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


To Fit or Not To Fit


Organizational Culture Fit

Last week, I attended two webinars.  One was entitled, ‘Hiring for Team Fit’ by Ann Hogan Consulting, the other, SnackNation’s ‘2017 State of Company Culture.’  While many of us (myself included) are trying to hire folks for our organizations who will ‘fit’ and mesh well with our cultures, we might wish to take a step back and reflect on this for a while.

SnackNation made the point that “Myth #2 – Culture is all about hiring for the “right fit” and finding people who all get along.  Reality: Neither your culture nor your company benefit from an organization of only like-minded people.

Hmm…I thought organizational culture fit = retention of our talent, no?

SnackNation states: “In fact the opposite is true. Your organization benefits from a diverse team who bring in outside viewpoints that augment your culture with new ideas, rather than entrench existing biases. Diversity helps you eliminate blind spots and pitfalls like group think.  Likewise, a healthy level of dissent is necessary to arrive at the right solution, not just the one of least resistance.  Think of it this way – culture isn’t the absence of problems, culture is the way you solve problems.”

While this appears to make sense, will ‘different-minded’ people be satisfied and/or engaged in an organization where they may be perceived as ‘outliers’ by others?

If culture is the way an organization solves problems, and ‘different-minded’ people help solve problems quicker, better, and, perhaps, in a more cost-effective manner, will that trump whether they will be accepted and ‘fit’ (and play) well with others?

That’s the $64,000 question.  Think back to a time when you were working on a project team where someone’s contributions and style were quite different than yours and others.  If we’re truly honest, at times, particularly under tight deadline pressures, some might have found the ‘different-minded’ person to be a bit irritating at best, and a down right ‘know-it-all’, at worst.

And how might this same person feel about the team or organization he/she joined if some or all of the team did not appear to truly value his/her contributions?

This brings us back ‘full circle’, where if an individual does not feel some level of value, connection, and inclusiveness with the team and organization, over time, they may well leave – and then nobody wins.

Is it possible to find a ‘happy medium’ or the ‘sweet spot’ of ‘different-mindedness?’  How do other teams and organizations, who successfully engage ‘different-minded’ individuals do it?

Today, we have four generations in our  workplaces, which, on the surface, one would think might offer some measure of different-mindedness, so, in effect, maybe we’re not so ‘like-minded’ to begin with?

What do you think?

the HRmeister




Mindfulness: the ‘Next Step’ to Wellness

Mindfulness pic

What is Mindfulness?

What do the words, ‘empathy’, ‘resilience’, ‘awareness’, ‘presence’, ‘compassion’, ‘emotional intelligence’, and ‘wellbeing’ all have in common? They’re at the center of Mindfulness or as some have referred to it, as the Mindful Revolution – The science of finding focus in a stressed-out, multitasking culture. (Cover of Time, February 3, 2014)

What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice it on a daily basis.

Whenever we bring awareness to what we’re directly experiencing via our senses, or to our state of mind via our thoughts and emotions, we’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when we train our brain to be mindful, we’re actually remodeling the physical structure of our brain.

Stress vs. Mindfulness

Stress appears to negatively impact mindfulness. According to a study by Joe Burton, CEO/Founder, Whil Concepts, 71% of companies report high to extreme stress, and 83% of Americans report that work is a significant source of stress. According to Harris Interactive Work Stress Survey(2013), the annual cost of stress in the form of absenteeism, medical costs, diminished productivity, and turnover, to only name a few, is $300 billion.

The APA Stress in America: The Impact of Discrimination Report, 2016, cites that three of four generations in the workplace today have reported stress levels in the danger zone, and the pace of technology is making it worse. And stressors are universal: emotional, financial, physical, and social.

Mental health symptoms, such as feeling nervous or anxious, depressed or sad, constant worrying, and irritability or anger, are growing fast.

The De-Stress Fix

Bersin by Deloitte, 2016, has found that employers are moving from wellness to wellbeing and performance.

Whil Concepts has found that traditional wellness programs aren’t covering stress, resiliency, and mental wellbeing…so they miss “performance”.  They’ve found a competitive advantage from employees learning repeatable skills to make calm and focus the norm.

How do we practice mindfulness? D. Fontaine, S. Bauer-Wu, & D. Germano (2014), suggest that we consider yoga and meditation classes, reflective writing, deep breathing, and, of course, physical exercise. Studies have shown a 28% reduction in stress, 20%increase in sleep quality, and 19% decrease in pain.

Fontaine notes that the University of Virginia is integrating mindfulness into the Schools of Nursing and Medicine. They built a resilience room and a contemplative classroom, where they offer free yoga and meditation five days a week. They’ve also offered courses in resilience and mindfulness and self-care. Resilience Retreats are offered for every nursing student and those ‘in the field’. Workshops in creative arts include writing, painting, and knitting.

First Steps

Fontaine recommends the use of ‘The Three C’s’. First, consider a contemplative practice. Next, carve out time for gratitude. Start a gratitude journal of just writing down three things you are grateful for every night . Do it for 21 days, and it will become a habit. And third, cultivate a practice of kindness towards yourself and others.

The American Mindfulness Research Association, 2017, has conducted studies on the health and performance benefits of mindfulness. They have found improvements in focus, memory, relationships, self-control, and creativity. Likewise, they’ve seen a reduction in stress, anxiety, depression, and pain.

Challenge yourself to take the first steps to incorporating some mindfulness actions into your routine and see what happens.

the HRmeister


The Art of Hiring for ‘Cultural Fit’

Define Your Culture
How can I increase the likelihood of hiring someone who will be a good fit for my organization?
Many of us are using behavioral interviewing questions, and some of us have taken it a step further and identified the competencies needed in our positions.  We developed behavioral questions, which we believe will elicit these competencies.  We dutifully probe candidates who supply us with incomplete answers, and despite our best efforts, we still sometimes hire someone who turns out not to ‘fit’.
What’s one to do?  Consider whether you’re hiring folks who ‘culturally fit’ with your organization.
In Miranda Nicolson’s article, “3 Steps To Improving Your Cultural Fit Hiring”, she first  recommends that you “Define Your Culture Code”.  What’s unique about your organization?  What are your values and beliefs?  How do you ‘show’ those attributes in your organization to the outside world?  What qualities do you need to thrive in your organization?  A series of discussions with your employees should help produce and confirm this information.
Next, Nicholson challenges us to ‘Pre-screen with Culture Code in Mind’.  Don’t wait for the actual face to face interview.  Begin to look for the cultural fit with your initial  pre-screening telephone interview.  Nicholson suggests asking, “What motivates you to perform your best work?”  “What is your perfect work environment”.  Ask questions to get candidates to open up and offer their perspective to you.  The sooner you can begin to assess ‘cultural fit’, the better.
Finally, she advocates for ‘Developing a Cultural Interview Process’.  Develop interview questions around the key values and behaviors that are needed in order to be successful in your organization.  This creates a unique value proposition that you are looking to hire someone who will be attracted to your organization and its culture.  For example, if working on teams is an integral part of your culture, ask the candidate to tell you about a time he was part of a team working on a project.  What was his role, what specifically did he contribute, and what role(s) has he had on team(s) in the past, and what role(s) does he prefer and why.
In Josh Tolans’ article, “6 Problems With Job Interviews Today (And How To Fix Them)”, he notes that an interesting thing about these ‘cultural fit’ questions is that it can inject a little bit of fun into the interviewing process.  C’mon, when was the last time you had a bit of fun while interviewing?  You want the candidate’s personality to shine through, not just their professional demeanor.  Ask something like,  “How would you go about purchasing a birthday present for a friend?”  Or “Choose one word that best describes you.”
Maximize Your Chances
Tolans cites that another approach which can help maximize the likelihood of making a good ‘cultural fit’ hire is to include multiple folks in the interviewing process, so you’re able to obtain multiple perspectives of the candidate.  Consider starting with a peer interview and/or several people on the team, so the candidate has the opportunity to meet and learn more broadly about the position and the organization.  This helps reduce any bias or prejudice when assessing the candidate.  It also provides the candidate with the opportunity to see whether he can see himself as a ‘fit’ for this position and this organization.  Remember, this is a two-way proposition.

Let’s remember that while targeting interview questions which assess ‘cultural fit’ will help, at the end of the day, interviewing, no matter how well planned is still more of an ‘art’ than a ‘science’.

Good luck.

the HRmeister




Essential Elements of Employee Retention


Have you ever wondered why some of your organization’s new hires are not a good fit and leave in less than a year?  If so, you’re not alone.

 The Impact

According to Julie Kantnor, President and CEO of Twomentor, LLC, losing a Millennial employee can cost the company $15,000 to $25,000. It’s actually a lot more when you weigh in a few additional variables.

A study by the Society for Human Resource Management states that employers will need to spend the equivalent of six to nine months of an employee’s salary in order to find and train their replacement. That means an employee salaried at $60,000 will cost the company anywhere from $30,000 to $45,000 to hire and train a replacement.

Other research shows the average costs could be even higher. In a study conducted by the Center for America Progress, the cost of losing an employee can be anywhere from 16 percent of their salary for hourly, unsalaried employees, to 213 percent of the salary for a highly trained position.

Whew! So, what’s an organization to do?

Orientation: It’s a Start

When new employees start working at your organization, what’s that experience like? A gamut of answers may have come to mind, from “not much” to “a fairly comprehensive orientation program.”

If your answer is, “We’re probably not where we’d like to be”—don’t despair. Most of us either have been or are currently in this place. Or, some might say, “We don’t have time for a formal orientation program.” I would counter with, “You don’t have the time or the money not to have a formal orientation program.” Recall the employee turnover statistics referenced above.

Consider starting at the beginning. Orientation is what you do on your first day with your new hires. Completing W-4’s, direct deposit, and I-9 forms are “orientation-type” activities. Does your New Employee Orientation Program include more than that? It can certainly contain the elements of completing all of the required paperwork, but what else should be included? Ask yourself: What are the important things new employees need to know about your organization and its culture, and who do they need to meet before they start working? Build your orientation program around these items.

Here’s an easy one: Is your new employee’s workstation (desk, area on shop floor, etc.) welcoming, clean, well-stocked and containing all of the essentials the employee will need? For example, take steps to ensure if the employee needs a phone and a computer that those items are ready and waiting. This is certainly preferable to having your new employee hunt for these essential tools. Does your organization offer your employees any branded items such as pens, mugs or t-shirts? If so, have them available on day one for your new employees.

Introduce the policies, procedures, functions, and people that your new employees need to know up-front. Remember, we want to “set our employees up for success.” To quote the late Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  This is certainly the case with your new employees.

Onboarding: Making an Investment

Another way to increase the likelihood that you will retain new employees is to create an onboarding program. New employees, particularly those who recently graduated from a technical or clinical program, may very much appreciate an opportunity to “shadow” a veteran employee or two for a period of time. Using newly-acquired skills learned in academia, and then suddenly applied on the job, is a daunting proposition for most of us. Human Resources should partner with the organization’s business leaders to create a structured, customized onboarding schedule for the new employee to shadow, learn, ask questions, and receive answers from their fellow employees before we expect them to fly solo.

Who are the people your new employee needs to meet and the systems your new employee needs to know? Tailor an onboarding program to the new hire’s position. It could last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. This will help build an employee’s knowledge, skill level, confidence and networking contacts in their new organization.

 What’s In It For Me?

Try crafting new hire orientation and onboarding programs, and compare the results against the turnover of your employees who did not receive these programs. It’s like anything else—the more time and attention you put in to it, the better your result. Ask your new employees for feedback and incorporate it into your programs. They will appreciate your efforts.

Good luck!

The HRmeister