HR is as HR Does


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.

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Communication Requires Actually Talking


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.

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Hair on Fire-Performance Management


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,


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,


Visit Solve HR, Inc.

Photo credit: marc falardeau via / CC BY

Volunteer Leadership is Real Leadership

Volunteer Today

Reminder: volunteers don’t get bonuses or performance reviews. And they don’t give a hoot whether you are happy with what they do, unless they care personally about what you think and want to exercise their own integrity and motivation in carrying out their volunteer duties. This makes them an absolutely perfect practicing ground for honing your leadership skills!

I am participating in a volunteer committee through my professional group. When things go well, everyone is so happy to be together, contributing to the group and spending time together working on projects. But I noticed recently that the “masks” we might wear at work are not on when we get together as volunteers. When a volunteer doesn’t agree with something, or doesn’t like an outcome, he wears it all over his face. If someone is disengaged, the negative body language in response is immediate. We don’t hold the same level of patience for our fellow volunteers that we do for people who control our work destinies.

It’s easy to be annoyed in that situation, and get lost in the emotional response to others’ cues. But it’s such a fantastic opportunity to observe how people respond to the way you communicate. I asked myself these questions:

  • What communication approaches (in-person meeting, email, polls, social media) generate the most productive responses?
  • Do I need to listen more and talk less?
  • Am I using the right level of clarity, or assuming shared knowledge that just isn’t there?
  • Are there members who are hanging back, waiting for assignments, but feeling frustrated about their level of involvement?
  • Conversely, are there members doing too much work and feeling put-upon?
  • Do people need more information to connect the work they are doing to the mission of the organization?

All of these questions make me a better leader in projects and teams for “real” work, not just volunteer activities. The great bonus in my group is that I am working with a team of effective, motivated and successful professionals who truly care about their work (paid and unpaid) and about each other. It’s the kind of high-performing team that is fun to work with and generates great results.

If you want to be a leader and aren’t finding opportunities in your current role, consider a volunteer position. It’s “real” experience, learning and development, and helps your community too.

Visit Solve HR, Inc.

Photo credit: byzantiumbooks via / 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.


My Employee is Trashing Us on Social Media

social media

Dear Kelly,

My employee in customer service is a decent performer but she definitely brings the drama. She got really mad about a schedule change the other day and let loose on her Facebook page. She’s friends with a lot of people at our office, including me, and now people are “liking” her post and there’s a ton of gossip around it. It’s totally distracting from our work.

The schedule change is unpopular (I don’t like it either) but the company had to do it so they could put together a way to cover expanded hours because our business is growing. My manager and other people are asking what I’m going to do about the Facebook post and I’m not sure what to tell them.

What do you think?


Hi Jesse,

Change is the only constant in life. Your employees are reacting in an expected way to a change they don’t like, and it’s your job to help them through that process. You said yourself that you don’t like the change, but you recognize it’s needed for business reasons.

Have you gotten your team together to make sure they are all aware of why the change is necessary? Do they believe that you understand the many difficulties the change might present, like childcare challenges, personal adjustments, and other things that can affect them in significant ways? Do they know that you appreciate their willingness to work through this?

That’s the place to start, with real, transparent communication. You may find that if you are willing to listen, support and understand them, your team will adjust more quickly to these tough changes. None of you has a choice about the schedule changes-that’s true. But ignoring the fact that it’s a tough change isn’t going to solve this problem. It will only lead your employees to think they are not valued, and will hurt the level of trust, engagement and commitment of your team.

As far as the social media postings, tread carefully. Consult with your HR department and your company’s legal counsel. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) warns that social media policies “should not be so sweeping that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees.” Scheduling can be characterized as working conditions. So be sure to get advice before deciding whether to address the post, and how to communicate that.

You can coach your employees on finding proactive solutions to problems, and encouraging them to come up with ideas instead of complaining. By rewarding this positive behavior, and ignoring the drama, you may find that it dissipates more quickly. If you focus on the trust, transparency and communication, you may find that the social media issues and gossip won’t be a problem anymore.

Best wishes,


Visit Solve HR, Inc.

Photo credit: Jason A. Howie via / CC BY

My Best Employee is Being Deployed

American Flag

Today’s Hair on Fire concerns the real and understandable panic every manager feels when the best performer on the team needs to take leave from work.

Hi Kelly,

I’m in a bind. I manage a small team of investment recovery professionals. We take things the company owns and try to sell them to other people to recover some of the value still left in them. We’re like highly paid junk traders, and the company values the money we bring in, especially since they’ve been on a rampage to cut costs and bring in more revenue. In the past year, we’ve had about one and a half times the amount of work we can handle.

One of my best performers serves in the U.S. Army Reserves. I really respect him and appreciate his service, but at the same time it’s throwing a monkey wrench into our team’s work planning, because he just found out he is being deployed overseas. I’m used to dealing with the drill weekends and things like that, where he would miss a day here and there, but now he’s supposed to be gone for several months and, to be honest, I’m freaking out about it!

We’re barely keeping on top of the work as it is, and being one employee down for the next few months is going to make it impossible for us to even stay afloat, much less be successful. When I mentioned it to my manager, she said that I needed to figure it out, because there wasn’t any way we could add to headcount, and she didn’t think it would go over well if we didn’t keep delivering the revenue we’ve been bringing in.

I’m between a rock and a hard place. What should I do?


Hey, Mike! Even though I’m betting you knew this was a possibility all along, I’m sure it’s a shock to be told that one of your team superstars will be completely unavailable for several months. Let’s start with the “musts” and then we will move on to the “shoulds.”

Here are the requirements:

  • Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, if your team member:
    • Has five years or less of cumulative military service
    • Notifies you in advance of his service verbally or in writing
    • Isn’t discharged for a disqualifying reason
    • Applies for reemployment in a timely manner after conclusion of service
  • Then you must:
    • Restore your team member to the job and benefits that he would have been entitled to if he hadn’t been called away for military service, or in some cases, provide a comparable job instead
    • Refrain from discriminating and/or retaliating against your team member in initial employment, retention, promotion, benefits or reemployment
    • Provide the opportunity for your team member and his dependents to continue health insurance coverage for up to 24 months
    • Allow your team member reinstatement of coverage, regardless of continuation, without a waiting period or preexisting condition exclusion, except as relates to military-service related conditions.

Now that we know what the company must do, let’s talk about how you should handle the situation:

  • Make it clear: be sure that your manager and the leadership of your company understand the responsibility of the company to comply with USERRA. HR can help you with this, and the Department of Labor has developed a USERRA compliance guide.
  • Be creative: find out what kinds of temporary staff arrangements have been used by your company in the past, and review your team’s work to see if more administrative tasks can be consolidated and performed by a temp worker. Look at the cost and go to your leadership with a game plan for handling gap while your valued employee is serving. This article has some great tips on planning for a key employee’s military deployment.
  • Express support: since you know that you must provide these benefits to your employee, why not embrace and celebrate his service? Your team may surprise you by working harder to support their teammate, if you have done your job in troubleshooting the gaps during his absence and providing additional resources. Portray this as an opportunity and be proud of your team when they step up to keep up the great results your company is relying on them to achieve. The VA has some great resources on supporting your employees during deployment. Another fantastic resource is the Veteran Employment Services Office website.
  • Celebrate his return: be sure to plan for reentry when your employee returns from his deployment. It will help your team adjust, and assist with his transition too. Here are some resources to help your employee transition back to work after returning from deployment.

Approach this challenge as an opportunity, Mike! Appreciate and support your deploying team member, while giving the rest of your team the opportunity to step up and shine!

Best of luck,


Check out Solve HR, Inc. here.

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