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How to Avoid the “Let Me Get Back to You” Trap

hr strategy know the business

HR is always a day late and a dollar short.
-Chris Powell, CEO BlackbookHR

That comment from Chris Powell has stuck with me since our initial conversation, and I think it’s a reality we all need to be aware of and try to mitigate. Think of it this way — when someone asks finance, sales, or operations about specific facts, figures, and projections, they can typically throw out a ballpark answer within moments.

But for some reason, HR has always taken the “let me get back to you on that” approach. And that, my friends, is not a winning strategy.

One of the things I was taught early in my HR career is to always have the trusty response of “let me get back to you” ready for when someone asks you a question you don’t know. Over time, I have seen the use of that grow until it’s used on an almost daily basis as a way for HR pros to get out of conversations they are not comfortable with (discussions of revenue, sales, productivity or other hard numbers).

We can’t let that be a crutch any more. It’s time to start learning the business, having some insights ready to go, and being able to share information as quickly as other organizational leaders.

For instance, if someone asks the VP of sales how his numbers are looking, he can (more often than not) immediately respond with a good approximation of the current status. Think for a moment about how that compares credibility-wise when someone asks HR a similar question and we say, “Um, I’ll have to check and let you know.”

Let’s fix it, shall we? Check out “‘Let me get back to you on that’ is not a strategy” over at the Brandon Hall Group blog for more info and to see how to resolve this longstanding problem.

HR Video Roundup Version I

I am testing out something new this week and have been publishing short, 1-2 minute videos on YouTube daily as a way to get some quick thoughts out there on a variety of topics. I’m rounding up this week’s content here. Let me know what you think about the topics, format, etc.

\Subscribers will need to click through to view the videos below)

HR: it’s not about finding a seat at the table, it’s about finding the food truck

Today we’re looking at how HR isn’t necessarily about finding a “seat at the table,” but it’s more like “finding the food truck.” It’s often a moving target and to be strategically relevant we need to put some effort into the process to make it work.
Credit to Chris Powell, CEO of BlackbookHR for the great quote!

Innovation, HR Conferences, and HRevolution

Talking about how to drive innovation and innovative thinking when the traditional training and conference events are created to help us continue doing things as they have always been done. In addition, events like HRevolution (http://thehrevolution.org) DO create those types of thinking.

Making the workplace better: micro and macro views

How can we make the workplace better? Some people look at a massive innovation across the board, while others seek out how to make one-on-one relationships better and build out from there. Good discussion.

Have something you’d like to see me discuss? Let me know!

Why You Should Force Your Employees to Read Books

This topic is a bit controversial, but it’s something that I believe and stand by. Why? Because I’m a fan of reading, for one, but also because I have personally seen this work as a tool in the world of work.

  • I’ve used books within performance discussions, both positive (succession/development oriented) and negative (performance improvement/problem-focused) with varying degrees of results.
  • I have helped to establish a library for employees to help them have access to some of the books that mattered not only to our industry, but also to the type of culture we wanted to have.
  • I have read books that have made me better at work in a variety of ways. Knowledge really is powerful stuff.

Last week I was quoted in the Chicago Tribune talking about this very topic. The article is a good one and worth a read. Here’s a snipped:

It dawned on me recently that reading is not an activity that’s often associated with work. It’s more of a leisure-time endeavor, which is fine — but if it’s so darn good for us to read, why shouldn’t reading be a part of the working world?

I’m not talking about co-workers starting a book club, but rather companies encouraging all employees to read certain books. Maybe even launching discussions about those books or using them to drive home aspects of the company’s culture.

“I think it really applies to the workplace and the kind of environments we want to create,” said Ben Eubanks, a human resources analyst at Brandon Hall Group and an advocate for workplace reading. “One of the things that I like best is when you read it and I read it, and then we get together and talk about it. The discussion that happens afterward. If you’re sitting in a PowerPoint presentation, I’m telling you things and you’re taking things in but there’s really no discussion.”

He thinks reading should be an expected part of any employee’s performance. It could range from books that management picks for all workers to read — ones that get at the company’s core philosophies — to books that managers suggest for specific employees, with an eye toward helping make the employee better.

“I’ve worked with managers in the past to assign them a book that we think will help them learn the things they need to learn or develop a skill they’re not being exposed to,” Eubanks said. “People who are successful are often crazy about reading. They make time for that because they understand how important it is, and it’s kind of like a secret weapon.”

Instant replay

Let’s replay that last part again:

People who are successful are often crazy about reading. They make time for that because they understand how important it is, and it’s kind of like a secret weapon.

Simply put, leaders read. And people at all levels of our organizations can be extraordinary leaders, if we help give them the keys to learn and grow.

I can’t determine causation without some hefty research, so I can’t speak to whether reading makes us successful, or successful people naturally read more. What I can say is that there is correlation there and we can certainly attempt to exploit that for the betterment of our employees and their families.

The big picture

As I have shared numerous times in the past, reading is something I believe we all could stand to do more of. If you’re trying to read a book per week, learn how to set up a structured reading program within your company, or set up a book club in your local area to connect with other folks who want to get smarter, those are all worthwhile goals.

That’s why I have published dozens of book reviews over the years. That’s why I continue to accept the ridiculous number of pitches from publishers trying to get me to read and review books about HR, leadership, talent, learning, etc. I want to get better, but I also want to share with you so you can get better, too.

I can still remember the first book review I ever did. As I read The Pursuit of Something Better something changed and I really saw how the ideas I picked up from the book could impact my day to day HR practices. This is powerful stuff, and if you learn only one idea from a book that you can use on a regular basis, then it’s worth your time and money to invest.

Thanks for letting me rant a bit. Some of you will take this to heart, pick up a book (maybe one I have suggested), and commit to being better at this HR thing. Others will finish reading this article and move on, making no changes to their own professional growth. I hope I’ve reached you, dear reader, as one of the former.

What’s Your Best Retention Tip/Driver?

Hello, friends!

This coming week I will be talking with some companies in my area on behalf of my local SHRM chapter (North Alabama SHRM). This topic will be focused on retention, and I wanted to see if you had any insights, tips, or other considerations. I will pull any suggestions together and put them into the presentation for the attendees to benefit from your point of view.

So, what do you say? Care to share some of your thoughts on employee retention? If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few possible discussion questions. Feel free to pick one to answer if you don’t already have specific suggestions…

  • Should organizations do regular “stay” interviews? Why or why not?
  • What can exit interviews tell us about retention/turnover?
  • What should our target be as far as retention goes? Is 100% reasonable? If yes, why? If no, why not?
  • How does recruiting play into retention efforts? What about training? Benefits? Other focus areas of HR?
  • What does the average employee tenure say about your company’s retention efforts?
  • What is the best way we can approach retention strategically? By focusing heavily on the relationship between manager and employee, by focusing on a culture that makes people want to stay, or something else?

Thanks! Looking forward to seeing what you guys have to share. I know the attendees of the event will really appreciate your insights. As always, if you have ideas or requests for other topics, feel free to reach out!

Unconventional HR Advice: Love Your People

love your employeesLast week I was listening to a business owner talk about how he leads his company. He talked through several areas he thought were pertinent, but one statement he made really stuck out.

You have to love your people.
-Zack Penney

As I think back over my time as an HR professional, the times that I felt like I was making the most difference in the lives of my staff was when I held a very similar mindset. We have to care for these people, because if you don’t someone else will. It’s no different than marriage, kids, friends, etc. We all want someone to value and care about us. If we don’t get it from our immediate surroundings then we tend to look elsewhere for it.

Not only that, but when it’s time to make decisions that affect the people that work with you, it’s going to help you to frame those decisions. I know that just because you care that can’t drive everything you do, but doing something negative with care, respect, and concern for the person on the other end of the transaction will soften the experience and make it easier to digest.

And if you’re reading this and thinking, “There’s no way I could really care for these people I’m working with,” then it might be time to find somewhere else where that is a possibility.

As you go through your day today, ask yourself:

  • Do I really care for these people?
  • Do they know it?
  • If I have to deliver bad news, how does that care and concern factor into the discussion/decision?

What say you? Is this a worthwhile aspiration or a silly waste of time? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

The Real Reason People Hate HR

First, read this from the Ask a Manager blog:

HR won’t let us hold people accountable for performance

I just read your column about accountability and got aggravated because one of my long-standing frustrations as a manager at the large, government affiliated nonprofit where I work has been a lack of commitment to accountability. In my department, I try and, I think, mostly succeed at following your advice about talking explicitly about expectations, giving feedback, etc. – but then I come up against a lack of ability to ensure that actions have consequences – good or bad – at the institutional level.

For example, every employee is evaluated using the same performance appraisal template, which asks questions like whether the person is “courteous,” then spits out a score. If you have a score of at least 60 out of 100, you keep truckin’ along. The problem is that everyone on my staff is responsible for making 25 teapots a year. If someone shows up sober most of the time and doesn’t swear at anyone, but they only make 21 teapots, my hands are tied. On the other end of the spectrum, everyone gets the same salary increase, so those people making 42 teapots don’t see any tangible reward for going above and beyond.

So I was excited when we got new leadership this year that requested a plan for providing rewards and consequences for meeting or failing to meet the 25 teapot goal. I’m happy with the plan I developed and it was endorsed by our leadership. Then it went to HR and fell into a black hole. For months, I have been following up and told they were reviewing the plan and would get back to me. Finally, I ambushed the person I’ve been trying to talk to and she told me that the problem they’re hung up on is the consequences for failing to reach goals. Essentially, if someone fails to meet the 25 teapot goal (and this is after I have met with everyone regularly throughout the year about their progress and provided them with as much guidance and support as I’m able), I want to give them six months to improve their performance or be let go. HR asserts that the proposal “changes the terms of employment.” I don’ t understand this because the job is “teapot maker” and the job description explicitly states they’re responsible for making 25 teapots a year.

Instead of just tearing my hair out, though, I want to try to move this thing forward. I see a glimmer of opportunity because the HR director hasn’t outright told me it’s impossible. I’d rather the next step not be whining to the boss – in part because HR doesn’t seem very impressed that our top leadership wants this to happen. How do I proceed?

And now for the (quite appropriate) response:

Alison@Ask a Manager: Your HR department sucks, and your organization’s management sucks for allowing HR to suck (although it sounds like that might be changing with your new leadership). And really — “changes the terms of employment”? Have these HR people ever held a job outside this organization and seen that, in fact, you can indeed hold people to performance standards?

I’d talk to your new leadership directly if you can — the ones who want this to change. Tell them you’re having trouble getting HR to move forward with it, say you feel hamstrung in taking action on low performers, and ask for advice in getting HR to move on it. [Source]

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Please don’t do this

HR has to stop doing, and allowing, things like this. It seems like it’s a weekly occurrence where someone writes to Alison (Alison Green is the superstar behind Ask a Manager) with a problem that is being caused by someone in human resources.

Look, I get it. HR is like any profession—we’re going to have people that just aren’t great at this stuff. But my sincere hope with this post is to help some of you guys see the AWFUL people practices that some organizations use and help you avoid them. For goodness sake, please steer clear of anything resembling this madness.

It’s no wonder that so many leaders, managers, and staff don’t respect HR when things like this are occurring.

Should HR Be Managing Contingent Workers?

managing contingent workersOne of the best conversations I had last week was about how technology is changing to allow internal HR/recruiting leaders to also take over the management of contingent workers: free agents, temps, etc. But, if you’ve spent some time in HR, you probably know that this is something that we just don’t do. But why?

Good question.

Sometimes the barrier to technological improvement isn’t technology-related at all.

That thought occurred to me during a discussion with the provider, PeopleFluent, that has built a robust recruiting solution that also allows management of contingent workers. In other words, if you’re trying to bring in free agents, contractors, or other non-traditional workers, you can do that within the recruiting tools instead of having an entirely separate process.

The provider has had adoption issues and doesn’t have a significant number of clients (at least in the US) that are seeking to implement this portion of the recruiting system. The problem, as many HR pros will tell you, is that we don’t always want to be in charge of the contingent workers. Here’s why…
Keep reading…

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