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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


HR, Football & Hugs

Not the typical title for one of my posts but it pretty much captures what I experienced today at the HRPA 2016 conference. I was one of the crazy fools who got up early to attend a 7am session (good thing the body was still on Atlantic Time!) I am really glad that I did. The speaker was Mike “Pinball” Clemons. Mike is a former professional football player who played and later coached the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Mike is a great example of how “the little guy” can still make it in a big man’s game.

The beauty of Mike’s talk today was that he was able to talk a little bit about football and tie it all in with a lot about HR and people. Mike’s energetic and engaging style quickly grabbed my attention – as well as his propensity for dishing out hugs to anyone and everybody (Tim Sackett are you listening?) Mike’s message to HR was that we are in an incredible position to display servant leadership. In fact, one of his best quote’s from today was, “good HR is the best medicine for any organization.” When you really think about that, he is right. If we as HR Pros are doing our jobs well and providing effective servant leadership, we ARE good medicine for our organizations…we can fix what ails our companies!

Mike ClemonsMike did a great job connecting everyday challenges to what we do as HR Pros. He did, however, make one comment that absolutely struck a chord with me – more on that in a second. During his speech, Mike spoke a lot about the value of teamwork and how HR needs to lead and model the way in terms of organizational teamwork and showing the impact it has on our companies. He also spoke a lot about how HR should never forget that it is there for the people and to support those that can’t support themselves. His specific quote that really got me was:

“Our success (as organizations and HR Professionals) is directly proportional with the real or perceived (work) experience of the most marginalized person in our company”

When you think about that for a minute, he is absolutely right. When we look at what we do as servant leaders in our companies and the “value” we provide as HR Pros, we need to evaluate our success by looking at the experience of the most marginalized person (people) in our companies. Here is the thing, unless you are some major conglomerate, you know who this persons/people is/are. We just have to open, honest and objective about taking a real hard look at their real or perceived work experience.   How are they treated? Are they listened to? Do they have a voice? Do they experience equity in their job?

At the end of the day, we need to take a hard look at ourselves and evaluate and determine what our level of organizational and HR success is. If the overall work experience of our most marginalized employee is still a positive one, then rest assured you are being successful as an organization and as an HR Pro. Of course, the opposite is painfully true. We may think we are doing AWESOME HR work, but if our most marginalized employees are having negative work experiences, then we are not successful…and yes, it is that simple to evaluate.

So for me, the message hit home today…and hard. I need to be a better HR Pro. I need to take a hard look in the mirror at myself, my HR practice, my company and our employees. I need to objectively ask myself what is their real or perceived work experience like? Are we being as equitable as we can be? Am I leading the way with servant leadership? Am I making this about me…or them? Am I finding a way to make things happen and effect change? Am I leading with kindness? Am I starting with the heart? Am I finding a way? Mike, thanks for making me look at myself and for challenging me to be a better HR Pro. For all of us as HR Pros, let’s try and use this as our barometer of success moving forward:

“Our success (as organizations and HR Professionals) is directly proportional with the real or perceived (work) experience of the most marginalized person in our company”

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

My bold HR prediction for 2016

As we are now at the beginning of another year, it is pretty en vogue for bloggers to write about predictions and trends for the coming year. Since mid-December last year, I must have read about 20 odd articles/blog posts that predict what we will see in 2016 from an HR perspective. The content covers the spectrum from speculating about the demise of the performance review (never going to happen) to the importance of analytics in the success of HR Professionals (take a drink if you have heard the word analytics at a conference recently or read about it in a blog post!).

Personally, if we want to get into predictions, I am going to go way out there and make a BOLD prediction for 2016. I predict that 2016 will be the year that HR, as a profession, finally gets its sh*t in a sock (or is it poop in a group?) and starts REALLY advocating and leading for better employee/employer relations. Translation – we need to start stamping out all the crappy leadership practices and discriminatory actions that we are seeing and hearing about. So, that is my bold prediction. HR finally becomes the voice of the business that speaks up and does something about what is ailing positive employee relations.

Over the course of the last couple of years (in particular) as much we as HR Pros like to focus on all kinds of sexy new programs and strategies (present company included), there are other, more important issues that require our attention. As much as it pains me to hear the stories, the work environments of today are still fraught with the old boys club mentality. There are still pay equity problems. Workplace discrimination and harassment occur far more than it ever should and is more rampant than anyone wants to admit. The most qualified people don’t always get the job or promotion. Hiring Managers still hire people that “look” like them. Too many managers play favourites (and not based on performance) and make life miserable for no reason for too many employees. Sr. leadership teams and management positions are still often void of any type of diversity.


We know this to be true but perhaps we either forget or ignore the issue because it means we (HR Pros) haven’t been doing as good a job as we can do. Maybe it’s because we simply can’t come to terms with the fact these issues should not be as prevalent as they are in today’s workplace yet here we are.

So, my prediction for 2016 is that HR Pros will rise up and speak out/take action against these issues and advocate for more positive employee relations. Other than heads of organizations, no other organizational role is more equipped to do this then us. We want credibility as a role and as a profession, so let’s seize the moment and show what great HR Pros can do! I predict that this grassroots movement will start to happen, not only because it makes good business sense, but because IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. Agree/disagree? Make a comment below. As always, I welcome your feedback.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Workplace Investigations – Lessons Learned from Deflategate

I tried resisting the urge to capitalize on the sensationalism of the NFL’s “Deflategate” scandal but I couldn’t resist. It is an absolutely fascinating news and sports story, and as an HR Pro, the parallels between what is happening with the NFL and this investigation and what occurs in the workplace are just too obvious to ignore. If you want to know more than you ever need to know about the actualy NFL story, just Google “Deflategate; NFL, Wells Report.”

Football deflatedIf you can’t be bothered to read the thousands of articles on this, here are the salient points from my perspective (full disclosure – I am a diehard New England Patriots fan):

  • There was a complaint brought forward by a team in the NFL (National Football League), that another team (The New England Patriots) was cheating. The allegations were that the Patriots were using underinflated footballs (i.e. below the league mandated minimum PSI).
  • The league conducted a combination of a ‘sting’ operation and an all-out investigation into the matter which included interviewing league officials (from the game in question), New England Patriost support staff members (ball boys) and the quarterback of the Patriots, Tom Brady.
  • The league hired a (supposed) neutral third party investigator to investigate the alleged cheating. The investigator, (Ted Wells), after an almost 4 month investigation, wrote his report on the matter and determined that it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots and their QB cheated.
  • Based on the report, the league heavily fined the Patriots organization, stripped them of two key draft picks (currency in the NFL) and suspended their quarterback/star employee, Tom Brady, for 4 games (25% of the upcoming season).
  • The entire situation has now turned into a circus as the Patriots are appealing the sanctions; Tom Brady is appealing the suspension (which is his right as a unionized employee under the CBA) and is also threatening to take legal action against the league for defamation of character (as he has outright denied any and all alleged cheating.) In general, the league and its Commissioner (Roger Goodell) are being scrutinized in some circles for acting so harshly on the inconsistencies of the report, their inconsistencies in handing out punishment to players in general and how they went about the entire investigatory process. Bottom line – the very fabric of the league is being questioned.

Now, whether you are a fan or not of the Patriots or football in general, there are a lot of lessons to be learned here by organizations and their HR folks. Similar situations can and do play out in the workplace like this all the time. Typically the complaints are for things like conduct issues – harassment/sexual harassment and code of conduct violations like theft, time theft, etc. Most times, HR is called in to get to the bottom of the situation and make a determination as to what happened. So, based on lessons learned from past experience AND from how the NFL and Ted Wells have handled things, here are some tips on how to handle your own (potential) workplace investigation:

  1. When conducting an investigation, make sure that the investigator is neutral. That is, if HR was involved initially with the matter, (i.e. dealt with previous conduct issues involving the parties in question) you should hire a 3rd party investigator to handle an official complaint, say, of harassment. The NFL used an investigator that they had used on a previous investigation (Bountygate) whose approach and the results thereof were questioned by many of the league’s players and owners.
  2. Be clear as to what the purpose and outcome is of the investigation. That is, it should be to determine if there was any wrong doing or any violation of a policy, human rights or labour law. The organization and its investigator need to be completely transparent in their objectives and approach. You can’t enter the investigation with a particular bias or slant in terms of the outcome you are looking for or are hoping for. The only outcome you are looking for is the truth which is hopefully based on facts.
  3. As it pertains to harassment investigations, you cannot overlook anything that the complainant or defendant brings up, whether before, during or after the investigation. That is, if someone identifies an additional piece of information that corroborates their story, or identifies a new “witness” to the events, the investigator has an obligation to meet with these identified employees and not overlook or throw out the ‘evidence.’
  4. As an investigator, it is acceptable to use words like “reasonable”, “probable”, and “lack of credibility” in your report. However, they must be linked to facts and findings that you have uncovered and not based on “gut feeling.” Additionally, you must maintain your credibility and objectivity by not “leading” witnesses and respondents. It is not your job to place doubt in their mind about what they remembered or have seen. It is ok to ask additional probing questions or if there are inconsistencies in their story, you can repeat what they said, tell them you are confused and then ask them to “help you understand” a bit better. Let them do the talking and you as the investigator do the listening.
  5. When it comes to workplace investigations, HR and/or the investigator, have to come to some sort of a conclusion, based on its investigation, whenever possible and practicable. If there is direct evidence (witnesses, video recording, and employee admittance) we can come to a probable conclusion of a violation. If there is conflicting information, conflicting witnesses, etc., we still may be able to come to a conclusion based on a balance of probabilities approach all of which must be based on key findings…not opinions.
  6. When it comes to potential punishment, we also have to keep in mind that Canadian law demands a more nuanced approach to the employer’s response vs. “zero tolerance.” This requires us to balance the conflicting interests of the complainant and respondent and come to a conclusion and recommendation.
  7. When looking at points #5 and #6, HR has to factor in things like the previous history of the complainant and the respondent. Has the complainant ever made false claims before? Has the respondent ever been disciplined for conduct and/or related issues before? What is the credibility and history like of the witnesses for both parties? What is the organizational culture like? Is there culpability on the company’s part? Has the company allowed a “relaxed” approach to its rules and how they have dealt with conduct issues? Has a particular supervisor been lax in managing issues similar to this? Have they created a poor work culture and the respondent/defendant is only partially to blame? In essence, is their joint culpability here?
  8. Based on the finding and recommendations in the report summary, is the discipline that is handed out consistent with what has been done in the past and/or does it align with organizational policies? All of these things need to be considered in order to maintain the credibility and integrity of the investigation, the investigator and the organizational reputation.

As you can tell by this list, workplace investigations are pretty tricky and must be handled with the utmost of care. Unless you work for a public organization, your investigations won’t be open to as much public scrutiny as the NFL’s are, that is, unless you are sued or a human rights complaint is filed against you. If this happens, your investigation has to pass the sniff test to make sure you followed points 1-8 above.

The NFL could have saved themselves a lot of current and future pain by following some of these points. They should have hired a different investigator, one who hadn’t handled a recent complaint against players. Instead of conducting a sting operation into the alleged rules violation, in other words, let’s try and catch them doing it and then investigate, they could have simply “coached” the team(s) and its player(s) on what the rules were and how to conduct themselves. Think about that for a minute, in the workplace, if a harassment complaint is brought forward, do we then try and catch the alleged harasser in the act before we investigate!? No, so why did the NFL act this way? At the very least, they should have investigated right away and concluded the investigation much sooner. In the workplace, taking 4 months to investigate a harassment complaint will never fly!

Finally, the league should have taken into consideration the player’s previous history (Tom Brady). That is, he has never been investigated and/or subject to any league discipline of any type before. There was no actual evidence found linking him to a rules violation so instead, the investigator placed their own interpretation on what they found instead of letting the evidence “talk” and drawing conclusions from the facts.

The final punishment was very inconsistent with what the league had done in similar matters in the past. This is an especially egregious mistake as the league had created its own culture issue of looking the other way in similar matters and/or coming down lightly on previous rule and conduct violators. Their prior history of serious public missteps in dealing with previous conduct/personal conduct issues may have been one reason for why their punishment deviated from past applications. In this case, the league has decided to treat this case of alleged rule violations similar to how they (finally) treated other previous conduct issues like domestic violence. The inconsistencies are appalling and if any business handled itself this way, it would find a series of scathing reviews on GlassDoor (at a minimum) and probably a host of Human Rights complaints and civil suits being launched against it. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of frankieleon/Flickr.com

What’s the point in appointing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

5 signs of Organizational Anarchy

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, anarchy is defined as “a state in which there is widespread wrongdoing and disregard for rules and authority.” Now, in order to context this, just substitute the word “business” for “state” in that definition and voila – organizational anarchy. I am sure many of you have or do experience this on a regular basis. I know some of my closest friends and colleagues sure have based on the number of “after hours” calls I have received since the start of 2013 in particular! Now, I am not just talking about your run of the mill complaints about silly policies, bureaucratic tendencies or redundant form filling out angst. I am talking about solid professionals, really smart, switched on types, dealing with total organizational anarchy.

ChaosNow, with all things, there are varying degrees of anarchy – from the “lesser” evils of ignoring basic policies, playing favourites, etc. to the more extreme which involve questionable ethics, shady business behaviour and outright lies. The overt or obvious signs everyone can pick up on – lying, cheating, stealing, etc. I am focusing on identifying some of the more “subtle” signs of anarchy. So, how do you know if you are working in an organization that is experiencing anarchy? Here are five of the more subtle signs:

1) Chain of command is merely three words – admittedly I do not have a military background; however, there is something to be said for organizations that have clear lines of reporting and accountability and those lines are actually followed. Organizations that are in a state of anarchy either do not have clear lines of reporting and accountability, or they simply exist on paper. What really occurs in these types of organizations is a lot of backroom conversations to circumvent certain players (i.e. those that draw a line in the sand with regards to questionable ethics or those that don’t tow the company line) and managerial meddling at all levels.

2) Policy (rules) are for peons – nothing smells of organizational anarchy more than companies that set out a clear set of policies, procedures, etc. for doing business and then having them only apply for front line staff. For example, I have seen many companies ask for staff help in controlling costs for things such as travel expenses. A clear set of guidelines and expectations are laid out and are enforced – for most of the staff. There are, however, certain select individuals that are allowed to continuously circumvent expense policies. When the jeopardies in circumventing these are brought forward by HR or Finance, they are brushed off as “not applying” to this group for no reason in particular and the problem is made to “go away” and never be spoken of again.

3) Legislation is your life – now we all know as HR pros, part of our role is to ensure organizational compliance and good governance. From time to time, we must consult or refer to case law, labour standards and human rights legislation to make sure we are not running afoul of these important pieces of legislation – most notably during a termination or lay off. However, if you find yourself referring back to these on a daily basis because of the actual or desired actions and decisions of your management team, than you most certainly are experiencing organizational anarchy. Repeat after me, it is not NORMAL for organizations to (potentially) be in violation of these acts almost every day of the week and for HR to need to act as a conscience 24/7 in order to keep the company from getting sued.

4) Control of the communication – one of the most painful parts of organizational anarchy is dealing with managers who try and control communication. It begins by refusing to document requests or dealings with employees – no, I am not referring to performance documentation, but things like refusing to reply/confirm via email because it creates a virtual paper trail. Another sign is managers that do not have conversations with more than one person at a time. They try and control all elements of communication by isolating each party and controlling the medium and messages. This way, they keep the two receivers of the information isolated and can manipulate their actions accordingly.

5) Elephants in the room – the acid test that determines if you have total organizational anarchy is when everyone knows who the root cause of the anarchy is and nothing is done about it. This typically occurs when you have someone at the top of your organization that is ambivalent about addressing the source of the anarchy because of some perceived benefit that the offender(s) bring to the company. This is the worst kind of anarchy in any organization because it jeopardizes organizational values and results in a culture of ethical “compromises” at all levels.

I order to drive home my point, I think what is very telling are the words that the dictionary refers to as “related to anarchy.”  You be the judge, based on the 5 signs identified above, if  an organization was experiencing them, would the following words apply:

commotion, tumult, uproar; chaos, confusion, disarray, disorder, disorderliness, disorganization, misorder; disruption, disturbance, havoc, turbulence, turmoil, unrest, upheaval.

What about you? What (subtle) signs of organizational anarchy have you seen or experienced? As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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