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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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Hi, my name is Scott and I work in HR

If I used this line at a dinner party, networking event or at any other social event, the eye rolling would start and I am almost certain that I would be met with a series of passive, “oh, hi’s.” Bottom line, no one would be all that interested in meeting and speaking with me if that was how I approached them. Funny thing, in our everyday jobs in HR, we as HR Pros do this all the time. Perhaps not quite as blatant and awkward as this, but we still use this approach when trying to work with our internal clients. Quite often we are the awkward kid at school who is trying to integrate into social circles.   Instead of identifying ways we can add value to the business, we like to remind our clients what our function is – like it is some sort of security blanket for us. We do this as if HR is some sort of oversight function through which operations must obtain approval before making business decisions…as if. Which begs the question, “Why do we do this?”

Hello

I got inspired to write more about this topic based on the thought provoking blog post that my colleague, Sabrina Baker, wrote last week related to her speaking engagement at the California HR conference. Sabrina wrote about Moving from HR Leader to Business Leader.” You can read her post here and as is her custom, she also supplied her slide deck here. You should check them out and give her a follow. The point(s) of hers that really stuck out to me though were the following where she wrote:

“It isn’t enough these days to be an HR leader, we need to be business leaders. We need to understand the business as well as every other leader. We need to know finance, marketing and sales as well as the individuals running those teams. We need to be able to speak and understand the lingo. We need to know how decisions impact the business and how to create people strategies that help achieve the business strategies.

And we need to do it all without asking for permission.”

As HR Pros, we should all read that last line again. “…we need to do it all without asking for permission.” So here is the thought that I want to piggyback on to Sabrina’s writing. Let’s stop introducing ourselves as the girl or guy who works in HR. No one cares. No one is impressed by that statement. Why don’t we start introducing ourselves as a problem solver? We need to stop thinking of ourselves as an internal department and think of ourselves as internal consultants. If we were consultants, we would HAVE to add value and solve problems; otherwise, we wouldn’t be in business. As a department, we tend to get a bit lazy and assume that because we are a department, people HAVE to use us…wrong!

So, as consultants and problem solvers, let’s start introducing ourselves as such. To Sabrina’s point, we have to stop asking for permission to do this and just go ahead and DO IT. How do you think your role will be received at work the next time you try one of these lines: (exaggeration and simplicity done for dramatic impact purposes)

“Hi, my name is Jane/John and I can help solve your resource issues by_____”

“I would like to propose a solution to your succession challenge”

“I have an idea on how to reduce your labour costs by introducing a contingent workforce plan”

“I have identified a low cost solution on how we can easily implement a mentoring program in your department to help with your skills shortage.”

Any one of these is a great opening line at a work party, I mean, as a work conversation. Your internal clients will be much more receptive if they see you as a solutions provider and not some bureaucratic department. Here is the beauty of all this, you don’t need to ask for permission to do this! (Thanks Sabrina!) Be a leader, go forward and just do it! You won’t get in trouble. Really…you won’t. It’s ok. Take the first step. Try introducing yourself differently. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Maialisa/Pixabay.com

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

Strategy is Crap

As part of my ongoing platform to help HR Pros focus on what is important, I wanted to take another stab at this whole “strategic” thing. As many of you know, I really get riled up about HR Pros always talking about the need to be “more strategic” and how they don’t feel as though they are adding value as an HR Pro if they aren’t being “strategic.” Truth of the matter is, would we even know if were being strategic if we were actually being strategic? Whoa…think about that!

Dog wasteAny who, my point is this – any company and/or department can have strategic plans. There are tons of companies out there that have developed great strategies for how they will grow and deliver their product or service. They spend days/weeks/months cobbling together beautiful PowerPoint presentations, hardbound strategy books and awesome spreadsheets in support of their strategy. At the end of the day, these strategies mean nothing if your culture is crap.

What I am getting at is that the more important, albeit more time consuming, focus for HR Pros and their company’s needs to be on improving their organizational culture. Think about it – you have a great strategic plan to grow your business by adding new product or service lines this year. All of which are predicated on having the right people in place. However, you have such a poor organizational culture that you are turning over 35% of your staff each year and your quality metrics are crap. Good luck executing on that strategic “plan.”

You want real change that will help support and grow the business? Then focus on culture. As an HR Pro, you want to add real value to your company? Take on the challenge of trying to change your organizational culture. If you need to focus organizationally on more of a quality mindset – then help lead the charge to make this shift. Apply your change management abilities and truly add value as a business partner. Need to shift to more of a performance management mindset? Be at the forefront of leading that change, working with managers and employees to shift their thinking and mindset and really try and make a difference.

Here is the thing – driving a culture change/shift is harder and takes longer then developing “strategy.” Don’t be fooled into thinking that developing a bunch of strategic plans will make you a better HR Pro or more valued. That is total rubbish – sink your teeth into something that really makes a difference. Once you have the right culture in place, you can then focus on your strategic plans because without the right supporting culture, strategy is crap. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of artur84/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

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