In every company, there comes a time when someone makes an offer to a candidate to come and work for them. What is interesting is the wide variety of advice in the marketplace that advises candidates on how to handle that critical negotiation.

Years ago I got my start in blogging by sharing career advice with job seekers looking for an edge in the hiring process. My peers constantly told people that for the strongest negotiating position, they should hold out as long as possible. In other words, it followed the old adage “the first one to speak in the negotiation loses.”

But that’s not necessarily true.

salary negotiationWhen I was recruiting, I wanted to find out from the candidate early on, whether through a job application question or through an informal conversation, what sort of salary range they were looking for. If it wasn’t offered, I would share the range of the opening early in the process. Was I showing my cards? Yes. But I was also attempting to conserve a valuable resource: time. Continue reading

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?

breaking news micromanagement worksBreaking News: Micromanagement has the last word, now recognized as valuable business practice

“This is the best news since man landed on the moon” said one supervisor for a nationwide clothing retailer.

Just last week news broke that will change the face of the workplace forever. Micromanagement isn’t just a fad anymore, it really works.

Our subject matter expert, Ima Dum’he said, “I know, I know. This seems like one of those things that is too good to be true. But it’s not. I’ve always been a closet micromanager and now I can finally step out into the light proudly. This is a banner day for micromanagers everywhere.”

According to an informal poll conducted prior to publication, we have determined that employees are very excited about this revelation. In the words of one respondent, “Our employees are loving it. We have always hired people that needed some extra ‘direction’ at work, and now we have the proof to back up our actions. The fewer decisions we can leave for them, the better. I mean, we hire people but we really can’t trust them to make decisions on their own. We are actively developing what I like to call a “second check” system where all decisions are flowed up the management chain before we take action in any department.”

Some organizations are wasting no time in pursuing this latest best practice in the business world. Our HR correspondent, Stu Pidhead, told us that for companies to get the most out of micromanagement they need to have executives involved in every decision, no matter how small. He expanded, “Obviously the executives know better than everyone else, how else did they get into those positions? What your employees have to say is irrelevant. Just tell them what you want, all the time, at every juncture, and at every opportunity. They will be very happy to avoid any decisions and be told exactly what to do.”

Another key tip is to develop a policy supporting managers internally in their micromanagement efforts. This ensures across-the-board application and that none of those supervisors trying one of those silly, unproven “leadership” strategies can avoid using this necessary business practice.

We’ll follow this story closely as it continues to develop…

rehiring boomerang employeeA while back I was reading a story about a CEO being asked to return to his company after stepping down from the role years before. As usual, I started tying the thoughts back to HR and how that sort of “boomerang” employee, at any level of the company, might approach the decision to return.

For instance, what would change? What would stay the same? If you had a fresh start, how would you do things differently? Or maybe it wouldn’t be a fresh start at all–people would expect you to do the same things the same way, even if it wasn’t good for you or the business long-term. Well, today you’re going to get some excellent insights into this idea of boomerang employees.

I decided to ask Mary Faulkner, Talent Strategist & Business Leader, for her opinion on the topic. Mary is a writer, speaker, and HR leader whose opinion I respect. After you read some of her thoughts, you’ll understand why!

Ben: Tell me a bit about your experience. What’s the background story?

Mary: I was at a Fortune 200 company for about 6.5 years and it had a reputation as a tough (most would say ‘toxic’) culture. No lie…it really, really was.  But it was also a place where I worked with amazing, smart, driven people who were doing their best to bring leadership development to a culture that didn’t really embrace it.

When I left, I did so on good terms – but I was also burned out and bitter. Fellow ‘survivors’ often joke that you almost need a rebound job to detox from the day-to-day craziness you endured.

A few years after I left, I was approached to potentially go back to the old team.  I listened and met with past stakeholders and coworkers – good people who continued to fight the good fight while I left.  This process helped me think through the idea of being a “boomerang” employee.

Ben: What if you left and came back as an HR leader? 

Mary: I was already a “leader” in that I had a team, owned a good chuck of the leadership dev process, and also had clout with key stakeholders. If I went back, it would have been 1 level up…which would have afforded some additional influence…but not as much as you’d think.  The same players were still above me – with one key difference, which is why I was even considering the return.

Ben: So when I think about starting a job, I know I can get some “quick wins” to help establish some credibility. Would you still be able to have a whole new set of “wins” or would it be challenging to do that all over again?

Mary: Truthfully, this was a real concern for me.  I knew I had burn out, and while distance lends perspective, it’s possible I would have run into the same roadblocks – not necessarily because of the organization, but because the same people with the same dynamics were still there.  I was not naive to the fact that we all had history…and a new person wouldn’t have the baggage we all had in the role.

Ben: Okay, so what would you do differently the second time around? 

Mary: I would be more direct with key stakeholders (meaning, I would go to them directly), not relying on my VP to do my talking for me. (Don’t get me wrong – great guy.  We just have very different styles.)  I think I’ve learned more about how to sell ideas based on business needs and results since I left, and that would help inform my pitch to get programs funded and supported.

Ben: What innovation would you bring to the table?

Mary: The innovation would come from fresh perspective, experience in other organizations, which I could apply to my knowledge of that organization.  I’m surprised at how many things we had set up the “right” way – much of our performance management, talent review, and other programs had best in class infrastructure. It’s how we implemented it that lead to issues.  I could have used my exposure to other systems to build the case that we are almost there… and here’s what we need to do to get the outcomes we’re looking for.

Ben: Another piece that seems to be a gray area that we don’t hear about much is the “people” element. How do people treat “boomerang” employees/leaders differently the second time around? 

Mary: This org actually had quite a few boomerang employees.  One the one hand, it was accepted – people knew that sometimes you just needed a break and that you’d come back rejuvenated.  I think there was still a backlash – maybe not stated, but certainly there was a feeling that, “Um…we stuck it out and kept this place running while you pursued your bliss.  What makes you so darn special?”

What struck me is how little people seemed to have changed.  I felt like I had grown quite a bit professionally because I’d done other work and been in other companies, and those who had stayed were still using the same methods to get work done…because the environment was the same. This “sameness” was a reason I was a bit relieved when they opted to go internal with the role.  I loved what I did there, but I’m not sure it would have been growth.

Ben: Thanks for your time, Mary! This has been great and I think the information is very helpful.

——

mary faulknerI hope you enjoyed the interview with Mary Faulkner! You can follow her on Twitter or find her on LinkedIn. Thank you again, Mary, for sharing your insights and ideas.

So, what are your thoughts? How does your organization handle “boomerang” employees? Have you ever faced a decision like that yourself? I’d love to hear some other stories on the topic.

Also, if you like the interview format, I’d be glad to do some more of them. Hit me in the comments or via email if you’d like to see other interviews of HR leaders. 

Recently I asked for some help in preparing for a local session on HR compensation challenges. I had some good responses and wanted to share some of the insights and advice with everyone. I’ll be sharing two blogs on the topic: determining what to offer employees and how to get managers on board. 

The second most cited HR compensation challenge faced is how to keep managers in line and/or get managers on board with decisions. In the video below I discuss some of the ways to accomplish that. A few ideas:

  • Do you have a written compensation policy or process? When I started putting things in writing with clear instructions it helped to reduce issues.
  • Also, it helps to explain the structure/process because not all managers understand how compensation “works.”
  • Give them a sense of the budget, what decisions are made, how a single change affects others, and what your responsibilities are to ensure accurate information across the company.
  • Above all else, be a partner, not just a gatekeeper. Explain how the guidelines aren’t there to give them a hard time–they’re there to protect them, the budget, and the company.

Continue reading

the front line leaderRecently I read The Front Line Leader by Chris Van Gorder while I was on a flight. Usually when I’m flying I take something fun/entertaining to keep my attention, but I needed to knock down my review pile so I grabbed this one.

I’m so glad I did.

I read it from cover to cover and made dozens of notes as I did. In short: this book is one of the best and most interesting that I have read in several years. It highlights Chris’ role as the CEO of Scripps Health Network and how he leads the organization, some of the practices they use, and loads of other interesting things about this innovative organization. Get your own copy.

The Front Line Leader Video Review

(email subscribers click through to view the video)  Continue reading

runningIf you’ve followed for a while you know I enjoy running (I’m on MapMyRun, if you’d like to connect!) I’m also a bit of a nutrition nut due to a high school stint in wrestling, several years of running marathon distances and longer, and generally being a nerd. One thing that I have learned over time, and studies have backed up this observation, is that all of us consistently overestimate the calories we burn and underestimate our intake. Let’s repeat for clarity’s sake:

We consistently overestimate the calories we burn and underestimate what we consume.

It’s a part of being human to want to maximize our successes and minimize things that detract from our performance. As I thought through this idea (on a run, of course) I considered the parallel in the workplace when it comes to communication.

Managers overestimate the amount of communication provided and underestimate the amount of desired feedback.

Put simply, managers think they are communicating plenty. They think they are rockstars at communication and have it completely taken care of. At the same time their employees feel clueless and out of the loop. They are not getting sufficient information to do their jobs well and wish the manager would share more often.

Same principle: we want to maximize the activities we do (Wow! I communicated that well. I rock!) and minimize things that detract from that (Well, if the employees listened more then they would know what’s going on.)

One thing I do now for sure–in all of the thousands of employees I have met over the years, I have yet to come into contact with one that told me, “My manager communicates too much.”

When in doubt, share information. The best leaders know that sharing information is more powerful than holding onto it in the long run, even when you have to communicate with difficult team members.

What are your thoughts on manager feedback and communication?