Guess What HR? You Don’t “Hire & Fire”

MalcolmLife2If you work in human resources what follows is a pretty common exchange.

Random Guy You Just Met: “What do you do?”

You: “I work in human resources.”

RGYJM: “Oh. So you hire and fire.”

 

Right? Am I right? If I had a nickel…. well, you know the rest.

So how do you respond to RGYJM? I surely hope you don’t answer “Yup. That is, indeed, what I do.”

I’ve got a bit of news for you my dear HR professional (or HR student looking to enter human resources) – unless the candidate or employee in question is your direct report you are not the one hiring or firing.

So why does this continue to be the primary concept of HR in Joe Public’s brain? Why is this the automatic go-to-thought of the average dude on the street when he thinks about what his company’s HR lady does?

I mean really… this is what is said all the time. I’ve had this phrase tossed at me hundred – no…thousands – of times over the course of my professional career. Never once did a RGIJM say “Oh! So you’re a partner in strategy execution and are responsible for delivering results in all areas related to the human capital of the organization.”

Nope. Not once.

  • CEO of a local (large) insurance agency who I met at a networking event: “Oh. You hire and fire.”
  • Regional Manager of a national retail chain deployed to town for a start-up who I sat next to at a luncheon: “Oh. You hire and fire.”
  • My mother: “Oh. You hire and fire.”

Oh mom.

There are lots of reasons folks the world over seem to think HR hires and fires. It’s Jeff Goldblum/Dr. Ian Malcolm writing a manifesto on Chaos Theory in a weird alternate HR universe:

  • Company owner/CEO puts pompous HR goon in charge of all employee matters. This is often memorialized in job descriptions and company handbooks and, to a lesser extent, in SOPs.
  • Domineering HR practitioner assumes complete control over all actions and activities that should be in the domain of managers; it’s at this stage that Carol in HR decides she will be the one issuing PIPs to transgressing employees rather than letting that responsibility reside with the managers.
  • In an attempt to bring order back to their domains managers assert their rights and attempt to gain control of hiring, performance management, and terminations for their own staff members. Citing policies, regulations, and frightening edicts from various-and-assorted governmental agencies, Carol denies their request with a firm and final “no.” (note: ever mindful of the fact that she went into HR because she’s a ‘people-person,’ Carol presents this by saying “I’m here to help you. Let me assist.”).
  • Carol develops more convoluted and cumbersome processes designed to preserve her own job whilst simultaneously relegating managers to minion status.
  • Employees, managers and leaders began to believe that nothing related to hiring, compensation or culling-the-deadwood could ever be accomplished without the totalitarian rule of Carol and her crew.

And this is repeated over and over in organization after organization as people continue to ask (and try to answer) “what does HR do?”

Until and unless we break this cycle we will never – I repeat never – have someone think HR is a partner in strategy execution. Or change management. Or whatever. HR will forever be considered the “hire and fire” department.

Oh…and the “people who enroll us in our benefits” department.

But that’s a post for another day.

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Just Because You Can…Doesn’t Mean You Should

can openerWhen contemplating a course of action or implementing a new procedure/policy HR practitioners stand at a metaphorical crossroads.

In general the process begins with the question “can we do X?” which is a perfectly acceptable, and appropriate, place to start.  After all, as much as we may take umbrage at the relentless HR stereotype that we’re rule-enforcing bureaucrats who take great delight in policing every action there’s no denying that ensuring compliance and mitigating potential risk is an important part of what we do.

Yet…once it’s determined that “yes we CAN do X” it’s quite rare that the follow up question “but SHOULD we do X” is ever asked.

This doesn’t seem to rear its head in relation to matters that are fairly clear cut; wage and hour issues, EEO requirements and the like. Rather it pops up when there are nuanced decisions to be made or when one can opt to domore than is required.  You know… those times when one has the opportunity to enhance the employment experience and treat people like, well, people.

This has come to mind again after a number of recent conversations, discussions and consultations when business owners, HR colleagues and others have sought clarity on things such as:

  • Eliminating paid vacation and paid holidays for some (but not all) classifications of employees
  • Drastically alternating work schedules/work hours. Immediately. Like tomorrow.
  • Deciding that an internal applicant is not worthy of an interview because “we know we wouldn’t put him in that position anyway.”
  • Requiring an exempt employee to be on-site (8 AM to 5 PM) for the 40 hour Mon-Fri workweek even though a project deadline necessitated her working 16+ hours the previous weekend.  Not at the office Mon – Fri for full 40 hours? Just make sure missed work time is accompanied by a deduction from the PTO bank.
  • Charging employees’ time to their PTO bank for breaks needed to express milk
  • Opting to not disclose to an employee the reason for his termination

Ah yes.

Please…by all means…ask if you can. But don’t forget to wonder if you should.

 

“All The Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas

Layin’ In The Sun,

Talkin’ ‘Bout The Things

They Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda Done…

But All Those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas

All Ran Away And Hid

From One Little Did.”

Shel Silverstein

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this post originally ran at the HR Schoolhouse

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The Pace of Business. The Pace of HR.

Atlas Rockefeller CenterI grew up in Wisconsin. I spent my childhood and HS years in the Milwaukee suburbs, headed off to college in central Wisconsin, and then returned to live and work in Milwaukee. It’s a bustling city and I’ve found that unless you’re from the area or have reason to visit you generally don’t have any awareness that the MSA is quite so sizable. We moved at a brisk clip and took care of business; might be that whole Socialist and Germanic heritage. Or because we knew a beer was waiting at the end of the day. I dunno.

Thirteen years ago we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. One hour up the I-10 from New Orleans (let’s face it, the most unique city in the USofA), Baton Rouge suffers from an identity crisis usually articulated as “we are NOT New Orleans!”

There are certainly many things to love here in the Red Stick; the food, the ever-present music, a fascinating history, and super friendly and welcoming people. We have gorgeous scenery, exotic wildlife, and LSU football … if that’s your thing. There are also characteristics that reside firmly in the negative column; a general aversion to anything progressive, the absolute worst traffic ever, an atrocious education system, and institutional racism and sexism that still snuggle companionably alongside the Sazeracs served to Tripp and Tiffany at the local country club or at the annual power-broker crawfish boils.

Oh…and we move slowly. V-E-R-Y slowly. And that, other than learning how to pronounce a whole new bunch of words, was the biggest area of acclimation for me.

Is it because of the heat? Any day now we’re destined to hit the upper 80’s/90’s and then resolutely remain there until October and, of course, our heat is like wrapping yourself in a wet woolen blanket. Do we take our time because we’ll break into a sweat if we pick up the pace?

Or is it, as some have postulated, because we believe in enjoying life? We like to stop and smell the roses (or magnolias)? We wonder “what’s the rush?” Laissez les bon temps rouler.

There’s something to be said for that.

Yet whenever I head out of town I notice the remarkable differences in how we not only “live” but also in how we “work.”

I spent part of last week in NYC with a colleague working with an HR team full of energized, super smart, young, and hip HR professionals. Well, certainly more hip than me. We rocked through a ton of content at a fast clip all day long and then, because unlike Baton Rouge there are things to do in NYC past 8 PM, we went out for drinks and festivities.

No moss growing under their feet.

And, it goes without saying, this team was not an anomaly.

I took a stroll through Grand Central Station, purposefully at commute time, to revel in the frenzied activity of harried suburbanites catching their trains. I sat at a table, mid-day, in Bryant Park to watch the go-go young investment bankers grab some Jamba Juice before continuing on with their important phone calls. While scoring some cocktails I chatted up a marketing dude (finance industry) at the bar; he was still in his suit (tie loosened) and had his computer bag at his feet…4 hours after the workday ended. He paused, mid-conversation, to take a 30 second phone call, send off a quick email (another 30 seconds), and then resumed our conversation.

That shit doesn’t happen in Baton Rouge.

Is that good…or bad? Certainly the desire for a certain lifestyle…fast pace vs. slow pace… boils down to personal preference. There are many individuals who purposefully choose to escape (isn’t that how it’s usually put?) so they leave DC or Chicago or pick-a-big-city and relocate to a less frenetic metro area or even a small town.

More power to ‘em.

I got to thinking though; does the speed at which the overall business community moves impact how HR moves? Does an HR team or an HR professional working in a sluggish environ become … well…sluggish? Can human resources professionals ideate and innovate and ACT when those around them are content to live by the mantra “don’t be in such a hurry; we’ll get there someday.”

What would Atlas do?

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Why Your HR Leader Doesn’t Need to Worry About the FMLA

fmlaI had a fascinating conversation last week with a colleague who told me about a recent meeting he attended. This was an in-house event, at a fairly large enterprise, and the CHRO took to the stage to speak to hundreds of HR team members. Based on his description I envisioned a mashup of a  gospel revival and town-hall summit complete with overview of strategy and vision, talk of HR initiatives, and a bit of rah-rah team building. They even, apparently, spent a bit of time down in the HR trenches when, at one point, the CHRO referenced the FMLA.

Apparently though, according to the source of this story, the CHRO got the details wrong.

I wasn’t quite clear on the specific inaccuracies; not sure if the CHRO flubbed basic details like eligibility or minutiae like how to track intermittent leave and the specific timeline for when an employer can request additional certification from the employee’s health care provider. Nor do I think the details are that pertinent during off-the-cuff remarks; I’ve processed hundreds (or so it seems) of FMLA leaves and every time one pops up I end up doing a quick Google or DOL search for one detail or another.

My friend, however, was a tad peeved.

“How can the head of HR not know something like that?” he asked. “How can he lead an HR function without that basic knowledge?”

“Look,” I said (while silently screaming OMG in my brain), “this is not Sally the HR Director down the street with 400 employees who, out of necessity, not only devises strategy but also files when stuff needs to get done. This is the HR executive for an organization with tens of thousands of employees. Do you seriously think the CEO and Board of Directors care if he understands the differences between the rolling 12-month period or the fixed 12-month period?”

My friend, who holds a PhD and has taught human resources curriculum for decades, remained adamant in his resolve not to forgive this lack of knowledge. It was his contention that anyone who works in HR should know all the basics; backwards-and-forwards. Taft-Hartley, Railway Labor Act, OSHA 300 logs…and on and on.

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It got me to thinking if this was an HR thing or an academia thing. At what stage, in someone’s career or progression up the ladder of responsibility, is it acceptable to remove the trivial crap from the recesses of one’s brain? Do we expect that high-ranking CMO’s still know how to put together a sell sheet? Does the CFO of a Fortune 1000 company need to know how to run the software used to track depreciable assets?

Of course not.

While a background in human resources, and some time spent working in the battlefields of HR management is nice-to-have, it’s not really a requisite for HR leaders. Not anymore.

Today’s HR leader needs to be a driver of change. She needs to be adept at thinking and operating strategically in alignment with the current (and future) needs of the business. She has to be intellectually curious with the ability to build (and navigate) strategic relationships with employees, peers, colleagues and board members. She has to work on critical issues surrounding culture, workforce strategy, and leadership development. She has to implement HR initiatives that lead to increased revenue or grow customer satisfaction.

She’s a business leader first. Then she’s an HR leader.

And she can Google all that FMLA crap.

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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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