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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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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Work in HR? It’s Time to FIGHT for Workers’ Rights.

There’s a peculiar mindset amongst far too many HR practitioners. Due to their fervent and often all-consuming desire to be considered “business partners,” they’ve adopted a capitalist perspective that places them somewhere on the spectrum between Scrooge McDuck, Rich Uncle Pennybags and Mr. Burns.

Attempting to be fiscally prudent and, as I’ve heard it described, to be “a steward of the company’s money,” manifests itself when they:

  • ‘fight’ every unemployment claim as if the very sustainability of the company depended upon victory 
  • craft policies that, if legal in the state/jurisdiction, ensure that departing employees will NOT be paid out any earned/accrued vacation/PTO balance
  • concoct convoluted job descriptions in order to mis-classify certain jobs as exempt (per the FLSA) so workers are not eligible for overtime pay even while the company expectation is that they toil away for 50 hours per week minimum
  • shelter workplace harassers and keep them in place by failing to investigate allegations of harassment especially when an employee bringing forth an issue is viewed as a “chronic complainer” 
  • turn a blind eye to both blatant and subtle discriminatory behavior whether it takes they form of systemic cultural traditions and norms or overt hiring “preferences” as articulated by managers … and other HR team members

And they valiantly fight, either of their own volition or because they believe their company’s CEO and CFO expect them to, any attempts to raise the mandated minimum wage, explore Medicare For All or de-couple healthcare in the US from the employment relationship.

This doesn’t shock me of course. As with most any type of meaningful change in the relationship between employers/employees over the course of our history in the US of A, it’s taken blood, sweat, death and – ultimately – legislation to provide protection to workers. Child Labor Reform. The Triangle Shirtwaist FireThe Civil Rights ActThe Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, including Title I covering employment, went into effect in July of 1990 – 30 years ago – and HR practitioners are still fighting against the very basic tenets of the law. The Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993 and there are still numerous HR practitioners who work to circumvent the protections afforded to their covered employees. 

These are the people running HR functions. They are often the first ones to talk about a desire to increase employee engagement or improve company culture. They are also, quite frankly, the ones who need to be reminded of what that “H” signifies and remember that Workers’ Rights are “human” rights.

The US Department of Labor clarifies there is not a definitive list of workers’ rights however the International Labor Organization (ILO) identifies what it calls “fundamental principles and rights at work”:

  • freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  • elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor;
  • effective abolition of child labor; and
  • elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

The effective delivery of HR designed to ensure profitability and sustainability of the business is not at odds with the delivery of HR designed to promote or protect workers’ rights. The two can – and should – co-exist. 

It’s not about profit or people. It can easily be about profit and people. 

Work in HR? You say you’re all about the employee experience and engagement and “improving” your culture? Then you need to respect and promote Workers’ Rights before anything else.

After all…you’re a worker too. 

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Why You Got 99 (%) Problems in your Organization

If there’s one aspect of organizational dynamics that chaps my hide it’s the elitism that naturally surfaces due to the structural settings inherent in corporate hierarchies.

In our capitalist power-network we have several specific classes: the business-owning class, the self-employed and small-business owners, and the working-class. We can also certainly argue that there is another class consisting of highly trained professionals (physicians, lawyers, etc.) who, by virtue of intellect or specialization, have a place at the top of the power structure and remain in close proximity to the business-owning class.

Let’s face it though – in many organizations there are essentially two classes:

  • the big boys (and I have no problem referring to the elites in that gendered manner)
  • everybody else

Everybody else, of course, being the 99%. Those of us who are not the top dog.

But our tendency, as human beings, is to assert our own exceptionalism by scrambling and clawing our way to the pinnacle of some sort of mountain. It’s why here in my state of Louisiana, when yet another cringe-inducing report highlights our rank as 49th in something, Louisianians like to say “Hey! At least we’re not Mississippi!”  It’s why evil reigns in the world as our citizens – and politicians – successfully “other” people.  It’s why the unseen aspects of caste, as explored by Isabel Wilkerson in her masterful book (seriously; go read it), not only formed who we are as the USofA but continue to permeate our everyday lives.

And within our organizations we thrive on this shit. We memorialize the divisions. We idolize the few over the many. We glorify those who are sitting atop the mountain peak…and we install artificial barriers to prevent others from scaling the slope.

Far too many middle managers and HR leaders (glorified middle-managers), intoxicated by their amorphous organizational power, forget they are actually a member of the 99%. So rather than speaking truth to power or fighting the good fight, they bask in their ability to impose organizational constraints that serve little purpose other than shoring up their own unabashed desire to consider themselves part of the company’s 1% club.

We see this when they:

  • Implement attendance policies that promote flexibility for the elite and punish the masses for being 1 minute late to work
  • Have “leadership team” dinners, retreats and outings while wondering why the masses aren’t ecstatic (!) because Fred’s Ice Cream Truck will be coming to the parking lot for an hour on a summer Friday
  • Readily negotiate benefit offerings with the elite (“No problem Dave; we’ll give you 4 weeks of vacation on date of hire”) while lamenting the “excessive” use of sick/vacation time used by the masses
  • Enroll the elites in the “Wine of the Month” club while handing out company-branded water bottles to the plebes in the warehouse
  • Provide a super special parking lot (close to the building! Can’t let them get their expensive leather loafers wet!) that’s barely 25% full while the masses park far (far) away
  • Deploy seemingly arbitrary and capricious steps in the employee selection process including post=offer screening for recreational marijuana usage for *safety sensitive* positions even while Bob the SVP of Sales openly celebrates 420 day with reckless abandon

Gotcha. Corporations, business entities and governmental institutions are not democracies. Someone has to make the difficult decisions. We reward and recognize on merit, performance and other measurements that are commensurate with “value” to the organization. To the victors go the spoils.

But here’s a tip: if you’re in HR you best remember the 99%. Because YOU, my friend, are one of them.

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