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This has got to STOP!

I realize I may be a bit late to the party on this one, but my thoughts and feelings about this issue have been percolating, brewing, festering, etc. for weeks now. I had been debating writing a post about the sordid history of Donald Trump and his many actual and alleged ‘interactions’ with women. In fact, I was planning on writing an entire post on Trump himself where I would dissect his leadership skills, and in particular, his track record when it comes to the issue of harassment. But then I decided, no, Trump isn’t the issue; this is much bigger than him (despite what he might think). This is a much larger societal issue as a whole.

trumpIn fact, this entire affair (pardon the pun) with Trump really caused me to reflect on my almost 20 year career in HR to see if perhaps I was as gripped in on the issue of (sexual) harassment as I should be. I decided that the answer to that is NO. I need to be better. We, as HR Pros need to be better. We as managers and leaders need to be better. Society needs to be better. Here is the thing, this is not something that should be laughed off, ignored, tolerated or put up with any capacity. Harassment IS a major issue in the workplace and in general. I have had many conversations with female colleagues and friends over this issue (especially in recent months) and it is SHOCKING what they have had to put up with in the workplace and in their careers. I am not going to write about the specifics that were shared, but suffice it to say, if I did, this would be an R-rated blog.

By the time (or even IF) something is brought forward as a “complaint”, there have probably been multiple instances of harassment that should have been reported, addressed etc.; so, by the time we as HR Pros are dealing with an issue, we better damn well take it seriously and address it properly! Here is what I have learned and what I think I know from my experience in dealing with workplace harassment and most importantly, from speaking with women I know who have had to deal with this issue:

  • (Sexual) Harassment is NEVER just locker room talk. There is no such thing. (Sexual) harassment is wrong, should never happen, and is NEVER done as a joke. It is about power and control – that much isn’t even up for debate.
  • It takes a ton of courage for a woman to bring forward a complaint about harassment. They have suffered in silence, dealing with the issue many, many times before they summoned the courage to log a formal complaint. They often debate and decide to not say anything as they fear the repercussions of bringing a harassment complaint forward are not worth it.
  • We need more from our profession, managers and leaders because ultimately, in terms of how workplaces are defined and how harassment is handled, comes down to a leadership issue.
  • As an HR Pro, I need to be better. I need to be better at understanding the extent, depth and pervasiveness of this issue. I need to be better at how I address it. Upon some serious self-reflection over the course of my career, I think I have been guilty of being too conservative on the consequences. As HR Pros, we (present company included) need to take a stronger stance and stop worrying so much about what the harasser ‘might’ do if the punishment is too strong (especially if that includes termination). Let’s start taking a stronger stance on this issue. In our roles, we have the power to do this. Let’s use this power to create better workplaces.

At the end of the day, I am going to commit to being more aware and more cognizant of this issue. I will be better. I will work harder to be better at what I do when it comes to addressing harassment. I will admit it – I am ignorant…but I am learning. Thank you Donald Trump for making me think more about this. (Can’t believe I just wrote that.) Now…who’s with me? As always I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Flickr.com


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 – Let’s fix these things!

One of my goals as an HR Professional and HR Leader is to continue to try and elevate not only the status of our profession, but also to try and guide and provide some perspective to our upcoming HR Pros. Part of the mission of The Armchair HR Manager is to dispel some of the myths and fallacy in thinking that HR Pros have about themselves and their profession. I have written many times about what it makes to be a good HR Pro and what good HR Pros should be doing and I find each time that I do, some HR Pro reaches out to thank me for the advice and information as it has typically provided them some fresh perspective on challenges they are facing. (Mission accomplished!)

Fix ItIn that context, I wanted to lay out some things that we can, and should be doing, as HR Pros that will not only help our organizations, but elevate the status of our profession – i.e. add VALUE. Some of these may be obvious, some are easy to do and some are hard. Some are quick fixes and some are longer term solutions. The degree of all of this will vary from organization to organization and HR Pro to HR Pro. My goal is help draw your attention to these items, help you feel like you are not alone in the “fight” to bring respect to HR and hopefully the list will bring some focus and clarity to your own HR role. To that extent, I present The Armchair HR Manager’s list of stuff that HR can and needs to fix:

  1. Onboarding – simply put, this is one of the greatest areas of opportunity for most companies. If you can do anything to help improve, fix and refine this process you should be doing it. Frankly, it is horrible to think that in many companies, employees still show up for their 1st day of work and managers aren’t ready for them, the new employee has no computer access or even a place to sit/work. This is typically capped off by the new employee going to lunch by themselves – uggh.
  2. Communication – another one of the big organizational pain points we can help fix. HR Pros should always be looking for ways to improve organizational communication. Use your hidden IT skills to develop an intranet or SharePoint site. Write a weekly “letter from the President” to update staff on high level organizational stuff. Anything you can do to increase and improve communication will go a long way to enhancing your company’s brand and the status of HR in general.h
  3. Forms – if you are one those companies that have paper forms for everything, than find a way to reduce, eliminate and move online anything that has to be filled out. Get your forms developed in Adobe format and have staff complete things online. No one, and I mean no one, likes to fill out hard copy forms. This may seem trivial, but it is a big improvement!
  4. Job ads – quite simply, they suck. Stop posting job descriptions. Start describing what the person in the job will do and how they will impact things. Focus on a performance profile and less about responsibilities and qualifications. Trust me; your hiring managers will thank you for it!
  5. Supervisor/employee relations – if you have a manager or managers in your company that are acting like a**holes, call them out on it. Speak to them, coach them, work with their manager but do whatever you can to keep the spotlight and heat on managers who treat their employees like crap. If they don’t change, push your organizational leaders hard to get rid of them – you don’t need these types of cancers in your company. Here is the thing, believe me when I tell your employees ALL know who the bad managers are and they are always wondering why you aren’t doing anything about it.
  6. Harassment in general – whether from managers or peers, I am still appalled by the amount of sexual harassment and harassment in general that occurs in today’s workplaces. Despite greater awareness, “mandatory” organizational training and court awards for damages, harassment is still a MAJOR workplace issue. I am disgusted by the stories I hear of how employees are being bullied (my managers and peers), are sexually harassed or harassed due to their gender, sexual orientation or for other means. I am blown away by how employees still think it is “ok” to make inappropriate comments, touch/grab or otherwise make contact with their fellow employees or simply partake in the use of sexual innuendos. Worst of all, companies still tend to turn a blind eye to these issues, or only “try” and deal with them once they become a formal complaint. Having policies is one thing, it is all about your ACTIONS. As HR Pros, we need to FIX THIS – NOW!
  7. Confidentiality – most of all, as HR Pros, you HAVE to maintain confidentiality in your dealings with staff. No one likes or trusts an HR Pro that can’t maintain confidentiality. The most valuable currency you have is trust – don’t break/lose it. If the problem is with your managers, see point #5 above – work the manager and their supervisor and make sure they understand the impact of their actions and then coach their supervisor on holding the blabber mouth manager accountable.

What about you? Are there any other fixes that HR can provide? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Pity Party is Over

Well, I have given myself a week to get over it.  It is now time for the pity party to be over.  Time for the big boy pants to go on and for me to move forward.  Why was there even a pity party you ask?  Well it is because someone on my team quit.  They are moving on.  As HR Pros, I think we are wired to be the ones advising others on how to prevent this stuff from happening and that turnover is something that operational managers experience and not HR Managers!  I have been fortunate during my career to have experienced only a nominal amount of turnover within the groups I have managed.  I have worked with some pretty great folks and it has been some time since I lost a member of my team.  In fact, the last time that occurred was almost 7 years ago at another organization! At that time, over the course of about 18 months,  I lost two great managers who moved on to bigger roles in broader HR capacities.  As much as I hated to lose them, it was a good move for both of them.  They both left on great terms and to this day I remain in contact with them and consider them to be among the best HR Professionals I know.

Pity PartySo, back to why I was throwing a pity party.  Oh yeah, right..I was losing a valued member of my team.  I had hired “Shane” right out of school.  He came to me via an internship program whereby he spent 5 weeks with us as part of his criteria for graduating.  The internship parlayed itself into a series of contracts with Shane eventually being hired by us on a permanent basis.  This journey all started five years ago.  During that time, Shane developed personally and professionally with us.  He grew from an entry level HR Pro who was strong on knowledge but light on application, to one who had become involved with multiple HR and organizational projects.  Shane was my go to guy in terms of our HRIS. He knew that thing inside and out like nobody’s business!  Shane was also involved with spearheading many of our projects in other geographies, and over the past year, had been leading the HR function for one of our subsidiary companies.

I knew deep down that eventually I wouldn’t be able to offer Shane enough from a growth and development perspective to keep him.  Barring a rapid, major expansion of our company, I knew eventually he would want to run his own show, gain greater organizational exposure to high level projects and operate at a more strategic level – all opportunities I simply couldn’t provide in the quality and quantity that Shane needed.  It was simply one of those situations where you hire, develop and grow someone to the point in time where they need to move on to bigger and better things.  In retrospect, if Shane stayed with us he probably would have stagnated and he would have been doing himself and us a disservice by staying.  Reality is that I would have been disappointed in Shane if he chose the (comfortable) path of least resistance when it came to his career.  Upon reflection, I guess this was an inevitability after all.

So, I will set aside the fact that I hate losing good people.  I have accepted the fact that there was probably nothing more I could have done to prevent him from leaving, although there will always be that element of self-doubt.  I will move on from the fact that good people are hard to find and Shane was a good, no great, HR Pro.  I have stopped feeling sorry for myself and have (and will continue) to wish Shane all the best in new his role, knowing that his new employer is getting a great employee.  Shane will be one of those HR Pros that I remain in touch with and will consider part of my go to group.  I have thanked Shane for all that he has done for our organization and  I am now beginning to wrap my head around setting my sights on finding my next Shane….wherever he or she may be.

What about you?  Have you ever had a Shane before?  Did you throw a pity party for yourself?  How long did it last?  When you have lost a great member of your team how did you handle it? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


The HR identity crisis

Those of us in HR have an identity crisis. There, I said it. I think admitting it is the first step. Seriously though, everywhere you read, go, hear, etc. all you hear about is that HR needs to be more strategic. HR needs to add value. HR needs to have a seat at the table. HR has to be a “business partner.” Oh my god – it is enough to make my head hurt. The more HR professionals I speak with, the more I believe we are truly in a crisis situation with our professional identities. Well, maybe “crisis” is a strong word; let’s just say we are in a precarious situation.

We have to keep in mind that there a couple of distinct groups in the HR profession. There are those HR Pros that are part of larger corporate teams – i.e. upwards of 15-20 HR staff in a given HR department. Then there are the HR “departments” of one or two individuals. Both groups have similar challenges with their professional identity, yet both have some different ones. The HR profession has been making a successful move, in larger groups, to establish “centres of excellence” (COE’s) and shared services groups. Essentially, transactional items like payroll and benefits administration have either been outsourced or established as part of a leaner, shared services group. Likewise, many corporations have also made the move to shift recruiting out of HR and make it its own stand-alone function – again, leaner and meaner. The end result is that now HR is supposed to have all this time to be “strategic” and move forward with all kinds of strategic HR projects that will allow our companies to be the next Google.

600px-Hello_my_name_is_sticker_svgFor smaller companies and/or HR departments with only one or two people, there is nothing to move away or outsource. These smaller departments have to do it all – process payroll, administer benefits, recruit/hire, onboard, etc. So are they any less strategic than their peers in other companies that don’t have to do these transactional or seemingly trivial items? I say seemingly because it is us (HR) as a profession that uses these labels to diminish the work that we do – not our operations clients.

The funny thing is, if you ask the managers and employees of your company what they feel is the most important thing that you do, I bet they could care less about your strategic HR project. They want to get paid on time and accurately and they want to make sure they get their performance review and pay increase on time. If you can make that happen, I bet they feel you are being pretty darn strategic!

Seriously though, my point is this. HR pros have to stop diminishing the work that they do. The main thing is that you need to make sure you always apply a forward thinking (strategic) approach to your HR practice as a whole. That is, if you are applying a continuous improvement mindset to your practice (i.e. figuring out ways to save the company money, improve a process, free up company resources, etc.) than you are being strategic. If you are coaching managers to become better leaders, or if you are working diligently with your leadership team to ensure your performance system is helping to effectively engage employees in the achievement and reward of meeting their goals, than you are being strategic. If you are keeping abreast of the latest changes in employment law and occupational health and safety legislation, thereby ensuring your company has the necessary programs, practices, policies, etc. in place in order to be compliant, than you are being strategic. Finally, if you are doing things like keeping on top of social media changes and coming up with a plan on how to leverage SoMe in your recruiting practices and making sure your LinkedIn company page is active and relevant and providing your company with an active talent pipeline, than you are being strategic.

So HR Pros, my message to you is this. Give yourselves a break. For many of you, what you are doing now IS strategic. This profession of ours is a journey, not a destination. Make sure you aren’t being the policy police – that is most definitely NOT strategic. However, if you are applying a business lens to everything you do, that is, you are making sure your HR practice aligns with business goals, than you are well on your way to being strategic. If what you are doing is helping to find qualified people, reduce turnover, reduce absenteeism or is essentially solving some sort of problem your business is facing – than you are being strategic. Now, go get yourself a coffee, you deserve it!

What about you? Do you think HR is too hard on itself with this whole “strategic” identity crisis? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Do as I say, not do as I do!

As the parent of a young child, I find that I have to catch myself from time to time as I fall into the trap of setting this (bad) example with my daughter. Try as I might, I don’t always set the best example and revert to this poor parental style of telling her to not emulate what I just said/did and that she should be behaving in a different matter. As a parent, I know better. I know I need to set an example for my daughter. I know I need to model the appropriate behaviours for her – treat others with respect, no yelling, put my “toys” away, etc. I know what the rules are, but quite frankly, if I want to bend them or break them, than that is my prerogative because I am the parent. I am the one in charge; I pay the mortgage and the bills, etc. and it is different, because, well, I am the parent! My daughter understands that…right? Sure………

Parent scoldingThis is no different when it comes to our role(s) as HR professionals. We are the ones that make up the rules (write policy), craft wonderful employee handbooks, development retention programs and coach other managers on how they need to better motivate and engage their staff. So in a lot of ways, HR takes on the role of the parent in many organizations – whether right or wrong. The interesting thing, that I have come to find out, is that often we don’t always follow the advice we give out or model the examples that we profess others need to follow.

This really came to light for me a couple of weeks ago when I was having lunch with some HR colleagues. Several of us had begun strategic planning for 2014 and a lot of discussion centered on recruiting challenges, the talent/skills shortage, etc. There was a lot of grumbling and complaining about how their operations partners just don’t seem to get that there is a skills shortage and that they are always looking for ideal candidates – i.e. they must have x number of years’ experience in a certain role/industry. There was a lot of angst being expressed by my colleagues about how organizations needed to get more focused on developing their own people and providing them with the skills they need for future roles AND they then need to give them an opportunity (take a chance) to show they can perform in these roles. As true HR pros, we got into the whole debate of build vs. buy approaches to talent. The whole conversation turned quite constructive and proactive (after the initial grumbling subsided!).

Things got really interesting when we started to discuss succession management in our own HR departments. When we started talking about whether or not we had people ready to replace us or replace our HR Managers, to a person, the responses were along the lines of, “that is a big challenge,” “I have no one that is even near ready to take on my role or my HR Manager’s role,” “I would have to recruit externally to fill my role,” etc. You get the point – as a group, we all spoke about the need to educate our organizations on the realities of today’s workforce and how we need to get rid of thinking of people as needing x years of experience before they can take on a “next level up” job.

The HR group, as a whole, was adamant their company’s needed to get better at developing their people and preparing them so they could step up into higher level positions so there wasn’t always a need to go to market. Yet, when it came time to apply that thinking to our own HR departments, everything we said we believed in we chucked out the window. Because we were HR, the rules didn’t apply. Because HR is different and the skills are so specialized and unique we couldn’t possibly develop our people to the level we need them to. Due the nature of our roles, we couldn’t be expected to “take a chance” on someone. We needed that person to have 8+ years of experience as an HR Manager in the I.T. industry before they could take on that role. That is why HR would have to recruit externally. Operations needed to focus more internally, but HR was an exception – really!?

Talk about a classic case of do as I say not do as I do. It is that type of thinking and approach that causes HR to lose credibility with its clients and business partners. If want to lead in our organizations, than we need to lead by example. We need to model the behaviours that we expect from our organizations. HR needs to walk the talk and be the role model. If we want credibility, this is how we earn it. So let us be the one that develops our people and puts someone in a next level up role because they have demonstrated they have the knowledge, skills and abilities to achieve the outcomes required. Let’s shift the paradigm and stop thinking of people as needing x years of experience in abc industry to do the job. Let’s take a “chance” – something that is very counterintuitive to HR!

What about you? Have you seen examples in your organizations where HR falls into the “do as I say, not do as I do” trap? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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