The Armchair HR Manager

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

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/

Making HR part of your organizational DNA

Seat at the table, strategic partner, business partner – all phrases used to describe some sort of end game that HR Pros are supposed to strive to obtain.  For the record, I absolutely hate all three of those phrases/descriptors.  In fact, there needs to be some sort of rule that if an HR Pro utters one of them, they owe money to a charity of their organization’s choosing!  Seriously though, as a profession, there are better ways to elevate our organizational status other than throwing around those phrases.  In my opinion, the better end game is to strive to integrate HR into the very fabric of the organization you work for.  In essence, you want to make HR part of the organizational DNA.

DNA#2Here is the thing, there is no magic formula to make this happen.  If there was, someone would have patented, sold it and made themselves into a millionaire by now.  However, there are best practices out there that will allow you as an HR Pro to move the dial on making HR part of your organizational DNA.  The key thing to note is that it isn’t about developing and implementing the latest talent acquisition or management practice(s) – i.e. recognition programs, social media recruiting, etc.  What it really comes down to is being able to provide solutions to organizational (operational) problems.  If you and your HR team can provide solutions to operational clients (notice I used the word ‘client’ and not ‘partner’) and not bog them down in transactional work and legal compliance, than you are well on your way to integrating HR into your organizational DNA.

Your starting point should always be to make sure you (as the organizational HR leader) are part of any regular company level leadership meetings.  That is, if there is a weekly Sr. Management meeting in your company, than you need to be at it.  Don’t ask for permission to go or be a part of it – just go.  But you better make sure you can add value to the meeting.  Remember, the key is to provide solutions to organizational problems – this could be anything from your ability to foster better communication in your company, to identifying root cause issues of turnover – you get the point.  Have something to say/provide that enables your operations clients to realize greater success in their roles – anything that helps them find (better) people faster, get them onboarded, trained, integrated and retained would be a good start!

To leverage any gains found from being at your senior level meetings, HR also needs to have representation at department level meetings.  For example, in our organization, there is always someone from our HR department that attends the Director level meetings of our largest department(s).  In our case, because we are an engineering firm, HR always attends and has an agenda slot at the Engineering Director’s staff meetings.  Now, we don’t just get that invite and agenda slot because we are really congenial HR folks, we get it because we are able to add value.  Quite often we are there to enable communication of any items that are impacting the Director’s managers.  We are there to help them solve operational (people) issues that are impacting their teams.  If they are feeling pain with the current performance management process, we are there to help solve that problem for them.  If they are unsure how to rollout/support/interpret employee survey results, then we are there to help with that.  If the Engineering departments are feeling pain with how to obtain professional development support for their staff than we are there to solve that problem for them too.  Finally, if they are experiencing pain around type of organizational process (whether specific to HR or not) we are there to help enable a solution.  My team and I position ourselves as problem solvers and enablers and that is why we have spot on the agenda.

Another major way/area in which HR is able to make itself part of the organizational DNA is to have operational leaders lead HR initiatives.  Yes, you heard that right, have operations lead HR initiatives.  I will give you another real life example to show you what I mean.  A focus for us has been improving recognition at our organization.  Through our employee surveys, it has come up as something of great importance to our staff (duh, I know) and that it is something we (as organizational leaders) need to focus on.  So, how did we go about getting traction in this area?  We launched a major initiative aimed at creating and identifying tools, opportunities and rewards that would support recognition activity.  We engaged stakeholders – employees and managers – to find out what would work and what wouldn’t.  Was this an HR initiative in the purest sense – yes.  Did HR ‘lead’ this initiative – no.  So now you are going to ask, “why didn’t HR lead it, who did and did it work?”  In order to give this initiative “stickiness”, we had an operational director of our largest department lead it with support from HR.  This was the key to having this work and not be seen as something HR was shoving down everyone’s throats.  As well, we were confident that because it was operationally led, that it would have a successful implementation – which it did.  HR was the enabling force behind the scenes that focused on communication and execution of the deliverables.

So, to sum up, what are the keys to having HR imbed itself in your organizational DNA?

1) We need to provide solutions – not be the compliance cops. Be seen as the provider of business solutions (and not just HR solutions).

2)  Focus on enabling – enable organizational communication and operational excellence.

3)  Lead by taking a step back – have your operational leaders at the forefront of things.  Lead by leading through them.  Be their coach and mentor.  Remember, HR wins when Operations wins.

4) Be a part of what is happening – this comes through involvement at operational meetings and events.  What better way to support the business than to attend department meetings.  Keep and ear to the ground and listen to what employees are REALLY saying.

5) Last but not least – no HR jargon.  Not now, not ever.  Operations needs to understand what you are talking about.  HR jargon is used to cover up lack of business understanding.  Your operational clients’ B.S. detector will go off if they hear/smell too much HR jargon!  Keep in simple and understand the business drivers and then apply your HR knowledge towards providing a business solution.

What about you?  How have you integrated HR into your organizational DNA?  What has worked for you?  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of dream designs/

Conformance, Compliance and Quitting

Much like folks in the medical profession, who are often asked for their advice when they are outside of their normal workplace (hospital, Dr.’s office), when I am at social events and people find out I work in HR, I am often asked my ‘professional’ advice on matters as well. Typically it involves people looking for advice on things like their resume, how to get an interview for a job and what my opinion is on this “LinkedIn thing.” Every now and then though, I am asked about “deeper” matters – well, deep in my opinion!

StressedFor example, I was recently at a social event and ran into a friend of mine that I hadn’t seen for a long time. After we caught up on the usually pleasantries (family, kids, etc.) talk turned to work. I asked him how he was doing at his current company, one that he had been at for some time now. (Ironically, I had given him some resume advice about 7 years ago when he applied for this job!). His response wasn’t the usual one that you hear – you know, “oh good, or the usual, etc.” What he said to me was, “well Scott, I’m not sure. I think I am doing ok, but I am not sure, how do you know when it is time to move on?”

When you really think about it, this is a critical question that I am sure many of your employees ask every day – whether to someone else or themselves. It really got me thinking and here is the thing – I believe that employees that are becoming or have become disengaged with jobs go through three stages of “evolution” during this decision-making process

The first stage is conformance. Quite often new hires join companies and they are full of energy, ideas and a desire to learn and affect positive change at their new place of employment. Over time, when the employee value proposition isn’t upheld, that is, the company leadership fails to provide a work environment that engages the employee, they start to go through the conformance stage. The employee starts to conform to the workplace leadership style and culture so as to fit in. In essence, they are giving up a piece of their own identity so as not to be branded as “high maintenance” or as a troublemaker. They want to try and “get along” but as they conform they realize that the reasons why they are doing this are due to their own disengagement with their job/company.

Over time, giving up their identity because they are always conforming leads to organizational compliance. Employees that have reached this stage have begun to lose their will to exert their own independence and mark on the organization. This is more serious than compliance because at this stage it isn’t just about getting along and fitting in. It is about following ‘orders’, not questioning things, not standing up for what you believe in so as to not rock the boat. Employees at this stage are mostly concerned about getting through the day without conflict or getting sucked into some other project that they don’t want to be a part of. This stage is a dangerous one because now if an employee is at this stage they are at the fork in the road where they choose to either:

A) Resign themselves to the fact (or their fate) that they can’t find another position elsewhere, or that their situation at work won’t change but they simply would rather stay in their comfort zone rather than move on to another company; however, while doing this, they remain miserable and disengaged at work. That isn’t to say that they outwardly show this, but they are not being true to themselves and/or feel trapped by circumstance and are unwilling to take control of their career at this stage. Or:

B) Make the decision to move on – they decide that going through the motions and being compliant and conformant are unacceptable. These folks feel they are selling themselves short by just going through the motions. They want to be true to themselves so they make the decision to move on to another position. They want to keep their professional identify intact as they have more to offer.

At the end of the day, if you are in this situation you need to decide where you are at in the stages and what you want to do about it. Do you choose the path of conformance and compliance? Or do you make the decision to take control of your career and move on if the value proposition has changed for you at your current company? Sometimes you just need to move on and a change can be good!

For the record, my friend came to the realization that he in fact was conforming and becoming compliant and didn’t want to spend the rest of his career this way. He as decided to take control of his situation and eventually move on. He already feels better now that he understands where he is at, how he got there and what he needs to do to improve things. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/

If you can’t change the people, change the people

Without a doubt this has to be one of my favourite sayings. I am not sure when or where I first heard it; however, it has stuck with me for many years and I believe it to be the foundation of good leadership, management and human resource practices. For HR Pros, it really cuts to the heart of what we do initially from a talent management perspective. Talent Management is all about onboarding, training, development, workplace cultural integration and building your bench strength.

Time for changeIn many ways, talent management is about trying to change the people. It focuses on changing the people that your talent acquisition folks have brought into your organization. In this case, change refers to how you culturally integrate and onboard new hires. It is imperative that this “change” is managed properly because if you want to retain the talent you have hired, your HR folks and leaders need to effectively onboard your new people and expose them to your workplace norms, values and culture so as to ensure an effective transition into the new workplace. Effective talent management groups, along with great leaders, are very adept at helping new folks navigate this process and integrate into their workplace which results in those great 1st year retention metrics we are all striving for! The best HR Pros and managers are great at leveraging their new hires knowledge, skills, abilities and differences to help them “fit in” all the while allowing them to maintain their own individual identities and unique differences – leveraging diversity.

The challenge for HR Pros, managers and leaders comes down the road when your new hires, who may not be so new anymore, are not performing or are struggling with adapting to the organizational values for which you stand. For reasons of clarity and brevity I am going to assume the following things have taken place up to this point (i.e. when the “struggles” have started.)

1) If the reasons for the employee’s struggles are performance based, a detailed performance improvement plan has been put in place, regular communication has taken place, and clear performance objectives have been established and are being measured.

2) If the reasons’ for the struggles are more related to conduct – i.e., not accepting core values, demonstrating core competencies, etc., then the manager and employee have been meeting regularly and their coaching sessions have been focused on modelling the appropriate behaviours.

Big assumptions I know, but work with me on this one folks! So assuming those things have happened and there has been an appropriate amount of time over which these conversations and coaching sessions have taken place, it may be time to consider changing the people. What I am getting at here is that the organization has taken all the right steps up to this point during the employee life cycle. They have effectively onboarded and oriented the employee, they have outlined clear performance goals and objectives (with measures) and provided coaching and support of these goals; including the modeling of organizational values. The thing is, sometimes it just doesn’t work out! If, organizationally speaking, you can look back and put hand on heart and state that you have done all the right things and made the right attempts to “change the people,” than you have to make the decision to change the people.

The worse thing that companies (managers) do is to continue to employ someone after it is obvious that they are not going to change – either their performance or their attitude. The best thing you can do for them, the company and your current employees is to let them go – in essence, change the people.  As I said before, if you have done all the right things and made the attempts to change them, and it simply isn’t working out, than you have to change the people.

Truth be told, I have seen this scenario play out countless times and typically, when you change the people, if the reasons were performance based, the person being let go is often relieved. They probably hated everyday of their job coming in to work to do something they just couldn’t do or didn’t want to do. If you are changing the people because of conduct (attitude) reasons, your current staff will thank you. They will appreciate that you have removed a cancerous co-worker from their midst and they can now focus on their own productivity! It demonstrates, organizationally, that you committed to your core values and to performance. Your good folks will see this and respect the decisions that have been made.

So, as managers, leaders and HR Pros, I firmly believe that we owe it to our employees and our organizations to manage our people according to this mantra. We need to give serious consideration to adopting this saying as a way of running our HR departments, operations groups and businesses as a whole. Remember, at the end of the day, if you can’t change the people, than you need to change the people – and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

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