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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


My Advice to New HR Grads

For most universities and colleges, spring graduation season has now come and gone. Hopefully many of the recent grads have been able to find work that is linked to their field of study. Over the past few months, I had the privilege of being able to speak with a few upcoming HR grads as they prepared to enter the workforce. A lot of them were experiencing a bit of angst about getting their first HR job and just as importantly, they wanted to know what they needed to “really” do to be a good HR “business partner.”

GraduateI probed a bit to find out what their understanding of the term is and was as anytime someone, especially a junior HR Pro, uses the words “business partner” the hair on the back of my neck stands up a bit. You see, I believe as a profession, HR people have been adding silly labels and heaping on ridiculous amounts of self-deprecation on our profession over the past 5+ years. You know what mean, people in HR always saying that, “everyone in HR needs to be strategic in their role.” “HR people all need to be sitting at the table.” (*groan*) and most importantly, everyone has to be an “HR Business Partner.” There are no more HR Generalists, HR Coordinators or HR Consultants (unless you are independent). We have got it drilled into our profession that you immediately have to be a “business partner” as in that is your title vs. something that you do as part of your role.

Depending on what and who you read, this definition of HR business partner has a variety of meanings. Some HR folks make it out to be the ultimate catch all HR role/title – but mostly it means you are playing some incredible strategic role in your company whereby you are developing revolutionary people strategies and programs that result in leading edge turnover and engagement scores. Simply put, if you aren’t a “business partner” than you ain’t much. I have previously blogged about this topic before so I won’t go on an additional rant; however, I think bloggers like Laurie Ruettimann (please check out her blog) provide a really good perspective on what it means to do good HR, which then means you are adding value. Simply put, be ethical, be transparent, make sure people get treated with respect, make sure they get paid fairly, represent your company honestly and understand the environment your company operates in so you can properly advise. (i.e. labour laws, human rights, etc.)

All of those things are the basic tenants of good HR. In other words, if you do that and your people are getting paid on time you are keeping the proverbial trains running on time and that is how you are adding value. Not everyone gets to be strategic and drive the vision for the company for the next 20 years. However, good HR work (like I mentioned) adds A LOT of value, more so because, for some reason, many in our profession overlook this work that they do as being valuable. So why do we feel the need to label ourselves as business partners? Has anyone heard of a “Marketing Business Partner?” An “I.T. Business Partner?” What about a “Finance Business Partner.” Believe it or not, if you Google those terms, those titles do exist, but not near to the extent of HR Business Partner. Additionally, these groups also don’t seem so fixated on the term and presenting themselves as such as compared to what HR is doing to itself.

Here is the thing, anyone that provides enabling support to their company has to be a business partner in some capacity. So new HR grads, here is the best (free) advice you are going to get:

  • Focus on doing the things I mentioned earlier in this post so that you can keep the trains running on time. If you do this, please take solace in the fact that you are doing GOOD HR WORK! We need people like you in all organizations that are focused on this.
  • Don’t get caught up in the labels that exist that current HR Pros have been creating and placing on their own kind. Don’t worry about the title and status of “business partner.” If ever in doubt, refer to the bullet number one.
  • If you want to add value and be seen as a true partner, than the first thing you do is to volunteer for a project in another department. Don’t worry if it isn’t “HR related” on its face. Ultimately, it is all HR related (that is a professional secret you must keep to yourself). Immerse yourself with another department. Help marketing out with an upcoming campaign. Volunteer to assist with their social media strategies. Lead and support Engineering’s technical briefing sessions.  Develop the change management plan for I.T. as they rollout a new operating system. It doesn’t matter, the best thing you can do for your new career is attach yourself to a non-HR project.

Bottom line, by simply stepping outside of the HR Dept. (and your comfort zone) and immersing yourself into the challenges and problems of another department, you will be adding value. You will gain the respect of your operations clients. You will, in fact, be a true business partner…just don’t call yourself that, let your operations clients call you that, if they feel so inclined. Remember, you are an HR Professional. Be proud of that and let’s all agree on one thing as HR Pros – that is, to stop making all of this so hard for our profession. As always I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net

What Your Managers REALLY want HR to do

I got inspired to write this post based on what one of my favourite bloggers, Tim Sackett, recently wrote about. In his post, Tim was looking to crowd source some ideas for his 2015 SHRM conference presentation. One of his ideas was, “Why CEOs Believe Weird Things.” His take was that “every SHRM conference has a ‘what your senior executives want presentation.” Tim in his own brilliant, witty, sarcastic way I am sure will do this topic justice. However, his blog post inspired me to take the topic idea down to more granular level and write about what line managers want from their local HR folks. Based on my experience, the operations managers that HR supports are looking for a handful of things from their local HR person to help make their jobs easier. So, with inspiration from Tim, who I hope doesn’t feel that I ripped off his topic idea, (and that I have given proper credit to) here are my thoughts on the topic in terms of what your managers want from HR:

Manager Help• Your managers want HR to find them good people….quickly. (and discuss the issue with them with no B.S.) Yes, I know all the stories about how recruiters find candidates and present them to hiring managers and then the resumes sit on the manager’s desk for weeks at a time and then the (good) candidates are no longer available. What the hiring manager wants is for you to come to them and tell them which one (or two) of your slate of candidates is the real deal and then have the candid conversation with them. There is no need to fluff things up and over sell the slate based on skill sets, current market conditions, etc. You don’t need to tell them that if they don’t move on your entire slate they will lose them all. You need to tell them, “Look Mr. Manager, I know you are busy. I am busy too. I really want this to work out so you need to move on Candidate A. She is exactly what you need. She has the bulk of the skills you are looking for but not all of them. However, what she lacks in the balance of the skill department, she makes up for in the fact she has worked in some crappy industries/companies and is able to put up with a lot of crap. In fact, so much so that will easily be able to deal with the environment here and thrive. Hire her and you won’t be replacing this position again for a long time.”

• They want you to make the bad employees go away. Again, I know that hiring is a two way street. Bad managers don’t want to manage, but good managers inherit bad employees that they then want gone because they are a complete drain on time and resources. Don’t give them the song and dance about what should have been done, could have been done or what they can’t do. Managers don’t want to be lectured or given a history lesson…or worse yet, they don’t want to hear the “I told you so” line. Tell them what they CAN do. Tell them what it will cost and what the risk is to make the “bad” employee go away. Spell it out for them and then work with them on a solution. Give them control and ownership into the situation – don’t babysit them.

• Your managers don’t want to fill out forms. At the very least, make the necessary forms easier to fill out/complete. In HR, we fall in love with our forms and processes, especially the performance review form. There isn’t a manager in the world that wants to fill out an 8 page performance review in Word format for 30 of their staff. Shrink the form down – make it two pages max. Make it goal and behaviour based with a simple, clear rating system. Make the form easy to complete in digital format (PDF or online). Bottom line, no paper copies and have digital signatures. You will get a lot more up take with managers when it comes to them completing performance reviews on time if you do this.

• They want you to help them build an effective performance rating system. Maybe not in those words, but your operations managers find this whole performance management thing challenging at the best of times. Help them to baseline performance expectations for their jobs and employees. They are also fine with the fact that it may only be a usable 80% solution (vs. your current unusable but “perfect” HR system.)  Also, your operations managers want you to remind them over (and over) again about the importance of documenting performance examples so that they have something to put on the nice form you created. (Really, they don’t mind the reminders at all because it makes their jobs easier – you just have to be ok with being a nag.)

• They don’t want you to write stupid policies – stupid policies are any ones that are written to deal with an issue with a small group of employees but then apply to everyone (i.e. dress code or attendance). Stupid policies are any policies that are written with no clear goal/end state in mind other than to create a police state or compensate for bad managers. Stupid policies are ones that are not clearly understood and/or communicated. Stupid policies are ones that ultimately are not supported by HR, even though THEY (HR) wrote them (yes, this does happen.)

• They don’t want you to make them jump through hoops or give them the run around – this could take the form of having to fill out 20 forms to get a job requisition approved, to have someone’s job evaluated or to deal with a payroll/benefits issue. Make it easy for them to take care of their employees. Remember, managers have project deliverables as well as responsibility for taking care of their people. HR beats them up when they have turnover, absenteeism, etc; so make their job of taking care of their people that much easier for them.

So what do you think about these examples? Do you think they reflect the way your operations /line managers see HR contributing to the company? Do these sound like the sort of things that your operations managers want from you? If you really want to be a true HR “partner,” try keeping these themes in mind when working with your operations managers. To provide a balanced approach, for my next post, I will write about what HR wants from its operations managers – it will be a beauty. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The HR Business Partner – Job Title or State of Being?

I have to admit it; I hate the title “HR Business Partner.” I see more often in the HR field that the use of this title keeps popping up. Perhaps it is replacing the HR Generalist title? (Not that I was huge fan of that one either.) To me an HR Business Partner is not so much a title as it is a state of being. It is the essence of what we do or should be doing – so why do we have to include it in a title or tell people we are being business partners? (My first guess is that it is the classic inferiority complex that HR seems to have.) My opinion is that being a “partner” is what we get paid to do! I mean, I don’t see the title of Sales Business Partner or Accounting Business Partner being flaunted around? What about I.T. Business Partner? How many of those jobs are out there? How come those professions don’t feel the need to title themselves as partners?

Business PartnerWhere I am really going with this is that I am finding there is a real risk to our HR profession of us being defined by our titles vs. what we actually do and deliver. I guess that is why the use of this “state of being” title irritates me. The other challenge with this is that I keep encountering so many people that use this title and then when I ask them what they do as a business partner, they end up giving me a laundry list of duties (mostly coordination and enforcement) in the form of some glorified job description – real “partner-like” for sure. If you don’t have the title of HR Business Partner, don’t despair! It isn’t a reflection of how good or valuable you are! What matters most is what you deliver to your clients and what value you bring to your organization, whether you are an HR Manager, HR Generalist, HR Coordinator, Recruiter, Talent Acquisition Specialist, etc. etc. etc.

To that end, I would like to put a stake in the heart of the business partner title and suggest that our HR profession focuses on partnering as a minimum job expectation. At the end of the day, if you aren’t partnering with your operations team, then you must be working “against” them. If you truly are a partner to your operations clients, than you need to make sure you are not one of the following types of HR “Business Partners” and are not engaging in these types of activities as part of your job:

1) The Policy Police – true HR business partners (I put that in lower case because I am not using it as a title any more) do not police and enforce policy as part of their day – that is the manager’s job. You can write policies to assist them achieve their goals, you can interpret policy and you can advise on the application of policy but you are NOT the policy police.

2) The Party Planner – you are not the sole source of planning and doling out organizational fun. It is not your job to plan all social events and make sure that everyone is attending and having fun. This is a function of your social committee – not HR.

3) The Amateur Lawyer – yes, I know, good HR pros have a solid grasp of employment law. This should be used to provide advice and counsel to your managers NOT as a hammer or to make veiled threats about the outcomes of their decisions. Remember, you provide advice and counsel based on your knowledge and experience.

4) The Negative Nelly – i.e. finding ways why something CAN’T be done – true HR pros that partner and add value, work with their operations clients to find ways why something can be done. Whether it involves finding a uniquely skilled candidate, improving performance measures or working on compensation issues, you need to find ways to assist and help move the business forward NOT reasons why something can’t happen or why it may violate some obscure law.

5) The Ignorant Ida/Ian – true HR Pros that add value to their organizations understand what their companies do. In other words, they understand what functions generate revenue and they know how their company makes money. They are familiar with their organization’s product and service offerings, the industry and the key players. Nothing discredits an HR Pro faster than to call themselves a Business Partner and then operate in a silo. Get out there and get entrenched in the lines of business. This way, your operations “partners” will seek out your counsel and advice because they WANT to – not because they HAVE to.

What about you? Do you have anything else to add to this list? How do you feel about the title HR Business Partner? Have I convinced you that it is not a title but a state of being for an HR Pro….a minimum performance expectation if you will? As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Image courtesy of bplanet/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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