3 Things Your HR Department is Doing Right Now

old officeManaging employee data on spreadsheets

I recently read a job posting for an HR Director position with a mid-sized organization (several thousand employees). There, amongst the laundry list of job duties, was “Provide annual wage adjustments on Excel spreadsheet and relay wage increase information to the Payroll Department.”

Lesson: If you work in HR please don’t think you’re the only one who is behind the times. You’re not the only HR professional cobbling together your systems of record and HR data using spreadsheets, word documents and paper files.

Watching you

I had a conversation at a gathering this past weekend and a friend mentioned that his employer is “putting cameras everywhere. They’re all over the building now. They just want to catch us doing something wrong I guess.”

Lesson: No matter the reason for increasing the amount of cameras at a workplace (safety for staff, 24 hour monitoring for security reasons) rest assured that employees will be convinced the HR Lady decided to install cameras so she could catch employees in the midst of sinful transgressions. An employee once accused me of placing a camera in her office because we knew she changed clothes in there before heading to the gym; she was convinced someone in the security department was enthralled with sneaking peeks at her bra and panties.

Hiding Out

Last week a friend mentioned that her company’s HR Department (already well known for having a locked HR Department that requires employees to buzz for admittance) has recently spent a considerable amount of money ‘frosting’ the plate glass windows of the HR lobby. The explanation, as it has been relayed, is so that employees don’t see their co-workers and colleagues sitting in the HR Department.

Lesson: If your HR collateral claims your organization is warm-hearted, compassionate and open you need to make sure the HR Department understands the symbolism behind their actions. Ensuring privacy for sensitive conversations is a good thing thing but this group is sending the message (no one can see in our windows!) that the HR Department is a bad evil place just barely removed from the circles of hell. Even though the rest of the company’s employees dwell in cubicles and gather in collaborative work pods no one just pops in to chat with HR staff.

And that’s what your HR Department is doing right now.

They’re also probably on Facebook trading inspirational quotes and sharing pictures of puppies; you know, before updating the internet access policy that blocks your access to Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and…..

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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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The Most Boring Answers to the Question “What Does HR Do?”

bored at workI was poking around the internet recently and, as inevitably happens, I fell down a rabbit hole. It started with a review of numerous HR job postings which are always amusing; is there seriously a human being out there who craves the job title Human Resources Point Person?  Then I began to gather the various and myriad answers supplied by business advisors, consultants, and lawyers when they respond to the query “why do we need an HR staff? What will they do?”

So, because I care, I have brought together some of the absolutely most BORING “things that HR people do.”

  • implement absence management (sickness) programs to control costs
  • keep internal HR policies and employee handbooks up to date
  • provide the necessary supporting paperwork for the recruitment process
  • enter employee data into the payroll system
  • order computers
  • manage employee lockers
  • prepare documents for local authorities
  • compile and type reports from employment records
  • record supervisory reports on ability (…what does this even mean????)

As one author on Inc. so lovingly pointed out “people often confuse the terms office manager and HR manager.” Well…yeah. If that’s the kind of stuff HR does.

But…let’s hold on a minute.

I have, over the course of my illustrious HR career, done every one of those things. With the exception of “record supervisory reports on ability” Seriously…wtf is that?

Granted, the “compiling and typing of reports from employment records” was circa 1991 when, believe it or not, we had stacks of paper and used typewriters to put #HRData into some sort of format pretty enough to distribute to the C-Suite. Yup; as an exempt HR professional I stored data in Lotus 1-2-3. ran some additional manual calculations, and then prepared monthly, quarterly and annual reports on an honest-to-baby-Jesus typewriter.

I’ve ordered computers and managed locker inventory (across a campus no less) while holding a Director role. Locker inventory was actually somewhat entertaining. On an annual basis, after posting notices stating “unclaimed and unassigned lockers, even if they have locks, will be opened by the HR/Security Department on xx date,” my team got to go on a locker opening adventure. Wielding bolt cutters in a 21st century nod to Carrie Nation we descended upon both the women’s and men’s locker rooms in a maniacal pre-menopausal cleaning frenzy. Smelly shoes, half-used sticks of deodorant, crusty dinner plates and many (many!) bags of weed were recovered and relegated to the trash bins.

Fun times.

Boring? Perhaps. Was it changing the world of work? Was it innovative and disruptive and generating calculable ROI? Probably not. But it had to be done so I rallied the troops and we did it.

And the next day I still sat in the weekly Executive Leadership team meeting. I still attended the quarterly meetings of the Board of Directors and sat on the Board’s Personnel Committee. I still had P & L responsibility and financial objectives I had to meet in alignment with the numerous people/talent related goals outlined in the strategic plan for which I was accountable not only to the CEO but also to the Board.

Were we, as an HR team, agile, data-driven and business integrated? You bet.

Sometimes though, especially in small/mid-sized businesses, shit just needs to get done. Sometimes she who sports the moniker “HR Manager” still has to do the “Office Manager” duties.

Is it necessary? It often is.

Is it boring? Never.

Plus you may get to flush a huge bag of herbal refreshment down the toilet. High fun times indeed.

 

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Come Build Your Management Career! (Just not with us)

cruel shoesWhat in the world would we HR people have to discuss if Zappos stopped doing things that upend the world of work and make us contemplate tossing age-old beliefs to the curb?

Last year, for those who pay attention to such things, Zappos ended the process of posting jobs and instead began a relationship-based Insiders program (#InsideZappos) wherein they invite people to join the community of other potential Zapponians/Zappites/shoe-people-who-now-belong-to-Amazon. In this community the recruiters, hiring managers, and, for all I know, Tony Hsieh himself, begin building relationships that, for some Insiders, may lead to employment.

This freaked a ton of people out. I liked it but I can’t say I don’t still wonder about things like their actual internal definition of an applicant and how they manage, from an HR standpoint, any claims that arise alleging discrimination or disparate impact and the like. My friend Stacy Zapar who worked with the recruiting team on the development of #InsideZappos has shared a lot of very compelling information about the why, what and how over the past year.

And then there’s the Holacracy experiment. OK, I’m terming it an experiment but it’s actually a commitment. Or perhaps something from which no one will back down.

Last week I read this internal memo that Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh shared with employees (go read it; I’ll wait).

The gist of the matter: Tony and team are moving forward with Holacracy (first announced in 2013) and will now begin offering severance to employees who are not on board with self-organization and self-management. The ultimate “get on the bus with us or get off at the next stop” move.

So, per Tony’s memo, here’s the deal:

  • As of 4/30/15, in order to eliminate the legacy management hierarchy, there will be effectively be no more people managers.
  • In addition, we will begin the process of breaking down our legacy silo’ed structure/circles of merchandising, finance, tech, marketing, and other functions and create self-organizing and self-managing business-centric circles instead by starting to fund this new model with the appropriate resources needed to flourish.
  • While we know that the full role of managers will no longer be necessary in a Teal organization, we’re also looking forward to seeing what new exciting contributions will come from the employees who were previously managers.
  • All former managers who remain in good standing will still keep their salary through the end of 2015 even though their day-to-day work that formerly involved more traditional management will need to change.

And there’s a LOT more; it’s a long article.

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We could debate the pros and cons of Holacracy and whether or not Zappos will succeed with this all day long. There are so many questions and details and possibilities; how fun would it be to sit in a room and debate this stuff? Hella fun in my opinion.

One thing that struck me as an unintentional consequence of this shift to Holacracy is what this will do to people who have, as most people do, some sort of career goals and aspirations.

The average 25 year old, let’s call him Josh, has no intention of spending the next 35 years of his life working at Zappos no matter how freaking entranced he is today. As much as right-now-this-moment he wants to be an #insider and join this intoxicatingly exciting organization he’s still, deep down, going to need to look out for numero uno. Plus, Mom and Dad will remind him (forever) that they didn’t pay for that fancy education for nothing.

Looking out for numero uno includes progressively gaining more responsibility (there’s some language taken from every job description ever written by an HR lady). It means climbing the ladder or sliding along the career lattice from newbie to individual contributor (Levels I, II and III) to team lead to supervisor to manager to middle manager. It means having those titles on his resume.

For without those titles Josh is not going to land somewhere else 5 or 10 or 15 years from now when he decides he wants to manage a team or run a department.

One day, when Josh falls in love with a guy or gal from Charlotte, NC, he’ll find himself moving across the country. Josh, in need of a new gig, will apply to be the Marketing Manager at Acme Corporation, but, after X years at Zappos, the only title he will have on his resume is Marketing Team Member in the A Circle. Which means he won’t receive more than a cursory glance from the Acme Corp. recruiter.

Yup; working at Zappos will mean that Josh will never have the ability to gain experience in decision-making and budgeting responsibility. Josh will spend X years in his profession and he will have gained zero people management skills. Recruiters, the world over, will glance at Josh’s resume and wonder “WTF is this self-directed crap? Did they all work on a commune?”

So I wonder…will those who wish to become ‘Insiders’….reconsider?

Would you?

 

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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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