Seeing the Big Picture (Book Review)

Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build your Credibility, Career, and Company by Kevin Cope

Okay, I’ll admit it. I requested a copy of Seeing the Big Picture by Kevin Cope because I wanted to pick up a few tips. I have always had a weakness of working “in” the business as opposed to working “on” the business. That applies to this blog and to my day job. I get bogged down in the day to day details and never take the time to step back, look at the wider landscape, and see what things could be improved on a higher level.

I was a little skeptical that I wasn’t going to get what I wanted when the book started with discussions on cash flow and net profits. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the great content and probably took more notes in this book that I have in many others dedicated exclusively to the HR/recruiting space. And that, in my opinion, is a very good thing.

seeing-the-big-picture-kevin-copeHighlights from Seeing the Big Picture Continue reading

HR-Proposals Make You Better

human resources proposalI’ve been working with our business development team on a big project. The HR proposal portion is an amazing exercise, because it’s all about us forcing ourselves to quantify the impact that we have on the organization. Sitting there and discussing what differentiates our organization from others in terms of recruiting, retention, etc. opens your eyes to the opportunities that we have to drive change on a high level. It’s helping me to see that our part of the business can be as powerful (or not) as we want it to be.

Results-oriented HR

I’ve touched on the Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE) in this post on working naked, but that applies to work in general. The basic idea behind ROWE is work when/how/where you want, as long as the objectives are met. There are two main pieces in my mind when it comes to ROWE:

  • The “fun” part of doing whatever the heck you want to do
  • The “hard” part of really, truly, seriously being responsible for some actual results

When people discuss ROWE, they often look at the first piece, but the second one is discussed less often because it actually demands some level of accountability. It requires that you ask better questions, for one. What are real results when it comes to HR? How do you measure that? Are those measurements comparable to other companies in your industry or geographic region?

Take a look if you dare

When I sat down with the team to discuss the HR/recruiting portions of the proposal, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I quickly saw opportunities to bolster our proposal by calling out comments on previous employee surveys, analyzing our Best Places to Work employee responses, and plugging in metrics for recruiting and retention. By the end of the meeting, I was excited not only about our prospects (we’ve clearly differentiated ourselves from the average HR team with some of our practices), but also about having a clearer picture of what our contributions mean on a larger scale.

The little things matter. It’s not just working with a manager to coach an employee through tough times. It’s not just going the extra mile to ensure that when employees do have to leave, they are treated with all the courtesy and respect I would afford any other star employee. It’s not even having an amazing retention rate for our industry that really makes a dent in the company’s performance. It’s a little bit of everything. All of those pieces flow together to paint a picture of success for our organization. It certainly isn’t true solely due to our people practices, but a strong focus on those since the day the company was established means that they play a key role in our continued upward movement.

Your turn

As an HR professional, you are in a unique position to make your organization better. Maybe it’s taking a little extra time with job candidates to help them understand why they weren’t chosen. Maybe it’s picking up the phone to call a remote employee to talk them through a tough time in their life. While those “small” actions might not seem valuable on the surface, they touch more people and build more goodwill toward your HR  team than all the doughnuts and party planning you could ever accomplish.

Take some time today to think on it. What results can you point to that measure your value as a piece of your organization? Are you contributing to, or detracting from, your company’s success? Are your inputs clearly visible? Why or why not?

HR Manager Questions for a New HR Job

Today we are working off of a reader question about HR manager questions to ask the management staff at a new employer. If you’d like to submit a question, please email me and I’ll do my very best to incorporate it into a future post. Thanks!

Have you ever written a post about when you start a new HR position what to ask the managers in the company?

I have started a brand new HR Manager position and I wanted a checklist of topics/questions to ask the departmental managers so I can get to know their “HR” needs.
–Shanna in FL

Well, Shanna, I have not, but this is an excellent topic to explore! The first thing that occurred to me when reading your question is that some of the fundamental questions about a company could be answered by asking these company corporate culture questions as a job seeker. That helps you to determine if you even want to work there before the offer is ever given.

However, for the purposes of my response I’ll assume you’ve done at least the basic research, taken the job, and now you’re wondering what to ask. The reasons for asking are threefold:

  1. Where have we been? What worked/didn’t in the past?
  2. What are we doing now?
  3. Where are we going? Do we have what we need to get there?

HR manager questions: how to begin

I would start with a quick meeting it it’s at all possible. Explain to the various department heads that while you might be new in the role, you are eager to help them get their HR needs satisfied. Some of them will welcome that, others may seem annoyed that you want to “stick your nose” into their business. I’ve found that more often than not, those managers will change their tune once you’ve helped them settle a dispute or assisted them with terminating a problem employee.

After the short meeting, it’s time to start meeting with them one-on-one. When you’re talking with the staff, you will probably get funny looks if you specifically ask about their “HR needs.” So talk instead about the various facets of what you do-training, development, compensation, compliance, recruiting, selection, benefits, employee relations, performance management, etc.

If the managers/employees are remote, it’s very simple to use a free tool like Google Docs to create and distribute a management survey in under 10 minutes. If your organization is relatively small, it might be worth your time to send that same survey to the entire employee base to get a feel for what they need. It’s very easy to analyze responses and figure out just what people are looking for in their HR representative.

If you assume everyone’s wanting new benefits and compensation but the survey shows that most of them are having issues with their direct managers, then you are going to be spinning your wheels and wasting time and resources.

If I was in your position, that’s the tool I would use.

Sample HR manager questions

Here are a few questions you might want to ask. I’m writing as they pop in my head, so there’s no rhyme or reason (and I hope the audience chimes in below in the comments with their own ideas).

  • How well is your performance management system working? Do staff know performance expectations? Are supervisors capable of having difficult conversations? Do they thank and recognize good performance? Are the right people terminated? Do you reward and incent people according to your values? DO you reward people for longevity? Do people feel like the organization has their back? Is it a win-win situation? Are staff seen as partners? How does the
    company communicate its gratitude to its staff?
  • What are the patterns of high turnover? Are the problems in a given shift, job, status (e.g. part-time), department, certain managers or locations? Where it\’s working well, why is that? Is it the supervisor, the clients, the location, hours, what?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of orientation and onboarding? Are new staff just ‘thrown in\’ to the job, or are they adequately trained before working alone? Who trains them? If it is other staff, do those staff feel happy or resentful to be put in that situation? Are new people welcomed and supported by HR, management, and other staff? Do they have enough supervision (quantity and quality)?
  • Direct line managers: are they mostly hired from outside or promoted from within? If promoted, do they have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs well? Do they have ongoing management training? Are they on the same page as the senior management? Do you have a manager at each employee site, or are managers based in the office and responsible for several sites? (There are pros and cons to each, and you have to manage the cons.)
  • With regard to mission/values: What do they mean to people? How are they used? Do staff espouse them? What are your agency\’s stated values? Do they match up with the principles? Do they match management and staff behavior? Do you have a cohesive set of values that you base your human resources practices on? Do you hire, promote and reward according to your values?

Other HR manager questions

If a human resources audit has never been performed, now could be the right time. Check out the link for more info on that.

Other resources

My friend Mike Haberman wrote a very good post titled 4 questions every CEO should ask about HR. While we’re looking at the opposite type of situation, this could be a good starting point for factors that are relevant to a CEO’s point of view.

Also, this article has some great ideas for how to develop a more global/external awareness as an HR professional. It would probably be worth your time to at least skim for ideas.

General questions to ask your boss at a new job (listed in no particular order):

I’d love to hear some ideas from the audience on HR manager questions. I know you guys might have more experience in this area, and I know that Shanna would appreciate it. Thanks!

4 Ways HR Can Prepare for Business Growth

When you work for a smallish company, you need to be ready for growth. And I’m not talking the 2-3% increases over the course of time. I’m talking about the decisions that lead to explosive growth, seemingly overnight. Don’t be “that HR guy/gal” who finds out after the fact that big changes are coming. Have some forethought. Plan ahead. Develop a strategy. You’ll be looked at as a stronger partner within the organization, and it will mean less stress for you and your team when the inevitable changes do come.

We’ve ridden those waves before, and we’re now poised for yet another growth spurt. Here are four ways I’m preparing for this potential growth.

1) Automation

While we’re not big enough (yet) to be able to afford a lot of software/hardware upgrades, we do have ability to use things like SharePoint to organize and automate our processes and workflows. Saving time on a single new hire or employee action adds up over time. The key is for these actions to be able to scale, even if we double or triple in size.

2) Document SOPs

When you have a lull in the storm, that’s the best time to look back at how you were able to navigate the previous circumstances. Once you’ve identified those key actions that led to success, document those. While you’re at it, make sure the day-to-day activities you complete are documented as well. What happens to your work if you get hit by a bus?

3) Build a Pipeline

I plan to write more on proactive recruiting soon, but I had two instances recently where this came in handy and helped to avoid being stuck in a tight spot. The interesting part was that it was entirely by accident. We’d interviewed a few candidates several months ago and were ready to hire, but the position was closed due to customer requirements. I kept in touch with the candidates, and when the positions came available again, it was as simple as sending an offer letter since they’d been pre-screened and pre-qualified. It’s easy to talk about and not always easy to do, but just a few interviews over time can help uncover great candidates if you hire for the same types of positions often.

4) Cut Waste

Automation saves time, but financial waste is a drain on the company as well, and with even more work to be done, it will be that much more painful to continue the status quo. Consider talking with vendors, benefits brokers, and other service providers about what sort of rate negotiations you’ll be able to secure as a larger organization. Saving 3% on health insurance premiums may seem like a small amount, but don’t forget that the cost savings grow incrementally even as the business grows.

Those are a few of the ways we’re looking to prepare for the next tidal wave of activity on the HR/recruiting side. Anyone else have ideas they’d care to share?

HR to Employee Ratio

HR to Employee Ratio-more than just a number

Sometimes you have to stop and wonder where common sense has gone. Companies are expecting more from their HR team than ever before, but according to data gathered by XpertHR, companies are increasing the number of employees relative to the number of HR professionals. This leads to a number of trickle-down effects, but the major one is forcing those human resources employees into a more administrative function. There’s no hands-on, friendly interaction. There’s no face-to-face discussion of what the company has to offer to you as an individual.

No, it’s just an ever-increasing spiral in an attempt to decrease costs and increase efficiency. While you’ll never meet someone who’s for increasing costs and lowering efficiency, that does come with its own baggage. Recent information from Gallup puts employee disengagement higher than 25%. I know that figure is determined by a number of factors, but if there’s one thing we can push for as HR professionals, it’s the desire for companies to treat their staff like people. They aren’t machines that run endlessly. They will lose motivation over time. They will resent being treated like just another number.

So do something about it.

If you work for a company with a ratio that stifles your ability to impact the organization, try to find out what it would take to get that lower. It may not be possible overnight, but maybe there are some more administrative tasks that can be handed off to an admin so you can focus on more strategic, high-impact HR practices.

I can still remember talking with a local HR pro at a SHRM chapter meeting about how they embed HR generalists into business units to keep the HR team close to the action. For more on this topic, check out Employee to HR Ratio (with a neat infographic!).

So, what’s the ratio in your organization? Is it too much, too little, or just right? 

HR Internal Audit-Finish the year with a bang

HR Internal Audit Planning

At the end of the year, there’s nothing quite like a rousing HR internal audit to make you love your job, right?

Okay, now that the insincerity is finished, we can be realistic about the often-discussed (yet rarely used) human resource audit. :-) Let’s get the facts straight:

  • Most HR pros have limited time to complete this sort of task.
  • Doing some sort of HR internal audit is a good way to get a grip on what has been accomplished and what has yet to be completed. Sort of like a quick and dirty SWOT analysis.
  • Something most HR pros don’t HR Internal Audit Planningeven consider is doing a physical “audit” of their workspace as well.

My annual catch up plan

I rarely take much, if any, time off at the end of the year. It’s always been my plan to catch up on the activities that have been piling up and to take care of some of the other activities mentioned below. Yes, I take some time off to be with my family, but I also use the time wisely to catch up with lingering actions that won’t get done when everyone else is at work. It’s the week when you get the least email and work-related requests, so take advantage of that!

What you should cover in an HR internal audit

If you decide to audit your HR department, there are some great resources on what to look into. Again, this can be as in depth as you like, but it’s a good idea to do at least some measure of looking into your current HR/recruiting practices. For a few ideas, here are some starting points for what you should focus on with an audit.

Getting your house in order

Make some time to get your desk, office/cube, and (most importantly) your email inbox in working order. Toss, file, or scan/save those stacks of paper that have been on your desk for the past several months. Get your email inbox cleaned out. Whether you’re a “clean desk, clean mind” kind of person or my kind of “if I move it off my desk, I’ll lose it” person, get things cleaned up however you need to in order to stay focused and get your work accomplished with a minimum of wasted effort.

What’s your plan?

Finally, it’s really a chance to look at what you want to do for the coming year. Last year I was in a panic when the year turned over to 2011. It was the first time I actually had to consider what “big” things I wanted to make happen in the new year. This year I’m being more purposeful about the big picture activities the HR function is going to accomplish.

For instance, I’m going to be selecting (after holding off for a long while) a new performance management tool for us to run our appraisals over the web. I’m looking at ways to streamline the recruiting process to save costs and reduce the number of poor hires (the number’s already low, but it doesn’t hurt to improve!). We are looking at partnering with a benefits broker to negotiate lower rates and bundled services.

But these things will never happen if there isn’t a plan and a set of precise steps in place to reach these goals.

Sit down with a yellow legal pad and a pen and think about what your top 2-3 things will be for the coming year. Put down your ideas and start looking at how you can take incremental steps to achieve those goals by the end of the year. It’s all about being purposeful with your planning and actions!

Those are a few steps you can take for a successful end of year HR internal audit. Do you have audits you perform in your job?