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Tuesday in the Trenches: Integrate vs. Adminstrate

February 9, 2010 5 comments

This week’s Tuesday in the Trenches guest post is from Steve Browne, Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa’s Pizzeria. In business for over 50 years, LaRosa’s has grown to 63 locations in the Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana region.  Steve has the daunting task of building and maintaining an environment and career experience that keeps LaRosa’s employees engaged in this highly competitive multi-location business.  Steve is also the editor-in-chief for a weekly HR Email, HR Net, that has 5,500 global subscribers.  If you want to join the distribution, let him know. You can follow Steve on Twitter or catch his guest blog posts which crop up from time to time (e.g. a recent post on Rehaul). 

Recently Charlie asked for posts from the “HR Trench” and this intrigued me.  There are literally thousands of HR people who may take this term literally everyday unfortunately.  I know too many HR folks who are miserable in what they do as a profession.

In looking at this, I had to ask myself the question – “Why are they miserable and I’m not ??”

The answer was pretty clear only because of how I have been encouraged and “allowed” to perform at my Company.  About a year ago, my boss, the COO, asked me to draw a picture of what HR should be at our company.  I honestly was a little baffled because he literally wanted a picture of what I’d like HR to be.  After some deep reflection, and many cups of coffee, I came up with a picture and went back to present it to him.

I followed the “before and after” model that you see in those weight loss commercials because I wanted to express how HR was being utilized now and what it should be.  The “before” model showed every department as silos – including HR.  HR was only used if, and when, people needed it primarily for administrative tasks or employee relations problems that were now teetering on legal action.  In contrast, the “after” model took HR and spread it in a row that spanned all of the departments.  I explained that HR should be integrated throughout all departments and levels of the company because all of them have humans !!

Seems simple, but it worked.  He agreed that HR should be integrated vs. administrative.  Strategic on a regular basis vs. processing paperwork.

This frees me every day knowing that HR is expected to be integrated to move the Company forward.  I wish HR professionals everywhere would follow an “integrated” approach !!  If they did, they would see that the “trench” that we’re in is actually very cool and exciting !!

There’s a Fly in my Fishbowl…

January 21, 2010 1 comment

Since my first tweet, I have been intrigued by what others say about HR.  It’s not often we take a hard look at what our clients think about us and Twitter gives us an abridged peek into the minds of others.  And it’s more raw than what we could get from any customer satisfaction survey…it’s like being a fly on the wall.  So I still comb the twitterverse from time to time to see what non-HR people are saying about HR.  It so happens Employees are much more critical of and vocal on HR than they are other departments.  After all, we impact their lives daily….and as a result we are a Fishbowl.  At first, I thought it might be cool to share some of those Fishbowl tweets.  After I reflected on the first list, though, I failed to find the value in sharing a bunch of whiney crap from people I don’t even know…what the hell do they know, after all, about my dear profession.  Sure, perception is reality and PR and Brand Image matter to HR.  But when @sfleatherbear tweets, “his company’s HR dept. could not possibly be more inept!” why should I f’ing care?  This is one man’s opinion and even if it’s true there is very little I can contribute to that department’s defense (or development).  But maybe I care a little bit when @adam_frisby tweets, “Wisdom Rule 1. Never walk into a HR department smiling, it’s a waste of muscle.” That hits a little closer to the core – that’s an image issue…one that more of us in the trenches may in fact be dealing with.  And from time to time I might even renew my faith when people like @kasinator tweet “My HR manager told me id be better off quitting & applying as an external candidate than trying to figure out the internal transfer system.”  Now that’s just funny and it’s evidence that HR departments can add levity to otherwise frustrating situations. 

So is this a “sticks and stones” thing?  Should I listen to my Mom and not pay attention to what these bullies are saying about us on the playground?  Or should I consider it another way to get perspective, albeit a tainted one?  One thing is for sure, I wish our employees could be as candid with our HR department as some of these tweeps are with theirs.  But until we create an environment in which they are comfortable doing so, I’ll keep looking for ways to be that fly on the wall.

A Call to Maladjustment…

January 20, 2010 3 comments

On 1/18/2010, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Bethel College in Kansas played for the first time a recording of a speech Dr. King made on its campus.  It is the only known recording of this speech and they were lucky enough to track down an alumnus who brought his own reel-to-reel recording equipment to the auditorium that day 50 years ago.  How cool is that?!  Anyway, Dr. King was fond of calling us to become maladjusted – and he did so quite a bit in his speech that day at Bethel.  Ordinarily, and particularly to conformists, this term connotes a negative: “lacking harmony with one’s environment from failure to adjust one’s desires to the conditions of one’s life” (Merriam Webster).  But in the context of humanity needing a slap upside its head, that’s exactly what Dr. King argued we needed more of.  There were, after all, “some things within our social order to which [he was] proud to be maladjusted and to which [he] called upon [us] to be maladjusted. [He] never intended to adjust [his]self to segregation and discrimination. [He] never intended to adjust [his]self to mob rule. [He] never intended to adjust [his]self to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism…” (from The Power of Non-Violence, June 4, 1957).

At the risk of trivializing Dr. King’s teachings (which I can assure you is not my intent), I think there’s a lot about this maladjusted thing we need to take to heart in HR.  Have we fallen prey to conformists?  Do we sometimes feel more at ease when blending into the background?  Do we try too hard to acquiesce to the personalities and workplace idiosyncracies thrown at us?  Are we often too quick to adjust our direction to what “the business” tells us it should be – do we wait around for our marching orders?  Are there times when we really wish we would have spoken up, but didn’t for fear of ____?  Are we known for rocking the boat? Are we known for affecting change or just responding to it? Are we guilty of applying the letter of the law without room for interpretation or flexibility?  Do we stimulate debate…do we even take part in it?  Do we cower when confronted, or altogether hide?  Do we face, do we oppose, do we dissent?  Does conflict give us pause? Have you ever said, “we’ve always done it that way?”  Are we completely risk averse? 

What success HR might advance – even catapult –  if it maladjusted to our workplace order! 

Photo Credit: Mennonite Library and Archives/Bethel College

Tuesday in the Trenches: A Groovy Kind of Love

January 19, 2010 9 comments

This week’s #TrenchHR post is from Robin Schooling (@RobinSchooling).  Robin, an SPHR, is VP of Human Resources with a statewide organization in Louisiana and has over 20 years HR management experience in various industries including health care, banking and manufacturing. Robin is a Past President of the Greater Baton Rouge SHRM chapter and serves as Professional Development Coordinator on the Louisiana SHRM State Council, and as VP Membership with ASTD Baton Rouge. She is a board member of the Louisiana Business Leadership Network (LBLN), a non-profit network of businesses which values persons with disabilities as customers and employees. She encourages everyone to cheer for the Saints in the NFC Championship game…..Who Dat!

When I entered the HR profession circa 1988, we wore jackets with huge shoulder pads and acid-washed denim.   SHRM was soon to change its name from ASPA and the word “personnel” was being banished from the nameplates, office directories and (ideally) the vocabulary of folks the world over.  We were working to change the perception of HR from paper-pushing-party-planners to organizational partners. 

We KNEW we had the insight and knowledge to transform our organizations by harnessing the power of people’s capabilities.

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Most HR professionals believe that people are amazing, and nowhere is individuality more apparent than when viewed through our eyes.  We see people at their absolute best and their absolute worst; they can be frustrating, maddening, or inspiring.  We laugh with them and we laugh at them.  Gather any group of HR professionals together and invariably we talk “shop.” We don’t talk about 5500’s, FMLA or the latest software conversion – we talk about applicants, employees, managers and executives.  We chuckle and find solace in sharing our observations and reflecting upon the absurdities of human interactions.

Deep down, of course, HR professionals know that what makes people unique is what makes them fascinating.  We enjoy finding out about people’s personal stories, motivations, and their goals and aspirations (or lack thereof).  This, I believe, is what draws many of us to HR – tapping into the strengths of individuals by helping clear obstacles and creating the path for their journeys.

While I don’t want to hand-hold, babysit, or do for employees – I DO want to support them.

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But in order to free up our time to support employees and lead them to personal and organizational excellence, we must become better at tackling the un-sexy aspects of the HR function – process improvement to increase quality and reduce costs.   Learning, understanding and applying some basic process improvement techniques can lead to dramatic results at the departmental and organizational levels.

Reflecting back on the low-tech era, my day was filled with laborious HR tasks:   I created a monthly employee newsletter using a typewriter, clip art book, and a glue stick.  I shared a PC with 6 other HR employees (MS-DOS, thank you very much). I made 6 copies of every single Employee Action Form for my co-workers.    When personnel files were destroyed, I typed up Employee Record cards which were stored in a recipe-card box. I planned the picnic.

And since it’s easy to take the path of least resistance, many HR Departments TO THIS DAY utilize 15-20 year old processes.  Just as with any business discipline, we must continuously strive for improvement, efficiency, quality and value.  We must banish phrases such as “we’ve always done it that way” and “we have to do it that way for the auditors” (my personal favorite).  

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Continuous improvement can directly lead to HR enhancement in providing value to the organization.  With every HR process that is eliminated, streamlined or re-engineered, we free up time to spend on talent management, employee development and working with other departments to meet organizational goals.

I would rather spend my time brainstorming with the VP of Sales regarding how to grow revenue than making extra copies of the medical insurance invoice in case the auditors want them.

Looking for Guest “Trench HR” Bloggers…

January 17, 2010 2 comments

So much of what we do in HR is behind the scenes.  I was referred to the other day as the “wizard behind the curtain.”  Still trying to figure out if that was a compliment or not…doubt it, though.  I’ve always said that we could write a book based strictly on the interesting experiences we have in the world of corporate HR…most of it, after all, comes from “the land of you can’t make this shit up.”  I’ve also noticed that there still aren’t many HR bloggers out there.  Let me clarify: There are lots of people blogging about HR, but very view of them are currently practicing in a corporate environment.  The theory, the strategy, and the direction provided by subject matter experts and consultants is really important.  But hearing from those in the trenches is a perspective we need more of.  So let’s marry the two…

If you practice HR in a corporate environment (private, public, small, large), and would like to share your perspective on:

  1. What it’s like to be in the trenches these days
  2. Crazy stuff you encounter, crazy stuff your people do, crazy stuff you have to do to fix it
  3. Things you’ve done to simplify your HR practice
  4. How your career in HR has evolved and lessons learned along the way
  5. Etc.

then send me your post – shoot for 400 words or less.  I’ll gladly post it…and promote it…on HR Fishbowl.   There are lots of people who would like to see more Trench HR out in the blogosphere and maybe…just maybe…this would help.  Just Email me at cjudy@charter.net. #TrenchHR

Fewer Pansy HR Courses at B-School, Please

January 11, 2010 5 comments

When I was in business school – back…back…way back – there were only three areas of emphasis one could elect as an undergraduate – Accounting, Finance, or Marketing.  I choose Accounting only because it seemed the easiest way to get a job…worked out ok for me.  But Human Resources wasn’t even on my radar screen – couldn’t spell it and even if I could I’m pretty sure there wasn’t anything even remotely related to HR on the course list.  From what I can tell, the profession has come a long way in partnering with Universities to get HR subject matter more prominent in business school curricula.  SHRM seems to have had a lot to do with that.  In fact, their 2005 publication SHRM Human Resource Curriculum Guidebook and Templates for Undergraduate and Graduate Programs does a pretty good job of offering a roadmap for integrating HR competencies with general business competencies at B-School.  I still think there’s something missing here, though.  Much of what I see today seems oriented too much toward developing pansy HR subject matter experts and not focused enough on injecting the HR professional pipeline with people who are Ninjas in navigating workplace complexities, sorting through emotional dynamics, acting with agility, and thinking critically.  Without that stuff, you’re just a commodity; after all, anyone can learn to manage a benefit plan…sorry.  If as a profession we are really committed to making HR more crucial to an organization’s value stream, I think we should see stuff like this in the syllabus:

  • “[Thinking] more nimbly across multiple frameworks, cultures and disciplines,” “Critical and Analytical Thinking,” “The art and science of building new models,” See great article in 1/10/2010 New York Times Sunday Business.
  • Leveraging the hidden benefits of conflict in the workplace
  • Managing a project – soup to nuts
  • Speaking (and speaking up) in public with confidence and conviction
  • Managing change on a broad-scale and without remorse
  • Networking 101 & Selling 101
  • Practicing selfishness (aka Applying the teachings of Ayn Rand to the HR profession)
  • Applying creativity, fostering innovation
  • Challenging the status-quo
  • Jedi-Mind-Trick negotiating
  • Leading through influence
  • Disagreeing tactfully
  • Identifying and disposing of assholes
  • Using aggression as your friend
  • Learning to say “no”
  • Having presence

Can these things be taught in B-School?  I think so.  While undergraduate (or post-graduate) degree from a University in-and-of-itself will not pave the road to success for aspiring HR professionals, it certainly has a role.  And you might as well forget about elevating the profession if those institutions keep sending us the same kinds of people who may know how to pass a certification test, but don’t know a thing about kicking tail.

What I learned from the MO Department of Transportation…

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Interstate 64/Highway 40 runs East/West and cuts through the center of St. Louis.  It is a major artery between the city’s business center and suburban sprawl.  And two years ago, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODot) completely shut down a 10 mile stretch to rebuild it. This morning, the entire thoroughfare was reopened and the flow of traffic hummed once again with jubilant commuters across the state.  MODot took an approach during this two-year period that critics warned couldn’t be done.  You should have heard the cries of injustice when the project was originally proposed.  “It will be impossible,” people said, “to function without at least a small portion of this highway remaining open from end-to-end.”  There were many who strongly felt that keeping at least one lane open at all times with a maddening and stagnant flow of traffic would be preferable to rerouting commuters entirely.  Chicken Little warned that the community and its commerce would disintegrate.  Finally, and thankfully, those experts with cooler heads prevailed.  They pushed the political posturing and strong-armed tactics aside.  And now the project has opened ahead of schedule, under budget, and without fail

This is a perfect example of why non-experts who say “it can’t be done” need to be very simply excluded from the conversation – like “thanks for coming, but it’s time for you to go bye bye now.”  We often run around trying to give everyone a voice in important decisions…and we do this alot in HR.  Well guess what, that’s just not the way the world runs.  There are usually people who are smarter, faster, stronger, and all around better than you are at something and when it’s time to make a decision about that something, you need to get the hell out of the way.  Do you ever notice that many business leaders are strongly inclined to insert themselves into HR decisions?  How dare you pretend you’re smarter than I about something I do for a living…successfuly.  Relinquish control, you self-riteous bastard, and learn to trust your colleagues and your peers to make thoughtful and thorough decisions about the things you hired them to do.  I’ll collaborate with you on HR stuff until I’m freakin’ ready to scream as long as you ultimately leave the final decision to me…and as long as you give me room to make that decision.  If you’re not in that kind of environment, it might be time to take a stronger stance and kick those non-experts out of the room.