Today we’re not talking about HR.

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Helping with the dental work

I’ve been quite of late, because it’s difficult to write from a remote village without electricity. From the end of December to early January, I returned to Guatemala for a mission trip designed to encourage and uplift some of the poorest people on earth (materially speaking). Below you’ll find a report based on my experience. I write this recollection not to “show off,” but to help keep myself focused on the most important things in life, such as faith and family.

I hope that this story gives you some hope yourself and possibly even encourages you to look for an opportunity to love on someone else, whether they are nine thousand miles away or just nine feet away.

I visited Guatemala two years ago on a similar trip and knew that I would one day return. I told my wife that I wouldn’t go back until she was able to experience it herself, and in July 2015 she joined a team visiting San Pedro Las Huertas in Sacatepecquez. It was a wonderful time for her, and it allowed me to make good on my promise to return. For the past few years, both of us have worked on the planning team for our church’s annual auction to support two feeding centers in San Pedro Las Huertas and San Cristobal el Bajo. Each feeds more than a hundred kids a day, which for most of the kids is the only meal they will get all day. Melanie was able to see the feeding centers in operation when she visited, which was probably a humbling feeling to see all of that effort paying off. Unfortunately the feeding centers were closed for the holidays while I was there (apparently Guatemala follows the United States’ lead and pretty much shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s).

There were many facets to trip preparation. It’s not as simple as packing a suitcase and heading for the airport. We were bringing 250+ stockings full of toys, clothing and personal hygiene items to pass out for kids, plus we had to plan for daily bible school lessons and more.

Sunday

I’ll just mention here that I hate being away from my family for any length of time. When I decide to go on a trip, that’s usually the first hang up I have. But I had committed to this experience, so…

Sunday afternoon one of my team members and I took all of the stockings and luggage to Atlanta to save some time and simplify logistics for the team. One extra night away, but it saved us from having to be up at 2:30am to get on the road in time for the flight.

Monday

Monday morning we met the rest of the team at the airport and hopped on the plane. Guatemala City, here we come! Coming back was very much a reunion-like experience for me. I had many friends in San Pedro las Huertas from my previous visit, and it was a great chance for me to practice my rusty Spanish yet again. On the way to the mission house from the airport, I rode in the only truck without an interpreter and was able to have a good conversation with our driver, which was fun.

That night we ate dinner and repacked the vehicles with plans to leave first thing in the morning.

Tuesday

The team was very excited about the trip, despite being on the road for nine hours. We did last minute checks and hit the road. At Chimaltenango we picked up our third driver, Pastor Luis. This man has been visiting the people of La Perla for a year at monthly intervals, and he was our local connection to the community there.

Again, I ended up riding in his vehicle with the rest of the gringos that didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. You never realize how much you talk on a nine hour road trip until you’re riding with a driver that doesn’t speak English.

The trip, though long, was fairly uneventful. We stopped for lunch at one of the only Gringo-safe places, Pollo Campero, in Santa Cruz (Quiche) and then continued on our way. We arrived late in the afternoon just before dark. There was just time for a quick dinner before we had church service. After that we all hit the hay, tired from the long day’s events.

Wednesday

House visits with Pastor Julio

House visits with Pastor Julio

The plan for the day included house visits for church members and family in the morning and vacation bible school for the kids in the afternoon.

I had the amazing opportunity to go for a run at first light, seeing the sleepy little village coming to life one cooking fire at a time. I’ll admit that I got some funny looks from the locals, but everyone was friendly and it is a memory I’ll treasure.

During our house visits, we had our first run in with the biting flies of La Perla. These small, gnat-looking bugs drink blood like a mosquito, but they don’t alert you to their presence since they are very small. But lunchtime some of the team had more than a dozen bites on their faces and arms. (I’d like to send a personal thank you to Off! Deep Woods for their support of my trip). :-)

One of the families we visited had recently lost someone, and that was definitely a pull at the heartstrings. However, the second visit was one I want to cover in more detail. We checked in on a Mayan family living on the side of a hill. They were quite poor, even by local standards. They had a dirt floor and a fire going in the middle of the room for cooking and heat. As soon as we walked in, the lady’s daughter ran to a neighbor’s house to bring chairs so that we could sit. As soon as we all were seated, she went and retrieved all of her food and began passing it out to us, a set of complete strangers. This amazed me, and we weren’t able to refuse it, because it would have been an insult to her and her family.

At bible school we did a lesson on Daniel and the lion’s den and did a little lion craft with the kids. Some of them were very shy, because they had never colored anything before. Then we played games–one of the team brought a massive bubble wand and made bubbles 2-3 feet long for the kids, and they were thrilled.

Thursday

The plan for the day included house visits for church members and family in the morning and vacation bible school for the kids in the afternoon.

The house visits on Thursday really got me. We hiked up the trail on the side of a mountain to get to the homes. At one home we met a teenage girl with no legs. Every night her little sister carries a flashlight and helps her get down to church, more than half a mile away. This girl crawls there every night. I was completely blown away by her faith and dedication.

We started to get a bit tired down from the kids being around us at every moment of the day, plus not getting much sleep at night. The children were climbing in the windows of our rooms, trying to see the gifts that we had brought for them. :-)

Friday

The plan for the day included a medical clinic in the morning and vacation bible school plus stocking distribution in the afternoon.

Discussing care of a very sick baby with his mother

Discussing care of a very sick baby with his mother

The local church had handed out fifty numbers for patients for the clinic, but through various conversations another twenty five people had been invited to come for treatment. We had a pretty good setup going. One team working blood pressure (note: even seventy year olds had great blood pressure there thanks to walking everywhere on mountain trails!), two dispensing medicine, one person diagnosing patients, some praying with the patients, and others working however they could. Because I have some understanding of Spanish I was writing instructions on the medicine as we prescribed it to patients.

Nearly everyone we saw had worms or parasites simply because their water is full of bacteria and germs, they don’t understand how to cook food properly, etc. I believe the long term answer to this is education, but as of today we wiped out a considerable number of parasites with the medication we distributed.

Some of the most heart-breaking stories, from the man that hadn’t eaten in fifteen days to the baby that wasn’t getting enough nutrition and might not survive, happened during this clinic. On one hand it was great to help ease the suffering of these people, but on the other it reminds me just how much pain there is in the world.

There were two kids that needed teeth pulled, and I was able to help a bit for the second one. The girl’s tooth had rotted, and grabbing it made it crumble to pieces. After several unsuccessful attempts we decided to bring her with us on the return trip to the first large city, Navaj, to see a real dentist and get the tooth pulled for good.

Due to the number of people at the clinic, we just had time for a quick grab and go lunch before bible school started. We did our lesson, took the kids out to play, and then brought everyone back into the church and locked the doors. We knew that this would be a problem if kids were wandering by and saw the gifts coming out, and we didn’t have enough to offer everyone in the entire village. We had brought approximately 250 stockings, and Pastor Luis brought about 50 more small gifts as well.

Once the kids were in the church, we told them they would get a single gift and then would be sent out the door. It was my job to guard the door and prevent anyone else from entering, because the priority was to serve the kids who had attended bible school. That was heart-wrenching, because within five minutes of these kids streaming out of the church with gifts, there were more than fifty people outside trying to get in and secure a gift for themselves or for their children. In the end we let a few more in and handed out everything we had, and we had to be comfortable with that. Just like with the medical clinic, you can’t help everyone, and that is just part of life.

The church was packed every night. Standing room only in the back.

The church was packed every night. Standing room only in the back.

That night we treated the locals. During church service every night they ran a generator to power the lights and audio equipment. We brought a projector and DVD player and the movie War Room. Most of the people there had never seen a movie before, and I knew it would be an experience. The entire church was packed out, standing room only, and the back walls were opened up so people could stand outside and still see. In the two hour movie, people sat on hard wooden benches and drank in the experience. The movie has a powerful message, and it was evident in the tears that shone when the lights came up at the end. I don’t think they will soon forget it.

Saturday

Saturday morning was bittersweet. We were excited to go back to the mission house in San Pedro and reunite with our team, but we were also very sad to leave the wonderful people of La Perla. We brought the little girl and her mom with us to go the dentist in Navaj, and that proved to be a painful experience. The girl’s mother did not travel often, so she got motion sickness and would not take any medication offered by the team. She ended up throwing up four times in the back seat of the truck, turning the three hour drive into a five hour drive. Once we got the girl in to see a dentist and off on the bus back home, we continued our journey. Ultimately with traffic and the other issues, we ended up taking thirteen hours to get back to the mission house.

Everyone was very tired from the road trip, but the nearby volcano was sending up lava on and off all night, and most of the team stayed up to see the eruptions.

Sunday

Sunday morning we had church in San Pedro. I rode with Danny, the local missionary, to pick up kids and families for church. It was great to see some of the same kids I remembered from before.

After church, one of the kids was left behind, so a friend and I decided to walk him home. After we dropped him off, I realized we were at the same location where we had built a house on our previous visit. I remembered hearing Danny say that the mother/wife had just died a few weeks prior of appendicitis at the age of 38. Despite me only having a grasp of the basics of Spanish and the family not speaking any English, we stopped by to offer our condolences. After all, on the previous trip we had played with their kids and spent several days building their home from the ground up, so we felt like we knew them as well as anyone else.

Sunday afternoon we began packing our gear for the trip home. It had been a long week, and we had accomplished much in the relatively short time we were in Guatemala. Monday morning we went to the airport and flew back to Atlanta.

Looking back now, it seems like it was all too short of a trip. I’m extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to visit with and love on these amazing people. My team was phenomenal. And my wife is a saint for keeping up with our kids while I was out of town. All that said, it was the wonderful experience that I hoped and prayed for.

Back in college I wrote a ton of papers for various classes. Without fail, my writing process would look like this.

  • Read some of the research available and form an opinion.
  • Write an essay based on that opinion.
  • Go back and find data to back up my essay’s key points.
  • Get about 95% finished and realize that the paper didn’t turn out like I wanted it to originally.
  • Rewrite the entire thing from scratch (usually with just a day or two left until the deadline)

analysisThis was a painful process, but it usually yielded fairly good results. I think that many of us try to do the same with this big data/analytics concept. We immediately go out and start gathering HR data, hoping to make some incredible discovery that will revolutionize the way we do business. Continue reading

One of the things that I have grown to appreciate over the past few years is marketing. One of the first things I wrote on the topic was actually around what Chief Marketing Officers can teach Chief HR Officers. There is quite a bit of activity that goes on in the marketing department that we should all appreciate. From tailoring your approach to your audience to relentlessly testing your campaigns, there are some great insights in how they operate. Today we’re going to specifically talk about split testing.

The easiest way to explain split testing is this:

split testingLet’s say I walk up to you and hold out a piece of cake wordlessly. When the next person comes by, I hold out the same type of cake in the same way, but I smile and say, “Hello!” cheerfully.

That’s a split test, or A/B test. The point is to make every element of the scenario the same except for a single item that you’re explicitly testing—in this case, the greeting. Over the course of multiple tests (dozens or more, not just two or three apiece) you learn how that item affects the outcome of the experiment. Then you do it again but with another element being the item tested. Continue reading

A few weeks ago, one of my good friends was tapping away at his phone, and I asked him what he was up to. He told me that he was playing this “Clash of Clans” game online.

During my college days, I played games regularly. I enjoyed it, and it was a great way to pass the time. Now that I have kids I don’t have much time for games anymore, so I started to dismiss it. Then he said something that struck me. He was playing on a team with some of his peers from work.

After digging deeper into the story, I knew I wanted to share about it. Not just because I still have a fondness for games, but because this has some interesting impacts on the workplace as well.

Growing Up

One of my best memories growing up is playing games with my family: board games, word games, and all kinds of others. One of my absolute favorites is still Scattergories, in case you were curious. And when I think about those games I don’t think about which ones I won or lost. I think about the way I felt playing together and feeling like I was part of something special. Continue reading

One of the most common terms around recruiting these days is candidate experience. If you’re late to the game, it’s basically a look at how candidates are treated as they enter your recruiting funnel all the way to getting an offer, if they move that far. It’s comparable to the customer experience: how they are treated, how they feel about the organization, etc. I’ve long held that candidate experience is seen as unimportant not because it doesn’t matter, but because companies just don’t know how to make it stick.

Think about it. If I told you starting today that you had to treat every candidate with the same reverence you offered your customers, you would have a hard time making it work among your other job duties. In addition, you’d probably be unsure just how to make that a reality. I recently wrote about how to revolutionize candidate experience (here). The gist:

  1. Measure it continuously
  2. Make it automatic
  3. Make it part of recruiting performance
  4. Make it more important than something else
  5. Make it a business priority, not an HR one

Those are good, helpful pieces of information, but I’ll do you one better. My friend Jane, the HR leader for a startup technology company in Boston, left me a comment that was worth sharing. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because she has authored a few previous guest posts here (How to Select a Third Party RecruiterThe Struggle Between a Caring Work Environment and Talent Density. and Applying Marketing Principles to HR). Here’s Jane’s take on practical ways to impact candidate experience:

It didn’t seem to push through, but figured I’d share on your candidate experience article:

Ben, great article. My experience is that the candidate (and employee) experience becomes acutely important when in a highly-competitive market where you want to hire people better than the job criteria … but so does everyone else.

I’ll give you an example – in one of my positions, we posted on craigslist, got a bunch of applicants, handled them the average HR way, and hired people who met our criteria – most of whom were fine. In retrospect, many (but not all – I worked with some really great people) were looking for a less-bad job than their last.

In another position, we wanted the cream of the crop (without being able to pay Google money). To win those candidates, it became much more important to give them access to our CEO, mission and strategy. To woo them by meeting members of the team. And to actively court them. Unless we were in love with a candidate, we weren’t extending an offer. And if we extended that offer, we really wanted a yes.

Ultimately, you need buy in from the top-down because hiring (and the way candidates are treated) needs to become more important than everything else on people’s plates. The pay-off? Spectacular talent. A competitive advantage in the market. Awesome referrals. And people who leave for greener pastures, but want to return.

What I like in particular about their approach is the clear delineation between “what we did” and “what we do now” with regard to how candidates are treated. This is the same approach I took when I was leading the HR function at Pinnacle Solutions. Things like access to the CEO, the opportunity to bring a spouse/SO to the office to meet people before accepting an offer, or even just a private meeting with peers to ask questions they didn’t feel comfortable asking me or the hiring manager are all incredibly powerful tools in these circumstances.

How does your organization make the overall experience for candidates a priority? Has it worked for you? 

As I look back on the past five years and all of the people I’ve met, I have made some interesting conclusions about career choices. My background as an HR pro has helped to expose me to a wide variety of experiences, people, and career options. I was talking with a friend a few days ago about some of the HR positions I have had over the years. Some of them were at dysfunctional companies with dysfunctional teams. Others were made up of great people vigorously pursuing excellence at all levels. However, I don’t know that I would have appreciated the good ones as much if I didn’t have some bad ones sprinkled in there for comparison.

Think about it. If you are feeling pretty sore from a workout or from a long, stressful week, you appreciate a massage more. If it’s hot out, that cold drink seems especially soothing.

So while we’re all working hard to offer great work environments and engaging opportunities for employees, they might not realize how nice they have it without a really awful place to compare it to.

So, what’s the answer? I really don’t know. We won’t make it unappealing simply to make a point, but there has to be some way to make this work. While you’re pondering that, let’s talk about something else: coaching.

One of my favorite HR activities is providing coaching to managers and employees at critical moments. For whatever reason it’s just something that I really enjoy. Recently I spoke with a friend about some of these career coaching moments, and we discussed how to approach some particularly tricky options his employees are facing.

Here are two scenarios that are probably all-too-common. If you have seen employees with these sorts of challenges, I’d love to hear how you helped them to resolve the issues.

The Overpaid Employee With an Entitlement Mentality

Let’s call her Carla. Carla has worked for this company for years and has tons of experience in her field. She’s the most technically competent employee that works for this company–and she knows it. She has been poking her manager about a pay raise because she thinks she is worth more money. The truth is she’s probably already overpaid for the level of responsibility she holds and overall value she brings to customers.

So, like it usually happens in this situation, the manager sends her to HR to talk.

My recommendation was to turn it around. This is not HR’s job to discuss this–it’s between the manager and employee. I suggested my friend get the employee to set up a meeting (after all, she is the one pushing this so hard) between her, her manager, and HR. The employee needs to lay out what she wants and expects, and the manager needs to be upfront and honest about her career aspirations, the value she brings, and what possibilities lie ahead.

Every time I do this the manager initially balks at the concept. However, after the fact they appreciate having the clarity between them and the employee, and HR was able to observe/facilitate and offer support without having to be the one driving the discussion.

Honestly, the employee forgot that less than five years ago she worked for an absolutely terrible organization that treated her poorly. She’s become a bit aggressive and entitled at the same time, and this is the first step to rectifying that.

The Humble Employee with Limited Experience

Another employee faces a career decision as well, but of a different type. This guy has a great attitude and has grown in responsibility over time. He also has about five years of experience with this company, but he realizes that he doesn’t have the depth and breadth of experience to move to the next level. He doesn’t want to leave, but at the same time, he knows that something will have to change for his skills to be up to the task of managing his function in the coming years.

So my friend talked with him about possibly leaving for a year or two to work at another organization, learn their processes, strategies, etc. and then return in time to step up to the next role when it is time. Obviously this carries some risk:

  • what if the job doesn’t materialize
  • what if the things he learns are not enhancing his skill set
  • what if the company can’t hire him back when they originally said they would
  • who will run his function in his absence

You get the idea. It’s scary.

And yet it’s innovative. It’s a solution to the problem. And without anyone internally to mentor him and help him grow, this might be the only chance to gain the needed experience to ultimately help this company succeed.

If you think you might identify with this guy and need to make a change for your own career development, then scout out some local opportunities to see what might be available. And if you’re looking for a resume template to help you with that search, check out this resource.

So, those are just two of the most recent conversations I’ve had about HR being involved in career discussions with employees.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Which of these types of employees is working in your organization right now? How can you help them? 

This weekend was a whirlwind of activity as HRevolution swept through Saint Louis. It was one of the best yet (I’ve heard from some that this one was the most impressive), and as I head back to work I want to keep a few of the great conversations and topics in mind. Here’s what you missed:

  • Nearly 50 practitioners and leaders in the space got together to crowdsource problems, build stronger networks, and get a new outlook on the future of this great profession. On the drive home my good friend Allen told me that he was pumped up and excited about putting some of the ideas into action.
  • The Morgan Street Brewery Lodge was amazing, and the food was incredible. I’m going to be running off the ten pounds I gained over the weekend. :-)
  • Mary Faulkner got us all talking about whether or not HR is ready for feedback, how we might be perceived in the organization, and how to respond to data showing dismal approval ratings. Most of us would be afraid to ask for feedback internally, but it’s a great way to ensure you’re meeting the needs of internal customers.
  • Franny Oxford and Paul Hebert helped to dig into positive HR, how we can help our organizations be more positive, and how to specifically bring our own happiness into the workplace every day. To be honest I thought the topic was simplistic, but it received more comments from the audience than pretty much every other session.
  • We had a new game during lunch based on the Jimmy Fallon Box of Lies bit. It was pretty darn hilarious and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience. Bottom line: we are terrible at being able to tell if people are lying to us. Or maybe HR people are great liars. Hmmm…
  • Jane Jaxon led a discussion around curating the organizational culture as the company grows. How do you scale some of the high-touch activities and experiences when you triple in size?
  • Tim Gardner brought the big company discussion with his experiences at Kimberly-Clark. It was a great look at how large organizations manage people and a realization for me that even big companies have people issues, just of a different scope and hue.
  • Katrina Collier helped to frame a discussion around increasing candidate engagement in a noisy social atmosphere. I think the corporate recruiters in the audience picked up some helpful tips and hints from the conversation.
  • Finally, Steve Boese led us on a hunt for revolutionary HR technology, and each group had to design its own solution and explore the market need, functionality, etc. Most of us think we could design better stuff than some vendors, but it’s not quite as simple as it sounds!
  • Finally, we had a sizable portion of attendees as first timers. It was great to meet Teresa, Angie, Katrina, Rob, Bernie, and so many other great folks. I love my long-time friends from the HR/recruiting space, but it is always great to expand that circle as well.

Thanks for our great sponsors, attendees, and my fellow planning crew for another great event. Mark your calendar for early June next year, because you don’t want to miss this experience.