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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/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Your Opinion is Wrong!?

Think about that for a minute – can someone’s opinion actually be wrong? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an opinion is, “a belief, judgment, or way of thinking about something: what someone thinks about a particular thing.” So if someone has a belief or a way of thinking about something, can that actually be wrong, or for that matter, right? That is not to say that we have to agree with someone’s opinion about something, but we can’t necessarily state that their opinion is wrong.

WrongAs HR Pros, we run into situations like this on fairly regular basis. Employees get upset when someone disagrees with their opinion on something or disregards it. Some people want their opinion to be the one that everyone adopts when it comes to the way ahead on a project or client proposal. One of the biggest challenges I experience in dealing with this issue pertains to employee surveys. Survey time, for many companies, can be a very sensitive undertaking. Keeping in mind, when organizations decide to do an employee survey, in order for it to be productive, they must be clear on why they surveying, what they are surveying about and what they will do with the results. Hopefully, the organizational intent is to obtain a good temperature check on the level of employee engagement and satisfaction its employees has with the various elements of their job and the company in general. The more progressive organizations are prepared to take action against the top areas of opportunity that are uncovered during a survey as a means of making their company a better place to work (i.e. attract and retain talent). They sincerely look for honest, candid feedback so that they can address root cause issues and continue to excel.

Now, here is where some of the challenges come in to play. There will be members of your management team that don’t buy into the reasons for conducting a survey. They may think it is a waste of time, serves no purpose or aren’t prepared to change anything. The other challenge, depending on the level of detail you can cull from your surveys, is that you are often able to pinpoint particular geographic or departmental hotspots. This in turn shines an uncomfortable spotlight on particular managers or department heads. Regardless, the desired outcome(s) should always be to improve organizationally, foster communication and address key/critical areas that are impacting your employees’ ability to be successful (and as such, the organization’s ability).

As alluded to earlier, the pain points I have experienced are when managers, upon seeing survey results, attempt to discredit the results and the feedback. Instead of accepting the survey results for what they are – a temperature check/moment in time opinion response from your employees – managers will attempt to subjectively rationalize the (poorer) results. I have heard comments like, “well, the staff are misinformed; they don’t know what they are talking about; they scored that low because on that day xyx event took place that they didn’t like; we have addressed these issues before and fixed them…they are just never happy, etc.”

You see what just happened there? By attempting to discredit, disregard and disavow the employee feedback, they were basically telling employees that their opinion was WRONG. An employee survey is just that – the employees’ opinions/feelings about things at the time of the survey. A response that attempts to arbitrarily rationalize the results is akin to telling your staff their opinions are all WRONG. You see how bizarre that all sounds? And how can their opinions be wrong?

So, what do we need to do as HR Pros if/when this happens at our companies? First off, you need to get the focus back on track. Circle back to the goals and objectives of the survey. What are you trying to accomplish? Dig into the survey results. Compare to previous years. If there are dramatic changes up or down over the course of a year or so, conduct some focus groups to get to the heart of the matter. Ask staff for their feedback and recommended solutions. Provide those solutions back to your leadership team. Keep meetings with managers and staff solutions focused – not on what is ‘wrong,’ ‘broken,’ or not working. Keep circling back to the goals you established at the start of your survey launch – i.e. improve communication, address key areas, sustain/improve engagement levels, sustain/improve retention, sustain/improve productivity and quality. Remember, the survey is simply a tool – a means to communicate and engage with your staff. At the end of the day it is simply information…..and opinions. It can’t be right or wrong, it just “is what it is.” 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

 

Stop, Look & Listen

A big part of being a good leader is to do a self-check every so often. Sometimes, you really need to stop, look and listen to what is going on around you. Managers and leaders get so caught up in focusing on operational excellence that they fail to focus on leadership excellence. In my years in HR, I have had many a conversation with managers on this subject and far too many managers instinctively feel they are doing a good job managing their staff and keeping them engaged. When I ask them why they feel that way, the answer is often something akin to, “well, no one is coming to complain.” Well, I hate to tell you, but if that is your barometer for leadership excellence, there is probably room for improvement!

Good leaders need to take the time to stop, look and listen. As you balance all the challenges of the day/week/month, it is easy to get caught up and not do this. However, it is of critical importance, if you want to keep your finger on the pulse of your department or organization, that you carve out time to observe your employees and really get a feel for what they are telling you (or not telling you.) As indicated above, far too many a manager is happy if their day goes by without employees “bothering” them. These are the same managers who have disengaged employees, high turnover, productivity issues and communication challenges in their work group. When you ask them how things are going with their staff, they will say that “things are good”, “everyone is happy”, etc. Trust me when I tell you “it isn’t” and “they aren’t.”

Stop Look ListenAs a leader, you need to make sure you are taking the time to build relationships, foster trust, and enhance communication with your staff. You need to be seen as someone who supports their development and can remove roadblocks/obstacles to their success. For most leaders, when gauging “how things are going” with your employees, the signs are there if you take the time to stop, look and listen. For example, if you find that you hearing about most of your employees’ concerns from your manager, than it is obvious your employees are by passing you. Therefore, you need to stop being seen as someone who is a roadblock and start becoming engaged in the communication process with your employees. Stop avoiding having 1:1 discussions with your staff and/or stop doing all the talking during these meetings and start to listen to their concerns. Listen to what your employees are actually asking/telling you – this way, you will become the go-to person for them when they are experiencing work related challenges and not your boss! You need to be the enabler and the one who works with them to resolve the issues and NOT the impediment to progress!

Look for the signs that your staff sees you as their leader. Do they come to you to give you the “heads up” on pending employee relations issues? Do they give you the old, “you didn’t hear this from me, but…” line? These are all good signs that they trust and respect you and don’t want you to get blindsided by something. If you are never in the loop on anything and aren’t experiencing this, it could be because your employees don’t trust you and that you haven’t taken the time to build and foster effective working relationships with them.

Another way to gauge things in your work unit is to make sure you actively listen during department meetings. Does your staff ask you questions? Are they curious about what is going with the department/company? Do you have answers for these questions? If you don’t, do you pledge to get the answers and then follow through on this commitment? If the answer to some or all of these questions is “no,” than these are all signs that you are not achieving leadership excellence and need to incorporate more stop, look and listen into your daily management routine.

The good news in all of this is that by incorporating this stop, look and listen approach, you can quickly turn the corner and be that trusted advisor with your staff as you make the journey towards leadership excellence. It takes the desire and focus to want to change you leadership approach; and just as importantly, it requires you to focus on enhancing your communication skills. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of  Freefoto.com

What’s the point in appointing?

One of my big pet peeves in the Talent Management world is when organizations go about ‘appointing’ people into roles. I am not referring to situations where an organization has identified a potential successor for a senior level role like COO, CFO, VP of Dept., etc. Identifying that type of talent early on and then managing it through a rigorous talent development process makes total sense. Reality is that when you do it this way, (identify potential successors and ensure they are given the opportunity to prove themselves on various assignments), you are in fact applying an objective process, which, if managed correctly, will result in a logical incumbent being appointed.

What I am getting at is when companies of a certain size, typically in the 75+ person range and that have identified positions and levels, simply go about and “appoint” people into roles. I have seen far too often organizations that develop all kinds of internal posting policies and internal recruiting systems and then choose to ignore these at their own convenience and ‘select’ whomever they want for the role at hand. My question is always why? Why? Why? Why would you do this? What purpose does it serve? Who or what benefits when you do this?

pointMy thinking is this, if you have enough faith in your hiring system, including faith in the abilities of your recruiters and hiring managers, than there simply is no compelling reason to do this. Your managers and recruiters should be able to properly identify the job requirements and qualifications and then prepare a proper performance profile with effective BDI questions. Because the hiring manager (and recruiter) knows the job so well, they can also prepare a proper interview scoring guide and thus select the right candidate – right? It stands to reason that at the end of the day, if the candidate that you thought was in fact the best, (i.e. the one you wanted to appoint) then they will be the one that best answers the questions and gets the job anyway.

Now, I know some of you will argue against this position and I have heard all the arguments against having an internal posting and internal competition for all positions:

1. It takes too long
2. We already know who we want anyway, why do this?
3. We have a business to run, why do we have to waste time doing this?
4. Insert other whiny response/retort here

As I said, I have heard them all and none of them hold weight. My response to many a department head or executive is often something like:

1. Is reducing turnover important to you?
2. Does having to replace competent, up and coming staff hurt your bottom line?
3. Is employee engagement and satisfaction important to the health of the organization?
4. Really, you can’t post-pone appointing someone and take 2-3 days to put up a posting and interview the most qualified candidates?
5. Are you confident that none of the ‘selection criteria’ being used to pick the appointee are discriminatory in nature (towards other groups) or aren’t having an adverse effect?
6. Are you aware of the knowledge, skills and abilities of all employees in the organization?

At the very least, the last two always give pause for thought. My point is that you don’t know all the answers when you appoint. Career growth and opportunity are almost always at the top of any type of employee survey as retention factors. Lack of opportunities, biased thinking, failure to follow policy and processes are always cited in exit surveys as reasons why employees leave. Knowing that you may not be as gripped in on the knowledge, skills and abilities of ALL the employees in the organization as you think you are, coupled with the fact that by having an internal competition you may be improving retention and reducing potential discriminatory behavior, it begs the question – why wouldn’t you post for the position? Better yet, knowing all these risk factors, what REALLY is the point in appointing someone into a role? What do you hope to have gained?  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The #1 Thing Your Staff Wants from You

No doubt about it, managing people can be a real challenge at the best of times. I know, I know, a real understatement! In my experience, and in my HR practice, I have seen and heard it all from managers when it comes to the challenges they face with managing and leading their teams. Well, maybe not all, but at least a lot! Let’s face it, managers deal with everything from attendance issues to performance issues; employee relations challenges to sexual harassment allegations – they deal with it all. So much so, that one of the top complaints I hear from managers, who are typically undervalued themselves, is that they just don’t know what to focus on when it comes to their staff.  Specifically, they struggle on where to focus their efforts in leading their teams, delivering results, etc. I often get the confused and frustrated manager come into my office, often after employee survey results are delivered, and vent/ask, “I (think) I am doing everything I can, what does my staff want from me!?”

Well, buckle up, because I actually have an answer for you on that one! Let me start out by telling you what your staff doesn’t want from you:

• They don’t want you to be their buddy
• They don’t want you to be a glorified organizational messenger or spokesperson
• They don’t want you to be an intermediary between them and YOUR boss
• They don’t want you to act as their “agent” with HR or other support departments

Time - blog postWhat they want is your TIME. Your staff want some of your time in any given day, week or month. Believe it or not, they value any 1:1 time they get with you. What they want to talk to you about may vary. Some of your employees need your time so they can talk about obstacles they are encountering while trying to complete their current work assignment. Some of them want to discuss personal issues that are impacting their attendance and/or performance at work. Others yet need to get a feel for how their current level of performance is matching up to your expectations. Some of your staff even want to discuss their career path and what their future with the company might look like. It is also important to keep in mind that some employees view getting a bit of 1:1 time with their manager, just to shoot the breeze, as a form of recognition.

Regardless of their reason(s) your staff wants your time. They value this more than anything. When they get time with you they are able to work with you, instead of for (or against) you. By getting your time, it helps them feel connected to their work and engaged in what they do. Keep in mind, the number one reason most employees leave their employer is due to the relationship they have with their immediate supervisor. A lot of people assume that means they leave because of a negative relationship but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Think about it – if you have either a non-existent relationship with your manager, or a strained one due to the fact that you simply can’t get any face time (feedback) from them so as to successfully complete your job, you are going to eventually change employers as well.

There is no silver bullet for this other than to make meeting with your staff your #1 priority. I guarantee this is what most of your employees want from you. Your time is the prescription for improved levels of retention and engagement – it is up to you to figure out the dosage level. Some of your employees might only need 15-20 minutes of your time in a week or in a month. Others may need an hour or more in a given week/month depending on the circumstances. The key is to talk to your people, listen to them and assess their needs. You can only do this if you make it a point to “give” them some of your time. What do you think – is this do-able? Do you agree or disagree that your staff views your time as the most important thing they need/want from you? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of photostock/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Your Employees Aren’t Stupid!

This is a note of caution to all the employers, organizational leaders and managers out there. Whether you actually think it or not, let me tell you, your employees aren’t stupid. They know when you are being honest with them (or not). They know when you are only paying lip service to them with respect to their workplace and employee relations concerns. It is actually worse for companies to try and “fool” their smart employees by saying one thing and doing another – all the while thinking that employees won’t catch on. Truth of the matter is that you are better off being upfront with them instead of trying to use a lot of smoke and mirrors to fool them or gloss over the issues at hand.

Stupid wordCase in point – let’s say that your latest employee survey shows that employees are really unhappy with the amount of training they receive to do their job or keep their skills up to date. Instead of launching a bunch of focus groups and having the CEO stand up at a town hall meeting and proclaim the importance of training, be up front with them and tell that there currently is no more money in the budget for further external training options or at the very least, there is a temporary freeze on training until the next contract is awarded (or whatever your particular reality is). While it might sting in the short term, your staff will appreciate your honesty in the long run. Remember, with that first scenario, you aren’t fooling anyone because your employees are not stupid.

Leaders and managers, you need to remember that your employees are always watching you. They are observing and making sure that your actions align with your words. They want to know that you are walking the talk. Far too often, companies commit (to their employees) to changing/improving something in their organization and they go through the hoopla of communicating their commitment to this change. Then, months later, no real change has occurred because nothing fundamental has been addressed (root cause) or been implemented in the company. Your employees aren’t dumb, they know this is because you are not ready or willing to change anything at present so don’t try and fool them!

Organizational values are another area where companies get tripped up with this concept. Posting a chart of values on the wall and proclaiming their importance to the staff and then not living them on a regular basis, let alone using them as guiding principles in organizational decision-making, is another recipe for disaster. Let me say it again, your employees aren’t stupid! They know if you believe in the values or not and they know if they are a part of the organizational DNA (or not.)

I am using the word ‘stupid’ to make a point here. (It caught your attention didn’t it?) I am trying to make the point that your employees are clever enough to see through things when companies and managers do not exhibit effective leadership and communication skills. The concepts above are merely examples of ineffective communication and leadership styles. Organizational leaders need to know that their employees are looking to them to lead by example.

Please don’t think you are fooling anyone that works for you by doing these sorts of things…then again why would you want to fool them? Be up front, tell them what you know and tell them what you don’t know, lead by example, involve them and above all, be a decent person. Those are some of the basic tenants of leadership and what employees are looking for in their leaders. As leaders, we need to be aware of how our actions and inactions will be interpreted by our employees. Oh, and in case I didn’t say it enough already, you have to remember that your employees aren’t stupid! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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