How to Be a Professional Troublemaker in HR [Podcast]

We're Only Human PodcastThis coming year, my wish for you is that you become more of a troublemaker in your business.

Yes, you heard me correctly. HR has a longstanding tradition of being the administrative department. The party planners. The “that’s how we’ve always done it and let’s avoid the risk” police.

But what if there was another way? What if we could be disruptors and troublemakers as a force for good? In this episode of We’re Only Human, I interview Jill Kopanis, a VP of HR that seeks to shake up the workplace every single day. There are some great notes and lessons for each of us and I highly encourage you to check it out.

(Subscribers click through to check out the episode below)

Show Notes

We’re Only Human 18 – How to Become a Chief Operating Trouble Maker in HR

Host: Ben Eubanks

Guest: Jill Kopanis, VP HR, Dynamic Dies

We’ve heard the “seat at the table” conversation repeated over the years, but what if that’s all just a bunch of nonsense? In this episode of We’re Only Human, Ben talks with Jill Kopanis, VP of Human Resources at Dynamic Dies, about what it takes to break away from that conversation and become what she calls a Chief Operating Trouble Maker within the business.

During the show they discuss a handful of topics that will help any HR leader become a force for positive disruption within the business, including:

  • How to get beyond the buzzwords
  • How to focus on engagement that matters
  • How to avoid the “Millennial” or “Boomer” stereotypes and biases

Disruption can be a good thing, especially if it’s driven by someone that knows the business and how to shape it for the better. Are you ready to be a trouble maker in your own organization?

If you’re interested in joining Ben and Jill on the HR Conference Cruise, learn more here:

www.aspect-marketing.com/HRCruises/2018/Cruise1

Be sure to use code “FRIENDOFBEN” for $50 off the ticket price.

Your Uber Drivers are Cheating Because They Don’t Want an Algorithm for a Manager

If you missed the news this last week, a pair of researchers have published a report showing that Uber drivers are gaming the system in order to earn more money, reduce pickups, and fight back against what they see as a tyrannical algorithm. Here’s a blurb from PBS:

As University of Warwick researchers Mareike Möhlmann and Ola Henfridsson and Lior Zalmanson of New York University say in their best academese: “We identify a series of mechanisms that drivers use to regain their autonomy when faced with the power asymmetry imposed by algorithmic management, including guessing, resisting, switching and gaming the Uber system.”

Algorithmic management is, of course, the software Uber uses to control its drivers. As Mareike Möhlmann puts it: “Uber uses software algorithms for oversight, governance and to control drivers, who are tracked and their performance constantly evaluated.”

A joint statement from the authors elaborated: “Under constant surveillance through their phones and customer reviews, drivers’ behavior is ranked automatically and any anomalies reported for further review, with automatic bans for not obeying orders or low grades. Drivers receive different commission rates and bonus targets, being left in the dark as to how it is all calculated. Plus drivers believe they are not given rides when they near reaching a bonus.

Small wonder then that, according to Lior Zalmanson, “The drivers have the feeling of working for a system rather than a company, and have little, if any interaction with an actual Uber employee.”

So what are the drivers doing in response? Gaming the system by tricking the algorithm.

The researchers report that drivers organize mass “switch-offs.” The dearth of drivers in a given area then triggers the surge pricing mechanism.

The authors conclude by summarizing their findings, pretty much as formally as they began: “We found that [the drivers] actively tried to regain some of their lost control and sense of autonomy. We reported four observed driver behaviors. We found that drivers tried to guess and make sense of the system’s intentions. They utilized forums such as UberPeople to share these stories and gain social support. In many cases, these stories were echoed by other drivers, creating an urge to act. This resulted in a range of practices to resist the system, by switching to alternative systems and even gaming the system to their advantage.”

While the rest of us aren’t switching out our managers for an algorithm any time soon, it’s important to note some of the key statements in this piece that relate to all of us as employers.

The drivers have the feeling of working for a system rather than a company, and have little, if any interaction with an actual Uber employeePeople want to interact with people. That’s not Uber’s business model, but we’re seeing now yet another strain on the company based on a fundamental fact that humans are social creatures.

When you work for a nameless, faceless system (or algorithm), it becomes much easier to cheat the system and fight back. It’s different if you’re having weekly conversations with real people who care about you and your success. Remember this idea when you’re trying to find out how to connect your remote employees.

We found that [the drivers] actively tried to regain some of their lost control and sense of autonomy. Is it any surprise that workers would like some sense of control or autonomy in their work? It’s a foundational management and leadership premise to provide autonomy to workers, yet Uber tries to treat its drivers like nothing more than the robots that power its algorithm and platform.

Do we really have to have a newsflash that reminds this company that people are, um, people? They have hopes. Dreams. Desires. And they will find a way to get them if they feel like they are not appreciated or supported appropriately.

Drivers receive different commission rates and bonus targets, being left in the dark as to how it is all calculated. Plus drivers believe they are not given rides when they near reaching a bonus. One of the first lessons you learn in HR? Don’t screw with someone’s pay. Whatever you do, be transparent and don’t make people guess about how their compensation works, or you run the risk of creating a black hole of negativity and gossip that will swallow the company whole.

In a previous job a big part of my compensation was a quarterly bonus that my family depended on. It never failed that each and every quarter the deadline for payment would pass, I would raise the question, and eventually it would get paid. But why make me or any other employee have to go through those hoops for that? It makes me wonder if I would have ever been paid ANY of it if I hadn’t brought it to their attention. When it comes to how pay is structured, be clear about the expectations, be transparent about the process, and for goodness’ sake pay people when you say you will.

Okay, that’s enough from me. What are your thoughts on this specific issue or these general issues? Am I on point? Off the mark? 

What Female CEOs Can Teach Us About Growth and Success [Podcast]

The HR profession is mostly women (look around you at any event and you’ll see). Yet when we look at the representation of females in the C-suite, whether in HR or in general, the blend is more evenly mixed or even weighted towards men. Why?

were-only-human-logoThe 2016 HR Technology Conference had a new feature: the Women in HR Tech Summit. The event was a success by all measures, but one person heard about the summit and started to wonder, what do female executives in HR technology do differently? What makes them successful? What lessons can we translate to the HR community at large, helping women to achieve greater success in their roles as executives, HR leaders, and business professionals?

In episode 6 of We’re Only Human, I interviewed Lynn Miller, a researcher exploring the interesting world of female founders and CEOs in HR Technology. She talks about what separates this group from their male counterparts and also explains the value they can bring in terms of customer satisfaction and more. (Subscribers, click through to listen to the embedded show below.)

For more information about Lynn’s research, check out her LinkedIn series .

To check out other episodes of We’re Only Human or learn more about what I’m up to, check out the Podcast page.

Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Why do you think this mix of females diminishes at higher levels of responsibility? What can we do to fix it, if it should be fixed? What would you want to know from these CEOs and high achievers if you had a chance to talk with them one-on-one?

How to Win Friends and Influence People: HR Edition

Want to be a true HR leader within your business? Learn to influence others. When you think about it, there are few decisions that HR makes with ultimate authority. A significant portion of what we accomplish comes through the influence, coaching, and guidance of our peers, executives, and staff.

I’d even go so far as saying that the majority of what we are proud of as HR leaders comes from what we accomplish without making the final decision ourselves. I can think of dozens of instances throughout my career where I was able to encourage and shape decisions that were good for the company and employees–but they otherwise wouldn’t have occurred without some outside influence. This can include anything from coaching an employee on how to communicate with his boss to helping the CEO understand the need to support a culture initiative.

One of the books I’ve long appreciated is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The concepts in the book can help anyone in any role, but I’ve always felt they are particularly appealing to HR because of our need to drive performance and action through those around us. Check out this list of tactics, characteristics, and methods for winning friends and influencing people: While some of them are simple (smile, make the other person feel important, etc.), they also have the power to change your approach and your results.

The book was published in 1936. Do you think these tenets still hold true today? 

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Six ways to make people like you

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

Win people to your way of thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
  3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
  12. Throw down a challenge.

Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

A leader’s job often includes changing your people’s attitudes and behavior. Some suggestions to accomplish this:

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  5. Let the other person save face.
  6. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  9. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

Which of these pieces of advice has been most valuable for you during your career journey? Do you have anything to add? 

How to Lead Volunteers: 3 Lessons from My Experience

Leading volunteers is not always an easy job. Unlike employees, they are hard to fire and they may or may not be motivated enough to give their best efforts. But sometimes the magic happens, and you get the best people with the best skills supporting you in a volunteer capacity. That’s what happened last week, and I want to share some of the lessons for the rest of you.

Nikki (left) has been my co-director since the original event in 2013

Nikki (left) has been my co-director since the original event in 2013

Last weekend I participated in an event that has been going for four years now. The Light Up the Night 5k race was held Friday night at 11:59pm to benefit the Carpenter’s Cabinet, a local food pantry supporting those in need. I started the race four years ago with my co-director as a way to get people more active and to partner with a local charity as part of a local outreach effort at church. It is always a great event supporting a worthy cause, and every year the planning team and I pick up new ideas, tips, and strategies to make the race better. This year was no different. Looking back, I actually see some crucial leadership lessons that are worth sharing. Oh, and in case you are wondering, these can work with your employees, too!

Lesson One: Align Strengths to Tasks

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HR: The CEO’s Most Trusted Advisor

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? 

Intelligent Leadership (Book Review)

When it comes to leadership, we hear the word on a fairly consistent basis. But what does it really mean, and how do people “get” it? Awhile back I reviewed the book Talent Leadership by John Mattone and really liked it. I was able to get a copy of the author’s latest book, Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential, and enjoyed it as well. Here are a few of the key points that stuck out to me.

  • leadership bookWe all have mentors of varying shapes and sizes, and yet when we think about them, they are often people outside the business world that we claim as mentors: friends, family, clergy, etc. There is a definite need for more mentoring within our organizations, and we need to be growing leaders to take those roles. When you think about your managers, you can usually bring to mind a bad boss fairly quickly. What if the mentors we immediately thought of were those people closest to us in our working lives instead?
  • Speaking of growing, Mattone uses a phrase early in the book that sticks out to me. Here’s the quote: “I have come to believe that organizations that do not compulsively develop leaders and future leaders… unknowingly grow and multiply leadership with a high probability of derailment and failure.” Think about it–we’re all being developed and shaped on a daily basis. The question is whether it’s in a positive way or a negative one.
  • The 3 C’s of foundational leadership are capability, commitment, and connectedness. Capability is the set of skills and competencies available for development and enhancement. Commitment is the set of motivational factors that drive people to higher levels of achievement (passion, zeal, etc.) Connectedness involves the alignment with personal values and organizational goals.

The bottom line

As I’ve said before, I really like reading leadership books, because every one is different and I always pick up some new insights. This one was no exception. Mattone brings some great stories and data together to paint a picture of organizations that truly need a strong crop of leaders while demonstrating how you can make strides toward becoming one of those individuals. Get your copy here.

Like this? Check out other book reviews here.