Running the Foot Race

foot raceI spent some time with a client this morning and the organization’s leader used an analogy during his comments at an all employee meeting that resonated quite strongly with the group.

He compared living our lives to running a foot race.

Certainly this sounds familiar; “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” has, of course, become another business cliche. Yet this morning’s topic veered into some territory that spoke to more than just a personal approach to getting stuff done. Among the things he pointed out:

  • When you’re running life’s foot race you’ll encounter obstacles (hills, pebbles, holes or any number of things) that may cause you to trip or fall
  • Don’t let the foot race get you weary; this takes training and building up your stamina
  • If you notice a fellow runner falter or stumble, your role is to provide assistance and pick him/her up
  • If you successfully run the foot race you can then learn to “run with the horses”

This was not a rah-rah “let’s all get to work and hit the next big target” pep session. Rather it was a reminder to everyone in attendance that the challenges encountered in life’s foot race are not insurmountable. Employees bring their personal lives to work with them every day; they don’t stop running the race just because they’ve walked through the office door.  And that’s…. OK. That’s human.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff” he reminded everyone. “Support each other in your individual foot races and then together we can run with the horses.”






No Joke: Your HR Lady is the Funnest Person You (Don’t) Know

mom_jeans-1I’m going to let you in on a secret; those aloof stern-faced bureaucrats who work in your human resources department are, quite possibly, some of the most engaging and enjoyable people at your company.

I’m not kidding. They’re probably a lot of fun.

Naturally you scoff. It’s highly likely you’ve never witnessed your HR leader displaying much wit or wisecracking in the employee cafeteria. Greg in Sales has the reputation as the comic genius in the organization who can always be counted on to liven up any meeting or company party. Linda from the Employee Relations team? Not so much.

It’s a peculiar phenomenon that’s hard to understand unless you’ve toiled in a human resources department. Most every HR practitioner, when embarking upon her career, was indoctrinated trained by an older experienced HR professional. Much like my grandmother taught me to cook and bake (well, attempted to; I failed miserably), there’s usually a nice older HR lady in every HR department who teaches the ways-of-HR to the newbies under her care. She might be the HR leader or just the one who has hung on the longest at the organization but, especially if it’s a small or mid-sized HR shop, her HR practices are plucked from some Hot Tub Time Machine alternate universe.

Due to this unique-to-HR rite of passage we’ve spawned thousands of 32-year- old HR ladies who act like your 55-year-old mother. You know the type. She wears mom jeans on Casual Fridays. Every conversation she has with you, even in the bathroom for Christ’s sake, sounds like a lecture. She hounds you for forms and checklists and does everything short of rifling through your backpack (looking for notes or homework assignments!) when you walk in the door.

It’s really not her fault.

This whole situation is outlined very accurately, in my estimation, by Peter Cappelli over at HR Executive as he points out that (1) HR is charged with making people behave, and (2) HR often finds itself in a position of responsibility for an issue or task while often not possessing the authority to do anything about it. Some heavy burdens to bear.

This, gentle readers, is why HR ladies drink.

So here’s the deal; we often remind HR practitioners to be more approachable and get out in their organizations to connect with employees on a human and personal level. But it’s a two-way road; not a one-way thoroughfare.

If you work in any other part of the company, I encourage YOU to get to know your HR team. I’m serious here; no snark or smart-ass commentary intended. Pop in to the HR Department for a visit – not just to pick something up or because you “have to.” Linger at the communal coffee pot when Barb and Mark from HR are there chatting about their weekends. Invite them to join a group of co-workers at Happy Hour. (Note; they may not come because, well, HR bullshit. But trust me – they’ll appreciate the invitation and be incredibly flattered).

Yeah, I get it; your HR lady may seem detached and standoffish, but I promise you; she’s a lot of fun.

I am!


Perfecting the Nanny State: HR and Ethics

Prince_John_with_nannyThere are numerous assignments that human resources professionals either assume for themselves or have thrust upon them: driver of employee engagement, culture cheerleader, diversity leader, and wellness champion come to mind. Well intentioned perhaps but not necessarily well thought out.

Another undertaking that often resides in the HR Department is oversight of corporate ethics. “HR is the conscience of the organization” the thinking often goes. “They’ll make sure we hire people with integrity, and, through continual communication of our values and ideals, ensure operating with integrity stays at the forefront.”

Naturally the SHRM Competency Model includes “Drives the corporate ethical environment” as a behavior within Competency 7: Ethical Practice. At the executive level, per SHRM, this means every competent HR professional “Aligns all HR practices with ethics, laws, and standards” and “Sets the standard for being a role model of ethical behavior by consistently conforming to the highest ethical standards and practices.”

An HR professional recently shared a story with me; in the midst of a pressure-filled situation with a huge operational need (aka revenue generating) to get-some-stuff-done-RIGHT-NOW, an organizational leader suggested that HR cut some corners. Make some concessions. Downright lie. And encourage employees to lie.

The fearless HR professional calmly looked the leader squarely in the eye and said ”no.”
Easy? Not at all. But necessary.

Modeling behavior and operating with integrity as an individual practitioner or as a collective HR function is an absolute must-do. But this is not a one-person or one-department show.

HR professionals are not, as some might say, THE moral conscience of the company. But we are, most assuredly, the custodians and caretakers of ethics and integrity. We’re responsible for promoting ethical behavior from the leadership team and the C-Suite and reminding them they set the standards that trickle down throughout the company. When something’s rotten in the state of Denmark we must have the courage to challenge the behaviors and activities that erode and corrupt everything that is good.

Keep fighting the good fight my friends.


image: wikimedia commons


Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear

Rear-view-mirror-captionI got to spend a fantastic day yesterday with a team of HR professionals; guys and gals ranging from what SHRM likes to call “Young Professionals” to others who, like me, have worked in HR since the Mesozoic Era pre-FMLA / almost pre I-9 days.

We talked recruiting and comp and benefits and HR technology. We discussed HR operations, efficiencies, and learning and development. We even wandered into employee relations because you know HR folks can’t get together without swapping a good horror story or two. (We ran out of time so I didn’t get to share my classic ’employee pooping on the floor’ story).

I love having these conversations with people who are passionate about the work they do and enthusiastic about human resources. HR practitioners who feel an affinity with the culture of their organization and become curators and storytellers while also realizing that evolution will occur.

What’s exciting to me is that HR teams are also evolving. Honestly. Many are no longer content to merely look backwards and realize that Great (and future focused) HR is about:

  • creating an HR strategy and framework that is both proactive and responsive to the shifting needs of the business
  • empowering individual employees so they can connect their strengths and capabilities to the success of the organization
  • adding value by supporting and enabling the execution of organizational strategy
  • being involved, proactive and agile

It absolutely fills my heart with joy when HR practitioners understand that we are not defined by what we do – the tasks we get done so we can make check marks on our giant To-Do-Lists. Of course we have to get shit done but that’s NOT our raison d’etre. We are, however, defined by how and why we do what we do.

Fun stuff. Really. Conversations about human resources are not always as boring as they may appear from the outside. And my friend John Jorgensen, who isn’t a fan when I use the phrase, will be pleased to know there was nary an HR lady in the bunch.


image: Wikipedia – creative commons


It’s not the “Brand” – it’s the “Experience”

pinocchioWe can talk all day about employer branding – and we often do.

My friend Lars Schmidt has a definition that I like (and shamelessly use): “Your employer brand, at its core, is the shared values and employee experiences of your organization.”

The important part of that definition, in my estimation, is “employee experiences;” the most critical and often over-looked part of the equation.

Branding is often the sparkly part of HR; there are keynote speakers talking about it, talent acquisition experts are put in charge of Employer Branding departments, and loyal devotees act like evangelical preachers as they roll out EB initiatives in company-after-company. Pretty fun, I imagine, when one’s organization exists to sell technology or entertainment or trendy hipster-friendly fashion. Not as exciting when one is manufacturing cancer-causing chemicals or running a for-profit prison because the department of corrections has been outsourced by the local government.

Of course it’s easier to promote the brand at the beginning stages of the employee life cycle – Join us! Here are our values! See how we fly every employee to Cancun for onboarding!

But the depth and breadth of the employee experience includes environment and supervisors and coworkers. It includes the fact that passive-aggressive employees have been allowed to create internal fiefdoms and exert ridiculous control. It means there’s a historical practice of managers chastising staff members in public forums in the name of transparency. It means that the C-suite folks are out of the office 24/7 while the average employee, who has been wooed with flexible work programs, is expected to sit in a grey cubicle between the hours of 8 and 6 and needs that abundant PTO balance (promoted by Joe the Recruiter!) because she must use PTO every time she leaves the office for an hour-long dentist appointment.

The employee experience includes handbooks and policies. It includes an over-reliance on PIPs because “treating employees fairly and justly” is merely code for giving people a heads-up notice that they’re on their way out the door.

It’s the reality of “we promote from within” meaning “we’ll never pay you as much as an external candidate because employees are capped at a 15% increase even for promotions.”

 So, I wonder… where are the companies truthfully talking about the entire – and real – employer brand?

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