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Titles do matter…especially in HR!

For some reason, I have taken up the “title cause” in HR! Not because I believe that titles are the be all and end all, but because I believe one’s title has a major impact on how that person’s role/function is initially perceived. Just to be clear, at the end of the day, it all comes down to how one builds relationships and executes in their role; however, it is only fair that we all start off on equal and fair footing. The worse culprits for providing underwhelming and negative role impacting titles to their people are, are you ready for it…HR Professionals!

consulting-image

Yup, you got it, the very people that conduct job evaluations, define compensation practices, develop and promote employment branding and help improve employee relations are the ones that eat their own! HR Pros are the worst at what they call their own people and often don’t give enough thought as to the impact of the titles they bestow upon their people. Keep in mind, titles don’t cost you anything so why do we “cheap out” on them? Now, I am not talking about calling someone who does administrative support work in HR an HR Manager or anything, but why do we come up with horrible titles that further give our operations clients a reason to believe we don’t or can’t add any value?

You see, if you work in the average HR department, you are probably facing a somewhat uphill battle to have the position respected, valued and appreciated for what it does and for what YOU as an HR Pro can do. Yes, we have come a long was as a profession, but we still have that much further to go. Building off of the theme I wrote about last week and was inspired by based on my colleague Sabrina Baker’s writing, we have to stop asking for permission to do things. So let’s start by not asking for permission about what we call ourselves. I have written about this title thing in HR before here and here; however, I will state it one more time – let’s stop calling ourselves “Business Partners.” No other function refers to itself as a business partner unless they have an inferiority complex. Also, the title of “HR Generalist” has to go. (What do you “generally” do here? Well, I “generally” do HR work…except when I don’t) I firmly believe the entry point for front line HR work should be the title of HR Consultant. Boom! There it is.

What typically happens or what do people think of when your company hires consultants? Subject matter experts? Experienced people in their field? Highly educated? Competent? High priced advice? Does your company usually follow the advice of consultants? (More often than not the answer is yes.) How is that any different then what we as HR Pros do now? We are all internal consultants (except for maybe the high priced part.) But as HR Pros, we, as a group, are highly educated, subject matter experts in our field and we provide expert advice in our respected competency areas. Better yet, we are internal so we know the business better than any external person ever could!

As I indicated in my post last week, if we changed our mindset and acted like we were true consultants, we would HAVE to add value and solve problems; otherwise, we wouldn’t be in business. So, as HR Pros, if we were called Consultants and acted like Consultants, we would have to demonstrate value to our clients and to our department. We need to take on a “billable hours” mindset. We should be prospecting with our internal clients and advising them (and delivering) on ways to find them better people faster, improve their retention rates, develop succession plans for them, find ways to help them keep their best talent and improve their employee relations so they can deliver a better product or service to their customer.

Don’t ask for permission to do this. Start to change your titles and your mindset immediately. Get out there and consult the hell out of your operations clients and drive up those non-billable billable hours! Remember, we don’t generally partner with the business…we CONSULT! (Said in my best Marty Kaan voice.) As always, I welcome your comments and feedback…especially about House of Lies

Image courtesy of geralt/Pixbay.com

 

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Going to the well once too often

Have you ever heard of the saying, “They went to the well once too often”? It is a 14th century saying that basically means that one shouldn’t repeat a risky action too often or push their luck too far. Unfortunately I have seen this expression play out when it comes to talent and performance management in the workplace. Organizations/managers tend to go to the well once too often with their best people.

Goint to the wellHere’s what I mean – in any given organization, somewhere between 10%-30% of your employees are your top performers or your “best.” The rest of your talent is somewhere between average to good with a small percentage of your staff that are “not quite cutting it.” Those are completely unscientific facts based simply on years of HR work experience; however, since this is my blog, I am allowed to make up stats! I do feel confident that most people would probably agree that if you were managing a department of 10 – 20 people, about 3-6 of them are your “go to” folks. So there you have it, the math works!

Here is the danger in what I have seen/dealt with in my experience. During tough times or boom times (the approach tends to be the same during both) organizations tend to over rely on their best people. Instead of “stretching” their average to good performers, or god forbid, culling and replacing their poor performers, they tend to heap more responsibilities on their best people. Companies and managers tend to continue to push and ask for more and more from their best folks. They take performance excellence for granted. Why do they do this? Because their best people continue to deliver!

You see, those elite folks that you have are driven by a desire to succeed. They never want to fail and they take great pride in their professional brand. However, this approach to mis-managing top talent this way comes with a cost. Sure, you will have a few of your best folks that will be vocal about things. They will be loud and clear about how unhappy they are with the current situation. Most will suffer in silence though. They will put on the brave face as they continue to work more and more hours. They might politely ask for help/more resources or they might possibly express some veiled concern about not being able to deliver. Most won’t say anything though. They will soldier on through. There might be more requests for vacation days and/or sick days as they try and recoup and recharge for the continued onslaught of demands. Most managers won’t clue into this though as they will be too busy continuing to add to the work demands and show their leaders that “they” can deliver.

Beware though – there is a tipping point. You can’t continue to go to the well time and time again with your best people. You see, your best people have options. They can get other jobs. They can and will leave. They don’t have to put up with the incessant demands and unrealistic expectations. Your poor to average performers – they will stay because they usually don’t have options or at least not as many options. If your best talent leaves, are you going to ask more of your poorer performing employees? I doubt it and if the answer was “yes,” then why aren’t you asking for more now instead of jeopardizing the retention of your best folks?

At the very least, in the short term, you had best be rewarding and compensating your best people for their ongoing extra efforts. You can rest assured, that if they have done all the heaving lifting for a 6-12 month stretch (or longer) and all that is in it for them is a 2.5% raise, then you won’t have them for much longer! Don’t go to that (top talent) well once too often. Recognize the warning signs, performance manage the low performers and “stretch” your average to good performers. Those that excel will become part of your elite talent group. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com/Tom Sodoge

It All Takes Time

Inherently, I am not a patient person. My mother reminds me of this all the time. She thinks it has something to do with the fact that I was born premature and that I had some burning desire to get on with life at an early age! Regardless, it is a character flaw that I am aware of and have worked hard on, especially professionally, to improve.

When I first got into HR, I wanted to set the world on fire with all my new ideas that involved developing and/or implement cutting edge HR programs and initiatives. Pretty quickly you realize that the real world doesn’t work that way and in fact, most of your “great ideas” are actually pretty stupid. At least looking back on mine, I can say that they were!

Time WatchAs I matured in my career, I learned to take more time to think things through and develop/recommend “things” that would lead to longer term gains and sustainability for the organizations that I worked for. To this day though, I still find it hard to cultivate and “wait” for the fruits of mine/our labour. When we do something that is aimed at improving retention, dammit, I want to see the results like, now!

So, because I know I carry this flaw around with me, I constantly focus on trying to be patient with the “growth” of great HR initiatives, mostly so I am not too quick to judge them as being successes or failures! So having said that, I think I am now qualified to advise younger HR practitioners on how/why they need to be patient with things because it all takes time!

Case in point with my current organization, we had identified 2+ years ago that an area we needed to focus on was employee recognition. Our survey feedback, focus groups, stay interviews, exit interviews and casual conversations all “told” us that recognition was important to our staff and that we needed to make improvements in this area. So, we set about to improve all things related to recognition. Initially, we made the mistake coming out of the gate by tackling this as a “program” or initiative. While we made some short term gains by doing it this way, it became obvious that the sustainability factor just wasn’t going to be there.

So, we ended going back to the problem as redefined it as being a need to shift our culture and our way thinking. Simply put, we needed to instill a culture of recognition throughout our entire organization. Easier said than done! As with any culture shift, it takes time…far more than this impatient guy was ever used to! However, we had a dedicated core group of believers that knew this was the right way to go and were emotionally invested in making the shift happen. Yes, it involved the development of “materials” to support this; however, the real change came about working directly with managers, providing training, constant communication with all employees and above else, accountability. We were all accountable for making this culture shift happen.

What is the moral of the story? For us HR folks, it is all about recognizing the problem at hand. Typically, the solution is not a new HR program or initiative. Quite likely, it is about changing attitudes, behaviours and culture. Programs and initiatives are quick, short term hits/wins. They feel good in the moment, like we have done something tangible, but they often have little sustainability. Culture shifts take a lot longer to achieve but the payoff is huge. Over two years has passed since we truly set about trying to make this culture change and we can now see it paying dividends as the needle has finally moved. Recognition HAS become part of our culture. Our employee surveys and retention data show this to be true. Do we need to continue to improve, adapt, adopt, modify and get better? You bet we do…it just takes time. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Niklas Rhose/Unsplash.com

Lead through, not in front of

Many years ago, when I was first starting out in HR, I received some great advice from a former boss of mine that has resonated throughout my entire career. She said to me, “in order to truly be effective, HR should be seen as being an understated function in its approach.” It took several years after getting that advice for the message to really sink in. Hey, I was only 25 at the time – I thought I knew everything!

As my career evolved, I not only tried to apply that advice to my HR practice (functionally) but also in my role as a (HR) leader. In fact, I try (notice I say, ‘try’) to not be “the guy” out in front of things all the time. The younger me liked the spotlight and always wanted it to be known that it was “my idea” or that I was “in charge” – whatever the hell that meant. As I matured (grew up) I learned that I could have greater success as a leader by leading through people as opposed to standing in front of them. In fact, I would probably say I became more comfortable and effective as a leader by learning to lead through others.

Leading through others

As an HR Pro and HR Leader, I try to be the person/department that helps enables key organizational activity and results through our people and managers. I firmly believe that by focusing my HR practice on being an enabling function, it truly places HR in its proper organizational role. Ultimately, any people solutions that we come up with will only be successful if understood and accepted as truly being a solution to a problem by our operations clients. This way, they become the ones that “own” the solution and are the ones in front of their people discussing why the latest, trendy HR initiative is a good thing for the company. I am being a bit facetious here but you get my point.

This entire concept really came full circle for me the other day as I was trying to dispense this very advice to a colleague (non-HR). As part of a cross functional team that is responsible for leading/driving an organizational change initiative, we came to a bit of a loggerhead as to how things should be executed at a front line operational level. I felt strongly that the team should help “enable” the change and our role would be to lead the change through others (i.e. Operations Directors/Managers). She felt the change was best led and driven by our change team, that is, we should be the ones at the podium (so to speak) discussing the change, speaking to the employees, being an ear for them and helping them understand the change.

My feeling was that we would hinder our success if we were positioned or seen as the group “in charge” of this. There was no need for us to be in front of this – we needed to lead through others. In this case, the “others” were our other organizational leaders whom, without their support, could cause this change initiative to not be successful. There was no doubt in my mind that if something was imposed on them without their involvement and without given them an opportunity to be leaders (and have us perceived as managing their people) this simply would not work.

As leaders, we have to check our ego at the door. Leading through others is NOT some sort of passive admission that we are poor leaders. As a leader, you have to be confident enough in your own abilities and know that you can effect change (and lead) without being “front and centre” on something. Leadership is NOT about your own personal pride, agenda, ego or self-recognition. It is about empowering others to take action because they want to and not because you “told” them to.

So, while my advice here applies to leaders in general, my hope is that my HR audience truly takes this to heart in their own HR practice(s) and that they focus on leading through others. I feel confident that if you take this approach, you will realize even greater success as an HR Pro and as an organizational leader. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of sheelamohan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“HR – what are they good for?”

Unfortunately this was a quote I heard recently while shopping at my local grocery store. This was a large store which is part of an even larger chain of national stores. I overhead this conversation that two employees were having while working the fresh meal counter – the one that serves fresh, on the go lunch meals and basically competes with fast food outlets for business.

The conversation, from what I can tell, centered on the frustration that one employee was having about getting some issue resolved with their shift and subsequent pay – presumably as it pertained to company policy. They were looking for some guidance and support from HR in getting it resolved. I could tell from the conversation that their past experiences in going to HR for help were less than positive so they didn’t anticipate that this experience would be any different, hence the reason (I assumed) that they made that comment.

Stop Bad Habits

So, me, being the nosy HR person that I am and wanting to know the reason for this anti-HR sentiment quipped up with a, “why won’t you talk to HR and how come you feel this way about them?” Because I asked this in my usual (cough, ahem) charming way, the employees decided to actually answer me! In fact, they were only too happy to share their views on HR! Let’s see, I would summarize their feelings as follows:

  • HR is a faceless/nameless entity
  • HR doesn’t care about the employees, they feel they are only a nuisance
  • HR isn’t there to help them
  • It takes too long to get an answer out of HR and most things aren’t worth the fight
  • Half of the time HR doesn’t even know the answer to their question!
  • HR is basically incompetent

WOW! Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the profession is it? In the spirit of full disclosure, I told them that I work in HR for another company and was curious about their take on HR as, unfortunately, I hear this sentiment more often than I would like. They indicated that their feeling is simply more of a frustration of dealing with a faceless, nameless entity that simply doesn’t seem to be there to support them or answer their questions…nothing more, nothing less. They, along with many of their co-workers, were yet to have a “positive” experience with their HR department.

What a shame that our profession still has that, sometimes earned, reputation. How would you feel if employees in your organization described your HR department as being “useless?” If you were to anonymously poll employees at your company, what percent would say that HR doesn’t care about the employees, or isn’t there to help them? I worry it may be more then you/we realize.

I think that as a profession we need to take a serious look at these questions. Present company included, we all need to make sure we aren’t too comfortable in any ivory towers we have built and truly make sure we are positioning our HR departments in the proper way. It would kill me to hear employees in any company I worked for describe the HR department in any negative way, but the thing is you don’t know what you don’t know. So, I think we need to make sure we are always asking employees these questions and that we are prepared to hear the answer and improve accordingly. Let’s make sure that we are there to listen, advise and act when appropriate. Let’s help ENABLE our employees to be successful in their jobs – that is OUR job.

As is part of my HR stump speech, we are all in this together. HR Pros, let’s make sure we continue to unite as a profession and stamp out these negative perceptions that employees have of our profession. Better yet, let’s make sure we are not perpetuating the perceptions by engaging in the type of activity that causes employees’ to feel negatively about HR! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/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

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