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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


Do your Values MEAN anything?

Corporate Values

Company Values

What do those phrases mean to you? Does the organization you work for even have corporate values? If so, do you know what they are? Quickly…without looking. What are they? Or do you have to look at your intranet site or some chart on the wall? Unfortunately, in far too many companies, their values are simply a flashy poster on the wall. Lots of companies like to present themselves as having “strong corporate values that guide how we do things.” Prime example is Enron who, as part of their values, identified “Integrity – We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly, and sincerely.” We all know how that story turned out.


On a more practical level, these are also the same companies that at the first sign of trouble do things that are the complete opposite of their “values.” For example, one company I know of quite well, that shall remain nameless, has a corporate value of “People” defined as, “Above all else, we value our people. They make the difference to the success of our organization and its customers.” This same company, back in 2009, at the first sign of some economic trouble, laid off 25% of its workforce. No other cost savings measures were looked at, but the knee jerk reaction was to conduct layoffs. This, coming from the company that values its people…see where I am going with this? To this day, 7 years later, they still have a tough time attracting people due to the damage done to their employment brand. Companies need to understand – people aren’t stupid. They see/know double speak when they hear it. They know when you are not being genuine.

At the end of the day, you are better off not having any type of values then marketing them and not following them. You see, when done right, your values will ultimately define a huge part of your workplace culture. So, a focus needs to be placed on bringing your company values to life. How do you make them real in your workplace? Are your managers and employees recognized, rewarded and compensated for displaying behaviours that directly support your values? Do people in your organization get promoted based on competency AND by living and demonstrating your company values? If the answer is “no” to any of those questions, your values will not be able to come to life and they certainly won’t define your culture. They are words on the corporate poster or something to go into a glossy shareholder report and nothing more.

Far too many companies fall into the trap of having very generic, catch-all types of values – Teamwork, Customer Service, Quality. Really? What do those mean? Those could be the values for a burger joint, a muffler shop, a clothing store or a software development company! Basically, any type of business could have those values – there is nothing in there that defines WHO you are as an organization. You really want to have values that help shape and define your culture and ultimately define your employment brand – then you need to make them mean something!

For example, how would you feel about working for a company that held values like this:

“We value getting sh*t done – we hate bureaucracy and red tape. We don’t like roadblocks impeding our employees’ success and we don’t micromanage. We hire good people and expect them to get sh*t done”

“Truth and Honesty – we don’t like liars and people who go back on their word. We value people who deliver the message straight up and never ever lie.”

Seriously though? Why can’t we have values like that? They mean something to the individual employee and they certainly help govern decision making. It is also pretty clear what kind of culture that company has – and if you like what you hear, that is probably a place you want to work. If you don’t like it, then you self-select out. Bottom line, by having real values that MEAN something for your company and its employees, you will have brought them to life and helped establish the type of workplace culture you desire. Don’t be generic. Be brave. Be bold. Be different. Live your values. Reward your employees that do the same. Establish the type of culture you want as an organization. Be a place where people WANT to come to work. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/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

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

Working around the problem

While I blog a lot about management and leadership, I certainly don’t want to give anyone the impression that I am some sort of infallible person. A lot of my posts are based on personal experience – whether it be something I was directly or indirectly involved with or observed, or perhaps even based on mistakes and lessons learned by myself! A lot of what I share on The Armchair HR Manager is done with the hope that others can learn from the mistakes that either myself or others have made so that we can all become better managers and hopefully better leaders based on lessons learned.

Business ManAs I have already mentioned, I am by no means perfect; however, there are some basic tenants of management that I see “violated” on a regular basis that absolutely drive me crazy. A big “no no” in the management world is trying to work around a problem instead of going to the person (direct report) themselves and identifying the issue. I have seen and heard far too many instances of managers and so called “leaders” taking these indirect, back door paths to resolve issues. What ends up happening is that they end up involving far too many other people in the problem that shouldn’t be involved in the first place.

This type of approach (working around the problem) does several (negative) things:

  1. It erodes at the core of any performance system and culture you have in place. By constantly working around problems, no one is ever accountable for anything.
  2. It creates a culture fueled by rumours, gossip, innuendo and fear-mongering. People hear that their boss has an issue with them…but they hear about it 2nd and 3rd hand and start making plans for their “defense.”
  3. It puts peers in very awkward situations – they know about a problem with their peer before their peer does and they are now being asked to provide a solution (work around) to things. It could be perceived, once everything comes out, (and believe me it will) that they too were part of the problem in working around the other employee.
  4. It completely breaks down any type of trust in the manager/employee relationship. Here is the real problem with this one – people want to work for managers they can trust. It is THE most important part of the relationship. If they don’t trust their manager, they will eventually leave…simple as that.

So as a manager, if you want to be a real leader, stop working around the problem and the people. If there is performance or conduct issue, discuss it with your employee directly. You need to clearly identify the behaviours or performance outcomes that are the issue. Identify how they are negatively impacting performance (whether that of the employee or the company) and also show the impact on peers, organizational culture, etc. Link it all up and clearly communicate the desired change you are looking for.

These conversations aren’t comfortable and no one looks forward to having them; however, they are integral part of being a decent manager. You owe it to yourself, your team and your company to NOT work around problems and people. By not doing this, you are establishing a culture of performance and accountability. Truth be told, you may be surprised by your employee’s reaction when you actually communicate the issue to them directly. They may be far more receptive than you think. At the very least, other members of your team will respect you more and view as more of a leader than just their manager.

At its core, this is about managerial COURAGE. I am sorry if you don’t like conflict and don’t have the courage to talk to someone about these types of issues face to face. At the end of the day, you are getting paid to be a manager and this is a BIG part of being a manager so you need to suck it up and forge ahead. If you don’t have the courage (and that is okay) it is probably time to start to think about moving back to an individual contributor role. As always, I welcome your comments and 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

Dear Boss – Here is what I really need

Organizations spend thousands and thousands of dollars every year surveying their employees, paying for studies and research to ensure that they are “winning the war for talent” (I hate that saying), improving employee engagement and reducing turnover. Some get it right, some get it a little bit right and some miss the mark completely. The worst of the worst are those that don’t care and are so out of touch with their staff that they feel that it is a privilege for their employees to work for the company and that their salary should be all they really need. These same companies think it is all about the almighty dollar – that is, if I pay you enough, you will stay and do whatever it is I tell you to do and you will put up with however you are treated. Yet still, there are companies that think it is all about sexy perks – game rooms, free soft drinks/lunches, onsite gym, etc. I want to shed some light on this and let managers and leaders know what their employees really want. To that extent, here is open letter to the bosses out there from your employee(s):

Written LetterDear Boss:

I really appreciate the salary you pay me and the benefits package you provide. It is great to know that if I need prescription drugs or when my child needs their teeth cleaned that our plan covers x% of the cost. It is also great that you kick in some bucks to my RRSP plan so that if I ever get to retire, I will have a bit of money set aside. It is also nice each year when I get a 5 mins. meeting with you to discuss my performance review and you tell me that I qualify for a 2% increase – heck, who would say no to that. The free soft drinks, coffee and water in the lunchroom are a nice touch too – really, I do appreciate that.

Here is the thing, those things are nice and I really want to stay with ACME Industries long term. I really hate the whole process of updating my resume, trying to get references, applying for jobs and interviewing. I don’t want to have to do that. I have friends here at ACME and I enjoy the camaraderie. But here is what makes me want to stay, strive to do my best and stay long term. I want to be noticed and recognized. Say “Hi” to me in the morning or when you pass by me in the hallway. Don’t walk by my cubicle and ignore me like I am a spare part. Know me by name. Say “Thanks” when I have done something you appreciate or when I went the extra mile. Recognize the impact that my working overtime – nights and weekends – has on my family. Thank my spouse (because you know I have one and what their name is) for putting up with that. In fact, I really appreciate the odd gift certificate to a nice steak house so my spouse and I can enjoy a night out as a reward me putting in that extra time and effort.

You know what else I like – respect. As I respect you as my manager, please respect me as your employee. I am not a servant, a piece of machinery or a replaceable part. I am a person and I want to be treated with respect – so I don’t appreciate being yelled at, belittled, humiliated or scolded. If my performance is lacking in some areas, tell me – PRIVATELY. I am an adult – please call me into a private room and discuss the salient points with me. I want to do a good job so if you tell me where I am falling short, I will focus on those areas and improve…and please tell me about it soon, like around the time I first missed the mark. Don’t wait 10 months and have it show up on my performance review for the first time. And speaking of that, I would love to have more conversations with you throughout the year as it pertains to my work and personal development. I want to know that there is a future for me at ACME. I want to know that you value my work and want to invest in training and developing me. I also want to utilize my knowledge, skills and abilities. Let me put them to use – don’t put me in a box and expect me to be happy for the length of my employment – I need to grow.

Last but not least, keep your word. When you have committed to meet with me on particular matter (that is important to me) don’t cancel on me. Don’t allow other meetings to impede on our time. Don’t answer your smartphone during our meeting (see respect). I understand from time to time other pressing matters come up, but when you schedule time with me, you should keep your commitments. Also, when you commit to getting back to me on a work-related matter, you actually do that. My work is impacted by your input, decision-making, etc. so don’t leave me hanging and frustrated. Also, when push comes to shove, back me up – don’t throw me under the bus to save your own skin. If I know you support me, you will have my loyalty and I will work very hard to make sure you look good in front of your boss.
Thanks boss for taking the time to read this. I truly appreciate you taking the time to understand a bit more about me. I want to keep working for you and for ACME and I think we can both accomplish our goals. What’s that? Oh, you need to discuss all this with HR? Oh, ok. I guess I better work on that resume after all………

Image courtesy of lamnee/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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