Being of a certain age sooner than usual, I find myself either in a sweating homicidal rage or not sweating, but with the vapid look of market fish.
It ain’t pretty. And it does not lend any IQ points either.
Luckily, the lion’s share of any HR work I do is done from the safety of my home. Being an information junkie, I can research and sweat my brains out without anyone being the wiser. But I do have one contract that requires going to an office and meeting with people. This is where things get a little dicey.
You see, I can be nice to anyone for ten minutes. Beyond that, and the sneer I was born with starts to spread across my face. And yes, if you are wanting to know, I no longer work with people as an HR generalist. No need to contact any professionals.
As a woman in HR, it strikes me that the ability to be nice, accommodating, supportive, and for some reason that escapes me, the ability to do things with all Microsoft platforms is important. That the reason for being a savant with Microsoft Excel escapes me is probably why my career as an HR manager was short yet brutal.Don’t get me wrong, we need compassionate and supportive people in HR to help employees who are experiencing difficulties in their work, to help managers learn and apply the benefits of active coaching and performance management, and to help business owners grow the business through their people. Furthermore, as a book reviewer, I am seeing a trend among leadership research toward a kinder, fairer and more humane definition of leadership. This is good.
Break out the MBTI and the Big Five, and my profile starts to zero in on why my current direction toward research is a really good idea. Okay, so I am an INTJ. But I’m also agreeable and conscientious. For 10 minutes, mind you. How many people do you know that are genuinely excited to review a publication called “You’re Fired! Just Cause for Dismissal in Canada?” It’s a 2 binder set with a searchable DVD! I know, right.
If the hot flashes have taught me anything, it ‘s that I can channel my “power surges” toward critical analysis of the latest research in our area and to find a way to get it to those women and men who are providing the sort of compassionate, gentle, smart, decisive, and strategic assistance to employees and businesses.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go change my shirt. Plus, my ten minutes is up.
We’ve all seen the articles. You know the ones I mean.
Remember that article by Keith H. Hammonds in Fast Company that started the “whole why we hate HR” theme? We were sorry for not being the “sharpest tacks in the box.” We were also sorry for being a “low risk parking lot.” Yeah, he really wrote that.
A few years later, Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor penned a blog on the Harvard Business Review site where in an attempt to tell readers not to hate HR, tells us again that HR executives aren’t financially savvy enough, too focused on delivering programs rather than enhancing value, and unable to conduct themselves as equals to the traditional power players in the organization. We’re sorry about that.
And most recently, an article in Canadian Business asks, “Should you fire your HR department?” In this article, Bruce Poon Tip, founder of Toronto-based sustainable travel company G Adventures (formerly Gap Adventures) tells us that he fired his entire HR department because rigid HR processes hamper his culture of innovation. As he says, “I wanted a company that celebrates winning, and I couldn’t get that out of HR. HR takes away people’s freedoms, and is really just used to try to avoid errors.” G Adventures is a global operator with more than 1,300 employers. Man, are we sorry for that. We had no idea that was what we were doing. We’ll stop that right away.
What’s more, the article goes on to say, a recent study of 720 companies around the world found that “HR companies struggle to demonstrate their contributions to the corporate bottom line.” Geez, we are so sorry for this. We had no idea that giving staff Jimmy Choos for rewards for No Lost Time would affect the company’s bottom line. Wow. Sorry, we’ll find cheaper rewards for staff. Payless might have some good deals.
And, brace yourselves, apparently “having actual humans handle human resources is more expensive and less efficient than handing it over to machines.” Drat. I thought my pink ghetto, low wage, stunted corporate stool was already keeping costs down. Sorry. And since we did such a poor job of handling conflict resolution, behaviour management, and training, this can now be handled by managers and supervisors. You mean to tell us that managers and supervisors have been itching to do this all along? Gosh, we’re sorry, we had NO idea.
Well Poon Tip, good luck to you and your staff of 1,300. We’re sorry for laying the groundwork for recruitment and selection, performance management, career development, compensation, leadership development, succession planning, employment law, and training and development.
We’re just no damn good.
Photo credit: Canadian Business.com via Andrew B. Meyers
Over the past ten years we have seen a shift within organizations toward a focus on the career development of its members. More and more companies are leveraging their talent acquisition by offering career pathways for new recruits.
“Come grow with us.” “Explore your potential with a company that cares about your development.” “We invest in our people because they are our greatest asset.”
But here’s where things get screwy.
If the new recruit has ideas or strategies that are not contained within her job description or her departmental objectives, few companies or managers know how to foster her ideas, let alone provide an opportunity to seriously explore her strategies. Unless you are in the C-suite, diverging from one’s job description is not always a good idea. But this new recruit selected the company because they promised to develop her potential. Besides which, her career coach advised her that the new world of work demands ingenuity, creativity, flexibility, bold thinking, and most of all, resilience. Seizing upon these new world of work behaviours could get her labelled as difficult, unable to follow direction and unwilling to be a team player.
As someone who had been in a career coaching role for over ten years prior to moving into human resources, this scenario is all too familiar. And, sigh, depressing.
But first, a little history.
Career development theory has its roots in the 1920’s, when soldiers returned home from the war and needed to be reintegrated into the workforce. Early theories, many of which are still in wide use today, matched the person to the job. By analyzing the individual and matching them to similar jobs, a career path was selected. This is vastly simplified, of course, but you get the idea.
Career development theory has been slowly starting to move beyond the person-fit model. New work by Robert Pryor and Jim Bright, The Chaos Theory of Careers, assert that congruence between the person and the environment correlate poorly with outcome measures such as satisfaction. Furthermore, person-environment fit models do not capture the complexities, uncertainties and dynamic aspects of modern work. Well that’s just great.
Today’s job candidates want meaningful work, work that matters to them and strive to learn how to capitalize on chance events and opportunities. Organizations, more specifically, human resources, considers the potential of the career, in combination with other factors, in the process of wealth creation. When you are building job descriptions, screening job applicants for a match, and then selecting job candidates who “fit” the job profile, you are using this early person-environment fit model. But we are bringing people in to help keep the organization profitable.
Here’s the problem.
Are you advertising for square pegs for your square pegs? Not likely. You probably want pegs that can think in round shapes or even in star shapes. You want pegs that can go beyond whatever shapes you offer. But only as long as they fit the job description they were hired for. And they perform according to the metrics outlines in your performance management system. And they turn up each day at a set time. And they follow the company’s code of conduct. And they adhere to all applicable health and safety regulations.
I may be off base here, but it seems to me that for all of HR’s struggle to become strategic, set benchmarks, and analyze metrics we have forgotten that for individuals, it’s still about finding meaning. And, more importantly, as environments change, we must change with it to survive.
So if we live in a time of such exponential change, how come we spend so much time developing ironclad job descriptions and insist that people follow them?
In “Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time,” author Susan Scott defines fierce as “robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled.”
Fierce conversations are meant for both personal and professional situations. They are meant for individuals to be leaders, to speak and connect on a human level. Conversations can be a powerful way for two people to touch one another in a meaningful and powerful way.
Scott argues that we must “come out from behind ourselves and into the conversation, and make it real.” Too many conversations are careful, filled with half truths, dodges and attempts to circumvent the issue(s). In Papua New Guinea, they have a term to describe conversations that don’t happen – mokitas. According to Scott, these missed conversations are extremely costly to an organization and which, if quantified, would easily represent the largest loss on the P&L sheet.
The essence of the book, however, is this:
Our careers, our companies, our personal relationships, and our very lives succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly – one conversation at a time. The conversation is the relationship, and – while no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship, or a life – any single conversation can.
Below are the 7 Principles that form the foundation for fierce conversations:
- Principle 1: Master the courage to interrogate reality. Reality is changing all the time. We change. The problem arises when we forget to tell others we have changed.
- Principle 2: Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real. We often play roles at work and at home, using different masks or personas. Be authentic in your conversations to effect change.
- Principle 3: Be here, prepared to be nowhere else. Show up to the conversation. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person.
- Principle 4: Tackle your toughest challenge today. Name the problem. Burn out isn’t because we have problems to solve, it occurs because we are trying to save the same problem over and over.
- Principle 5: Obey your instincts. We are always receiving information, consciously and unconsciously. Learn to listen to that information and trust your ability to act.
- Principle 6: Take responsibility for your emotional wake. Do you leave an aftermath or afterglow? Learn to deliver your message without the load so you can speak with clarity, conviction, and compassion.
- Principle 7: Let silence do the heavy lifting. Slow down the conversation. Listen to what is being said and what needs to be said.
Scott challenges the reader to ask themself, “What am I not allowing myself to know?” What truths am I hiding? What conversations am I preventing myself from having? Exercises and tips are included to help the reader ask clarifying questions to facilitate mission statements, performance plans and corporate strategy.
The one principle that struck a chord for me was Principle 3 – be here, prepared to be nowhere else. Scott spends a good deal of time walking us through how to listen and to hear in this chapter - how to “listen beyond words for intent.”
In my work as a career counselor it was critical that I pay close attention to what clients were struggling to articulate about their work – its joy and its pain. As a career counselor who specialized in the career psychology of women, I know it is crucial to hear what the woman before me is trying to say. But more importantly, to let her say it without finishing her sentences or presuming to know what she means. This was hard work and there were times where I just could not be in the moment. But when those moments hit and I was able to just be, to just let the conversation unfold, something powerful would happen. That connection with another human being is profound.
In my HR career, this type of connection was rare. Yes, there were conversations with employees, managers and leaders. In one of my roles as the HR Manager of a small farm equipment shop I did have some almost “fierce” conversations. But they took time; time the boss did not want his employees taking. Scott asks us to do more, to participate, to reveal and to listen for the “scaffolding on which a story hangs … [where] clarity and character emerge” and this can be very hard in our HR roles.
Does this sound familiar to you?
As HR professionals, how can we make deeper connections with employees? With managers? How can we apply these fierce principles to our roles? Are there conversations you are preventing yourself from having? If you had those conversations, what do you suppose would happen? I invite you to apply one of the principles to a conversation you need to have with an employee and let us know how it worked or did not work, how easy or hard it was, what difference it did or did not make.
Let’s keep the conversation going!
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?
Sometimes life delivers you the perfect storm. It arrives silently. And then, all of a sudden. Somebody might have yelled “duck” but I probably looked up and said “where?”
Experiencing a career setback is no fun. It is even less fun when the setback occurs publicly. And don’t all career setbacks occur publicly, epically and in biblical proportions? One can never exaggerate them too much. Ever.
The word “fun” takes on a whole new meaning when the “setback” occurs in a new-to-you small, rural community which happens to be populated with numerous in-laws, who happen to have lots of friends representing a terrifying six degrees of separation. And the economy is in a slump, during which you are stupidly trying to sell your house. And you took this job in your soon-to-be new community, because “oh my god, there are never any jobs up here” and it made sense to live with your mother-in-law, whose house you are buying anyway, while your spouse lives in the yet-to-be-sold house. Besides, this job is a promotion with better money in a larger manufacturer in a small village. How bad can it be, the outgoing HR Manager was the owner’s son-in-law.
Not only did I not hear when someone yelled “duck,” I didn’t hear the gunshot either.
This is the part where I would catalogue in vivid detail all the wrongs done to me by this company and why it and everyone in it should be washed away with that biblical perfect storm I mentioned earlier. You’ll cry. You’ll laugh. It’ll be better than Cats.
Unlike Cynical Girl Laurie Ruettiman, who claims she is a failed HR professional (which, if you read her bio, you would quickly conclude this to be quite untrue), I am a failed HR professional. After all, I was fired. Four months of hell culminating in a small severance. All while living with my mother-in-law. But to be fair, it was my mother-in-law who kept me sane throughout this entire event. I would never have survived without her. She will still tell the story of that day, how we sat outside on the deck while the buzzards flew in circles above the house. It holds a certain metaphorical amusement for her. By then I had realized what this duck and gunshot business was all about.
This next bit isn’t very funny. A long year of unemployment followed. The 2008-2009 recession was still in full swing. The house took nearly 18 months to sell. It was hard and I felt anxious during most of it. But I had time to think about things. After twelve years as a career consultant and four years as an HR professional I am still committed to helping individuals thrive in their work. Doing this while on the front lines, however, is not for me. I can be more effective helping those who are on the front line by using my research skills to provide information they can use to foster personal and organizational development. Today I work as a researcher in that small community looking at workforce strategies for the green economy and in my spare time, I review books for the Canadian HR Professional Magazine.
Now, when I hear someone yell “duck!” I duck.
Photo credit iStockphoto