CategoryHR Observations

General observations about the HR field

The Emperor Has No Job

With over 1000 employees at a 24/7 production facility, the Safety Director position was an important one. So when he retired suddenly for health reasons, a big gaping hole was left in our organization and no one was prepared to fill it.

Our only saving grace seemed to be his assistant, Georgia. She had worked side-by-side with the Safety Director for almost 10 years. She maintained his calendar and customized his reports and produced his memos. She was his right hand! Surely, we could grow her into some more of his appendages … right?

Wrong!

Within a week of his departure, it was obvious that Georgia was less of a right-hand and more like a pinky toe! She was nice but generally useless in the day-to-day. Anytime, you asked a question, she had no idea of the answer and she didn’t know where to get it … Other than to call the former Safety Director, which any of us could have done but were trying not to.

And the truth was the Safety Director’s early retirement was a blessing in disguise. If he hadn’t left, we probably would have ended up cutting staff from another department at some point before the end of the year. We had no plans to replace the position. Instead, we were going to absorb the duties across several people/departments.

The only thing we didn’t know is what was going to happen with Georgia.

Which is exactly what I told her when she came to my office to ask about her job and future with the company. It was not the answer Georgia wanted to hear. She was about 2 years from retirement herself with health issues of her own. Losing her job was unfathomable! I tried to comfort and calm her and I told her that were planning to make some final plans as soon as I returned from vacation the following.

So I took my vacation and came back to find Georgia had been promoted to “Safety Coordinator” and now reported … to me!!!

Huh?!?

Apparently, while I was out, Georgia took the opportunity to plead her case to some other decision-makers, who decided this move was best. It was supposed to give us more time to fully analyze the position and decide the best way to divide the work — without leaving Georgia in unnecessary limbo after all her years of service.

I didn’t understand why we had to promote her in order to accomplish that goal but there was nothing I could do about it now. I had to manage Georgia.

And that was going to be a tough task to handle. The expectations and duties for Georgia following her “promotion” were never clearly outlined. We were both told the promotion was in title only and that she was to continue the same job she’d been doing. The problem is that she hadn’t been doing much besides passing out paper, making copies and setting up chairs for meetings. I didn’t need that! I needed someone to handle safety! She couldn’t do that.

On top of that, Georgia was taking her new title very seriously. She was demanding things from “subordinate staff” (her words, not mine). She was “delegating tasks” to other people in the department. And she was quick to remind anyone who challenged her that she was the Safety Coordinator so they had to listen to her. People were quickly becoming fed up with her and her promotion and her attitude. It was starting to impact support for the safety program at a time when we needed it most.

When I went to talk to Georgia about it, I found her at her desk reading a book. She said she had nothing to do so she was killing time. I made it a point to visit her desk at least once a day for the next few days. Each time, she was reading or surfing the internet. Once, I found her writing her grocery list. She had either delegated all of her work away or shown herself to be so clueless that someone was doing the work for her–but was walking around like she ruled the world.

The Emperor had no job!

Everyone was walking on egg shells and bending over backward for this person who had no real power because she lacked the knowledge and skill for the role she was filling. At this point, we all knew it and everyone was afraid to speak up. Our lack of planning and research had caused the problem in the first place. And we still weren’t prepared to handle the safety function. We let our fear of what we thought Georgia knew and what we knew we definitely didn’t know force us into a poor management position.

I am honestly not sure what happened to Georgia. I found another job and left before she did. What I know for sure is the staff at the company continued to be frustrated with her know-it-all attitude and know-nothing work product while management neglected to address her obvious underperformance. At least I learned a few things …

  1. Limbo is OK. Sure it sucks for a little while because of the uncertainty. However, it is better for both the person and the organization to wait a couple weeks or even months to decide on a direction than to jump into a situation without fully understanding it. This is exactly what we did with Georgia. She was thrust into this job before we fully understood what we needed and how she fit.
  2. Cross-training is critical. People quit. They get retire. They get hit by the proverbial bus. No one in your organization should be the only one who knows how to perform a particular task. We should have been better prepared for the Safety Director’s departure with cross-training.
  3. Send clear messages. Title-only “promotions”. Cost of living “raises”. Annual “bonuses”. These things send mixed messages and tend to reward mediocrity. If that isn’t your intention, take steps to ensure your promotion, compensation and reward systems are both designed and used in a way that avoids this. By promoting Georgia, we sent a message to her and the rest of the organization that she was capable and had authority to handle a function when we all knew that wasn’t true.

Managing and making major decisions from a position of fear or sympathy rarely yields positive results. Take the time to figure out what your needs, wants and goals before setting any plans in motion. Otherwise, you will end up with a naked emperor in your midst.

Take A Chance on Me

I am a proud and unabashed ABBA fan!!

Seriously.

Dont stop reading this post.

One of my favorite ABBA songs is Take a Chance on Me. It reminds me of a CEO who took a chance on me and gave me my first real shot in HR back in the late 80s. I had just left a Fortune 100 company and had little holistic HR experience because the company I was at allowed me to do very little. When I applied through a small 1 x 1 newspaper ad, I didnt know that my HR career was about to really take off.

He said he hired me because during the interview I answered questions with I dont
know !! He thought that if I was honest with him, that he could teach me what I needed to do at his company. He left me with one gem that I havent forgotten since when practicing HR. He said,

 “Steve, the only reason you’re here is my people. Nothing comes before them.”

Now, here I am some 20+ years later and still in HR!! I am thankful that this CEO took a chance on me and it made me think of HR today.

Are you taking a chance on new HR people? I just got back from a phenomenal SHRM Leadership Conference and the worn out subject of how do we reach Sr. HR people reared its ugly head yet again. As a Sr. HR person myself, I want to throw this out to others like me – why dont WE do the reaching out ??

Why arent we the ones connecting with new HR people and sharing our knowledge and experience? Why arent we taking notice of the amazing things they bring to the table and see how we can learn from them?

When did our time in the profession earn us the right to not lead the profession, but wait for the profession to cater to us?

When Buzz asked me to guest post, I was tickled because shes relatively new to HR and I’m … not so new. However, I see her work and love it along with other new voices in HR. I am constantly learning from newer HR professionals and I appreciate their energy and zeal. I also value that the newest generation to the workforce questions things. It doesnt annoy me or wish for days gone by when you were supposed to just shut up and do what youre told.

You see I dont want to be the person who reminisces about the fond days of Personnel and Industrial Relations. I want to take a chance and risk all that I know and have done to dive ahead and see what will happen next.

The CEO who took a chance on me opened a door. Who will you open a door for yourself ??

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Steve Browne, SPHR, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosas, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana with 18 locations and over 1,400 team members. Steve has been an HR professional for more than 20 years in the manufacturing, consumer products, and professional services industries. He also facilitates a monthly HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and runs an Internet message board for HR pros that reaches 6,000+ people globally on a weekly basis.

Steve truly walks the talk he speaks of in this post! Just a few weeks after The Buzz launched, he reached out to me to invite me to join his message board and featured my blog as a must-read. This caused a huge increase in my readership and subscribers that I know would not have otherwise seen. He continues to encourage and look out for me. His support is invaluable!

And Steve inspires me each week with thoughtful and challenging writings on his blog, Everyday People. Connect with him and read more at www.sbrownehr.com

Caught in a Bad Bro-Mance?

The Plant decided to create a mentoring program to identify and develop leadership and management talent within the organization. I’m not sure if it was a deliberate part of the succession plan, but it was clear they recognized many of their senior-level managers were nearing senior-citizen and they needed to build the bench.

I was excited to be included in the organizing for the program. Participation was mostly voluntary. We put up postings encouraging everyone to sign up if they were interested in being paired with a professional mentor within our plant. We also encouraged some of the reluctant employees with tenure or high test scores or clear team leader skills to sign up. We made it clear that the mentoring program wasn’t the yellow brick road to promotion–but we also made it clear that participation would be looked upon favorably.

The mentors were hand-picked by our Plant Manager. I wasn’t keen on that. I thought the mentors should have been open to sign-ups the same way the mentees were, but I was out-voted. We ended up with some mentors on the list who weren’t all that desirable, like my old friend Teflon Tyler and another guy, Keith, the Director of Planning.

Keith had been with the company for almost 15 years. He started out in production and was promoted quickly to a supervisor’s position. However, Keith had a tendency to rub people the wrong way because he used sarcasm and snark to coach employees. He was transferred out of production and into logistics … then moved again from logistics to procurement … then moved again from procurement to safety & compliance … before finally landing in planning. And Keith still lacked polish and persona, even after all these years.

Keith requested to be paired with Tim. He said Tim was just like him back when he started. And he was right! Tim was snarky and sarcastic and rubbed people the wrong way with his lack of polish and persona. But Tim had also worked his way from laborer to Assistant Production Shift Supervisor in less than 3 years with the company. He was really smart! If he could just control his tongue, he had the potential to go far.

On the surface, it looked like a great mentoring relationship. Keith spent a lot of time with Tim — he visited Tim’s office almost daily and vice versa; they went to lunch together a couple times a week; Keith invited Tim and his family over to his home for cookouts and other gatherings. Other mentors and mentees joked that Keith and Tim were in a “bro-mance” because they had seemingly become so close!

Yet Tim’s performance was declining. He was more sarcastic and less confident. He lost his vision, instincts and focus for production. After a couple months of watching Tim slowly unravel, Keith told the Plant Manager and other senior-level managers that Tim didn’t have “the stuff” and dropped Tim as his mentee. About 4 months after that, Tim quit.

I’ve always wondered if Tim’s path would have been different with a different mentor. Good professional mentors are critical during the early, developmental years of one’s career. With his spotty path, was Keith the best choice to be Tim’s guide? As I was thinking about that, I came across this article from The Invisible Mentor’s Avil Beckford, entitled “7 Must-Have Characteristics of Great Mentors.”

Keith definitely had 3 of the 7 Must-Haves. Is that enough? Or were the characteristics he lacked what led to Tim’s downfall in our organization?

And what about Tim??? His failures can’t all be on the mentor. The mentee has a responsibility to perform and improve, even if the mentor isn’t necessarily a good one … right?

I’m still hovering. Was Keith to blame? Was Tim to blame? Or were they both just caught in a bad bro-mance?

What I Learned at HIRE MINDS … if I could write about it

As most of you know, I write under my childhood nickname. Like many, my employer is nervous about the impact information posted online can have on their reputation and wants no association with my writings. So the specifics of any stories I share are changed to protect the innocent (or not so innocent) and all thoughts are my own.

My blog-life and work-life collided for the first time last week when I attended the Hire Minds Hourly Hiring Summit hosted by Snagajob. This is the 3rd year for the event, held in Williamsburg, Virginia. Most of the attendees are HR (recruiting, staffing, generalists) or Operations professionals from recognizable retailers like Toys R Us, Chipotle and Autozone. Among the speakers for this year’s event was Ben Eubanks, who spoke about trends and assets to using social media to promote your employment brand. I’ve followed Ben on twitter for almost a year and even gave “honey” to him in one of my mid-week posts. Since I was going for work and not myself, I felt torn about introducing myself and tweeting from the event, and I didn’t know if I should write about the event on the blog.

Ultimately, I chose to introduce myself to Ben (who is every bit as awesome “in real life” as he is electronically) and I sent a few tweets during his session. But that was all. And I decided NOT to write about my experience at the event — but if I was going to write about it, this is how it would go …

What I loved about being at Hire Minds was the opportunity to spend time with other HR pros who understand and appreciate the struggles of being an administrator in a retail environment. It really is a unique sect of HR. We deal with a highly decentralized workforce who can span across the country, come from several generations, and bring varied motivations and committment levels to the job. Our employee base has various but generally limited levels of education as well as exposure and understanding of technology. And because profit margins are razor thin, HR deals with even less resources and gains even less attention than it does in most other organizations.

At Hire Minds, these weary HR warriors get to spend 2 1/2 days together, sharing frustrations, horror stories, best practices, tips and pitfalls to avoid. We walk away feeling heard and understood, refreshed and renewed, validated and appreciated with new additions to our LinkedIn networks and a bag of really great swag!

However, what’s odd, interesting and awesome is these professionals are talking about the same things other HR professionals from other areas and industries: recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, training, development, compliance and relations, tracking metrics in a meaningful way and social media presence. Once again, HR is HR is HR is HR and there is really nothing new under the HR sun. Once again, this fact is both sobering and hopeful.

So here’s a rundown of my favorite takeaways from the event, in no particular order:

  • Empowering employees means making sure they are confident in their ability and comfortable enough with themselves to use their skills to achieve your organization’s goal
  • Organization’s rarely make money by cutting costs. Instead, work at achieving excellence and the rest will follow
  • The difference between extra ordinary and extraordinary is a matter of degrees. Master that degree.
  • Blowing things up is not always the best approach. Sometimes it is better to dissect and deconstruct to understand the who, what, where, when, why and how of something
  • Redefine what “stakeholder” means for your organization. There’s more than just the C-suite with skin in the game. Learn to work across departments
  • If you don’t define your brand, others will define it for you
  • Praise effort but only reward results. What you recognize and give attention to communicates your standard of excellence
  • Your hiring process gives employees their first impression of your organization. Make sure it says what you want it to say about you — because even if the person isn’t selected to work there, they need to respect your organization enough to remain a customer and recommend you to others
  • Social media isn’t going anywhere. Customers and employees will talk about you online. It is inevitable. Give them great things to talk about. Add your own voice to amplify and/or balance theirs

Great event, great lessons. I hope to attend next year … as me.

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