MonthJune 2012

I Refuse to Work In Teams

Mike was the head of the Engineering department. He supervised a team of about 7 engineers through client projects. The engineers usually worked in teams of 3 or 4 from design to completion, with most of them juggling 2-3 projects at a time. From the outside looking in, it seemed confusing because of competing deadlines and the contradicting duties from one team to the next within the department. But it worked for them!

Except for Jeff.

Jeff didn’t like working in teams. He requested to be assigned projects that he could work on from start to finish only.

Mike didn’t know what to do about Jeff. He said he’d never encountered someone like that before, someone who was so open with his dislike for teams and strong preference for individual assignments. So he came to my office to ask for some guidance on what to do with and about Jeff.

I was kind of shocked, too. It took audacity for Jeff to make the request — but I’ve always been of the opinion that audacity isn’t always a bad thing. And that kind of audacity at work usually stems from frustration, boredom — or both!

When we took a closer look at Jeff’s performance, we found that he was consistently ahead of deadlines and spent a lot of time waiting on others to finish their part of the project so that he could move forward. To keep himself busy, Jeff tried to help out other teams — only to be criticized by others for interfering. So he stopped helping the other teams and started leaving early or goofing off, which made it appear like he was a slacker.

Poor Jeff. No wonder he wanted to work alone!

Mike didn’t remove Jeff from the teams altogether. He felt like he couldn’t justify reorganizing the entire way the department completed their work just to accommodate one person. Besides, working in teams is an important skill and critical for Jeff,  no matter where he worked. However, he did organize the work better to play to Jeff’s strengths. When work was divided, he made sure Jeff was the person leading off the assignments so Jeff was rarely left waiting for someone else. This kept work flowing ahead of deadlines and gave the plans for the projects more cushion. Mike helped Jeff make better use of his downtime by assigning Jeff special projects and cross-training in other areas in the plant. Then Mike allowed Jeff to share with the other engineers about what he’d learned, so the rest of the group started to see Jeff as an asset and not a slacker.

When we followed up with Jeff about six months later, he was a much, much happier guy. It seemed everyone was a winner!

Now I don’t advocate this approach for everyone. Jeff had been with the company for almost 7 years, his work product was excellent and the team format had some definite kinks. It made good sense to work with him. However, if he hadn’t had so much tenure or if his work product hadn’t been so great or if the work environment didn’t have challenges, it would not have been good sense to put in the effort for such a unique and personalized plan. If Jeff hadn’t been in good standing, the plan would’ve had a much different focus altogether.

Tardiness, early departure, absenteeism, loafing, horseplay and other negative patterns can often be attributed to employees feeling unchallenged in their work. When that happens — especially if the employee makes a specific request — we must make time to evaluate the employee and the environment. Don’t just leave employees to fend for themselves in frustration. Address the problems and create a plan to get things back on track — then hold everyone accountable for the outcomes.

The Blank Stare

I don’t have a poker face. If I am winning or excited about something, it oozes from my whole being! I am just plain terrible at controlling my non-verbals … in my personal life. I don’t really have a “poker face” for work, either.

At work, I use the blank stare.

It’s one of the most powerful weapons in my HR arsenal. I blank stare by telephone. I use the blank stare emoticon in emails, texts and tweets. I love it! It’s great.

I’ve been told I should teach classes on how to give the blank stare. I’ve also been told that it is intimidating and off-putting by some people … and I am generally OK with that.

Because everyone should have a healthy fear of HR.

When used correctly, the blank stare will effectively communicate any of the following without saying a word:

  • Disagreement. Got a manager proposing something outrageous that there is clearly no time, resources or purpose for venturing at this time? Don’t call them out or debate it.

Just give the blank stare.

  • Disapproval. Got employees and managers making crazy claims or requests? Don’t gasp in horror or growl in disgust.

Just give the blank stare.

  • Disinterest. Got carriers and vendors trying to sell you goods and services you don’t want/need and can’t afford? Don’t run from their calls and emails or politely sit through presentations.

Just give the blank stare.

While I am making light of it here, the blank stare really is important for anyone in management — especially HR. People inside and outside our organizations are constantly seeking a reaction that shows agreement, approval and interest in what they are presenting. And we cannot automatically give them the reaction they want. We have to remain neutral so we can gather more information and make complete, thorough recommendations.

So we give the blank stare. Not to dishearten or dismiss — but to make it clear through our demeanor that we have not been significantly swayed and our decision will always be based on what’s in the best interest of all parties and the goals of the business.

Because the side HR and all of management should be on is the side of the mission, vision, values, goals, policies and procedures. These are created to be good and do good. It’s people who make mess, muck and muddle. HR brings the balance and perspective to keep everyone on the same page and moving in a productive direction.

And nothing brings people back to reality like a good ole’ blank stare. Try it. Today.

Wouldn’t Touch That With a 10-foot Pole

A couple weeks ago, I learned about the reporter in Houston who was fired from her employer after they learned she was a stripper during the weekly People Chat on Twitter.

Whenever I hear these kind of salacious, messy workplace stories, I feel total sympathy and empathy for the poor HR person who has to deal with this mess. Because there is liability no matter what you do. You can mitigate it — but you can rarely ever erase it, solve it or fix it.

I have to admit that I can definitely understand how the HR person in this case reached the decision to terminate the exotic dancing reporter. I think the decision’s ability to withstand legal scrutiny hinges on 3 things:

  • The job application. Most job applications have something on them that says “Are you currently employed? If so, where?” and job applications also have that fine writing at the bottom that says something like “This information is true … and if my employer ever finds out its a lie, they can fire me without warning and no questions asked.” So if the exotic dancing reporter said “No” on her application when she applied for the job with the newspaper, then she lied — and the termination is solid.
  • The policy on outside employment. Many companies have a policy requiring disclosure upon acceptance of additional employment. If your company doesn’t, it should. In these tough economic times, people have to hustle to stay afloat and get ahead. I think hustle is great and I have no problem with employees taking on a 2nd or 3rd job to earn money and/or accomplish their goals. However, the employer has the right to know that you’re doing this. So if the exotic dancing reporter didn’t tell the newspaper about her dancing job after she started working there and the newspaper had a policy on outside employment, then her failure to disclose would be in violation — and the termination is solid.
  • The policy on conflicts of interest. Many companies have policy on conflict of interest, too. Sometimes it’s part of the outside employment policy, but sometimes it is its own entity. A conflict of interest exists when interests in one area has the possibility to corrupt the motivation of an act in another area. Being an exotic dancer is not directly in conflict of interest with being a reporter … but being an exotic dancer with a blog and intentions to publish a book about it might be. And being an exotic dancer while reporting on stories about hoity-toity society people might be, too. The newspaper would be the one facing the consequences of the exotic dancing reporter suddenly leaving to start her book tour OR the upset society people threatening withdrawing support of their business if/when conflict arose. They would also face the consequences of other newspaper employees or people in the community actively or passively mistreating the exotic dancing reporter. As such, they had a right to know about it. So if there was a conflict of interests policy, then her failure to disclose was a violation — and the termination is solid.

For the record, I’m not saying the newspaper shouldn’t have hired this woman just because she was an exotic dancer. From the information that’s been given about her experience and education, it sounds like she was definitely qualified for the position. And she says her supervisors told her that she was doing a good job for the couple months she worked there … but her active work as an exotic dancer was something she should have disclosed.

Still, I am glad I’m not that newspaper’s HR person. Cuz this case is going to take a lot of time and resources and negative attention before it is all sorted out. I wouldn’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. Especially a pole with a stripper on it.

Is It Time to Trash That Trophy?

A friend called to tell me about an interview for a possible new job. It was one of those almost all-day kinds with multiple people, panels and tests in one swoop. During one of the breaks, she was waiting in the hallway. In the the hallway was a trophy case. Inside the case were trophies. And they were kinda old. The most recent one was from 2008 but the rest were dated 2003 or older …

“Is that a bad sign? Do you think something is wrong with the place?” she asked.

Yes and no

There is nothing bad about being proud of your accomplishments as an individual or as an organization. Winning awards for your work is awesome! Individuals and organizations should display this proudly for all to see — in the office and on websites and resumes and other professional profiles.

However, there comes a point when you have to seriously consider trashing the trophy:

  • It’s old. Being top-seller of the the 3rd quarter in 2002 is nice. And it is nice that your franchise saw the highest increase in new customers over prior year in 2005. However, there have been approximately 38 quarters since then where you weren’t on top — or if you were, you didn’t get a plaque for it. And the plant didn’t surpass production in the 7 years after — or if it did, no award was given.
  • It’s irrelevant. Winning the Customer Service Rep of the Year for 2006 is fantastic! However, you aren’t in Customer Service anymore — you transferred and have worked in Accounting since 2007. Or your plant won an Engineering Award in 2008 — but that part of the business was sold off in 2009 and engineering is no longer apart of your business operation.

Keeping stuff like this on display makes it seem like you either 1) aren’t still succeeding and/or 2) you’re stuck in the past.

And, hopefully, neither of these are true. The truth may be that budgetary reasons made the company decide to stop giving out actual trophies for exceeding expectations. Or instead of plaques, the company switched to giving winners gift cards. Or the company faced new competition in the market that cause it to struggle for a moment. Or the organization changed focus and awards weren’t given for the new areas yet … The old, irrelevant trophies can’t explain this to the unknowing onlooker though. So it may be time to make some changes to that particular display.

But if your awards demonstrate either of the following, I say keep the trophies on placed prominantly for a really long time:

  • Dominance. Winning Employee of the Month 17 times in the last 18 months or winning Safety Honors every year for the last decade as a high-volume manufacturing facility is badass. It shows consistent committment to excellence.
  • Significance. If you were awarded for 15 years of Service to your company or the organization was the Franchise of the Decade recipient, that really means something. The importance of once in a lifetime awards like these never really diminish.

Accomplishments like these should be showcased to sparkle and shine for all to see!

Ultimately, organizations and individuals have to understand and accept that we cannot rest or rely solely on our past accomplishments to predict or propel our future success. We should celebrate our victories and display our awards for a reasonable amount of time — but keep pushing forward toward new and different goals.

When our awards and accomplishments go from a display to demonstrate our dedication … to just being decoration, it is probably time to trash the trophy.

© 2016 The Buzz on HR

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑