Workplace Astigmatism

For the last 10 years, I’ve boasted that my vision has not changed. I laugh at optometrists when I walk into their examination rooms because I know that the result is going to be the same…”Well Mr. Harris, everything is fine…no difference…here’s your prescription.” to which I say buttholishly, “I know! Told ya things are the same.”

eye-exam-checkupBecause of this status quo, I take eye exams for granted; only going when I actually need new glasses due to wear and tear…which is like every 5 years. I actually get tired of putting myself (and my money) out there to have my time wasted…until my visit a week ago.

This trip I entered confidently as I usually do, preparing my normal giggle and forming my mouth to say my usual know-it-all words, until Dr. Eyedude says, “Your right eye has changed. We’re going to switch your prescription and it may be a little drastic.”

When you think that nothing has changed, everything has

Not having had to look through “different” lenses for so long, I found myself being uncomfortable on my way home. The change was making my head hurt. Things were blurry. I didn’t like it. Was it because it was unexpected? Was it because something was different? Was it because it was unwelcomed? Maybe it was because I had gotten too comfortable. Too used to knowing what everything looked like and how everything was supposed to feel. The moment a new process was introduced, a new person was brought aboard, a new policy took effect…wait, am I describing your office or my eyes? Hmm? Maybe both.

As we get older, more experienced, more tenured, we must face the inevitable fact that things must and will change. Our vision, our surroundings, and the ways our businesses must operate all change. We can either roll with it, adjust or we can resist and remain in denial. That denial stems from the fact that we think things are fine just the way they are and we think that if we don’t acknowledge it, it’ll just go away.

Resistance to change can be costly

If I had paid regular attention, not been so arrogant and stubborn, maybe a drastic change could have been avoided or eased into. The gradual change would’ve helped me to make better adjustments. Being open to changes in the way our companies must do business will help our employees make better decisions as it relates to the new normals. Maybe they need regular examinations and consultation…I mean evaluations and one-on-ones…so that any issues can be identified early before they become problematic and cost us in the end.

What’s better? One or two? Two or three?

The next day, I could see things better. The headache had gone away. Those moments of temporary discomfort turned into my new, clearer reality. It took me getting broken down and taken out of my cocky comfort zone to realize that acceptance, flexibility and acknowledgement helped the headaches to go away and for things to seem clear again. I had to be humbled by the fact that I don’t know how bad things are until someone shows me something better, different, clearer.

Does your job give you “headaches”? Is it them or is it you refusing to adapt? 

Let’s not wait until it’s too late to let someone check us out. Let’s take some feedback and let it make us better. Let’s understand that us becoming more seasoned is when more changes need to occur…as opposed to things always having to change to our liking. Yielding to necessary adjustments may be blurry at first, but it can ultimately help you to see your vision more clearly in the end.

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.

A Big Ego

Your department in shambles?  Your employees lack enthusiasm?  Are they no longer offering any new ideas and seem to lack innovation?  Is your office full of bickering and finger-pointing?

One of the biggest mistakes made by managers is the thinking that the blame is all on the employee, questioning their drive, discipline and engagement. Quite possibly it has everything to do with something a manager directly did or didn’t do that has caused the employees to turn for the worst.

20140423-140708.jpgAn inflated managerial ego causes us to think that we can do no wrong. After all, I could not have made it to the top of the corporate food chain if I didn’t know what I was doing…if I didn’t know how to lead. When things are not changing, managers must first take a look at what they’re doing to encourage change or what they’re doing to block it.

No Autonomy
We can’t preach that we want our employees to think independently or decisively if we undercut on every decision they make. When given a task or project, it’s best for the manager to offer suggestions and tutelage, and if it still fails, we all have a learning experience and the motivation to make it better. The old “If you want it done right…” mindset makes employees feel as if their ideas are being dismissed. And why would they continue to be vocal knowing that their ideas and efforts are all for naught? Instead, let’s teach them how to succeed, and be sure to be available and approachable if they need assistance along the way.

Mixed Messages
Publicly saying one thing and then acting on something totally different is a sure way to turn employees off. Consistency from leadership is key to consistency in their shops and key in earning credibility with their crew. Rules and policies are in place to help manage this, but when employees make good decisions based on policy or past precedent and then managers come behind them and overturn it (sometimes as favors to other managers), the employee looks stupid and shaky. And when you have different rules for different people, there may as well be no rules at all.

Managerial CYA*
Part of being a leader is sometimes taking a figurative bucket for their people. When a division does well, it’s “we”. When something falls through a crack it’s “them”. Once employees have enough tire marks on them, they’ll do less to stand out and just enough to stay under the radar. The only thing being encouraged in this scenario is them being encouraged to stop trying to make a difference. When people stop trying to make a difference, we are stuck with the status quo.

20140423-140714.jpgIt’s the little things that make huge differences and it’s the little things that those in charge do that employees pay the closest attention to. Employees can tell when their managers don’t have their back, and more importantly they know if they’re being used or undervalued. Once these trusts are damaged, it’s very difficult to regain them.

Managerial ego must be set aside to save team cohesiveness and to boost productivity. When those that lead think that no one can do it better than them, they’ll find themselves forced to do it themselves.  Unfortunately for them, a prerequisite to being in charge is having someone willing to follow your lead.  When employees don’t believe in who they are supposed to follow, they’ll simply choose their own path…oftentimes right out of the door.

* CYA = Cover Your Ass

Now What?

I am fresh back from a wonderful conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (LASHRM) and I am still pumped up and excited about my profession.

As I emptied my conference bag and began sorting through all of the pamphlets, pens and notes, I reflected and thought to myself, “Now what?”

We go to all of these conferences for development , fellowship, and to meet our Social Media peers and friends in person, but what good is all of that development and fellowship if the organizations that we return to don’t see and reap any benefit?

What are we going to do? What are we going to change? How are we better and will the colleagues we work with daily see it? Or are we just going to hoard all of the cool stuff we learned and keep all of the free pens and water bottles to ourselves.

I saw something special in that convention center, and because of that I’m motivated to share until my colleagues get tired of me.

I had the pleasure of working with my Performance I Create colleagues as the Social Media team for the event. We had a ball, sharing session content, promoting social media, blogging, etc. As the River Center staff began breaking down the exhibit tables and attendees were clearing out, we thought that our work was done. Just then a volunteer approached us and said that there were a couple of attendees that really needed to talk to us. Agreeing, a couple of us walked out to where our Social Engagement Portal was (that staff broke those tables down fast!) and we were immediately hit with a series of questions about how “Social” could help them in their workplace. They wanted to know how to move their thoughts from ideas to execution…and which tools and mediums would be best for what they were trying to accomplish.

connectAs we engaged them (my colleague did most of the talking, ahem), you could see light bulbs not only coming on but exploding. The concepts we spoke of were not complicated. They just needed some of that stuff that we teach and talk about to come off of the screen, out of the blogs and made plain to them in person…right there in their hands so that they could grab it and implement. What they needed was the knowledge that we had gained from doing…ideas that we got from conferences….strategies that we picked up from our peers. They needed it to make sense and tie in to what they were dealing with every day in their organization…and that if they had questions afterwards that they could reach out and get support.

“Don’t just help light bulbs come on, help them explode!” – Justin Harris, 2014

That’s what stuck with me. That’s what made me realize that it’s not that the people upstairs from me don’t care to do things differently, it’s that they don’t know exactly where to start. They have ideas, but they need help planning. Those of us that say we’re experts are needed to reach out occasionally and break it down for them. Because sometimes our messages are too big and they can’t run with that load. If we break the messages into manageable chunks, focus on process instead of the presentation, we’ll see more people grab hold and put the stuff in action.

So it starts in my shop. Being the change that I talk about and helping others to implement. Helping others to get involved and learn more about the tools of our trade. Because the Resources that we have are no good if we are not sharing them with other Humans.

Don’t Argue With Fools

Offices are being taken over. Not by members of a specific generation, not by social media, not by unskilled workers, but by negativity.

stop-negativity-300x199Negativity and lack of cohesiveness is hurting our productivity even more than skill gaps and generational work habits. Negativity is universal and affects our offices no matter the stage of one’s career. And while dirty politics, snide remarks and insults are being treated more like personal issues than personnel issues, the lack of employee professionalism speaks more to a lack of management and leadership in that space.

We have all done it, snickered about a fellow employee, and then compliment them when they walk by. Participated in a session where management or a process is being bashed without helping to keep things appropriate for sake that we’ll be talked about next. And while no one can keep people from talking negatively, there are ways to harness the negative energy and to use it to build up your office.

Listen to Jay-Z
In a song entitled, The Takeover, the great philosopher Jay-Z stated “A wise man told me don’t argue with fools; Cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who…”

take_a_good_look_at_yourselfParticipating (sounding just as unreasonable or negative) in these conversations without attempting to provide solution makes us just as bad as the negative employee. From a distance, it looks like total participation. When you are the bigger person, those that constantly stir the pot will either acknowledge your positive suggestions or not speak that way when you are around.

If people are always using you as that type of sounding board and telling you unflattering things about coworkers, management or the organization, you must ask yourself, “Why do they feel so comfortable telling me this?” Are you encouraging it? If you didn’t stop them and their negativity at the door, in essence you are saying, “Ok, come on in and stir up trouble!”

Acknowledge and Learn
While the delivery method of complaints can be a cause for concern, what is just as or more important is what the employee is saying and/or feeling. Why is the staff lashing out? We know that our employees clam up when asked straight forwardly, “Tell me how we can improve our office?” or “How can things be better?” So if employees have plenty to say outside of that meeting space, we need to pay attention to it, admit that there may be validity to the issues that are being raised and use them to improve self or how things are managed in the office.

When leaders catch wind of concerns or problems, management malpractice occurs when the manager does not professionally and authoritatively approach the source and root of the issue. Ignoring it or relying on someone else to eventually say something furthers the notion that management does not care, so we’ll just keep griping amongst ourselves.

Act Expeditiously
An important quality for a leader to have is the ability to respond to an issue or crisis quickly…or better yet, proactively before it becomes a crisis. Managers loose more credibility and respect when they avoid the tough conversations and sit on their hands in the midst of negativity. If not a part of the solution, this manager is a part of the problem…and that lack of action is probably what the employees are talking about in the first place.

“Take focused and decisive action. They will follow you.” – Justin Harris, 2014

New rules and procedures alone will not a change make. Management has to step up, show commitment and be firm in what will and will not be accepted in the office. There must be leadership by example and demonstrative respect of people, ideas and the organization. This change requires those with power to come out from behind their desk and to interact with their people, so their knowledge of what is being said is no longer 3rd and 4th hand info, but a first-hand glimpse into the disconnect…so that it can be attacked first-hand.

Rules of Engagement: Nine Minutes On Monday

Since ruHRelevant? was started in July 2012, we have stressed how critical relationships are when it comes to employee performance. I’m not a proponent of managers trying to be buddies with employees, but a certain level of trust and rapport must be established to have a truly productive and engaged workforce.

Leaders cannot manage unless they know what makes their people tick, what motivates them in that specific environment, and what their career goals are. But one step further, they must know how those goals tie into the mission of the organization.

20140124-204413.jpgIn Nine Minutes On Monday, James Robbins draws the perfect road map on how to build these relationships by taking 9 minutes a week for planning and execution to help foster this very trust.

The charge from Robbins is to take a few moments on Mondays to plan out the development of your employees. Not just a blanket “I’m gonna develop folks this week!” but pinpointing who and what kind of attention each individual needs to be successful.

On Monday, most managers (smart managers) are planning out their week;

  • what goals need to be met
  • which deadlines are most critical
  • which review they must deliver

But equally as important is taking time to map out which employees need your attention that week not just based on production or an issue, but determined by

  • Who haven’t I had a chance to speak to?
  • Who do I need to know a little better?
  • Have I asked that employee what they might need specifically from me to make their job easier or more meaningful?
  • Have I uncovered this employee’s workplace or developmental needs based on conversations that we’ve had?

The book begins by helping leaders to understand their role; whether they are meant for management or are they merely someone that was good at doing the job. Once it’s established that you’re meant to lead, the book, that has nine chapters representing the nine drivers of employment engagement, helps you create small actionable goals that will help you to inspire and motivate your staff.

My favorite excerpt of the book sums in up wonderfully…

“While sending your employees off to seminars and and courses will be an integral part of their development, nothing beats the day-in and day-out coaching and mentoring by you, the boss. Most employees do not enjoy the experience of ongoing development because their manager is not sure how to do it or because the manager is just too busy and has not established it as a part of a routine.

Coaching your employees does not have to be complicated as some would have you to believe, nor does it take hours of your time in face-to-face sessions. Great coaching is quick, on the fly and practical.”

It Has To Become A Part Of Who You Are
Aristotle once told me that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Managers want excellence and they want it consistently. But managers must come to grips with the fact that just expecting great performance is not enough. It must be shown, taught and then shown some more. And in order to achieve the desired results, managers must carve out the time to individually and collectively show their employees what this looks like, repeatedly!

Because I want you to purchase copies of the book, I won’t share all of the techniques but I’ll give a sample of some of the questions to ask during your weekly planning for engaging your employees without sacrificing all of your time:

Question #4 – Whom will I give a 2nd paycheck to this week? (Connecting purpose to pay)
Question #6 – How can I help someone grow this week?
Question #9 – What model do my people need from me this week?

20140124-204619.jpgTaking these Nine Minutes requires true self-reflection from a management standpoint before going in to engage employees. They cause one to ask, “What can I do to positively impact and affect my people?” Well thought-out action, without committing too much time…resulting in true engagement. Not engagement that tries to trick employees to climb, but engagement that helps them find the motivation within themselves to keep climbing and to stay the course! And helping them to find this motivation is going to take a consistent investment into each individual.

It only takes Nine Minutes On Monday to invest in your people. Make all Nine of them count!

Special thanks to James Robbins and his team for reaching out to me and providing me with this opportunity!