When One and One Equals More than Two #Culture

Season_1_EndRemember when Mike and Carol Brady got married and merged two households (plus Alice)? The girls had to get used to a dog, the boys had to learn all about Kitty Carryall, and everyone had to adjust to six kids sharing one bathroom.

They never did a Christmas show during the original run of the series, but it would have been interesting to watch how these two groups came together to learn each others’ holiday traditions and favorite Christmas foods (“WE eat ham on Christmas Day! WE make a turkey!”). I’m quite certain, with the lessons we were supposed to learn, neither Carol nor Mike would have dominated but rather we would have seen the creation of a “new” Christmas tradition; “henceforth we shall have a Roast Goose for Christmas Day dinner but Alice will make ham and turkey on Christmas Eve!” Something like that.

The blending and melding of two in order to make “one” that still recognizes – and appreciates – what came before.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’ve had several conversations with organizational leaders who are grappling with cultural issues post merger, acquisition, and/or growth.

Culture is a powerful factor in the success of any of these situations; culture, after all, drives behavior. During the uncertainty that may arise (“is my position redundant? Will I have a job after this merger?”), employees often wonder if the history they bring will be remembered. Over the years I’ve regularly heard employees lament that post acquisition/merger the slate was wiped clean and there was no appreciation for what “came before.”

In addition, unfortunately, the culture thing is often viewed as something that can be dealt with after the fact. HR and operational teams find themselves focusing on the transactional necessities such as aligning acquired employees to benefit packages, adjusting payroll schedules, or re-calculating PTO balances and neglect the real people factors. There’s often more time devoted to getting performance appraisal systems lined up then there is time devoted to getting PERFORMANCE lined up…know what I mean?

While this is more readily apparent on an organizational scale it also happens even absent a merger/acquisition such as when two departments come together under one VP or a Department Manager is assigned another work group.

So what, pray tell, can we learn from Mike and Carol? I’ve thought of a few things:

  • Don’t go in in assuming that the acquiring organization, based on might or size, has the ‘right’ way of doing things. There may be traits inherent in the smaller work group that are behaviors that should be integrated within the whole.
  • Assess everything. What are the differences – and similarities – in things like leadership philosophies and decision making styles? Are there vastly different human resources models and employment practices?
  • Communicate early and often – not just roles and expectations but mission, vision and values. Talk about culture; the traditions, history, behaviors and the unspoken norms of both entities.
  • What will unify the new team? Is it taking on a competitor? Is it winning new market share? Consider a common goal – there’s the vision! – which can now be reached together through combined strength.
  • Build trust. Confer with every individual employee and regularly ask  “how’s it going? What challenges are you facing?” What can we do to help?”
  • Realize that culture – like family dynamics – is ever evolving. When the kids came back home for A Very Brady Christmas they brought with them new experiences, new ideas, and things learned in the big wide world. Even Jan.

Think about it this way…First, observe. Then consult. Then change.

You can remember what came before…and make something NEW together.

Share

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.

*************

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?

 **********

this post originally appeared at the HRSchoolhouse. Reprinted because I still think it holds true. 

Share

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

**********

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. 

Share

Write a Thank You Note

original_set-of-12-handmade-thank-you-note-cardsI don’t know about you but I still like holding an actual book in my hand. I enjoy the pleasure of flipping through a glossy magazine. I don’t mind being handed a sheath of papers and having the ability to sit down and read, mark it up, and curl the pages. I’m not a fan of newspapers though; I don’t think I’ve sat and read a printed newspaper for years.

But I like love hand written cards and notes.

A birthday card received in the mailbox. A note left on my desk. A post-it note slapped on my monitor.

Nice little reminders to stop for a moment and appreciate human connections.

So here’s something awesome you can do today.

Take a few minutes, sit down with pen in hand and compose a thank you note to someone who’s made a difference in your week. Surprise your co-worker in the next cubicle, the hard-working receptionist who manages the flow of visitors to your office, or a colleague in another department.

Deliver it yourself…or support the USPS. Your choice.

**********

image: (and cards available at) notonthehighstreet

Share

Join Me: Drivers of Engagement in New Hire Onboarding

We discuss employee engagement a lot don’t we? We realize there are benefits to our organizations when we have a highly engaged workforce; things like improved performance, higher productivity, and improved retention.

Across the continuum of the employee life cycle there are numerous touch points and multiple opportunities for us to focus on strategies that address our desired outcomes. And the onboarding of employees is one of those times.

But how do we tackle it? How do we improve the onboarding experience, ensure it’s aligned with our company’s business objectives, and measure success? What are key talent metrics? And how, if you’re considering revamping your onboarding program, do you get from here…to there?

Join me next Thursday (2/26/2015) for “Drivers of Engagement in New Hire Onboarding” when I’ll be part of a panel discussing the essential elements of high-performance onboarding, key practices for gauging impact, and the importance of talent technology.

Hosted by cfactor Works Inc. (developer of Vibe HCM suite) and Brandon Hall Group, a leading HCM research and advisory services firm, and will feature, in addition to me, a whole bunch of smart people:

I promise we’ll have a great discussion and share some interesting information, so go here to register and join us.

Onward to onboarding!

Share