Monthly Archives: January 2014

Three Things that Make HR’s Job Harder than It Should Be

I’ll be speaking on a panel tomorrow on the most difficult things an HR director faces.  When I started to make my notes, the list got longer and longer.  Let’s face it, it’s not always roses and sunshine in the HR world; in fact, our very jobs require us to deal with the prickliest situations out there.  I don’t have enough time to speak on every incidental that makes my job difficult so eventually decided that nearly all my woes could go under these three things: 

  1.  Bad Hires.  If you’re not hiring for culture fits, you’ll have issues.  Employees won’t get along.  The work flow becomes sludgy.  And your ability to maximize performance is stunted.  Bad hires also come in the form of bad bosses—whom I despise.  A bad boss can damage a business or department for years after they leave. Here you have someone empowered to hire bad line-level employees, too.  Or maybe good folks flee.  It’s interesting how hiring can sometimes be put on the backburner, mainly because HR departments are so busy dealing with the end results of bad hires.  But a new and fresh focus on recruitment practices is the first step toward unknotting thickets in the workplace.
  2. Balancing Employee Issues with Business Needs.  First off, there shouldn’t be a need for a balance.  There shouldn’t be two schools of thought: HR peeps who are pro-employee or HR peeps who are pro-business.  HR works for the business.  All employees should be pro-business, too.  They shouldn’t be opposed to business needs; they should be so engaged that business needs are at the forefront of their minds.  Everyone should be moving forward together toward common goals with communicated values.  What happens, though, is that line-level employees are treated as incidental and replaceable.  They are kept in the dark about financials and achieved milestones.  How can they care about business needs when they don’t even know what they are?  Also, some businesses try to make money on the backs of their employees—and this leads to a great divide between the two.   Engage employees wholly and move forward together.  Please.  It will make my job a whole lot easier. 
  3. Inconsistency.  If you have a squishy corporate culture without consistent practices, my job is nearly impossible.  I despise the whole “same page” saying because most who are saying this haven’t even opened the book.  Really, what they’re wanting is consistency.  Consistency gives employees freedom.  And, believe it or not, freedom is born from boundaries.  From knowing what to expect.  Employees can grow and think and move the company forward with these clear parameters.   

Of course, I could add some more thoughts on the ACA and zillions of new California labor laws, but that’s another blog altogether.  If we HR Directors focus on heading off the three problems above, a lot of the hard stuff will dissipate.   


Trajectories and Movement: How to Thrive During a Wage Freeze

My HR friends whine a lot about wage freezes.  We’re not competitive, they say.  Our turnover’s so high it doubles as a washing machine.  No doubt, for companies with wage freezes that have always relied on merit increases or COLA to boost their esprit de corps, what’s being said is true.

But I’m tired of the whining.  And as much as I want employees to be rewarded for their value and contribution, I wholly empathize with companies who are still keeping a tight hold of the purse strings.  I can relate.  See, in the nineties, I remember what it was like to have so much equity in my house, I felt like a zillionaire.   And when the bottom dropped out, I remember feeling the crunch.  And so I did what a lot of families and businesses did, I stopped spending so much.  And even though times are better, my thriftiness continues just in case…

And this is how a lot of companies feel.  It’s a confidence thing.  Duh, right?

But HR peeps feel it’s mandatory to fight the good fight and get traditional increases back.  They say that to keep talent, engage employees, and maximize performance, there’s no other way.

But there are other ways.  There’s always another way.

My suggestion is to build on what you have and use a combination of internal hiring practices and training to create clear paths of movement (think In N Out’s strategy, only tailored to your organization).   Many of us have a personal career path, but it’s sort of squishy and mitigated by unknown variables.  Your organization, from hire date on, could clear these paths up.  You could start employees off by offering three trajectories for the employees to choose from.    The word “trajectory” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, so you could call them routes or courses or roads—whatever suits your corporate culture.

  1. Leadership Trajectory:  The employee, given certain criteria and guidelines, is provided training and mentorship in order to ultimately secure a leadership position.  I’m not suggesting the implication that if you work hard and perform well, you might be given a chance.  I’m suggesting concrete steps and exact lengths of time—a firm “you do this, you’ll get that.”
  2. Monetary Trajectory:  The employee, again given structure and steps to fulfill, is given the opportunity and training to gain job skills and be hired into higher paying positions (not necessarily leadership positions).   For example, in the hospitality industry, a housekeeper or dishwasher on this trajectory would have clear path toward becoming a beverage server or valet runner…or even casino dealer.   It’s interesting that the hospitality industry doesn’t exploit this idea more as a way to engage employees without breaking the payroll budget.  If you have employees who are highly compensated via gratuities, why not use these positions in lieu of wage increases?  It’s a benefit to employee and employer.  Companies with highly compensated tipped employees should never hire for these positions from outside unless they enjoy squandering revenue.
  3. COLA Trajectory:   For some employees, they are delighted to do whatever work or task they’ve been given.  They aren’t interested in movement.  Or perhaps they’ve completed one of the above trajectories and just want to be…For these folks, you could have cost of living adjustments (COLA).  You could choose not to do this for everyone annually, as you are offering the two trajectories above.  You could, instead, choose to give these based on longevity.  If an employee stays for three years in a position, for example, they would start receiving COLA every other year.  Once they reached seven years, they would receive it every year thereafter.

All of this could be modified and tailored for your organization.  But by creating clear movement, you are actually generating revenue rather than adding to the payroll budget.  For one, that costly turbo turnover will slow to a snail’s pace.  Also, your employees will be engaged and motivated.  They will have goals, as you are showing them a brighter future.  They will undoubtedly be dedicated.

Facing the board with a request for a 3% to 5% one-time across the board increase might be met with resistance.  And even if they do agree, will you have to come back to them every year with the same request?  How long will it take before employees begin grumbling again about lack of opportunity and money?  I can say from experience that the positive results (maximized performance / engaged employees) after a one-time increase have a shelf life of about two months.  However, facing the board with a plan for real change—a change that will sustain positive results over the long haul—will revive your people and help us climb out of this sticky recession residual once and for all.



Circles & Monkeys

So everyone’s in a dither about Zappos move toward a holacracy.  So what that they’re trying a new way to get decisions made faster for their customers.  So what that they’ve ditched some job titles.  It’s juicy, and it’s new.  And it will lead to other organizational structure shake-ups.  And I’m excited about that.

Plus, I’m really looking forward to reading the resumes in the future.  Since Zappos executives will now be called “Monkeys,” I wonder if Google execs will start calling themselves Hedgehogs or Fennec Foxes.  It will be an entertaining day when one of these resumes lands on my desk.  I can’t wait.

And the other “members”–what some traditionalists call employees–will be working in “circles.”  So maybe the resumes of the future will have shapes, too.  Circles, Squares, Triangles, Hexagons?  We’ll have new questions posed in HR.  Who should we hire?  The Hedgehog or Square?

Despite monkeys and circles, we know how we are.  Leaders lead.  Take a good leader, even one who’s no longer interested in being a manager, and they’ll be leading despite a title.  No doubt.  And soon enough, even in a holacracy, you’ll get Senior Monkey or maybe Banana Queen.  The circles, incidentally, already have a “Lead Link.”  And I’m sure someone’s already been labeled the “Circle Jerk.”

But how exciting that such a big company is willing to experiment, yes?  It’s wacky but better than the militaristic “chain of command” and “rank and file” that still exists in many corporations today even though WWII started over 70 years ago.

Where HR stands with all this monkey business is still a mystery.  Maybe we’ll get a new name, too.  How about “Humans?”  Just a thought.  I can hear employees whispering already, oh, here come the humans…what now? 

Why the Best Leaders Should Stop Saying, “I’m not Their Friend”

Last week, I was coaching a new supervisor on leadership after several employee complaints, including some of her staff wanting to quit.  Her first defense was, “They don’t like me because I’m not their friend.  I’m there to make sure they do their work and get the job done.” She elaborated and restated this several times during the conversation, making sure I understood how “she was definitely not their friend.”

At some point, I interrupted with, “Well, why not? Why aren’t you their friend?”

“Because I’m their supervisor.”  It sounded like a tough way to work and live because my first thought was that the opposite of “friend” is “foe.”  And how in the world can you get your foes to do anything without threats and force?  You can’t, that’s how.

But what exactly is a friend?  Note, it isn’t all those Facebook people.  I looked up the word and realized that the best leaders are friends to the end; the best leaders are BFFs extraordinaire.

Definition #1:  A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.  Even if you lead hundreds of employees, you should know their names and who they are.   How can you manage performance without knowing them?  And modern leadership should know that the best thing you can do is like your team.  People are more likely to work their tail off for someone who likes them.  I shouldn’t have to talk about trust, but you’re not going to get a whole lot accomplished unless your team trusts you.

Definition #2:  A person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause; a comrade. You hopefully have communicated daily goals and a long-term vision, and you and your team are in the trenches together.

Definition #3:  One who supports, sympathizes with, or patronizes a group, cause or movement.  Do you support your team?  Are you understanding and sympathetic when the job gets tough.  Do you thank them for their help?  Are you an integral part of the daily machinations?  Are you loyal to your company and brand?  So many bad leaders keep themselves so far removed, their decisions aren’t based on reality.

Definition #4:  (Mountaineering) A device consisting of a shaft with double-headed spring-loaded cams that can be wedged in a crack to provide an anchor point.  A “friend” to mountaineers and rock climbers keeps them climbing upwards and prevents them from falling.  Are you an anchor point for your team?  Then, you are a friend.  A true friend.


It’s quite old fashioned to believe that a good leader isn’t also a friend given all the definitions above.  I am also loathe to consider who this supervisor’s mentor was because surely she heard her mantra from someone older and…what’s the opposite of wiser?  Though I shouldn’t have to say it, a good leader understands the boundaries of friendship, too.  None of the definitions above include having drinks together after work or gossiping about personal lives.  These activities don’t fall under “friendship.” These activities fall under “inappropriate relationship.”   And a manager must avoid both.

The social construct for a leader is transforming with the world, and leaders today need to understand the real definition of friendship if they truly “want to get the job done.”