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Titles do matter…especially in HR!

For some reason, I have taken up the “title cause” in HR! Not because I believe that titles are the be all and end all, but because I believe one’s title has a major impact on how that person’s role/function is initially perceived. Just to be clear, at the end of the day, it all comes down to how one builds relationships and executes in their role; however, it is only fair that we all start off on equal and fair footing. The worse culprits for providing underwhelming and negative role impacting titles to their people are, are you ready for it…HR Professionals!

consulting-image

Yup, you got it, the very people that conduct job evaluations, define compensation practices, develop and promote employment branding and help improve employee relations are the ones that eat their own! HR Pros are the worst at what they call their own people and often don’t give enough thought as to the impact of the titles they bestow upon their people. Keep in mind, titles don’t cost you anything so why do we “cheap out” on them? Now, I am not talking about calling someone who does administrative support work in HR an HR Manager or anything, but why do we come up with horrible titles that further give our operations clients a reason to believe we don’t or can’t add any value?

You see, if you work in the average HR department, you are probably facing a somewhat uphill battle to have the position respected, valued and appreciated for what it does and for what YOU as an HR Pro can do. Yes, we have come a long was as a profession, but we still have that much further to go. Building off of the theme I wrote about last week and was inspired by based on my colleague Sabrina Baker’s writing, we have to stop asking for permission to do things. So let’s start by not asking for permission about what we call ourselves. I have written about this title thing in HR before here and here; however, I will state it one more time – let’s stop calling ourselves “Business Partners.” No other function refers to itself as a business partner unless they have an inferiority complex. Also, the title of “HR Generalist” has to go. (What do you “generally” do here? Well, I “generally” do HR work…except when I don’t) I firmly believe the entry point for front line HR work should be the title of HR Consultant. Boom! There it is.

What typically happens or what do people think of when your company hires consultants? Subject matter experts? Experienced people in their field? Highly educated? Competent? High priced advice? Does your company usually follow the advice of consultants? (More often than not the answer is yes.) How is that any different then what we as HR Pros do now? We are all internal consultants (except for maybe the high priced part.) But as HR Pros, we, as a group, are highly educated, subject matter experts in our field and we provide expert advice in our respected competency areas. Better yet, we are internal so we know the business better than any external person ever could!

As I indicated in my post last week, if we changed our mindset and acted like we were true consultants, we would HAVE to add value and solve problems; otherwise, we wouldn’t be in business. So, as HR Pros, if we were called Consultants and acted like Consultants, we would have to demonstrate value to our clients and to our department. We need to take on a “billable hours” mindset. We should be prospecting with our internal clients and advising them (and delivering) on ways to find them better people faster, improve their retention rates, develop succession plans for them, find ways to help them keep their best talent and improve their employee relations so they can deliver a better product or service to their customer.

Don’t ask for permission to do this. Start to change your titles and your mindset immediately. Get out there and consult the hell out of your operations clients and drive up those non-billable billable hours! Remember, we don’t generally partner with the business…we CONSULT! (Said in my best Marty Kaan voice.) As always, I welcome your comments and feedback…especially about House of Lies

Image courtesy of geralt/Pixbay.com

 

Hi, my name is Scott and I work in HR

If I used this line at a dinner party, networking event or at any other social event, the eye rolling would start and I am almost certain that I would be met with a series of passive, “oh, hi’s.” Bottom line, no one would be all that interested in meeting and speaking with me if that was how I approached them. Funny thing, in our everyday jobs in HR, we as HR Pros do this all the time. Perhaps not quite as blatant and awkward as this, but we still use this approach when trying to work with our internal clients. Quite often we are the awkward kid at school who is trying to integrate into social circles.   Instead of identifying ways we can add value to the business, we like to remind our clients what our function is – like it is some sort of security blanket for us. We do this as if HR is some sort of oversight function through which operations must obtain approval before making business decisions…as if. Which begs the question, “Why do we do this?”

Hello

I got inspired to write more about this topic based on the thought provoking blog post that my colleague, Sabrina Baker, wrote last week related to her speaking engagement at the California HR conference. Sabrina wrote about Moving from HR Leader to Business Leader.” You can read her post here and as is her custom, she also supplied her slide deck here. You should check them out and give her a follow. The point(s) of hers that really stuck out to me though were the following where she wrote:

“It isn’t enough these days to be an HR leader, we need to be business leaders. We need to understand the business as well as every other leader. We need to know finance, marketing and sales as well as the individuals running those teams. We need to be able to speak and understand the lingo. We need to know how decisions impact the business and how to create people strategies that help achieve the business strategies.

And we need to do it all without asking for permission.”

As HR Pros, we should all read that last line again. “…we need to do it all without asking for permission.” So here is the thought that I want to piggyback on to Sabrina’s writing. Let’s stop introducing ourselves as the girl or guy who works in HR. No one cares. No one is impressed by that statement. Why don’t we start introducing ourselves as a problem solver? We need to stop thinking of ourselves as an internal department and think of ourselves as internal consultants. If we were consultants, we would HAVE to add value and solve problems; otherwise, we wouldn’t be in business. As a department, we tend to get a bit lazy and assume that because we are a department, people HAVE to use us…wrong!

So, as consultants and problem solvers, let’s start introducing ourselves as such. To Sabrina’s point, we have to stop asking for permission to do this and just go ahead and DO IT. How do you think your role will be received at work the next time you try one of these lines: (exaggeration and simplicity done for dramatic impact purposes)

“Hi, my name is Jane/John and I can help solve your resource issues by_____”

“I would like to propose a solution to your succession challenge”

“I have an idea on how to reduce your labour costs by introducing a contingent workforce plan”

“I have identified a low cost solution on how we can easily implement a mentoring program in your department to help with your skills shortage.”

Any one of these is a great opening line at a work party, I mean, as a work conversation. Your internal clients will be much more receptive if they see you as a solutions provider and not some bureaucratic department. Here is the beauty of all this, you don’t need to ask for permission to do this! (Thanks Sabrina!) Be a leader, go forward and just do it! You won’t get in trouble. Really…you won’t. It’s ok. Take the first step. Try introducing yourself differently. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Maialisa/Pixabay.com

You call THAT a retention strategy!?

There are no right or wrong retention strategies. Everything depends on so much on company size, industry, budget, location, customer/product base, whether or not the company is in high growth mode or hanging on for survival, etc. Having said that, I can tell that you that there are most definitely wrong ways to execute on retention strategies.

Let me be clear, I am not commenting on any genuine, well-intended attempt that a company puts forth to try and retain its people. It’s a competitive landscape out there and all is fair in talent acquisition and talent management. I applaud companies for trying innovative ways to keep people, especially when it simply isn’t possible to keep doling out chunks of cash year over year.

Businessman in chainsHowever, as an organization and as a (HR) leader, you have to stay true to the intent of the retention strategy. I believe that retention initiatives are first and foremost intended to keep your good people (duh!) but just as important they formulate part of your employment brand. You become known to current and potential candidates for the types of things you do to keep people. When done right, these can serve as great differentiators or enhancers to your brand and when applied the wrong way, they can severely damage it.

Let me give you an example. I recently came across an organization which invests heavily in the professional development of its technical staff. For anything beyond a conference or seminar, they would pay for the employee to take the course (typically post-secondary or certification based) with a 2-3 year payback period. Meaning, if they paid $3000 for you to become certified in something, if you left before the three mark, you would owe back $1000 for every year of service not completed after that. I.e. you take the course, 1 year later you leave; you owe $2000 – pretty straight forward and pretty fair.

Recently, the company started losing a lot of good talent to a competitor for a multitude of reasons. Some were based on pay, some were based on work culture and some were based on leadership. So what did the company do in response to this? Well, first off, they changed their professional development policy. If you left within 3 years you now owed 100% of the money back…no sliding scale! (Way to address the cultural issue you have!) Talk about using a good retention program for evil…or at the very least, with the wrong application!

A more specific example that occurred with this company is when one of their rising stars accepted a role with a competing company. She went to her manager to give him her two weeks’ notice. This employee had been there approx. 7 years and was a solid performer. So, what was the manager’s response when she resigned you ask? First thing he did was check to see if she “owed” the company anything. Sure enough, 3 years ago they had paid a few thousand bucks for her to take a certification. They told her she would owe the full amount back as she was a week short of the three year commitment. What made this truly slimy was that that this course was taken before their most recent policy change! (i.e. she was still on the sliding scale plan.)

So what did this employee do? She changed her notice period to three week’s (because the company she was going to was more than happy to wait one more week for her) and then she didn’t owe them anything. This was an employee who previously didn’t have anything bad to say about her current employer and was leaving on good terms, albeit for a new opportunity she couldn’t get there. However, this completely soured her on her previous company. She felt like her time there didn’t mean anything and that all they cared about was getting the last nickel out of her.

Now, instead of leaving and speaking highly of her time there, and possibly returning in the future, she left angry, upset and would not refer anyone there. Talk about using your retention program for the wrong reasons! The amount of damage done to this company’s brand in a short period of time is immeasurable. Word quickly got around (the industry and skill set this person works in is very niche) about how her previous company used their retention program as a hammer. Now there are even more employees there looking to move on!

The bottom line is this – HR Professionals, you have to be the stewards of your organizations and make sure this type of crap doesn’t happen. If you have retention issues, the answer isn’t to make your retention program(s) punitive and restricting and create an environment of indentured servitude. You need to dig deeper and get to some root cause analysis about why people are leaving your company. For the company referred to in this post, my guess, based on how this employee was treated, was that they may some short sighted leadership. But that’s just a guess. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of patrisyu/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

What is the (strong) matrix?

One of the more effective, but often complex, types of organizational structures is that of a strong matrix design. According to the project management lexicon, a strong matrix organization is “a type of matrix organization where the project manager has moderate to high authority and in most cases is in a full-time role. The project manager has more control over the budget and resources compared to a functional manager and PMO is generally staffed full-time.”

Matrix Meme

Simply put, the strong matrix takes the traditional matrix driven organization and puts even greater authority in the hands of a project manager. You often see this type of structure in consulting companies, I.T. organizations or project engineering firms. It is (often) a very effective way of leading project teams to accomplish desired organizational goals of on time delivery, improved quality, revenue and gross profit/cash flow targets. It is also an effective structure for providing career development for staff in organizations that are either traditionally flat (due to smaller size) or for those that want technical staff to be able to develop their career without having to pursue a position in management.

As a writer and HR Pro, I am neither pro nor con when it comes to an opinion of the strong matrix structure. I believe in the right environment, with the right organization and the right leadership, it can be a highly successful structure. However, in my experience, it either works (or it doesn’t) based on one key factor. That factor is TRUST. Simply put, in order for various functional heads to work together and have their people operating under different project managers but still report (competency and career-wise) back to the functional head, you have to have a lot of trust. Department heads have to trust that the structure exists to support the broader organizational goals. They have to trust in each other that everyone understands and is working towards accomplishing these broader organizational goals. Above all else, in order to instill this trust, organizational leadership has to provide the vision. They have to clearly articulate the organizational vision and goals and then trust their managers to execute on these goals within the construct of the strong matrix.

In more typical, hierarchical driven organizations, trust is important to organizational success and health; however, individual departments can still function together and deliver with only limited amounts of trust. In the strong matrix organization, because of the various touch points on employees and (on the surface) competing priority demands, trust is key. Project managers need to trust that line managers are developing their people and providing them with the best resources. Line managers need to trust that Project Managers are effectively deploying their staff so as to best maximize their knowledge, skills and abilities.

Remember, the line managers are on the hook (or should be) for staff retention, project managers are on the hook for effective, on time project delivery. The challenge, is trusting that all these seemingly competing demands come together to realize the greater organizational goals. Trust – it is the single greatest currency in the strong matrix driven organization. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

 

Going to the well once too often

Have you ever heard of the saying, “They went to the well once too often”? It is a 14th century saying that basically means that one shouldn’t repeat a risky action too often or push their luck too far. Unfortunately I have seen this expression play out when it comes to talent and performance management in the workplace. Organizations/managers tend to go to the well once too often with their best people.

Goint to the wellHere’s what I mean – in any given organization, somewhere between 10%-30% of your employees are your top performers or your “best.” The rest of your talent is somewhere between average to good with a small percentage of your staff that are “not quite cutting it.” Those are completely unscientific facts based simply on years of HR work experience; however, since this is my blog, I am allowed to make up stats! I do feel confident that most people would probably agree that if you were managing a department of 10 – 20 people, about 3-6 of them are your “go to” folks. So there you have it, the math works!

Here is the danger in what I have seen/dealt with in my experience. During tough times or boom times (the approach tends to be the same during both) organizations tend to over rely on their best people. Instead of “stretching” their average to good performers, or god forbid, culling and replacing their poor performers, they tend to heap more responsibilities on their best people. Companies and managers tend to continue to push and ask for more and more from their best folks. They take performance excellence for granted. Why do they do this? Because their best people continue to deliver!

You see, those elite folks that you have are driven by a desire to succeed. They never want to fail and they take great pride in their professional brand. However, this approach to mis-managing top talent this way comes with a cost. Sure, you will have a few of your best folks that will be vocal about things. They will be loud and clear about how unhappy they are with the current situation. Most will suffer in silence though. They will put on the brave face as they continue to work more and more hours. They might politely ask for help/more resources or they might possibly express some veiled concern about not being able to deliver. Most won’t say anything though. They will soldier on through. There might be more requests for vacation days and/or sick days as they try and recoup and recharge for the continued onslaught of demands. Most managers won’t clue into this though as they will be too busy continuing to add to the work demands and show their leaders that “they” can deliver.

Beware though – there is a tipping point. You can’t continue to go to the well time and time again with your best people. You see, your best people have options. They can get other jobs. They can and will leave. They don’t have to put up with the incessant demands and unrealistic expectations. Your poor to average performers – they will stay because they usually don’t have options or at least not as many options. If your best talent leaves, are you going to ask more of your poorer performing employees? I doubt it and if the answer was “yes,” then why aren’t you asking for more now instead of jeopardizing the retention of your best folks?

At the very least, in the short term, you had best be rewarding and compensating your best people for their ongoing extra efforts. You can rest assured, that if they have done all the heaving lifting for a 6-12 month stretch (or longer) and all that is in it for them is a 2.5% raise, then you won’t have them for much longer! Don’t go to that (top talent) well once too often. Recognize the warning signs, performance manage the low performers and “stretch” your average to good performers. Those that excel will become part of your elite talent group. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com/Tom Sodoge

Invest in those that invest in you…or something like that

I am not entirely sure this is the right title for this post, and this theme is a bit different than what I usually post, but here goes: It has been some time since I last posted on The Armchair HR Manager. I could come up with a ton of blogger excuses – work is too busy, too much stuff going on outside of work, it’s summer, etc., but most of that would be crap.

For those that know me well on a personal level, they know that I am a very private person, which I know is a bit strange considering my social media footprint. However, most of my social media time revolves around my professional brand, save for some fun I have on Instagram (check me out at hr_scottboulton). The real reason that I have been absent on the blogging front for the entire month of July is that I have been going through some challenges in my personal life. The beauty of these challenges is that it has opened my eyes to what is really important in life and what truly matters.

One of the things that has come to light during the past several months for me is the fabulous support network that I have. I mean, I always thought and felt I had great friends and family; however, the amount of support I have seen, felt and realized over the past few months has been overwhelming. I have always prided myself on building close, personal friendships over the years. While I have a large circle of ‘acquaintances’, I have maintained a smaller circle of close friends. In fact, many people I was friends with growing up, still remain some of my closest friends.

To that extent, I have always tried to “invest” in these friendships. This was done not with the intent of reaping some sort of benefit or anything from the friendship, but simply from a “give” perspective into the friendship so as to make it work. I feel you need to do that in order for a friendship to grow, develop and be maintained. Here is what I learned big time over the past few months – if you invest in those friendships, those true friends are there for you when you need them the most. The amount of support I have received from my “inner circle” over the past few months has been overwhelming to say the least. These are friends that have their own families and commitments but that make the time for you. These are friends that drop things on short notice to make you a priority and friends that shift their busy schedules and lives around on a moment’s notice to provide you the support you need…all without even being asked to do so.

I am sure I have neglected some of these friendships over the years. We all get busy in our lives and end up going separate ways; however this is an important life lesson for me. Keep investing in those friendships. Make time for each other. Don’t get too wrapped in your life and surviving the “daily grind.” Reach out to each other, check in and be present. Keep investing in those friendships and maintain your inner circle. If you are like me, those people are some of the most important humans in your life. As always, I welcome your comments.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com

 

 

Promises, Promises

Leadership is a risky proposition at the best of times. Those that “sign up” to be in leadership roles have agreed to take a lot on their backs and shoulders. Being a leader isn’t for everyone but if you have accepted the leadership challenge, then it is incumbent on you to embrace the role and be the best leader that you can be. Because I believe whole heartedly in developing and supporting leaders, a significant chunk of my blog is devoted to helping leaders become better at what they do. Often what I share is based on lessons learned in my job, my career, my experiences and discussions with others.

Broken Promises

One of the big pitfalls I have seen leaders fall into (often newer leaders, but not always) is that in their exuberance to want to “make a difference” they often over promise and under deliver. Now, my experience has been that that is done with the best of intentions. Meaning, in their role as a leader, they want to effect change, make their imprint on things and do things better for their team/department/organization. Often when they are new to their environment, their excitement and enthusiasm to “improve things” gets the better of them as they try and change everything in the near term.

The danger here is that these leaders bring a sense of great hope with them. For example, a department has been run for years by someone with a micromanaging style with no vision for the future and no focus on developing talent. This person is then replaced with a new leader, one who brings an exciting vision for the future and a renewed employee focus. The employees get excited, energized and (re) engaged. There is optimism and hope abound. The leader asks for their trust and faith to be placed in him/her as they change the way things were. Promises are made and expectations are set. Then…the bubble bursts.

Often these new team/departmental/organizational leaders do not have the actual autonomy and authority to make the promises (changes) that they have articulated to their staff. They had the best of intentions but ran into some form of bureaucracy, or senior management control. Worse yet, they have run into the oversight of a Board of Directors that refuses to take a hit (read: investment) to their near term cash flow in order to make the company even better longer term. The end result – the new leader is now compromised in their role after having rolled out a platform of hope.

Now, the struggle is that the employees are told formally or informally that all those promises that were made now need to be tempered. The danger is that this often results in cynicism at best, disengagement at worst. You can almost feel and hear the collective “here we go again” emanate from the staff.

So, my advice for new leaders in that type of situation is to make sure you have a clear understanding of your operating boundaries and parameters before you make promises to employees. Better yet, the old adage of control the controllable’s best applies when first starting out with a new team. That is, promises of things like, better communication, regular coaching, more rigor around quality control, etc. will get you more traction. Employees aren’t looking for the sun, the moon and the stars from you when you first come out of the gate as a new leader. BUT, if you promise that to them, you better be able to deliver. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Picture courtesy of vimeo.com

 

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