Every year I republish my “state of the HR union” article from previous years with new additions and edits as a challenge to each of you. Am I on target, or did I miss anything pertinent? 

Early every year, the President of the United States makes an address to the nation. The purpose of the annual “State of the Union” address is to give an account of the year’s events and discuss the priorities of the coming months. If communicated properly, this is an opportunity to reach a larger audience, share major goals, and get buy-in from the constituency.

So, why don’t we give it a shot?

hr-state-union-address

I think every HR pro needs to have their own State of the Union address within their own company, department, or team (depending on the level of responsibility). This is strategic HR communication at its best, and it could become a valuable tool to allow leaders to peer into the inner workings of the HR strategy while allowing HR leaders to share key results areas as well. In fact, even compliance can be strategic, if communicated properly.

When I think about this, I remember the best boss I ever had. She did an annual HR “touch base” meeting to get us on the right track, get everyone on the same page, and help to lay out key themes and strategies for the year. In reality it was a team of two of us, but she brought in additional stakeholders and interested parties to hear the session, giving them a peek into our priorities. It also allowed them to see how we might be able to help them and enable their success, a primary part of how I define successful HR.

She was always good at pointing out the need to be agile, knowing that business needs could dictate changes in our approach. Knowing that the HR strategy could change rapidly helped to give me some sense of control, despite the complete lack of it! That’s one reason I put together the following video a while back, because I know that the HR strategy sometimes changes, shifts, or even fails. We need to be prepared for some of those eventualities.

Featured Video: What to Do if Your HR Strategy Fails

HR Needs to Step Up

Are you ready for me to step on your toes? Here’s a quote from one study I found:

“Only 20 percent of [the largest publicly traded] companies discuss HR in their reports to shareholders. About one-quarter provides only limited references to the workforce, and some don’t mention their employees at all.”

Can you imagine how our stakeholders would react if we spent 30-50% of our budget on a resource and then never followed up about how it was being utilized? In effect, this is what’s happening with regard to our human capital investments. People are quick to say that payroll is the largest line item in a company’s budget, but then when it comes to proving how we’re doing in terms of diversity, development, direction, etc. we fall down on the job.

I did a little digging and found a few examples of HR annual reports that organizations have created. You’ll see some interesting insights in them, from hard statistics proving the value of the HR function to strategic plans for the coming year ahead.

  • Deutsche Bank-Lays out progress toward long-term “Strategy 2020” goals that belong to the business, not HR. This example also provides the most comprehensive data around specific performance of the various HR practices–for example, 1 in 3 employees were hired from internal candidates and 10,000+ internal staff changed roles during the year, providing ongoing talent and development opportunities for workers.
  • John Carroll University-Gives a one-page executive summary followed by monthly highlights of programs and contributions to the organization.
  • UCF-Demonstrated specific metrics around HR performance, from increased screening measures to specific training points and diversity improvements.

Nobody said you have to create a full-color, 25-page report to show what you’re doing. But a one-page executive summary with key insights into the core HR areas? That’s totally doable. At a minimum, it should cover:

  • Recruiting–what has your performance been like? Common metrics? Best success story as a case in point?
  • Training and development–how much, what kind, and most importantly, what has it enabled the business to achieve?
  • Safety and health–what is the progress/status? What’s the well-being of your staff? Are they performing and productive?
  • Strategy–is your HR team aligned with the business in terms of overarching strategy? Can you demonstrate that alignment with a few examples of how HR projects and accomplishments translated into the business strategy or impacted business outcomes?

How big is your “union?”

As I stated above, depending on where you are in your organization’s hierarchy, you might only be addressing your HR teammates. Or maybe you have the ability to snag an audience with your senior leadership team, and you’re willing to put together a short presentation for that group.

Whatever the case, the size and target audience will be different for everyone, but the tips below will still help you in defining what to discuss.

What to say

Okay, so I’ve sold you on the idea of delivering your own “state of HR” address, but what do you actually say? Here are a few ideas

  • Talent retention—Discuss retention initiatives and any cost savings associated with reduced turnover
  • Learning and development—Give examples of new human capital capabilities brought about by learning and development investments
  • Performance management—Talk about increased performance or reduced turnover expenses associated with improved employee performance
  • Leadership strategy—Provide insights into the role the leadership strategy has played in supporting business growth
  • Sales strategy and planning—Offer data to demonstrate how HR supported the needs of the sales staff and leadership

These certainly aren’t the only topics you can cover, but this is a good starting point based on what organizational leaders want/need to hear. Remember, your goal is to demonstrate that HR isn’t just a cost center, but that you’re bringing value to the organization and its people on a regular basis.

The bottom line? This is your chance to get in front of a key audience (whether it’s the rest of your team or another influential group) and share your message about how HR’s priorities align with those of the business.

What are you waiting for?

Closing Question to Ponder

  • Which stakeholders would benefit most from hearing this address from you or your HR leaders?
  • What are the key issues your leaders are facing that you can include in your address?
  • What is the best format for your culture, geography, and leadership preferences that makes sense to deliver this? Internal webinar/teleconference? In-person with slides? Handouts and a conference room? Hint: think about how finance or marketing would present something like this and do something similar, assuming those functions are respected within the organization.

Thanks to my wonderful wife for the idea for this one. 

jelly-month-club-christmas-vacationOne of our traditions every year is to watch Christmas Vacation (no, not with the kids!) While it’s not my favorite (that spot is held by It’s a Wonderful Life), it always gives me a laugh and reminds me to focus on the important things during the Christmas season.

One of the memorable scenes in the movie is when Clark opens up what he expects to be a holiday bonus only to find a “jelly of the month” membership card. After all kinds of crazy experiences, that bonus was his last opportunity to bring some sense of closure to the season by giving an amazing gift to his family (a pool). When he finds out that it’s basically a certificate for twelve free jars of jelly, he snaps, ranting and raving about his boss, the company, and more.

I’ve been a key part of many compensation and bonus reviews over the years, and there are some excellent lessons we can all learn from this story.

Expectations Matter

During the movie, Clark talks with a friend about his big plan to put in a pool. He even carries around a brochure to look at and share when necessary, demonstrating how excited he is about the coming bonus. The reason he ultimately flips out at the end of the movie is because his expectations did not match reality.

The parallel is obvious. If we are going to provide some sort of bonus, whether holiday-related or not, we should ensure that expectations match reality. You can do some prep work, laying the foundation and expectations beforehand to ensure nobody is disappointed (or at least a minumum of disappointment occurs, because it’s hard to please everyone).

At a previous employer, my colleagues and I worked on an annual conference that required dozens of hours of preparation and delivery work. The first year we each got a very small gift card as a reward, and the second year we got nothing at all, despite the event making hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit. How long do you think a company like that will have an engaged, productive workforce? Hmmm…

Value Should Mirror Contributions

In Christmas Vacation, Clark is particularly excited because his work performance was recently recognized as above average. He created a valuable product for his employer, and he expected his bonus to mirror that level of contributions.

When it comes to offering rewards, recognition, and bonuses for performance and results, be sure the result is related to the level of the employee’s contribution. Someone saved the company $2 million by reducing waste? Don’t give them a $25 gift card and call it a day. An employee creates a new process that reduces customer churn by 10%? They expect more than a pat on the back and a template “thank you” note.

This isn’t an invitation to be overly extravagant, but think about it this way: do you want those people to continue innovating and creating new value for the company? If so, reward them well, and create a virtuous cycle of value for everyone involved.

Discriminate. Heavily.

We’ve been drilled that discrimination is a bad thing. In reality, discrimination is wonderful–it’s illegal discrimination that needs to be eliminated. Some of your employees are going to do their jobs and go home, never adding more value or creating unique opportunities for growth. While those people need some sort of recognition for getting the job done, the ones that create more value need to be treated differently. As I mentioned in my post about how to hire and manage creative people:

Whatever label we stick on them, we need to treat them differently from the rest of the employees. Yes, this scares the pants off most HR pros, because we’ve been taught to treat everyone the same. But it’s madness when you think about it. Equal treatment for unequal performance/productivity/contributions is a surefire path to mediocrity.

When I managed compensation reviews, it always drove me crazy to see our highest performers getting a 4-5% raise and our lowest performers getting a 2-3% raise. That ~2% split wasn’t enough to truly reward our great people and create an incentive for continued stellar performance. My only consolation was the bonus pool that I was able to help work with managers to direct more toward those individuals that offered more than their “fair share” of value to the company.

Public or Private Praise?

The examples we’ve been discussing don’t have to include a moment of public praise, but they certainly could. Here’s a story I’ve told before about two very different methods for showing appreciation for the contributions of an employee or team.

Presenting work awards is one part of the employee recognition process. If you are going through the trouble to nominate someone, process the paperwork, and get them an award, wouldn’t you like people to know about it? Apparently not everyone believes that. Here’s an example of the wrong way to value the contributions of your people:

I was talking to a friend recently and heard this sad story. A handful of employees received awards for superior performance. It was the first time the work group had received awards, so it was a special occasion for the staff members who earned the kudos. However, the manager quickly stepped in and made it known that the awards were not to be communicated internally. Nobody could know that the employees had been rewarded for their efforts.

My take on that situation is multifaceted. First, the manager is missing out on a great opportunity to share about their people. Point out how well they did and encourage others to do the same (or better). And the people who received the awards? You could have given them half as much money and public praise would have made up the difference. Praise has significant value when people don’t receive it often (not that you should withhold it just to make them appreciate it more!)

So, what’s a better way to wrap in public praise without making it awkward? Here is how I liked to do it when I managed a corporate HR function.

One year we had a major corporate office relocation, and it was quite an ordeal. After the dust had settled, the team who made the move possible all received financial awards as a “thank you” for all the hard work, but we wanted to make sure it was more meaningful. Check out the email below that went out as the public praise for the team.

—–

We’ve talked about it before, but recently the corporate office moved to a new location. On the outside, it was a fairly simple affair; however, from the inside there was an astounding amount of work that had to be completed. Not to be dissuaded, a few people really stepped in to make that transition as easy as possible. They picked up extra duties, worked long hours, and fought the good fight with vendors and builders to make sure this space was everything we needed it to be.

For their efforts, each of the employees mentioned below received an award as a token of appreciation; we wanted to offer this bit of public praise as well. To those of you who made it all possible, we all appreciate you very much.

(Employee names removed for this post)

Thank you for your support! You truly embody our core value of Unequivocal Excellence in your work.

—–

At the end of the day, it’s critical to believe that your employees want to do great work. And in your role as an HR/talent leader, it’s crucial for you to coach managers, offer tools and guidance, and help create opportunities for people to be recognized for what they do. I can guarantee that they won’t be disappointed like our dear friend Clark.

How do you make sure your people feel appreciated and rewarded for their work? Do you have a unique way of making it personal and appealing for the recipient? 

I just wanted to say “thank you” for the last few years. I have enjoyed my work and appreciate the opportunity to contribute. As of today I am turning in my two week notice…

Like you probably have, I have had multiple versions of that conversation with managers over the years. Sometimes it’s painful, and other times it’s a relief to put in your notice to depart. But the question we’re examining today is this: should employees give notice when they quit their job?

My Workplace Philosophy

It is my firm belief that we should treat others in the workplace just as we would like to be treated. In many cases that has worked out well, and it is something that I don’t have to be ashamed of when I’m doing the right thing. Even when employers, like my last one, don’t hold up their end of the deal, at least I know I have done the right thing.

If you also believe in this approach, then you have a long, successful career ahead of you. At the end of your working days, at least you know that you have done the right thing by those around you at every opportunity. We all mess up, but keeping that as your guiding force over time will lead you to make more friends than enemies and more good choices than bad ones.

This applies to giving notice just as it does to most workplace situations. If I was a business owner and an employee was planning to quit, I would want as much notice as possible to get ready for the change. It takes a while to recruit and select a replacement, and while many people think there is a law around giving notice, the employee has no reason to give the employer a heads up if they don’t want to.

When to Skip Giving Notice

If you work for a company that consistently kicks people out when they give notice, then you do not have to give any warning before you depart. The company/owners/management give up their right to receive advance notice of your departure when they make a standard practice of not letting people work the entire notice period.

Most people in the workplace are on the verge of financial disaster. It’s a fact. That’s why it is so critical that an employer honors the notice period when it is requested. People need that income to bridge the gap before they start at a new employer. As an employee, if you are like the majority of Americans and living paycheck to paycheck, then you need to take this decision seriously as to whether you give notice or not. You don’t have to tell your employer you are leaving in advance if they have not given others a chance to work out their notice period. It’s not worth putting yourself in financial trouble if the company has demonstrated that it doesn’t honor a notice period.

I’ve had one employer kick me out the day I gave my notice. I was on the fence about providing any warning, because they had not treated people well historically, but I went ahead and did it simply because it’s in line with the overall  philosophy I mentioned above. The thing that was the worst about being locked out immediately is that I didn’t get to tell all of my coworkers and friends I was leaving. I’ve been on the receiving end of that situation and it is strange not to get at least a bit of closure when someone departs, especially if you have become friends over time.

I can remember when a friend’s son turned in his notice and the boss started treating him terribly during his notice period. My friend was thinking that his son had to stick it out until the end, but I let him know that if the manager was treating his son poorly, then he didn’t have to stick around and take it. The manager gave up his right to a notice period when he started acting like a fool instead of appreciating the employee for giving enough notice to start finding a replacement. He was incredibly relieved and basically told his son to collect his check and get out of there.

Reasons to Terminate Someone Immediately

That said, there are some reasons from the company perspective that would warrant an immediate termination. As an HR pro, these are the big reasons I would not allow someone to work a notice period.

  • Open investigation against the employee
  • History of issues/offenses
  • History of irrational behavior and the position to do something unpleasant (HR, security, IT, etc.)

In case you’re wondering, these situations would encompass maybe 5% of the workforce. The other 95% don’t fall into this camp and shouldn’t be shoved out the door like yesterday’s garbage. Sooner or later that kind of treatment catches up with companies and they can’t hire high quality talent to replace the ones that left.

What’s your take? What is the right way to give (and receive) notice? 

And for those of you that like a little drama, just be glad this guy doesn’t work for you.

I’d love to say that I am perfect and haven’t ever made a mistake in my career, but we all know that just isn’t the case. While this isn’t like the time I set an ATM on fire, it is one of those moments that I relive over and over again with more than a little remorse. See if you can learn any lessons from my own experience…

Years ago I was recruiting for technical writers to join a growing team that I was putting together to support a government contract. Instead of the usual ones and twos, I was hiring a dozen people for this position at one time. It wasn’t your run of the mill tech writer opening, either. I was looking for people with experience writing to military specifications. I needed writers that could do some illustrations. I also needed at least one of the hires to know how to be a “provisioner,” the hardest job I’ve ever had to fill (yes, even harder than helicopter instructor pilots).

The skill set was very obscure, and I had to sift through tons of unqualified resumes to find the few that were a good fit. All this was capped off by an unreasonable deadline set by the customer–a surefire recipe for disaster.

Despite all of the things working against me, I was feeling pretty confident. We had an employee referral or two, and since it is a relatively tight community, I was able to get feedback on some candidates to know which would be a good fit and which wouldn’t before investing time into building rapport with each. I had a great first round of interviews with our pool of applicants, and we were moving a good number of them forward to talk with the hiring manager and the technical lead on the team.

I was working long hours, as I usually did during heavy recruiting seasons of the year. As with many small companies, I was wearing all of the HR hats, and recruiting was one of many of my duties. When a big effort spun up, it would put other things on hold, no matter how critical they might be. I’ll never forget trying to set up a performance improvement plan for a staff member, investigate another for harassment, and try to find a pilot to go to Hawaii for a year-long contract. I survived those hectic weeks purely on Diet Mountain Dew, which I no longer consume.

Anyway, I was working hard. One thing that I have always felt was a differentiator for me as a recruiter and HR leader was that I put the extra effort into communications, and it had paid off. I got massive results from my LinkedIn invitations to candidates. I had high readership and engagement from internal staff on HR communications I developed. I knew that skill set, while it took time that could be used on other activities, was going to continue paying dividends over time. But one day, for some reason, I snapped.

Yes, I snapped. If you’ve ever met me in person, you’d have a hard time believing I could snap at anything. And yet I did. 

One of the candidates I was chasing for the final slot had been leading me on and was slowly becoming less responsive as the days went by. I thought I might be losing him, but despite everything I put into every conversation, there didn’t seem to be a way to turn it around.

Finally I asked him point blank what the issue was. Why was he backing off? Was there something I could do to fix it?

And the guy responded with something that drove me over the edge.

He said that he had heard the company wasn’t very good to its employees and that he wasn’t interested in working at a place like that.

And it happened. I. Went. Off. 

Now, before I tell you what I said, I want you to understand something. I had worked for the company since it was a startup. I knew every employee and spouse by name, and I was pretty darn good about knowing their kids, too. People loved the company and the work. We had phenomenal leadership and a great mission. We prided ourselves in taking care of our people financially, professionally, and personally.

One time, an employee’s house blew away in a tornado on his first day of work. We all pitched in to make sure he had leave to cover his time away with his family to pick up the pieces. We really worked hard to take care of these people just like they were family. I agonized over absolutely every detail to make sure the company was the kind of place that I would be proud of my own kids working for. I had employees from our partner companies calling me daily asking how they could join our team because our employees were so darn happy with their jobs and the company.

And this guy had the nerve to lie and say that we didn’t care. 

I responded back to the guy and told him that after reviewing his resume, I didn’t think he was a good fit for the company. Now, or ever. We didn’t need people like him on the team anyway. Good riddance. So long, jerk…

And you know what? I felt great! It was so awesome to get that off my chest.

For about five minutes.

Then I realized I had just treated this guy the way that the fictional company he imagined us to be would have done. And I am still kicking myself all these years later for doing it and proving him right.

Within half an hour I sent an apology, attempting to salvage the contact for future efforts even though I knew it was probably toast. The next morning I immediately went to my boss and explained what I had done, telling her that I had even apologized after the fact. She knew that I was going to beat myself up about it worse than anything she could do, so she let me off the hook.

What’s the lesson here? The moral of the story? Well, we all know that we should never respond to anyone, in any situation, in a spirit of anger. That time it got the best of me. I also learned that I should never respond to emotionally-charged situations via email on my cell phone, because I tend to be more direct and less concerned with the message in general when I’m responding via that method. Painful reminders that stick with me to this very day. The final one is to try and keep stress from getting to you. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but we all know it never leads to positive outcomes.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the guy never replied back to anything. I never talked with him again, and I can’t even remember his name at this point. But I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when I read that note from him. Or how it felt when I realized what I had done.

Over the years I’ve recruited many, many more people. I’ve never again responded to any of them, no matter the situation, in anger or in a way that would embarrass the company or myself. That was a painful lesson to learn and one that still haunts me when I think about it, but I am glad to know that it only took one instance to make it stick with me.

Ever done anything embarrassing as an HR or recruiting pro? Feel free to respond anonymously in the comments. 

Among all of the opportunities that HR leaders have, I believe that one of the most valuable is puncturing the CEO bubble by acting in a strategic advisor capacity. As I wrote some time ago, 76% of CEOs value their relationship with HR. This is because we exist outside the normal flow of business to some extent. This role as a trusted advisor is one that can, and should, be highly strategic.

HR’s History

Does this list sound familiar?

  • No
  • We can’t do that
  • That would be risky
  • What if we get sued
  • We’ve never done it that way
  • I don’t think that will work

hr ceo advisor strategicThat is my perception of HR as it has historically been carried out. For a wide variety of reasons, the HR population has become the “no” police, preventing virtually any opportunity for creativity and innovation.

Instead of focusing on excuses or reasons you can’t make something happen, keep searching for ways to do it. Look for opportunities, not limitations. There are already enough people in the world who are ready and willing to tell you how something can’t be accomplished. Let’s work on cultivating more people that look for ways you can be successful.

We often see opportunities as binary, yes/no decisions. As an example: we can either change to a new insurance provider or we can stop providing insurance to our employees and let them all die of horrible diseases before the week is over with.

The point is the person offering these options knows that offering one really great option and one really poor option is going to force the manager to choose. However, the good manager will turn it back on the employee with a response of “none of the above.”

If you want to do it right, here’s the game plan: instead of settling for two less-than-ideal options, ask for more. Push the person to give you three, four, or five options; ask for at least one more viable idea to level the playing field. Ask why they settled on offering just two. Don’t let them get away with trying to push their own agenda if there is a better option still available.

Again, this illustration is centered around asking your staff to do more than the bare minimum. Don’t let them assume something can’t be done. Don’t let them get away with listing reasons/excuses for why something isn’t possible. Ask them to go further and look at “how we can” options, even if they are a bit far-fetched. You never know when one of those ideas could fit perfectly.

If you want to be seen as a trusted advisor, a connector, and a positive force for change, this is how you do it. You don’t accomplish that by saying “No” to everything that is proposed. There are good options that don’t involve the sudden demise of your entire company–you just need to tune your risk meter and get better at predicting the future.

Remember: look for answers to how we can, not why we can’t.

CEO Influence in Action

In one of my previous roles, I reported directly to the CEO of the organization. This was a two-way street in terms of value. I received up-to-date information on business pursuits and opportunities on the horizon, and I was able to offer insights, input, and advice around how to approach those areas.

There were times that my advice was received, processed, and not followed. That is painful for some to cope with, but it’s the nature of the game. That’s why the other person is the CEO–they get to call the shots.

However, there were plenty of times that the advice was heeded, and the business and people benefited from it. At least I knew I had an open ear and could get my side of the story heard.

Another company I worked in was not quite so… positive. The CEO was unplugged from the organization emotionally and mentally. The entire staff knew it, and it didn’t exactly lead to a culture that I would be proud of. I was a layer removed from the CEO but my boss was not of the strategic mindset. We were seen as a group of HR paper-pushers with a rubber stamp ready for any idea or innovation to arise so we could put a big, fat “NO” on it. The company was eventually acquired and the entire staff laid off, and all of the talent problems that the leadership had been ignoring became someone else’s problem.

Taking Advantage of the Situation

One of the hardest things about the close nature of this relationship is the eventual requirement to compete with your own interests. There are times that you will have to put forth ideas and concepts that are counter to your own needs. Being able to distance yourself as an objective party and provide inputs without becoming entangled in the emotional red tape is difficult, but necessary.

This is also where you can forge some of the strongest bonds with your company’s leadership. If everything is going fine, nobody is surprised when you have your stuff together. But when things are hard and times are lean or challenges arise, that is when you have the best opportunity to demonstrate your competency and level-headed approach. When everyone else is flailing about, you have to be the rock that others can cling to. Not physically–that would be weird. But you get the picture.

Litmus Test for Your CEO’s HR Outlook

I have a quick test you can use to determine your CEO’s outlook on the value of HR. Does he/she see you as an administrative burden or a necessary evil, or are you seen as a value-added strategic partner that is indispensable?

This isn’t foolproof, but I have seen it play out many times and it is fairly accurate. Do a quick calculation for me: look at your ratio of employees to HR pros. This tells you how valuable your leaders think HR is. Consider these two examples:

  • A friend recently contacted me and we were discussing her company’s HR structure. They budget for one HR pro per thousand employees. She spends all day doing paperwork and has not planned for future growth needs in more than two years.
  • Another friend caught me up on her company’s strategy in the midst of explosive growth. The company had a ratio of 1:40. The firm is doing better than ever and the HR team is continuously implementing new programs and targeting strategic opportunities for improving talent acquisition, leadership development, and more.

There isn’t a hard number, but hopefully these examples give you a better idea of where you stand. HR can be strategic or tactical, but strategy is where the true business value comes in.

While Very Personal, the Relationship is also Strategic

Some of the ways I have seen this HR advisory relationship/role play out beyond simple business transactions:

  • Informal coach: In terms of feedback, HR takes on the role of informal executive coach to the CEO. They will provide input on things that might not be at the forefront of the CEO’s thoughts and help them to get their message across in a way that is “comfortable” for the parties involved.
  • “Safe” performance improvement feedback: In cases where critical feedback might be necessary, the HR person might have to provide “safe” performance feedback to the executive. In this context, “safe” means direct, private, and confidential. The advice is provided directly to the CEO, it’s in a private location, and the feedback is confidential and will not be repeated.
  • Personal touch: The one that I’ve seen more of is what my friend likes to call “the office spouse.” I liken it to my relationship with my wife in that when we go somewhere, I look at her helplessly and say, “Who is that guy’s wife again?” and “What did you say happened to their son?” She has those minor details all memorized. Same relationship at work: the CEO expects the HR professional to have the staff information on a personal level close at hand, among other things. In addition, HR acts as a representative of the staff. The CEO can also ask (this ties back in with the two points above) how staff will receive/comprehend an announcement about upcoming changes, whether good or bad.

Not Just Problems: Offer Solutions, Too

“I don’t like going to HR meetings. They are always about problems, not solutions.”

I heard that comment at a SHRM conference once, and it’s stuck with me ever since. There is nothing quite like having to sit in front of your CEO and tell them about some problem that is coming at you like a freight train. There are two parts to doing this the right way that will help diminish the perception above.

#1-Offer solutions, too

It may sound simple, but when you come to the meeting with a problem, bring two or more solutions with you as well. Don’t feel helpless or powerless. You are the person with the most in-depth information about the issue so far, and it’s your responsibility to take that information and turn it into a potential resolution.

That saying we explored above? It’s a saying that I always repeat whenever I’m faced with a tough decision:

Tell me how we can, not why we can’t.

#2-Be proactive

So you’re sitting there thinking, “Huh, he must be talking to someone else. I don’t have any big problems that I have to share with our leadership at this point.”

No, I’m talking to you, too! You just have a different action. It’s time to be proactive. Start looking for ways you can cut costs, streamline your functions, save time for managers, etc. Look for some solutions to age-old problems, not just new ones. Not sure where to start? Ask some of your managers what their biggest pain points are with regard to the HR or recruiting processes. Ask your senior leaders what their biggest concerns are at a corporate level. Then take that information and use it.

Want to know the fastest, easiest way to prove the value of the HR department? Solve a problem that plagues the management team. Yes, it seems simple, but it is often overlooked because HR tends to exist in its own little “bubble” and never takes the time to actually find out what the business needs are from the HR function.

Then take the time to communicate what you’ve found in the way of solutions to current problems.

Pretty soon your managers will be saying, “I am looking forward to the next HR meeting to see what they have come up with this time.” Then ask for a raise. You deserve it. :-)

What are your thoughts on this relationship? Is it valued at your company? What has been your experience? 

You know I’m a big fan of Freakonomics. I talk about them fairly often. This is due in part to the nature of the content–it’s not explicitly about HR, recruiting, or business. It just ties in nicely with what we do, as you’ll see in this post.

During a recent episode, the host talked with a professional economic forecaster about what it takes to be great at forecasting. The gentleman talked through several points, but the one that was most pertinent to today’s discussion was the ability to make judgment calls with some measure of certainty attached.

Most of us have had to terminate someone at some point, and there is always that sense, no matter how airtight the decision, that something could come back to bite us. Consider the following two examples and think about which one would make you seem like you have a good handle on the situation.

  • The guy seems really angry about the possible termination. I think he could sue us if we’re not careful. What do you want to do?

I don’t want to point any fingers, but that is a fairly common response. You might have said that very statement yourself (I know I probably have!) But I think we can do better. What about this?

  • The guy seems really angry about the possible termination. However, I think there’s just a ten percent chance that he would take legal action, based on the specifics of his case. How do you want to proceed?

That second statement is pretty good, right? It gives some measure of probability that helps to assess the situation appropriately. Without it, the statement is vague and could really go either way. It could be 10% or it could be 70%.

Now, if you’re like me, you would probably hear that second response and wonder “Where did the 10% figure come from?” It can’t be arbitrary. It needs to be grounded in some sort of facts and experience. It can emerge from historical data, judgment, and other factors specific to the situation (disability, minority, supervisor, etc.)

The bottom line is this–we need to get better at using probability and other more concrete statements to evaluate effectiveness. When someone asks marketing about its latest campaign, they don’t say “We think it’s working.” Instead, they pull out data, share information, and give concrete examples of how the initiative is driving results. We need to do the same. Just like HR leaders can specifically learn some lessons from marketing leaders, we all can pick up a few ideas on how to measure and communicate effectiveness.

Do you make a common practice of measuring and communicating the probability of high-risk actions occurring? What has been the result? 

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