Replicate? Or Redefine?

best practices

A number of years ago, as I was cavorting-in-the-job-market whilst in pursuit of a new gig, I had an interview for an HR Leader role when the site leader (we’ll call him Bob) asked me “what HR best practices are you aware of in our industry? I want us to implement all the best practices.”

(I could sense the HR-splaining pride oozing out of Bob’s pores as he tossed that cliché (“best practices”) into the conversation. I decided he must have visited the SHRM website in preparation for hiring into an HR role he had not needed to fill for a number of years.)

Well,” said I, “I’m not particularly a fan of merely replicating what’s been done at other organizations. I’ll most certainly look at our immediate market competitors and across the industry  but I’m not one for simply ‘copying’.”

“Why,” I asked, “should we replicate when we have the opportunity to redefine?”

I got the job. 

(And I like to think I kicked ass at the job).

It certainly would have been very easy to walk in there, researched a bunch of shit from other companies in our industry or in our geographic area, and copied and pasted every single HR/People Ops program and initiative. Bob, as a matter of fact, was a great believer in duplicating (even down to the “naming” of things) what others were doing. Not unlike many (many!) other leaders:

  • “Acme Company, LLC down the street is doing X. We need to do X too.”
  • “When I worked at Ginormous Corporation we did A, B and C. I want to do that here at Small Potatoes, Inc.”
  • “Did you see that recruitment campaign/post/job advert from Sexy Company? We need to do that!”
  • “Well, I know Big Bad Competitor Across Town, LLP is leading the market with compensation and coming in 20% ahead of us in starting pay but we really can’t compete with them….” (oh…wait…bad example…#snicker)

Here’s the deal…

Market intelligence is important. Keeping an eye on what’s happening in the world of work is necessary. Conducting regular environmental scans/PESTLE analyses is imperative. Finding out what job or environmental factors matter to candidates and employees is crucial.

And yes; taking something one did at a previous company, adjusting it and implementing at a new company is often a wise move. Over the years I’ve carried (digitally speaking) forms, templates, policies, and training curriculums from one company to the next. These are the sorts of things that don’t require a reinvention, as the saying goes, of the wheel.

But not everything is ideal for imitation. You shouldn’t blindly borrow, plunder or copy someone else’s:

  • Company Values
  • Employer Branding
  • Talent Acquisition Strategies
  • HR Metrics and Success Measures
  • Performance Management Process
  • Rewards and Recognition Structure

Why? Because their (the other guy’s) “best practice” may not be the BEST practice for YOUR organization.

Besides…it’s much more fun to CREATE rather than replicate.

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Time to Think: The HR Knowledge Worker

knowledge worker

The term “knowledge worker” joined our business lexicon courtesy of Peter Drucker; the concept of “knowledge work” first appeared in his 1959 book The Landmarks of Tomorrow.

For the most part we all understand that knowledge workers access and apply information to answer questions, solve problems and generate new ideas. Knowledge workers interact with tools and systems that enable communication and information sharing. They acquire new information and use it in a creative manner. They produce, distribute, and share their knowledge with others. They never stop learning and acquiring new knowledge.

We often ascribe this moniker to scientists, engineers, programmers, design thinkers, creatives, academics, attorneys, and the like. Hollywood versions of the knowledge worker include Professor Indiana Jones, David Levinson (the Jeff Goldblum character) in Independence Day and Olivia Pope.  

They “think” for a living.

Sounds like what we should expect of HR leaders…doesn’t it?

Thinking.

Yet far too many HR leaders, caught up in the grinding gears of the corporate machine, are losing out on providing real value (their knowledge) to their organizations. There are far too many HR functions where every moment is filled with tasks. Busy busy busy. Activity after activity after activity. All in a misguided attempt to demonstrate to CEOs/Owners/Leaders that HR is needed.

But knowledge workers – meaning HR leaders – need time to pause, review, research, read, and ponder. They need to explore hypotheses before acting. When making decisions and weighing “can” they do something versus “should” they do something, they need time for contemplation and evaluation.

Sometimes HR Leaders need to prioritize merely getting together with peers to think collectively. Every meeting doesn’t have to be about getting through an agenda, giving updates on task accomplishment (busy! busy! busy!), or racing though a post-mortem on a problem or incident. It should be about gathering with peers for an off-site discussion or forming a community of practice.  It can be heading to a conference or event for the day rather than cranking out yet another report that no one will read. (Busy busy busy. See how busy I am?)

At other times HR leaders need to purposefully carve out the time for silence and concentration during the workday; grab a cup of coffee, turn off the phone and put on some headphones in order to scroll through the internet or page through a book to foster ideas.

Unfortunately that’s viewed as idleness in far too many organizations. “Susie, our HR Manager, wastes a half hour every day scrolling through websites,” an organizational leader once said to me. “She’s not even working! I need to write her up!”

Sigh.

So yes; it’s often about finding an organization (and a boss) who supports creativity and intellect. A boss who encourages their HR leader to use their brain. A boss who realizes – or to whom it’s explained – that it’s not about formatting and running reports; rather it’s about designing the strategy behind the report data.

Sssshhhh. It’s time to think.

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”—Voltaire

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The Talent Crisis: Aspirational vs. Actual

candidate messaging

Last week my friend/colleague Jena Brown and I had a really good discussion about the role (perhaps) that HR, TA and Talent Marketers have played in our current talent crisis. What, we discussed, are some of the reasons that are causing employees to resign in droves? Why are organizations struggling with attracting candidates? Why are we hearing far too many stories of people going through on-boarding and then either pulling out at the last minute or simply no-showing on Day 1?

One aspect that Jena pointed out was that companies have created fluffy marketing and communications that aren’t real or realized throughout the company. She followed up with this example on LinkedIn:

Company says hourly employees are the heroes of everything but continues treating them like replaceable robots – work longer, work harder, and little room for flexibility (oh yeah, those flexibility benefits and messaging only applies to our non-hero employees). Employee sees company messaging vs their reality and is now faced with a value-based decision…. ‘Do I contribute to society like I want by working (like a dog for many) for some generalized praise or can I live off the stimulus check and not have to deal with the crap at work? Either way I have to find a way to regain dignity and sense of value.’”


The discussion moved forward into some other reasons that may be contributing to the current attraction/retention crisis including when one publicly positions their company as committed to an issue while simultaneously doing the opposite and the tendency of far too many organizations to merely copy the marketing/messaging from others (resulting in an overload of sameness).

In my estimation there are two factors at play.

First, as the folks tasked with attracting candidates and retaining employees, we often fail to distinguish between “aspirational” and “actual.” Sometimes it’s because we don’t stop to think about the difference between the two. Sometimes it’s because we know the actual is such crap that the only way we believe we can craft a compelling message is to just focus on the aspirational.

The aspirational world is, for many of us, the fantasy land where (a) people really are the most important asset (b) the workplace does provide flexibility, and (c) ideas are heard and collaboration is a shared value.

Secondly, we (the collective “we” in organizations around the world and in functions that cross ALL department lines) confuse activity with impact.  This is what leads companies to hop on the “performative acts” bandwagon; copying and pasting quotes, messages and graphics that align with whatever-month-we-are-celebrating (but only for that month of course) or deciding it’s time to insert the badge-du-jour because everyone else is doing it.

So what to do?

As Jena pointed out, panic has set in because our predictive models aren’t working, and the current candidate/employee behaviors aren’t what we’ve come to expect. (And thus, predictably, many have moved into reactive mode and tossed out any plans to work on strategy that truly can create more balance for those ‘heroes’ in the workforce).

The first step?  Speak the truth; and companies and HR, TA and Talent Marketing professionals need to be bold enough to do so. (and no; not with one of those bullshit and cruel job adverts that belittle and shame people). It’s perfectly fine to say “our pay is average, our benefits are mediocre, and when you punch in for the day you will work your ass off. But we’ll treat you fairly, work with you on your schedule, always tell you the truth and most importantly we’ll never sugar coat stuff.”

I once worked for a company with high-turnover (industry norm) and thus, obviously, high-volume recruiting. We had strong applicant flow, so we clearly communicated up front with candidates about the pay, the pace, the workplace rules, and the not-particularly-competitive benefits. (Our goal was to get folks to self-select out).  My favorite saying, crafted by one of our recruiters, was one we used across the department when speaking with candidates “we realize this will probably not be your forever job or even your forever company, but it can perhaps be a great job and a great company for you right now.”

The truth. The actual truth.  

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Be an Advocate for LGBTQ+ Equality EVERY Month

Recently, in an online HR Group, a group member asked “what can I do to create an inclusive workplace to support LGBTQ+ employees at s small business?” “Small” business was important here; he went on to clarify that he had recently moved from a large (3,000+ employee) company with a thriving LGBTQ+ ERG and other plans, resources and commitments.

I chimed in with a few thoughts (as I am wont to do) and since I was the only respondent I figured I would share my ideas here as well:

  • Outline in your values how the company defines inclusion – and illustrate the behaviors that back up and reflect that commitment.
  • Ensure the company handbook and policies have been updated to reference non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
  • Review company benefits for inclusion to ensure that gender or stereotypical roles are not at play – this may include things like Leave of Absence (LOA) eligibility and how parents, partners or family members are defined in bereavement leave policies.
  • Review the language used on both company documents and within conversations – for example, use of words like “guys” and “ladies” in chat or as greetings and even the naming conventions used in job titles, For example, how many companies still use job titles that are exclusive – even in conversation – such as Maintenance Man or Sales Guy?
  • Celebrate people being “open” … but don’t have an expectation that people will come out at work – some may choose not to do so.
  • Determine how the company and employees can visibly display allyship … without being performative. As the saying goes “Don’t just wave the Pride Flag if you’re not also doing the work.”
  • Focus on compassion and empathy; sometimes it’s enough to be creating a safe space for people.

I also shared information about Out and Equal – a great organization of workplace advocates that focuses on LGBTQ+ workplace equality (chock full of resources, templates and toolkits).

As I’m posting this it is, of course, the last official day of Pride Month. But working for equality, opportunity, and justice for ALL people is not confined to just one month per year.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.

Without them, humanity cannot survive.

Dalia Lama

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HR’s Biggest Problem? The People Hiring HR.

hiring HR

The worst thing (probably) about your company’s HR Leader is the person who hired your HR Leader.

In fact, I would love nothing more than to banish, forevermore, the CEOs, Business Owners, COOs and CFOs who recruit, interview and select their company’s HR leader.  OK …not all of them need to go; there are quite a few who understand the value of great HR. But, alas, there are far too many organizational leaders who cannot grasp (or refuse to grasp) the fact that a smart, competent and creative human resources leader can bring value to their organizations.

Rather they want an HR policy cop who will quietly handle compliance, write and enforce policies, and (probably) manage payroll. They want a person who will chat with the benefit broker and the staffing agency sales representative. They want someone who will have the difficult conversations with employees who cry or dress inappropriately or don’t show up to work or have body odor problems. 

When the need arises to hire a new HR Leader, the job description is written and/or updated. Undoubtedly cut and pasted from somewhere else, it evolves into a lengthy laundry list and, at the direction of the Big Boss, includes nonsense like “will be responsible for company culture.”  The job post cites a preference for PHR/SPHR or SHRM-CP/SCP certification – simply because the Big Boss saw that listed on another HR job post on Indeed. There are buzzwords galore (gleaned from an article the Big Boss read on Fast Company) and phrases like “cutting-edge strategic HR,” and “transformative work” and “culture of engagement” are sprinkled as liberally as salt on the rim of a margarita glass. And, depending upon industry and/or geography, there may even be a glamorous job title that incorporates the words “talent”, “culture” and/or “people.”

The job is posted.

As resumes roll in the Big Boss reviews them (without actually understanding what they’re reading) and schedules interviews – often moving candidates into the “yes” pile based primarily on previous titles. (“She was an HR Business Partner at Behemoth Corporation, Inc; what’s that? I need someone who has held a Manager or Director title only.”).

The actual interviews are chock-full of affirmation, to the eager and interested candidates, that HR is important and valued. The Big Boss states a fervent desire to employ an HR leader who is pro-active and business savvy. Inclusive and affirming culture? (check!). Sufficient budget? (check!). Access to technology, systems and tools? (check, check and check!).

The position is filled.

Now sometimes, especially in small or growing companies, the Big Boss moves Sally from Accounting into the position “because all the employees like her and she’s a people-person.” (The Big Boss figures that anyone can learn HR; how hard can it be?). Or they hire Steve from outside the organization because he’s got HR experience and they tell him they want him to design a best-in-class (!!) HR department.

But then Sally, who IS great at relationship-building with people and understands the business and existing workplace culture and rapidly learns and absorbs HR fundamentals/knowledge is stopped from practicing great HR…by the person who hired her.  They refuse to provide her with access to professional memberships or adequate learning resources. They wonder why she insists on enhancing the existing HR tech stack and feels the need to implement an ATS when e-mail and spreadsheets have worked perfectly fine for years.  They don’t understand why she can’t continue to manage the Accounting Clerk who runs payroll and handles A/P. They give her a “Manager” title while the other 5 department leaders have “Director” titles.

Or Steve, who HAS solid experience in human resources and comes into the organization with stellar ideas for running an innovative HR shop, is stopped from practicing great HR…by the person who hired him. All those promises and sexy buzzwords? Nothing but empty glitter. Poor Steve has found himself walking into an HR role that is lacking both a budget and decision-making ability. In fact the Big Boss believes that while Steve should handle the dirty-work the managers don’t want to do (those pesky performance and discipline discussions), his expertise and advice on actual/factual HR matters is neither sought nor heeded.

So see? The problem is not with Sally or Steve – it’s with the CEO, Business Owner, COO or CFO who doesn’t care about HR excellence. The Big Boss (oh hell…the whole leadership team) believes that HR’s purpose is to merely make sure no one gets sued, hurt or upset. They’re content to let HR handle benefit enrollment, choose company swag (t-shirts!) and plan the employee holiday party. 

Of course they’re wrong.

We know that great HR Leaders are advisors, talent managers, partners to managers/leaders, and executors of operational excellence. When unleashed to perform their best work, they’re champions for driving the change that leads to improvements across every facet of the business.

And if THIS Big Boss doesn’t believe that…no wonder Sally and Steve leave to find a Big Boss who does.

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