Wednesday, November 25, 2015


People management as a career carries with it many necessary skill sets.  A bit of counseling, a dash of conflict management, a hint of patience and a strong dose of listening skills blend together to ensure that the staff you serve know they are heard and valued.  The management of people is not a natural ebb and flow for most; it’s a dance mastered through practice, research and observation.  Curious, I don’t see much of it taught on the university level.  Management courses on business development, organizational development and finance (and their off-shoots) fill the curriculum for collegiate study.

I recall taking an interpersonal skills course in college, and there were seven of us on day one.  By day two one had dropped as the size of the class was already too uncomfortable for him.  So, the six of us plowed through various psychology and communicative styles in order to appreciate other approaches and develop our own more deeply.  It was thoroughly challenging and incredibly vulnerable.

So much of what was emphasized was basic response-oriented training.  When someone walks into a room, acknowledge that person - say hello, ask them to have a seat, ask if you can help them.  Body language, verbal cues and facial expression are a functional part of managing people.  Further, and more likely for many these days, the tonality and inflection of the voice on the phone, and the sentence construct on a text or email, set the stage for an appropriate conversation with an employee.

As our work in the human resources field continues to move in a metric-oriented discipline, which has great merit, it is vital that we not lose our people management skill set.  And if you’ve never had a people management skill set, then it is time to work on it. 

When people come to you, there has already been a story playing for them.  Pain or anger may have taken root, depending on the situation.  Broken relationships cut deep – whether breakups, divorces or death.  Our job is to get to the heart of it.  We’re not counselors, understood, but if an employee is walking into your office, then bet your bottom dollar that whatever the issue is will distract that person from work.  It is now a work consideration.

Basic coping mechanisms may be extended to the person, and sometimes that happens naturally just by having someone on whom to unload.  The skill sets of the employee could be clouded, but our act of listening and providing visual cues of such attention might move those clouds.  The ability to jump back into the swing of “normal” functioning may be as simple as that.  Yet, when the door is consistently closed and the email goes unanswered, an employee dives deeper into his/her issue, making it more difficult to un-cloud.

Everyone has a story.  There is no one free from baggage.  Everyone wants more time.  Everyone has regrets (or would like a do-over on some things).  Everyone has lost their way for a bit.  Remember this as a people manager.  Those we manage do look to us.  What do they see?  Of course, depending on the situation, there are likely to be more steps after listening, but the first step sets the right tone.

Answer the phone, respond to the email, open your door.  Engage with your people.  It doesn’t need to be seen as an employee engagement objective.  It should be seen as being a person.  A person who can support another person.  And sometimes we’ll have quite a heavy burden to share in with this employee.  We can manage the road together.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I Fought the Law

Try to watch “Law and Order” as if you’ve never seen an episode before.  Pretend like those two Bum-Bumps are the first time you’ve heard them.  It’s fascinating to watch the entire hour and see how the two detectives process the investigation which typically leads to the court case.  I used to watch the original “Law and Order” religiously.  Yes, I know that there are SVU, CI, SUV and hybrid versions, but I was a fan of the original.  The course of action taken by the detectives is methodical, a bit stale and thorough, but it works.

For the employee who comes to the HR department with a complaint, inquiry or charge, there is an expectation for answers and investigation.  HR loves the answers, but perhaps to a fault.  Our ability to provide solution to the complaint may not really handle the issue at hand.  The employee can feel his/her issue has been minimized as he/she leaves your office (or cubicle area or working table or Segway mobile office).  Are we satisfied with just an “answer” or do we need to spend time trying to understand where this issue comes from?

Honestly, there are times that a simple answer is all that is needed.  Let’s not make a mountain out of molehill.  If someone comes to complain about not being off for Arbor Day, that may be a very quick conversation.  Something like, “I’m sorry that you’d like the company to be closed for Arbor Day, but if you have PTO available to you, perhaps you could plan on using some in order to spend time planting trees to honor the day.”  Smile sincerely and usher them out.  Close the door and reflect on why you’ve chosen the career you have.  After a few minutes, you’ll be back at it!

But what about the ones that take a bit more?  If an employee asks about hours not paid on a paycheck, then perhaps a quick look at the time system, finding where the data was corrupt or not transferred into payroll will prevent the occurrence in the future.  Perhaps there is a bit of management training needed.  Perhaps the employee needs a reminder on the time clock.  Perhaps it’s a one-time Gremlin in the system.  All it would take is a little bit of research mixed with a little bit of conversation and/or training.

And then, there are the ultimate investigations, such as harassment, discrimination or theft.  A process for this investigation should be in place.  What will it take for the company to handle the claims presented?  Is there a path to follow?  No? 

There are components of good investigation that are universal.  Try to work within a flow of process in those components in order to gather the information needed.  An investigation is serious and it does require professionalism in approach.  If you are the HR person who would lead or conduct the investigation, have you established yourself in the company as someone capable of such work?  If you’ve been relegated or allowed yourself to be relegated to the party-planning HR person or the gossip-laden HR person, then it’s not likely that you’ll gather all of the data necessary in your investigation.

Staff may not be able to draw a line between the “Buddy HR” person and the “Detective HR” person you’re trying to be.  That is a tall order.  As such, determine whether outside help might be needed.  Does your process allow for this possibility?  Between the HR role played, the characters in the investigation and the subject matter involved, an outside expert might be the most beneficial for the organization.  Be okay with letting someone in.  It’s not about dirty laundry but about ascertaining the truth and finding solution, however difficult that may be.

Be clear, too, in the fact that you will need to speak with others.  When an employee starts his/her complaint to you with “Please don’t say anything, but…”, you can be sure that you’re likely going to need to say something to someone else.  A true investigation will need facts and accounts from all parties named and involved.  Keeping this between us is not possible, let alone the matter of law that may be in play.  Disclosure may be required.  Consult your counsel if you have questions in any of these areas.  Likely an attorney will tell you that you cannot promise to keep what’s shared only between you two.

There are great resources available to you to help with investigation.  Take the time to research and develop a plan prior to needing a plan.  You will be able to approach plan development with less stress and with more clarity of thought.  Talk to your senior team, your counsel, your HR colleagues in other companies, your SHRM group…anyone who has been through developing a process.  Learn from their victories and hiccups.

And while it may not be the wisest to wear a badge around the office as if you’re the cop on duty, you should establish yourself as being an integral part of the investigative process at your company.  Just pin the badge on the inside of your suit coat or sweater.  You can know it’s there.  Bum-Bump.