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Value trumps “Strategic”

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to be able to attend the HRPA (Human Resource Professional Association) annual conference in Toronto. I was able to attend many keynote and concurrent sessions as well as network with a lot of really great HR folks. Overall, by HR conference standards, it was a pretty good conference. However, much like other HR conferences I have attended, it was inundated with the theme (again) that HR Pros needs to be more “strategic” and we have to stop doing “administrative” or tactical things if we want to be taken seriously. The other theme that I felt permeated throughout (from many of the concurrent speakers) was this concept that we as HR Pros always seem focused on labelling everything we do as either strategic or tactical.

Fire Burning

As the readers of The Armchair HR Manager know, this topic is a bit of a burning platform for me. It simply drives me nuts that as a profession we spend so much time trying to label everything we do and then arbitrarily deciding that we must focus on the “strategic” stuff. What the hell does that even mean? I need to be more “strategic.” That is like saying, “I need to do good work.” Say what? It is all about balance people!

Here is how I am trying to change the conversation. Because I have the privilege in my role of being able to talk to many HR students, graduates and new(er) HR Pros, I am trying to get them to change their mindset. The minute this whole strategic/tactical conversation comes up I squash it – immediately. I am trying to turn the thinking around so that HR Pros are focusing more on adding VALUE in their roles. Of course, the value you add in a role as a junior HR Coordinator will be different then the value you add as an HR Manager; however, we all can add VALUE in our jobs and for our companies. This is what I am trying to impart on others in our profession. Stop labelling things and promote what it is you deliver on and how it positively impacts the organization you work for.

If someone struggles to identify how they add value, then that is where the conversation needs to go in terms of evaluating what they do and how they do it. Most HR Pros tend to trivialize what they do, the impact they make and how what they do adds value. Hell, half the HR Pros I know spend a large portion of their day making sure that managers in their organizations don’t end up causing a major lawsuit. So yes, applying their labour law knowledge and guiding/directing these managers ADDS VALUE.

So HR Pros, who is with me? Can we change the conversation a bit? Can we start to talk about how we add value? Let’s focus on the hundreds of things we know and do and connect/promote that value to our customers? Let’s refuse to self-deprecate and get into this whole strategic/tactical conversation. In fact, the word “strategic” is now banned from the HR Pro’s verbal toolkit. We can longer use it. How about that? Now what are conference speakers going to talk about? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.


Photo courtesy of pigdevilphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.com

Employees only want one thing

There are many things that are important to employees. Depending on who you are, what your current personal, social-economic, familial and educational situation is like, you will have different things that are important to you when it comes to choosing and staying with a company. Some people need to make as much money as they can and are willing to put up with doing a job that is not what they want to be doing, or they will commute longer to make more money, etc.

Conversely, if work/life integration is important, some people will take less money to have a shorter commute, or fewer benefits or less training and development dollars to have a better balance. At the end of the day, the mix you strike as an employer is all about how well you market, recruit and understand your candidates. You need to be able to identify what is important to them, what you have to offer and then see if there is match by selling your employment brand features that you know will appeal to them.

respect saying

However, this post is not about recruiting. It is more about retention. You see, you can do a fantastic job of selling your company and all the great things you offer – whether it is top pay, great location, sexy work environment, professional development dollars, etc.; however, if your company is missing one key ingredient, the entire brand becomes organizationally bankrupt. You see, nothing will ever work out long term for you and your staff if there is no RESPECT.

Respect, and to an equal extent trust, are/is the most important ingredient(s) in your employee value proposition (EVP). No amount of smoke or mirrors, I mean, great compensation and benefits, will overcome a workplace that is void of respect. As well, any efforts made by a company to improve retention, engagement (although I hate that one), and the overall work environment will always be wiped out if your employees feel they aren’t being respected and/or they don’t trust you.

Now, I am not talking about a company that has one or two managers that don’t respect employees. Good organizations that vet their manager/leader types well, have good HR peeps and have support systems established that give employees a method and a voice to address concerns will have the ability to stamp out these types of singular issues appropriately.

The real problem is when your organization has a lack of respect at its core. This often permeates subtly throughout the organization and shows up in different ways, such that it affects managers and employees at all levels. Organizational disrespect is often like mold and rot forming in your house. It starts out slowly and subtly and before you realize it exists, you have a major problem. Quite often a lack of respect in organizations is not what you would typically think of. Most people think of disrespect as managers yelling, embarrassing or berating employees. They also think of disrespect often when it comes to a (bad) manager’s tone, delivery, cadence, etc. I think in organizations that have major respect issues it is much more than this.

If you want to make sure you are treating your employees with respect, you need to make sure as an organization you aren’t doing any of the following on a regular basis:

  • Asking for opinions and then ignoring them. In other words, doing employee surveys and then not responding or doing anything to improve specific areas. Nothing shows a blatant lack of respect (time and opinion) more than this.
  • Not communicating to staff. Essentially this falls into the “need to know bucket.” This typically manifests itself in an organizational culture in several ways:
    • employees are not informed about important matters that affect them (ever).
    • employees hear about changes after the fact, or from members outside their organization.
    • the rumour mill is more accurate and detailed then what is cascaded to staff.
    • the organization waits for “perfect” information before communicating anything, because, you know, “we can’t tell them a bit about something and then it turns out not to be true or happen.”
    • all employees hear about changes at the same time – there is no delineation based on role, importance of message, support required, etc.
  • Poor or no change management practices. Essentially organizations that don’t believe or follow any type of basic change management practices are being disrespectful to its employees. You can’t, as an organization, expect to implement significant organizational changes without a proper change/communication plan. This would include things like organizational/structural changes, geographic changes, major acquisitions, changes to benefits plans and changes to performance management practices to name a few.

By just “informing” your staff of something you are not only poorly communicating and not helping them manage change, you are also showing a general disrespect to your employees. The message you send is that whatever the change or information is that you have, it is simply not important enough to you (and your employees aren’t important enough) to be done properly through a communication plan and change management approach. It is simply something that needs to get checked off on the proverbial “to do list.”

Believe me when I tell you that in almost all organizations you have smart people that work for you. They “get” this stuff and understand the subtle message here. They know when they have been shown a lack of respect and they know when the message is “you aren’t important enough.” They may not voice their displeasure, but you will feel it through a lack of productivity, increased absenteeism and ultimately attrition. Oh, and that employment brand you have been working on marketing to new candidates to help improve your recruiting efforts…good luck with that.

Ironically, out of all the things companies can do to improve their brand, as well as their recruiting and retention efforts, communication and change management, for the purposes of showing respect to your employees, will be the CHEAPEST “initiative” or “program” you will ever launch. I just don’t understand why some companies don’t get that. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Kimpel/Flickr.com

HR, Football & Hugs

Not the typical title for one of my posts but it pretty much captures what I experienced today at the HRPA 2016 conference. I was one of the crazy fools who got up early to attend a 7am session (good thing the body was still on Atlantic Time!) I am really glad that I did. The speaker was Mike “Pinball” Clemons. Mike is a former professional football player who played and later coached the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Mike is a great example of how “the little guy” can still make it in a big man’s game.

The beauty of Mike’s talk today was that he was able to talk a little bit about football and tie it all in with a lot about HR and people. Mike’s energetic and engaging style quickly grabbed my attention – as well as his propensity for dishing out hugs to anyone and everybody (Tim Sackett are you listening?) Mike’s message to HR was that we are in an incredible position to display servant leadership. In fact, one of his best quote’s from today was, “good HR is the best medicine for any organization.” When you really think about that, he is right. If we as HR Pros are doing our jobs well and providing effective servant leadership, we ARE good medicine for our organizations…we can fix what ails our companies!

Mike ClemonsMike did a great job connecting everyday challenges to what we do as HR Pros. He did, however, make one comment that absolutely struck a chord with me – more on that in a second. During his speech, Mike spoke a lot about the value of teamwork and how HR needs to lead and model the way in terms of organizational teamwork and showing the impact it has on our companies. He also spoke a lot about how HR should never forget that it is there for the people and to support those that can’t support themselves. His specific quote that really got me was:

“Our success (as organizations and HR Professionals) is directly proportional with the real or perceived (work) experience of the most marginalized person in our company”

When you think about that for a minute, he is absolutely right. When we look at what we do as servant leaders in our companies and the “value” we provide as HR Pros, we need to evaluate our success by looking at the experience of the most marginalized person (people) in our companies. Here is the thing, unless you are some major conglomerate, you know who this persons/people is/are. We just have to open, honest and objective about taking a real hard look at their real or perceived work experience.   How are they treated? Are they listened to? Do they have a voice? Do they experience equity in their job?

At the end of the day, we need to take a hard look at ourselves and evaluate and determine what our level of organizational and HR success is. If the overall work experience of our most marginalized employee is still a positive one, then rest assured you are being successful as an organization and as an HR Pro. Of course, the opposite is painfully true. We may think we are doing AWESOME HR work, but if our most marginalized employees are having negative work experiences, then we are not successful…and yes, it is that simple to evaluate.

So for me, the message hit home today…and hard. I need to be a better HR Pro. I need to take a hard look in the mirror at myself, my HR practice, my company and our employees. I need to objectively ask myself what is their real or perceived work experience like? Are we being as equitable as we can be? Am I leading the way with servant leadership? Am I making this about me…or them? Am I finding a way to make things happen and effect change? Am I leading with kindness? Am I starting with the heart? Am I finding a way? Mike, thanks for making me look at myself and for challenging me to be a better HR Pro. For all of us as HR Pros, let’s try and use this as our barometer of success moving forward:

“Our success (as organizations and HR Professionals) is directly proportional with the real or perceived (work) experience of the most marginalized person in our company”

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Performance Reviews – Here to stay?

A lot is being written about the potential demise of performance reviews. A lot of experts, consultants and prognosticators feel that the traditional performance review is on its way out, or at the very least, it should be on its way out as it is an antiquated approach. I have been involved with performance management for the better part of 19+ years (yowzers that hurt to write that!) and feel somewhat qualified to weigh in on this issue.

Performance Words

Personally, I really don’t have a probably with performance reviews and I feel if done in the right context with properly trained managers they can be quite valuable. I am not a fan of lengthy forms that make managers write a small novel in order to have a proper performance review done.   My take/approach on performance reviews is that they provide a great baseline and are an essential roadmap that the manager and employee can refer to throughout the year that clearly outlines what is expected of the employee and how it aligns with broader departmental and organizational objectives. Simply put, an effective performance review (form) should include:

  • The identification of the organizational &/or departmental goals and objectives
  • The employee’s individual goals/objectives (with clear linkage to departmental level goals)
  • Measurements/KPI’s of these goals
  • Supported with coaching/feedback

So, if I were to design my own form, it would essentially be 1-2 pager tops, with a focus on these elements and supported with regular coaching. I believe all the discussions around development and career goals can and should be separate from the actual performance review itself as the review is to discuss just that, performance and not career planning. Now, I get it – if performance isn’t up to par, then the other discussion about future career goals can’t take place. But again, the performance discussion is the right time and place to talk about this performance gap and its (potential) impact.

Now, for those that advocate that you can get rid of performance reviews all together, I think that may be possible but a lot has to change organizationally and culturally speaking. At minimum, performance reviews provide a guaranteed annual check in between manager and employee. There is a measure of visibility and accountability with a performance review and I believe that is needed in most, if not all, organizations. If you are going to advocate to get rid of performance reviews, then you better make damn sure you have a coaching culture at your organization. Essentially, with no performance reviews, you need to make sure that your managers are TALKING to their employees on a regular basis and providing specific feedback to them. If not, at minimum, you still need a performance review to help guide these discussions.

Based on my experience, there are very few organizations that can make the claim that they have such a strong corporate coaching culture that they have been able to scrap performances reviews alltogether. Such a fundamental shift requires strong leadership at the top, highly effective organizational communication and accountability and a desire for change. Those elements are extremely difficult to align at the best of times; therefore, I believe performance reviews are here to stay…at least for a while. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My bold HR prediction for 2016

As we are now at the beginning of another year, it is pretty en vogue for bloggers to write about predictions and trends for the coming year. Since mid-December last year, I must have read about 20 odd articles/blog posts that predict what we will see in 2016 from an HR perspective. The content covers the spectrum from speculating about the demise of the performance review (never going to happen) to the importance of analytics in the success of HR Professionals (take a drink if you have heard the word analytics at a conference recently or read about it in a blog post!).

Personally, if we want to get into predictions, I am going to go way out there and make a BOLD prediction for 2016. I predict that 2016 will be the year that HR, as a profession, finally gets its sh*t in a sock (or is it poop in a group?) and starts REALLY advocating and leading for better employee/employer relations. Translation – we need to start stamping out all the crappy leadership practices and discriminatory actions that we are seeing and hearing about. So, that is my bold prediction. HR finally becomes the voice of the business that speaks up and does something about what is ailing positive employee relations.

Over the course of the last couple of years (in particular) as much we as HR Pros like to focus on all kinds of sexy new programs and strategies (present company included), there are other, more important issues that require our attention. As much as it pains me to hear the stories, the work environments of today are still fraught with the old boys club mentality. There are still pay equity problems. Workplace discrimination and harassment occur far more than it ever should and is more rampant than anyone wants to admit. The most qualified people don’t always get the job or promotion. Hiring Managers still hire people that “look” like them. Too many managers play favourites (and not based on performance) and make life miserable for no reason for too many employees. Sr. leadership teams and management positions are still often void of any type of diversity.


We know this to be true but perhaps we either forget or ignore the issue because it means we (HR Pros) haven’t been doing as good a job as we can do. Maybe it’s because we simply can’t come to terms with the fact these issues should not be as prevalent as they are in today’s workplace yet here we are.

So, my prediction for 2016 is that HR Pros will rise up and speak out/take action against these issues and advocate for more positive employee relations. Other than heads of organizations, no other organizational role is more equipped to do this then us. We want credibility as a role and as a profession, so let’s seize the moment and show what great HR Pros can do! I predict that this grassroots movement will start to happen, not only because it makes good business sense, but because IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. Agree/disagree? Make a comment below. As always, I welcome your feedback.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Twas the Night before Christmas Vacation

An HR Xmas Tale

‘Twas the night before my Christmas vacation, when all through the office

every employee was stirring, especially the bosses.

The performance review deadlines were posted with care,

in hopes that the Managers would finish them and be fair.


The employees were focused on getting home early,

while visions of bonuses were making them squirrelly.

My staff and I tried to deal with the questions,

but we just couldn’t handle it, like a bad kind of infection.


Santa Delivery

When outside of my office, there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my desk chair to see what was the matter.

Away to the hallway I flew like a flash,

tore open my office door and jumped out with a dash.


The fluorescent lights on the freshly cleaned walls,

gave the impression there was order out in the halls.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,

but a stressed out FedEx man whose eyes were wide with fear.


The delivery driver who is normally lively and quick,

looked tired and haggered and I felt bad for Nick (his name).

Usually more rapid than eagles bringing his parcels to us,

but today he looked tired, like he got hit by a bus.


“It’s crazy and insane out there don’t you know!

Drivers are stupid and don’t care where you need to go.

Running red lights and stop signs,

not bothering to check,

they have all lost their minds

and truly don’t give a heck!

I need to get away, get away, get away now,

before I have a complete and total breakdown!”


I felt bad for FedEx delivery guy Nick,

but I had to ask the question, even if it made him sick

I braced myself for his answer at best,

because if it was “no,” I would need a bullet proof vest!


“Nick my good man, I know it’s a jungle,

but when it comes to our parcels, I hope nothing was bungled!”

As I drew in my head and was turning around,

I saw, down the hallway, the employees were coming with a bound.


The staff saw that Nick was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

and his uniform was tarnished with road salt and soot.

A bundle of packages he had flung on his back,

he was petrified with fear, as he began opening his pack.


Then, his eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!

I said, “Nick, please tell me, this is all a bit scary!”

He curled up his mouth and let out a tiny breath,

“Scott my friend, there may still be good news yet!”

He reached into his pack and pulled out some letters,

“I think what’s in here might make you all feel better(s)”

Nick thought he was funny with the things that he said,

But if he was wrong, well, I might as well be dead.


Nick was chubby and plump, a right jolly old driver,

But when I saw what he had in his hand, I knew I would survive(er).

He gave me a wink of his eye and a twist of his head

And showed me the bonus cheques and I knew I had nothing to dread.


I spoke not a word, but went straight to work,

Handing out bonus cheques so no one would call me a jerk

It was a fortunate thing; the bonuses came in on time,

But then all semblance of working stopped on a dime.


Nick sprang to his tablet, to get me to sign,

“Scott, I have to get moving, I am running behind!”

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,


“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”


Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do’s and Don’ts for your LinkedIn Profile Picture

It has been said that the eyes are the window to the soul. If this is true, then your profile picture is the window to your LinkedIn identity! I get asked a ton of questions about LinkedIn, ranging from “what is LinkedIn” to “how do I increase views of my profile.” I don’t consider myself to be an uber-guru of all things LinkedIn like the awesome Stacy Donovan Zapar; however, having been using LinkedIn since the early days of its inception and having used it to recruit staff for an equal number of years, I feel “qualified” to offer up a bit of advice on the subject matter. Plus, consider this advice is coming from someone who has been recruiting and hiring staff for 19+ years so I spend a lot of time looking at resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

LI Logo #2

If you do a Google search for “LinkedIn tips”, you will get over 301 MILLION hits! Suffice it to say, there is a lot of advice out there. While I have blogged about LinkedIn a lot with specific posts on tips and tricks, I want to hone in on one particular area that I think folks could use a bit of specific advice in and that is the LinkedIn profile picture. To that extent, here are my top tips when it comes to managing your profile picture:

  1. Do have a picture – this is not optional. Do not have the shadow/silhouette figure up there. Nothing turns a recruiter off more than seeing this, so do yourself a favour, get someone to take a decent professional picture (plain background) and get it up on your profile page –ASAP.
  2. Do not use an image or logo as your picture – unless you are some well- known graphics designer and you have a recognizable image, you need to have a picture of you up there and not an image of something.
  3. Do not use a picture of you at a party, wedding or other social event. It makes you look like an amateur if your profile picture is cropped from some social event. Worse yet, you often see the creepy arm of another person on you or vice versa. Resist the urge to be lazy and make sure you get a decent picture done.
  4. Do not use a scan of another picture as your profile picture –believe it or not, I have seen people use a scan of their passport or driver’s license photo as their profile picture. Suffice it to say, this looks less then professional – especially with the security lines showing through it.
  5. Do not have an action picture as your profile picture – it is cool that you are a great surfer, skier, runner, etc.; however,  we do not need to see a LinkedIn picture of you doing that – save it for Facebook.
  6. Do not use pictures of you on vacation as your image – see point #3 above for reasons. We get it, you enjoyed your trip to Paris and the Eiffel Tower is awesome, but it isn’t something we want to see on LinkedIn…put it on Facebook instead.
  7. Do make sure the picture is representative of your professional image. Pictures of you in a track suit or sports jersey, regardless of the quality of the image and/or success of your particular team, this is a big no-no.
  8. Do make sure your picture is shoulders and above only. Once you start getting into full length photos and trying to include background images, your photo quality and overall image rapidly deteriorates.  In the same vein, a picture that is a close up shot of just your face, is well, too close…and really creepy.
  9. Do not have a profile picture that includes your family, children or pets. It simply isn’t professional and not the image you want to portray. Again, those pictures are for Facebook, not LinkedIn.
  10. Do not have a profile picture where you are wearing a hat (baseball, sun, cowboy, etc.) of any kind (or sunglasses). You wouldn’t show up at a job interview dressed like that, so don’t portray yourself on LinkedIn that way.

Bonus tip – Do make sure your picture uses up the majority of the allowable space/sizing. Nothing is worse than that teeny tiny 2cm x 2cm square picture that is dropped in the middle of the larger spacing that you have. Utilize the space provided and make sure your profile picture pops!

There you have it, my top 10 plus bonus do’s and don’ts for your profile pic. Do yourself a favour and take 5 minutes to see if you are committing any of these faux pas. If you are, take action and correct immediately. This typically starts by getting a decent digital photo of yourself taken by someone with a little bit of photography know how.

Is there anything I have missed? Hit me up in the comments and I will add it in. Want to know if your picture is up to par? Drop me a line and I will let you know – if you can handle the truth that is. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org


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