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In the Weeds

For those of you not familiar with the expression (in a professional office/work environment), “getting into the weeds” on something, here is what it means – simply put, it means that you are too focused on the lower level details of a particular issue and as such, you are not able to deal with the bigger picture (re. more important) stuff. The expression is often used before or after meetings to refer to someone that is not focused on the right issues and /or the right type of information and communication.

WeedsFrom an HR perspective, as we continue to try and deal with our inferiority complex and make sure we are always “adding value”, being in the weeds on an issue is the quickest way to show your operations clients that you are not capable of dealing with higher level issues and by default, not able to add any value.

In fact, nothing drives me crazy more than when I am in a room/meeting with a bunch of HR folks to discuss an important HR issue (something like rolling out a new compensation system) and the focus shifts away from discussing the high level communication strategy and change management approach to how “Sally in accounts payable will hear about this because she only works 3 days a week and is offsite for two of those days.” Seriously, I can’t even begin to count how many HR meetings have degenerated into this type of approach where HR folks get so caught up on the low level details and exception based circumstances, they actually stagnate the purpose of the meeting!

Now, take that same approach and do that in front of your operations clients and you can imagine the results. Imagine for a minute (or maybe you don’t have to) that you are asked to attend a meeting that your organization’s operational leadership is having. The topic of the meeting is to discuss the impact and communication of how your major client is going to be introducing a change in how they assess the quality of your products and services. Once you hear of the details of the change and the way ahead, you begin to focus on why communicating on the company intranet site is not good because the assembly workers don’t have access to email when at work and that you are concerned how we don’t have a new quality review sheet from the client yet and you “know that Bobby in QC will have a meltdown if we don’t have a new sheet ready when we communicate. “

Now, if you don’t think this stuff happens, well, I have a bridge for sale that you might be interested in. This stuff happens all the time and it kills HR credibility. We need to focus on the big picture stuff and the 80% solution. That is, if something works for 80% of the staff/company, etc. than you can figure out a way for the other 20%. Don’t get bogged down in too many of the details; especially as you deal with more senior staff in your organizations. Big picture/80% solution stuff is what will get you recognized and remembered for adding value.

So, next time you are at a meeting and this stuff (types of discussion) starts to happen, make sure you and the team doesn’t get into the weeds. Focus on the problem/issue at hand and try and deliver on an 80% solution – everything else can be localized and dealt with on a case by case basis. Keep in mind, anytime you are starting your sentences with (and repeating this phrase), “yes, but what about “______”, I guarantee that you are in the weeds and you need to GET OUT NOW! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of SweetCrisis/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


HR as the Great Enabler

Have you ever had one of those days at work where you truly felt you added value? What about one of those days when after it was over, and you reflected on it, you could say to yourself, “Now that is why I got into my chosen profession!” For me I recently had one of those days and it caused me to really be proud of my chosen profession (HR) and the value it can add to an organization, but more about that in a minute.

First things first, I find as HR Pros we often don’t do enough self-reflection. That is, we don’t take the time to look back on what we have done at our organizations and give our own selves a bit of a pat on the back. We are often so busy fighting fires, making sure our organizations are compliant with recent legislative changes, and scrambling to fill position vacancies that we don’t recognize the VALUE we are actually bringing to our companies. I think if we are ever going to obtain that universal respect level we are seeking for ourselves as HR Pros, we have to start by giving that respect and recognition to ourselves and each other for the work that we do and what our profession brings to each and every organization that we work for and represent.

Human Resources EnablerOk, back to our regularly scheduled programming. So what caused me to reflect on my day and feel so good about being in HR? It was because I feel I helped enable our leadership team to accomplish a very important goal/objective. Specifically, at one of our companies, they wanted to put together an action plan to address areas of opportunity that came up in a recent employee survey. The challenge, at the time, was that this team had never done this before and needed guidance on how to come together, build trust, come to consensus on outcomes, dissect the information at hand, analyze it and formulate action plans. Enter HR to help play the role of the Great Enabler and help guide the team to the way ahead!

At the end of the day, the role I played was in helping engage the team in dialogue and providing context to their thinking. Essentially, it was to facilitate dialogue so that each member of the leadership team could express their opinion and analyses on the survey results and have an opportunity to offer solutions for improvement. I felt really good about playing the role as a communication facilitator and kept the team on track by following a step by step framework to guide their thinking towards achieving their outcomes. At the end of the day, it was a highly successful session as the team was able to come up with their own action plan that was real, achievable and that they OWNED!
So why/how did this all work and why did I get so tingly about this as an HR Pro?

1. Leadership – no, not mine, but that of the company leadership. They were invested in the process – emotionally and mentally. They wanted this to work and they were looking for an outcome that they could feel good about being a part of developing and that they could actually own and deliver on.

2. It wasn’t an HR thing – too often as HR Pros we make things into “HR things.” Whether it is a new performance management system or employee surveys themselves. In this case, I didn’t want this to be an HR thing. I wanted it to be an Operations thing. The response/action plan and communication was developed and owned by Operational leadership.

3. HR played a non-traditional HR role – I almost wrote that HR played a non-HR role, but then thought, “Who gets to say what an HR role is?” The roles of facilitator, communication enabler and change agent are all roles that HR can and SHOULD play in any organization. By being that guiding and supporting force that ENABLES operations to accomplish their goals and objectives, HR is, in effect, accomplishing its own goals and objectives. We are playing the role that HR truly needs to play in its organizations.

4. Something got DONE – at the end of all this, all the time and energy that the leadership team invested in the process meant something. They accomplished their first goal, (the development of an action plan), as a team. They identified the root causes, they developed the solutions and they are holding each other accountable for completing the action plan.

So, the takeaways here for HR Pros are this:

1. Do some more self-reflection. Look for how you added value in your role today, yesterday, last week, etc. You will be amazed at the areas where you have made a difference; then, capitalize on those moments!

2. Look for ways to be “non-traditional” in your role. Lead a group session or facilitate an operational meeting. Step up to help an operational department lead a change management activity.

3. Take on the role of enabler. Don’t make it all about HR. Work your magic in the background. Enable your operations clients to be successful in their roles – your success will follow!

What about you? Can you think of other ways that HR can be the great enabler in your organizations? What is holding you (or HR) back from doing it? Is it simply a mindset? If you are stuck, hit me up on Twitter or LinkedIn, I would be happy to help share my experience(s) if it helps enable you to achieve HR success! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you can’t change the people, change the people

Without a doubt this has to be one of my favourite sayings. I am not sure when or where I first heard it; however, it has stuck with me for many years and I believe it to be the foundation of good leadership, management and human resource practices. For HR Pros, it really cuts to the heart of what we do initially from a talent management perspective. Talent Management is all about onboarding, training, development, workplace cultural integration and building your bench strength.

Time for changeIn many ways, talent management is about trying to change the people. It focuses on changing the people that your talent acquisition folks have brought into your organization. In this case, change refers to how you culturally integrate and onboard new hires. It is imperative that this “change” is managed properly because if you want to retain the talent you have hired, your HR folks and leaders need to effectively onboard your new people and expose them to your workplace norms, values and culture so as to ensure an effective transition into the new workplace. Effective talent management groups, along with great leaders, are very adept at helping new folks navigate this process and integrate into their workplace which results in those great 1st year retention metrics we are all striving for! The best HR Pros and managers are great at leveraging their new hires knowledge, skills, abilities and differences to help them “fit in” all the while allowing them to maintain their own individual identities and unique differences – leveraging diversity.

The challenge for HR Pros, managers and leaders comes down the road when your new hires, who may not be so new anymore, are not performing or are struggling with adapting to the organizational values for which you stand. For reasons of clarity and brevity I am going to assume the following things have taken place up to this point (i.e. when the “struggles” have started.)

1) If the reasons for the employee’s struggles are performance based, a detailed performance improvement plan has been put in place, regular communication has taken place, and clear performance objectives have been established and are being measured.

2) If the reasons’ for the struggles are more related to conduct – i.e., not accepting core values, demonstrating core competencies, etc., then the manager and employee have been meeting regularly and their coaching sessions have been focused on modelling the appropriate behaviours.

Big assumptions I know, but work with me on this one folks! So assuming those things have happened and there has been an appropriate amount of time over which these conversations and coaching sessions have taken place, it may be time to consider changing the people. What I am getting at here is that the organization has taken all the right steps up to this point during the employee life cycle. They have effectively onboarded and oriented the employee, they have outlined clear performance goals and objectives (with measures) and provided coaching and support of these goals; including the modeling of organizational values. The thing is, sometimes it just doesn’t work out! If, organizationally speaking, you can look back and put hand on heart and state that you have done all the right things and made the right attempts to “change the people,” than you have to make the decision to change the people.

The worse thing that companies (managers) do is to continue to employ someone after it is obvious that they are not going to change – either their performance or their attitude. The best thing you can do for them, the company and your current employees is to let them go – in essence, change the people.  As I said before, if you have done all the right things and made the attempts to change them, and it simply isn’t working out, than you have to change the people.

Truth be told, I have seen this scenario play out countless times and typically, when you change the people, if the reasons were performance based, the person being let go is often relieved. They probably hated everyday of their job coming in to work to do something they just couldn’t do or didn’t want to do. If you are changing the people because of conduct (attitude) reasons, your current staff will thank you. They will appreciate that you have removed a cancerous co-worker from their midst and they can now focus on their own productivity! It demonstrates, organizationally, that you committed to your core values and to performance. Your good folks will see this and respect the decisions that have been made.

So, as managers, leaders and HR Pros, I firmly believe that we owe it to our employees and our organizations to manage our people according to this mantra. We need to give serious consideration to adopting this saying as a way of running our HR departments, operations groups and businesses as a whole. Remember, at the end of the day, if you can’t change the people, than you need to change the people – and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Remove the Obstacles

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 it, at the very least, if you as a manager (or if YOUR manager) did nothing other than communicate effectively and remove obstacles to success, wouldn’t that make for a pretty good reporting relationship?

ObstaclesCase in point, my wife and I were frantically trying to prepare for a trip to Florida two weeks ago. My wife’s income is dependent on hours she bills for as well as commission sales; as such, our family budgeting can be pretty tricky especially when we head out on vacation. Bottom line is that she doesn’t get paid when she doesn’t work (bill hours). However, days before leaving on vacation she had made several key sales and as such would be receiving commission pay outs on her pay cheque upon returning from vacation. Needless to say, this would have alleviated a lot of her pre-vacation angst and paid for much easier pre and post vacation budgeting!

The problem arose the day before we were set to leave on vacation when she found out from her payroll/accounting group that she in fact would not receive the commission owed to her until certain paper work elements were taken care of (beyond her control). Bottom line was that she would not see these commissions for several pay periods. You can imagine her stress at this point as she had been counting on seeing that pay out upon her return from vacation. Here is where the good management comes in to play – upon taking this concern to her manager, the manager’s response was, “Leave this with me, I will take care of this and make sure this gets squared away so that when you get back from vacation, you will be paid for these commissions. Just focus on your clients, get ready for your vacation and enjoy the time off.”

As an HR person when I heard this I got all tingly. (I know, I need to get out more). But seriously, what a powerful management statement that was. Think about it, in that one statement, here is what the manager said/implied:

• You are important to me as an employee and I understand that this is causing you stress. I will help you with this.
• Your clients are important to you and your time is more valuable than having you mess around with making sure you get paid properly. I will take care of this.
• Your vacation is important. You need your vacation and you need to be relaxed. I will make sure this happens.
• Bureaucracy and paperwork are not important to me. Your job satisfaction, engagement levels and ability to perform are what are important. I will take care of this problem for you.

Needless to say, my wife was over the moon with this level of support from her manager – who just so happened to be a new manager. So not only was this a powerful moment for them, it also helped to build the trust between them which is so important between a manager and their employee. So, as managers, here is your lesson – be an obstacle remover! Get rid of those things in the run of a day, week, month, etc. that cause your employees’ to experience pain. Send the message that your staff is important to you so will take care of them. Send the message that you will remove/eliminate anything that is impacting their ability to effectively do their jobs.

At the end of the day, not only will you have a motivated and engaged staff, you will also have a staff that trusts you and that is critical to your and their success. Oh yeah, I almost forgot – we got back from vacation last week (which we thoroughly enjoyed) the commission pay outs were on my wife’s cheque. Score one for the manager. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


The Most Important Skill to have as a Leader

There are many articles, blog posts and debates out “there” that argue what the greatest skill is that you need to be an effective leader. I have read, heard and seen a variety of opinions on this over the years and truth be told, most of the information make great cases for the (combo of)skills that make up a great leader. Things like:

• Humble
• Calm under pressure
• Decisive
• Empathetic
• Balanced approach
• Even-tempered
• Direct
• Discreet
• Confident
• Ability to inspire others

The list goes on and on and can be endless as there is no debating that “positive” qualities and skills are associated with being a good leader. To me, and based on my experience, there is one skill that sets all great leaders apart. That skill is the ability to LISTEN. Far too many individuals in leadership roles spend too much time doing the opposite – talking and telling. When you really think about it, your ability to listen will truly Listeningmake you a great leader for many reasons as it ties into everything you do as a leader.

At its core, when you effectively listen, you are taking in information. This in turn allows you to make better decisions as you have more information at your disposal with which to make these decisions. Additionally, when you are listening, you are becoming in tune to the situation at hand and thus are able to be empathetic when dealing with your direct reports. You are also able to more effectively coach your staff and make them better at what they do when you are listening to them instead of telling them what to do.

By utilizing great listening skills and leveraging them as a strength, you are also able to more effectively engage your staff as you consider their ideas, thoughts and inputs – thus improving employee engagement and communication. In turn, you will also get a better feel for which of your staff have the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to most effectively do their jobs, so in turn, you will be able to better performance management your entire team.

Effective listening also gives you credibility as an enabler of change, which is a core quality (and requirement) of a strong leader. Think about it – leaders who effectively listen to their people are the ones that are able to turn that information around and engage others in the change process. They are able to overcome the true obstacles in the way of progress and change and thus are able to engage all stakeholders in the change process, thus getting buy-in at all the critical stages.

The ability to listen allows true leaders to more effectively manage team conflict and improve group dynamics. By truly listening to what your team is telling you, and by focusing on the issues not the people themselves, you can provide true leadership to your teams through effective conflict resolution skills and thus achieve a more productive and cohesive work unit.

Strong listening skills will also make you more adept at performance management and in developing your employees. Strong listening skills means you are able to make a connection between employee development (desires) and organizational need(s), thus providing a win-win solution. If you are not listening, you essentially end up telling employees what they are going to do with their careers. This may be a short term win for the organization, but will ultimately be a loss when that employee leaves due to feeling stagnated in their role.

Finally, by displaying strong listening skills, you will instill confidence in your staff. Your staff want to know that they have a voice and have been heard. Good leaders, that are strong listeners, are able to balance when it is time to take this approach vs. when a decision simply has to be made. By being an active listener on a regular basis, employees are more accepting (and sometimes appreciative) when a leader simply has to make the tough decisions. You have established organizational “cred” through your previously displayed listening skills so employees won’t doubt that you made the best possible decisions when push comes to shove, while considering all the alternatives.

What about you? What do you feel is the most important skill for a leader? Does everything tie back to being a strong listener? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Ambro/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Across the Great (Virtual) Divide

For the geography buffs that read The Armchair HR Manager, (there are some right?) you are about to be disappointed. This post is not about the Rocky Mountains or the Oregon Trail. I am referring to that great virtual divide you often see or hear about between the highest levels of management in an organization and the front line employees. Typically, this divide exists for a variety of reasons – too many “layers” between staff and Sr. Leadership, no visibility to/from Sr. Leadership amongst its employees, lack of vision/direction from the Sr. team or simply a lack of overall communication or even worse, 1-way “communication.”

I have seen and heard about far too many organizations that still subscribe to the theory of, “workers work, managers manage and leaders lead.” (Of course the definition of ‘lead’ in this context is very much up for debate.) These command and control style organizations seem to actually be comfortable with the virtual divide that exists between themselves and their front line staff. Whether this is because the divide creates a sense of comfort for them (i.e. the workers will follow when the message comes down from above) and/or they think that it might show some type of vulnerability by being this close to staff, I am not sure. All I know is that your staff are very much aware of the divide and the smaller the organization (in size) the greater the virtual divide is felt.

CanyonI have commented in other posts about the need for greater Sr. Leadership visibility in terms of improved retention and engagement, and I have also blogged about Sr. Leadership needing to share its vision in order to align and engage staff. I have also blogged about the importance of general communication; however, what I have not commented on is the damaging effects that be created by a virtual divide when there is only one-way communication taking place. Meaning, either Sr. Leadership pushes messages down but doesn’t listen for a response back up, or things are pushed up from staff at a grassroots level to Sr. Management but nothing comes back down the funnel. What you typically see is that your staff shares their opinions and thoughts via surveys, they partake in continuous improvement initiatives and they engage in work groups to resolve organizational issues; however nothing comes back to them in the form of communication. No feedback that identifies which of their suggestions and improvement initiatives will be implemented or even considered. All the while, the divide gets wider.

This is a very damaging management practice as it basically tells your staff that you are just going through the motions and not really considering their input. You know, do as I say not do as I do. The real damage is the hidden damage – low morale, disengaged staff who used to care but now just go through the motions themselves (mimicking what they themselves perceive to be the behaviour that Sr. Leadership is exhibiting. So what can be done? It starts with two-way dialogue. Your management team has to engage in communication with its employees to shrink this divide. The important question for HR Leaders is what can they do to drive organizational change in this area? For starters:

• Work with your CEO to have her/him lead a town hall meeting to re-engage and re-energize staff or;
• Attend department meetings to answer questions, share the organizational vision, etc.
• Work with dept. heads to share success stories with the CEO so she/he can personally congratulate individuals on their accomplishments.
• Improve your organizational leader’s social media savvy by having her/him maintain a blog that shares their vision and insight on organizational direction.
• Coach your organizational leader on holding her/his team accountable for ensuring these types of behaviours are repeated by the entire Management Team.
• Partner with the Sr. Leadership team to ensure that when employee input is asked for – it is responded to. Your staff knows that not everything is going to be greeted with a YES, or implement now response – what they want to know is that you are listening and considering their input. If something can be done – great! If not, just tell them why, they will grasp the reason(s) why not.

HR is at a stage in its evolution when we can affect this type of change in our roles. We hear all the time about need to have a seat at the table (kill that one), being a business partner, (overused) and wanting to add value (heard enough of that); so here is one way where we can lead the charge. Let’s help our Sr. Leaders cross that great (virtual) divide. What do you think? Can it be done? Should HR be the one giving the “push?” As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of puttsk/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do (should) you spend your time doing?

As managers, leaders and professionals, what do you spend the majority of time doing? How do you know if you are truly adding value in your role? How would you assess your effectiveness in contributing towards organizational success? Unfortunately, many of us respond to these questions as follows:

• Attending meetings
• Taking conference calls
• Fighting fires
• Fixing something that is broken
• Trying to figure out what the &#%# is going on! (i.e. running around gathering information so you can ‘deal’ with things)
• Surviving – in other words, all of the above ^
• And in terms of assessing effectiveness – “not sure”

You get my point – we spend an awful lot of time doing things that aren’t adding value in our jobs as leaders. It is a real slippery slope getting sucked into all of these time wasters and often you are in this black hole before you even realize it. So how do we get out of this vicious cycle? The key is to focus on doing things that do add value because you KNOW they add value! Part of being a great manager and leader is thinking and acting as managers and leaders in order to move the needle forward for ourselves, our teams and our organizations. As managers and leaders we should be spending our time focusing on:

1. Talking to our staff – coaching, communicating, supporting, giving direction, providing clarity. This is perhaps the single most important function of a manager and a leader. It opens the channels of communication, engages employees and helps to retain your best talent.

2. Collaborating and breaking down silos – with our managers, in our departments and with managers of other departments. We need to be discussing common organizational challenges and to how to overcome them. Great managers and leaders work across departments to identify common foes and challenges (whether internal or external) and figure out ways to “win.” If you are too focused on “us vs. them” internally and engage in too much finger pointing, you are already creating silos with very high walls that may never come down.

3. Working cross functionally to develop and leverage your talent base – similar to point #2, however this focuses more on taking advantage of your current staff and their skills. For example, I have seen companies whose main service offering was technical resources. Part of the training and development they did with their staff was to develop their project management skills (via PMP certification). However, the staff only focused on technical projects for external clients. The irony is that at the same time, there were many internal/company projects of a non-technical nature that were screaming for project management talent to assist. As managers, these types of discussions need to take place so that managers are working together to identify and leverage these types of resources. It is a win-win-win. (A win for each of the managers of the departments working together in developing and engaging talent and a win for the employees as they get to develop their skillsets further).


4. Managing Change via the PDCA model – (Planning/Doing/Checking/Acting) – as managers and leaders, our role is to ensure we are setting the proper strategic direction for our organizations/departments – planning. In order to ensure the strategic plan is executed effectively, proper measurements, KPI’s and performance indicators need to be identified and aligned with the strategic plan. This needs to be boiled down to the staff level where they are given clear goals, objectives and KPI’s for their individual performance, then they are given the autonomy to execute on these plans – doing. Via departmental meetings and coaching, we need to be analyzing the day to day effect of our staff’s performance against the plan and providing feedback – checking. When adjustments are required or there is variance to the plan, it is our role as managers to make sure strategy and the work execution groups plans are aligned and if not, take improvement action to bring things back on plan/target – act. This simple 4 step model, as part of a formal management system that manages change and supports the basic concepts of continuous improvement methodologies has proven to be highly successful in many organizations.

So as managers and leaders of talent, let’s try and turn this spiral of doom around. Let’s make sure we are focusing on the 4 key elements to add organization (and personal) value in our roles. Feel free to use this as a personal blueprint to help realize your leadership potential and managerial success. As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Diagram by Karn G. Bulsuk (http://www.bulsuk.com)

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