The Importance of Using the “Write” Language

write-up

“I’m going to issue a write-up.”

“He should be written up.”

“Her manager is going to give her a write up.”

“HR must be present when a manager gives an employee a write-up.”

“Should I write-up this employee?”

“The employee refused to sign the write-up.” 

“Write-ups don’t work; our employees are still doing the same thing.” 

***** 

I can barely begin to tell you how I abhor this list. These articulations, as captured above, have recently appeared in various and assorted Facebook groups where HR practitioners gather. And while HR folks are accused (and sometimes guilty) of any number of bone-headed maneuvers, the language used by many around employee performance is one move that’s in serious need of adjustment. 

“Write up” (used as both a verb and a noun) is up there in my top 5 most-hated-phrases-uttered-by-HR-people. 

It’s lazy. It’s infantilizing. And it reduces the manager/employee relationship to one of parent & child. Or school principal and pupil. Or lord-of-the-manor and servant. The use of this phrase communicates everything wrong with an organization’s culture, its views on performance management and the employee experience.

It has to go.

I implore you HR – stop being the master of the one-note samba (“write up!”) and sing a different tune. 

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Group Narcissism and HR Self-Love

hypnotizing self-love

Have you ever strolled into the office of your CFO and seen an office tchotke on their bookshelf spouting the phrase “I <heart> Accounting?”  I haven’t.

How many Supply Chain Managers do you see posting on LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook something along the line of “I LOVE my job!!!!” along with heart emojis? Probably very few.

Yet, I’m willing to wager, there’s an HR professional in your life who you have observed:

  • wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “You can’t spell HERO without HR!” or
  • posting on the-social-media-network-of-their-choice “I love what I do!” or
  • having a pre-orgasmic meltdown at the mere anticipation of heading to the SHRM Annual Conference and listening to motivational speakers

Never have I seen a profession so in need of collective self-love and affirmation. If Tony Robbins, Marie Kondo, Stephen Covey and Oprah somehow magically had a baby, that enfant charlatan would be viewed as a GIFT by a wide audience of human resources practitioners.

It’s as if HR is a child raised in a home where parental approval was seemingly only awarded on the basis of obedient performance and achievement. Upon reaching maturity this upbringing has led to a craving for demonstrative affection, love and positive reinforcement (the kind that’s only given when something is done that pleases the parent) and therefore leads HR professionals to participate in an ongoing search for external validation for the duration of their careers.  

We see this obedience and desire-to-please in the manner in which many HR folks carry out their duties;

  • they (or their CEO) believe that HR staff must continuously have a smile (!!!) plastered on their face when walking through the office
  • they put more effort into planning parties (yes they do) and ordering the right swag for employees than they do routing out systemic organizational issues of racism or bias
  • they consider their “worth” to be determined by how well they cheerlead and rally the troops – “C’mon everyone! This ‘mandatory’ team bowling event is going to be SUPER fun!”
  • they believe that posting a quote from Brene Brown on LinkedIn and adding #LoveMyJob (along with 15 other hashtags) is meaningful employer branding  

This “rah rah HR is the greatest!” behaviorism surfaces regularly in world of HR blogging and on #HRTwitter. The platitudes and pablum are often on display within the #HRcommunity or, most glaringly, in any SHRM-affiliated hashtag convo. Everything is sunshine and rainbows and HR is the center of the universe. In numerous online conversational circles, HR folks are forever wearing a halo (the mashup of a supernova and a celestial angel) and the discussion of any shortcomings is never brought forth from the darkness. They’re indulging – in the wide-open they are! – in a mutually pleasuring group masturbation session.  

That’s some Manchurian Candidate HR sleeper-agent shit. Universities and SHRM certification courses and Fred Pryor Seminars (for the Receptionists and Office Managers who have suddenly found themselves in HR) are littering the globe with brainwashed HR practitioners who are unable to push back on the inane demands from their CEOs lest they risk losing their ‘parents’ approval (and thus the accompanying love and affection). Rather, as if acting under a hypnotic spell, this platoon of HR practitioners go forth into the world with a mission to maintain the status quo and color within the lines as they steadfastly refuse to enter into any conversations that may be critical of either their profession or their demeanor.

It’s akin, in some ways, to the reckoning we’re having in the US about our history and our country.

Protesting against injustice, questioning long-held traditions and pointing out flaws, shortcomings and failures doesn’t mean we don’t “love” something – it actually means the opposite.

We love it enough to want its survival.

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Racism: When HR is Part of the Problem

HR professionals are the architects of the employee experience. They’re the ones responsible for ensuring their workplaces are free from unlawful discrimination and racism. They’re charged with nurturing a culture that promotes diversity, inclusion and equity.  In challenging times, when people are confused and hurting and taking to the streets to protest for issues of basic human rights, employees rely on their HR team to communicate and reassure.

Numerous HR professionals are excellent at doing these things.

Others are doomed to fail miserably. 

Why? Because, unfortunately, there are far too many HR practitioners who themselves exhibit a profound lack of either understanding or care and who, to put it bluntly, are racists themselves.

Over the last several years alone I have heard the following

  • “I treat everyone the same; I don’t see color.” – OK; we can work with this one to some degree via education and conversation. Unfortunately, it was followed up (by the white, privileged HR Director) with “there is no such thing as white privilege.”
  • A local HR Director was interested in serving on a board of directors. When discussing roles and committees, including D&I, she explicitly stated, “I don’t believe in diversity; that’s all made up.”  
  • “This is a fun place. And none of ‘those people’ come here.” – spoken by an HR leader/SHRM leader to an out-of-town (white) guest who had traveled to speak at a state SHRM event.
  • “I’m not prejudiced; we had a Black housekeeper who practically raised me. She was like part of the family” – in the category of things that are Southern and problematic; see “The Help”
  • When discussing the hiring process at her company an HR practitioner said “Well, you know she’s Black so guess the only people she will ever hire?” 
  • “I don’t go to that store in that part of town; it’s too “dark” there if you know what I mean.” HR Director, 2020

Oh these HR folks aren’t using the n-word in public but they’re awfully good at using code words and euphemisms like “them” and “those people.” They realize they’re crossing a line though; you can tell that when they ‘whisper’ the offending word. 

And, of course, lots of racist white people figure they can read-the-room. They’re out having a few cocktails with HR peers or sitting at a table with other white people at a SHRM meeting and they assume everyone thinks the same as they do. There’s no holding back. They open the door on their ugly souls. 

So what to do? 

  • We must, if we work in HR, call out our HR colleagues when they say things that are hurtful, inappropriate and racist. 
  • We must continue to elevate the voices and contributions of our BIPOC colleagues EVERY DAY; not just on ‘certain days’ of the year. 

We can do better.

We have to do better. 

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A Few Considerations for Remote “Team Engagement”

remote work from home

Even as we grapple, globally, with the containment and fight of the pandemic, there are many lovely things happening as a result of the ‘Rona. One thing I’ve noticed is how my neighbors on Nextdoor are less passive-aggressive and actually being, well, neighborly! No doubt you’ve seen (or maybe even participated in) activities like:  

  • Group sing alongs in places ranging from balconies in Italy to neighborhoods in Philadelphia
  • Teddy Bear Hunts for the kids in the neighborhood
  • Kids writing letters/drawing pictures to send to residents in nursing homes

On the work front, of course, the deployment of numerous cubicle-dwellers to a new #WorkFromHome arrangement has resulted in:

  • Thousands upon thousands of blog posts and articles about how to “work from home”
  • Massive growth and usage for Zoom’s teleconferencing software and Microsoft’s cloud-computing solutions
  • Lots of snacking and day-drinking

There’s also been a lot of scrambling, by managers of these newly virtual workers, to find ways to maintain a sense of camaraderie and connection for their teams. Tips and hints are shared across social media channels as managers and HR leaders promote holding:

  • Group coffee chats and Happy Hours 
  • Scavenger Hunts (in the house)
  • Game night with trivia, bingo or “two truths and a lie
  • Group lunch gatherings 

The efforts to do these things are lovely and it’s wonderful that managers realize the importance of the human-to-human connection. However, a word of warning is in order.

Just as no one wants to have to be at the office (building) for extended hours, no one wants to have to be at the virtual office for hours on end. Even in the best of times it’s often a challenge for those who WFH to shut-it-down and draw a distinction between work time/home-time. And now, during this strange-new time when people have been sent to WFH, often with no preparation or planning, it’s more challenging than ever. I fear that for many the pressure to be “always available” is already strong, even while emanating from a place of good intentions, and will only increase as our #StayAtHome situation lingers. 

So here are a few tips for managers and HR leaders:

  • Rather than institute a group lunch (“let’s all bring our sandwich and get on a Zoom call together!”), allow your team members to take a REAL lunch break so they can get up from their work station. Encourage them to walk around the block, play with their dog, do a few stretching exercises, or take a power nap. 
  • Happy Hour is fun; for some. Just as when you gather for an in-person Happy Hour, not everyone may want to attend…and that’s….OK.  Make it acceptable for your team members to bow out, no explanations necessary.

Keeping your team connected is more important than ever…but a little team-distancing, just like social distancing, is OK.

*****

Note: the great folks at Workhuman have made their Life-Events and Conversations Products available to all organizations in response to COVID-19 crisis. Check it out here.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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A New Normal (?) for the Employee Performance Review

Facebook has announced, via an internal memo, that Mark Zuckerberg sent to employees earlier this week, they would be paying a $1,000 bonus to every employee to help during the coronavirus outbreak. In addition, Zuckerberg also said the company will pay contractors in full even if they are unable to do their work from home.

In addition, the company said it would give all employees an “exceeds” rating for their first six-month review of 2020. At Facebook, as at other companies, these ratings tie directly to bonuses and, according to reports, could result in all full-time employees earning significant bonuses.

Kudos to Facebook; of course they have the money so can afford to do this. But it’s still affirming to see employers (of all sizes) that are doing what they can from a financial support perspective at this unprecedented time.  

To me however the most interesting aspect of this is the use of the performance review to “get cash in hand” to employees. While getting managers to do 9-Box grids and “performance feedback sessions” is the absolute last thing HR professionals are focusing on right-this-moment, it DOES raise questions for when we come out the other end of this.

Among other things, this maneuver brought to mind:

  • When the performance review is directly tied to compensation (and, apparently the only mechanism for determining bonus level) we now have a company outright acknowledging that ratings can be ‘manipulated’ to give an employee a desired raise or bonus.
  • In HR we have worked diligently over the years to fight manager bias (calibration meetings!). We’ve created convoluted programs and valiantly messaged to employees that everything is “fair.” Now, however, they can say “see! It IS easy to adjust the rating to give me a raise!” (or withhold one….)
  • Will 2020 be the year when no employee – at any company – around the world – has an official/documented performance review?  Who is going to have time for that crap? Companies are in survival mode right now and will be for the remainder of the year.
  • Will the evaluation of job performance shift towards the best-it-could-be out of necessity? Right now we have managers providing continuous, immediate, face-to-face (or camera to camera) feedback. No need for forms, checklists and laborious processes.
  • What creative finagling will HR professionals have to go through to adjust their 2020 performance review process one we hit the end of the year?   

The business exercise of annual (or quarterly or semi-annual) performance reviews is not, nor should it be, what we’re thinking about right now. But we will.

Maybe this really will be the death of the performance review.

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