The Neil DeGrasse Tyson of HR

NDTOccasionally I’m witness to an interesting phenomenon when gatherings of HR professionals play a round of “HR Solar System.” This game is also known as “I’m in HR and I think the planets revolve around me.”

I recall a workshop I attended where the speaker posed the following question: “if an employee is getting off track, whose job is it to get them back on board?”

So while I ticked through some answers in my mind – “the employee, the manager” – I really wasn’t surprised to hear an answer bubbling up from throughout the audience – “it’s HR’s job.”

Oh boy.

One thing that always makes me wince is when HR colleagues make statements along the line of  “I have to meet with Sally Sue Employee to issue her write-up/written warning/PIP.” And Sally Sue works in Accounting. Or Marketing. In other words, Sally Sue is NOT having this performance discussion with her manager – she is having it with the HR lady.

Please stop.

HR’s role is not to insert itself into every single employee interaction. Our role is to assist the managers by providing them with coaching, support, and guidance so THEY can have performance discussions with the employees who report to them.

Our role is to assist in supporting a culture where employees are treated with dignity and their abilities and contributions are aligned with organizational goals. Our role is to work to ensure that our organizations provide the foundational structure and the environment in which the employees can succeed. And ultimately our role is to do all these things in order to impact our organization’s performance and success.

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The quickness of the attendees at this workshop to respond “it’s HR’s role to get an employee back on track” points to a continuing desire to be acknowledged and validated. I saw it happen live. I hear stories about it on a regular basis. Jason Lauritsen wrote a great post about this syndrome after the conclusion of the HR Reinvention Experiment in Omaha a few years ago.  He made some great points and readers chimed in with some super comments. Go check it out and then let me know —

—- does HR still view itself as the center of the universe?  Do we suffer from Solar System Syndrome?

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this post originally appeared at the HRSchoolhouse. Reprinted because I still think it holds true. 

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Culture: A Confederacy of HR Dunces

Confederacy_of_dunces_coverOver the weekend I read another let’s-bash-HR article with the title Here’s why your human resources department hates you.” The author, Cliff Weathers, points out that HR practitioners have become “cold wardens of the workplace” and administrative bureaucrats who see themselves as “masters at the top of the corporate food chain.”

The article hits on multiple issues with modern corporate HR departments including their propensity to kill people with forms and paperwork (resulting in diminished productivity for all), the manner in which they muck up the hiring process, and how their actions ultimately de-humanize entire organizations.

Ouch.

One section stood out to me:

“One tool used by human resources professionals is the open manipulation of “workplace culture.” Employees are expected to follow cultural cues from HR departments, which model how they want employees to act to create a “positive work environment.” And you better like the culture HR creates for you, or else.”

I’m not sure we’re quite as Machiavellian as the author does; he believes this cultural manipulation is done by HR in order to ‘weed out’ (i.e. terminate) the undesirables. While getting the right people on the bus (to borrow the phrase) is important, I like to think we’re not quite so cold-blooded.

I do, however, see a lack of understanding about company culture feeding into the actions and activities of a fair number of HR professionals. Sometimes it’s a lack of clarity on the part of Janet the HR Director. Quite often it’s because the time-stretched – and misinformed CEO – tells Janet to “do something fun; we need to improve our culture.”

So Janet begins her quest to, well, OK – manipulate. ”We’ll have a scavenger hunt,” she thinks. “I’ll add a weekly dress down day and bring in donuts every Friday.” She mentally ticks off policies and activities and even employee benefits she can add…never once stopping to think if they fit the needs, wants or desires of the actual employees or culture. She forces adherence and when Bob in Accounting doesn’t participate in the Annual Halloween Costume Contest she – and the CEO – place him firmly on the “doesn’t fit in to our culture” list.

How do we fix this? It is, quite frankly an epidemic. I regularly see job postings for HR leaders that include duties such as “responsible for building a winning culture.” And ‘building’ is on the entirely opposite end of the spectrum from nurturing, ensuring alignment, and fostering the continuation of an existing culture or the migration to a desired state.

The way we change this is for HR leaders to band together and stand up to CEOs or other organizational leaders who command them (yes…command them) to “fix” the culture. The way we overhaul this is for HR professionals to educate first themselves and then their leadership teams on the real definition of company culture.

If we do that we can ALL be geniuses.

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects, Morals and Diverting

image: Louisiana State University Press

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note: even though I’ve read A Confederacy of Dunces 3 or 4 times, I intend to read it again; it’s the book chosen by the East Baton Rouge Parish Library as the spring read for our “One Book One Community” spring 2015 kick-off.  It’s one of my favorite books and truly reflects what Ellis Marsalis once said: “In New Orleans, culture is not handed down from on high; it bubbles up from the street.” 

Hmmm…culture. Again. 

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Write a Thank You Note

original_set-of-12-handmade-thank-you-note-cardsI don’t know about you but I still like holding an actual book in my hand. I enjoy the pleasure of flipping through a glossy magazine. I don’t mind being handed a sheath of papers and having the ability to sit down and read, mark it up, and curl the pages. I’m not a fan of newspapers though; I don’t think I’ve sat and read a printed newspaper for years.

But I like love hand written cards and notes.

A birthday card received in the mailbox. A note left on my desk. A post-it note slapped on my monitor.

Nice little reminders to stop for a moment and appreciate human connections.

So here’s something awesome you can do today.

Take a few minutes, sit down with pen in hand and compose a thank you note to someone who’s made a difference in your week. Surprise your co-worker in the next cubicle, the hard-working receptionist who manages the flow of visitors to your office, or a colleague in another department.

Deliver it yourself…or support the USPS. Your choice.

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image: (and cards available at) notonthehighstreet

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Join Me: Drivers of Engagement in New Hire Onboarding

We discuss employee engagement a lot don’t we? We realize there are benefits to our organizations when we have a highly engaged workforce; things like improved performance, higher productivity, and improved retention.

Across the continuum of the employee life cycle there are numerous touch points and multiple opportunities for us to focus on strategies that address our desired outcomes. And the onboarding of employees is one of those times.

But how do we tackle it? How do we improve the onboarding experience, ensure it’s aligned with our company’s business objectives, and measure success? What are key talent metrics? And how, if you’re considering revamping your onboarding program, do you get from here…to there?

Join me next Thursday (2/26/2015) for “Drivers of Engagement in New Hire Onboarding” when I’ll be part of a panel discussing the essential elements of high-performance onboarding, key practices for gauging impact, and the importance of talent technology.

Hosted by cfactor Works Inc. (developer of Vibe HCM suite) and Brandon Hall Group, a leading HCM research and advisory services firm, and will feature, in addition to me, a whole bunch of smart people:

I promise we’ll have a great discussion and share some interesting information, so go here to register and join us.

Onward to onboarding!

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How to Work for a Rotten Boss

Boss_tweed2It’s inevitable. At one point or another you’ll undoubtedly work for a lousy boss. Hopefully it’s already happened and you’ve moved on. Battered and bruised perhaps, but no longer under the reign of a craptastic manager.

If, however, you’re still stuck, there are a few things to consider.

This guy (or gal) who wields such power over your day-to-day happiness might just be new to his role and learning as he goes. It’s possible (let’s give him the benefit of the doubt) he wants to do better but the organization is dysfunctional and he’s limited by heavy-handed HR policies. Of course, unfortunately, he could just be a contemptible human being.

I’ve run into rotten bosses who are passive, lack knowledge and are both physically – and mentally – absent. The more prevalent type of rotten boss? The bullying autocrat. You’ve seen her. She minimizes the feelings or ideas of others, makes up rules as she goes along, and loves to criticize individuals – often publicly. He’s the manager who flings accusations (”you’ve screwed up that report again!”), isolates certain individuals from the group, and picks other team members as his favorites…for now.

In any event I hope it gets better. And it can.

  • Talk to someone. Have a conversation with someone in your HR department, give a call to your employee assistance program, or have a chat with a trusted mentor/advisor. Don’t, however, just band together and grumble with coworkers. While the solidarity might make the shared-pain momentarily diminish, your collective negativity will only make the situation more intolerable.
  • Talk to the tyrant your boss. This may fill you with terror but it’s part of being an adult and a professional. “Hey Jane,” you can start the conversation. “I wanted to clarify your expectations for my performance but also need to make you aware of how your reactions/policies/tone of voice impact my performance.”
  • Run it up the flagpole. Talk to your boss’ boss; unless he’s a jerk too. In which case refer to #1. While there’s no law against being an asshole, there are laws against discrimination and harassment. Make sure you let someone in your human resources department know what’s going on; they can’t take action if they’re unaware.
  • Put yourself in her shoes. Really assess what’s going on. If she’s yelling at everyone for wasting time at work, is it true? Is there some validity to what she’s saying? If your team is composed of a bunch of slackers and work isn’t getting done it might be time for some self-reflection.
  • Find something positive to do for yourself. Exercise, join a book club, or take up square dancing. Go home and snuggle your cat, dog, children, or partner. Look for a new job and get the hell out of there. Take care of you.
  • Learn from the mistakes you see your rotten boss making…

…and vow to never be a rotten boss yourself.

 

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Image Source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

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