HR Service Delivery: Signed and Sealed

signed-11_8Looking for a hot conversational topic when you’re stuck chatting with a bunch of HR professionals? Whether you’re sitting with two of them at the train station or stuck in some in-house training session with your company’s entire HR team here’s a surefire discussion starter: ask them who they serve in their organization. In other words whose needs are they there to meet and/or satisfy? The business? Leaders and managers? Employees?

I guarantee this exchange will be both captivating and heated. I’ve participated in informal roundtables with this as the topic du jour and enjoyed cocktail parties (whilst sipping a lovely Kir Royale) where the discussion on this subject was so tempestuous we managed to barely escape just short of actual fisticuffs.

The answer, proffered by your average HR practitioner, to this seemingly basic question will vary based on any number of factors; the type and size of organization she has worked in as well as the sort of organization in which she was trained in the ways of HR. The answer will be formulated depending upon the HR pro’s previous mentors or bosses, and also the type of specific roles he has held in the human resources field. What was measured? What mattered? (note: contrary to popular opinion what matters does not get measured nor does what gets measured….matter.)

 

The answer, as far as I’m concerned, is “HR serves everyone.”

We serve the needs of the business. In accordance with laws, regulations, policies and the dictates and desires of our CEO or business owner, we serve, protect and defend.

We serve the needs of managers and leaders. We don’t cover up their shenanigans of course, but neither do we bring them down and lay blame. Rather, we assist them in everything related to the management of their people/human capital/resources. We coach, guide and support them so they can focus on running the business.

We serve the needs of employees. We hold their hands, we answer their questions, and we help them solve problems. We may, depending upon the need, talk to their mothers, spouses, priests or parole officers.

And when we do all of these things right we are also serving the needs of those who are external to our organization – our candidates, our communities, and our customers.

Here’s the deal…so often in human resources we’ve tended to think of these things as mutually exclusive. “I can’t be an advocate for employees if my role is to protect the needs of the company” is something I’ve heard more than one HR practitioner say. Or “I need to maintain impartiality so I can’t be too friendly with employees.”

Both of which, of course, are utter crap.

You can work in HR and be a competent and caring business professional without being a solemn and dour robot intent on spreading doom and gloom with every policy update. You can serve others without being servile or subservient. It’s not the role of the HR lady to keep a candy dish on her desk, bake muffins for birthdays and holidays, and take minutes at the weekly leadership meeting but you can still be pleasant and kind.

The strategies and goals of the business inform what HR does…but the how is what each of us as HR professionals determine once we realize who we serve.

The how is the magic sauce.

This question – “who does HR serve?” – is perhaps the most elemental aspect of human resources and goes well beyond a practitioner grasping the bodies of knowledge or being fully capable in the HR competencies. The answer to this question lays the foundation for one’s entire career in and around HR.

So I wonder…how many HR professionals are truly delivering … to all?

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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!

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Making Employee Benefits Sexy! #SHRM15

2015-Employee-Benefits-CoverIn the king-sized bed of core human resources accountabilities employee benefits nestles up alongside compensation and compliance in a ménage a trois of least sexy HR responsibilities. Snuggled together under a cozy fleece blanket these three are necessary to the effectiveness of a solid foundational HR program in every organization. But let’s face it; they’re not nearly as glamorous or exciting as talent acquisition, employee engagement, or learning & development. Even the battle-weary Labor Relations folks have a rough-and-tumble image that puts them higher on the hot-meter than the majority of Benefits Managers.

Yet every single HR professional must constantly be tuned in to the trends, costs, and shifting landscape that is employee benefits. So in the spirit of ensuring I stay up to date on the basics I recently read through SHRM’s 2015 Employee Benefit research report. I picked up a copy at last week’s SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition but you can also download the report here.

The report provides information about the types of benefits US employers offer and, as part of the research, the team explored over 300 types of benefits including health care and welfare benefits, preventive health and wellness benefits, retirement savings and planning benefits, leave benefits, flexible working benefits, professional and career development benefits, housing and relocation benefits, and even business travel benefits.

As pointed out in the Executive Summary: “Research has shown that many job seekers frequently place greater importance on health care coverage, flexible work schedules and other benefits rather than on their base salaries. Benefits plans should be viewed by HR professionals as a vital tool in their retention and recruitment strategies.”

But, as I have frequently wondered for many years, do HR professionals truly dive deep and understand the right benefit levers to attract the right talent? Are benefits managers nimble enough to put together the right package – and adjust it as needed – when faced with attraction or retention issues? Does anyone ever, really, ask the employees what benefits they want?

One of the most interesting charts in the report indicates the prevalence of different types of benefits. The majority of surveyed companies continue to offer, as would be expected, paid holidays (98%), AD&D coverage (85%), a 401(k) or similar DC plan (90%), and break-rooms/kitchenettes (90%). (note: only in the world of HR would someone actually consider a break-room a benefit. Then again, a high number of benefit marketing/collateral statements given to applicants/employees touts “direct deposit of paychecks” as a benefit, so…..)

On the low end of the spectrum, however, we see the availability of the following benefits:

  • On-ramping programs for parents re-entering the workforce (2%)
  • Access to backup to child care services (4%)
  • Babies at work (1% of employers offer/allow) (Bringing them to work, one would assume. Not birthing them).
  • Access to backup elder care services (1%)
  • Elder Care assisted living assessments (<1%)
  • Elder care in-home assessments (<1%)
  • Geriatric counseling (<1%)
  • On-ramping programs for family members dealing with elder care responsibilities (<1%)

There’s a higher prevalence of companies offering self defense training (4%) and pet health insurance (9%) than there are those assisting with elder care needs.

Are sexy and family friendly mutually exclusive?

As noted in the report There was a five-year decline in the percentage of organizations permitting employees to bring their child to work in an emergency and offering child care referral services and on-site parenting seminars. There were no statistically significant increases in the percentage of organizations offering family-friendly benefits over the last year.”

That’s a decline. With no significant increase. Huh.

So what types of benefits have been increased? According to the report the number of organizations offering general wellness programs has regularly increased over the last five years. Out go the Snickers bars in the vending machines to be replaced by high fiber low sugar bars and BAM – Janet the HR Director can say she’s implemented a wellness initiative! We all know that wellness sells to frazzled HR ladies as evidenced by the preponderance of “wellness” booths in the #SHRM15 Expo Hall last week as well as the long lines at Dr. Oz’s book signing.

You know what struck me though after reading through the report and glancing at the Executive Summary? It appears that not much has evolved in employee benefits since I started in my first HR Department 25 years ago. Oh sure, fewer organizations now offer defined benefit plans while they do get to offer Target Date funds (exciting!) in their defined contribution plans. But good grief… I think we offered more child care assistance and other family friendly options in the 90’s.

But never fear!!! 60% of surveyed companies still offer a service anniversary award.

And if service awards can still be considered a ‘benefit’ then by golly – I guess we have brought the sexy back.

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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

**********

this post originally ran at the HR Schoolhouse

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