The Armchair HR Manager

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

Show them The Authenticity!

One of my favourite topics to write about is leadership. If you search my blog you will find at least a third of my posts link back to the theme of leadership. Heck, if you Google “leadership,” you will get over 489 MILLION hits. So to say that leadership is a relevant topic would be an understatement!

AuthenticDepending on who you listen to, or what you read, there are many elements that go into defining good leadership. Truth be told, at times, it does seem like the whole reality of “good leadership” is a bit of a holy grail search as it seems far too many of us are always on the lookout for good leadership but struggle to actually find it! In my experience, while there are, without argument, many things that define great leadership, I believe it all starts with authenticity. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, authenticity means “real or genuine, not copied or false.” So think about that definition for a moment and think about the leaders in your current or past organizations. Now, don’t you think that good or great leadership starts with a foundation of authenticity?

Authenticity leads to credibility, credibility leads to trust and trust leads to engagement. Ultimately, isn’t that what we are looking for from our organizational leaders? We want them to ultimately be able to provide a work environment that effectively engages (and retains) its employees. They do this by being authentic with their employees. Employees want to believe and trust in their organizational leaders, but as leaders, we have to give them reasons to trust us. Much like Rod Tidwell’s “Show me the Money!” rant from Jerry McGuire, we, as leaders, need to “Show them the authenticity!”  Show me the Money 1

So, the next logical question is, “well what can/should leaders be doing to build and establish authenticity?” In my experience with coaching organizational leaders, there are five (5) simple, but key, things leaders can do and should be doing to build their authenticity:

  1. Communicate regularly – take every opportunity available to you to talk with employees and communicate information, update them on changes and talk to them on a personal (real) level.
  2. Admit if you don’t know something – seems simple but it is a hard thing to do. Sharing small moments of vulnerability like this actually establishes your credibility as a leader.
  3. Always tell the truth – another one that seems simple (but not always followed). Keep in mind, there is no flexibility with this you. When you don’t tell the truth, you lose your credibility and thus your authenticity.
  4. Keep your word – if you say you are going to do something or deliver on something, then do it. Don’t make excuses or brush things off because you feel they are not important (to your employees.) If you do, again, you lose credibility and your authenticity.
  5. Be visible – as a leader you have to “seen” by your employees and be approachable to them. Don’t hide out in your office or in meetings all day. At some point in time you need to walk amongst the people. This also ties in with point #1. Visibility leads to communication and both lead to and build authenticity.

Here is the other thing to remember, being an authentic leader also formulates an important part of your professional brand. If you think of it in terms of being able to market yourself and present yourself externally to industry, (and internally to staff) wouldn’t YOU want to deal with a brand that is known for its authenticity and credibility? Keep that in mind as you continue to build your foundation of leadership authenticity. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Stefson/

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Empires and Fiefdoms

Try as you might to avoid it or get rid of it, office politics exists. It is probably in my Top 5 list of things I can’t stand in the workplace, ranking (of course) below things like harassment, lying and unethical behaviour. Specifically, what gets me wound are those individuals in the workplace who feel the need to try and carve out their own little empire within the context of the larger organization.

CastleYou know who I am talking about – those managers that are 100% focused on improving their own internal power base instead of delivering for the good of the organization. They typically build their power base by trying to make other managers, departments and employees look bad while elevating their own (departmental) status. Sometimes the behaviours are overt – grandstanding at meetings, refusing to cooperate or share resources, etc. and sometimes they display more subversive or passive-aggressive behaviours. These types are the ones that smile at you while trying to pit different departments against each other or work against you while telling you that they are “on your side.” I have also seen managers try and build their empire by hoarding information or withholding support to other departments that are depending on them for information, or by procrastinating on supplying deliverables and thus causing another department to fail – all for the purpose of trying to build their power base and/or erode another groups perceived organizational standing.

Sometimes, managers simply have blinders on and are solely focused on their own departmental needs because they are under such pressure to deliver. For them, in order to protect their own interests and job, work has become a zero sum game and they feel the need to “win” at all costs. They didn’t set out intending to build their own little fiefdom but because they are in survival mode, they have put the walls up and launched an offensive!

Here is the problem with all of these scenarios: no one is working in the best interests of the organization. So what happens is that while it may appear to some that a particular department is “winning,” in reality, the entire organization is losing. Anytime you have managers and departments insulating themselves from the rest of the organization, or trying to “win” at the expense of other groups, the entire organization is, in effect, losing. The most effective companies I have been a part of, or have intimate knowledge of, all promote and reward a “we win together” culture. Not surprisingly this all begins with strong leadership at the top of the organization. You need a strong voice that champions the vision and organizational values so that departmental directors and managers know that they are rewarded for contributing to organizational success – not just their own departmental success.

Here’s the thing, along with strong leadership you also need an organizational culture that has a focus on communication. While no one is perfect at this, and there is always work to be done, companies that focus on keeping communication channels open and that encourage, reward (and hold accountable) their leaders and managers for communicating with each other, tend to have their teams working in the organization’s best interests. Everyone needs to know what the big picture is and why it is important (departmentally) to be working towards this vision and for the organization’s greater benefit.

Ultimately, this is (as with most things) a leadership issue. So, as HR Professionals, leaders and managers, let’s smash down the walls of those empires and fiefdoms! When we recognize the act of empire building, let’s make sure to lead by example so that we stop the behaviour from occurring or coach on not having the behaviour continue. Let’s not accept departmental wins over organizational losses. Let’s hold our people accountable for contributing to the organizational good and recognize and reward our managers and employees when they do this. Most importantly, let’s model the way for how we want our employees to act. Ultimately strong leadership results in strong organizational culture. Empires and fiefdoms can’t take root in companies that have strong leadership that model organizational values and that focus on organizational wins. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of xedos4/

If you want to grow, you have to stretch

Career development is one of the more frequent topics of conversation I have with employees, potential employees, colleagues, friends and family members. It means different things to different people, of course; however, I have noticed a bit of a disturbing ‘theme’ permeating throughout many of the conversations I have been having over the past 6-12 months. For many people, I have found that their definition of career development is that it is a series of incremental steps that they have to take in order to get paid more money. I also have heard from folks that they view career development as taking on assignments that can showcase with skills. To both of those groups I say – wrong! If you are thinking of career development as ‘steps’ you need to complete in order to get more cash, then we need to get you into a better mindset in terms of career development and I am hoping this post might do that! However, if you view career development as a series of (progressive) opportunities, job assignments, etc. to help build and grow your knowledge, skills and abilities, than I think you are in the right place.

Stretch ImageIn good employer/employee or manager/employee relationships, this type of dialogue (around career development) takes place on a regular basis. Both manager and employee set developmental goals, the manager provides the opportunities for the employee and then success is measured and feedback provided to the employee. If you are moving your career (development) in the right direction, there are going to be times when those assignments, opportunities and experiences you have been tasked with can get downright scary! If it does, that means you are stretching yourself. What I mean is that if you are experiencing those feelings of discomfort because you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, then that is a good thing. It means you are learning and growing professionally because of the stretch assignment(s) or opportunity you have been presented and challenged with completing.

Let’s be clear – taking on new/different assignments that don’t cause you to sweat a bit, lose a bit of sleep or at the very least give you some heartburn are NOT helping you to grow your career or develop you professionally. When growing, and taking on stretch assignments, this means you are doing/learning/being exposed to things you have never been exposed to before. Perhaps you are now in charge of people? Or maybe you have budgetary accountability now? Or maybe even you have to speak/present in front of groups of people? All of these things are ways that you could be stretching your abilities and GROWING your career!

So, the next time the topic of career development comes up between you and your manager, make sure you are working from the definition above. That is, the assignment must cause you to stretch yourself in some capacity. If you are developing, you need to be stretching yourself at all times. Take on assignments that cause you to work and think differently, interact with different people and at a different level, communicate differently and that cause you to apply what you have learned differently. Step outside of your comfort zone and realize that what got you to where you are now may not get you any further in your career.

The key is that if you truly want to develop your career, then you have to make sure you are challenging yourself at each opportunity. You can’t mitigate all (career) risk by only doing things that you know 100% for sure you can successfully do. Sometimes you need to fail to learn. Think of the process as a career exercise: Stretch & Grow & Fail & Stretch & Succeed….then repeat…..over and over. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Idea go/

You want better employee engagement? Try this….

As an HR professional, I spend a lot of time reading HR articles and blogs, attending conferences and networking with other professionals.  It doesn’t matter where you go, what you read or who you talk to, you can’t get away from the discussions around employee engagement and retention.  Worse yet, we are constantly reminded about the “war for talent” and how all our challenges are driven by generational diversity.  Depending on what you read and who you talk to, they would have you believe that if you can simply just understand those darn “Millenials” and now “Generation Z” then you would have this whole talent acquisition and talent management thing suitcased.

TalkingHere is the thing, while there is lots to be learned from trying to understand the differences among the generations, you have to keep in mind all of these statements are very broad-based generalities.  Not everyone in each of the generations fits the “profile.”  Much the same, there are many HR and Management “gurus” out there that preach about all the secrets to increase engagement, including how they have the latest and greatest survey that will help provide you with “big data” or perhaps they have the most up to date recognition tools known to mankind and if you simply bought their products you would see an uptick in your employee engagement levels.  There is so much rhetoric in this area it is enough to make your head explode!

Here is the thing, while I personally believe that some combination of these things does in fact help organizations improve engagement/retention, my feeling is that a lot of them should be viewed as supporting best practices.  That is, while having a recognition program, company newsletters, flexible work hours, cutting edge survey tools, etc. do in fact help you become a better employer, they are by no means the ‘answer.’  Truth be told, in my experience, if you want more engaged employees, including ones that will stay with your company (engaged and retained) then there really is only one thing you need to either be doing (or start doing) if you want to improve in this area.  The beauty of it all, is that the most effective engagement tool is FREE. That’s right…gratis.  So what is this mystery item behind door #1?  It is simple – communication.  Yup, that’s right.  If you want to improve engagement then talk to your people.  I know it sounds and seems simple, but if it is, then how come so many companies fall short in this area?

I have led/done numerous employee surveys in my career, launched focus groups and developed programs ,all in response to survey feedback, with the ultimate goal of enhancing engagement and retention levels.  The thing is, it has been my experience that the majority of the feedback you get from your employees focuses on communication anyway.  News flash – they want to hear from you!  They want to know (and hear) from the senior leaders in the organization about the health of the organization.  They want to know about the future of ACME industries, what its plans for growth are and what big things are planned for 2015.  Employees want to hear from their managers.  They actually don’t mind department meetings that are focused on communicating things that are happening organization and department-wide.  Staff want to be kept in the loop on things.  This build trust and you guessed it, engagement!

Better yet, if you want to improve engagement, focus on having managers talk to their people one on one.  Have regular coaching conversations.  Better yet, as a manager, say Hi to people in the morning.  Ask them how they are doing.  Get to know your staff.  Provide recognition when you can.  Talk to them like they are people. Make an effort to know and understand your employees.  At the end of the day, it is these individual touch points between employees and managers that make all the difference.

Bottom line, if you want to improve engagement, you have to talk to your employees.  Remember, its free, but it has to be regular and genuine.  This will all be easier to do if you focusing on making regular communication part of your managerial and organizational DNA.  If you don’t want to talk to your people and/or your organization doesn’t view that as being important, then there is no survey tool or program in the world that can help you.  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Addition by Subtraction

I am sure most of you have heard of this expression before. It essentially refers to increasing the strength/efficiency/effectiveness of something by removing (subtracting) a part or piece that is causing sub-optimal performance or ineffectiveness.   As an HR Professional, I am rather fond of the expression, its intent and especially its applicability in my world.

Addition SubtractionTypically when I see this come in to play is in dealing with workplace teams. Not that long ago, we had to deal with a situation where addition by subtraction came in to play. There was a work group of highly skilled individuals who just weren’t able to regularly deliver as a team. After much discussion with their manager and the team members, it started to become apparent that there was team dis-functionality being caused by one particular team member. This person’s overall work ethic (or lack thereof), lack of dependability and lack of desire to be a part of the team were causing the entire team to not be effective and to perform to the best of their combined abilities.

It had become apparent that this pattern of behaviour and poor performance had been going on for some time and wasn’t being managed effectively. Long story short, through a combination of a new manager taking over the group and a renewed focus on performance metrics and behaviours, we ended up “removing” this particular employee from this group. What we didn’t do though was replace the headcount, so in effect; the team was down a person.

Here’s the thing, there were no grumblings about the workload or the fact that everyone had to do a bit more. In fact, the team finally started to come together and gel. They all pitched in, focused on the required goals and objectives and started supporting the team concept in the achievement of these goals. This improved level of performance has now been sustained for over 7 months so it is safe to say that the behavioural change has stuck!

There are several HR lessons learned here. The first is that addition by subtraction works. You remove one problem or underperforming employee (subtraction) and the result is a more cohesive and higher performing team (addition). In effect, we removed an underperforming part (subtracted) that was impacting the team, and did not replace that part, with the end result being a higher performing unit (addition).

I find as HR Pros, managers and leaders, we tend to rationalize or even postpone these types of decisions by telling ourselves, “well we can’t remove Sally from the team because then they will all complain about the additional work they have to do.” My experience in these situations is that that is never the case. More often than not, the team will appreciate the problem (employee) being removed and will step up – it can be that simple.

The other lesson learned is that as managers and leaders we always have to be performance managing. If we are setting objectives, measuring our people on the “what” and “how” of their performance AND talking to our people regularly, we will be in a better position to take action when poor performance impacts the team.

Finally, the other lesson(s) learned is to not wait too long to make a move (subtraction) like this to help improve a team and similarly, it is never too late to make a move like to help improve the team. As a leader, by showing that you are listening and taking action against team problems and removing obstacles to team success, you will gain your staff’s trust and confidence.

What about you? Do you feel that addition by subtraction works? Have you had a similar success story or perhaps a time when this approach didn’t work? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young/

1st Impressions

One of my biggest burning platforms as an HR Professional and Recruiter is the impression(s) that an organization gives to prospective candidates. In my experience, organizations that give a great first impression to candidates are usually (but not always) solid organizations that people end up enjoying working for. It is one of the leading indicators of an organization that is well run, respects its employees and takes the engagement of prospective and current staff seriously.

ImpressionTo that extent, I have seen and heard of a various smorgasbord of first impression horror stories that are enough to make your skin crawl. There are far too many organizations out there that simply don’t get the importance of making good first impressions on candidates. These are the same organizations that feel that candidates should be grateful just for having the privilege of interviewing with them! So, this message goes out to both companies that are hiring AND to job seekers. If you want to get a flavor for what a company is going to be like to work for and/or what their culture is like, be observant and cognizant of the impression(s) that they leave you with…and as a company, be cognizant of the message your giving out to candidates.

Here are some the key first impressions that organizations can (and do) leave candidates with. When done right, these can be powerful attraction and retention methods that will allow you to the best talent. When done poorly, you will be the company wondering why your offer acceptance rate is so low and/or your candidate pool is shallow at best.

Key first impressions for organizations and candidates:

  1. Is the person working at reception aware that the candidate is there for an interview? Nothing gives a worse first impression than when a candidate arrives for an interview and the person at reception is unaware that the person is there for an interview and/or doesn’t know who they are interviewing with. This type of impression reeks of unpreparedness and unprofessionalism. Hiring managers and recruiters need to make sure that reception knows when candidates are there for interviews, what time the interviews are and with whom they are interviewing.
  2. Making the candidate wait an excessive amount of time in the waiting room – making a candidate wait any more than 5 minutes past their scheduled interview time leaves a bad first impression. If there is some unforeseen circumstance that is causing a delay, have someone go out to talk to them and let them know what is going on and how long the delay is expected to last. Don’t leave a candidate waiting for 15 – 20 minutes without hearing from someone.
  3. Having candidates cross paths in the waiting room. One of my personal pet peeves is when organizations stack interviews so closely together that candidates (for the same job) cross paths with each other in the reception area. In smaller cities and/or for niche jobs, often these candidates know each other and it can cause an uncomfortable situation, especially if one or more of the candidates don’t want it to be known they are applying for jobs.
  4. The interviewer(s) are unprepared – this takes many different forms. The interview is delayed because they didn’t print off the interview questions, or they forgot some paper work they want the candidate to fill out or worse yet, they go off in search for the other person that is supposed to be interviewing with them and leave the candidate sitting by themselves in a conference room! All of these leave a very poor first impression with the candidate.
  5. Interviewers who spend more time talking about themselves vs. asking questions and listening to the candidate and “selling” the opportunity. This is often more a red flag about the person you will be working for vs. the organization itself; however, it is often a leading indicator of what you may be getting yourself into. It also says a lot about organizational culture.
  6. Interviewers who conclude an interview with “we’ll get back to you when we decide” or worse yet, have no idea when the candidate can expect to hear back from them. Organizations that create good first impressions leave candidates with a very specific message about next steps and when they can expect to hear back from the company (either way).
  7. Companies that don’t provide an office tour to candidates. While this isn’t as critical at the first interview stage, I typically find that great organizations do this for any candidate that interviews with them. They are proud of their company and office and use it as a way to sell the candidate on the opportunity and their culture.
  8. Similarly, during an office tour, if you see an office full of workers that aren’t talking to each other, there is no sense of comradery or individualism within their offices or cubes, you may want to be wary of what you may be getting into. Great organizations have a buzz or pulse about their daily workplace. As a hiring organization, use that as a selling tool to create a great first impression.

While there are many more to list, I wanted to provide a handful of the most identifiable and correctable first impressions. It is important for organizations and candidates to be aware of these as both parties go through the recruiting process to determine if there is a “fit.” Companies need to fix these impression issues and job seekers need to be aware of them so they can make educated job acceptance decisions. What about you? What other key first impressions are there or that you have experienced? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

A Remembrance Day Thank You

Remembrance DayTo all our military veterans: Thank you for all that you have done for us

To all our active military personnel: Thank you for all that you continue to do for us

We truly appreciate the freedoms and way of life that your sacrifices have allowed us to have and to realize. On this Remembrance Day, on behalf of my family, we remember your sacrifices and we will never forget.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Clear Expectations

As I have alluded to before in other blog posts, one of my daughter’s favourite past times is playing basketball. She started playing on a team/in league last year and has thoroughly enjoyed it ever since. Now that we are ¼ of the way into the new season, it has become obvious to me what the differences are between the team she was on last year vs. this year – and it is astounding. In fact, I can compare it to what you often see in the workplace when it comes to teams, leadership and performance expectations. Here is what I am getting at:

Last year, the team she was on had a fair amount of talent. That is, the majority of the players had a certain skill level (high) when it came to their ability to shoot and dribble. They understood the game, the concepts, how offence and defense was supposed to work, etc.; however, they were a very dysfunctional team. No one wanted to pass, everyone wanted to make the highlight real shot and there was a poor team dynamic on the bench. Players fought, ostracized weaker players, formed cliques (yes – on a 12 person team!) and generally did not enjoy themselves. In fact, it is probably fair to say that the team didn’t improve much over the year and realistically, they probably got worse as other teams in the league got better over time.

Performance ImageOne of the root causes was the leadership of the team. Now please don’t take this as picking on volunteer coaches as I realize they have a tough job to do (I do it myself) but this is an HR blog so I need to make a point here! The coaches of the team traditionally coached higher level and older boys’ basketball teams. So while the coaching principles and approach they utilized with sixteen year old boys worked; the same approaches did not work so well for a group of 10 year old girls. The teaching approaches and methods weren’t tailored towards the skill level of all the girls on the team. For example, high level concepts were introduced before the team had grasped simpler (basic) concepts and while the coaches stressed the importance of passing, there was never a focus on training in this area and certainly no reward/recognition for those that bought into the concept, nor was their “performance management” (i.e. less playing time) for those that refused to pass.

In short, there were no clear performance expectations of any type set by the coaches so week in and week out the girls just showed up, played the game and went home. In the absence of team expectations, or unclear expectations, the girls set their own expectations which, in their minds, were basically to score as many baskets on their own as they could. It ended up being a recipe for a frustrating and underperforming season; one in which my daughter didn’t learn as much as she could. You see the same thing in organizations that don’t focus on setting performance expectations with their employees. The staff show up, put their time in and leave – and the organization underperforms.

Fast forward to a year later and things are markedly different. Each practice the coach sets out clear expectations for the team and players on what they are going to do and learn during the practice. He selects 2-3 focus areas to work on and works with the girls to make sure they understand the concepts and how to apply them in the game. His feedback is instantaneous as he will stop practice to run a drill over again or to simply provide feedback to the team. Every player knows how they are doing and they understand what the coach expects of them. They are now getting to the point where they are seeking out feedback on their own to improve. The coach also sets clear expectations for each game in terms of where the girls need to play, where they need to be positioned on defense and who is inbounding and carrying up the ball. Everyone knows their role for each shift they are on. The girls are also encouraged and rewarded for team play. There is a focus on teamwork on the bench during the game and the girls are recognized and rewarded for supporting their teammates. All the girls know what the team and individual expectations are and they have demonstrated this through improved performance each game over the first part of the season. My daughter has learned a lot and it is due to the strong leadership she receives and the performance expectations that have been set for her. She knows what she needs to work on and what she can control and this gives her a clear path on where to focus and improve.

It is hard to believe that the challenges of a youth basketball team can apply to the challenges of a workplace but the parallels are there:

  • Strong leadership is paramount for organizational/team success
  • This comes in the form of employees (and players) having clear performance expectations
  • In the absence of clear expectations you can expect dysfunctionality (and poor performance)
  • Dysfunctionality erodes at the very foundation of the team concept
  • The right behaviours and results need to be recognized and rewarded with your players/employees
  • Adapt your training style to suit the learning ability of your players/employees
  • What worked for you as a leader in one organization might not work for you in another – you need to adapt and modify your style.

By looking at this through the lens of a youth basketball team, you can see how setting clear expectations with your employees/team are so critical to your success as leaders, managers and as HR Pros. If we can teach/coach our kids by setting clear expectations, surely we can do the same at our workplaces? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of basketman/

Change is in the air?

There is something about the fall season that seems to bring about the desire for change. Whether it is the shift to colder temperatures, the changing of the leaves or the fact that everyone is back in the swing of things with kids and their school routine, the theme of change seems to permeate into everything we do this season.

To that extent, I have also been seeing this (need for change) a lot lately with friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Specifically, based on phone calls, emails and coffee meetings I have been having, a lot of people in my inner circle seem to be contemplating job changes. Based on the sheer number of these discussions, I thought it might be of some value to summarize the advice that I have been giving most of these folks when they are making this job change decision.

Fall LeavesTypically these discussions start out with the person I am meeting with telling me all about this great opportunity that they have either applied for, are contemplating applying for, been approached about, are interviewing for or have been offered. I then try and take the person through an accounting exercise whereby I get them to list the pluses and minuses about the job in terms of what they see, think and feel at present. While this may seem obvious and trivial, I have found that you really need to evaluate what you are truly getting with a potential new job and sometimes you miss the less obvious things – you know, the ones that will ultimately determine if you have made the right move or not (and will happy in the new role).

Some of the factors that I try and draw people’s attention to in so far as what they need to consider, are things like:

  • Does the new job represent a lateral move or upward move?
    • If lateral, are you ok with that and/or is that what you want?
    • If lateral, how do you explain making the change? i.e. what are your change drivers?
    • If lateral, what are you gaining anything in terms of industry experience, organizational size, compensation, etc.?
  • If upward, what are you gaining in terms of role size, scope, responsibility, accountability or autonomy? I.e. how will this look good on your resume and how does it enhance your personal brand?
  • Are you being swayed by non-value added factors? I.e. better title, better office, better “perks.”
    • Are these truly important to you and they are worth making a wholesale change for?
  • What level (of person) does the job report into?
    • Again, move beyond title and look at overall organizational structure and impact.
  • What is the mix of strategic vs. operational (i.e. tasks) responsibility in the role?
  • To what degree are you going to be able to make an impact?
  • Does this represent a positive step in your mid to long term career path/objective?
  • Does it represent an opportunity to increase your scope as a manager? Or how does it increase your ability to specialize as an individual contributor?
  • Does the role have a local or regional flavor to it?
  • If this ends up not being what you thought it was, or wanted it to be, how will you explain this to a recruiter and/or future potential employer. I.e. what is your “why” explanation?

What I try and get people to look at is whether or not they are being seduced by a nice title, a bit more pay, or a perceived “sexier” industry. This analyses becomes all the more important if someone is contemplating a change when they are unhappy in their current role, with their current company or current boss or are in fear of being laid off. We tend not to make the most objective decisions during those times of high stress.

Ultimately, the question and decision comes to deciding whether or not you are going to “gain” by making a move. (keep in mind, the definition of gain varies from person to person.) Along with the points mentioned above, there is also the consideration of whether or not you will learn a new skillset or have a chance to apply some skills that you don’t get to use in your current role. This is what is commonly referred to as the growth factor. What I advise people to not do is “lift and shift” unless it is unavoidable (i.e. lay off, avoid harassment, etc.) That is, don’t take exactly what you are doing now and lift and shift that into a new company. While the faces and places might change for you, it will only be a short term gain for potential long term pain – that is, you will be back to where you were with your old company in terms of job dissatisfaction.   Again, evaluate (based on the points above) if it truly represents an opportunity for you or is it “a way out.” In the long run, a way out won’t provide the job satisfaction that you owe to yourself. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of franky242/

Workplace Drama: Perception vs. Performance

A big part of my HR life is spent coaching managers and supervisors on how to deal with employee relations challenges. It is one of the parts of my job that I truly enjoy the most. During the many hours I have spent in my career coaching managers, there are several commonalities in terms of managerial challenges that I have noticed over the years. One of the biggest challenges I find that managers get themselves caught up in is managing perception. Specifically, they become so focused on making sure that people “look” like they working, are being productive and are following the “rules” that miss the big picture impact that this approach causes. These managers believe that if everyone “looks” like they are working than they must be productive and all is well with their staff. This is a major management trap because these same managers often get themselves in trouble as they then begin to manage the perceptions of their staff as opposed to the actual performance of their people. This then begins a management spiral of doom!

DramaWhen managers manage to perception – theirs and others – they are losing sight of the actual performance outcomes of their employees. The work environment that is being established is one that rewards the best actors; that is, the employees that are good at looking busy will be perceived to be actually busy and thus it is concluded that they are performing. This management perception problem is worse in organizations that have an ineffective or non-existent goal setting process and/or are weak (or negligent) in establishing performance metrics. Without these, managers can’t properly delineate performance, so perception rules the workplace.

To give you some context, here is a scenario I have seen play out in many organizations. Employees (or the manager themselves) complain that an employee isn’t pulling their weight. They complain that “Bob” spends too much time making personal phone calls, taking too long a lunch or surfing the internet on work time. Inexperienced managers often jump to the conclusion that the employee is not working hard enough or is somehow “breaking the rules.” The issue then becomes one of compliance or policy. My questions back to the manager are always:

  1. What is the employee’s performance like compared to the goals, objectives, measurements and outcomes expected of them?
  2. What have YOU observed?
  3. Is this really an issue?

More often than not, the manager finds out that Bob is actually doing a good job. He delivers what is expected and there are no issues. Typically, the manager hasn’t observed anything; they are simply making a knee-jerk response to an employee complaint and they feel compelled to address the alleged rule breaking incident.

Here is the thing – perhaps Bob needs some coaching on how to develop himself or increase his job knowledge during down time.  Or, perhaps making a quick call or surfing the internet for a few minutes is Bob’s version of the “smoke break” or coffee break? Regardless, the manager needs to know the employee and understand the situation in front of them. The only way to do this is to observe, discuss and communicate. By reacting to perception, the manager confirms and validates the perception that the employee (Bob) is, in fact, not doing anything. That is, if you are in fact making a personal call, or surfing the internet, that is a bad thing and you are breaking the rules. By responding to this, you as the manager are sending the message that the employee is doing something wrong and is in fact, NOT performing.

So, here is the bottom line – you need to know your employee(s) and you need to understand how they are performing. If you don’t know to measure their performance or don’t know HOW they are performing, you need to become acquainted with this ASAP. It is incumbent on you as the manager to understand the performance levels of all of your employees – how else will you know if you have a problem or not? Coach, communicate, set expectations and re-adjust where need be. This will ensure that you are managing the performance and NOT the perception. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

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