Mystery Shop HR

Posted on February 7th, by Krista Francis in Business and Workplace. Comments Off

When I contracted a new EAP vendor, I manufactured a reason to schedule several counseling appointments. Okay, so I admit it. With my crazy life,  it wasn't that hard to find an excuse. When we started our first Health Reimbursement Account, I enrolled even though my husband's plan was cheaper.

Why?

So that I could shop my own HR programs, experience them as a consumer/employee rather than an administrator, catch issues early and speak about our benefits with more credibility. Obviously some benefits, such as short-term disability, workers' comp and life insurance can't really be mystery shopped (because doing so would be fraud) so skip them and focus on sampling your employment application process. Experts like Gerry Crispin as well as family and friends' horror stories condemn the collective candidate experience as pretty dismal.

Every time I tweak my applicant tracking system, I concoct a silly name and apply for a random  job to see how the process feels to an applicant. I encourage all HR pros (and heck, CEO's) to do the same. Just as importantly, occasionally apply for  jobs with other organizations, no matter how happy you are with your employer. It doesn't really matter what you apply for: courtesy clerk, VP of Talent Management, janitor or sales associate. The point is that you experience the different phases of the application process and notice what is awesome and what is annoying as hell. Then you go back to your own organization and  try to incorporate what you liked while eliminating as many nails-on-chalkboard moments as possible.

For example, you may encounter  a site requiring dozens of screens of application data *AND* on top of that, they want you to upload a resume … a document duplicating 90% of the information so incredibly painstakingly inputted for the last 50 minutes …  aargh! And after all that effort, good luck getting any communication at all, even a standard email receipt.

As an HR pro, you don't want top talent being faced with that. Figure out another way to get what you need without inflicting unnecessary and ungainly

processes that prompt people to put their heads through the wall, or worse, abandon the process and go apply somewhere more welcoming.

It's all a balance. This is what works for me. Applicants complete a handful of basic demographic questions. They upload their resume. Then they complete a very short application that is customized by position so that only the most relevant information is requested.  After that, they are prompted to answer several questions that delve into some critical logistics and they answer two questions that speak to the core values of my organization. Additional information, such as the criminal background check required by our licensor, can be obtained later if an interview takes place.

While I continue to struggle with communicating adequately with the scores of entry level, part-time hourly applicants–many of whom might fit a different schedule or future job,  I do make an effort to communicate with candidates, especially post-interview. We're all using technology, so it is easy to send out no thank you letters or emails explaining delays in the decision process. It's sad to say, but if I didn't shop my own ATS and didn't apply for other jobs from time to time, it's possible I might be a little more complacent about how my candidates experience my organization.

HR metrics and measures abound, but sometimes there's no substitute for what we learn from a little personal experience with the programs and processes we inflict on create for others. Thoughts, HR pros?

About the author: Krista Francis, SPHR, is nonprofit HR Director and sometimes Acting Executive Director. She lives outside of Washington DC with her soccer-crazy hubby, two active teenagers, a neurotic cat and the best dog in the world, Rocky, aka Party like a Rockstar. In her loads of free time, she tries to keep her scooter running, tests margaritas for quality control purposes and blogs at aliveHR. You can connect with her on Twitter as @kristafrancis.

photo credit: antwerp

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{Women of HR Unwrapped} Let’s Stop Playing it So Safe

Posted on January 3rd, by Krista Francis in Business and Workplace. 1 Comment

We are unwrapping some posts from the Women of HR archives for you this holiday season. Relax, enjoy and let us know if there is a favorite of yours you’d like to see unwrapped and run again.

We all have pet peeves. One of my pet peeves is when we HR pros hide behind our mothers’ skirts.

We hide behind the skirts of our attorney–who (what do you know?) tends to give conservative advice. Or the skirts of compliance.

The skirts of the safe decision instead of the best choice. Or of doing what is required and nothing more. Of risk aversion, rather than risk management. Policy & Procedure.

Saying “No,” because it is so much easier and less complicated than saying, “Yes.”

Staying quiet rather than speaking up. Doing things the way we always have.

Coloring inside someone else’s lines instead of creating our own drawing.

Hiding behind the skirts means we’re seen as administrators, guardians, hall monitors, pencil pushers, police. It means we may come across as judgmental and haughty, inflicting our “HR tone” on anyone we decide steps out of line. Maybe our colleagues would take us much more seriously–and, heck,  like us more–if we would grow some cojones and act boldly based on our skill, knowledge, values and principles, rather than falling back on policies, procedures and regulations as our default.

Today I received an administrative position resume with two typos in the top third of the page. The safe, traditional HR response would be to roll one’s eyes in judgment and send a quick rejection letter. Instead (having recently updated my own resume and knowing how easy it is to make a stupid error after editing ad nauseum) I responded to her email, engaged her in conversation, and once she responded,  asked if she was open to feedback about her resume. When she responded affirmatively, I told her about the typos. She thanked me profusely. From her enthusiastic response, I  believe my small but out-on-a-limb gesture earned more goodwill than almost anything else I could have done. And yes, I know the conversation could just as likely have gone the other way, her reply could have been ungrateful and angry, because I’ve gotten those responses before.

This is just a tiny, almost inconsequential story of not hiding behind HR’s skirts. Sure, it wasn’t my job to bring the errors to her attention. I didn’t have to do it. It would have been much easier and faster to say nothing. But telling her seemed like the right thing and I took a risk. Please understand the purpose of this post is not to suggest proofreading resumes for all our applicants. We don’t have time for that. In this particular case, something called out to me about her and I knew that few others would be honest with her. I had the opportunity to be honest. Human. Kind. Rather than retreating to my safe place to rationalize doing nothing. This is just one small example to make a point.

When I encourage our profession to stop playing it so safe, I am also not advocating throwing caution to the wind to make foolish decisions that jeopardize your organization. I just think we all sometimes need reminders to stop and question our usual reactions and responses, and, where it makes sense, take risks to act in a new, different and more creative manner. And at the same time, we can work to avoid that HR haughtiness people hate–with a side benefit of possibly being taken more seriously.

About the author: Krista Francis, SPHR, is nonprofit HR Director and sometimes Acting Executive Director. She lives outside of Washington DC with her soccer-crazy hubby, two active teenagers, a neurotic cat and the best dog in the world, Rocky, aka Party like a Rockstar. In her loads of free time, she tries to keep her scooter running, tests margaritas for quality control purposes and blogs at aliveHR. You can connect with her on Twitter as @kristafrancis.

photo by RG Photo


CEO for a Day: Listen, Take Note and Act

Posted on September 18th, by Krista Francis in Women of HR Series: CEO For A Day. Comments Off

Women of  HR were asked, “If you were CEO for a day, what would (or did) you focus on to improve an organization's productivity, employee engagement or ability to recruit?”  This is the fourth post in the series of responses.

Do you remember when you were a kid and played a game with friends, asking each other:  what would you change if you suddenly, magically became the President? As I recall, our responses ran along the lines of: outlaw homework. Buy every homeless person a house. Give every kid a bike or a pony, whichever they prefer. Pass a law that dessert comes first. Ship all our extra food to poor people in Africa.

I fondly remember those sweet, innocent answers as I accept the challenge to write about being CEO for a day.

I work for a mid-sized nonprofit, and I’m fortunate because not only do I have a seat at that coveted table, but our Board chooses to make their HR Director the Acting Executive Director whenever the boss travels. This summer, when our Executive Director traveled to Asia, I had the opportunity to be CEO for a day, thirty times over.

My boss’s vacation fell during a very busy time, and to say the experience was interesting is like saying the Pacific Ocean is wide. I suppose we all fantasize about being the boss for a day. Oh, the sweeping reforms we would enact and the legacy we would leave! Zappos and Google would seethe with jealousy witnessing the amazing workplaces we’d create!

Yeah, right. Although I had a distinct vision for the direction in which I wanted to lead, the reality felt very different for several reasons.

  1. Practicalities. As one small example, our accounting department was working on getting signatory authority for me, but didn’t complete the process before my boss left. And so, although I had written authority to sign contracts, I could only sign for one of our many bank accounts. If you’re only CEO for one day, the reality is you’re probably not signing much of consequence.
  2. Resistance. I heard several times, “We can’t decide this because he’s not here.” I would push back, saying, “Oh, yes, we can,” and then I would hear it again. And again.
  3. Resources. While I was CEO for a day, thirty times over, I was still Director of HR. Not during a boring, uneventful time, but during a period of marked expansion, which meant both roles were extremely busy.  Exactly how I kept my sanity during this month is still not clear to me.
  4. Reversal.  As much as I knew that while I had authority to make decisions today, I was quite aware that my boss had as much or more authority to overturn them tomorrow. I backed away from one decision I was itching to make because the consequences of my boss reversing it would have been devastating to a key employee’s onboarding experience.

Also during my tenure, we got hit by the derecho which significantly impacted operations. A co-worke

r and I spent all weekend with our workers and customers, rallying the troops and ensuring people had what they needed; we continued to respond to the emergency late into the next week.  And two of our executive team members each vacationed for a week or more, making it more challenging to move on key initiatives. Before I knew it, my thirty days were gone. I’d hired a record number of new employees during an insanely busy time, responded to a lot of operational issues including the storm, and helped move our expansion along, but I can’t say I accomplished near what I dreamed.

On the other hand, if I had, would the changes have lasted? Who’s to say?

Reflecting on all this, I turned to my teenaged son and I asked what he would do if he was the boss for a day. He thought about one of his three jobs and replied:

  • Hold regular staff meetings to improve communication and teamwork.
  • Hire an industrial psychologist to improve and streamline disorganized processes.
  • Assign work in a more logical, fair and transparent manner.

Wow, at his age, I probably would have answered, “Put more Diet Coke and less Dr. Pepper in the vending machine.” Knowing next to nothing about his workplace, I can’t comment on the value of his responses, but considering he just graduated from high school, his answers  surprised and impressed me.

Listening to him, I realized that it probably doesn’t matter what the HR pros would do if they were CEO for a day. Sure, we could come up with a list of dream workplace ideas, but so what? Maybe the person we really need to ask is my son. He’s young and he’s inexperienced, but he’s obviously figured out that some things could be better and he has some definite ideas for making that happen. What would happen if his boss asked him–and all his co-workers–the same question and really listened?

And so, my challenge to you tomorrow is to ask your staff what  they would do if they were in charge for a day. Ask them:  How would you change our team/department/branch/organization? What ridiculous rules, policies and procedures would you discard so that you can focus on doing great work? What would you add that's missing?

Ask theses questions, listen, take note and act; and although you still may not be a CEO for a day, maybe you’ll have just much influence, and effect just as much change, by putting your employees in the boss’s seat.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

About the author: Krista Francis, SPHR, is nonprofit HR Director and sometimes Acting Executive Director. She lives outside of Washington DC with her soccer-crazy hubby, two active teenagers, a neurotic cat and the best dog in the world, Rocky, aka Party like a Rockstar. In her loads of free time, she tries to keep her scooter running, tests margaritas for quality control purposes and blogs at aliveHR. You can connect with her on Twitter as @kristafrancis.

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Silver HR

Posted on August 9th, by Krista Francis in Business and Workplace. 8 comments

Two years ago, my oldest sister turned 50. I think I was more traumatized than she was. Since then, I’ve given a lot of reflection to growing older.  My sister hitting that milestone first was actually a blessing because it affords me plenty of time to think about my life, my work and getting older. I have the luxury of time on my side as I adjust to the reality of reaching the half century mark myself.

I remember when I was 39, my optometrist warned me that I would increasingly struggle to read small print. I laughed in her face. “No thanks, not happening,” was pretty much my response. And I did just fine for a long time. My husband is almost ten years older than me and when he  asked me to read small text, I would smile or maybe even tease him playfully while I helped him out. When I finally started to encounter my own difficulties deciphering tiny letters, I discovered that it was no laughing matter. Imagine if you can’t read the small print before you sign a contract; if you can’t read the directions on a bottle of cough syrup; if you can’t read the ingredients on a food label to check for allergies. Not being able to see is not funny; it is an inconvenience, an annoyance, and possibly a hazard.  I began to understand one of many reasons ADEA protects workers over the age of forty and I started stashing  reading glasses by my bed, in my purse and at work.

I used to adroitly avoid questions about my age.  When I first met my friend Shennee, she would ask how old I was and I had a lot of answers, everything from, “Ten years younger than my hubby,” to “Older than you,” to the sassy, “Old enough to sidestep that question.”  But I the more I thought about my evasive tactics,  the sillier they seemed and I grew increasing comfortable answering, “Forty eight.” Why should I hide my age? Why would I want to try to pretend to be 40, so that people whisper, “Wow, she looks really old for her age.”  Why would I want to pretend to be something I’m not, or hide who I really am? That’s not living authentically.

Along those lines, I am working toward growing out my gray, or at the very least my pronounced Stacy London streak. (Here, I imagine collective gasps from many of my readers.)  As far as I can tell, growing out gray hair  is increasingly obvious and painful the longer one waits to start the process. I would rather take the plunge now when silvers are in the minority than wait until I’m completely white. I know from others who have completed this journey that I should expect criticism from many directions, overzealous suggestions that are

obnoxiously personal–as well as bastions of support gratefully received from unexpected corners.

Even as I admire my new silvers, I wonder how it will affect me at work. Will it be harder for me to attract young workers? Or will I gain more respect and credibility from some people? And what if I decide to change jobs? Will that be harder with gray/silver/multi-hued hair? My mid-life reflections also cause me to stop and ask where I want to go and what I want to do next. What do I want to accomplish for the rest of my life? Do I want to start over at a new organization or stay where I am? What new projects do I want to embrace? Should I write that book of memoirs of my African childhood?

I know this is a somewhat personal post, but this issue affects all of us, especially women. Women are judged by their appearance and feel great pressure to a degree most men couldn’t begin to fathom. Our society worships youth and beauty. We all struggle with issues of identity and appearance, and getting older can be a quite an obstacle course to navigate. (I once joked that in retrospect,  I am grateful I was always “reasonably attractive” rather than “devastatingly beautiful.” Growing old gracefully is probably easier for me than someone in the latter category.)

In addition, as HR people, it doesn’t matter if we are 27 or 57, we are also faced with the possibility that  our organizations may intentionally or unintentionally discriminate on the basis of age. I would imagine most of us have stories of blatant prejudice; I know I do. I will also say that my organization is very happy to recruit workers in the second half of their careers for some of our hard-to-fill professional positions. These more mature folks bring years of experience, advanced skill sets in many areas, and on top of that, they’re probably not going to jump ship tomorrow.

So enough about me. What about you? Do you have any personal reflections on growing older? On women with silver hair? Or thoughts or stories about age-related discrimination in the workplace? Is it rare? Rampant? Something you’re concerned about?

Photo: Robin, a real life Facebook acquaintance 18 months into her transition

About the author: Krista Francis, SPHR, is nonprofit HR Director and sometimes Acting Executive Director. She lives outside of Washington DC with her soccer-crazy hubby, two active teenagers, a neurotic cat and the best dog in the world, Rocky, aka Party like a Rockstar. In her loads of free time, she tries to keep her scooter running, tests margaritas for quality control purposes and blogs at aliveHR. You can connect with her on Twitter as @kristafrancis.

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Let’s Stop Playing it So Safe

Posted on April 12th, by Krista Francis in Business and Workplace. 7 comments

We all have pet peeves. One of my pet peeves is when we HR pros hide behind our mothers’ skirts.

We hide behind the skirts of our attorney–who (what do you know?) tends to give conservative advice. Or the skirts of compliance.

The skirts of the safe decision instead of the best choice. Or of doing what is required and nothing more. Of risk aversion, rather than risk management. Policy & Procedure.

Saying “No,” because it is so much easier and less complicated than saying, “Yes.”

Staying quiet rather than speaking up. Doing things the way we always have.

Coloring inside someone else’s lines instead of creating our own drawing.

Hiding behind the skirts means we’re seen as administrators, guardians, hall monitors, pencil pushers, police. It means we may come across as judgmental and haughty, inflicting our “HR tone” on anyone we decide steps out of line. Maybe our colleagues would take us much more seriously–and, heck,  like us more–if we would grow some cojones and act boldly based on our skill, knowledge, values and principles, rather than falling back on policies, procedures and regulations as our default.

Today I received an administrative position resume with two typos in the top third of the page. The safe, traditional HR response would be to roll one’s eyes in judgment and send a quick rejection letter. Instead (having recently updated my own resume and knowing how easy it is to make a stupid error after editing ad nauseum) I responded to her email, engaged her in conversation, and once she responded,  asked if she was open to feedback about her resume. When she responded affirmatively, I told her about the typos. She thanked me profusely. From her enthusiastic response, I  believe my small but out-on-a-limb gesture earned more goodwill than almost anything else I could have done. And yes, I know the conversation could just as likely have gone the other way, her reply could have been ungrateful and angry, because I’ve gotten those responses before.

This is just a tiny, almost inconsequential story of not hiding behind HR’s skirts. Sure, it wasn’t my job to bring the errors to her attention. I didn’t have to do it. It would have been much easier and faster to say nothing. But telling her seemed like the right thing and I took a risk. Please understand the purpose of this post is not to suggest proofreading resumes for all our applicants. We don’t have time for that. In this particular case, something called out to me about her and I knew that few others would be honest with her. I had the opportunity to be honest. Human. Kind. Rather than retreating to my safe place to rationalize doing nothing. This is just one small example to make a point.

When I encourage our profession to stop playing it so safe, I am also not advocating throwing caution to the wind to make foolish decisions that jeopardize your organization. I just think we all sometimes need reminders to stop and question our usual reactions and responses, and, where it makes sense, take risks to act in a new, different and more creative manner. And at the same time, we can work to avoid that HR haughtiness people hate–with a side benefit of possibly being taken more seriously.

photo by RG Photo


5 Things You Need for Long Term HR Staying Power

Posted on November 21st, by Krista Francis in Networks, Mentors and Career. 7 comments

A quick Google search nets dozens of lists with titles like “Nine Essential HR Skills.”

I’ve seen these lists debated from time to time and I don’t disagree that any of the of the frequently listed qualities are important. How can you argue with ethics, business knowledge, communication, organization and integrity? But most of the lists I see don’t include a number of traits that, after 15 years in HR, seem to me to be integral to an HR professional’s long-term staying power (not to mention mental and emotional health):

Optimism – Resilience – Persistence – Courage – Creativity

Some people work at such fabulous organizations where these qualities are less crucial. But the truth is that in many HR positions, in addition to witnessing fabulous successes within your organization, you encounter the underbelly or the dark side. You see candidates lying about their criminal past, employees faking injuries, people trying to get by doing the least amount possible, supervisors alienating their employees or turning a blind eye to employment laws, managers failing to manage and leaders failing to lead. And you are faced with an almost endless stream of ethical dilemmas and conundrums.

I work at a good company with an amazing CEO, yet I have to say that working in HR in my industry is not for the faint of heart. We’re a nonprofit faced with plenty of challenges. We employ mostly hourly workers, almost half of whom are first or second generation immigrants. They work around the clock at remote sites with a supervisor rarely present. Their work is important but not paid well by society. HR is not easy in this setting.

Within your own industry, you undoubtedly encounter different challenges and quirks. Regardless of your setting, if you work in HR, it helps to have:

Optimism. Remember what is good and right within your organization when things go wrong; 10% of people are probably causing 90% of your problems. Focusing too much on the 10% is a glass-half-full approach that may lead to you giving up, leaving your position or even abandoning HR.

Resilience. Have sufficient strength and flexibility to bounce back after disappointments and set-backs.

Persistence. Do not give up easily; when one thing doesn’t work, try 6 or 8 or 90 other things and don’t stop trying until you find something that does work.

Courage. It’s one thing to be ethical yet it’s another to speak up when you know something’s not right or when a response that is convenient in the short-run doesn’t serve the long-term interests of your business.

Creativity. Figure out how you’re going to address or communicate your concern or position without alienating the very people whose cooperation you need to succeed. Some may call this influence, and that’s certainly involved, but I’m thinking more of the mental processes like brainstorming, ingenuity, IQ and EQ.

There are a lot of qualities you must have or attain if you want to succeed in HR. But for long term staying power, you may need a few more. You need to have the drive to persist and the ability to maintain hope and creativity despite adversity and downright disillusionment.

I know you won’t all agree with my list 1o0%, so I’m interested to hear your rundown of the top essential HR skills.

photo by artfulblogger


Employee Benefits: Leave My Leave Alone

Posted on August 22nd, by Krista Francis in Wellness and Balance. 4 comments

Recently at a conference, I met some middle managers with a sad tale they were only too eager to share.

Senior leaders revamped the sick leave policy at XYZ, Inc. to save a few bucks. Under the new employee benefits policy, employees are required to use annual leave for the first 3 days of any illness. After 3 days, they may start accessing sick leave.

“Wow,” I said. “So if I stay home with a migraine, that’s a vacation day?”

“Yep,” they answered. Some vacation, I thought. A cruise to the Bahamas pales in comparison!

“How’s that working for ya?” I asked, trying to keep my sarcasm under wraps. Okay, I admit I didn’t try that hard.

“Not so great,”  they answered.

Now, when people are sick, they routinely stay out for 4 or more days rather than the former 1 or 2. Employees are out longer because they valiantly soldier through early symptoms before succumbing when illnesses worsen and  FMLA situations are way up. Of course, some people stay out longer because they are pissed off; they are going to stay home long enough to use their sick leave, dangit!

XYZ’s morale has plummeted. The new sick leave policy is a disaster, my new friends told me, and everyone knows it backfired except the CEO and his inner circle who seem totally oblivious to the destruction around them.

I don’t mind saying I felt a certain amount of judgment and moral superiority for several days as I thought about XYZ’s misguided move.

I shared the story more than once, and upon hearing it, people usually gasped, “Is that legal?” I’m no lawyer, but in general I think it is. In some cases though, XYZ risks violating at least one law, Maryland’s Flexible Leave Act. But more to the point, it feels wrong morally and is a really bad business idea.

I was feeling kind of righteous. A lot righteous, actually. Then I opened my ears and realized I was hearing complaints about leave benefits all around me online, at conferences, and even in the halls of my own office.

  • John repeatedly forfeiting annual leave because his workload precluded  the luxury of a vacation anytime in the near future.
  • Common complaints of people feeling permanently connected to work through wifi, laptops and smart phones even on the weekends or on vacation; they can’t truly get away.
  • An hourly worker, with unpredictable assignments that frequently leave her several hours shy of 40, who uses annual leave to make up the difference. While she wouldn’t mind doing this occasionally (and in fact might be grateful for the buffer in those cases), habitually relying on annual leave to attain a full paycheck takes the wind out of her vacation sails.
  • Anthony going to work in great pain the day after having two teeth extracted because his boss expected him at an important quarterly meeting; missing the meeting simply wasn’t an option on any level.

I thought of all these stories and asked myself whether the XYZ’s sick leave policy is in fact all that much more reprehensible than any of the other scenarios I list. In reality, they all fall way short of the ideal.

Organizations spend gazillions of dollars on employees benefits yet the full value of employee benefits is experienced by neither employees nor  management. Employees are already feeling the pinch of high health insurance premiums, deductibles  and co-pays and their benefit packages  feel less valuable even though we’re contributing more than ever. When we make people jump through hoops to take a much needed sick or vacation day, we’re leaving a bad taste in our employees’ mouths and we’re throwing our money down the drain.

Let’s stop doing this.

Photo by zzathras777


HR Frump

Posted on June 27th, by Krista Francis in Business and Workplace. 16 comments

Cynical Girl Laurie Ruettiman has occasionally described HR as frumpy, an accusation I thought slightly unkind yet largely irrelevant. But when I surveyed the crowd of primarily female HR people at a recent seminar, she was right.

With a few notable exceptions, we were middle-aged, frumpy and on the chubby side.

Of course, age is just a number and heavy women can exude beauty and style.  In case you don’t know, I am no fashionista; I am a tomboy with hints of thrift-store flower-child. My mantra has always been: comfort, comfort, comfort. Working in a nonprofit, I love that I could probably come to work in pajamas and not raise eyebrows. For much of my career, I wore khakis, a shapeless shirt, and shoes that can’t accurately be described as anything except butt-ugly. In other words, I was an ideal candidate for TLC’s What Not to Wear.

In fact, this show helped me see my attire in a whole new light: as a way to brand and promote myself, market my contribution to my organization, make myself feel good, and also communicate to the people in the room that I anticipate and honor our time together.

Since watching the show, my style evolution has been slow, modest, perhaps even unnoticed by others.  I struggle with a proportionately small waist and curvy thighs, making it almost impossible to find pants that don’t simultaneously gap and bind. Skirts would be a great alternative except I’d have to think ahead and shave my legs. And probably wear uncomfortable shoes. Yes, I’m still a tomboy.

But then I think about those ladies at the HR event and it gives me pause. Forgive me, but I couldn’t escape the thought that, with a few notable exceptions, we looked like a convention of retired librarians.

I wondered,  what image do we project to our employees when we dress like this? To our leadership, customers and constituents? Do we project confidence, boldness, vision, courage, innovation or vibrancy?

In fact, does anyone even notice us at all? Does the way we dress command attention and respect? Or do we just blend into the background where we belong while we quietly alphabetize workers comp forms or whatever else people assume HR does.

What would happen if we dressed as though we worked in advertising rather than in admin or in PR rather than Personnel?

As much as I love comfort, there will be no more HR frump in my office. I’m going to be creative, use color, explore my style and maybe even show my legs - confidently, vibrantly and without apology. Doing so communicates that I am awake. I am confident. I take pride in myself. I am aware it is 2011. I reinvent myself. I try new things. I take risks. I am my own person. I am not afraid.

After all, I am part of the HRevolution - not the HRarchives.

photo by estranelo_edessa


Compassion

Posted on May 25th, by Krista Francis in Women of HR Series: Hindsight 20/20. 3 comments

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?

This post is painful because it requires soul-bearing. Out of respect for parties involved, some details are disguised.

Peter struggled with punctuality and attendance. We’d spoken repeatedly about his ongoing lateness and absences. We’d talked about management’s need for employees to communicate their plans in a way that maximized our ability to adapt. I’d counseled him on our attendance policy and the correct way to notify me he would be late or absent; i.e., I needed him to call and speak to me directly, rather than defaulting to the easier, less direct route of leaving a midnight voice mail or resorting to text. We talked about this a number of times, but nothing improved.

To add insult to injury, when Peter was out, I had to do his job in addition to mine; and when I covered for him, I came across an inordinate amount of mistakes. So, in addition to addressing lateness, I’d spoken to him more than once questioning job fit.

I was genuinely fond of Peter, which made the discussion all the more difficult. Nonetheless, we were at a cross roads and I was  equally prepared to act in either of two opposite directions: if he turned his performance and attendance around, I was delighted for  him to stay with the organization; on the other hand, if he didn’t, my paper trail was perfectly laid for an au revoir.

Right at that critical fork in the road, Peter called out repeatedly for a variety of reasons, some of which stretched the limits of credibility. After four or five days of this, I lost my patience and terminated him over the phone in response to the latest, greatest (and might I add recycled) explanation for why he couldn’t possibly come to work at a really critical time.

In response to this news, he borrowed a co-worker’s key card to send an after-hours, flaming email to ‘all employees’ complaining how horribly I’d treated him, firing him so impersonally for no reason.

The IT person quickly retracted the communication but the damage was done.

What do you do in a situation like this? We chose to acknowledge the elephant in the room. We sent out a response saying that although management’s account naturally didn’t completely line up with Peter’s, we couldn’t comment on the details out of respect for both Peter and every other employee on our roster. We acknowledged Peter for his contributions and we wished him well in his future pursuits.

It was a painful time. I knew people were gossiping and conjecturing, and I felt my credibility plunge through the floor. People didn’t know I had a file half an inch thick documenting all the prior conversations, agreements, e-mails and warnings. And I felt horribly because I had not followed what would have been my own HR counsel, had I taken time to listen to myself:  take a deep breath, compose yourself, respond appropriately and with restraint to the current issue, review the paper-trail, look at the legalities and options, plan a strategy; and, if a termination is warranted, sit down with the employee and act matter-of-factly, not out of anger.

I beat myself up because I suddenly abandoned all that HR stuff and started bushwhacking my own trail. After assiduously running 25 miles of a marathon, I suddenly veered off-course,  abandoned the race, shot myself in the foot, threw it all away.  I felt like I didn’t walk my own walk or run my own race. That may be a lot of mixed metaphors for one short paragraph, but you get the picture.

This was a low, low, low period in my life for many months.

As much as it hurt, I later saw this wrenching setback as a blessing in some ways because of a few key learning points:

  1. HR can come off as self-righteous bureaucrats who pompously dispense cookie-cutter black-and-white solutions in a world that is, in reality, shades-of-gray. It was useful to be on the other side. I’m not so clear-cut anymore. I’m a little more real.
  2. We like to think that we can separate personal from business, but the truth is we develop relationships in the workplace and it can be traumatic to sever those  ties, regardless of the reason. Sometimes HR forgets this. It was instructive and  invaluable  to experience firsthand the emotion that can accompany an imperfect separation.

Since this experience, believe me, I am less likely to judge managers for other-then-textbook responses. I am less likely to presumptuously give advice unless asked.

Although I’m not glad that Peter and I had this painful and semi-public debacle, the situation was a blessing in some ways. Now I’m a kinder, gentler HR person and I have more compassion for the real-life issues of managing people in an imperfect world.

photo by emilyvalenza


Four Technology Phases of My Worklife

Posted on April 20th, by Krista Francis in Business and Workplace. 5 comments
I’ve been working for almost a quarter century now.  Can you believe it? Oprah’s got her 25 years and I have mine. Job by job, let me take you through how technology has changed since I started working in the late ’80s.
  1. First Nonprofit Job. Faxing is fairly new and beepers are big. The phone is our most frequently used tool. We handwrite documents and the secretary types them on a word processor. We have actually been known to cut and paste. Not CTRL+C and CTRL+V, but cutting with scissors and pasting with tape. Yep, that’s how old I am!
  2. Second Nonprofit Job. Our department has one shared computer, a Mac. Everyone does their own admin work. The CFO gets the sole Internet connection and it’s dial-up. Job applications are on paper or faxed. We conduct most of our business conversations by phone.
  3. Government Job. Everyone has their own PC. Internet research, intranet, e-mail, electronic timesheets and Outlook become a part of daily life. We don’t use our desk phones as much. Most people have cellphones; they’re the size of bricks but we love them.
  4. Current Job. Our accounting software and HRIS are originally installed on our servers but over time move to the web. Job applications evolve from paper to email to Internet. We have a Facebook page, we tweet, we hire a half-time communications person. We e-mail to arrange phone calls. Much of my own networking is done through social media and we look to the web for a wide range of solutions to everyday challenges. Our cell phones are getting smarter all the time and we try to figure out how to get them to do more of our work.

Looking back, it is truly amazing to me to reflect on how work tools and technology have changed since I started earning a paycheck.

I know we have readers who started working before me but I imagine there are more who entered the workforce long after. In fact, many of our younger readers probably began working after I started my current job!  

Millennials, can you imagine using typewriters and beepers, pen and paper? Can you imagine trying to work without a computer or access to the Internet? I bet you can’t. You might try, but I don’t think you can do it.

Just like I can’t begin to imagine what technological changes the next 25 years will bring.

photo by: feck_aRt_post