I get it. It’s hard being a leader in HR, that’s why I’m going to help you out and give you some tips of things to stay away from:
Think of yourself or your company as “the” industry leader. As soon as you do, someone will knock you off.
Identify so strongly with the company that you no longer have a clear boundary between your personal interests and the corporation’s interests. Yes, you should be committed, but don’t be “committed.” Too often leaders doing this fail to differentiate between their personal agenda and the corporate agenda and start empire building.
Have all the answers. This is tough because it’s common leadership training that we all know – use your people, surround yourself with people better than you, make group decisions, etc. But until you put your butt in that seat you never realize how many things will come your way, where people want a decision, and, that they are unwilling to make it – so they look to you for the answer. Don’t get sucked into this trap; push back and make them bring you solutions.
Hunt down and kill those who don’t support you. Don’t think this happens? Look at turnover numbers of departments when a new leader takes over – they are almost always higher than those of the organization as a whole.
Become obsessed with the company image. Your company image is hugely important, but it is not the most important thing you have going on. Make sure your operations match the image you want to create, not the other way around.
Underestimate or take obstacles for granted. As a leader you want to be confident during hard and challenging times, but don’t let yourself get fooled into believing your own confidence will get you through. Having a clear understanding of the reality you are facing, and being able to communicate that without fear to your team with a plan of action, is key.
Stubbornly rely on what you’ve always done. “Well, when I was the leader at GE we did it this way…” Look, this isn’t the 80′s and this isn’t GE. Might it work? Sure. But be open to new ways of doing things while being confident of what you know will work. Don’t put yourself or your organization in jeopardy, but be willing to try new things when time and circumstance allow.
The article did get me to thinking about secrets and how in HR we seem to always have a few that we are either asked to keep by others, or just the ones we share in this great fraternity of HR. Here are some of the HR secrets that I thought of:
Who in the organization is on the way out. (Sometimes many people know of individuals who are on the way out, but usually HR has a good pulse on everyone).
Who in the organization is probably on the way up, and not because they deserve it. (Every leader has an attraction to an employee or two, for a number of reasons, and those folks usually find their way into roles that they don’t deserve.)
How much money you’ll get on your next raise. (Oh, yes we do know. But keep working hard anyway; we don’t want it to seem like it’s predetermined.)
The information behind why certain departments tend to get more (resources, staff, etc.) than others – but we can’t you – it would cause organizational chaos! (I hate to tell you this, but it usually has nothing to do with department performance and everything to do with your departmental leader – or should I say, lack thereof.)
What you’re going to get for your annual bonus – usually 6 to 12 months before you get it. (hey, this stuff has to be budgeted)
What changes will happen to your benefits – again – usually 4-8 months before it hits you.
Who in your company is most likely to go postal on you. (But we can’t tell you for HIPAA reasons – sorry – but if you sit next to Ted you might want to invest in a bulletproof vest.)
Secrets, yes; specifics, no
I’m sure there are a number of others, but many aren’t unique to just HR.
I was thinking of putting down: We cook the books on our metrics, but guess what? So does every other department! Let’s face it, in a political corporate structure that relies on metrics to obtain budgeted resources, the numbers aren’t always going to be clean!
I like HR because we tend to have “big” secrets and are called upon to keep those secrets. It’s probably the biggest failure I see with new HR pros – they tend to try and create organizational friendships by sharing “the secrets,” and it always ends up blowing up on them.
360 feedback is silly — Think about it: If you want to get information about your performance, why send a questionnaire to people who don’t know you, don’t care, or don’t see your performance? Isn’t it better to ask customers about customer behavior, subordinates about subordinate behavior, peers about peer behavior, and so forth? You will get better data using a few narrow surveys designed for targeted audiences than one great big one-size-fits-all survey.
Too much, too fast — Ask anyone who ever received a 360 report and they will probably tell you the amount of data was so overwhelming it took a half-day workshop to explain. Changing behavior is difficult. We might want to change ourselves, but everyone else wants us to stay the same. In addition, have you ever tried to develop more than one or two behaviors at a time? Keep it simple.
It’s irrelevant — Why ask someone to rate things that have nothing to do with job performance? If being inquisitive is not important to job performance, then leave it off the survey. The surest way to confuse employees is to ask questions and give feedback about silly items. Base survey items exclusively on job specifics.
Guestimates — This part is really irresponsible survey design. Some surveys suggest not rating items that don’t apply to the job or about which the rater is unsure. So far, so good — but what about rater subjectivity? Do we need to statistically analyze data for agreement between raters? Calculate meaningless averages? Asking for survey items that cannot be seen or heard on a frequent basis is error filled.
Reward and punish — Now, here’s a great way to torpedo feedback. As soon as people learn feedback is used to either punish or reward, the system is toast. Keep feedback on a developmental level. Reward and punish based job performance. Treat feedback as the road to performance and rate them separately. Your 360 will either be dead in the water, or, encourage vicious infighting if your organization cannot separate the two.
Organizational bias — External consultant are not experts in any single organization. On the other hand, multiple organization experience allows them to recognize strengths, weaknesses, and differences. The trend I see most is “no one here is below average” or, just as silly, “everyone here is seriously lacking.” This is management craziness. In every organization, people range from the top of the food chain to the bottom. Useful feedback is honest, objective and free of organizational dogma.
Not job related — What do you think happens when people are asked a lot of questions unrelated to someone’s job performance? Right — you get a lot of answers unrelated to doing the job. The result encourages confusion, frustration, and a bunch of ticked-off people. This a great outcome if you planned to waste someone’s money and time answering surveys. If you want to avoid that problem, either do a formal job analysis to identify specific competencies, or at least talk to the subordinate and his/her manager to get some ideas of what to survey.
Poor planning — It’s simple: Never ask a question if you are unprepared for the answer. Know ahead of time what developmental plans apply to each survey item. Don’t plan? Then don’t ask. And, don’t think recommending a list of books and resources will suffice. It takes an unusual person to engage in self-development. It’s much easier to bury bad news in the bottom drawer and hope it goes away.
Crummy items — Asking questions about someone’s cognitive ability is sure to yield worthless results. Are you asking about intelligence? Accommodation to external factors? Based on what alternatives? Who is best positioned to evaluate the quality? Get the picture? As a general trend, you cannot go wrong designing items following theS.M.A.R.T. goal setting principles. If it’s not specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound, then it’s D.U.M.B.
No involvement — I know this is a radical idea, but management is more than a title. It’s a responsibility that involves guiding, coaching, and developing subordinates. Any 360 should be a joint activity between coach and subject, again, using the S.M.A.R.T. principles. Your feedback program is short-lived if the people who benefit most are not involved.
Uncoordinated — Which do you think works better? An organization-wide initiative to accomplish a single goal or one encouraging everyone to do their own thing? I suggest choosing some kind of common goal such as teamwork, better problem solving, initiative, creativity, goal setting, and so forth. It really doesn’t make a difference just as long as everyone is in it together. Within the umbrella item (e.g., teamwork) each individual employee gets to choose those job-specific teamwork elements making the greatest difference to him/her, and for forth. Group involvement is a great way to encourage group development — and it makes life much easier for the training department.
From a great idea to life support
Let’s summarize: Common sense and best-practices require shared group support; manager and subordinate to working together; isolating a specific area that affects a specific audience; developing a few critical S.M.A.R.T. items; gathering honest and unbiased feedback; using the data to support planned development activities; developing the skills; and, follow-up surveys to check for progress.
Too much work? Management would resist it? You always have a fallback position.
Buy a great big survey with fuzzy generic items that apply to everyone; deliver it up, down, and sideways; summarize the results in a huge report; send subordinate back home with a page of developmental resources; and misuse results in performance reviews. The first year it will be hailed as a great idea.
The second year, however, it will be on life support. In three years it will be dead, and you will have wasted tens of thousands of dollars, managers and subordinates will be thoroughly irritated with you, and your professional reputation will get another hit.
Working from home is a growing phenomenon in the modern work arena.
A virtual workforce offers many benefits for employers — for instance, it reduces major office costs. Employees also enjoy the flexibility of being able to work from home and not having to spend hours in traffic commuting.
However, it’s often difficult to get remote workers to feel as though they are a part of the company culture. They are not there for town halls, don’t participate in every conference call, and, many times, they need the folks at corporate to push things through.
What these workers need most is a connection to the vision and direction of the company and their co-workers. They need ways of working better together, which ultimately leads to more collaboration.
Questions employees need to answer
They also need to see the comings and goings that employees at the office see, including what the team is focused on and the latest news. They need easy ways to give feedback and get feedback. They are fresh with ideas, so it’s important that we all take advantage them by leveraging their inspiration and accepting their momentum.
Some simple ways to do this include leveraging cloud technology and publishing important information. Help employees answer these questions:
What is the direction of the company?
What are the goals of the team?
Providing all of this information and collaborating through technology is the only way remote employees can self-manage, and helps push your virtual workforce into a result-only workforce.
Technology has made it possible for many companies — that would otherwise function primarily out of physical locations — to allow many of their employees to complete their projects from home, often never stepping into the office. The Internet also makes it possible virtual companies to exist, with employees scattered across the country.
While setting up a virtual workforce or even having a percentage of employees telecommute may seem like a simple endeavor, those employees still need to be engaged and made to feel as part of the company, just as employees present in the office feel they are part of a team. Technology makes it easy to set up an office in your home and do your job, but that same technology also presents barriers that make could potentially make it hard to retain the virtual workforce.
What employers can do
What are some things employers can do to assure that their telecommuting employees still function as full-fledged team members?
1. Set them up with the right tools and technology – Use collaborative tools to help your virtual workers connect with the rest of the team from home. Some excellent tools for this include:
Google Docs and Box for sharing documents and images;
2.Collaboration tools — Even if your employees and teams are spread out all over the country, constant communication is necessary in a well-functioning team. Creating a virtual water cooler is necessary for employees as they like to be able to blow off steam in between tasks. Whether the communication is work-related or more about getting to know colleagues, it is no less important for a virtual workforce.
So, whether you choose some sort of instant messaging system that employees log into everyday like Skype, or have regular staff meetings, online communication tools can make brainstorming and decision making much easier for the virtual workforce.
Here are some great tools to check out for your needs:
3. Be clear about directions and spell out tasks — Misinterpretation of directions is easier to fix when workers are around the corner to ask questions and clarify. However, with a virtual workforce, employees have to be far more independent and e-mails or IMs can be misinterpreted very often. You can help employees by being clear about their projects or tasks and setting specific deadlines so they can better manage their time.
4. Consider assigning remote workers a mentor — someone who they can go to with questions other than their direct manager. This should be part of your onboarding process. You don’t want virtual employees to feel isolated working from home; instead, they should feel like they have multiple levels of support within their team.
5. Keep them in the loop — Whether it is exciting office news (like a new hire), or even bad news about a product or client that you must relay to your team, be sure to share the news with your virtual workforce at the same time. Online tools like Yammer or WorkSimple can keep them in the loop and helps remote workers feel connected to the rest of the team. If you leave this to managers and executives, nothing will get done. Let it happen socially. If you want them to feel like a full-time employee, share the same news and communicate with them the way you do with your non-virtual employees. Communication is key at any office — and a virtual workforce is no different.
6. Invest in a cloud — Whether it is Dropbox or Google Docs, keep all resources and documents in the cloud so your virtual employees can refer to them whenever they need. Since people will be working in different time zones, it is hard to rely on others to be online just to ask them to forward a link for an article or proposal. As a manager, make it easier on the employee and yourself by giving them full access to any company or client’s documents that they may need to complete their projects.
No clear-cut solution
Collaboration is the future for remote hires. Invest in the cloud and commit to new levels of going social. What departments are social in your company? How can you help team connect? Are remote hires left outside of the company walls?
As Star Trek‘s Captain Picard would say, “Engage.” It’s important to keep a pulse on virtual workers and give them feedback in real-time. This means sending both written feedback and picking up the phone. We are humans; we need human connections. The best way to work with remote hires is to do pulse calls just to see what resources they need and determine where you can help them to better understand processes or obstacles.
While there is no crystal clear solution for retaining a virtual workforce, it’s obvious that communication and clarification from an employer side is even more important than in traditional offices. Those employees are still part of the team and should not be forgotten.
While technology is a big part of maintaining a virtual workforce, it cannot always be relied on to make communication easier. Misinterpretations will still occur and it is up to an employer to make sure virtual employees have the right tools and directions to succeed.
But can HR leaders learn from the CFO? Most definitely. I caught up with Araco last week to find out what — and how. Based on our conversation, there are five things HR leaders need to learn before they can step up their game and become key players in business strategy and execution:
Business perspective – What ramifications will your decisions have on the company’s overall business performance? The CFO wants to know. For example: What return do you anticipate for the money invested in a new hire? HR’s ability to think Big Picture and have some business perspective is invaluable in a post-recession economy.
Use your people data — Araco says, “There should be information flow that occurs on an ongoing basis. HR data should influence decisions on business goals and performance metrics.” But, many HR professionals lack best practices and systems for collecting, tracking and reporting on people data. For the CFO, that’s blasphemous. Though HR reporting to the CFO presents a golden opportunity to grow in this key ability, success will require the CFO to take an interest in what HR is doing with data and how they’re doing it.
Quantification and qualification — HR needs to learn how to quantify and qualify more strategic investments in people process, otherwise, we’ll never be able to break away from the traditional cost center, administrative or compliance function of old school HR. The more that HR can learn from the CFO how best to apply financial principles to decision making, the greater opportunity for them to position HR as a strategic function.
Reinforce the Human Element — CFO’s are frequently the naysayer. And in the recession, his or her tough decisions often kept the company alive. As we move into a period of recovery, Araco suggests that it’s up to HR to inject a human element into the CFO’s decision-making process. “I think it’s natural that these roles work together.” To that end, Araco says soft skill development is key, and that HR is in a prime position to enhance the CFO’s ability to look beyond spreadsheets when weighing options.
Leverage HR expertise to enhance business vision — Your ability to contribute expertise in talent management should be invaluable to leadership when big decisions are being made on business goals and strategy. A forward-thinking CFO knows that. “Finance is better off giving HR a seat at the table,” says Araco, “and on making sure the right person is sitting in it.” An HR leader who is able to tie opportunity to measurable performance metrics is going to work well as a member of senior leadership.
Out with the old, in with the new
“There’s a new generation of CFOs whose aspirations and goals are better than simply crunching numbers,” says Araco. “They view the greatest value having someone seated next to not under.” By elevating performance in both roles, there’s an opportunity to transform HR and Finance simultaneously.
But that opportunity is only available to those leaders who can work together to that end. As Araco warns, “Those who fight this are going to be left in the dust.”
Company culture is much in the news these days, a development I am very excited to see as it shows more and more buy-in to the importance of culture as something that can be created and, yes, proactively managed.
A round-up of articles that have appeared during the last few days teach three important lessons on organizational culture:
Lesson 1 – In the Battle of Strategy vs. Culture, Everyone Wins
What’s more important? Strategy or culture? I’ve written my own opinions based on research from Booz & Co. The argument continues on, with this perspective I particularly like from Bob Frisch, managing partner of The Strategic Offsites Group:
“It’s like asking whether you would rather back a great poker player with weak cards or an average player with great cards. You’re more likely to win when you have both: a great player and great cards. The same goes for culture and strategy. You don’t have to choose. Culture doesn’t eat strategy, and the company that lets culture do so is likely to starve.”
That quote comes from a Fast Company article that goes on to share insights from the CEOs of companies with famously strong cultures, including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Jigsaw. Be sure toclick through for several videos.
Lesson 2 – A Healthy Culture Has Defined Attributes that Require Effort
John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing, pointed out in a recent AmEx Open Forum articlethat a healthy culture takes work over time to create, manage and maintain. He also defines seven attributes of a healthy culture:
“My belief is that a healthy culture is a shared culture, one created through shared stories, beliefs, purpose, plans, language, outcomes and ownership. These aren’t little things; these aren’t things that you get right during an annual retreat. These are things molded over time with trust and passion and caring. These are things that evolve because you work very hard at finding them, holding them and making them important.”
Yes, company cultures can “just happen” (and, unfortunately, they very often to). But you can alsotake control of your culture by focusing on these seven attributes.
Lesson 3 – You Can Change Corporate Culture
And that leads us to one of my go-to writers on company culture, Chris Edmonds of The Ken Blanchard Cos., who explained in detail in a recent SmartBrief article the critical role of leaders in changing culture:
“Corporate culture is the most important driver of what happens in organizations, and senior leaders are the most important driver of their organization’s corporate culture. To change an organization’s culture, all leaders must change how they spend their time and what they communicate and reinforce on a daily basis. Their focus shifts from ‘great performance’ to ‘great performance WITH great citizenship.’”
It costs an organization a ton of money to make a “Best Places” list – not in actually applying to make the list (oh yeah, they are chosen randomly and you have to apply, because the Top 100 Greatest Places to Work isn’t really the Top 100 Greatest Places to Work – it was the Top of the companies that applied for the award Greatest Places to Work), but in doing all the silly crap they do so they sound like a great place to work.
Yes, many of the really best places to work will never be on a list because they are spending their time, money and effort – on their employees!
Here are some things that “Best Places to Work” companies and “You Are Not Getting Paid Enough” companies have in common:
If your company has unlimited gourmet free breakfast, lunch and dinner provided, you’re not getting paid enough. Cut that crap out and pay me $10K more per year; I’ll bring in my own Greek yogurt and granola.
If your company pays to have your laundry done and your house cleaned, you’re not getting paid enough.
If your company is taking you on luxury vacations and dinners that cost more than your monthly home mortgage, you’re not getting paid enough.
If your company spends more on marketing themselves as a great place to work than on your employee development, you’re not getting paid enough.
If your CEO flies to work on a daily or weekly basis, you’re not getting paid enough.
When Great Places to Work go the wrong way
So, how do I show my employees that I care and that we have a great place to work? I don’t waste money on things that ultimately become a negative when I need to take them away because we aren’t making the money for our shareholders.
All great places to work, eventually become average or crappy places to work – because sustaining luxury programs that you put in place when you’re doing well become negatives to engagement when you have to tighten your boot straps.
Pay your people fairly. Meet their needs as adults. Treat them professionally and with respect. That’s a great place to work.
What’s your employment brand strategy? What’s your orientation strategy? What’s your open enrollment strategy? It’s not really strategies for most of these – they’re processes – but we get hit over the head so many times in HR we stopped calling our processes “processes” — and started calling our “processes” “strategies.”
It makes us feel strategic when we have strategies!
A plan of action isn’t a strategy
Unfortunately, it’s rare that I see a real strategy for an organization’s talent – their people. We strategically have many strategies in HR: our strategic benefits strategy, our compensation strategy, our recruitment strategy, etc. These really aren’t strategies, either. These are more what I call HR operational initiatives, or the crap we do on a daily basis.
We do really well on the plan of action! We usually fail on the last part – achieving a vision – because usually we really don’t have a vision, unless you consider doing the job a vision!
It’s not. The vision part of your strategy is by far the most important part. It needs to connect to the hearts and minds of your HR group. They need to truly believe in it, because it will shape decision making at all levels in your department – or at least it should!
Elements that should be in your strategy
Your HR strategy needs to speak to what you truly believe on the people side of your business. It’s all right if your strategy and your current reality are not yet at the same point, because you need to have a vision to be able to reach it.
Very few organizations design their strategy based on their current state – unless they’ve already reached that pinnacle of excellence they desire. Too often, I see HR departments go to design an HR strategy, and it breaks down because people try and throw reality into the mix. “Wait, this isn’t who “we” are – we aren’t what you are saying…”
I love realists, but they usually aren’t the best ones to draft your HR strategy! You obviously need reality in your strategy, but not so much that you just regurgitate your current state.
I can’t tell you what your HR strategy should be, but I can tell you some elements that better be a part of it:
The level of talent you need to achieve your organizational strategy;
The type of talent you need to achieve your organizational strategy;
The personality traits your talent will need to be successful in your organization.
Fact: we all need great talent
Not every organization needs high energy, go-getter, experienced individuals to be successful, but some do. Others need calm, mild-mannered, entry level people to be successful. Many organizations need a large mix of talent, traits and experiences (heck, most of us do!). In the end, we all need great talent that cares about their personal outcomes, cares about organizational outcomes, and believes that both of those things can be accomplished under our roof.
Lastly, make your HR strategy simple – so simple everyone in the building can spout it off in under five (5) seconds. That will be hard to do, but that will make your strategy lasting and effective.
One of the most common questions I am asked is: “Do you know anyone who’d be great for our open HR Business Partner role?”
And it’s no surprise. As more and more companies “transform” their HR function, the need for a specific-type of HR generalist has become more acute. And the aggressive networking (“who do you know for this job?“) underscores a talent problem we have in our industry: the dramatic need for strategic HR partners.
Many companies thought that announcing a new organizational structure and changing titles would be enough to “transform” the function. But now it’s clear that those changes have no bearing on whether the incumbents can really do the job. Hence, the flurry of interviewing as the role sees more and more attrition and the struggle continues to match a person to this new, sometime ambiguous, and challenging role.
Assessment determines the best fit
We’ve done a lot of work in the area of HR Business Partner competencies – and make no bones about the fact that assessment, rather than old school interviewing, is the best way to determine whether a person is the right fit for the role. But even if you have access to an HRBP-specific assessment program, interviewing can still provide valuable insight into the skills, experience, and mindset of these candidates. If you do it right.
Here are some questions we recommend. But remember – as obvious as it might seem – the important and challenging aspect of interviewing is evaluating the candidates’ answers based on the needs of the position – not just asking great questions.
1. Have you ever built a talent strategy to support an organization’s business strategy?[If so, describe how you went about doing it. What was your approach? What stakeholders did you work most closely with? What was the outcome? How did you measure success?] If not, describe how you’d go about doing it. Which stakeholders would be most important to work with? What outcomes would you want to achieve? How would you evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy?
Answers to look for:
A cogent approach to understanding the near-term business strategy (plan for growth, new products or services, infrastructure requirements, etc. – and how those map those to specific talent needs.)
A practical method for assessing the existing talent in the organization and identifying where gaps exist and the criticality of those gaps.
A plan for closing the gap using a multi-pronged approach such as build, borrow, buy, etc.
A partnership mindset in which close ties to – and input from – the business leaders is leveraged throughout the process.
An objective way to measure results through decreased vacancy rates for mission critical roles, higher rates of successful internal promotions, reduced attrition in key parts of the business, higher customer service ratings, etc.
An important strategy
2. Tell me about a situation in which you took an unpopular stand on what you believed represented an important strategy for your business, and you were able to convince others who initially disagreed with you. What was the situation, what did you do, and what was the outcome?
Answers to look for:
A strategic situation that impacts talent in the organization (e.g., candidate pipeline, employees’ access to social media, driving support for new technology, etc.) – versus a tactical, old-school HR issue.
A knowledge of economic, industry and business trends.
A willingness to take risks and an ability to influence others.
A sense of confidence, smarts and initiative.
The ability to make data-based decisions and recommendations, and assess the ROI of business outcomes.
An approach to managing work
3.Describe your approach to managing the range of work an HRBP faces – from strategic to tactical. What process do you use? What resources do you leverage? How do you know you’re focusing on the things and driving the right results?
Answers to look for:
A structured approach to prioritizing work, managing time, following up, and staging deadlines
A creative method for managing resources, delegating tactical issues, using web-based (even free) tools for task and project management, regular updates with peers, business leaders or direct reports to manage the right priorities, a process for managing expectations of business leaders regarding their role and responsibilities.
A business-based approach for working proactively vs. reactively – e.g., attending business updates, field visits with leaders, keeping up the financials of the business, etc.
An openness to feedback in which their input, deliverables and value to the business is assessed through surveys, interviews, objective measures, etc.
This is a start to matching HR Business Partner candidates to leaders who are demanding value from these strategic roles. And a challenging, position-relevant job interview is a great place to start.