The HR Martyr

the-martyr

Why is it that everywhere I go, HR professionals work ungodly hours, are expected to drop everything at any time, and don’t feel they deserve work-life balance? It’s like we believe the hype the business sells when they tell the story of us as a cost center and a transactional, commodity-type service. The cheaper the better, the business says-watch out, because if you cost too much and don’t make it worth our while, we’ll just outsource you, replace you with technology, or not build you in at all, like many startups do today.

What is our typical response? It should be to show the value we bring in bringing success to the business, and in increasing the bottom line. It should be to prove our strategic worth, and stop being simply the department of “no.” It should be that we resist being seen as the party planner, the cleaner-upper, and the administrative assistant, and instead provide something more that the business can point to that brings them less turnover, a happier, more productive and successful workforce, more efficiently structured teams, better hires, and in turn, increased profits.

What do we do instead? Often it’s more of the same transactional, tactical, check the box, frenzied activity. So much of it that we trick ourselves into thinking we are indispensible. We work 70+ hours per week, making our already relatively lower pay (compared with other critical business functions) lower still by spreading it over two full-time jobs. We tell ourselves we’re lucky to be working for such a great organization, and that some people probably appreciate what we do. We talk about how much we’re working, how crazy busy it is at work, and how it’s impossible to get everything done, but that we have to keep trying, because the people are important to us. You know HR, right? It’s always like that. And we don’t deserve any better. No one thinks we’re important. They just think we cost money, and they are always looking for ways to cheapen the outflow of cash in our direction, because they don’t understand or appreciate what we bring to the table.

Poor us. But one thing is certain: they will never know if we sit back and hope they’ll notice. Telling isn’t enough, either. And just working long hours isn’t going to do it. We have to bring the goods and push our way to the table, and show them.

Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) OFF via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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Hair on Fire-Performance Management

help

Hey Kelly-

I have a huge problem and I’m not sure what to do about it. I’ve been a manager for about two years. When I was first promoted, my team of five was fully staffed and functioning reasonably well. We had challenges, and although we were busy, we had enough time to get our work done and also look at how to address them.

Since then, I’ve lost my two most senior people. They left for better opportunities at other companies. I asked myself what I could have done to make them want to stay, and I realize looking back that I could have seen it coming. My management team wanted to move two more people to another office, and the two team members currently in those positions didn’t want to relocate, so they found other jobs. I was able to replace one of them, but I took too long to fill the other position, so now management has given that headcount to another team. Meanwhile, I’ve only been able to replace one of my senior people. The other opening has been sitting out there without any qualified applicants coming in.

The real problem here is my manager. She has been the subject of a lot of complaints within the company, mostly for targeting people and making them so miserable they leave. Now she is doing it to me, and she’s also hounding the last original team member and forcing me to try to manage her out the door. This employee stepped up to fill in the gaps while our team has been in tatters. The performance of my team has been dismal because we have been so shorthanded. My manager wants to blame this employee.

So not only do I now have a team of three people trying to handle the work of five, but I’m now on a performance plan and I am being forced to put my employee on a performance plan too, even though I don’t believe she deserves it.

Any help you can give me would be appreciated. I don’t know how much longer I can take this.

Hanging on by a thread,

Jackie

Dear Jackie,

Whew! That is quite a crazy situation. It’s not that uncommon that middle management has opinions about what front-line managers should do with their teams. What is kind of weird here is that your manager is trying to do your job for you. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll ask why that is happening.

The factors you mentioned, like the repositioning of the two jobs, the moving on of senior employees, and the remaining team members struggling—all of these are things that can happen at every company. I agree that having them all happen at once is difficult, but they do happen and they are problems that every manager needs to know how to deal with.

Here’s the question, though: have you made it clear to your manager what your plan is to solve these problems? I’d imagine that your manager has to answer to executive leadership about the sorry state of your team’s performance and present a plan of action. In an ideal world, that plan of action would come from you.

It sounds like your manager may have a reputation for being difficult to work with. Heck, she may even be a bully and incompetent when it comes to helping you figure out what to do. However, that doesn’t absolve you from your responsibility here. You must come up with a game plan. I’d recommend it include the following:

  • A clear sourcing, recruiting and onboarding plan (in conjunction with your talent acquisition team) for replacing your other senior team member
  • Regular team meetings and one-on-ones with your team members, with clear goals for both the team and each employee
  • Appreciation for the great work that IS being done during this difficult time, but also a refusal to back down from the responsibility the team has to keep your work on track, even without being fully staffed
  • Remaining available and engaging in ongoing listening and responding to your team-being consistent and caring during this time is critical to their success
  • A communication plan to keep your manager (and executive leadership) informed about what you are specifically doing to address their concerns and creating and adhering to a timeline to get the team back on track

Once you get beyond the current crisis, then it will be time to evaluate how your team is aligned with the strategic direction of your department, and your organization as a whole. Take responsibility for understanding not only how your team fits into the big picture, but also planning for the tactical elements that will get you there. Then follow up to ensure that each one of your team members clearly gets it, and follows through with their part.

It’s not easy learning how to get work done through others, which is what a successful manager does. Your manager may be doing a pretty poor job of it, so you may need to learn what not to do by observing her. One final point-you mention that your remaining original team member “does not deserve” to be put on a performance plan. You didn’t say this, but I assume that being put on a performance plan is a first step that could eventually lead to dismissal, so that makes it a big deal. I’d be careful about treating any team member more harshly than others, simply because your manager commands you to do it. If you performance manage your direct report without understanding why, you will be highly ineffective in managing her, your team’s engagement and performancewill suffer, and you could even create legal risk.

You must, therefore, outline what you know about this team member’s performance, let your manager know that you don’t currently see the need for a performance plan, and that you are open to initiating one in the future if you see that it would be appropriate. Also let your manager know that you are undertaking some improvements (see the bullets above) and that you would like to see how that plays out before taking any action with regard to this specific employee.

She may say no. But if she sees that you are taking responsibility for your team, she may decide she can stop trying to do your job for you, and give you some time to figure things out on your own. It’s worth a try. If not, then you must get a clearer picture of what skills, abilities and competencies you need to help your team member develop, and be very clear in your expectations for improvement. Frame the conversation in terms of helping her succeed, and then do your best to do that.

And if all else fails, it doesn’t hurt to start looking for a new position. You may not be able to make your current situation work, but even if you move on, I’d encourage you to reflect on the situation, discuss it with a trusted mentor, and learn what you need to know from this experience. It will make you a better manager.

Best wishes,

Kelly

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Photo credit: marc falardeau via Foter.com / CC BY

Ladder of Accountability

Have you ever seen this image?

Ladder of accountability

It’s actually a pretty good way to remind yourself of the best ways to keep your mindset open to solutions, and recognizing that there’s no way you can sit back and complain and snipe at the people working on solving the problems and still expect to remain gainfully employed (at least not in a high-functioning organization). To be successful, you should harness your power by taking responsibility for what you can control and work toward changing things for the better.

However, it only works when you have an organization that has a healthy culture based on trust, and everyone agrees to buy in, and hold each other accountable for using behaviors above the line.

I was once a part of a seriously dysfunctional workplace where leaders were clueless (or careless) about the engagement level of their employees, including high performers. They preferred to see their surroundings through the lens of fear-based control and power, and believed that they could impose this scheme on their teams.

In that setting, when managers shared the diagram above with their teams, they didn’t realize that those who were already on board were exhibiting these behaviors, and perceived the diagram as an affront, like their leaders weren’t paying any attention. Those who weren’t getting with the program by exhibiting power and responsibility received the message in an environment lacking in trust, and turned the diagram into a complete joke. It became a conversation piece symbolic of how clueless managers were. “Unaware” became shorthand for “unaware of any way this hopelessly messed up situation will ever change.”

Before you share great tools with your teams, get your ducks in a row and make sure they are going to be receptive and prepared to respond by utilizing them in a way that brings success to your organization. What if you have team members who are never going to be on board, no matter how positive, trusting and functional your work environment becomes? It may be time to invite them to succeed elsewhere. That’s part of your accountability ladder as a manager.

Visit Solve HR, Inc.

 

Kill These 2 Innovation-Blocking Employee Assumptions

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Radical Transparency.  It seems like a difficult culture to maintain without completely stripping team members from their own emotions, but Ray Dalio runs his business that way. Take a look for more information on Bridgewater’s unique way of giving feedback.
On the opposite end of that scale is a culture where nothing gets done unless everyone at each level has taken the time and energy to calculate the reaction each action or idea may generate from the level of management above it.  Mistakes or failures are punished (overtly or quietly, in the form of reputation damage wrought by a whisper campaign) and the only acceptable actions are those perceived to be completely without risk. This is an extraordinary waste of energy and time, and like a poisonous fog, obscures what could be great ideas, big wins, monumental problems solved…and as Ken Pearlman described here, it’s a true innovation killer.
Here are two ways your employees are wasting their time, your company’s money, and squandering innovation in the process:
1.   Nothing is shared with leadership unless it’s perceived as something they want to hear.  Each idea that’s generated is initially met with excitement, but that’s quickly tamped down when the team goes into full spin mode. What will the leaders think of this idea? There is currently a huge push underway to cut costs, so this idea is likely to be seen as a misunderstanding of that directive, because it requires a budget. What about the fact that it is likely net cost-saving?  No way will the team (or their manager) take that chance, because if it is a flop, history has shown they will go down with their ship.
2.   Those who actually go ahead and champion ideas that go against #1 are labeled as troublemakers. Sometimes ideas are just that good—your employees can’t resist trying to bring them to fruition. What has happened to those team members in the past?  Have your fearful managers attached targets to their backs and discredited them to the rest of the leadership team?  Or have these employees with moxie been so discouraged by the stagnant culture that they left the company on their own? Either way, you lose—ideas, talent, and forward motion.         
When you multiply the levels of your organization, if this waste of resources is happening all the way up the chain, you are losing a lot of productivity and nixing hundreds of great ideas.  Discard the fear and send the message from the top that innovation and free flow of ideas is what you want and expect from your employees and managers, and enjoy the success that comes from trusting the amazing people you chose to be part of your team.

Visit Solve HR, Inc.
Photo credit: Patty Maher via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

6 Easy Ways to Drive Away Great Talent

Photo credit: F H Mira via Foter.com / CC BY-SA/td
There has been a lot of attention on the dismal levels of employee engagement lately. In fact, Gallup’s most recent poll shows employee engagement at 34.1% in the United States. Turnover has great costs, in financial and human terms-I wrote on the Solve HR, Inc. blog recently about how trust can inspire loyalty, increasing retention, if that’s the direction you want to go.
Instead, today I thought we should talk about what managers do to push employees away.  We’ve all experienced these irritating, counterproductive habits of poor managers that drive great talent to seek another (even any other) path.  Just one manager exhibiting these behaviors can cost your business thousands, so imagine if you have several of them how expensive that can be!  Here are some of the miserable things these managers do:
  1.  They make sure they have no idea what their employees are doing. Your managers aren’t there to organize and allocate work.  They are just there to pass on pronouncements from above them and to make sure their teams don’t do things that generate complaints that they will have to actually respond to. And if problems arise?  This manager passes them on to the team without comment and goes back into his office. The good news for him?  His manager doesn’t know what he is doing either.
  2.  They ask for status updates every ten minutes, and don’t let their team talk to anyone without asking them first. Your employees are pretty lazy—I mean, what would they get done without their manager following behind them, asking them to justify their every move?  And they’re not too savvy either. That’s why this manager has to make sure she controls every word upper management hears from the team. It also doesn’t hurt that this way she can take credit for any decent idea they happen to come up with, although that’s not likely.  What would the company do without her stellar management skills? They’d save the cost of her salary and reduce turnover, too.
  3.  They don’t go to bat for their team-it’s too much trouble. Upper management doesn’t totally understand what employees are doing on the front line when they come up with a new strategic direction for the company. That’s something a manager could use courage to be frank about, and stand up for the team to ensure that bad decisions aren’t made in the absence of full information. But why should this manager do that when he thinks it’s easier to just keep quiet and look like a stellar team player to his leadership? Just say “yes” to everything and lean on the team to move mountains to get the job done, even if the results don’t justify the effort, and employees completely burn out in the process.
  4.  They don’t explain anything – the team should just do as they’re told. What does company strategy have to do with this team? Apparently, nothing much.
  5.  They make sure their team knows “face time” is more important than results. Being in the office early and staying there late is much more important than how much work product is generated and what kind of quality work gets done. Face time is what the leaders see, and when the leaders see the team, they comment on what a great manager he is, especially when the leaders aren’t paying attention to the results either!  The extra bonus is that this leader can lord it over other managers who let their teams get off “easy.”  It extends the reach of the dysfunction even further!
  6.  They know how to reward their highest performers-give them all the work! Why should this manager waste time figuring out what team members need for coaching and development, when she has a goose that lays golden eggs, in the form of a stellar performer who always seems to hit it out of the park on every project?  When others can’t finish on time or don’t perform up to par, just give it to the team’s best player! I’m sure he won’t mind doing everyone else’s work, even if he has to put in a few extra hours after everyone else goes home.  Oh, wait a minute.  It wasn’t too hard for some other employer to notice what a great performer he is-when a recruiter reached out on LinkedIn, he was ready to respond, given that he’s miserable and being taken advantage of!
Every organization has moments when it’s tough to avoid these awful manager behaviors.  The key is to call them out, name them, and make it clear to every leader and employee that they won’t be tolerated.  Creating a culture of respect and trust is a great way to say goodbye to these counterproductive and turnover-producing management habits-forever!

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