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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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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