Smash those Silos!

One of the biggest impediments to workplace success is poor communication. This can manifest itself in many different forms and mediums; however, the worst of this lot is when organizations end up creating workplace silos that function as their own (seemingly) independent work units. Silos can take the form of departments that try to operate on their own, independent from all other work groups, or they take the form of specific geographies that try to operate on their own. Silos can be particularly problematic for organizations that require an integrated, end to end approach to achieve customer satisfaction – whether through the creation of a product or the delivery of a service.

HammerSilos are typically created based on some combination of poor leadership, subject matter expertise or rapid organizational growth. This post is going to focus on the impact of the first two – poor leadership and real or perceived subject matter expertise. “Leaders” who are often not confident in their abilities and who feel the need to micromanage, manipulate and control information and communication are typically guilty of creating silos. For example, I am sure we have all seen or heard of leaders/managers that try to control communications, policies, procedures, etc. to fit their own needs. They segregate and alienate other departments or geographies so that they can control everything. By doing this, they try to ensure that all communication, etc. runs through them and therefore they control the message and the medium. Office and departments are “not allowed” to talk to each other and the “leader” in question brokers all communication between the parties.

Silos also get built when particular groups are “allowed” to position themselves as subject matter experts and are allowed to not be accountable to anyone. Again, this behaviour is enabled by poor leadership, but it starts out with an approach from an organization’s management team that a particular group is indispensable and therefore, nothing applies to them. Quite often, but not always, this occurs with highly technical groups (software developers for instance), R&D types and those that control financial information. Leadership teams allow these niche groups to develop their own working silos for fear that they become unhappy and leave or negatively impact the company in some other way. Basically, they are allowed to operate in their own silo based on FEAR. In essence, they have created a caste system where the upper caste is not accountable to anyone or anything. Please note – you will notice that nowhere have I referenced performance. I am not talking about treating your star performers differently; I am merely referencing groups as a collective here – this is an important distinction.

These types of destructive behaviors have a profound effect on organizations. Decision making is often crippled, innovation becomes stagnant and overall morale and engagement dies. In essence, silo building cripples your organizational culture and brand. If your organization hopes to grow and attract/retain talent, you have to get rid of the silos and the managers that have created them.

This is where the true leaders (including HR leaders) come in to play. Do not allow silos to be built. Don’t stand on the sidelines while this type of destructive behaviour occurs in your companies. You have a responsibility to smash those silos. Address the unacceptable behaviours that are occurring. Hold people accountable for building effective teams and reward those that embrace your organizational values and champion teamwork. Find the communication and change champions in your companies and make sure that they are front and centre. Do NOT reward subversive behaviours from your managers. Anything that is done that is not for the benefit of the organization should be addressed immediately. If you have folks that don’t want to get onboard with this, it may be time to part ways with them as they are holding you and your company back. So let’s pick up our hammers and take this call to action to start smashing those silos. In the words of one of my favourite bloggers, Jay Kuhns, “Who’s with me?”

Image courtesy of artur84/

Find Your Passion & Fuel your Profession

The reality for far too many people in the workforce today is that they feel trapped in their jobs. They want to do something else, they feel their skillsets aren’t being fully utilized, or overall they feel a disconnect with the company they work for. If you read enough career management articles and blog posts, most of them will tell you to find something else, quit your job, make the change, you only live once, etc. The truth for a lot of folks is that they simply can’t do that. They can’t (or maybe won’t) for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The job provides a nice work/life balance
  • Their current commute is very manageable
  • The first two points are important to them as they have parental or elder care responsibilities
  • They enjoy the people they work with (not necessarily for)
  • They have been with the company a long time and don’t want to give up their pension or other accrued retirement benefits
  • The medical plan is great and it supports their current personal situation
  • They are scared of change and “starting over”

FlamesI know that at first glance, some (or all) of these reasons may look like excuses from the outside looking in. The truth is that without fully understanding a person’s circumstance, these may all be very valid reasons to not change jobs and no, that isn’t a cop out. People reach certain major milestones in their lives (student debt paid off, 1st child, sick kids/daycare, 1st child to college, aging parents, etc.) that drive a lot of their career decision making.

Here is the thing, it is my opinion (and it is only that, an opinion) that in most cases, there is no such thing as a perfect job. There is no ultimate job and company were you get to use your full skillset day in and day out AND you have a great boss that gives you autonomy and independence but provides a great level of coaching and guidance AND the company has a super inclusive benefits package AND you have a phenomenal work-life balance AND you have the most awesome co-workers ever AND you are paid top of market wages. Usually one or two of these things are a bit out of alignment or have some imperfections, so we all have to figure what the most important things are to us. The great thing about going through is exercise is that the final outcome or decision might not be that your job sucks or that you have to change, it is that once you realize what is important to you, you may realize that your current situation might not be that bad!

Here is the real beauty of all of this – there are ways to make your current job better and it is something that you can fully control. I am a big believer in aligning yourself with your profession (assuming it is your chosen profession). So, if you find your overall job is not giving you everything you need, it may not be a matter of moving on, but of finding your passion and fueling your profession. What I mean, it that you need to find ways to get more involved with others in your profession. Perhaps it is via professional development lunches, dinners and other networking events. It could also be through chamber of commerce events, via a volunteer board of directors or even start out by connecting via social media. Get out of your comfort zone and your office and look beyond the four walls of current office. There is a great big world out there that you can be a part of that will enrich your overall work experience. Think of all of this as building and enhancing your professional brand.

Other ways to give back to your profession, that you can own and drive, include doing things like speaking and presenting at the aforementioned events as well as at conferences. Do you have something to share? Then speak about it! Give back to your profession. Align with your profession. Fuel your profession by finding your passion! Take all those great ideas you have and things you want to try and speak about them. Position yourself as a person of knowledge and ultimately influence in your profession. Develop your brand and accelerate your exposure through LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Start a blog and write about some of these things. There are many great ways to move beyond the mundane if you are feeling trapped. Take control of your career. Remember, you own your career and your profession – fuel them! As always, I welcome your feedback and comments.

Photo courtesy of arztsamui/

Workplace Investigations – Lessons Learned from Deflategate

I tried resisting the urge to capitalize on the sensationalism of the NFL’s “Deflategate” scandal but I couldn’t resist. It is an absolutely fascinating news and sports story, and as an HR Pro, the parallels between what is happening with the NFL and this investigation and what occurs in the workplace are just too obvious to ignore. If you want to know more than you ever need to know about the actualy NFL story, just Google “Deflategate; NFL, Wells Report.”

Football deflatedIf you can’t be bothered to read the thousands of articles on this, here are the salient points from my perspective (full disclosure – I am a diehard New England Patriots fan):

  • There was a complaint brought forward by a team in the NFL (National Football League), that another team (The New England Patriots) was cheating. The allegations were that the Patriots were using underinflated footballs (i.e. below the league mandated minimum PSI).
  • The league conducted a combination of a ‘sting’ operation and an all-out investigation into the matter which included interviewing league officials (from the game in question), New England Patriost support staff members (ball boys) and the quarterback of the Patriots, Tom Brady.
  • The league hired a (supposed) neutral third party investigator to investigate the alleged cheating. The investigator, (Ted Wells), after an almost 4 month investigation, wrote his report on the matter and determined that it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots and their QB cheated.
  • Based on the report, the league heavily fined the Patriots organization, stripped them of two key draft picks (currency in the NFL) and suspended their quarterback/star employee, Tom Brady, for 4 games (25% of the upcoming season).
  • The entire situation has now turned into a circus as the Patriots are appealing the sanctions; Tom Brady is appealing the suspension (which is his right as a unionized employee under the CBA) and is also threatening to take legal action against the league for defamation of character (as he has outright denied any and all alleged cheating.) In general, the league and its Commissioner (Roger Goodell) are being scrutinized in some circles for acting so harshly on the inconsistencies of the report, their inconsistencies in handing out punishment to players in general and how they went about the entire investigatory process. Bottom line – the very fabric of the league is being questioned.

Now, whether you are a fan or not of the Patriots or football in general, there are a lot of lessons to be learned here by organizations and their HR folks. Similar situations can and do play out in the workplace like this all the time. Typically the complaints are for things like conduct issues – harassment/sexual harassment and code of conduct violations like theft, time theft, etc. Most times, HR is called in to get to the bottom of the situation and make a determination as to what happened. So, based on lessons learned from past experience AND from how the NFL and Ted Wells have handled things, here are some tips on how to handle your own (potential) workplace investigation:

  1. When conducting an investigation, make sure that the investigator is neutral. That is, if HR was involved initially with the matter, (i.e. dealt with previous conduct issues involving the parties in question) you should hire a 3rd party investigator to handle an official complaint, say, of harassment. The NFL used an investigator that they had used on a previous investigation (Bountygate) whose approach and the results thereof were questioned by many of the league’s players and owners.
  2. Be clear as to what the purpose and outcome is of the investigation. That is, it should be to determine if there was any wrong doing or any violation of a policy, human rights or labour law. The organization and its investigator need to be completely transparent in their objectives and approach. You can’t enter the investigation with a particular bias or slant in terms of the outcome you are looking for or are hoping for. The only outcome you are looking for is the truth which is hopefully based on facts.
  3. As it pertains to harassment investigations, you cannot overlook anything that the complainant or defendant brings up, whether before, during or after the investigation. That is, if someone identifies an additional piece of information that corroborates their story, or identifies a new “witness” to the events, the investigator has an obligation to meet with these identified employees and not overlook or throw out the ‘evidence.’
  4. As an investigator, it is acceptable to use words like “reasonable”, “probable”, and “lack of credibility” in your report. However, they must be linked to facts and findings that you have uncovered and not based on “gut feeling.” Additionally, you must maintain your credibility and objectivity by not “leading” witnesses and respondents. It is not your job to place doubt in their mind about what they remembered or have seen. It is ok to ask additional probing questions or if there are inconsistencies in their story, you can repeat what they said, tell them you are confused and then ask them to “help you understand” a bit better. Let them do the talking and you as the investigator do the listening.
  5. When it comes to workplace investigations, HR and/or the investigator, have to come to some sort of a conclusion, based on its investigation, whenever possible and practicable. If there is direct evidence (witnesses, video recording, and employee admittance) we can come to a probable conclusion of a violation. If there is conflicting information, conflicting witnesses, etc., we still may be able to come to a conclusion based on a balance of probabilities approach all of which must be based on key findings…not opinions.
  6. When it comes to potential punishment, we also have to keep in mind that Canadian law demands a more nuanced approach to the employer’s response vs. “zero tolerance.” This requires us to balance the conflicting interests of the complainant and respondent and come to a conclusion and recommendation.
  7. When looking at points #5 and #6, HR has to factor in things like the previous history of the complainant and the respondent. Has the complainant ever made false claims before? Has the respondent ever been disciplined for conduct and/or related issues before? What is the credibility and history like of the witnesses for both parties? What is the organizational culture like? Is there culpability on the company’s part? Has the company allowed a “relaxed” approach to its rules and how they have dealt with conduct issues? Has a particular supervisor been lax in managing issues similar to this? Have they created a poor work culture and the respondent/defendant is only partially to blame? In essence, is their joint culpability here?
  8. Based on the finding and recommendations in the report summary, is the discipline that is handed out consistent with what has been done in the past and/or does it align with organizational policies? All of these things need to be considered in order to maintain the credibility and integrity of the investigation, the investigator and the organizational reputation.

As you can tell by this list, workplace investigations are pretty tricky and must be handled with the utmost of care. Unless you work for a public organization, your investigations won’t be open to as much public scrutiny as the NFL’s are, that is, unless you are sued or a human rights complaint is filed against you. If this happens, your investigation has to pass the sniff test to make sure you followed points 1-8 above.

The NFL could have saved themselves a lot of current and future pain by following some of these points. They should have hired a different investigator, one who hadn’t handled a recent complaint against players. Instead of conducting a sting operation into the alleged rules violation, in other words, let’s try and catch them doing it and then investigate, they could have simply “coached” the team(s) and its player(s) on what the rules were and how to conduct themselves. Think about that for a minute, in the workplace, if a harassment complaint is brought forward, do we then try and catch the alleged harasser in the act before we investigate!? No, so why did the NFL act this way? At the very least, they should have investigated right away and concluded the investigation much sooner. In the workplace, taking 4 months to investigate a harassment complaint will never fly!

Finally, the league should have taken into consideration the player’s previous history (Tom Brady). That is, he has never been investigated and/or subject to any league discipline of any type before. There was no actual evidence found linking him to a rules violation so instead, the investigator placed their own interpretation on what they found instead of letting the evidence “talk” and drawing conclusions from the facts.

The final punishment was very inconsistent with what the league had done in similar matters in the past. This is an especially egregious mistake as the league had created its own culture issue of looking the other way in similar matters and/or coming down lightly on previous rule and conduct violators. Their prior history of serious public missteps in dealing with previous conduct/personal conduct issues may have been one reason for why their punishment deviated from past applications. In this case, the league has decided to treat this case of alleged rule violations similar to how they (finally) treated other previous conduct issues like domestic violence. The inconsistencies are appalling and if any business handled itself this way, it would find a series of scathing reviews on GlassDoor (at a minimum) and probably a host of Human Rights complaints and civil suits being launched against it. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of frankieleon/

Be Your Own Champion

Having worked in HR for as long as I have, I have had a lot of discussions and coaching sessions with employees as it pertains to their professional development.  Typically, these types of conversations crop up around performance review time and usually it is AFTER they have received their performance review.  For some reason, many employees go into these meetings with their managers thinking that their manager has identified some grandiose plan for them in terms of their growth and development.  The harsh reality, whether right or wrong, for many of today’s time and resource strapped managers, is that they are focused on one thing – making sure you are doing your current job effectively.  It you are doing your job well than your manager is happy.  If you show up day in and day out, don’t make a fuss and do good work – than your manager is happy.  They have no plans to grow and develop you into another role.

ChampionNow, I realize I am making some major generalizations here; but in many of today’s workplaces that is the harsh reality.  Most companies reward their managers for the quality/quantity of goods/services their department produces.  In other words, is the manager “making their numbers?”  Is revenue where it is supposed to be?  If so, carry on.  The company is happy therefore the manager is ‘rewarded’ for this.  The message that is sent is simple – we want you focused on the short term cash.  So the manager happily goes about their work and their focus with you, the employee, is easy – keep doing what you are doing.

Now, we all know that many employees have hopes and dreams of growing and developing, hence the reason I have had hundreds of these conversations in my career with staff.  My advice is always the same – you (the employee) need to own your growth and development.  Don’t assume your manager has some great master plan in play for you.  You need to be your own (career) champion.  Develop a plan for the type of project, technology or role you want to be involved with or move into.  Based on your research and knowledge of your company and its industry, identify the type of training and development that you need in order to move upwards or outwards in your role.  Most importantly, identify WHY you should have this opportunity and what you need from your manager to make it happen…then ASK.

A lot of employees are blown away when they get this advice.  Not because it is a major revelation, but they thought that was their manager’s job.  I am pretty blunt with my response.  I tell staff, it is your manager’s job to make sure you have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do your current job.  It is your job to ask for and obtain the knowledge, skills, abilities and opportunity to do the job/role that you want next. Yes, the manager has a role to play in that they need to remove obstacles, provide the opportunity and perhaps secure budget approvals where needed, but the employee has to take ownership and drive this to happen.

Once I can get an employee to “see the light” in terms of this reverse pyramid approach, (i.e. the employee is at the top…er, the bottom) things tend to change for them.  They realize that they need to take ownership of their career and that there isn’t someone in the workplace designated or focused on doing that for them.  My goal is to put them in the driver’s seat of their career management and help them navigate this road.  In other words, put them in charge and be their own champion.  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/

Re-energize, Re-Focus & Re-Engage

I had hit a wall.  Like many of you, I had been flat-out at work managing multiple projects and priorities.  I hadn’t taken much time off in the past year as I kept forging ahead with work projects and deliverables.  Due to some staffing gaps in our department, I was always a bit “afraid” to take any amount of significant time off.  I was always worried that things that were supposed to happen, wouldn’t and vice versa.  I had convinced myself that there was no way I could take any more than a couple of days off as things would come to a grinding halt in my absence (within HR).

VacationHere is the thing, upon reflection, I am not sure I was doing my “best” work.  We all hit that point where we need some time off.  For some of us it takes a short while to reach that point and for others it takes a bit more time.  I am one of those types (confirmed through Disc, Myers Briggs, etc.) that tends to pour a lot of time, energy and focus into my work in intense stretches.  I push hard, I drive myself to do and be the best that I can, but without proper refresh rates, it catches up to me.  I need those periods of rest so I can go back and attack my work again.

So, with great trepidation, I booked a family getaway vacation so we could all be together to re-energize after a very long winter.  Instead of fretting about the things that needed to get done if I was away or even simply planning to just take my laptop and work remotely, I focused on closing off what I could, delegated what could be delegated and developed support channels for our operations partners during my absence.  This was a total mindset switch for me, but one that was necessary in order to have a proper vacation.  I focused on proper planning so that I/we could have a great vacation and so that I wouldn’t be worrying about all the “what-ifs” when I was away.

Here’s the thing, I took the longest vacation I have taken in years (1.5 weeks.)  I relaxed, re-energized and came back re-focused and re-engaged on/in my work.  The funny thing is that the HR department didn’t fall apart in my absence.  Our operations partners were still able to function and life went on.  Once I accepted the fact that perhaps I simply wasn’t as “important” as I thought I was, I could take a proper vacation!  I work with great people so there is no way that my absence for 10 days would cause things to come crumbling down.  If it did, shame on me for not developing my people and for not establishing and leading an effective HR department!

So my advice to you, if you have been putting off taking a vacation due to similar reasons that I was (like the ones identified above.)..don’t.  Take time for yourself.  Re-charge those batteries – you need it.  Trust me, you will better off for it as will your team, your department and your company.  Everybody wins.  So go ahead, do yourself a favour and take that time off – you deserve it!  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Africa/

Do you believe?

Scott Boulton, CHRP:

From the “not so” dusty archives

Originally posted on The Armchair HR Manager - Advice from an "HR Fan":

As leaders our words have a very powerful impact on those that we are empowered to lead.  The reality is that our actions have even a far more powerful impact than those words.  Leaders have to always be consciencous of the fact that their employees are always watching and listening to see if your actions align with your words.  If there is any sort of misalignment, than your leadership credibility suffers greatly.  The same goes for  the collective leadership team of an organization.  Far too often leaders spout rhetoric around the need to make decisions that align with company values or why implementing standardized processes and procedures will be critical for future growth, etc. while their actions completely contradict their words.

Far too often I have seen leadership credibility compromised because employees simply do not BELIEVE in what their leaders are telling them.  It is your and my role(s) to…

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Remove the Obstacles

Scott Boulton, CHRP:

From the (not so) dusty archives

Originally posted on The Armchair HR Manager - Advice from an "HR Fan":

Back in November, I blogged about what I thought was the most important thing you need to do as a manager in order to be effective. For those of you that didn’t read that post, the theme was one of communication. I felt, and still do, that it is critical for the employer/employee relationship that most important thing that managers are able to do is to effectively communicate with their employees. I am not wavering on that opinion; however, I would like to add to the list of critical skills that I think make for a successful manager.

In reflecting on previous jobs and managers that I have had, as well as observing and coaching other managers where I have worked, it has become apparent to me that great managers also have another skill/trait in common. That is, they are adept at removing obstacles to their employees’ success. Think about…

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