at all or worse yet, that their employees aren’t switched on enough to provide any value into improving the processes. Regardless, the manager conducts the focus group (because they have to). They dominate the conversation, dismiss the feedback and essentially present their own ideas as that representative of the group. The manager, through their positional influence, has forced the group to be compliant by pushing them into ‘accepting’ their way of thinking while operating under the guise of asking them to be candid. At best, this is a poor management practice that will obviously not build an environment of trust, at worse, it is complete sociopathic behaviour.  For more information on identifying sociopaths in the workplace, I encourage you to read this series my Mike Lehr on his blog.

So, for managers, you need to decide what you want. If you want compliance, don’t waste your staff’s time by asking for their input on things. Just go ahead with whatever response you want to provide or whatever outcome you want. Let your staff focus on something else and don’t waste their time. Understand, however, that you will ultimately only be managing a compliant workforce. One that will have zero loyalty, provide the minimum level of effort required and one that will not offer any discretionary effort.

If you are truly looking to lead, and if you want your employees to be candid with you, than you need to understand that actions speak louder than words. It is your obligation to understand and communicate to them what the ultimate goal is you are looking to achieve. Clearly identify what you are looking for from them (in terms of their being candid) and how this will help the team “win.” Then, step back, allow them to be candid and most importantly, as the manager, you need to listen. Stop talking and just listen to what they are telling you. Facilitate the conversation, ask open ended questions and help guide the dialogue and/or “park” items when needed. I think we can all do a bit of navel gazing in this area to see if our words and actions are driving our employees to be candid or compliant. I hope, as good managers and leaders, you are truly looking for your employees to be candid with you. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Compliance image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Ditching the Annual Performance Review

Of all the hot HR topics in the last several years, getting rid of the dreaded annual performance review is one that is getting a lot of attention. Go ahead and Google, “get rid of annual performance review.” You will get over 4.9 million hits. That’s right, 4.9 MILLION (insert Dr. Evil laugh here.) So why is this such a hot topic? Well first off, everyone hates the annual review process – both managers and employees. It takes a lot of time, it is often too subjective, in a lot of cases neither party is prepared to have candid conversations, the forms themselves are too long and complex, no one understands the organizational competencies and how they relate to the job that they do, etc. The list goes on and on. The bottom line is that in a VERY general sense, the annual review just doesn’t seem to work for the people preparing and delivering the reviews (managers) and the folks receiving them (employees).

Yes we canSo the questions remain – why do we continue with this practice? Why can’t we get rid of annual performance reviews? Is there not something better we can be doing? Here is my take on this subject having written and delivered hundreds of reviews in my career and having coached/counselled/calibrated thousands of reviews on others. Bold statement alert – I think that sometime in the near future we can get away from the annual performance review. (Gasp!). However, (HR people always like to make a bold statement and then follow up with a ‘however’) as HR Pros we have to guide and support our organizational leaders and managers to go in a different direction with their thinking and managerial practices.

You see, with the annual review process, we could always rely on the fact that once a year there was a formal sit down meeting between manager and employee. There was a guarantee of some sort of face to face dialogue, with some things written down on paper and perhaps a general or even vague understanding of how each party viewed the employee’s performance. There might even be some general discussion about career development plans and/or some broad thoughts on goals for the next year. With all the other challenges HR Pros are faced with, we can and do live with this process because at least something is documented (and HR Pros LOVE documentation) and perhaps employee performance is differentiated in some way.

We all know we are just fooling ourselves though if we think that this is working. For sure, in some cases and companies it is working, but for many, it is an exercise in paperwork and HR compliancy – a big check in the box under the category of, “Conduct Annual Performance Review” because HR said I had to. So, how can we ditch this? Well, the answer is simple, yet it isn’t. You see what I did there? Classic bait and switch! The simple part of it is that there really is nothing but our own organizational mindsets holding us back from stopping this madness. There is no law or labour standards act that says we HAVE to conduct annual reviews on our staff.

In order to start to move away from the annual review, we as leaders and managers need to start changing the way we think about having discussions with our employees and how we will measure their performance in a meaningful, open, objective manner. We need to wrap our heads around having ongoing dialogue with our staff about their performance, both good and bad. We also need to make things like career and retention discussions (i.e. stay interviews) part of what we do on a regular basis. Here is the thing, if we work together to make our organizational cultures ones where coaching, feedback and meaningful dialogue is part of the DNA, than we will ultimately not need the annual review. If managers are accountable for identifying goals and objectives with/for their staff and then measuring their success through quantifiable KPI’s (key performance indicators) than we won’t need the annual review.

The beautiful thing is that the establishment of these goals and objectives becomes the foundational element for regular coaching sessions. If we are able to change our organizational thinking towards how we view the main responsibilities of our managers, than we can ditch the annual performance review process. So, to move forward with ditching the annual performance review we need:

1. A fluid and dynamic goal setting process – one where goals and objectives are established, adjusted and readjusted on an ongoing basis. Metrics are established that clearly show where/when an employee has met, not met or exceeded expectations. Keep in mind, “manager observation” is a KPI, as long as the manager actual observes something.

2. Regular coaching touch points and communication – during these coaching sessions, progress towards goals/objectives is reviewed and identified outcomes are made clear to both parties. Additionally, both employee and manager have an understanding as to what success looks like and how it will be recognized/rewarded.

3. “Stay” discussions form part of the regular dialogue – managers need to focus on engaging in this type of dialogue with their staff on a regular basis. They need to be attuned to any drivers of disengagement and thus are able to have the appropriate dialogue as it pertains to these areas.

4. Career planning and support are shared by the manager and employee – managers need to work with their staff to provide them with the knowledge, skills and opportunity to excel in their current role, while also providing opportunities to learn new skills to prepare them for upward or lateral mobility within the organization. Simply put, this is called building bench strength and should be a KPI of all your managers.

5. Overall organizational accountability – organizationally speaking, we need to hold everyone accountable for establishing and supporting this type of culture and environment. Human Resources needs to function and lead as a true partner in enabling this to occur through training, development and support of its business leaders.

So, that is the utopian environment that needs to exist in order to ditch the performance review process. It is the stuff that HR Pros dream of! What about the operations managers out there? Is this do-able? Can we get there? I think we can. It will take time for sure, but it is a do-able do. Until then, I need to get back to getting ready for our annual performance review process…*sigh.*

Image courtesy of artur84/

What HR REALLY wants Managers to Know (and Do)

Last week I blogged about what your Managers really want HR to do. It was meant to serve as a bit of a reality check for us HR practitioners to ensure that what we think we should be doing is really truly serving the needs of our operations partners. The intent was to give HR Pros something to think about in terms of what we focus on and how we deliver our HR services. I have received a lot of feedback on the article in terms of its accuracy! The good news is that this feedback has come from both HR and operations folks – so that balance is nice to see! However, as many of you know, there is a dark side of HR that comes out from time to time. These are all the things that HR wants to say to operations but they really can’t or are reluctant to do so. So as a good HR Pro, I will present a balanced approach to this debate and give the list of things that HR really wants the managers at its organizations to start doing, do better, or stop doing! HR Pros, feel free to share this post with your managers afterwards. Managers – take note, here is what your HR folks are really thinking!

• Talk to your people – seems like a simple one doesn’t it? However, it is often seen as one of the biggest gaps in the employee/manager relationship. Far too often managers simply fail to communicate to/with their staff. If your employee is not performing properly, than you need to talk to them. Identify where the gap is and what needs to be done to close the gap. If the issue is more behavioural/conduct (i.e. tardy, poor customer service, etc.) than speak to them about it. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away but will really frustrate and annoy your good employees.

HR needs managers to know• Bring HR into the loop sooner – as a follow up to the point above, don’t wait until you have a full blown crisis or performance issue on your hands before you consult with your local HR person. Far too many times I hear the story of an operations manager coming to see HR and the conversation starts with, “I have this employee and something needs to be done,” or “I have an employee who can’t do their job and they need to go.” When you first get whiff of an issue and/or you are unsure of how to deal with it, come and talk to HR. We are more than happy to provide guidance and direction. If you are an inexperienced manager, we will give you the step by step playbook on how to address the issue and we will coach you through it. (And no, we aren’t going to terminate the employee, you are – they are your employee).

• Follow our advice – assuming you brought HR into the loop as soon as you could and your local HR person gave you some really awesome advice on how to deal with your underperforming employee or your misconduct situation, than you only need to do one more thing after that – FOLLOW THE ADVICE! You wouldn’t believe the inordinate amount of time HR spends coaching managers on how to deal with a situation only to have the manager turn around and either not talk to the employee (see point #1), ignore the advice, or put their own spin on the advice. Then when the problem doesn’t fix itself, the manager comes back to HR wondering why their “advice” didn’t work!

• Document, Document, Document – documentation is king. Assuming you follow points #1-3 above, when you have the conversations with your staff, document them. Keep a log of what was said, discussed, etc. If you need to issue something formal to the employee, do it in the form of a letter. If it isn’t documented in some form, it didn’t happen! (I know, I know, managers HATE that saying!) This advice also works well for non-disciplinary things such as performance reviews. Keep a record of your coaching conversations with employees. Document their good performance and moments where they received recognition. Then, when writing their performance review, you have a years’ supply of information to revert back to!

• People don’t grow on trees – yes, I know you know that metaphorically speaking; however you need to understand the cost of investing in employees and then losing them and what it takes to replace them. Your Java developer cannot be replaced tomorrow. No, unemployment is not 20% and there aren’t 50 aeronautical engineers lined up at our door looking to apply. No, classified ads don’t work and nor do Help Wanted signs and no, your brother in law who has an arts degree is not qualified fill that vacant engineering role. It is important to know that our reputation is our brand. People want to work at companies where they are respected, challenged and communicated with. You are far better off to invest in and coach up your current staff than to rely on a quick fix, external replacement because someone external isn’t automatically better or smarter than staff you have now. Finally, no, a new hire isn’t going to be as productive day 1 as the person who just quit. That is why we need to focus on retaining our people and not replacing them.

• We don’t like performance reviews either – but they are a necessary evil. Yes we know they are time consuming and take a lot of effort and we do realize you have other critical priorities too, but darn it, your people are important and this is the one time a year we know you will sit down and talk to them and really communicate because you HAVE to! We would rather your employee dialogue was ongoing and goals and objectives were fluid and supported in a coaching environment, so that we didn’t need performance reviews, but until we reach that promised land, we will rely on the trusty annual performance review.

So HR Pros, what do you think about these examples? Operations Managers, do these sound like things your HR folks would want you to know? Is there a middle ground here were we can all “just get along?” Now that HR knows what operations wants them to do and Operations knows what HR wants them to do, maybe we can move the dial on our working relationship? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

What Your Managers REALLY want HR to do

I got inspired to write this post based on what one of my favourite bloggers, Tim Sackett, recently wrote about. In his post, Tim was looking to crowd source some ideas for his 2015 SHRM conference presentation. One of his ideas was, “Why CEOs Believe Weird Things.” His take was that “every SHRM conference has a ‘what your senior executives want presentation.” Tim in his own brilliant, witty, sarcastic way I am sure will do this topic justice. However, his blog post inspired me to take the topic idea down to more granular level and write about what line managers want from their local HR folks. Based on my experience, the operations managers that HR supports are looking for a handful of things from their local HR person to help make their jobs easier. So, with inspiration from Tim, who I hope doesn’t feel that I ripped off his topic idea, (and that I have given proper credit to) here are my thoughts on the topic in terms of what your managers want from HR:

Manager Help• Your managers want HR to find them good people….quickly. (and discuss the issue with them with no B.S.) Yes, I know all the stories about how recruiters find candidates and present them to hiring managers and then the resumes sit on the manager’s desk for weeks at a time and then the (good) candidates are no longer available. What the hiring manager wants is for you to come to them and tell them which one (or two) of your slate of candidates is the real deal and then have the candid conversation with them. There is no need to fluff things up and over sell the slate based on skill sets, current market conditions, etc. You don’t need to tell them that if they don’t move on your entire slate they will lose them all. You need to tell them, “Look Mr. Manager, I know you are busy. I am busy too. I really want this to work out so you need to move on Candidate A. She is exactly what you need. She has the bulk of the skills you are looking for but not all of them. However, what she lacks in the balance of the skill department, she makes up for in the fact she has worked in some crappy industries/companies and is able to put up with a lot of crap. In fact, so much so that will easily be able to deal with the environment here and thrive. Hire her and you won’t be replacing this position again for a long time.”

• They want you to make the bad employees go away. Again, I know that hiring is a two way street. Bad managers don’t want to manage, but good managers inherit bad employees that they then want gone because they are a complete drain on time and resources. Don’t give them the song and dance about what should have been done, could have been done or what they can’t do. Managers don’t want to be lectured or given a history lesson…or worse yet, they don’t want to hear the “I told you so” line. Tell them what they CAN do. Tell them what it will cost and what the risk is to make the “bad” employee go away. Spell it out for them and then work with them on a solution. Give them control and ownership into the situation – don’t babysit them.

• Your managers don’t want to fill out forms. At the very least, make the necessary forms easier to fill out/complete. In HR, we fall in love with our forms and processes, especially the performance review form. There isn’t a manager in the world that wants to fill out an 8 page performance review in Word format for 30 of their staff. Shrink the form down – make it two pages max. Make it goal and behaviour based with a simple, clear rating system. Make the form easy to complete in digital format (PDF or online). Bottom line, no paper copies and have digital signatures. You will get a lot more up take with managers when it comes to them completing performance reviews on time if you do this.

• They want you to help them build an effective performance rating system. Maybe not in those words, but your operations managers find this whole performance management thing challenging at the best of times. Help them to baseline performance expectations for their jobs and employees. They are also fine with the fact that it may only be a usable 80% solution (vs. your current unusable but “perfect” HR system.)  Also, your operations managers want you to remind them over (and over) again about the importance of documenting performance examples so that they have something to put on the nice form you created. (Really, they don’t mind the reminders at all because it makes their jobs easier – you just have to be ok with being a nag.)

• They don’t want you to write stupid policies – stupid policies are any ones that are written to deal with an issue with a small group of employees but then apply to everyone (i.e. dress code or attendance). Stupid policies are any policies that are written with no clear goal/end state in mind other than to create a police state or compensate for bad managers. Stupid policies are ones that are not clearly understood and/or communicated. Stupid policies are ones that ultimately are not supported by HR, even though THEY (HR) wrote them (yes, this does happen.)

• They don’t want you to make them jump through hoops or give them the run around – this could take the form of having to fill out 20 forms to get a job requisition approved, to have someone’s job evaluated or to deal with a payroll/benefits issue. Make it easy for them to take care of their employees. Remember, managers have project deliverables as well as responsibility for taking care of their people. HR beats them up when they have turnover, absenteeism, etc; so make their job of taking care of their people that much easier for them.

So what do you think about these examples? Do you think they reflect the way your operations /line managers see HR contributing to the company? Do these sound like the sort of things that your operations managers want from you? If you really want to be a true HR “partner,” try keeping these themes in mind when working with your operations managers. To provide a balanced approach, for my next post, I will write about what HR wants from its operations managers – it will be a beauty. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of pakorn/

The TARGET approach to delivering performance feedback

One of the great injustices that managers enable on a regular basis is not addressing performance issues when they see them occur. Not only is it an issue with not addressing the performance issues, but it is also an issue of not addressing them specifically with their staff. The best managers are straight shooters – they call things as they see them. Meaning, if there is a gap in their staffs’ performance, they address it. There is nothing worse than managers who completely ignore performance issues (they shouldn’t even be managers if they do this because this is a “will” issue not skill) or managers who try and soften the blow when discussing performance deficiencies (skill issue). Their performance conversations become watered down versions of the real issue and it ends up causing confusion for the employee (and manager) in the long run.

TargetThe good news is that the latter situation provides us with an opportunity for improvement. Through some help and coaching, these managers can move the needle on their skill and ability in having these performance types of conversations. The former situation, well, you need to get those folks out of management roles now – they are killing your company.
Here is the funny thing – in my dealings with hundreds of managers over the years, I always tell them the same thing when it comes to delivering negative performance feedback – your staff will thank you for it. Yup, you heard that right; they will thank you for it. Most employees genuinely want to know when and where they are missing the mark. The majority of your staff want to do a good job for you and in the absence of feedback, they will continue to do the job the same way they have always done it – whether it is good/bad or right/wrong.

They will appreciate it when you identify gaps in their performance and help them in adjusting their performance so that they can meet your expectations. No one, I repeat NO ONE, wants to find out for the first time that they haven’t been doing a good job come performance review time. Worse yet, I have seen far too many cases of employees being passed over for promotions (that they thought they were ready for) because of backroom discussions that take place about their (poor) performance. To that, I say shame on the manager and shame on the organization for allowing that to happen.

Hopefully I still have your attention and you are nodding your head in agreement that these types of problems and issues exist. The next question than is, “well Scott, can you give us some advice on how to have these types of conversations?” Because I don’t want this post to be all about bad management tactics, I want to provide you with a useful acronym (who doesn’t like these) to help drive these performance conversations. Assuming this is all done in a respectful, private manner, here is how good managers address performance issues with their staff through the use of the TARGET approach:

Tangible – when engaging in conversation with your employee about a performance gap, you need to provide something tangible to anchor the conversation. Be specific about what the problem is and provide something tangible, in the form of metrics, manager observation, etc. that identifies the gap. This then becomes the baseline for the rest of your conversation.

Accountable – during your discussions with your employee you need to make it clear to them that they are accountable for their performance and the improvement that you are looking for. Depending on the severity and impact of the gap, this is a critical part of the discussion because you want your employee to understand why the improvement is necessary and they need to understand the implications if there isn’t an improvement.

Reaction – during the delivery of your message, you want to gauge the reaction of your employee to what you have presented them with. Did they understand your message? What is their body language telling you? Do they seem genuinely committed to accepting the feedback and improving? Do they look confused? Don’t hesitate to clarify and/or indicate to them what you are seeing. i.e. “Jane, I can tell by the way that you are looking at me that I might not have effectively explained where I am looking for your performance to improve. Please let me clarify so that we are both on the same page.” This is a key step because you don’t want to conclude your coaching session believing that you and the employee are on the same page and the right track to improvement when the reality is that you might not be.

Gather –consensus at the end of the meeting on the go forward approach. You want the employee’s buy-in on what they need to do to improve as well as what they need from you in the form of support. This way, if you have worked towards a consensus based outcome, your staff member is bought into the solution on how to improve their performance and they don’t feel as though they have been dictated to. Anchor everything with the tangible evidence your provided and the element of accountability that was established.

Explicit –during your feedback meeting, as a manager, you always need to be explicit in providing your tangible evidence, what your expected performance outcomes are and what the way ahead needs to be. Meaning, you can’t sugar coat the problem or attempt to water down the severity. If you have an employee who struggles to set up a basic Excel spreadsheet and they work in an accounting function, don’t tell them that their computer skills need improvement. You need to identify what specifically it is that they aren’t doing and what the impact is. “Mark, a critical piece of your role as an AP clerk is to be able to enter and calculate our warehouse payables into an Excel spreadsheet. I have observed that you have not been able to do this without asking for assistance on a regular basis from your peers. This is negatively impacting their workload.” See the difference between the generic, wishy-washy statement vs. the explicit, evidence based example?

Thanks – it may sound funny but close your meeting by thanking your employee. Thank them for listening to and accepting your feedback (even though the might not have actually done so yet!). Thank them for taking the time to process the information, hearing what you had to say to them and for wanting to improve. Close the conversation by assuring them that you are there to help and support them.

If you keep the TARGET approach in mind the next time you identify performance issues and need to coach your staff, I am sure you will have greater success with your outcomes. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of arztsamui/

What separates good from great in the recruiting world

Back in January of 2013, I wrote about the top 5 attributes of exceptional recruiters.  I cited things like working with a sense of urgency, ability to downstream candidates and being reachable as key attributes that recruiters need to possess.  In hind sight, I probably shouldn’t have shot for such a superlative (exceptional) but my thinking was this, I have seen such a gap in skill sets among recruiters that those who had those attributes stood out in my mind as being “exceptional.”  Maybe I should have simply described those recruiters that work with a sense of urgency, downstream their candidates and communicate well as being “good.”  I mean, at the end of day, if you can’t do those things well, than you probably shouldn’t be in the business!  So what truly makes a GREAT recruiter, or better yet, what do the very best, the “expert” or “exceptional” recruiters do?

RecruiterThe very best recruiters use the telephone – yes, I know that everyone knows how to “use” the phone, what I am getting at is that they use it as the #1 tool in their toolbox.  They are skilled and adept at picking up that phone and sourcing and closing candidates.  They don’t rely on email as their main communication tool.  The very best recruiters also have that uncanny ability to know when to pick up the phone and touch base with a candidate that is going through the recruitment funnel – whether it is to provide reassurance that they are still moving through the process or perhaps to keep them on the “hook” after having accepted an offer so that they are not influenced by a counter offer.  Either way, it is almost like a 6th sense or super power that they possess!

The best leverage social media – of course in today’s social media driven world, great recruiters need to be skilled at utilizing social media to enhance their digital footprint and enhance their professional “brand.”  No, you don’t have to be an expert on every platform; however great recruiters are skilled at utilizing LinkedIn to find great candidates.  (It doesn’t even have to be the Recruiter platform).  They know how to leverage the power of joining and participating in Linkedin groups, they are adept at providing content to these groups and balancing this vs. just putting up job postings. They also know how to run a company page, take advantage of Linkedin’s search functionality and provide their own relevant updates that will drive traffic to their profile.  The very best also have a Twitter presence – they are adept at creating and sharing relevant content so as to enhance their overall SoMe (social media) presence.  Lastly, the very best typically augment all their recruiting efforts through some sort of writing/blogging effort.  They may write content for a Linkedin page, a company/corporate website or perhaps their own blog.  One of the very best at doing this is Tim Sackett - he runs his own blog, The Tim Sackett Project - in addition to running his own recruiting company.  His witty, cutting writing style drives a lot of  interested readers to his blog and overall it enhances his SoMe presence and his “position” as a subject matter expert in the recruiting and HR fields.

Know how to conduct a Boolean search – at the risk of making this blog post a lesson in Boolean searching, all I will say about this topic is that if you are a recruiter and DON’T know what a Boolean search is or don’t know how to run one, then you need to find out how.  Check out Glen Cathey’s blog, Boolean Black Belt, to find out more – you will be glad you did!  This ability truly separates good from great in the recruiting world.

Act as a consultant – whether you work for a 3rd party search firm or a corporate recruiting team, the great recruiters act as recruiting consultants.  They aren’t simply order takers that then march out into the field of battle to find the latest purple squirrel.  Recruiting consultants engage in dialogue with their clients to ensure proper expectations are set and that the recruiting campaign maintains ongoing alignment with these expectations.  Roadblocks, obstacles and delays need to be discussed in a consulting (solutions focused) manner.  Recruiting consultants also coach and guide their clients through the process at all times so that they keep campaigns on track and obtain repeat business.

Finally, the great recruiters are salespeople at heart.  Let’s not try and fool anyone here and call recruiting an HR role.  It may report into HR, which is fine, but it isn’t an HR role.  Great recruiters are great sales people.  They know how to open dialogue, identify a problem and apply a solution, overcome objections, negotiate and finally, CLOSE.  Recruiting is sales through and through – in this case, it is the selling of talent that solves an organizational problem.  The great recruiters know this – which is why/how they seperate themselves from good recruiters.  Their talent lies in the ability to overcome objections, negotiate and close.

So, there you have five key differentiators they separate good from great recruiters.  Feel free to use it as an acid test to compare where you or your team are/is in this spectrum.  The good news for the good recruiters is that all of these areas can be learned/coached and you can become great yourself – as long as you are a recruiter at heart and not an HR Pro in disguise!

What do you think?  In your experience, do these five areas capture recruiting greatness?  Do you have anything to add?  Any disagreements?  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback

Image courtesy of SOMMAI/

The Culture of Fear

We all know the importance of workplace culture (at least I hope we do!) We know that having an effective (read – positive/supportive) workplace culture is the foundation for all your candidate attraction, employment branding and employee engagement activities and desired business outcomes. The challenge being, this is the single biggest area where so many companies fall on their faces. The culture that they profess to have is not the culture that they actually have. Worse yet, I have seen far too many examples of senior leadership teams so out of touch with their organizations that they believe they actually have one type of culture (positive and supportive) and the reality is a far different story!

FearThe worst kind of any type of organizational cultures is a culture of fear. Now, nobody is going to actually sit down and label your company culture as being as such; however, what is important is that at a minimum you realize when such a culture exists in your organization and then be able to respond to and fix the problem, because it is just that – a major problem.

The problem often being is that a culture of fear is like a malaise – it starts to set in over time and much like the boiled frog analogy, the culture has taken hold of and paralyzed your organization without anyone realizing it. You often see this in companies that have issues attracting and retaining staff, or are suffering with productivity issues or a lack of engagement from their staff. You also usually hear comments from the leadership team like, “We are surprised by this, it (turnover, morale, etc.) wasn’t like this 4-5 years ago!” “I have no idea where this is coming from?” So I ask you, do any of these phrases sound familiar? If they do, you are probably working, or have worked, in a fear based culture.

The key thing is to first realize when you are immersed in this type of culture so that you can eventually do something about it. In order to help you with some self-actualization, here are some of the signs you are working in a fear based culture:

1. No decisions are made without top level approval – in essence, pretty much everything goes to the top. Purchases of advertising space, office supplies, building repairs, etc. all go the highest level(s) in your organization. This is a classic command and control management approach. No one has any real decision-making capability because they aren’t empowered or allowed to say “yes.”

2. Emails are used to “confirm” everything – this is the classic CYA approach. No one does anything without getting something in writing. This is a classic sign of a fear based culture. Everyone wants “protection” in case something goes wrong, that way, someone else can be blamed. This is because:

3. Mistakes are not tolerated – I am not saying that a senior leader literally says this; however, it is always demonstrated in their actions. When things don’t work out the way the management team wants them to, there is always blame assigned. This is different from accountability and using opportunities to learn/coach and improve – this is about pointing the finger and assigning fault for mistakes so that the problem is never with the managers or senior leadership, it is always with the front line staff.

4. Building of alliances – companies that have fear based cultures experience a lot of alliance building. This can take the form of alliances being built on project teams or within departments. Individuals line up support behind the scenes for their initiatives, concerns, etc. so they lobby for potential change. They do this because of a fear of not being supported by leadership, or fear of reprisal from senior management or their co-workers if they are to bring their concerns out in the open. Therefore, they feel the best way to not be out on an island by themselves is to build their support team in advance.

5. Towing the company line (fear of speaking out) – this is an obvious one but fear based cultures do not allow/support employees in speaking out. If something is seen as not being right, or is potentially flawed, employees won’t speak out against it for fear of being chastised, being labelled as “high maintenance,” being publically embarrassed through some draconian management technique or fear of being ostracized from being part of key projects – thus limiting their career growth. The end result – tow the company line – whether that is in the best interest of the company or not.

6. Meetings after the meeting – this is a classic sign of a workplace culture gripped in fear. Regular meetings are held to discuss business strategy, project updates, etc. and after this meeting other meetings take place. You know the ones – where multiple groups of 3-4 people have their own discussion of what really happened, what has to actually happen, how they will work around some inept team member or manager or they simply discuss what the real issues are (the ones no one wanted to hear about in the 1st meeting!) This occurs, typically, because signs #4 and #5 above exist in your organization. These meetings serve to build consensus, drum up support or build alliances towards things that the group have deemed not workable. At the end of the day, everyone is simply afraid to speak the truth and they are simply trying to survive in their “tribes.”

7. Us vs. them (subcultures) – in fear based cultures, there is a lot of feelings of “us vs. them.” This is typically seen in departments where it is marketing vs. finance or operations vs. client services. (I didn’t say HR vs. anyone because everyone loves HR – right!?) Departments are not being led towards achieving organizational goals. They focus more on department level “wins” which means they often win at the expense of other departments. This allows their departments to look good so that they won’t be under the organizational microscope, because in fear based cultures, senior management “calls out” departments for their shortcomings. So, better this happens to the other guys instead of you…right!?

I am sure there are many other signs; however, these are some of the big ones that you see in organizations that are driven by fear. It is this very fear that is counter-productive to good business being done. It obviously negatively impacts your ability to attract and retain the right talent and it most definitely negatively impacts your overall employee productivity and engagement levels.

What about you? What other signs do you see that would identify a fear based culture? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.


Image courtesy of pakorn/

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