Assertiveness: Flaw, Strength, or a Poo on the Desk?

pooping+dogLast week I wrote a post that ran at Recruiting Daily. Per my sources, this critique overview of SHRM activities got some pretty good viewership. It also led to numerous conversations and feedback as I received a fairly sizable number of emails and messages ranging from “woo hoo” to your “post on SHRM was awesome this week” to someone telling me I not only have guts but am also a clear thinker.

I also had an HR friend chastise me for tearing down the people I’m trying to change. His opinion was that I was merely advancing stereotypes of HR while simultaneously trashing the entire HR profession.

Well…no.

While I admit to a few well-placed generalizations in the post, I also noted that I, myself, FIT half those stereotypes. I wrote the post, I pointed out to him, because I do care. If I didn’t…I would be silent.

SHRM drama. Sigh.

In the larger scheme of things though it got me thinking…why did this seem like such a big deal? Is it because, to reference another generalization, human resources professionals are reluctant to state their opinion? Take a stand? State the uncomfortable truth – as they see it?

Chatting about SHRM’s lack of transparency is not a life or death situation. It barely ranks up there with taking a poop on the boss’ desk and resigning in a blaze of glory.

I gathered that my post just made some HR people uncomfortable. And not, may I state, only the SHRM diehards. Is that because in HR we’re expected to play it safe? “Keeping it sweet” is for followers of Warren Jeffs and the Duggars…not for HR professionals. With that attitude we are but one step away from the prairie dresses and ginormous hairdos.

Is assertiveness a bad word in HR? Most practitioners have built up the requisite skills to negotiate with vendors or brokers. We’ve developed a boastful pride in having the cajones to chastise a manager or participate in a meeting where an employee is given feedback. (note: this is also known as the “PIP” meeting. HR ladies love nothing more than making sure they sit in on every damn PIP meeting that occurs in the history of their company.)

But somehow we’re still left with a whole bunch of HR practitioners who never feel it’s safe to state exactly what they mean or to voice a personal opinion.

“Hey Ms. CEO…hiring Bob Smith as your VP of Sales is the dumbest thing you could ever do and here’s why…” “Hey Mr. CEO, I’m done cleaning up your messes; keep it in your pants or I’m out of here!” “Hey Ms. CHRO…you may be 3 layers up the totem pole from my lowly minion status but you are dead wrong with this initiative.”

I get it; it’s hard to do. It’s not easy to push back to the senior executive who seemingly holds our fate in his well-manicured hands.

But it takes courage and chutzpah and guts to work in human resources. You can be assertive and bold while still being direct and respectful.

You can be smart without being a know-it-all.

Assertiveness might just be the ticket to being a leader…versus being led.

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The Ecosystem of Innovation – #DiceTalentNet

TalentNetAustinMeme (1)Last week I got the opportunity to attend #DiceTalentNet in Austin. Hosted by my friend Craig Fisher in partnership with Dice, this annual event serves as a catalyst to bring together talent acquisition professionals, recruiting leaders, tech geeks, inventors and provocateurs as a kick-off to SXSW. We gathered at the Whole Foods corporate headquarters (fantastic!) thanks to global recruiting leader Andres Traslavina, noshed on healthy food, and hoisted a glass or two over the course of several days.

As is always the case when I attend an event of this sort it takes me a few days to process what I learned. I like to pause, evaluate, and think about the conversations and the sessions. There was a lot to think about.

We had incredible wide-ranging discussions last week; Gerry Crispin spoke about the Candidate Experience, Bill Boorman discussed Data for Good vs. Data for Evil, and Matt Charney, Lars Schmidt and Ambrosia Humphrey discussed Boomerang Communities (those former employees who want to come back…or the ones we want back!). James Mayes discussed concepts around Bringing Engineering to Recruiting (fascinating!). Even my friend Kristi Jones and I got in on the action and led a session called Attack of the HR Ladies.

And, needless to say, there was much much MUCH more.

I’ve spent some time this week looking back over the years (decades really) that I’ve been involved in recruiting/HR/talent roles and reflecting on both how things have changed…and how things have stayed the same. So often, especially when going to a typical conference, we find that we re-hash the same topics, the same ideas, and the same solutions. Not so at #DiceTalentNet.

For me, the theme (if you will) that emerged from #DiceTalentNet was INNOVATION. I know… it seems like an overused word but I think it fits what’s happening amongst the smart and curious people who tend to gather together to talk about these things. (note: #TalentNet attendees don’t show up for credits…they show up for community. Know how I could tell? The conversations about recruiting, tech, and talent were still going strong at midnight…and well into the wee hours of the morning).

So … innovation?

During #DiceTalentNet we had the perfect convergence of imagination and ideas. I heard about (and saw) initiatives that are designed to make things better. I had discussions about forming new alliances and creating new ways of doing things to satisfy the evolving (evolved) needs of organizations and recruiters.

I won’t call it disruption – although that word popped up now and again during the day. What I saw in action was thoughtful and informed. We talked about breaking barriers and knocking down pre-conceived notions…but doing so with purpose.

We even put it in action with a sourcing challenge using Dice Recruiter which, since I was too slow, I didn’t win; but kudos to Alice Case who did. (You can download the app here. note: The Dice Recruiter App requires a Dice Open Web account. Learn more about Open Web.)

So yeah. Innovation.

What a great day. And a great future.

“The future you create is the one you get prepared for”

@Seiden

#DiceTalentNet 2015

 

Thanks again to Craig and Dice for joining together and hosting; I definitely intend to return in 2016!

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Where do ‘Brands’ go to Die?

cad_poke_stillI read a press release yesterday announcing that the Museum of Broadcast Communication in Chicago will present “A Salute to Advertisings Greatest Icons” beginning in May.

The exhibition will “examine the creation and evolution of the characters from their inception to contemporary use, through commercials, vintage print ads and packaging, and a wide variety of character memorabilia. Advertising agencies and brand historians will describe how the characters were designed and how they have evolved over the years.”

Among the brands/characters/pop culture icons showcased will be:

  • Pillsbury Doughboy (General Mills)
  • Jolly Green Giant (General Mills)
  • Tony the Tiger (Frosted Flakes) (Kelloggs)
  • Snap, Crackle & Pop (Rice Krispies) (Kelloggs)
  • Keebler Elves (Keebler…duh)
  • Ronald McDonald (McDonalds…duh again)
  • Procter & Gambles Mr. Clean (Procter & Gamble)
  • 9 Lives Morris the Cat (Procter & Gamble)
  • Charlie the Tuna (StarKist) (Procter & Gamble)
  • Raid Bugs (S.C. Johnson)

OMG…how I want to poke the belly of the Pillsbury Doughboy and make him giggle!

According to the president of the museum These beloved characters helped define many of the worlds top consumer brands, and each has become synonymous with their brand in commercials, print ads, packaging and on grocery shelves.” 

It’s kind of nifty that these characters continue to have active lives; Poppin’ Fresh (the doughboy) (OMG…he’s so cute!) has been getting a finger jammed in his tummy since 1965. Ronald McDonald has been scaring amusing children for the same length of time. Last year, you may recall, McDonald’s announced Ronald was getting a makeover. Not quite sure how that has turned out; I, along with countless others, thought it was creepy as hell.

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This got me thinking about the types of brands we blather on about in HR and Recruiting; employer brand, culture brand, branded (aka ‘talent’) communities, HR brand, personal brand.

I can guarantee you, with some degree of certainty, there will never be a museum exhibit dedicated to fabulous branding by human resources teams.

And I wonder if one of the reasons is because so many of these “HR driven” branding initiatives wither away. Oh sure, there are employer brands that evolve, transform, and remain strong (Google, Apple, Starbucks, et al.). The HR brand within an organization may shift dramatically with the addition of a new CHRO. People dissect, re-imagine, and reposition their personal brands all the time.

But sometimes the brands that HR teams are ‘responsible’ for just go “pffffffft”.

Why? I can think of a few reasons:

  • Employer branding is siloed in talent acquisition instead of carried throughout the entire employee life cycle
  • There is no integration with the company’s consumer brand
  • Something is built or constructed in the belief that ‘if we build it … people will come’
  • People invested in the nurturing and furthering of the brand leave the organization

And isn’t that last point critical? We can grasp its importance in SMBs but I think it’s a relevant point in large multi-faceted enterprises as well.

This may go against what we try to believe. We get behind the rallying cry “there’s no I in team” and discount the drive and contribution of that one person who is a fierce believer, promoter and passion-ista. The loss of that one team member, co-worker or leader can also mean the loss of ideas, excitement and brand energy.

And when that happens does the brand go somewhere else? Does it land in some sort of brand boneyard? Can it be resuscitated and resurrected?

I think it can; although it may never be the same. Sort of like a Zombie.

But zombies are sort of cool.

GRAAIINS-M2

 

 

 

 

 

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(1) Pillsbury Doughboy image

(2) image courtesy of WearYourBeer

 

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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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