Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Make It Like It Was

I spoke with a business owner recently (normal, I know).  He’s pretty successful in his field.  He works hard, really hard.  Long hours, tough working conditions, great product.  He was commenting to me that it seems to be harder to be an employer these days.  He’s been at this for quite some years and has enough history to make a comment like that.  He was basing this on his more recent experience.  He has observed that people don’t want to work hard anymore and that people find it too easy to complain (or sue) about things they just don’t like, rather than what’s truly illegal.

I like this guy.  I do.  It’s not just because he feels the pain of some of the HR situations I find myself in.  It’s not because I think all people suck (I don’t, really…no, really).  I find him to be honest.  His frustrations represent a belief that some of the systems put in place to protect people have now become crutches for some.  I concur.  He isn’t lying.

What I have often said is that it’s about people not programs.  It’s wonderfully smart to have sexual harassment seminars for your staff, but does it stop people from claiming that harassment has occurred?  No.  And why is that?  Maybe it’s because it’s too easy to get a payout.  Why go through all of the drama of court?  Why spend all of that money and waste time when the results will probably be the same settlement anyway?  It’s been the pattern for quite some time.

I’d like to submit a thought.  Culture.  I recognize compliance.  I recognize culpability.  Culture, done well, trumps much.  Fit matters more than need.  Filling a need with the first available often does not work out.  Waiting for someone who fits the culture is worth it in the long run.  Too many times we fill to fill, to check it off the list.  We did it…yay, us!  Woo Hoo, Recruiting Team!  (OK, too sarcastically HR…sorry).

Patience, people.  Let’s find us some good peeps!  When people are set up for success in a culture that fits, then a multitude of problems never happen.  I am not saying that harassment training is a waste.  I am not saying that at all.  What I am saying is that if you think annual sexual harassment training is going to keep it from happening or at least the complaint of it happening, then you’re out of your tree.  Train to the positives daily.  Handle the negatives as they come up.

By creating a culture of health through challenging opportunities and open communication, then you’re more likely to see people flourish and not take the time to be entitled.  We can’t fear the impact of the claim that might come up (anyone can sue for anything…welcome to America).  Instead of being overwhelmed in frustration by it, we should use that energy to positively promote healthy dialogue and right thinking in relationships. 

Management should be encouraged greatly.  As HR, we have a big responsibility with managers and ought to regularly seek to impact them.

Do I think that things are better today in the working environment?  Sure, but when compared to specific places in time.  Do I think we operate in fear rather than proactivity?  Yup.  Our companies might see fear in their own eyes, but that view doesn't have to be true.  Point out a clearer picture.  Practice painting it yourself.  Create buy-in.  Invest in people and impact overall culture.  

The good old days are seen through rose-colored glasses.  It's like any form of nostalgia.  It always looks better from behind.  Just imagine how good today will look in 20 years when we make it as awesome as possible (yeah, I said "awesome").

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Higher Ground

Making an informed decision seems like a good plan.  I think most companies would look favorably on employees that decide to do that.  It seems like a mature, thoughtful response.

In school, I was involved in a pretty good food fight in the cafeteria.  Mashed potatoes were thrown onto the walls in our attempts to create art.  The school did not think it the best use of the food, especially when it moved from walls to people.  It was one of the rare times I was brought to the principal’s office (I was usually not caught for the stuff I did, not because I was angelic).  Because I had my own skin to protect (from my dad!), I found a way to present information that not only removed any malevolent thought of me, but actually made me sound like a good guy operating in the fallen humanity of school.  Brilliant? Yes.  True? Ummmmmmmmmmmmm.

What if the information is flawed? 

It’s probably due to a few possibilities.  One – perhaps there is a gap in the way information is gathered.  Maybe there are some steps that have been bypassed due to ignorance.  In our efforts to be efficient, we can forego communication steps and not look back.  Maybe we didn't know the process or all of the people involved.  We can easily assume some “facts” and fill in the blanks ourselves.  It’s not what we would like to do, I know, but the pressure of getting things done cause us to create shortcuts.

Have you ever been in a meeting where you offer a perspective as an absolute, only to find out that most of the room knows pivotal details?  And now you look like an absolute idiot?  Yeah, it’s never happened to me…I feel badly for you people (an obvious lie if you’ve ever been in a room with me!).

Secondly, the informed decision may be colored by self-esteem issues.  Crazy as it may seem, but there might be among those with whom we work a person or two who are devastated when they are not the founts of information.  To that end, they might offer bits and pieces of information so as to try to coax out the rest.  When bits and pieces fly around like that, it leaves open inference and flawed interpretation.  The decisions made would be based upon granules rather than rocks of truth.

And then there’s political positioning.  I have been in organizations where communication is used based upon maligned purposes.  There can be treachery and back-stabbing in an organization with information sharing an easy road to travel.  I may only share what I want others to know, with a longer term plan in place to paint someone in a bad light, to make myself seem more important or to inflate the view of the department I lead.  Shocking, I know, but it happens.

For those of us in an HR capacity, we have to be a bit more eyes wide open about information.  It is a necessity for us to do our homework.  Cultural and relational impact is likely to occur from some of the decisions to be made based on certain information.  We can serve in an unbiased manner and gather all of the facts.  If we were to slip into some of the posturing or sloppiness addressed above, we compromise our role as a strategic partner to the overall health of the business.

Over the past few months, I have conversed with some business owners whose experience with HR people has them characterized as “mealy-mouthed” or “chatty Cathys.”  What a sad perspective.  Is it really likely that our informed decisions will be seen as informed decisions when the impression we give falls into those categories?   It’s not about our skin.  It’s about our commitment to the senior leadership team to deliver truth that will encourage growth and health for the organizations we serve.

Really, what’s the worst that would have happened if I just admitted to flinging a spoonful of mashed potatoes?  Detention, cleaning it up, some Philly-Italian-style parenting?  You gotta have something to go to therapy with, right?