You can’t handle the truth !!

One of the toughest things in HR is that we are called upon to keep so many things confidential.  It’s difficult because we can’t even tell others that may think we’re “lying” when we’re actually keeping the peace.  When I was just starting my career in HR, I came face-to-face to the power of what confidentiality means.

I worked for a small entrepreneurial company and the owner felt that is was time to start his succession plan and name a new President and he would move into the role of CEO so he could focus on externally growing the Company.  He was going to rely on the new President to run the internal day-to-day operations.  He had an engineering background, so to him everything was pretty black and white.  Not a lot of gray.

I hadn’t worked with him much, but now I was put into a position of working with this new executive every day. One of the first things, let’s call him Barry, did was dive into salaries.  He hadn’t had access to what others made in the organization, but it was the first thing he asked for from HR. Imagine that !!  I had a gut feeling that this wasn’t going to go well.

At his first management meeting, he thought he’d “set the stage” for his reign by saying, “I’d like to go off the agenda.”

We worked in an open office with no walls from the 1st to 3rd floor, so everyone who worked in the office could hear everything – literally.  Barry states, “I’ve been reviewing the salaries and I think Steve makes too much as our HR Manager.”

You can guess what my face looked like.  And, you can also guess that I was having “fond” feelings about this change !! Everyone was silent. No one knew how to react.

Just then, the CEO said, “Really?  Steve, how much do you make?” (Remember EVERYONE can hear what we said at these meetings and you could hear crickets chirping waiting for my response.)

“Uh, do I have to say?” I said. The CEO said, “If you want to keep your job, tell everyone your salary.”

I gulped and said, ” I make $46,000 per year.”  No reaction from the managers. You see I made the least. “So, how much does our Plant Manager make?” (he’s at the table too !!) “He makes $55,000 per year.” The plant manager, my best friend, gave me the look of death.  The CEO went around the table and made me state every manager’s salary.  When it came to the President, the CEO said, “And Barry? How much does he make now that I’ve promoted him?”

I couldn’t believe I had to do this. I looked down at the table and said, “Barry makes $110,000 per year.” I could feel the daggers coming at me from Barry. “Steve, what about me? What do I make?,” said the CEO. I felt as if I was going to throw up in front of everyone.  You see, Barry didn’t know how much the CEO made. I said, “You make $185,000 per year.”  Barry turned ashen. He wasn’t as close to the top as he thought.

The CEO said, “You see, that’s why Steve’s in HR and you’re not Barry. He can handle confidential information. Now either grow up, or step down. Salaries are just numbers and now that we have the air cleared, can we get back to the agenda?”

I respected the CEO even more and any credibility Barry thought he had by wielding power had evaporated.

What we do in HR is tough.  Hang in there because we can handle the truth !!

We’re Just Playin’ !!

When it comes to training and OD, HR tends to take things to extremes.  We hire the best consultants, make sure we follow the newest trend of training noveau, and the more “HRey” it is, the better we feel justfied of our existence.

Okay, that’s a little extreme in itself.  But, the point is this – we try too hard when it comes to training exercises !!

I was made aware of this tendency at a recent retreat we had.  I was excited to be involved in training our great folks.  My topic was “Communication” and Operations told me I could be over the top to make sure we had fun.  I was a little skeptical about this honestly. I don’t mind going over the top whenever I do presentations to HR chapters, conferences or even other businesses, but I wasn’t sure how I would be accepted.

The Ops leaders threw another curve at me when they said they were going to kick off the day with something “fun.”   My abject fear of the Lifeboat Exercise was racing through my mind (when you’re given just one item and then you determine who should survive).  Just what was fun going to be?

When the day of the event came up, we met at a very cool place called Blue Ocean Facilities . Spread out all over the room were board games. Everything from Clue to Apples to Apples. (my personal fave)  The Ops Leaders then pulled out the classic OD training technique of numbering us off from 1 to 6.  Then the radical instructions came – “Okay, now we’ll go by numbers, pick a board game as a group and go play it.”

That was it.  Go play the game. One GM even started by saying “So, what’s the real meaning here that you’re looking for?” Isn’t that sad that we’re conditioned to expect some hidden agenda even before we started?

No agenda. We just played board games for the first 1 1/2 hours of the day.  It was a riot !! BTW – my team picked Apples to Apples and we howled and laughed the entire time. When we finished one round, we had the option to change, but my group stayed with it to laugh even more.

Playing a game set the stage for the rest of a VERY successful day where we did take time to learn about better communication as well as improving our guest’s experience.

Here’s something I’d like all of HR to remember . . .

When we were kids the world was limitless. We could imagine anything from simple household items and change the world with our imagination.  We also played constantly. Everything was a game !!

You know what happens when kids grow up ??  They become our employees.

So, keep things simple.  Play a game !! It’s the best “training” you’ll ever do !!

WIFO – A New Approach

It’s time for HR to quit trying to focus on the “me” side of HR and look at focusing on others. This approach isn’t happening today and imagine if it did !!

Have you been to HR seminars where they emphasize the WIFM effect of employees?  You know, “what’s in it for me?” There are entire marketing efforts and focuses that try to figure this out from a consumer’s perspective.  I get it.  I’m attracted to things that meet my preferences and styles, but I’m sure they don’t fit anyone else’s choices.

We’re all unique as people.  HR struggles with this.  How can we provide the “what’s in it for me” factor if everyone is different?  It’s impossible !!! Or, is it ??

I think it’s time for HR to try the WIFO approach – What’s in it for others?  If we’d do this, we’d be more successful in the end in meeting the needs of most – not all.

Using the WIFO approach, you can really put people first.  HR needs to understand that without people, we’re nothing but a giant bureaucratic machine that people see in negative connotations.  We have to put others first – all the time !!  This may not seem fair, but it really works.

More often than not, HR departments approach the least common denominator when it comes to policies, programs and initiatives.  We have a small sample of employees who either make the most noise, or cause the most problems and Wah-lah !! – something new magically appears that we now impose on everyone.

You have to ask yourself, “When I go talk to employees, am I talking about a situation, or am I focusing on them as a person first?”  Is it more important to get resolution, or understand what’s happening to them as a person? Try it. Focus on your employees as people first.

I think we don’t think of others first because people rarely think about us as people.  Why don’t we change that? If you would take the time this week to e-mail, call or visit an HR peer and just ask them how they’re doing, how do you think the profession would change?  I think it’d be amazing !!  Intentionally reaching out to others to model what we could do for our organizations.

People are difficult, challenging, amazing, creative, unpredictable and that’s a great reason to be in HR !!  You and I need to remember . . . we’re people too.

If I were you, I’d be on the lookout for a call . . .

Whole Lotta Love (for HR) !!

Too often people are tearing down HR vs. building it up. This needs to change now. If we did this, can you imagine what workplaces would be like?

When you think of Valentine’s Day, the first band that comes to mind is . . . Led Zeppelin of course !! 

These rock giants defined an all-out, unabashed approach to their music and they renewed the world of rock post-Beatles.  I’m a GIANT Zep fan and when I hear any song from them I just get jacked up (even their ballads.)

Don’t be mistaken, this isn’t a tribute to Led Zeppelin.  Instead, it’s a call for HR to be as all-in every time they approach their jobs and the field in general.  When I go to chapter meetings, roundtables, conferences or read the endless blogs that trash HR, I hear more voices joining in tearing down HR vs. building it up.

When was this ever a good approach to changing anything?  Seriously.  If we think, “Let’s all show why HR falls short, isn’t strategic and can’t get out of its way in the business world – then things are sure to change !!”

I was talking to Jason Lauritsen recently.  He’s a fellow HR practitioner and we were sharing that we want to take 2011, and beyond, to lift HR up and not tear it down.  It’s not to say that people can’t be critical, but give solutions not just gripes.  Also, we agreed that the human perspective of what we do can’t be buried in the HR/Corporate speak of metrics, ROI, synergy, etc.  Really, people don’t talk like that.

Jason and I have different approaches to HR with one common theme – PASSION !!

Passion is a word that isn’t supposed to be set aside for one day in February when everyone is “supposed to be” passionate because a card told you to.  We can’t expect employees to be engaged if we’re not passionate about them !!  It’s past time for HR to be passionate about what we do, how we influence people’s lives and how our work and perspective assist companies to move forward.  Mediocrity isn’t an option.  It never was.

The time is now to show a Whole Lotta Love for HR !!  What do you say? Are you in?

Image courtesy of Etsy

What if . . .

What if HR took lessons from the Super Bowl and treated employees differently?

Like most of America, I was planted on my couch soaking in the spectacle that we loving call the Super Bowl on Sunday.  I saw some of the ridiculously long pre-game, anticipated the commercials and critiqued them, loved the back and forth play between the Steelers and Packers,  and watched in awe as the Black Eyed Peas performed the halftime extravaganza.  Hours of my day spent watching an event that honestly did little but entertain me – at times.

Sitting in my office on Monday, I began to wonder some comparisons between HR and the time/effort given to the Super Bowl.

What if  . . . HR was as excited and focused on cheering on their employees as fans are of their teams in the Super Bowl?

What if . . . HR loosened their grip on rules and let people freely express themselves like they do when they go to a football game? Face paint and all !!

What if . . . HR had a strategy that had employees playing like a team and understood that ALL of the members of the team were expected to contribute?

What if . . . HR coached the company’s employees based on their strengths and put them in roles that allowed them to excel and even win?

What if . . . HR itself expected the best in people and sought to make sure that they had all of the equipment, training and facilities in order to be their best everyday they came to work??

What if . . . HR took that approach that it’s a “championship” field to be in instead of looking for ways to tear itself down?

What if . . . HR knew that even if it comes into an organization as an underdog, that it can rally the staff to grow, compete and add value to the company?

Last Friday, one of our Team Members had a birthday.  Big deal, huh? You see, at my company when it’s your birthday, you bring in snacks to share with the office.  People usually bring in sweets, but Friday was different.  As I walked upstairs I smelled grills. The “snack” for this person’s birthday was that he made everyone in the office a fresh omelet to order !!  Seriously !!  It was phenomenal.

Here was someone who did something unpredictable, unconventional and unparalleled. He is a great Team Member from Finance that you’d never expect to do this.

He was a great example of “what if . . .”  So, HR, look at things in a new way.  See the greatness that works around you everyday.

Do you know what would happen if you did this ??  What if . . .

What Do You Expect ??

This post asks HR what their focus is when it comes to their employees. Do they dread seeing them, or do they think they’re amazing?

When you think of your employees, what comes to mind?

Do you have positive thoughts?  Are you fondly reminded of how amazing the folks are at your company ??

What do you expect?  Seriously.  Have you taken the time to reflect on how your focus is as an HR practitioner when you go into work each day?  Are you looking forward to working with the people around you, or do you dread it?

If I asked you this in person, I’m sure I’d hear a positive response because you’d feel a little awkward because we’re only supposed to talk about surface level things to keep things within a social norm.  It may be the way you truly feel, and I hope it is.

However, when I keep my ear to the ground and listen to other HR pros, I hear more negative things than positive things.  I hear people grousing about the difficult person who did this, or the person who takes ALL  of my time, etc.

Don’t you think your employees see that in you?  Don’t you think that they’ve come to expect HR to be the department who brings the bad news?  Not very encouraging is it?

I think that we’ve made the rock prophet Don Henley’s words come true from his vintage song “Dirty Laundry” on his debut album I Can’t Stand Still.

“Dirty little secrets
     Dirty little lies 
 We got our dirty little fingers in everybody’s pie 
     We love to cut you down to size
We love dirty laundry”

I know that sounds harsh, but when I listen to HR people they tend to talk about the 10% of people who cause them the most problems instead of focusing on the 90% of people who are GREAT !!

I love HR Horror Stories as much as the next person, and I could add my share of them – believe me.  However, it’s time to change the tide.

People will see HR as a positive force in organizations when, and only when, HR is positive itself !!

So, what do you expect ?? Let me know.

Image courtesy of Amazon.com

Take a Stand !!

This post encourages HR to take aspects of Martin Luther King, Jr. and apply his efforts to their work today in organizations.

This past weekend I traveled to the heart of Amish country in Ohio to beautiful Berlin, Ohio for the Classic in the Country  basketball tournament.  It was a full weekend of great high school varsity girls basketball !!

The “unique” aspect of this tournament vs. others is that when the girls come out to the court before the game begins something other than the National Anthem occurred.  (Fear not, they play the Anthem at the beginning of each day.)  The announcer asked everyone to stand and then they played a quote from a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech.  It was incredibly moving – and relevant !!

You see, my daughter only knows of Dr. King from History class or a textbook.  Now that we are recognizing the 25th anniversary of the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it made me reflective as well because Dr. King did things that we in HR should be doing as well . . .

Recognize Injustice !!

Too often HR sees things that happen in companies and seeks the middle ground vs. addressing things directly.  You see, if you ask Management, HR represents them.  If you ask employees, they’d say HR represents . . . Management.  The fact is that we represent all employees and we are obligated to look at all people practices that aren’t in the best interest of employees and get rid of them.  I’m not talking about obvious egregious or illegal behavior.  That’s a no-brainer.  I’m talking about policies (that we often generate) that do no good to the company.  Honestly, most of our polices are created to address a few people’s poor behavior that we should be addressing directly any way !!

Take a stand !!

Do you like being ambiguous and wishy-washy?  I don’t and I hope that as HR practitioners, you don’t either.  It’s tough to take stands on things but companies expect us to make decisions and not practice conflict avoidance.  People are tough.  There’s no doubt about that.  However, if you learn how to frame your approach and deal intentionally with people, you’ll be amazed at how effective an HR professional you’ll be !!

Be the one person !!

Too often people are waiting for someone to act.  When HR is passive bad things happen more often than not and you become the person who’s always “putting out fires.”  We desparately want someone to take action.

That needs to be YOU !!

Dr. King took action when it wasn’t popular, when it involved incredible risk, and it represented those who weren’t in power.  I want to be that kind of HR person all the time.

How about you ???

Image courtesy of WriteSpirit.net

My Hometown . . .

This post challenges HR to get back to truly knowing the employees of the company and not continue to let employees just show up for work.

For those of you who know me – I’m a music freak !!

For those of you who don’t know me – I’m a music freak !! 

One of my favorite artists is Bruce Springsteen and his classic album “Born in the U.S.A.” came out when I was in college and about to leave my hometown.  The last track on side two of the album (yes, album) was “My Hometown” and it hit me hard because even though I was going to leave my hometown soon, it brought up so many great memories.

You see, I hail from the booming metropolis (Village actually) of Ada, Ohio.  Ada has a population of just over 5,000 people.  It is technically the “center of the universe” if you didn’t know that because you can go anywhere from Ada , and if you travel around the whole world, you have to go through Ada.

That may not be a scientific fact, but it seemed like the center of the universe to me.  You see, in Ada, you know EVERYONE and EVERYONE knows you.  My school was K-12 in one building and my graduating class was an amazing 73 people !!  I loved every moment of my time in Ada because I learned the value of truly knowing people.

In Ada, it mattered to know everyone’s name and something about them because you were bound to see them somewhere around town and it was much better to have a conversation than just say, “Hey !!” (our version of “Hi!”)

Lately, this has been playing on me because in today’s organizations, we are more concerned with getting stuff done whether the people who are doing those things matter or not.  HR is a major culprit in not addressing this fault in company cultures.  We should be the ONE area that won’t stand idly by to have yet another employee ignored.

We spend so much time making sure people just show up and that is more important than seeing who they are, what they’re like and what they truly want to offer the company.

No more.

It’s time to use a little of that hometown experience at my workplace and at workplaces around the country.  Get to know your people.  You’ll be astonished at how incredible they really are !!

What do you think?  Is this too Utopian ?? Or, is it just overdue and we’ve forgotten how important this is ??  Let me know your thoughts.