When HR Gets It Wrong

original_117633847Beginning July 17, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) published the first in a four-part series of articles—“When HR Gets It Wrong”— by Dana Wilkie, that explores the challenges HR faces when confronted with allegations of misconduct, inequity and other problems at an organization.

I’m writing this post for my HR colleagues, who, like me, need to recognize and understand the implications of the situations spelled out in these four articles.

Let’s explore one aspect of the first article: “When HR Gets It Wrong: At Fox, Uber, and Mizzou, Where Was Human Resources?”  It focuses on sexual harassment at the first two organizations and racial discrimination at the third, and how it affects HR.  I’m simply going to zero-in on this latter piece in my post.

Walking the Tightrope

The article cites the tightrope all HR folks walk with their senior leadership.  Here are some of their thoughts and advice:

“I have always said that … to be an ethical HR leader, you need to always be prepared to lose your job,” said Fran Sepler, who is president of Minneapolis-based Sepler & Associates.”  Now she tells me!

“While it’s best for HR professionals to keep executives at arm’s length in case they ever have to investigate them, cronyism nonetheless happens”, said Karen Kruse, an employment law attorney in Seattle.

“In addition, HR leaders may find it hard to remain objective about executives while trying to prove their worth to these same people, said Patty Wise, a partner with Toledo, Ohio-based Niehaus Wise & Kalas Ltd. and co-chair of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Labor Relations Special Expertise Panel.”

HR business partners try to learn as much as they can about the ‘business’ from their line and executive partners. Working closely together on projects usually builds trust and collegiality between HR and their business partner.

“HR professionals are often seeking approval and even membership among the senior management group. The goal may be a ‘seat at the table,’ and so what might be viewed as cronyism may also demonstrate professional success and achievement.”

See the tightrope?

“Another reason that HR may turn a blind eye toward an employee’s misdeeds is because the person accused of misconduct is a top performer.”  I would add to this that my experience has been that leadership has taken this position and HR has to deal with it.

“HR professionals often encounter another problem when asked to pursue allegations against executives: their fear of retaliation.

But retaliation happens, and HR professionals know it.”

Debra Katz, a partner with Washington, D.C.-based Katz, Marshall & Banks who has litigated employment discrimination, civil rights and whistle-blower protection cases for more than 30 years, says, “That’s very problematic, because HR officials often are at risk if they go to the mat on some of these things,” she said.

So, what should one do?

Hire the Right HR Person

“When considering an HR candidate, interviewers should ask how comfortable the applicant would feel questioning executives and mid-level managers about their behavior and holding them accountable, said Alisa Shorago, an attorney and owner of San Diego-based Shorago Training Services, which provides anti-harassment training.”

Here’s a new and interesting piece of advice.  “It can also be helpful to arrange for a company’s HR department to report to someone other than senior leaders, said Stephen Paskoff, president and CEO of ELI, an Atlanta-based company that helps organizations address bad behavior in the workplace. That could be an ombudsperson, outside counsel or board members.”  While I have never heard of this practice before, I can easily see why it is suggested.

Just looking at the several excerpts contained in this one article, it’s clear to see the potential pitfalls and double-edged sword which HR folks will face and need to be wary of at all times.

I’ve had the good fortune to have been in the HR field for a long time.  I’ve worked with a lot of different HR and line business leaders – all different, including their work styles and personalities.  All of these examples cited are real and affect us.  If they haven’t happened yet, they likely will.

In the final analysis, sometimes HR does, in fact, get it wrong.  We’re only human.  When it happens, own up to it, fix it if you can, and you will likely never make that same mistake again.

While I appreciate the excellent advice these four articles have afforded me, at the end of the day, HR should always try to: do the right thing – and it’s certainly not always going to be easy to do.  I hope you will agree.

Good luck.

the HRmeister




Difficult Conversations



I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a manager say, “I wish I was able to get Jim or Sue to start or stop doing….”  Sound familiar?  Difficult conversations, by definition, are difficult, right?

Books and training programs have been written to teach us how to have these conversations, but, apparently, many of us still struggle having a difficult conversation with our employees.

We know we should have a candid conversation, but invariably, we put it off, as it’s uncomfortable and awkward, and quite frankly, we may be little bit scared to have it, and we’re just not good at it.

Some of us wait for annual performance review time to talk with our folks about our concerns, while others, are still waiting to somehow gain the courage to have their conversation.

In their book, ‘Crucial Conversations – Tools for talking when stakes are high’ by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Swisler’, “Crucial conversations lie all around us – all the time: from performance appraisals at work,  up to discussing problems over sexual intimacy. The skills we need in the boardroom are the same skills we need in the bedroom.”

I’ll bet I have your attention now.

The Benefits

They found benefits too.  “Communities that embraced the issues and discussed in open honest dialogue were ‘healthier’ than those who either tried to control or ignored them. Those who routinely failed in conducting successful crucial conversation had weaker immune systems than those who resolved their issues effectively.”

And let’s not forget that the most important benefit is that we’ve finally voiced our concerns.  While we may think employees should have some level of self-awareness, let’s be honest, they’re not mind readers.

Their ‘How To’

Patterson, et al.’s model has essentially 7 steps:

1)  Start with the heart (i.e., empathy and positive intent)

2)  Stay in dialogue

3)  Make it safe

4)  Don’t get hooked by emotion (or hook them)

5)  Agree on a mutual purpose

6)  Separate facts from story

7)  Agree on a clear action plan

They add, “If handled properly they create breakthroughs. If handled badly they can lead to breakdowns. Whole relationships can hang on how these are dealt with. And the reality is many people do not deal with them well – or at all. They live in either a sub-optimal state or hope the situation will resolve itself.”

Make Sure It’s Really A Conversation

Blogger ‘1,000 Ways To Be Fearless’, in his post, ‘Tip #100: How to Have a Difficult Conversation’, says “Make sure that to truly solve the problem, you are really communicating, really engaging with them.

You can do this by asking them questions such as:

“I apologise for this behaviour, what can I do in future to ensure this doesn’t happen again?”

“How do you feel we can work around this issue if it occurs again?”

This makes them an active and vested stakeholder in the conversation going well, and makes them more likely to want to come to a resolution. It also makes the other person feel as though they have some control and agency, making them more receptive and less likely to shut down.”

Douglas Stone’s ‘Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most’ says, “Simply by changing your own behavior, you gain at least some influence over the problem.”

So, if we take all of this advice, and plan, rehearse, and commit to making some changes in our own behavior, we should be ready to have our difficult conversation(s), right?  So let’s do it and not chicken out!

Good luck.

The HRmeister

What To Wear To Work


Photo / 123RF

Casual Dress Trend Continues

A perennial topic faced by HR and line folks alike in many organizations revolves around your organization’s dress code or personal appearance policy.  I can almost see your heads nodding and your eyes rolling.

We no sooner think (or convince ourselves) that everyone is on the same page, when HR (typically) is informed that someone is wearing what might be considered beach attire or worse.

Where are dress code policies headed these days?

A recent survey by Robert Half Finance & Accounting revealed that 74% of CFOs said their accounting and finance departments have a somewhat or very casual dress code. Nearly a quarter (23%) observed that business attire guidelines have relaxed over the last five years, compared to 16% who reported a more formal dress environment.

A similar survey by OfficeTeam have found that 56% of employees preferred to wear a more relaxed work attire, and most employees (86%) reported they like casual dress codes because they can wear more comfortable clothes.

However, about one in four respondents (23%) said their company policy isn’t always clear about what attire is acceptable, and 41% admitted they’re at least sometimes unsure about whether clothing is office-appropriate. Hence, to eliminate that uncertainty, nearly half (48%) choose to don a uniform.

What should one do?

A Three Point Answer

Here’s a three-point answer to consider (all three points are equally important).  First, check to see if you have a dress code or personal appearance policy.  If not, you might contact your HR rep and inquire about creating one.  No HR rep?  No worries – you can easily draft it yourself.  There are plenty of sample templates you can use as your starting point.  Google ‘sample dress code policy’ or visit http://www.shrm.org.

List which articles of clothing are and are not acceptable.  Include pictures of what is and is not appropriate to wear to work.  Try to eliminate or at least minimize the guesswork around this topic.

You will be in a stronger position to affect some change if you have a policy which supports the business casual dress policy (if that’s your intended policy).  Second, you will need to rally your fellow leaders to your cause.  Unless you are all on the same page, you won’t have a leg to stand on.  Third, then you and your fellow leaders need to agree to enforce the policy – and figure out ‘who’ will enforce the policy.  Consider each employee’s immediate supervisor.  A good policy should outline the consequences for non-compliance.  For example, if a leader informs her employee that he is not dressed according to the dress code, she could send him home to change.  In some organizations, doing this also triggers a ‘tardy’ or an ‘absence’ which may be a ‘chargeable’ occurrence (a double whammy), which serves as a deterrent.

Again, the ‘consequence(s)’ need to be spelled out in your policy and communicated to all employees in advance.

Final piece of advice on policy enforcement: if your policy is not enforced, then why have it to begin with?

Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam states, “Besides following official company policies, employees should pay attention to the wardrobes of managers and colleagues. If you’re uncertain about whether it’s ok to wear something to work, it’s best to play it safe by skipping it.”

Something else to consider is that there may be some ‘generational’ implications/perceptions.  Some organizations’ cultures stress more ‘inclusiveness’ than others, and, as such, more casual dress may be viewed by some as a way to express their individuality, thereby providing the organization with an opportunity to exercise more inclusiveness.

And naturally, a personal appearance policy would be incomplete without mentioning your organization’s stance toward tattoos and body piercings.

A litmus test we could all ask ourselves is, ‘What’s in the best interest of our customers?’ If we truthfully and thoughtfully answer this question, it likely will influence us to make the right call.

Good luck.

the HRmeister