Is HR Two-Faced? You Betcha.

HR has two faces.  This is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s by design.  To employees, we are the face of management.  To management, we are the face of employees.  This is what makes our job so darn hard.

Employees need us to be their advocate to management.  We beg, borrow, and steal for increased benefits, argue that people should be disciplined, we ask for more training and opportunity for employees, we pass tissues when someone is upset, we help get them leave when a grandma is sick or a baby is on the way, etc.

Management expects us to keep them safe.  We create policies that govern employee behavior, we find people so the widgets get made, we draft severance agreements when a manager screws up, we coach managers how to have tough conversations, we try to reduce liability by implementing safety programs, etc.

Some of us really like one side over the other, but both are expected and important.  Problems arise when we show the wrong face.  When we brag to employees just how hard we’ve been working on their behalf, management hears of it and loses trust in us.  When we gossip with employees about management strategy, employees learn they can’t trust us either.  When we stop advocating for employees with management, the employees know we’ve stopped.  Then, they know they can’t come to us with problems – we’ll just can’t be bothered by them.

These two faces are really hard to maintain.  We can’t have deep friendships with the people we work with for fear of the time when we have a tough conversation with our friend that ends in her termination. But we want to know enough about people so they feel comfortable coming to us with concerns even if we don’t partake in the party after the company party.  This professional distance is important for us to do our jobs, so we’re trusted enough to do our jobs.

Sometimes, we can’t show either face until we have facts.  When we hear about harassment is one of those times.  We are empathetic and appreciative to the person who brought us the complaint, but we can’t make admissions like “I’m so sorry” or “We’ll make this right.”  This could show the employee that we’re on her side, undermining our investigation.  OR – perhaps more destructively – we show the employee our management face that’s cold and “just the fact’s ma’am” ensuring that no employee ever tells us about harassment again because we appeared to immediately take the side of the harasser.  Once we have completed the investigation, we advocate to management about what should be done, even if it’s nothing.  When we advocate for the ultimate penalty (termination), we put our credibility and relationship with management on the line.  Then, if we lose, we have to make tough decisions for ourselves.

We don’t always win.  We advocate and lose on both sides, employees and management.  But even when we lose, our job is to build relationships strong enough to get past the loss so we can be ready for the next round. OR, if this loss affects our integrity, we have even tougher decisions to make.  We must think about the possibility of making that decision someday.  It takes guts.

We may have two faces, two jobs that sometimes conflict, but that’s the great thing of HR.  We get to do both.

 

Photo by Soroush Karimi on Unsplash

Soapbox Moment

The worst of us make a demon out of all of us. 

I’m afraid this is how the world works today –  folks hear about bad HR then surmise that HR as a whole is bad.  For Pete’s sake, HR is regularly portrayed as hapless, harried, and ineffective (even if funny).  This reality is hard to take sometimes.  But it is true.  Whether it is Uber’s HR not taking Susan Fowler’s complaints seriously, failing to properly classify construction workers, or allowing murder plots, we have an obligation to each other to do better.

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We have to know our values.  Are you for inclusive workplaces?  Are you for doing the right thing even if it is hard?  Are you for making sure the right people are in the right seats on the bus?  Are you for giving tools to managers and then making people actually manage?  Are you for holding people accountable?  (If you nodded, you’re on my team!  YAY!)

We have to think critically.  We have to look at the examples of bad HR out there.  (Unluckily, there’s no shortage.)  Evaluate what went wrong – they didn’t take appropriate action, they didn’t put the needs of the organization before themselves, they didn’t understand the complexities of XYZ law, they had no clue what they were doing, etc. – and then self-reflect on whether we’ve done the same thing or how we would have behaved differently.

We have to ask tough questions.  When we see a prominent HR person appearing to canoodle with someone we find distasteful, we ask why.  We ask if this is the image our collective “we” wants to project out into the world.  We ask if this is really how we want to meet our objectives when the alternatives are too numerous to list. We must ask ourselves the same questions and then demand answers.

We have to act as a resource for each other.  Luckily, we’ve created great communities where we can share our struggles and get feedback from our peers.  Take the Manufacturer’s Alliance.  In every single meeting I’ve presented, they talked amongst themselves about their challenges, solicited advice, and bared naked some truly challenging issues.  Take local SHRM chapters.  The same thing happens there more informally.  Notes are taken.  Calls are made.  Things get better.  You don’t have to be in a formal group, you just need a group where you can safely ask questions and get the help you need.

We in HR are going to continually be demonized for the acts of a few of us.  We’re not alone in this (looking at you police officers), but we have to do better for all of us. This means holding each other accountable and asking both ourselves and our leaders hard questions.

I’ll get off my soapbox now.  Thank you for listening!

 

Photo by Oleg Laptev on Unsplash

Tough Conversations

Question:  What do I do if during a conversation about poor performance the employee starts injecting that she’s being attacked or has been harassed?

A tough conversation is exactly that – tough.  For a lot of managers, tough conversations include performance discussions.  A March 2016 Harvard Business Review article explained that two-thirds of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees. Two-thirds!  This means a couple of things:  (1) managers don’t know how to have tough conversations; and (2) managers are not prepared to have tough conversations.  HR can help with this!

It is a rare organization that does a great job training managers on how to manage.  Most don’t have the time or resources to devote to some of the “softer” skills about how to communicate with employees.  So, we send managers out into our organizations to fend for themselves, explain they should treat employees how they want to be treated, buy them a book on leadership, and hope for the best.  While I wish managers knew more, here’s what I’d like them to know about tough conversations:

Plan.  Prepare a script.  I recommend you draft an email with some bullet points or full script of what you need to convey to the employee.  If you don’t plan, it’s possible that the conversation will wander and you may miss the clear messaging you need to convey.

Consult.  Consult with HR, another manager, and/or your manager.  Ask them for feedback that you can use to improve your messaging or alter your wording to make the message even more clear or less emotional or harsh.

Take a beat.  Yes, performance should be addressed as soon as possible, but a discussion about performance should not happen in the heat of the moment or in anger.  Take a beat to breathe, plan, and consult.  It’s okay and even preferred where the manager’s own emotion could hinder the discussion.  Just don’t let the beat last longer than one business day.

Schedule.  This is a short, in-person meeting – usually less than 15 minutes.  There should not be a long list of things you need to cover.  Bogging it down with other subjects reduces the importance of the poor performance part of the discussion, so performance should be the only topic of the conversation from the manager’s perspective.  Plus, if you add other topics, the employee may not remember them.

Anticipate.  Usually, a manager knows if an employee will cry, become defensive, and/or angry.  Ponder in your planning what could happen.  Have tissues ready, let HR know you’re having the conversation, or plan to have someone with you if you have concerns about the employee’s reaction.  Select this person carefully – s/he should not be a co-worker of the employee.

Prepare for surprise.  Sometimes, a manager won’t be able to anticipate how the employee react.  In the question above, if the employee starts lodging complaints, the manager needs to know how to refocus the discussion.  Managers will need to hear a complaint, but then remind the employee that she’s there to talk about performance.  Managers should report the complaint immediately after the meeting so HR or management can take action.

Document.  Use your bullet points or script to recap with additions of how the meeting actually went.  The employee does not have to sign off on the documentation but should know of the document’s existence.

I often joke that managers have the word “manage” in their job title, so they’ve got to actually manage.  Most managers are great at saying “you’re doing great,” but it is those conversations where they have to confront an employee about poor performance or misconduct that trips them up.  For HR, this means we coach managers through these tough conversations.  Use these tips and reach out when you need help.

 

 

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What Do We Owe Each Other?

While I have been safely ensconced in #SHRM18, I haven’t been able to read the news as much as I’d like.  When I finally looked at my twitter feed devoted to news, I became angry, sad, frustrated, and a whole other host of emotions.  So as midnight approaches, here are some things I hope all of my HR friends take from this fantabulous conference to put into their worlds:

Compassion.  Oscar Munoz explained why caring comes immediately after safety at United.  Caring means holding a door open for a family who just landed a half a terminal away and who are running to catch the plane to see a sick grandma.  While a policy may say one thing, caring about the people we serve (and for those of us in HR, that includes our employees and candidates) sometimes says something different.  If our employees are empowered with compassion, they will do the right thing for our customers, clients, and the greater world.

Compassion.  While he may not have said it in quite this way, Tim Sackett talked about how CEOs want to be able to personalize our HR plans because our people are individuals who want personalization.  Personalization means we have to know, acknowledge, and understand the needs of candidates and employees.  We can’t personalize unless we are compassionate with the people we help every day.

Compassion.  In discussing inclusion, Joe Gerstandt asked us to imagine a world where employees have space to be themselves, we ask and they speak about the personal parts of their life so they don’t feel they have to hide parts of themselves.  “How are you really?”  “How is your mom?  Is she feeling better?”  Adding circle tables to a break room so people can interact.  Integrating our values into conversations about our objectives, especially when we are struggling with an issue.  We want our employees to be innovative problem-solvers, and we can do that by being compassionate with them.

Compassion.  I was unable to attend Adam Grant’s presentation.  But from what I saw on the twitters, it was amazing.  One thing he challenged me on is ending exit interviews.  The argument (via him and some super HR pros) is that we should have known about the problems before the employee leaves.  This is absolutely true.  We should have known.  When an employee is so afraid to talk to us while still working for us, we have lost.  Lost big time.  We need employees to want to talk with us, to want to share the good stuff and the bad stuff.  This takes trust.  We can foster trust by being compassionate with our folks.  Knowing their names, their struggles, their successes.  When they see that we are interested and invested in their well-being, they will come to us with their concerns.

So, what do we owe each other?  Do we owe each person around us respect?  Hells to the yeah.  Do we owe each other attention when a problem crops up or a success is achieved?  Yes.  Do we owe someone time when he is asking for help in dealing with FMLA paperwork because his wife is ill?  Yes.  All of this takes compassion.  When we see people suffering, do we owe them help?  Yes.  It breaks my heart to see people suffering.  I hope that is true for everyone in HR.  We owe ourselves, our employees, and the people around us compassion.

I’m going to try to remain hopeful and do better myself.

 

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Networking Importance

This week, I get to be at the world’s largest human resources conference – the SHRM Annual Conference in Chicago.  One friend calls this HR Christmas, and that is really true.  I get to see a lot of my HR friends and meet so many new friends.  It’s the best!

This brings me to my point and one that Jon Thurmond and Wendy Dailey preach on their #HRSocialHour podcast – networking is essential to being great at your job.  Between my morning messages with some employment attorneys (and a super cool HR lady and a snazzy forensic accountant) to regular tweetchat and direct messages all over the country, I have a community to bounce ideas off of, get a cautionary tale, or get told I’m way off track in my thinking or strategry.  If I didn’t have a network, I wouldn’t be able to do my job.

I mean that.  As a solo practitioner, I get to talk to myself all day.  But I’ll only get one perspective.  I do a better job for my clients when I’ve tapped my network for help getting out a conundrum.  As HR pros, we don’t operate in our own vacuums.  Yes, each employer is different, but another company’s experience with a particular tactic, strategy, or technology is helpful when you need to make a decision.  As an attorney, I talk with other attorneys – without violating privilege – to see if holes crop up in my argument or policy. My network is a saving grace.

One other point:  I truly dislike networking events.  I’m not the extrovert that I appear.  So, I’ve built a network over social media, over email, over coffee, over lunch, and through my work.  I avoid networking happy hours with a passion.  So building a network can happen even if you don’t like these events. You can do it.

Thank you to my network.  You all mean a lot to me!  Much appreciation and gratitude to all of you!

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Special thank you to Mitchell Hamline School of Law for sending me!  I’ve met lots of potential students!  And, thank you to SHRM and the social team for letting me hang out with my friends the blogger’s lounge and at the conference.