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You Can’t Handle the Truth!

One of the most challenging aspects of our jobs as leaders and managers is to provide feedback to our employees. As HR Pros, the challenge is often more difficult as we are often called upon to enable feedback when the employee doesn’t even report to us. Quite often, we are even coaching a manager on how to have the feedback conversation with their employee, or better yet, employees often come to us for “feedback” because they aren’t getting it from their manager or they want a “neutral” perspective.

You cant handle the truthRegardless, as leaders, providing candid feedback to our employees is a huge responsibility that we have, one that must be exercised with care, deliberation and foresight. The approach you take quite often depends on how well you know the employee that is either asking for and/or needs the feedback. The most important thing to consider, above all else, is that you must always tell the truth. HOW you deliver the truth is where the real art form comes in to play as a leader.

The other little secret I will let you in on when an employee asks for your feedback about their performance, etc. and they tell you they want the truth, is that the reality is that most employees can’t handle truth. Therefore, you need to truly understand the situation you are dealing with because you may be in for an explosive confrontation if not handled correctly. So, with all things leadership, it comes down to knowing your employee(s).

Sometimes the truth must be delivered in a very delicate fashion and sometimes you can go ahead and hit someone over the head with it. Everything comes down to relationships and how much trust you have built with the person asking for/needing the feedback. As I already mentioned, the reality is that most people can’t handle the truth when it comes to feedback. Even if the employee is a top performer, if you give them feedback on some things they need to improve/focus on, they probably won’t be able to handle everything you tell them. Let’s face it – the truth usually hurts. Star performers like to think they are star performers in all areas and poor performers don’t want someone to point where they are falling short because they probably already know where they are failing and don’t want to be reminded!

For the rest of your employees, hearing the truth often hurts. As human beings we don’t want to be reminded of our flaws and shortcomings. Many of us have spouses that remind us of those, so we don’t want to hear about it at work! But seriously, having these types of conversations are difficult at the best of times and it takes an awesome leader and coach to engage their staff in truthful feedback conversations.

So, what are the keys to success?

  1. Build effective relationships with your staff. Get to know them better – what makes them tick? What motivates them? Talk to them on a regular basis – including about non work stuff. It makes the hard conversations easier to have if you do this.
  2. Know the employee and what they can handle/accept. You will get a feel for this simply by the fact that you talk to them every day. (See point #1)
  3. Ease into the feedback conversations. Maybe you need to address three or four things with them, so start by talking about one thing only at the first meeting. If your first conversation is about giving them feedback in multiple areas, they are going to leave the meeting with you feeling like they just went 10 rounds with Mike Tyson!
  4. Focus on building trust. As a leader, you play a role in this. Provide support to the employee where they need it and follow up with them/check in as you have promised. The quickest way to lose credibility (and trust) with your staff is to give them feedback, tell them you will meet again in a week or two to discuss progress and then they never hear from you again. Worse yet, you parachute back in several months later to meet with them about more areas they need to improve on or to tell them that they have not made any improvements. Not cool! Of course they won’t be able to handle the truth because they don’t trust you!

Bottom line – giving and receiving feedback is hard. A lot of us can’t handle the truth. As much as I try and tell my wife that I can deal with whatever reason she is mad at me, the truth is, when she does tell me, it stings! We are all humans and have feelings. So take great care and accept the major responsibility you have as a leader when talking to your people. Respect the fact that they are human beings when you are delivering feedback to them. Focus on building relationships built on respect and trust – it will make these types of conversations much easier to have. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

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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

Enough is Enough! HR doesn’t suck!

It seems to be an in vogue thing these days to bash HR. What with the myriad of experts out there that continue to weigh in on how HR should be done differently, or that it is time to change HR or basically how HR sucks. Go ahead, Google, “why HR sucks” and you will get 8.5 million hits! Better yet, if you search on, “making HR better” you will get 296 MILLION hits! Yes, everyone has an opinion on the matter, or so it seems.

Human resources picAs someone who has been in “the biz” for many years, I am a big fan of “good HR.” I believe in the value that HR brings to an organization – whether from a strategic perspective or from a good old fashion making the trains run on time perspective (i.e. making sure people get paid accurately and on time, making sure managers treat their staff right, etc.). Either way, when done right, HR brings tons of value to an organization and is a worthy profession. I blogged about this subject, about 18 months ago, when I referred to it as the HR Identity Crisis. My intent was to get HR folks to change their mindset a bit about how they view themselves and the work that they do.

So let’s start doing ourselves, as a profession, a favour. Let’s stop bashing each other and what we do. There are enough folks out there that will do that for us (see reference above to Google hits). You don’t see accountants and lawyers going around trashing their profession, so why do we have this self-deprecating approach about what we do?

Let’s also acknowledge the fact that doing good HR involves doing things, that for some reason, HR says they don’t want to do anymore. I mean, we have become so fixated on “getting that seat at the table” and being “strategic” all in the name of being taken seriously as a profession. The problem being, all the “real” HR stuff that needs to get done we (as a profession) have been washing our hands from doing. So if we aren’t being good organizational custodians, who is? If we aren’t the voice of reason and good conscience for the companies we represent, than who is doing that? Bottom line, you may be working yourself out of a job!

At the end of the day we are in the people business, hence the term “human” resources. Yes, I get it that it is all about talent and talent management, but wrapped up in all of that is the people that we deal with day in and day out. We have created such a crisis of conscience for our profession it is maddening. I speak with and hear from so many HR Pros that question themselves day in and day out about their chosen profession and they wonder if they are doing “good HR.”

So, what exactly is it we should be focusing on then? Well, if you truly want to be known as a consummate HR professional that does “good” HR, than you are doing some (or all) of the following:

  • Anything that relates to the attraction of people to your organization
  • Anything that relates to the retention of the people you have attracted
  • Anything that gets people communicating and collaborating
  • Helping your employees work through organizational change
  • Making sure your organization conducts itself ethically
  • Ensuring that positive employee relations are maintained – i.e. organizational stewardship
  • Helping your managers become better leaders
  • Ensuring compliance with laws, regulations, etc. Not because you “have” to, but because it makes good business sense.

That’s it. Those are the broad categories. Now think about all that you do as an HR Pro. I bet 90% of it falls under one of those categories, if so, than you are doing “good HR.” You can probably stop doing the other 10%. Now, there is one caveat to all of this and that is, everything will ultimately come down to execution. This, in turn, ties into your internal HR brand. In other words, how well you communicate, get buy in, apply a business lens and sometimes even stand your ground, will define how well you execute in doing “good” HR. This is the difference in being the policy police vs. doing “good” HR.

So, as HR Pros, let’s all agree to start giving ourselves a break. Let’s lighten up on the internal HR bashing. Let’s focus on service delivery excellence and providing value to our customers (managers and employees.)   Make sure that what you are doing has a purpose – whether strategic or tactical. This is especially true for those of you in smaller (do it all) HR shops. Most of all, give yourselves, and each other, a break. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of 89studio/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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