Do you control your environment or do you let it control you? How do you maximize what is at your disposal to get it done, make it happen, meet the deadline or just accomplish a simple task?
Recently I attended a unique experiential learning program. In this program, participants experience various circumstances designed to simulate actual working conditions. They are presented with real business situations with limited resources, time and information. The goal is to make your journey while overcoming various obstacles and complications in order to be considered victorious or successful. As this is aligned to mirror an actual work environment, you begin to feel the same pressures and anxieties you experience in a normal hectic work day. Teams must rely on the collective knowledge and efforts of team members. At the onset of the program teams must make an action plan. These decisions will most likely determine the outcome.
As you journey along, you face the fear of the unknown, fear of failure, peer pressure, deadlines and team dynamics. Personally, I was struck with one important but pivotal lesson,
Do not fear the unknown, find a way to make it known.
How many times are you placed in a situation where you do not know the answer or can not anticipate the outcome? You have probably stumbled though knowing the end is near and you can retreat back to your desk and recover. (Side note, if you do find yourself stumbling make sure it is a convincing stumble combined with a strong confident delivery.)
Find a way to make the unknown known. What do you fear? Failure, peer pressure, desire to achieve, competition, inexperienced team members or overload. Find the trigger and take action. Talk to colleagues, customers, leaders in the area of specialty, read reports or research the Internet. Value the knowledge you receive.
This translates so well in Human Resources. HR is no
t a known science; there is gray in what we do. So often our decisions are based on interpretation and judgment. Fear creeps in and we question if our decisions are sound. We are professionals; we know our business and we know how to appropriately leverage or channel that fear to yield strong persuasive arguments and be equally credible activists and advocates for our organizations.
In the end, you are measured by maximizing critical decision making skills, project management skills and ultimately the success of winning or achieving your given goal. My take aways can be summed in a few impactful statements:
- Decisions made up front most often have the greatest impact on overall productivity, so take the time necessary to make the best and wisest of choices.
- Gather as much information as possible; when your decisions are based on little or none, it will impact the desired result.
- Do you control your environment or does it control you? It is your choice.
- Value ALL your resources.
- Maximize but do not compromise, otherwise it will lead to a road of mediocrity.
In the end it was about collaboration, team dynamics, leveraging team member’s strengths and utilization of the allocated resources, time and information. The results were surprising and will influence the way I approach work.
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About the author: Michelle McLaren, PHR is a Human Resources Business Partner for Wincor Nixdorf, a Global IT organization and has over 18 years progressive human resources experience. She is the Chair for the Austin HR Management Association Certification Committee, blogs regularly for AHRMA on various HR topics and lends her talents to other HR projects and initiatives. You can connect with Michelle on LinkedIn.
An internal audit is being conducted in our office and the HR office is asked to produce several documents.The audit is procedural based, still not in the least less daunting or unsettling than any other audit but if you fail any portion of it, it means many grueling hours of implementing new procedures and practices.
So, you get the document request and your first thoughts are, “Do we have the document? Can it be located easily? and most importantly, “Did we follow procedure and practice?” Non-compliance in any audit is alarming, but if you make exceptions it is even worse.
I began to wonder about the requests for exceptions I have been presented with in my career – the biggies, the ones that have far-reaching ramifications. Here are just a few I faced in my years in Human Resources – and whether or not they was allowed or caught – they would require an exorbitant amount of detail to justify:
- Allow an employee to late enroll into our Flexible Spending Account 4 months after the deadline. As you know, each year companies go through open enrollment and employees are asked to review, make appropriate changes and enroll in health and welfare benefit plans. Most plans are subject to IRS Section 125 and the clause of the IRS code only allows changes or exceptions to be made on any 1 of the 4 qualifying events. You compensation and benefit pros out there know the scrutiny these plans undergo and the misery of of administering them. This employee was a 12 year veteran of the company and knew he had to re-enroll every year – this year was the exception.
- Allow a candidate to drug screen test more than the allowed times to test, knowing pre-employment background checks allow 2 times. How about (this happens to be my favorite exception to date) stopping a random drug test because the selected employee complained it was a waste of time and the program was altered to not include this group of employees. Or this, allowing an employee to begin knowing they did not meet the criteria to pass. A candidate tested positive and asked to allow his employment go forward, knowing employment is contingent upon successful passing of a background check.
When was the last time you made or were asked to make an exception. Was it a personal or professional decision? Who asked you? What reasoning or justification did you use? Was it a well thought out exception or a snap decision.
Whatever the case, you lower your standards, you compromise your beliefs, and in some cases you jeopardize the very essence or truth of the original request, decision or promise.
According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms, ‘make an exception’ was first recorded in 1931. It is defined as allowing someone or something to be exempt from the general rule or practice. You make an exception for your kids on their birthday and let them stay up late, you make an exception perhaps because your company’s forecast is trending positively, you make an exception because of your mood.
There is no hard and fast rule on making exceptions especially when the consequence are minimal. But what do you do when the consequences are more significant? Here is some criteria I would consider when deciding whether or not to allow an exception.
- What is the exception? What is the issue, request, policy or general principle being asked to be altered or modified.
- What is the original process? Do I have a policy, procedure or other program in place to support, defend or other mechanism needed to preserve the original or natural state of the process.
- What resources or analysis is required. Consider this and act.
- Who or what will be affected? Are there legal, monetary, regulatory, personal or some other governing system that your exception will affect?
- What will be the outcome? What is the end desired result? Did you anticipate this ending?
- How will this affect decisions I make in the future? Is what prompted you to make an exception be similarly applied to other situations.
Predicting outcomes can be a complicated thorny matter and sometimes deemed convoluted if you are dealing with people (and tell me when an exception does not affect a person or group of people) and predicting human behavior is a dubious landscape.
It really boils down to making decisions. We make decisions every day, but just because you make decisions it does not necessarily mean that you are good at making them, that you should act upon the decisions you make or that you should even be the one making the decision.
Decisions are either instinctive or require a more in-depth analysis - make sure you know the difference. Ultimately, decisions are the choices you make.
Do you do what is right when no one is looking? Would you be comfortable with someone questioning the veracity of your decisions. Can you live with the exceptions you make in your personal and professional lives?
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This is the last post in a series where Women of HR writers share their thoughts and reactions to a manifesto, Six Rules Women Must Break In Order to Succeed.
When I graduated college, I did informative interviews with several companies and one led to a job offer. Texaco E&P in Denver, Colorado offered me my first Human Resources position. I was ecstatic. I was a professional and on my way up!
When I joined the company I was told by the Executive Vice President, Human Resources that if I studied and became came a subject matter expert in some HR thing (Organizational Development intrigued me – yep, I was a bit green) I would advance and would be relocated to their headquarters. I was vicariously living this dream through his promises. It turned out there were some pertinent details of what the company expected from an Organizational Development specialist like a master’s degree and perhaps even a Ph.D. But I really wanted this, or I thought so.
In reading Six Rules Women Must Break In Order to Succeed, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at each through the lens of my career and share my insights with you:
Rule #1. Take Center Stage . . . and shine. Act with confidence, boldness and a bit of brazen abandon! Be relentless in educating yourself about YOU. I recently attended an HR conference and they repeated, “Is there an “it” I do not get?” You will be surprised what others will share if you ask. But be prepared for what they share. Know yourself and constantly be curious about yourself and not others.
Rule #2. Proceed until Apprehended. I work with a Vice President whose modus operandi is ‘Act and then ask for forgiveness.’ Love it! He is a bit impulsive and at times appears reckless but he is the epitome of this statement. He is respected and an esteemed colleague that many want to be around. Be it, own it and act on it.
Rule #3. Project Personal Power. This I can relate to. When I was young, I affectionately like to refer to the fact that mastering the art of stuttering helped me succeed in life. This was not your typical stuttering but one that completely hindered my ability to talk on the phone, speak in front of others or ask simple questions to assert myself in public or with family. It was mortifying. I was taking my impairment, correcting it and from this, I learned about poise, conviction and taking calculated but conscientious risks. I was grace under fire!
Rule #4. Be Politically Savvy. I am good at taking the time to build relationships and boy, can I network. Invest in learning about others. This leads to the consensus that is essential to build alliances and partnerships that are significant in navigating office politics, eventually get you that promotion or the recognition as the expert.
Rule #5. Play to Win. Reinvent yourself. We live in an economic climate where it is about delivering, conceiving, visualizing, formulating or creating. Set the basic foundation, establish infrastructure and be strategic. Be the one to revolutionize the system, transform and challenge process and do not settle for status quo.
Rule #6. It’s Both/And. Want to avoid an overactive mind? I am fanatical about reflection. This can obliterate the over analyzing of everything. We live with ambiguity and uncertainty. Become comfortable with it. Reflect and this will lead to sagacity.
What I learned is that to be a leader you think, act and behave like one. You do not need the big title or to be at headquarters to lead or make a difference. I make a difference at my organization, I am respected, called upon and make contributions that counts. My managers and employees alike consider me an ally, an activist and a trusted and credible advocate. If that is not making business better than I do not know what is!
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Do you really know everything about your own history?
Did you know that 44% of all employers check social networking sites? Potential employers can readily access certain aspects of your past and if you do not know what is out there on record keep reading. Is your resume trustworthy and does it account for gaps in employment? Does your information align in ALL your documents and profiles?
Why do employers conduct background checks? Employers are concerned with negligent hiring practices. They confirm potentially false or inflated information, abide by federal and state laws and acknowledge the age in which we live – the ‘information age.’
There is an excellent fact sheet at The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse - Employment Background Checks: A Jobseeker’s Guide. I encourage you to read the entire fact sheet; it contains a wealth of information. Here are some highlights I’d like to share with you.
What is included in a background check?
- Anything from Social Security verification to driving and credit records, drug test records, criminal and court records, education records.
- Character and personal references in addition to interviewing your neighbors, yes your neighbor!
- Bankruptcy records, medical records, military records and state licensing records.
What cannot be included in a background check report?
- The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) sets national standards that guide consumer reporting agencies but not background checks done in-house. Some states have stronger laws that guide this, such as California.
- There are additional laws surrounding arrest information, criminal records and bankruptcies. For instance you may ask it on an application but if it is over 7 years it can’t be ‘reported.’
Who conducts background checks?
- Specialized agencies like private investigators, employment screeners, or data brokers
- Small companies are often done in house.
- A word of caution, if companies are small and use internet advertised services, they may be out of compliance with laws.
How do you prepare for a background check?
- Order a copy of your credit report, review court and DMV records
- Ask to see a copy of your personnel file from former jobs
- Notify neighbors and colleagues they may be contacted
What else can you do to protect yourself?
- Know your resources and stay abreast of laws surrounding background checks and workplace discrimination
- Contact government agencies like EEOC and the Federal Trade Commission
- Gather information about access to attorneys and identify theft programs such as pre-paid or other legal type services that are available to you.
This information is just a snapshot of all information related to background checks, but good timely and relevant information. What resources would you recommend to employers, employees and job seekers?
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If we had a crystal ball, life would be grand. But, because we don’t, we often find ourselves at the mercy of hindsight. Hindsight being 20/20, what is one setback you faced in your career that ended up being a blessing in disguise?
A long time ago, my father told me it was important to collect life experiences. It was not only important to collect them but to cherish and to learn and grow from them. Let me add . . . to heal from them.
As you journey through life, you collect personal and professional experiences. If you had asked me a couple years ago, I would have told you to let someone else collect them. I was done. I had had enough. Today if you ask me, I will tell you I am glad I did not.
Many people tend to believe you heal from the personal or private things in your life and that will affect or spill over to the rest of your life, to your professional life. I began to wonder if you also heal from professional experiences and when I shared this with a colleague, she paused momentarily and said, “Um, you are right. That is so true. I have never thought of healing in a professional capacity.”
And so my journey of professional healing ensued.
My healing started in 2010 with the passing of someone close to me followed by a series of wonderful and traumatic events in a short 18 month time period. I agonized over a decision that would have long standing affects: take a permanent leave or continue to work. I was giving everything I had to work and to others. I was failing miserably in caring for myself. I decided to take the time I needed and heal. If you asked me then, I probably would told you it was a crazy and outrageous decision. Others thought it was a brave and courageous decision. Today, I consider it to be a rare but extraordinary gift I gave myself.
A couple of things I learned on this journey. Death is certain - but so is life! In essence, I was reclaiming my life. I now surround myself with only those that I love, enjoy and connect with. I engage and seek out work that I am passionate about. I am solidly anchored, confident, and grounded.
Taking the time I needed to heal was a blessing in disguise. Hindsight provides you with the clarity to move forward. It is not always clear in the moment, but it becomes so as time passes. Time is precious so make the moments count. Life is too short to not enjoy every moment.
Many of us go through life identifying themselves by their work. Yes, to some degree it does define how you live and what you are able to enjoy. How do you answer the question, “What do you do?” Many answer with, ”I work here and do this and have done this for x numbers of years.” I challenge this by telling you that you are not defined by your work, you are defined by who and what you love. What you love is in part your work – your professional self – but that is not all that it is. As you grow and establish a life for yourself your thinking changes and you begin to think this way too. The more people I talk to and share this with, the more people affirm this for themselves too.
When askes what is it that I do, I answer, “I am a consummate professional with over 16 years experience in Human Resources, I love developing and coaching others, tackling problems, engaging with others on creative, rewarding and complex projects. I love to write, volunteer and stay close with family and friends. And in my spare time I read everything I can, swim and enjoy watching sports.”
Professional healing. Yes, I have healed in ways that have even surpassed my greatest expectations. But more importantly I have re-discovered myself again and let me tell you, I am awesome!
A part of you dies when you stop collecting life experiences. If your bucket is not continuously overflowing, you are not living enough.
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This one is personal.
Let me go through a brief synopsis of a conversation I had a couple weeks ago. I was sitting with a group of friends, all of whom have had been in transition,when one interjected and said to me, “You’ve had it easy compared to when I was looking for work.” I sat for a moment and chewed over this harsh statement. Calming my boiling blood, I moved on with the conversation.
Let me stop here. It was not the person’s gender or that I thought any less of this person. I understand that we had different backgrounds and different circumstances and we were both exhausted from our own job search experiences. This person landed a great job that they still enjoy 8 years later. But still, there was something more to this for me than ”having it easier” because I didn’t. What was it?
The answer came from a career coach I absolutely admire and respect. She made a comment I will never forget, ”Perhaps you were more emotionally mature and equipped to handle this.” Was she right? Was I more emotionally equipped to handle the job search?
What is emotional maturity and what does it mean?
Emotional Maturity is the way in which you control your emotions without allowing your emotions get the best of you. Your emotional maturity is characterized as your capacity to manage and balance your emotions even to evaluate others emotions and perhaps an ability to persuade others emotions and actions. A key discernible factor in assessing your emotional maturity is measured in your relationships. What do your relationships say about you?
- Are you able to control your emotions or do you let your emotions control you?
- Are you able to express yourself in a way that it engages, influences others?
- Are you able to think before you act?
- Are you able to tackle life when it hits rock bottom?
- Are you staying true to your principles and acting with honesty and integrity in thought and action?
- Do you have the sense of self reliance and the capability to take responsibility and accountability for your life and actions?
Emotional maturity is not characterized by, or found in, age. In fact, I believe it isn’t at all and the statement, “youth fades but immaturity lingers,” appropriately summarizes this psychology.
In their purest form, relationships are the most transparent gauge of emotional maturity and I am going to take relationships a step further. Relationships can be between ideas, thoughts, your leadership style, how you express yourself and how you trust.
How do you achieve emotional maturity? You learn to direct your energy through positive healthy channels. You accept responsibility and learn from your mistakes, respect feedback when given, surround yourself with others that support you, become aware of your inner strength and, above all else, honor yourself.
Take a good hard look at yourself. Are you displaying emotional maturity?
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Ready. . . set . . . go!
Wake at the very last moment (after hitting the snooze button 4 times), jump in the shower, slap on some clothes, drive as if you are NASCAR qualified, show up right at 8 a.m. and you are ready to begin work.
Stop. Wait a second. It is not that simple. And whoever thought “it” would be is in complete denial.
What am I talking about? Workforce Readiness.
I recently accepted a Human Resource consulting project for a startup company. I am not just any Human Resource consultant, I am the company’s first human resource presence. And I am thrilled to be back at work. My thoughts, opinions and knowledge are being sought after, listened to, valued and executed upon. I am a walking, talking and breathing workforce readiness poster!
All right, I will not go that far, but I was ready (nervous but ready) to tackle the new challenges that awaited me. While in transition I prepared myself by staying abreast of my profession, volunteering, reading trade journals and every other imaginable method to be workforce ready – and it paid off.
The Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) defines workforce readiness as,
Having new workplace entrants prepared to enter the workforce with the requisite knowledge, skills, abilities and attributes in order to engage in endeavors that will be required in their respective occupations.
In other words, workforce readiness means showing up. Not just literally showing up at 8 a.m., but showing up fully engaged in mind and in spirit.
I was initially hired to fill a couple of key hires and my presence has been slowly revealed. I have been fortunate to sit at the table and have my voice heard when it comes to key hires and when coaching management in the fine art of Human Resources. When an organization becomes aware of the Human Resource presence, they reach out to as the voice of reason, equity and fairness.
When an organization views Human Resources as a basic but crucial function, wonderful things begin to occur. The organization begins to flourish, human capital is developed, forward thinking change occurs and genuine character emerges. But, when an organization views Human Resources as a transactional and an operational function, the organization can find itself stagnated, not allowed to develop at any level and Human Resources becomes nothing more than a request processing center.
So what is the secret?
Well, I affectionately call it Organizational Glue. Let’s face it, human resources is a company’s Organizational Glue. ”Organizational” is synonymous with configuration, establishment, composition or institution and ”glue” is defined as any substance used as a strong adhesive. Put a fully engaged, workforce ready human resource team in place and you have the strong adhesive that bonds the establishment together.
The moral of this story is this – an organization knows the value of a first rate Human Resource team and you really begin to comprehend and see the significance of Human Resources - your organizational glue - and when Human Resources is not present, underserved or undervalued well, it might just be too late. It’s up to the human resource team to be workforce ready.
Is your HR Organizational Glue ready . . . set . . . go?
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Now, I am not sure what prompted this statement, but I can only imagine. Pause a moment. Think of a decision that has been communicated to your organization that might lend itself to this question.
Every day, Human Resources professionals go to work and deal with issues involving human beings. Yes, there is much more – operational issues, budgetary issues, strategy issues, product or project issues – but they all have a single common denominator or influence – the human factor. I have come to learn many things about what we do in Human Resources and I believe what separates the great from the good can be summarized as emotional and social intelligence.
Emotional or social intelligence, and compassion, is what keeps the human in Human Resources.