HR Through Rosy Colored Glasses

Working at a University, it’s impossible not to walk around and feel old as you see thousands of young and eager faces going to and from class. While I don’t work directly with students much, I get “drafted” every year by dozens of them to do interviews for their Human Resources or Business classes. I laugh because I wonder if their syllabi say that they must interview an HR professional or if my name specifically is on them. I think I’ll ask next time.

Every conversation I have with them goes the exact same, which shows me a few things. The same, generic interview questions are provided to them and most importantly, hardly any of them really know what they are getting themselves into majoring in HR.

I try to be as candid as possible when I discuss what I do. I also am not one to sugar coat, so I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten an email from the faculty concerned about what I’m telling them. But when you speak to someone that is in “the trenches” so to speak, you should hear the not-so-pretty, non-glamorous, non-text book type of accounts that we’ve encountered since we’ve been out of school.

It reminds me of this song by Bill Withers that was re-recorded by John Legend called” I Can’t Write Left-handed.” In the song, they tell the account of a young man returning home from war. In the conversation Bill Withers had with him, the young man spoke of his experiences and said that “Being shot at didn’t bother him…it was being shot that really shook him up.”

He goes on to account in the second verse:

Boot camp we had classes
You know we talked about fighting, fighting every day
And looking through rosy, rosy colored glasses
I must admit it seemed exciting anyway

Oh, but something that day overlooked to tell me, Lord
Bullets look better, I must say
Brother when they ain’t coming at you
But going out the other way

glassesWhile I’m certainly not comparing our jobs to that of soldiers, because Lord knows I couldn’t be one, our students and young professionals are given these same tinted lenses to wear. No one taught me how to navigate in the business world once I graduated. They didn’t tell me that it would be hell to find a job. They didn’t tell us that dealing with employees and their issues would be stressful. They especially didn’t tell us how the decisions we would make in our HR offices could affect the professional lives of those same employees. The theory around reductions in force, layoffs, terminations, workplace bullying, poor communication between managers and employees and performance issues and self-esteem doesn’t even come close to actually having to deal with it day in and day out.

I remember in a particular job I had that terminations were so commonplace that I almost became numb to them. The more I had to deliver the news, the less and less I thought about what those people had to go through and what they would do with themselves once they left our building. I went from dreading those conversations to executing them without hesitation and with precision. Corrective actions became a habit and a part of my muscle memory.

T’was from these experiences that I began to understand that it was far more productive and humane to identify possible employment issues before they became terminable, and how to keep employees from meeting that fate. Unfortunately it took me having to see it to learn it, as this wasn’t taught. What was taught is that HR is about process, rules and bottom line. I know now that it’s about productivity, development and learning to make the best of the resources that we have.

I honestly believe that if new practitioners and students were shown more realistic pictures of what HR does, we’d have a stronger, better equipped crop of advocates that understand our role in companies…making a difference and not just firing the shots. At the very least, we’d weed out those that didn’t necessarily have what it took to be the right type of leader in our industry…or those that could see early on that this wasn’t the field for them.

So no, I’m not going to paint a perfect picture of what I do, because it is tough. It is oftentimes stressful and difficult. The feelings of guilt come and go as I balance emotion with logic and ultimately decide what’s best for employer and employee.

Unlike the young man in the song that was more than likely drafted to do what he did, we had choices. Those new to this profession have even more choices than we did. So while we speak and share our stories and experiences, we must tell all sides, the good and the bad, to help mold those that are committed to this industry and to give those that are on the fence enough information to make their choice…before they become the poorly equipped and uninformed HR people that we end up complaining about in our blogs and at our conferences.

Social In The Smokies #TNSHRM14

On September the 17th, I will be traveling to Sevierville, TN and hanging out with the coolest, most professionally driven Human Resources practitioners this side of the Mississippi River at #TNSHRM14.

While our theme is “Life In The Fast Lane. Keeping Up With HR”, I will be doing my best to take it slow…enjoying every conversation, every connection and every learning moment as this conference is truly one of the highlights of my year.

What will I be doing? I’m glad you asked. For the second year in a row, I will be serving as a member of the Social Media Team. So I’m responsible for making sure you, yes you, are seeing all of the sites, getting all of the educational nuggets and connecting with all of the attendees via Social Media. This year we will also be hosting a Concurrent Session, so you’ll have the chance to hear the entire team break this Social thing down.

Check out my video below about the upcoming conference and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Wilderness at the Smokies Resort in Sevierville, TN, September 17-19.

By the way, you can still register HERE!

A P.I.P. Shouldn’t Be An R.I.P.

It’s so easy to say that employees should just go away when they’re not performing the way we want them to or responding to our management. The hard part is not actually getting them to change behavior, it’s actually admitting that we can do more to get them to where they should be.

image1PIPs or Performance Improvement Plans are often used by companies as the last ditched effort to shape up those “troubled” employees before we ship them out. Others use them as merely a coaching tool to get the attention of their people so that other forms of disciplinary action doesn’t have to be taken. I’ve seen PIPs in memo form, worksheets and templates, and I’ve even seen them delivered in emails. But regardless of how we format them, they should all have the same elements to be effective:

  • Clear areas that our employees need improve upon to remain a part of our teams
  • Challenging, yet achievable goals and deadlines for expected improvement
  • A plan of action for achievable said goals
  • Steps in which the manager can contribute and help the employee reach optimal performance
  • Fair and consistently applied actions that will occur if the desired performance isn’t met

We cannot use the word “Improvement” in the plan if we are not truly trying to achieve it. How we communicate during the delivery, and the words and tone used during the meeting should not feel like a death sentence or as if we are setting the employee up to fail.

There is no need to rehash the issues that we’ve had with the employee, but should focus on the behaviors that cause those issues that need to be altered or adjusted. Bringing up old stuff, especially if those incidents have caused negative conflict before, will surely turn your performance improvement meeting into a counter-productive blame session where no one is listening.

If we want our employees to listen, they must feel as if they are believed in, like they can make it and that they are being supported by members of management. Not only is this communicated in the document and meetings themselves, but by actually following up frequently to ensure that the necessary steps in the plan are being acted on.

So ultimately, a lot of the responsibility comes back to the manager. Not just delivering a document so that we can check a box, but managing our employees to yield the results that we need.

And isn’t that what management is all about? Not just supervising processes and expecting everyone to fall in line, but by providing resources and teaching people how to be successful in our systems.

Joe ClarkIf we want to get rid of someone, let’s just do it and move on to the next. Like Joe Clark said in the movie Lean On Me, “Don’t f#&% around with it…do it expeditiously!” But if we actually want them to get better, we must communicate it, make them believe it and show them how serious we are about them making it through the process.

Virtual Gluttony and Cries For Attention

As a huge proponent of Social Media and all that is right with it and all the good that it can do, it also has a way of making us feel as if our life sucks…comparatively speaking. Especially when things seem to be going well for everyone around you but you’re stuck in neutral. Or even when it seems that everyone is bigger, faster and stronger than you and that it’s not even worth competing anymore.

ladiesYour connections are traveling the world, but two weeks ago they asked you for $20. “Friends” letting the world know that their kindergartener, middle-schooler or teenager is smarter than yours…God forbid we have “regular” “non-superhuman” children. Or the ones that are sooooo successful and inflate themselves online, because no one is doing it for them in real life. Then those that are online tough guys or gals but wouldn’t say a contrary word to anyone face-to-face. 

We all know them. And as much as those things frustrate us, de-motivate us or annoy us to a point that we obsess over what we aren’t and what we don’t have, we keep subjecting ourselves to more. We are gluttons for punishment and wait in line asking, “May I have more please?”. We can’t put our phones down and we have to see what people are saying. We can’t help it. We’re addicted to virtual realities. And we don’t feel validated unless we’ve hit a certain amount of views or “Likes”. I’m guilty too, so don’t think I’m preaching. 

“If you’re not trending, you’re not living.” – Society, 2014

So was the introduction of social media into our lives and workplaces really done to help it, or was it done because that’s the only way to communicate to people these days. Were we getting so few pats on the backs that we only feel good about ourselves when strangers click a thumbs-up bottom? Was its invention a matter of innovation or was it a matter of necessity, because no one knows how to converse anymore? I don’t know, we could Chicken or the Egg it all day long, but it is here and we have to be smarter with how, why and when we use it. Or just not use it at all. I’m perfectly fine with some people being banned. Because it’s those people that turn others off from social media and keep the people it could benefit away.

If Social Media is replacing the news and entertainment mediums, we should be able to log in and be informed and entertained, not made to feel like failures. We should be able to check statuses during a boring meeting without being surprised and embarrassed by loud, stupid videos of a fights, people twerking, or the latest challenge where someone is lighting themselves on fire, choking or giving themselves pneumonia. A lot of things can be kept to ourselves, and if it is really an accomplishment, we’ll get the accolades and recognition that we deserve when it’s time.  Give people a chance to tell you that you’ve done a good job, or that your kids are well-behaved…because when you beat us to it, you seem like a braggart and like you need attention from thousands of people that normally wouldn’t talk to you. 

Everyone doesn’t like to talk about themselves, and that’s ok. Some people like to let their work and efforts speak for them, and they shouldn’t feel like they have to keep up and advertise online just to be relevant. Tell a joke, share a real news story, share an entertaining kid story or ask for legitimate support (and tell us what the hell we’re supporting without us having to say, “What’s wrong?!?!). But let’s chill with telling people how great we are…because they actually know us. 

20140805-215920-79160132.jpgThe very tools that are supposed to connect us are actually causing resentment and reclusion. And once there’s resentment, we stop. We stop responding when you need help. We stop “Liking” when good things actually happen. We stop clapping when there’s been an accomplishment. And ultimately, we mute you. No more acknowledgement. And if we become starved of acknowledgement, Lord knows what app they’ll have to come up with to fill the gap. I’m actually afraid. 

 

Stop Hiding

I had a habit of hiding in my office when things get chaotic around the office. At least when that chaos was “someone else’s problem” or responsibility. When I started to hear people getting feisty or when I heard questions being raised up and down the hall, that was my queue to close my door.

It’s my only way to get peace, quiet and to not be pulled into drama or someone else’s mess…right?

Then one day, something happened to my peace and quiet. I started to get intercepted before I could make it to my office and I was forced to be that extra assistance or the different outlook that was needed. I couldn’t not get involved anymore. I couldn’t not give input or offer to fix the issue. And these interruptions changed the way I looked at my role. 

I believe that everyone feels as if they have more to offer than they are being asked to…but when it’s time to cash in we oftentimes don’t want to be bothered. We want it both ways. We want easy and cushy, and then complain when we’re not asked to help solve the difficult. After an issue has been tackled, we run from our hiding place and gripe that we weren’t consulted. If you haven’t done that, I have. I’m guilty.

It took me leaving my current employer and then coming back to understand that I was being asked to participate in the chaos because I was trusted to bring about some order while others were scrambling. I eventually learned that throwing my hands up when I might have had THE suggestion only helped in keeping the calamity and status quo in tact. I was great at pointing out what was wrong but I was not doing enough to change it. 

What I Learned
People in leadership positions are a proud breed of people. They may not outright say, “Hey kid, we need your insight or help”, but instead casually ask your opinion in passing, ask you to make a phone call for them or hand you a document to proof. That is sometimes their way of saying, “What you think matters” without saying, “What you think matters”.  And once I jumped into one of those chaotic situations and helped to calm it down or to make sense of it, the people around me realized what I knew or said silently all of the time…I CAN do more.

If you can do more, do more. Don’t run from the difficult, don’t shy away from the challenge and don’t avoid the uncomfortable..only then to complain that you’re not being used in your workplace properly. The old adage remains, “Respect is earned, not given”, and earning it means getting our hands a little dirty more often than not. Respect is earned by staying in the midst or close to it when things don’t make sense and helping to decode it. Respect is given when our ideas aren’t held for ransom for fear that we won’t be popular, liked or politically correct. 

20140723-064044-24044763.jpgBeing counted on and accountable is tiring, it is busy and it might just make the workdays longer. But isn’t that better than flying under the radar to a point that I’m virtually insignificant and useless? Isn’t that better than my phone not ringing at all? I think so. 

We have enough of those people…the ones hiding behind their doors like I used to. Avoiding challenge but having the loudest opinions about how those forced to deal with it handled or mishandled it. The opinions and ideas voiced behind those doors do us all no good as the real work is done and real respect is earned on the other side of it.

The Managers of the Roundtable

The legendary King Arthur had a great employee engagement strategy…listen to and value the opinions of your leaders. As a result of the involvement with his team, we still speak of his conquests and successes to this day.

KnightsHere is an excerpt from my new Performance I Create article where I encourage dialogue, equality and teamwork amongst leaders:

…to force ideas on them [managers] may be ineffective because their team may need something different…

I committed to providing a forum, a monthly roundtable, where they could come together, learn from one another, share ideas and needs with HR, and leave feeling as if they were listened to and treated equally.

Click HERE for the full article and please share!

Check out my post and those of my fellow contributors for relevant, in-your-face, performance altering insight at Performance I Create!

Follow The Signs

When we want certain things so badly, it’s hard for us to read the writing on the wall that says it’s not for us.

Like in high school, when you had a major crush on that special someone, only to finally get a shot and realize they’re a jerk. Then we miserably try to make it work because that is the guy or gal that everyone else wants. That’s the situation that looks good…but it really sucks. That happens in our professional careers as well. The key though is realizing sooner rather than later that it’s OK to leave. Some things are worth the sacrifice, some things are not.

We are all fighters, and that tenacity that we have (when guided) gets us far. We never retreat when faced with a challenge. We stand for what we think is right and that is how we’ve gotten this far.

But I’ve learned that just because something is wanted, doesn’t mean that it’s needed. That place that would be “perfect if…” may not be worth the time, discomfort or struggle that it would take to make it “perfect”. And honestly, if it were perfect, our imperfect self would mess it up.

My wife and I recently visited a place where we both so wanted things to work out a certain way. Our visit was basically a decision-making one. The funny thing about that visit was that everything that caused distractions, discomfort, annoyance or passiveness over the last few years all coincidentally happened in that one trip. What were the odds? And while she is always quick to say, “That’s a sign!” when things like that happen, I actually beat her to it this time. We looked at each other and agreed, “It’s time to move on.”

There are signs that our tenure at certain places has come to an end:

  • Some relationships don’t seem as natural as they once did
  • You find yourself trying to convince yourself that you should be there
  • It’s difficult to be focused and productive because you are easily distracted or angered over the smallest things
  • Some things just don’t feel right anymore, and what used to feel natural and right has become more of a chore or burden

no-reason-to-stayI believe that the quicker we come to grips that it’s time to move forward in our personal or professional missions the easier the transition will be. When we follow the signs and read the proverbial writing on the wall, we are able to amicably part ways and focus on the future. While there are many things worth suffering and fighting through, there are others things that require us to use the right balance of emotion, logic and intuition to determine when they’re not.

Sometimes the missions of our companies do not align with our personal ones. Sometimes the values don’t mix. Sometimes, we just don’t fit. Sometimes, all parties have gotten what they needed out of the relationship and there is nothing left to achieve. And sometimes we’re all moving in different directions, and while it’s painful to part ways, that pain should fuel us to be bolder, stronger and more committed to those things we deem worthy of the fight.