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? 

HR Project Management Skills are Powerful Tools–Do You Have Them?

When you look at a list of key HR competencies, one thing that often is lacking is a good set of project management skills. While it’s easy to try and segment the human resources profession away from the project manager role, I see it as a core part of what we have to do. Today we’ll go over some of the key aspects of HR project management, what it is, where it fits into your career, and how to use it.

What is HR Project Management?

hr project management diagram

It is very much what it sounds like–the use of project management skills for HR projects/purposes. Think about some of the key skills a project manager has that we value from an employer standpoint:

  • Managing a budget
  • Managing a timeline
  • Managing people/resources
  • Ensuring stakeholders are in the communication loop
  • Developing change management plans

It’s difficult for some people to do one of those well, and a good project manager can handle all of that and more. So it’s easy to see how we can use those types of skills to our advantage in a human resources role. The various projects we have to carry out (some examples of those are listed below) need good project management principles to guide them and ensure their success.

HR Project Management Examples

The easiest way for me to understand a concept is through examples of seeing it in action, so I thought we could go through a few to explore the aspects of this competency. These are just a surface glance and not in depth, detailed project plans, but it’s still a good look at how the disciplines work together.

Benefits Change

Scenario: Benefit costs with current providers have become untenable. Management has requested evaluation of other providers to reduce costs, even if it means reducing the level of quality.

HR Project management role:

  1. Work with management to establish specific objectives (how much cost reduction? how much quality deterioration is acceptable? what is the timeline? etc.)
  2. Develop a set of requirements from those objectives. That set of requirements will be the foundation for your RFP (request for proposal) that you use when talking to vendors.
  3. Contact vendors with the RFP, collect bids, and make a selection based on key factors (price is key in this example).
  4. Complete transition to new provider, terminate relationship with previous vendor, and continue post-implementation activities.

HR Project Management RFP Process

HRIS Implementation

Scenario: Your company has been growing and is ready for a new HRIS to help maintain employee records and facilitate some of the HR processes that occur. You have gone through the selection process and are now in the final stages leading up to implementation of the system. You know that it’s critical to get this last step correct in order to hit the ground running. The program will mainly be used for HR purposes (you and one other team member), but there is a manager self service portion as well that you expect to use to reduce time spent answering questions from managerial staff.

HR Project management role:

  1. Work with the provider as soon as you have a working version to learn the ins and outs of the system. If you are doing the training for other staff instead of the provider, make sure you go through the process of using the tool like one of the other staff. For instance, log in as a manager and use the self service portion so you fully understand the capabilities.
  2. Develop a training plan for educating all pertinent staff on the operation of the system, including the need for security and compliance with data.
  3. Work with provider on a launch plan. This could include dedicated support from the provider, especially in the early days when many new users need assistance.
  4. Develop a feedback system so that users can funnel questions, requests, etc. back to you.

Transitioning to Shared HR Services

Scenario:

Your company has had embedded HR generalists in business units for the past several years. Over that time it has become more costly, more difficult to maintain standards, and is a frustration for business units to have that budget “hit.” The leadership has decided to move to a more centralized model of delivering HR services and has asked you to evaluate that proposition.

HR Project management role:

  1. Begin researching the level of staff needed to meet current requirements via a shared model and compare that with existing HR headcount to determine how many will have to be reassigned/terminated. Create a draft budget that will cover running the new HR delivery model.
  2. Lay out a plan for what sort of service will be delivered best by a shared model and which might be more difficult to administer (employee relations, for example).
  3. Determine what other below-the-surface areas will be affected by this. While it will help ensure a specific standard of service, it could also make managers unhappy because they no longer have dedicated resources. These types of items will need to be incorporated into the change management communication plan to ensure they are addressed at some point of the implementation phase.
  4. Prepare a presentation with your findings and recommendations for the leadership team.

As you can see, there are a variety of projects that can use these types of skills. These examples were written with you as the head of the HR team having to carry this out, but in some organizations there are actually dedicated HR project management professionals in place to handle these sorts of tasks. Let’s look at how that works.

HR Project Management Job Description

Let’s qualify the role the same way we start developing our jobs in the workplace–with a description. Now, as I said, we usually don’t see a significant number of dedicated HR project management jobs, but it’s instead part of a larger HR role. The bigger the organization the more likely there is a dedicated position just for managing the human resources projects. Here’s a sample description:

The HR Project Manager is responsible for the management of HR projects to include managing project budgets, resources (internal and/or external), timelines, risks and third party vendors. Responsible for overall direction, coordination, implementation, execution, control and completion of specific projects ensuring consistency with company strategy, commitments and goals.

Responsibilities

Project-Based Customer Relationship Management
• Establish and maintain relationships with the business units and key partner groups to understand their business needs, ensure alignment on objectives, and ensure ongoing buy-in across all project activities.

Strategic Planning and Project Initiation
• Translate business objectives into projects with clearly defined scope, timing, deliverables, resources, and key measures of success.
• Formulate and continually re-assess the appropriate project management approach and project management skill set / resourcing mix across internal and external partners to ensure all project tasks are successfully completed.
• Create project plans, including timelines and milestones.
• Negotiate sufficient resources from HR sub-teams, IT, Corporate Communications, business units, and other groups as appropriate.
• Effectively set and communicate project expectations to team members and stakeholders.
• Define project success criteria and communicate to team throughout project life cycle.
• Manage and coordinate HR-related project activity resulting from business unit acquisitions.

Project Execution
• Manage ongoing project plans, budgets, resources, and vendors.
• Facilitate meetings and drive project issues through to resolution.
• Develop and deliver progress reports, proposals, requirements documentation and presentations.
• Proactively manage and communicate ongoing changes in project scope, identify potential crises and devise contingency plans.
• Coach, mentor, motivate and lead project team members. Influence project team to take positive action and accountability for their assigned work.
• Manage Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) with vendors relating to HR projects.

Change Management
• Identify all stakeholders, both direct and indirect, and determine level of involvement needed for project success.
• Work closely with Change Management Manager and Corporate Communications to ensure appropriate change management activities are defined and included in all project plans.

Post-Implementation Transition and Evaluation
• Support the ongoing development of best practices and tools for HR project management and execution.
• Conduct project post mortems and create recommendations in order to identify successful and unsuccessful project elements.
• Ensure comprehensive and seamless project post-implementation transition.

Qualifications

Degrees/Designations:
Bachelor’s degree preferred with a specialization in management or related field

System Knowledge/Experience:
Minimum 5 years working knowledge of HR systems, processes, trends, and best practices
Previous HR project management experience required, including demonstrated ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously with different stakeholder sets
Advanced experience with HR project management tools and methods to include risk management, strategic planning and change management
Strong interpersonal, organizational, analytical, presentation and critical thinking skills
Demonstrates ability to build mutually-productive relationships and interact with senior management and key partner groups (e.g., IT, Corporate Communications, HR, business units)
HR Project planning and strategy concepts
HR project management skills

HR Project Management Plan

failing to plan planning to failSuccessful projects start with a plan. We’ve all heard the old adage:

Failing to plan is like planning to fail.

So how do we start? Here are the 5 key steps in the management process:

  1. Project conception
  2. Project planning
  3. Project launch/execution
  4. Project control
  5. Project close

While it looks like a short list, it covers a broad and deep set of requirements, responsibilities, and more. Each of the pieces of the sample job description above fit into a piece of this five step process.

Developing a project management plan means that you have taken the time to think through the steps and what resources, time, people, etc. will be necessary to accomplish each. In addition, you’ll need to think about risks to the project and what you can do to mitigate that risk.

Speaking of risk, one interesting idea that my friend Alison Green has discussed in the past is the value of conducting a “pre-mortem” on a project. We are pretty much all doing “post-mortem” reviews of projects (you are, right?!?) to determine what went well, what went poorly, etc. They are great tools for helping to refine our processes over time. However, the downside is that the project is already finished, and any lessons learned can’t help to improve the results.

Enter the pre-mortem.

This is basically a meeting that is held in the middle of the project where stakeholders gather to discuss what kinds of things could hamper implementation or reduce the impact of the intended results. In other words, what could go wrong? This information is then used to improve the project in real time instead of waiting until it’s over to make any sort of adjustments.

Human Resources Issues in Project Management

Let’s take a step back for a second and look at the broader picture of the organization and what sorts of challenges that might present themselves. A specific one that I have observed in the past is the responsibility of a project manager for the results without the accompanying authority over the employees to enforce deadlines.

For example, an engineer reports to the Director of Engineering, but his Project Manager needs him to focus on a specific task. Without that position power of being “the boss,” it could introduce challenges for the project lead to get things done. This could be due to performance issues on the part of the engineer, or it could be due to competing priorities from the project lead and the supervisor.

This is a big reason why I am such a fan of influence and leadership skills (check out the leadership reading list if you haven’t already for more on this topic). A friend of mine is a superstar project manager. I kid him that his life is dictated by spreadsheets. However, that attention to detail allows him to run multimillion dollar projects seemingly with ease. In addition, his demeanor makes him instantly likable, which contributes to the long-term success of his projects because he can easily get along with employees, leadership, customers, and other stakeholders.

I’m describing this because I know that while you won’t find “be nice” on any list of key project manager skills, I know from experience–it’s one that pays significant dividends.

HR Project Management Jobs

While I touched on the availability of these positions earlier, I think it’s important to note the career implications of this specific skill set. For starters, it’s something that HR pros need to understand, especially as they advance up the career ladder (no matter what HR job title they have).

Being able to pull off successful projects is a significant career booster and can help to lead to new opportunities of increasing responsibility. I know that might be understood, but I wanted to be sure and highlight the importance of this specific career skill.

Wrapping Up

Today we looked at a fairly broad slice of the HR project management world. Without extending this to the length of a book, I do want to mention that we didn’t even talk about software or systems that can help with this type of planning. Why? Because laying software over a broken planning process doesn’t solve the problem, and in some cases it can make it even worse.

It’s important to define and understand the key principles of project management and how that ties into HR. Once you have done that you can begin exploring tools to help you accomplish your goals. I’d love to hear from some of you on these questions:

  • What sort of HR projects have you completed in the past?
  • Any specific HR applications of lessons learned that might be valuable to share?
  • What are your thoughts on specific applications of HR project management?

[Your staff] need to be better because you are there, not the other way around.

Last week I was reading something and ran across this amazing comment for managers. It’s short. It’s to the point. And it is a sorely needed reminder for many managers about their responsibilities to their people.

management reminderDuh.

Yes, you get something out of having people work for you. However, they need to be getting something out of the relationship as well.

We’re all guilty of this one, so feel free to pass this around today. Step on some toes. Push some buttons.

I’m for pretty much whatever it takes to help remind each of us of our responsibilities as leaders. Ask the questions below to a manager today!

Think it over. Are your people better off because you are there, or is it a one-way street where you benefit from their efforts? How do you know? Is there anything you can do to improve the current arrangement? 

Sometimes you’ll run across articles that discuss managing vs. leadership, and the gist of many is that you don’t need managers if you have great leaders.

heart my bossI don’t know if I believe that.

See, I’m one of those people with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and I really don’t like having a boss. I like figuring out things for myself, working in areas that interest me, etc. However, I have to bottle that up and be a little more focused when it comes to the day job, and the great boss I had was the perfect person to help me do that in a constructive way.

Naturally, when she retired last year, I was devastated.

I (still) heart my boss

I just finished working for a truly amazing boss, and I can’t help but tell people about her. The list of characteristics that make her a team favorite are many, but here are a few that really had an impact on me:

  • She focused on the team’s needs and on the professional development of its members much more than her own interests.
  • She was quick to say, “I’m not your manager, I’m your teammate.” She never played the “I’m the boss, so do what I say” card.
  • She worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen, and she demanded high performance from the team she led as well.
  • She could deliver tough feedback in a way that made you want to do better instead of feeling bitter and resentful.
  • She listened in order to understand where you wanted to go in your career and directed assignments that would assist in the growth of those key areas.

After several years working in positions where I was unchallenged and underutilized (that’s a long story in itself!), I flourished under her management style.

While being conscious not to sound like a suck up, I would tell her as often as possible how appreciative of her I was. And, as usual, she would reflect it back on her staff for being great contributors and dedicated to the mission of the organization. Whether she allowed herself to admit that she was great at her job or not, she never once fell back on that as a crutch to stop managing well.

I’ve had varying levels of bad bosses over the years, but she truly was the very best that I’ve ever encountered. I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate her support at such a critical juncture in my career.

To all the great managers out there, thank you for what you do!

Ever worked for an awesome boss? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Business Boot Camp: Management and Leadership Fundamentals That Will See You Successfully Through Your Career

Most of you know that I transitioned into a more formal leadership-type role last year. That brought about multiple changes that are still affecting me today:

  • I’m more aware of my role as a leader and what it means to our staff/company
  • I’m on the path to becoming a  first-time manager in the next year or so
  • I’m coaching managers on leadership/management skills on a weekly basis

So when I picked up this book, I was really looking for a handful of ideas that would help me with all three of those areas. Read on to find out what I learned.

Business Boot CampWhat I liked

  • Delegation is normally seen as “get something off my plate” for most leaders. However, it’s truly a two-way street. In some cases, it can even be a type of coaching when it allows employees to improve their skills and knowledge through on the job training. And employees with managers who delegate well are more capable and enthusiastic because of their career growth opportunities. Note: this doesn’t mean handing off filing papers or something you hate as a means of delegation. That can be done, but it doesn’t apply to this coaching-type scenario.
  • Speaking of coaching… Coaching isn’t an ad hoc, spur of the moment type meeting. It’s a well-planned interaction with specific goals. Here’s a good quote to support that: “Coaching is about identifying the existing situation and the desired one and then helping the team member plot and travel the path to get from the first to the second.”
  • Strategic thinking is a critical skill for a leader. Actions are not made in a vacuum, and decisions should be made in a way that filters through these four key areas: increased organizational effectiveness, reduced costs, improved customer service, and/or positive contributions to the bottom line. If it doesn’t satisfy any of those requirements, then it might not be worth doing. There’s a quick litmus test for you.
  • One more that hit home with me–Your leadership image. How do people perceive you? No, let me ask the proper question: how do people perceive you when you’re facing a crisis? You don’t always have to know the answer or solve the problem single-handedly; however, you must maintain your integrity, confidence, etc. Over time, you’ll gradually become more confident in your responses to problems, but never forget that your team is watching you and will follow your lead (whether positive or not).

Wrap up

I would recommend this book for new managers/leaders or those looking to brush up on their skills. This book contains solid foundation concepts, and might even be a little basic for those with a more advanced role (though, like I said, I was able to pull a few new ideas to share). If you’re looking to hone your skills as a leader/manager, click here to get your copy of the book.

Click here for other book reviews.

AMACOM provided this review copy.

AMA Business Boot Camp
Reviewed by Ben Eubanks on
Jan 10.
Foundational business and leadership principles
This book focuses on some of the key principles and knowledge that strong managers and leaders need to know in order to be successful in a managerial or leadership role.
Rating: 4

Don’t. Take. The. Monkey.

Ever had someone stop by your desk, tell you about a problem, and walk away, leaving the mess in your hands? They just gave you a monkey. And what’s worse is that you let them do it.

monkey-managementIf you’re not familiar, there’s a common phrase this relates to, which is “monkey on your back.” It’s a metaphor for an unwanted burden that it’s difficult to get rid of. When you accept someone else’s problems, you’re taking the monkey off their back and putting it onto yours. Don’t do it. Don’t take the monkey.

How to avoid monkeys

  • Take the time to tactfully, yet directly, ask, “What would you like me to do about this?” Often times, the person will back off. At that point it’s no longer a problem to be solved; it’s just an employee blowing off steam.
  • If the problem turns out to be a real issue but isn’t worth dealing with at the current time, simply let the employee know that the other priorities come before the issue at hand. They walk away with the monkey and nobody gets hurt.
  • Push back on the employee to handle the issue. Take a moment to agree with them that the issue exists, but explain why they are better suited to handling the problem and request that they return a solution to you. Again, they walk away with the monkey, leaving you to complete your work without the added stress.

I’m guilty of creating monkeys and also taking them on, so this post is based on pure experience (a surprising number of my posts are just me telling myself to stop being an idiot). I also found a great resource to go along with this if you want to check it out. Click here for a great one-page tool on “monkey management” and how to avoid taking on unwanted monkeys in the course of your day job.

If you’re interested in learning more about the HR side of project management, check out the HR project managment guide.

Okay, let’s be honest. Who else has created monkeys out there? How did you (or your manager) handle it? Do you accept monkeys from your staff?

How the “boss” card damages your leadership potential and how to avoid it

Why? Because I said so, and I’m the boss, that’s why.

the boss cardIf you’ve ever heard those words, you’ve probably transported yourself back mentally to a time when you were a young child being chastised by an adult. If you spend any amount of time around kids, there eventually comes a time when you’ll have to say, “Because I said so” in response to a protest.

We’ve all seen that scene play out in its various flavors and settings in the parenting world, but the real question is still unanswered.

Why is it so common in the workplace?

Let me clarify-I’m not talking about doing day to day tasks that are routine. Most normal people wouldn’t challenge their manager with regard to the little things and how they are done.

I’m talking about situations and scenarios outside the norm where the question is clearly laid out there: is this going to be your way or mine? Continue reading