keep fighting

Last week I spent several days with leaders at nonprofits from around the world at the LINGOS Global Learning Forum. It was a humbling experience, and I had some of my preconceived notions turned upside down.

In the past I would have imagined (based on my own experiences working in and with nonprofit organizations) that many nonprofits and NGOs are backward at worst and behind the times at best due to limited resources. That may be the case for some, but certainly not for the ones I talked with in Little Rock, Arkansas. There were groups focused on feeding the hungry, teaching people out of poverty, educating women and children in third world countries, providing clean water in Africa, and dozens of other amazing examples of world-changing ideals. What truly surprised me was the level of sophistication of the attendee population.

There were discussions on leading-edge technology, best practices for training and development, and global strategy implementations to reach millions of people. That doesn’t sound like the slate of topics for a group that is whining about how to get a “seat at the table.”

But how? Aren’t they dealing with tough budgets and limited resources? Yes, but because they know they have limits, they use it as fuel for innovation and creative thinking instead of a convenient excuse.

Honestly, I’m not here to beat you up. I’m guilty of using those same excuses. I don’t have time. I don’t have the budget. I don’t have… whatever. But when it comes down to it, there’s usually a way to get it done.

If they can face those same challenges and still feed a family in Peru, then those of us in the private sector need to toughen up just a bit. And remember when you’re supporting charitable organizations that they employ people like us to help them run smoothly and effectively.

Just a few thoughts to start your week of on the right tone.

What charitable organizations do you support? Why?

This summer at SHRM I was looking through the sessions in the app in an attempt to figure out which I wanted to attend, and I saw this one right up front.

SOLD OUT – #707: HR Metrics that Matter: The Process of Developing a Business Scorecard

It made me stop and think, especially in light of some of the conversations I had with others at the event about what sort of content was being offered. For instance, one session at the event was focused on the usual “top ten ways to avoid legal trouble this year,” and it had packed out the entire room and the overflow area as well. I’ve always had trouble with those types of training on the supervisory side of things. Why? Because it makes us focus on the negative aspects of our work, how to avoid getting “in trouble,” and makes us seem more like a nanny in the workplace than a trusted resource for managers/employees and a key business leader.

Policies vs. Actual Contributions

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship (mostly hate) with policies. I think we should take more time to coach and support than regulate and demand. Yes, there are times that come when we must make a rule, be the bad guy, etc. but it shouldn’t come on a daily basis. I recently shared Alison Green’s comments on how managers can have a good relationship with HR. The comments on that blog post when she linked from her site are pretty standard, and yet they still hurt those of us who see ourselves as good and helpful business leaders (instead of merely being the “no, you can’t do that” department).

Going back to the original intent of this post, I was glad to see the metrics session being sold out. Why? Because it’s something that we can do that is not just about being sued, covering our company’s butt, or some other litigation-related idea. Even small companies have the ability to gather and use data in a meaningful way.

In my opinion HR pros who make decisions solely on laws and what the handbook/policies allow aren’t making much of a contribution to the organization. It’s those that take the initiative to find ways that they can contribute in a more meaningful way, offer advice and flexibility that pushes the boundaries, and don’t say, “No” to every request that comes in (even if they are a little bit scary).

A Shift to PositiveHR?

It gives me hope that our philosophy as a profession is changing. SHRM and other organizations will continue to offer these “how not to get sued by your employees” sessions, because there is significant demand for them. But over time, I hope to see us focusing more on the other end of the spectrum. There’s even a group of my friends that started this #PositiveHR movement on Twitter, because they believe that we have the opportunity to do great things if we are truly positive and not self-defeating at every turn.

I do understand that there is a natural maturity curve as well. Smaller organizations or those with inexperienced HR pros will drift toward the legalistic side of things, while organizations with more radical HR pros will seize opportunities to focus on engagement and other positive things we bring to the table. It just seems that many organizations (and HR pros) are reluctant to move beyond the legal side of things. Is it because it offers them more power inside the organization? Is it because they need to feel more intelligent/informed than their peers? I’m not sure…

What are your thoughts? Are we still mired in this world of legal issues or is there a chance we can more into more strategic areas of impact? 

Last week I had a chance to jump on the DriveThruHR podcast and speak with Mike Vandervort, a good friend and host of the show. I was a last minute stand in, so the title of the show has someone else’s name on it. Don’t be confused, because in the 30-minute interview I talk about what life is like as an analyst, what my favorite thing to do is in my daily work at Brandon Hall Group, and how the transition has been over the past 12-18 months.

I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think. The show is posted here or you can listen in the embedded player below.

I was talking with a friend last week about technology–specifically the kind we use in the HR, payroll, and recruiting space. His organization is using an awful tool that costs quite a bit of money. It’s not user friendly. It doesn’t make data easily accessible. And it’s become a running joke that any basic business need will require yet another $20k+ module just to meet that single need. It sounds like they are in the perfect place to be considering other technology, right?

And yet he and I both know that they are not going to make a change any time soon. Despite the availability of various “HR modules” within the system, he uses a point solution to handle recruiting needs and an Excel spreadsheet manage employee data. At some point he’s going to have to move to something else, but he and his organization are just part-way into the HR technology maturity curve. Here’s a look at the curve (in my opinion) and how technology is normally put into place.

The first steps

Diving into HR technology doesn't have to be scary

Diving into HR technology doesn’t have to be scary

One of the first steps most companies take in terms of HR technology typically comes with recruiting. Adding an applicant tracking system to eliminate manual job posting, tracking of candidates, and collaboration with the hiring team. Using a piece of recruiting software (like Recruiterbox, for example), can drastically change HR’s role in the hiring process from administrative to strategic.

I can still remember the before and after look at my recruiting practices when it came to technology implementation. When it was all manual, I was just trying to keep the mass of information organized enough to pick anyone competent and qualified. When we transitioned to using an applicant tracking system, I was able to then spend more time coaching hiring managers, screening candidates more thoroughly, and onboarding new employees.

Another common first step is in payroll. Again, it can be an opportunity to change from very administrative (did we get that person’s dependents right?) to a more strategic focus on compensation, variable pay, and other important elements that fall through the cracks when you’re spending several hours a week reviewing pay stubs.

Next up: performance/learning

Depending on the organization, as they grow there is usually a focus on automating performance management, learning, or both. For instance, when I worked for an organization with heavy regulations around training and staff certifications, our primary system (even before having a good HRIS) was a learning management system (LMS). In another organization, I campaigned regularly for a performance management solution to help alleviate the burden of continuously growing performance management paperwork. This is often seen as less strategic and important than recruiting or payroll, which is why it’s not at the top of the list in terms of implementation priority.

One area I’ve seen grow of late is the set of companies offering performance feedback/employee engagement solutions based on simple surveys and quick “pulse” feedback gathering. These are very easy to implement and don’t require all the trouble of the typical performance management solution.

The later stages

The deeper into this maturity process the company goes, the more likely it will select a suite to consolidate vendors and ensure a uniform data set across the various platforms (learning, performance, compensation, etc.)

One area I’ve been very interested in of late involves the difference between companies that pursue point solutions to solve various problems and those that snag the suite to combine each area. A few questions that have bounced around in my mind:

  • Which type of organization has better performance?
  • What factors play into that overall technology selection choice?
  • Are organizations using data better if the systems are integrated than if not?
  • What about the specific benefits highly targeted point solutions offer that the big suites do not?

What are your thoughts? Where are you in this HR technology maturity curve? 

ask a manager logoOne of the sites I follow regularly is Ask a Manager, where Alison Green shares her thoughts and wisdom on management, job hunting, and the workplace. With a wildly popular site like hers, she gets all kinds of questions from readers about different situations. I wanted to take the opportunity to get her thoughts on our (HR) side of the fence, so I pitched her a few questions. She was gracious enough to answer in detail, so check out the great Q&A below!

Ben: So, Alison, I see that one of your more typical answers to questions from job seekers and workers is, “No, don’t go to HR” when responding to letters you receive. Working in HR, there are times I would like to see some of the requests that these people raise. I understand that HR can be backward and bumbling at times, and for some organizations it can even be an evil arm of management dedicated to squeezing the life out of employees. So, what sorts of instances would you recommend someone actually contact HR for help, assuming no evil intent?

Alison: I’d say there are four main categories of times when I suggest people talk to HR instead of their manager: (1) to report harassment, (2) to report discrimination based on a protected class like race, sex, religion, disability, etc., (3) when they want to take advantage of a protection guaranteed by the government, such as FMLA leave, and (4) with questions about or issues with benefits.

In very limited circumstances, I might also suggest going to HR about an issue with your boss — but not as a general rule. If your boss is yelling or being abusive, then yes. Or if your boss is doing something that clearly your company would be horrified to know about (like dating a subordinate or directing people to violate a safety rule or never permitting anyone to use sick leave).

But if you just don’t like your boss or have relatively mild issues with her, that’s not a matter for HR. In some companies, it can be helpful to go to HR to get ADVICE on how to navigate a tricky relationship with a boss — advice, not intervention. But you have to know your HR department to know if that makes sense; some are great at giving advice in those situations and others will turn around and share the conversation with your boss, and not in a helpful way.

Ben: That’s excellent advice, and I’d agree that those are the times HR actually wants to hear from people. So, what qualifies a company as having “good” HR in your opinion, both as a manager and employee?

Alison: I’d say that a good HR department one that’s highly aligned with the organization’s culture and goals and does excellent work in areas like ensuring that managers are well-trained, benefits are strong and well-administered, salaries are benchmarked to industry norms, and that they help rather than hinder a company’s managers (for instance, by finding nuanced, flexible solutions rather than requiring everyone to operate the same across the board, which is a hallmark of a bad HR department). A good HR department can help managers get more done, more effectively.

Ben: I love that explanation, especially around flexibility. I always thought that was an incredible power (for good or evil) that companies often used poorly. As a former manager who now coaches managers frequently, what relationship do you advise for managers to have with the HR team?

Alison: If you have a good HR department, they can be a great resource to managers — a source of advice on all sorts of tricky issues, from delivering tough feedback to navigating hiring dilemmas to helping retain your best people. If you have a bad HR department, I recommend an avoidance strategy.

Ben: Give me a couple of the most common reasons people say they plan to reach out to HR that cause you to just shake your head at them.

Alison: I think sometimes people think of HR as being neutral referees who they can go to when they have a problem with a coworker or are upset with their manager; they think HR will mediate for them, which of course isn’t exactly how it works. I hear a lot of things like “should I talk to HR about my coworker who won’t stop playing her music too loudly” or “can HR help me if my boss is nitpicking my work?”

Ben: Referencing the last question, I often see this when people are having petty squabbles with managers or peers. Do you think decision to “go to HR” is just an inability to emotionally distance themselves from the situation, a lack of understanding of what HR actually does, a last ditch effort when all else seems to fail, or something else entirely?

Alison: I think it’s a lack of understanding of what HR actually does. It’s the idea I mentioned above that they’ll be a neutral referee. I also think people often think HR is there to be their advocate and don’t understand that HR is there to serve the needs of the business. Of course, in some cases that means advocating for employees against bad managers, because it’s in the best interests of employers to retain great employees, spot and address bad management, and nip legal problems in the bud. But lots of other times, what’s best for the employer might not be what’s best for the employee, and the best interests of the employer will always win out. Employees don’t always get that that’s how it’s supposed to work.

I also think people often go to HR for things they should be trying to solve themselves. It’s why so often when HR reps ask people, “Have you talked about this directly with the person you’re complaining about?” the answer is no. And that’s not surprising — I mean, my mail is full of letters from people who are looking for ways to avoid having a direct, semi-awkward conversation with a coworker or a manager; everyone hopes there might be a solution that will get them out of having a tough conversation that they’d rather avoid.

Ben: That’s entirely true, and I’ve seen it in pretty much every company I’ve ever worked for. Let’s shift a bit on this last question, because I know you have a big chunk of your audience in the form of job seekers looking for advice. On the recruiting side, I completely agree with you about candidates not “reaching out to HR to follow up.” We hate that and it just slows things down (hint: we often have other things besides recruiting going on, and while recruiting is a big deal for you it might be a relatively small priority in the bigger scheme of things). So, is there a time or two that makes sense for a candidate to reach out to HR?

Alison: If you’ve been interviewed, and they told you they’d get back to you in X amount of time, and it’s a week past X. At that point, it’s reasonable to reach out and see if there’s an update on the timeline.

Or if you’ve been interviewed and you have another offer that you need to respond to, so that the company has a chance to expedite things if they’re interested in you.

Otherwise, I know it’s tempting to follow up and ask for updates, but really, if the company wants to hire you, they’re not going to forget about you. People do know that on some level, but it’s so normal to feel anxious and want closure and everything else that makes job searching so emotionally difficult.

Thanks again to Alison for spending some time with us! Please follow her on Twitter and check out her site if you haven’t already. Here are a few good stories that you don’t want to miss:

What did you think of Alison’s honest opinions about HR from a manager’s point of view? Do you agree or disagree?

We’re closing in on HRevolution 2015 in beautiful Saint Louis, and we are happy to announce the location for this year’s event. We will be at the Morgan Street Brewery Lodge, a stylish setup and an all-around fun place to visit.

morgan street breweryWhy this place?

Well, I’ll have to take you back 2010 to explain. That year we held HRev in Chicago, and we had an amazingly creative location picked out. The entire building seemed geared toward creative thinking, and it has remained a perpetual favorite of HRevolution attendees for years. So we decided to try and one-up that location with this phenomenal find.

But why Saint Louis, of all places? One key reason is because my cofounder, Trish McFarlane, lives there! We have hosted this amazing event at various locations since 2009, and this is the first time we’ve held it in her hometown. We have a great group of long-time HRev fans living in and around the STL area, so we know that it will be a great experience for those looking for a unique HR event.

Thinking about it? On the fence? Wondering if it’s worth your while?

Come. It’s worth the drive. You won’t get a legal update. You will get excited and passionate about HR. If you’re not excited about working in HR and the potential impact you can have, then this probably isn’t the event for you. If you consistently hear “you’re not like any HR/recruiting person I’ve ever met,” then this is what you have been waiting for. Plus we’ve created a first-timer’s discount! Just use “firsttime” when you register and you’ll get 20% off the ticket price.

Previous attendees have told me HRevolution is the single most important event they look forward to all year long. And while other events cost $500-1000+ to attend, HRev is just Why not see if the same is true for you?

Today’s post is a personal one about my recent experience quitting caffeine and all of the associated side effects. Not so much about HR, but definitely an interesting look at the experience!

One month ago I quit caffeine. My main delivery method was diet cokes (that’s soda for those of you outside the Southeastern United States). I quit for multiple reasons, and the experience was what I expected in some ways and very much different in others. The thing that hit me since I quit (more on that experience below) was that those of us in the workforce don’t put much of a stigma on drinking caffeine. This experience has helped me to truly see the grip it had on me and the withdrawals were quite… um, intense. I don’t know that I’ll sway you to try quitting yourself, but stick around for the story!

The Background

Those people that know me know that my poison of choice is Diet Mountain Dew. Well, it was, anyway. I haven’t decided if I’ll ever go back to a more moderate intake, but for now I’m trying to live a decaffeinated life. I realized this summer that I was drinking about a two liter a day, and I knew it couldn’t go on forever. I am pretty healthy, eat well, and exercise regularly. But the mental slumps and anguish without caffeine combined with bouts of insomnia helped spur my decision to move away from the green juice.

Like many people, I started drinking caffeine heavily when I was in college. I worked all day, trained for 50-kilometer races in the afternoons, and attended classes at night. I needed something to keep me awake when my mind went fuzzy after a full day. Then I rationalized drinking even more when my kids came along. My joke was that I was short on sleep, and the best bridge for that gap was caffeine. :-)

Now that our third is nearing a year old, I was already going pretty heavy when he was born, so that wasn’t an excuse any more. In addition to that, I had a lingering foot injury from a previous race and poor sleep quality, so I knew I needed to make a decision.

Making the Call

My wife and I were at a funeral for a family member one afternoon and I overheard someone say, “Look at her sister! She’s 92 years old and still fit as can be. If the others had avoided smoking they would still be around too.” In addition, we attended yet another funeral the week prior for a friend of the family with three small children left behind. The death was a result of health complications and I realized how quickly something awful could happen to any of us. It’s amazing how often life events such as these cause us to stop and think about the bigger picture, right?

I decided on a Sunday that I was going to start my taper. I figured cold turkey would probably kill me, so I wanted to ease off and slowly get through the withdrawals with as little pain as possible. I did enough research to know that there were headaches and mental fog to be expected no matter the method used. I wanted to lessen the impact to my work and family, so I planned to taper by a few ounces a day over the course of two weeks.

Thus began my journey.

The first day felt so good that I restricted more than planned. Day two also felt pretty good, so I drank much less than planned (and about a third of my usual intake). I thought, “If this is as bad as it gets, I should have done this a long time ago.”

Then came day three. And boy did it ever. I’m not sure if I’ll always remember the day, because our brain has a setting deep inside that blocks out painful memories to protect our fragile sanity. Suffice to say it was rough.

And why break the cycle? Day four felt terrible. Day five I had back pains and insomnia—seriously. Back pain. That’s what clued me in to the thought that this is more than just something to keep me alert in the early morning hours. It’s affecting my system in ways I can’t even imagine.

One thing that helped was recording the experience. I kept a journal throughout the withdrawal process, noting each day and what I felt.

The most amazing thing is that I can now sit for thirty or forty five minutes at a time without fuzzing out or my thoughts getting hazy. I’ve always had a hard time sitting and focusing for long periods of time, and I attributed that to my naturally high energy. Apparently some of that was due to caffeine! In addition, I can actually recall what people say during those time periods. I’m still a high-energy person and always have been. I just realize now that the caffeine was masking my true energy in a hyper state of random thoughts with no ability to focus. I’m amazed that I have been able to work as a writer and researcher in the past year with this monkey on my back, and I’m glad to say that each day feels better and better in terms of focus.

My sleep is better than ever, and I am falling to sleep at more natural times and waking up feeling more refreshed than any time I can remember.

The Business Take

We freely offer this drug. Heck, we usually pay for employees to consume it. The rationale for many is that caffeinated employees are more productive. Some studies have shown the opposite to be true: when the caffeine “high” and the resulting “low” are balanced out, there isn’t much impact. (Note, I found some of that data while I was quitting as a way to encourage myself, but I can’t for the life of me find the study now that I’m writing this post!).

Anyway, whether it’s a call for wellness or an opportunity to reset your own caffeine clock, I encourage you to try living without it for a month and see how it affects you. It amazed me at the changes I felt weeks later.

Love to hear from some of you! Are you junkies like I was? Are you caffeine free? Why? How do you feel?