HR is as HR Does

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Those of you who know me are aware that I am biased toward action. Mulling things over? Nope. Researching a little bit more after the conclusion seems clear? Not unless you can convince me of the value in it. Talking something to death? Never.

I know a lot of folks in HR whose bread and butter is generated through speaking, generating content that others purchase or receive as part of consulting packages, and whose reputations are built upon their gravitas in the HR public sphere. I think these people are great. I admire them, learn from them, enjoy their work, and become a better HR professional because of my exposure to them.

Here’s the thing, though. I am what’s called a “do-er.” If words and actions disagree, actions are always what I believe. If there’s a choice between doing something and talking about it, I prefer to do. You may think that makes me “tactical” or even “transactional” in orientation, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. My work product communicates, adds value and is left behind, as words fade into the air. It can be referred back to, shaped, revised, and molded to fit the needs of tomorrow and the next day. I continuously communicate while I act-strategically, efficiently and, hopefully, helpfully.

Action is what matters most. HR is sometimes guilty of acting in a way that’s not consistent with what we say, as a result of burnout, lack of experience, or failure to speak truth to our clients. We say that our company’s employees are its most important asset. We talk about employee engagement like it’s a priority. We even spout messages about developing leaders internally and caring about retention. Then what happens? We complain about human problems and label people like we think we know their stories. We are complicit in treating employees like they are cogs in a machine because our shareholders need a teeny, tiny bit more value. We (sometimes haphazardly) label some people with monikers like “High Potential” (without recognizing the unconscious bias we all have in making this choice) and participate in numbering them in order of their perceived value. We allow our manager clients to get away with not coaching, communicating about performance or engaging in difficult conversations with their direct reports.

Are you as frustrated with this as I am? Let’s do something. Speak less, act more. Treat employees with dignity, no matter what they have done or said, or what consequences we must deliver. Everyone tends to find themselves in crisis at one time or another, and there are no walls around the workplace anymore. Recognize people, know them and appreciate them every day. Question authority when you think your wonderful, unique and human teammates are being mislabeled or made the victims of petty, poor leadership politics. Hold your manager clients’ feet to the fire when they avoid conflict or face to face communication, and remind everyone all the way up the management chain that they own the success or failure of their front-line employees.

Let’s agree that we’ll act. Our workplaces will be better for it, and the trust level in HR will go through the roof. And, ultimately, our organizations will be more successful, which is exactly what our business leaders need from us.

Photo credit: Foter.com

The Land of No HR

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Lately, I have been working with an organization that had little support or guidance in the way of HR, for many years. It is of a size that needs it desperately, and in an industry where extra care should be taken with workers to ensure production of a quality product or service.

I’ve been around a while, and I’ve seen a lot of team dynamics. I’ve worked with toxic leaders and dysfunctional departments. But I must say I was lulled into complacency by this team at the start and then was reminded how things work in the Land of No HR.

The first rule in the Land of No HR, is that no one knows what HR is supposed to do. So everyone is glad to see you when you get there. They have an idea that HR is basically there to save them from the mean leader who is making life hard for them and the changes in the organization that are causing anxiety and upheaval. They think HR is there is be a representative for them to take their complaints to their own managers and force them to listen.

They’re on the right track. I’m there to help them develop communication skills so they can be candid and solution-oriented with their leaders about what’s not working so they can move on to summiting mountains and slaying dragons. I’m even ready to be a mediator where ancient, fetid, ugly problems that have been festering for years are coming to the surface. And I can help leaders clarify strategy, performance, and how resources and people fit together in the plan.

I’m not there to wave a magic wand and make the challenges go away, or deliver disingenuous platitudes to feral managers who have never been held accountable for leading or delivering results that contribute to the organization’s success. In a lot of ways, I’m there to challenge, listen, empathize and push a little, and make sure everyone has the training and guidance they need. I want people to feel understood, valued and empowered, but to get there, they must take responsibility for their roles, their work and their own behaviors.

We’re working on it. By the time I move on, they will have the tools, an informed and capable business leader who understands and values an HR presence in the organization, and hopefully, a permanent HR resource in place. But the future is truly in their hands. I hope they are wildly successful!

Photo credit: johanferreira15 via Foter.com / CC BY

Change is the New Normal

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Russell Senate Office Building-Photo credit Kelly Marinelli 2016

In HR, we’re used to rolling with the punches, adapting to changes every day in the needs of our organizations, the crises that arise among our workforce, and continuously learning how to navigate the workplace waters with new technology.

Recently, with a contentious election cycle completed, and an unexpected result (at least, unexpected by many), some of the HR compliance and policy issues that we all have been watching and working on for the past few years have been upended. What will the next four years bring? No one can predict that. But here are some of the areas I’ll be watching with a new administration in place and (presumably) shifting alliances in Congress and new leaders/administrators at the Department of Labor.

  • Overtime Rule Changes: Even before the surprising injunction was issued out of federal court in Texas, the winds were shifting on the overtime rule salary threshold changes. In th first week after the election handed the presidency and majorities of both houses of Congress to the Republicans, even some Democratic lawmakers were willing to take a look at advocating for a more gradual increase in the threshold instead of doubling it in the first year and adding automatic increases. Perhaps they were thinking that a reasonable solution might save the rule from being reversed outright. Now that the rule has been blocked, it’s anyone’s guess whether it will be implemented as written anytime soon. With many employers having already made changes in advance of the 12/1/2016 implementation date, it may not matter to anyone but the most hardened procrastinators.
  • Inclusion of Pay Data in the EEO-1: This requirement isn’t set to be rolled out until  March of 2018, but many have argued that the burden of this reporting and the privacy concerns that arise from this reporting requirement and the publication of aggregate data by the EEOC merit giving it another look. Employers with 100 or more employees and federal contractors with 50 or more employees make this a small business concern. President-Elect Trump has stated that he wants to make it easier for businesses to create jobs by cutting corporate taxes. Will he consider reducing regulatory burdens to be part of that picture?
  • Paid Maternity Leave: Mr. Trump has indicated that he is in favor of requiring six weeks of paid maternity leave. This is certainly a benefit that would allow many women to recover from birth and bond with their infants who would not otherwise have that opportunity if they are not currently eligible for short-term disability benefits through an employer. This policy (also championed by his daughter, Ivanka Trump) indicates that the new president may be willing to impose costly burdens on employers if he believes the outcome is worthwhile. This separates him from some other politicians in his party, who don’t support such an expansion of paid leave.

What labor policy will we see from an incoming Republican president whose base of support includes party-crossing union voters as well as business owners? The answer is likely the be fascinating and unpredictable. These are just three of the policy issues I’ll be following over the next year. Share your thoughts on issues important to HR in the comments below!

The Lifers

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So, I’ve shared that I recently started a new gig at a big company that has a long, long history. Like other organizations I’ve worked in, it’s poised on the precipice of big change, so “change management” is front and center.

In my role, I get to see people every day who have worked with the organization for their entire careers. They aren’t at retirement yet, but they’ve been there for more than twenty or thirty years. They’ve seen HR people come and go, and heard about this or that change initiative that’s also come and gone. Some of it may have stuck, but mostly not.

Some of them know that they should get on board, but they are just tired: tired of working so hard to take care of their families, tired of worrying so much about whether they will be able to pay for their medical bills, and tired of hearing about this new idea that’s going to make things so much better. They also suspect that all this change will put money in the pockets of the people at the top, but won’t bring a lot of great things to them.

But others are actually energized by the change, even if they’ve been at the company for a long, long time. They know that the changes will make the company stronger and better, and when the company is stronger and better, we all benefit from greater security, pay raises, good working conditions, and the pride that comes with doing a great job and making the company successful.

Others still are just saying, “Let me do my job.” I don’t want to hear about any of this, and I just want you to leave me alone. And by the way, keep it down. You are disturbing my peace and quiet, and I was here first, long before you.

You can’t put the Lifers all in one bucket. They have different ideas, different feelings, and different motivations. But one thing they all have in common? They want you to recognize what they’ve already contributed and respect them for still being there. And I do.

Now, about those changes I mentioned…they’re still coming our way. And I’ll be there to help the Lifers negotiate them, the best I can.

Photo credit: Tim Pearce, Los Gatos via Foter.com / CC BY

Communication Requires Actually Talking

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I have a group of clients who like to use leverage. This means they will email instructions on a particular issue like they are a done deal, then tell you to move forward with their direction. They will simultaneously copy in other people not likely to agree with them, and pretend like there’s no further discussion needed.

While this does make for some laugh out loud moments on my part when I read my email, it doesn’t make for a functional, interactive and productive group dynamic when the person copied has a tantrum. In situations like this, I usually invite a leader to weigh in.

Except…sometimes they don’t take the opportunity to provide clarity. In that case, it’s up to me to recognize the need and take a stand with a firm recommendation. That recommendation is often not the last word, and the arguing continues. Even then, in some cases, a leader won’t engage to hear both sides, and make a decision to put the issue to rest.

It’s then I know we not only have a problem to solve today, but a development need for tomorrow as well. Communication requires actually talking to one another, hearing all of the details, risks, costs and benefits, and then making a decision that everyone agrees to live with and move forward under.

The decision is definitely important, and it’s up to the business to make one. But it’s also about the communication. That is something we can and must facilitate in HR.

Photo credit: jackracker via Foter.com / CC BY

Onboarding Yourself

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Many articles are out there that tell us in HR how to onboard a new employee. But there are things you can do as a new addition to the team that will ensure your success, and as much as we wish every onboarding would be 100% complete and effective, you can’t rest on your laurels and expect everything you need to come to you. It will increase your success if you make sure that these critical things happen:

  1. Find out who your resources are for the critical things you need on day one.
  2. Ensure you have access to technology you need.
  3. Ask questions-don’t pretend you know everything and risk making mistakes because you were too proud to ask.
  4. Take responsibility for the job on day one-don’t make excuses about the challenges that predated your arrival.
  5. Be friendly, open and understanding while you learn the lay of the land socially-don’t make assumptions about people based on a single interaction, or what others tell you.

These are just a few tips-I am living them right now as I start my third week in a new role, at a new company. Please share your thoughts in the comments about what you think I should be doing as I onboard myself!

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Photo credit: alborzshawn via Foter.com / CC BY