Years ago I worked for a small machine shop owned by my parents. One thing that you might not know about steel is that it can vary wildly from piece to piece. The quality, flexibility, hardness, etc. are all subject to the creation and subsequent treatment processes on that individual piece. Occasionally we would have to send off a piece of steel to be heat-treated at a specialized facility, but there were times when we had a small piece that could actually be treated in our oven by “baking” it for several hours at a specific temperature.

steelWell, you might imagine where this story is going. One night I came home and saw a very unique-looking piece of steel sitting on the counter.

Being a curious soul, I did what anyone would do after seeing something interesting.

I picked it up.

It’s at this point that I want to remind y0u that steel doesn’t share physical qualities with items like marshmallows, water, or plastic. When it’s heated to 450 degrees, it looks exactly the same as it did when it was room temperature. There are no bubbles, steam, or awful smells to distinguish it from any other hunk of metal.

I burned the fingers on one hand pretty bad from that short (seemed like forever at the time!) moment I held the steel. And that, my friends, leads me to the lesson for today.

What this means for your organization

Yes, there’s a lesson here for all of us. Sometimes things are going on that we can’t always see. There are constant changes, ebbing and flowing throughout the organization. It’s your job to stay tuned into those things as a way to manage the people side of the business.

Whether that comes in the form of a survey, employee focus groups, solid informal relationships with your supervisors, or another channel for employees to bring items to your attention, you need to be aware of what’s going on.

Why? Because more often than not, if it turns out to be a problem, you’ll be the one called in to solve it. I can’t count the number of times being in tune with the “rhythm” of the organization allowed me to head off molehills before they became mountains.

Oh, and next time you see a piece of steel, make sure it’s not hot before you pick it up. The safety tip is free. :-)

google job candidatesThere is a phenomenon that doesn’t get talked about much publicly, but it’s something that in-the-trenches HR folks deal with fairly regularly. While we want to “rise up” and think about big picture, have a strategic viewpoint, and assume the best, there are always going to be friction points that hold us back. It’s a part of the whole “working with people” thing. :-) Today I want to talk through a few recent questions I have received around the impact of social media in the workplace.

We recently hired someone, but after he started I found out that he is posting offensive content to his Instagram page. Should we fire him? This is his first real job after college.

In some cases, it’s perfectly acceptable to terminate someone for what they are sharing online, especially if it would be harmful for your company if it were to come into the public eye. In this case, I’d take a coaching approach initially. The guy’s in his first job and might not realize the implications of what he is sharing. Take him aside, explain why he should NOT be sharing offensive things on a public social media site, and ask him to make it private and/or stop. Continue reading

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

You have to love your people.
-Zack Penney

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

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

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

As you go through your day today, ask yourself:

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

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

Intuition, awareness, or whatever you want to call it–it’s a critical skill if you want to be a successful HR pro. I’m a fan of examples to prove my point, so let’s dive in!

Seeing the needs of new employees

Recently I was helping to onboard a new group of employees. We had won a new contract and needed to pull the new folks into the fold ASAP with no downtime or issues.

The “standard” HR practice would be to gather all of the employees in a single place, give them a speech, hand out paperwork, and wait for it to roll in. However, that’s not how I handled it.

Instead, we sat down with each individual employee. That meant the entire exercise took approximately 10 times as long; however, there were some conditions that I had examined that told me the one-on-one would be more beneficial across the board. Here’s where that intuition/awareness/whatever comes into play.

  • They were coming from a “big company” employer that didn’t treat them as individuals or as highly valuable.
  • In my one previous meeting with the group, there were a few people who felt their concerns were not addressed for one reason or another.
  • Our history had always been that of a high-touch HR function, and this was the first chance to prove it.
  • I knew that with contracts like these, the people were going to speak freely more often if it was a private conversation than if it was in a group.

In the end, that was definitely the right answer. Each person got to spend some individual quality time talking about their hopes, concerns, and other thoughts.

Developing your intuition muscle

This is one of those skills that is more difficult to develop. Some of us are just more aware of our surroundings, the considerations of others, etc. However, I believe it’s possible to learn to be more intuitive and aware of the things going on around you. Here are a few tips for making that a new focus:

  • Especially in situations like the one depicted above where there will be many “first impressions” all at once, take some time to consider what impression you’re giving. How you interact is how they will expect the rest of the company to interact as well.
  • In your day to day, think about how others will perceive and process what you have to say. Even if it doesn’t change what you say or how you say it, understanding how to predict the responses of others is critical for someone in this role.
  • Once you have started honing your intuition skills, start sharing the insights with other managers and staff. For example, when I learn about a new policy rolling out affecting specific employees, I let the manager know generally what to expect from some of the people who might not respond well to the changes. That helps them to prepare for the response as well as making them more likely to rely on that advice again in the future, especially if it prevents an employee relations headache!

What are your thoughts on this? I think intuition is a highly valued, yet relatively unknown, skill for HR pros to develop and maintain. Have you seen others value you for your intuition and insights? How did that play out? I’d love to hear your story. 

For those of you who don’t work in the government contracting HR world, “cleared” employees are those who the government has granted a clearance to work with sensitive materials. This clearance is very important, and to get one the employee (and employer) have to agree to some specific requirements. Today I’d like to talk generally about a topic that I had experience with previously to give those outside this industry a view of how things are different. If there is sufficient interest I can talk more about some of the other specific requirements of working in HR for a government contractor in future content. You guys let me know…

Reporting employees to the government

One of the primary responsibilities on both the employee and the employer is this: if the person has anything in their life that might affect their judgement or capabilities, the government needs to know about it, because it could affect their clearance. The employee is supposed to supply the information to the employer, but there are times when the employer becomes aware of something that was not brought to their attention (that sometimes is worse, because the requirement for the employee to notify immediately is pretty serious).

Once the information is known, the initial facts are provided to the government representative and a chain of events is set in motion. Sometimes nothing happens, but sometimes it can cause the person to lose their clearance. And in a job where having a clearance is a requirement to do the essential functions, that means they are out of a job.

I illustrate this so we all understand how serious it is, as well as to explain why an employee might cover up this information initially to protect themselves and their family.

The number one rule in HR

If you think about everything you do, one of the most important rules that you have to live by is confidentiality. You have to keep things quiet, secure, locked away, etc. Yes, we need to share when the situation dictates it, but more often than not the conversations we have on a daily (hourly?) basis with our staff are locked away in our heads for nobody else to see or know.

Government contracting HR: The intersection

If an employee comes to you with a story about their spouse being laid off, what do you say? Suppose the employee returns a month later and tells you that they are being foreclosed on due to the job layoff. How do you respond?

This is tactical, hands-on HR. The “good” HR person is going to sit down with them, offer any advice/support they can, and generally be a comforting presence in this troubled time in the employee’s life. Maybe you have something positive to share. Maybe you offer them some flexible time in order to take care of things at home. Whatever the case, you acknowledge their dilemma and offer what support you can.

If you’re in the government contracting HR field, the next step is taking that conversation straight to your security professional and having them report that information to the government. And honestly? It stinks. Because if the government believes that this person is no longer trustworthy due to the personal/financial problems they are facing, they can pull the job out from under them in a moment’s notice.

For me, that was one of the hardest lessons to learn stepping into the government contracting HR world. This stuff has some unique twists and turns that make it harder than usual to handle those personal and emotional issues that come up in the average day to day life of all of us.

If I have to provide a lesson in all of this, it’s just a reminder that ensuring our employees are well in every sense of the word: emotionally, financially, physically, etc. should be a priority for us. Getting the best from our people doesn’t happen by accident; we have to work at it.

Have you ever worked in government contractor HR? Would you even be interested after hearing this example?

Last year I had to learn how to lay off employees. I learned the way many of us learn these things. By doing it. how to lay off employeesIt wasn’t fun. It wasn’t exciting. But it got accomplished. Here’s what I learned about how to lay off employees from that experience.

5 tips for how to lay off employees

  1. Care. This starts long before the layoff conversation. They need to know that there is a foundation of concern for them as a person beyond the job function. If you’ve put effort into showing your care and concern for them on previous occasions, it truly makes this conversation easier. They understand and accept it when you tell them that you’ve done all you could to find work for them. The news is hard, but it’s cushioned slightly by the way you treat them with dignity and respect. 
  2. Give all the details that you can. Hiding details doesn’t help the situation. Give them the accurate picture without releasing any proprietary information or something about another employee.
  3. Do it privately. If at all possible, handle it somewhere private where the employee’s reaction will not be seen by others. This is key.
  4. Do it quickly. Don’t delay. Don’t sit on the news. Do tell them as soon as you know. Do give them face time if at all possible.
  5. Have a manager with you for support. It’s a tough conversation, and in 99% of cases they have a relationship with their manager that is deeper than their relationship with you. Give them a familiar face for comfort, even if it doesn’t change the end result.

Let’s be honest. Nobody ever wants to have that conversation with someone. However, if you must, here’s a short example of how to break the news.

How to lay off employees-a sample conversation

Hey, Bob. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. There’s no easy way to say this, but we are facing some tight budgets. We have been working to find additional work, but those efforts have not panned out. We are going to have to let some of our people go, and you are on that list. We truly wish it didn’t have to be that way, but we do not have a choice at this time. If you are okay with it, I would be happy to help look over your resume and send that out to a few other recruiters I know in the area. Obviously we’d like to bring you back if we find the work coverage, but I don’t know a timeline on that. Here is how your benefits will work… Here is what to expect… Here is how your last day will go… Here’s how you can file for unemployment if you are interested… Okay, I know it’s sudden and a shock for you, but is there anything I can answer right now for you? I would appreciate it you could keep this to yourself until we have a chance to meet with the rest of the affected people. If you have any questions or anything in the next few days, here’s my card. Feel free to call or email me at any time. Thanks again for your time, Bob. I’ll be in touch soon.

Relatively short, it gets all the pertinent points across, and it makes the other person feel like they matter (because they do, but you’re reminding them of that!). That’s what I’ve learned about how to lay off employees. Do you have any lessons, tips, or ideas to share?

This snippet appeared in a post on the Ask a Manager blog a few months back. Thought it was a good topic to jump start a post as well as a great reminder from Alison on the dual roles of HR.

Sometimes when I read an article advising a reader to go to their HR department for help, I wonder if this is really a solution that will benefit the worker. I\’ve been privy to situations where it seemed that HR became involved not to mediate–but to fast-track an employee to the exit door. I\’m looking for perspective. It seems as if HR works to shield management, and is rarely a real resource to resolve issues workers may have with folks in a manager\’s role or higher. What does your experience say? 

HR is there to serve the needs of the employer. In some cases, that means helping out employees — because it\’s in the best interests of the employer to retain great employees, hear about and address bad managers, stop legal problems before they explode, and so forth. But plenty of other times, what\’s best for the employer is not what\’s best for the employee. It varies by situation. In general, though, when I read advice suggesting that an employee take a problem to HR, about 75% of the time it strikes me as an inappropriate thing to do; HR people aren\’t therapists or priests or mediators. Unless something is a legal issue or truly egregious, you should deal with your manager directly. (And a good HR department will tell you to do that.)

First off, I think this is a great summary of what HR does from a manager’s point of view. Most of them don’t have this concept down just yet, and it shows in how they interact both with the HR team and with their staff. I have a unique perspective because unlike a lot of HR pros, I work right next to the people I get to serve. I’m always willing to help with the routine questions, but I really enjoy when people ask for those more in-depth things like how a mutual fund in their 401(k) works or how a manager can use incentives to reach one of his team members.

The not so fun side

In my daily work, I run into people who assume it’s their job to tell me every little detail that’s going on with them. Sometimes it’s an obvious attempt to try and excuse poor performance. Other times it’s clearly a call for help, though the person is trying to keep it hidden. Working in small office makes those random complaints of inappropriate behavior much tougher to handle.

And when we truly have a performance issue, we bend over backwards to give the offender plenty of opportunities to get it right. Why? Because while we do “serve the needs of the employer,” we also realize that we’re dealing with people. We’re fallible. Acknowledging it doesn’t mean we have to accept it as the answer to the problem. It just means we are more willing to offer innovative solutions to the problems facing our people.

The key to success Continue reading