HR’s Biggest Problem? The People Hiring HR.

hiring HR

The worst thing (probably) about your company’s HR Leader is the person who hired your HR Leader.

In fact, I would love nothing more than to banish, forevermore, the CEOs, Business Owners, COOs and CFOs who recruit, interview and select their company’s HR leader.  OK …not all of them need to go; there are quite a few who understand the value of great HR. But, alas, there are far too many organizational leaders who cannot grasp (or refuse to grasp) the fact that a smart, competent and creative human resources leader can bring value to their organizations.

Rather they want an HR policy cop who will quietly handle compliance, write and enforce policies, and (probably) manage payroll. They want a person who will chat with the benefit broker and the staffing agency sales representative. They want someone who will have the difficult conversations with employees who cry or dress inappropriately or don’t show up to work or have body odor problems. 

When the need arises to hire a new HR Leader, the job description is written and/or updated. Undoubtedly cut and pasted from somewhere else, it evolves into a lengthy laundry list and, at the direction of the Big Boss, includes nonsense like “will be responsible for company culture.”  The job post cites a preference for PHR/SPHR or SHRM-CP/SCP certification – simply because the Big Boss saw that listed on another HR job post on Indeed. There are buzzwords galore (gleaned from an article the Big Boss read on Fast Company) and phrases like “cutting-edge strategic HR,” and “transformative work” and “culture of engagement” are sprinkled as liberally as salt on the rim of a margarita glass. And, depending upon industry and/or geography, there may even be a glamorous job title that incorporates the words “talent”, “culture” and/or “people.”

The job is posted.

As resumes roll in the Big Boss reviews them (without actually understanding what they’re reading) and schedules interviews – often moving candidates into the “yes” pile based primarily on previous titles. (“She was an HR Business Partner at Behemoth Corporation, Inc; what’s that? I need someone who has held a Manager or Director title only.”).

The actual interviews are chock-full of affirmation, to the eager and interested candidates, that HR is important and valued. The Big Boss states a fervent desire to employ an HR leader who is pro-active and business savvy. Inclusive and affirming culture? (check!). Sufficient budget? (check!). Access to technology, systems and tools? (check, check and check!).

The position is filled.

Now sometimes, especially in small or growing companies, the Big Boss moves Sally from Accounting into the position “because all the employees like her and she’s a people-person.” (The Big Boss figures that anyone can learn HR; how hard can it be?). Or they hire Steve from outside the organization because he’s got HR experience and they tell him they want him to design a best-in-class (!!) HR department.

But then Sally, who IS great at relationship-building with people and understands the business and existing workplace culture and rapidly learns and absorbs HR fundamentals/knowledge is stopped from practicing great HR…by the person who hired her.  They refuse to provide her with access to professional memberships or adequate learning resources. They wonder why she insists on enhancing the existing HR tech stack and feels the need to implement an ATS when e-mail and spreadsheets have worked perfectly fine for years.  They don’t understand why she can’t continue to manage the Accounting Clerk who runs payroll and handles A/P. They give her a “Manager” title while the other 5 department leaders have “Director” titles.

Or Steve, who HAS solid experience in human resources and comes into the organization with stellar ideas for running an innovative HR shop, is stopped from practicing great HR…by the person who hired him. All those promises and sexy buzzwords? Nothing but empty glitter. Poor Steve has found himself walking into an HR role that is lacking both a budget and decision-making ability. In fact the Big Boss believes that while Steve should handle the dirty-work the managers don’t want to do (those pesky performance and discipline discussions), his expertise and advice on actual/factual HR matters is neither sought nor heeded.

So see? The problem is not with Sally or Steve – it’s with the CEO, Business Owner, COO or CFO who doesn’t care about HR excellence. The Big Boss (oh hell…the whole leadership team) believes that HR’s purpose is to merely make sure no one gets sued, hurt or upset. They’re content to let HR handle benefit enrollment, choose company swag (t-shirts!) and plan the employee holiday party. 

Of course they’re wrong.

We know that great HR Leaders are advisors, talent managers, partners to managers/leaders, and executors of operational excellence. When unleashed to perform their best work, they’re champions for driving the change that leads to improvements across every facet of the business.

And if THIS Big Boss doesn’t believe that…no wonder Sally and Steve leave to find a Big Boss who does.

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Your Company’s “Management Culture Number”

If there’s one word that every HR practitioner (and every employment attorney for that matter) would spend good money to have embroidered on a custom-made throw pillow to keep in their office it would be “document.”  Good grief how we love to talk about documentation.

  • Having a coaching session with Bob about his slovenly attire? Document.
  • Discussing Polly’s tendency towards tardiness every Monday morning? Document.
  • Making it crystal clear to Sean that his continued use of the “f” word in customer meetings is not appropriate? Document.

But mere documentation and note-taking won’t do of course. Every HR Department on earth has created its own form to use for the documentation process and, depending upon the style of the HR leader and the culture of the company, they’ve devised catchy names like:

  • Employee Counseling Form
  • Coaching Conversation Form
  • Corrective Action Report
  • Corrective Action Notice ( a.k.a. “CAN” )
  • Employee Warning Notice
  • Memorandum to Employee File
  • Record of Counseling
  • Employee Discipline Form
  • Progressive Discipline Form

Lots and lots of euphemisms devised by HR teams for a form that signifies “you’ve done something we don’t like so we’re going to write it on a piece of paper and put it in your permanent file!!”

And then, of course, there are increasing levels of severity for various infractions so the CAN may have checkboxes to distinguish whether this piece of paper being generated is a:

  • Counseling
  • Verbal Warning
  • Verbal Written Warning
  • Written Warning
  • Final Written Warning
  • Last and Final Written Warning

Having been duly instructed by their HR partners, supervisors and managers churn these forms out at a furious pace. “Uh oh; Susie didn’t hit the requisite number of minutes on the phone today in her call center position. I better ‘write her up!’ (note: if there is one phrase that sets my teeth on edge it’s “write him/her up.”)

In some organizations it is a cyclonic whirling maelstrom of paper as managers compete with each other to win the organizational Gold Medal for number of pieces of documentation generated. File folders overflow. Spreadsheets are overloaded.

If you work in HR though you can make a bit of a game out of it AND toss around some numbers that will delight and impress.  I give you an easy equation that will tell you a lot about the management culture/state of affairs at your organization:

 

Management Culture Number

total number of discipline notices (divided by) total number of employees = MCN

 

Let’s toss a few examples out, shall we? (Remember that CAN = Corrective Action Notice; I have to use that one because it is just too precious):

  • Company with 150 employees; 10 CANs = 0.067 MCN
  • Company with 1,000 employees; 200 CANs = 0.2 MCN
  • Company with 5,000 employees; 4,762 CANs = 0.95 MCN

Note: this doesn’t mean, in the last example, that 95% of the employees received some sort of documented discipline; it might be that 40% of employees had multiple instances of documentation.

You can easily run this number over any period of time; per week, month, quarter, or year. It’s a number that can tell you any manner of things:

  • Perhaps you’ve just instituted a policy outlining some type of new behavioral expectation and either employees don’t understand it or managers have not communicated the expectations clearly
  • You may have production or performance measures that are either unrealistic or easy to manipulate. Think about this in the context of a call-center (calls-per-hour) or a warehouse (pick-and-pack and throughput) where employees either have difficult targets to hit or, conversely, targets they can manipulate so that when production slacks it’s noticeable and leads to documentation.

Sometimes though an overabundance of documentation means that leaders are managing by pen and paper as opposed to managing by conversation.

Yup; that management culture number can explain a lot of things.

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Collaboration: The Role of the Leader

bridgeWhen embarking upon an initiative to increase – and reap the benefits of – collaboration there are several steps for leaders to take at the onset:

* Determine why collaboration is desired

* Define what collaboration will look like in the organization

* Review the current state of the organizational culture to determine readiness

* Ensure people are ready, willing and able to collaborate

There are also additional areas leaders should evaluate when making a commitment to increasing or improving collaboration in an organization.

Value vs. Cost

When identifying the potential opportunities that exist leaders should make a commitment to undertake certain initiatives only when the value will exceed the cost.

Value may be derived, for example, when better innovation arises through collaboration. This can take the form of cross-unit product development or new business development for the entire enterprise. Value can lead to increasing sales (i.e. defining additional cross-selling opportunities or enhancing customer service offerings) or by improving operations that lead to costs savings. Think about, as an example, initiatives that lead to the transfer or sharing of best practices or better decision making.

Leaders must also assess the potential cost and ask questions such as “will we be foregoing other projects or opportunities because of this new effort?” or “will we, perhaps, experience budget overruns, poor quality or lost sales?”

Personal Behavior

Leaders must take stock of their own readiness and ensure not just their personal ability but also their individual willingness to collaborate.  After reviewing and removing the organizational barriers that exist leaders should also focus on:

  • Encouraging relationships that cross organizational boundaries and hierarchies.
  • Implementing internal strategies that celebrate, recognize, and reward a relationship oriented culture.
  • Training employees in the skills related to collaborative behavior such as conflict resolution skills, project management skills and the behaviors associated with recognizing and appreciating others.
  • Modeling collaborative behavior by allowing different voices to be heard, soliciting input from multiple people, and making it clear that disagreement is not the same as conflict.
  • Communicating to others in the organization that the goal of collaboration is not collaboration but is, rather, better results.

Morten T. Hansen, management professor at UC-Berkley, has defined disciplined collaboration as “the leadership practice of properly assessing when to collaborate (and when not to) and instilling in people both the willingness and the ability to collaborate when required.”

By focusing on the goal – better results! – and collaborating only when appropriate leaders can successfully improve organizational performance.

Visit the blog tomorrow when we’ll wrap up this week long series by discussing Collaboration: Working Smarter, Not Harder. View yesterday’s post

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Perfecting the Nanny State: HR and Ethics

Prince_John_with_nannyThere are numerous assignments that human resources professionals either assume for themselves or have thrust upon them: driver of employee engagement, culture cheerleader, diversity leader, and wellness champion come to mind. Well intentioned perhaps but not necessarily well thought out.

Another undertaking that often resides in the HR Department is oversight of corporate ethics. “HR is the conscience of the organization” the thinking often goes. “They’ll make sure we hire people with integrity, and, through continual communication of our values and ideals, ensure operating with integrity stays at the forefront.”

Naturally the SHRM Competency Model includes “Drives the corporate ethical environment” as a behavior within Competency 7: Ethical Practice. At the executive level, per SHRM, this means every competent HR professional “Aligns all HR practices with ethics, laws, and standards” and “Sets the standard for being a role model of ethical behavior by consistently conforming to the highest ethical standards and practices.”

An HR professional recently shared a story with me; in the midst of a pressure-filled situation with a huge operational need (aka revenue generating) to get-some-stuff-done-RIGHT-NOW, an organizational leader suggested that HR cut some corners. Make some concessions. Downright lie. And encourage employees to lie.

The fearless HR professional calmly looked the leader squarely in the eye and said ”no.”
Easy? Not at all. But necessary.

Modeling behavior and operating with integrity as an individual practitioner or as a collective HR function is an absolute must-do. But this is not a one-person or one-department show.

HR professionals are not, as some might say, THE moral conscience of the company. But we are, most assuredly, the custodians and caretakers of ethics and integrity. We’re responsible for promoting ethical behavior from the leadership team and the C-Suite and reminding them they set the standards that trickle down throughout the company. When something’s rotten in the state of Denmark we must have the courage to challenge the behaviors and activities that erode and corrupt everything that is good.

Keep fighting the good fight my friends.

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image: wikimedia commons

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Hypocritical Leadership

do-as-i-sayYou’ve made it!

You’ve been promoted and now you’ve got that nice cushy management gig with the corner office, embossed letterhead and a budget to take other big-shots out to lunch.  You vow to never forget what it’s like working in the cubicle-farm, churning out the product and getting results for the man.  You draw up a mental inventory of what you’re going to do to be a great leader.  You WANT to influence others, accomplish objectives and move your group and organization forward.  You KNOW that your actions can and will inspire others.

But as the years pass, some subtle changes in your behavior start to emerge.  And suddenly – you’ve become a ………. hypocritical leader…….

(1) A person who engages in the same behaviors he condemns others for. (2) A person who professes certain ideals, but fails to live up to them. (3) A person who holds other people to higher standards than he holds himself
(from the Urban Dictionary)

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“Not me!” you say.  “Why, I live by the same rules and set of standards that I expect my employees to live by.  I haven’t forgotten what it’s like!”

Huh.

Check it …

“We have an attendance policy and I expect you to be here on time or else I’ll have to give you a written warning.” (But I’ll stroll in whenever I feel like it)

“When you’re here at work, it’s time to work.  We can’t allow access to LinkedIn, MSNBC or gmail because you’ll just waste time and not get your job done.” (But I can play Words with Friends on my company provided iPhone all throughout the day)

“The company email system is to be used for work-related purposes only.” (But I’m going to forward the vacation pictures from my Cancun trip to all my friends and co-workers).

“My personal motto is ‘I hire the best people and get out of their way so they can do their job.” (But I’m going to need you to cc me on every e-mail and give me a written progress report of how you’ve spent your time each day).

Indeed.

You may still be the Boss…but are you still the Leader?

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this post originally ran at the HR Schoolhouse 

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