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The Best Legal Advice I Ever Received

Before I get into the guts of this post, keep in mind that this is a human resources and leadership focused blog and is not mean to convey legal advice of any kind. Think of it as one person sharing their experience in the jungle of human resources! With that being said, as HR Professionals (and depending on the industry in which we work) we often have cause to interact with employment law lawyers…sometimes on a regular basis. I remember back in my heyday of working in the call centre industry, I think I had our outside counsel on speed dial!

write-a-chequeHaving said that, I have had an opportunity to deal with a myriad of (potential) legal cases during my career: some of which were driven by the (ex) employee and some that were probably driven by the employer side. Regardless, I have seen it all from the dismissal side: attendance/absenteeism, tardiness, harassment, performance, conduct of all types, etc. Here is the challenge on the employer side, unless there is something so blatant and so egregious, it isn’t a simple matter of terminating an employee for cause. I have had this discussion with managers a million times during my career. I always end up asking the same questions:

Did you have a conversation with the employee to address the issue?

Why not?

When you did, did you document it?

Did you follow up with them the next time “it” happened?

Why not?

Did you address it the “next” time?

Did you document it?

Did they know their employment was in jeopardy?

The list goes on, but this is pretty typical. You see, most managers just want the employee problem to go away. Whatever the “problem” is, they just want it gone. Chronically absent or late employee? Make them go away! Underperforming employee? Make them go away! Difficult to get along with and/or co-workers can’t stand them? Make them go away!

Managers don’t want to deal with this stuff, despite how much you might coach and prepare them. They have a ton of pressure on them to deliver product, goals, service, etc. with understaffed departments, so the last thing they want to deal with is the stuff above. Most HR Pros try to coach the manager through the situation. They coach them on how to have the proper conversations, how to document, how to provide the right warnings, etc. Here is the thing; 99 times out of 100 the outcome is inevitable! The manager will simply comply for a while so that they can finally get you to support them in a termination decision!

Having worked through many difficult, complex employee relations situations, I always default back to the stance of whether or not the manager truly wants to ‘save’ the employee and/or if the employee wants to be saved. All of which brings me to the best legal advice I ever received from outside counsel years ago. Their advice was this, “If you think (HR/the manager), after all this documentation and counselling, the end result is ultimately going to be termination, then just write them (the employee) a cheque…it is far easier, less complex and less time consuming.”

Think about that, how much easier and less complex would our lives be if we followed that approach! No more charades or games. No more managers pretending to try and want to ‘save’ an employee and no more employees pretending that they want to be ‘saved.’ We could all just cut to the chase and solve things with some dollars!

Yes, I am being a bit facetious here; however, the point is this – let’s stop wasting time and effort. Many managers, when they hear that they could make a problem go away for $10 – $30K are often all ears. Then, reality sets in when they realize that comes off their bottom and/or there is no budget or special fund for that sort of thing! Often, at this point, the conversation turns back to how effectively manager the employee (which is where things probably broke down in the first place!)

Here is the thing, when you think about it, when you have a seriously underperforming employee or a conduct issue, $10K to make the problem go away isn’t much, especially when you are a $50M or $100M+ company! So, the next time you are dealing with one of these types of issues ask yourself (and the manager), are you TRULY COMMITTED to improving this situation? If so, then I am a big proponent in the coaching/performance management approach. If the answer is NO…then write a cheque.

Drops mic…

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of CarbonNYC/Flickr.com

This has got to STOP!

I realize I may be a bit late to the party on this one, but my thoughts and feelings about this issue have been percolating, brewing, festering, etc. for weeks now. I had been debating writing a post about the sordid history of Donald Trump and his many actual and alleged ‘interactions’ with women. In fact, I was planning on writing an entire post on Trump himself where I would dissect his leadership skills, and in particular, his track record when it comes to the issue of harassment. But then I decided, no, Trump isn’t the issue; this is much bigger than him (despite what he might think). This is a much larger societal issue as a whole.

trumpIn fact, this entire affair (pardon the pun) with Trump really caused me to reflect on my almost 20 year career in HR to see if perhaps I was as gripped in on the issue of (sexual) harassment as I should be. I decided that the answer to that is NO. I need to be better. We, as HR Pros need to be better. We as managers and leaders need to be better. Society needs to be better. Here is the thing, this is not something that should be laughed off, ignored, tolerated or put up with any capacity. Harassment IS a major issue in the workplace and in general. I have had many conversations with female colleagues and friends over this issue (especially in recent months) and it is SHOCKING what they have had to put up with in the workplace and in their careers. I am not going to write about the specifics that were shared, but suffice it to say, if I did, this would be an R-rated blog.

By the time (or even IF) something is brought forward as a “complaint”, there have probably been multiple instances of harassment that should have been reported, addressed etc.; so, by the time we as HR Pros are dealing with an issue, we better damn well take it seriously and address it properly! Here is what I have learned and what I think I know from my experience in dealing with workplace harassment and most importantly, from speaking with women I know who have had to deal with this issue:

  • (Sexual) Harassment is NEVER just locker room talk. There is no such thing. (Sexual) harassment is wrong, should never happen, and is NEVER done as a joke. It is about power and control – that much isn’t even up for debate.
  • It takes a ton of courage for a woman to bring forward a complaint about harassment. They have suffered in silence, dealing with the issue many, many times before they summoned the courage to log a formal complaint. They often debate and decide to not say anything as they fear the repercussions of bringing a harassment complaint forward are not worth it.
  • We need more from our profession, managers and leaders because ultimately, in terms of how workplaces are defined and how harassment is handled, comes down to a leadership issue.
  • As an HR Pro, I need to be better. I need to be better at understanding the extent, depth and pervasiveness of this issue. I need to be better at how I address it. Upon some serious self-reflection over the course of my career, I think I have been guilty of being too conservative on the consequences. As HR Pros, we (present company included) need to take a stronger stance and stop worrying so much about what the harasser ‘might’ do if the punishment is too strong (especially if that includes termination). Let’s start taking a stronger stance on this issue. In our roles, we have the power to do this. Let’s use this power to create better workplaces.

At the end of the day, I am going to commit to being more aware and more cognizant of this issue. I will be better. I will work harder to be better at what I do when it comes to addressing harassment. I will admit it – I am ignorant…but I am learning. Thank you Donald Trump for making me think more about this. (Can’t believe I just wrote that.) Now…who’s with me? As always I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Flickr.com

One in hand vs. Two in the Bush

I am sure we are all familiar with the old story/proverb of the value of having one of something vs. the potential of having two or more of the same “something.” In many countries this is known as A bird in hand is worth more than two in the bush.  Essentially, the lesson learned is that having something in your grasp or in fact, something that is “yours” is far more valuable than the potential of having more things but with the risk of having to give up what you already have.

bird-in-handI have found this proverb to be very applicable to modern day recruiting and dealing with hiring managers. You see, at the end of the day, hiring managers are always looking at the value of two in the bush. Meaning, while they may have a candidate presented to them by you as the recruiter that meets a significant portion of the job requirements, many of them are always keeping an eye out for that other potential candidate that meets all of the requirements, requires no training, is a superstar, comes from an identical industry and doesn’t mind working 40 hours of overtime a week with no extra compensation. I am being a bit facetious here, but you get the point.

This is a constant struggle for recruiters – managing hiring managers – and the acceptance of a highly qualified candidate is probably at the top of the list. I know we have all felt the frustration of a hiring manager’s indecision. You source, recruit and present a great slate of candidates. The hiring manager interviews and is impressed, especially with one in particular and indicates to you that they would be a great hire, but…they want to wait “to see what else is out there.” WTH? It is at that point in time the recruiter snaps and wants to put the hiring manager in the rear naked choke hold .

How can recruiters avoid this scenario from happening? Well, the tough answer is that generally speaking, you can’t. Hiring managers often suffer from decision-making paralysis. They have been brought up thinking that there is a “right” hiring decision to be made and all other decisions are wrong. They have been led to believe there is a perfect candidate out there and they want to wait (for you) to find that candidate, because, well you know, they EXIST (yeah right).

How can you minimize this from happening? Well, this is the good news. You can control this a bit.   A lot of this occurs at the intake meeting. Make sure you get a hiring commitment up front from the hiring manager – this works best when it is in writing (can be as simple as an email). You want the hiring manager’s commitment/agreement on:

  1. Providing you with an accurate performance profile: what a person in the job needs to be able to do (this is different form a job description). The reason this is key is because if a hiring manager gives you a job description, it will simply be a laundry list of wishes of things they want in the perfect candidate. Don’t fall for this trap.
  2. Their availability – get a commitment up front as to when they will be interviewing for the role, because well, you WILL find them good candidates. If possible, schedule some dates in advance. This way, you can progress with your screening and your hiring manager has to review potential candidates efficiently as they already have interview times set up.
  3. Agree in writing as to what constitutes a good candidate vs. a great one and get commitment on hiring any “great” candidates. This should be done before the interview and scored immediately after the interview. That way, if a hiring manager agrees that a score of 4+ overall is a “great” score, anyone that scores a 4+ will be made an offer.

Point number 3 is a key one because you are getting the buy in before you meet candidates. This will help you avoid the scenario where you have a candidate interview, they get scored a 4.5, and the manager (despite loving the candidate) still defers and wants to see more candidates. You then need to ask the manager: “So, Bob, you agreed going into the interview process that anyone that scored a 4+ would be considered a GREAT candidate based on the performance profile. Therefore, we were looking for 4+’s during the selection process. We have found you a 4.5 – which is better than the 4+ considered to be great…why would we not be hiring this person? Has the selection criteria changed? Is a 4+ not great? Have the expectations/standards changed? What have we missed here?” It is at this point in time you have to remind them of one in hand vs. two in the bush. “Bob, we can certainly continue to source for you. It may take us another 2-6 weeks to present more candidates that may or may not be as good as this one. In the interim, it is highly likely you will lose the candidate you scored a 4.5. Are you willing to take that risk? This means your job will have been open for over 2.5 months? If you are willing to take the risk, we are willing to continue to source for you.”

Above all, you need to get the manager to understand that THEY were the ones who identified what they were looking for and what GREAT looked like. They have found GREAT and now GREAT is no longer GREAT. What has changed? At the end of the day, the pre-commitment approach will work with many managers. There are still others (who shouldn’t be managing or hiring) that will want to look at other candidates regardless. My advice, if you are an agency recruiter – work closest to the money. If you are in-house, you will need to focus on other clients reqs. if you have them. If you don’t, you still have to suck up the hit to your time to fill metric and soldier on…or move into HR. As always, I welcome your feedback and comments.

Photo courtesy of Pezibear/Pixabay.com

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.

 

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