A company’s greatest asset is its human capital.
In the book, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies, Tom Peters shares the merits of taking interest in the office water cooler discussions and caring what employees really think about the company and their work. When executives actually listen to their employees, the difference in the company’s culture, respect for each other and performance is measurably different.
When the management doesn’t care, you can sense the difference in the company when you walk through the door. I have worked for companies where the employees felt no more important than the pawn in a chess game. They knew it, their managers knew it, and the company knew it.
If you really do value your employees – great! But how is this reflected in your workforce? I am not referring to health care benefits, 401(k) packages, stock purchase plans, bell-curve salary hikes or even the niceties denoted in quarterly and annual reports. These are simply the tickets to entry in today’s world. I am talking about the stuff that really drives employee loyalty and over-the-top performance.
Be genuinely interested.
The best leaders I have worked for took an interest in my life. Not just what I could do for them or the company, though that was critical for my job. But as an individual intent on doing the best job I could for them with dreams of my own. They did what they could to help me succeed and never asked me to do more than what they would ask of themselves. And in return – I worked like a Trojan for them and remain loyal to them to this day. I behaved as if I was their greatest asset. This approach costs no money, no increase in salary or stock options. Yet, the investment of sincere interest pays huge dividends. The next time you are with one of your team members, ask them: What is the greatest hurdle you are facing right now? And then be quiet, let them talk and LISTEN.
At the end of the day, people choose to work for people.
Whether it is a first level individual contributor working for a first line manager or a senior vice president working for the CEO, they are all individual people. Each person has his or her own individual needs, insecurities, challenges and dreams. Creating an environment where people are truly valued as the company’s greatest asset starts with the individual. That individual will set the tone for his or her team, organization or even a large Fortune 50 company.
To know if you’re fostering a culture where people are the company’s greatest asset, ask yourself the following questions or bring them up at the next HR staff meeting:
- Are our employees truly our greatest asset? If so, do we treat them as such?
- What are we doing to bring out the best in our employees and equally the best for our companies?
- Are our intentions fully aligned to support the individuals who make up our company?
When you can honestly answer, address, and align yourself and your company to those questions, you will have found the secret to getting the most for and from your greatest asset – and deliver the greatest value to your organization.
Brand matters. It really does. At the beginning of the year, I accepted a learning and development role with a major not-for-profit brand here in Australia.
I happily took the significantly reduced pay to work for an organization that had such a fantastic public profile. As I started my role, I was filled with pride and wanted to let everyone know that I had ditched the corporate world for a kinder, better place to work.
That lasted about 3 weeks.
I then began to realize that something was horribly wrong. I remember at my induction being somewhat overwhelmed by the guiding principles of the organization. There they were on the wall in the boardroom – large plaques with explanatory notes of each principle underneath. A significant amount of time was spent explaining these during the induction process and I wondered how the principles would be upheld internally.
As I said, it took about 3 weeks for me to find out that the principles were not upheld very robustly internally. In fact, if I am brutally honest, this organization has a pretty poor track record of treatment of its internal people. This shows in the retention rate (I won’t name a figure here but the number of people who resign in the first year is extremely high) and the general day to day conduct of some internal employees.
I personally experienced some of this first hand, where I had some very challenging and highly unprofessional interactions with several people. The end result of these experiences was my resignation after 6 months in the role. It doesn’t really end there though.
At the moment I am still grieving for the organization I thought I had joined, I am coming to terms with being let down by people who I assumed were better than they turned out to be. The whole experience has left a bitter taste and has impacted the way I see the not-for-profit sector.
While I am professional, amongst my friends I am not exactly singing the praises of the organization I worked for and I would never recommend the organization as an employer of choice.
My point in telling this story is to draw attention to organizational branding and to share that it is possible for an organization to have a brilliant external brand while internally they are struggling. This is unfortunate for those potential employees who are drawn to an organization based on its external brand (which would be most of us).
Now, consider your own organization and think about the following questions:
- How do your external clients see your organization?
- How do your internal employees see your organization?
- Do your internal and external brands match?
What do the answers have to say for your organization? How would current and past employees answer the same questions?
Photo credit iStockphoto
Though I am an adult, I love dressing up on Halloween. To be honest, I relish any excuse to put on a costume. I’m the friend who begs you to have a themed birthday party so I can wear a feather boa or pirate eye patch without feeling ashamed.
Halloween can be a lot of fun, but it can also cause some potential problems in the workplace. No one wants to see their boss in a hula skirt and coconut bra. HR professionals can avoid a lot of hassle by planning and creating specific Halloween policies.
Be ready for conflicting opinions
You’re not likely to get a consensus on how your employees feel about Halloween. There may be people begging for a party while others find the holiday offensive. Prepare yourself for the mix of opinions that you will likely be confronted with. Regardless of what you decide, I wouldn’t make participation mandatory. Forcing your employees into clown wigs will not make for a happy staff.
Make costume guidelines that match the culture of your company
If you work for a company that has happy hour on Fridays, dressing up for Halloween is probably encouraged. If you work in a very serious corporate environment that has client meetings all day, you might decide that dressing up would be a distraction. Whether or not to allow costumes depends entirely on your company’s culture. If you do allow employees to dress up, make guidelines for them to follow.
I used to teach Mommy and Me classes. Dressing up was encouraged for the entire week of Halloween. I came in the first day dressed as a fairy, ready to teach my one year olds. It seemed like a safe costume choice for the audience, but one look at my blue wig, crazy eye makeup and gigantic wings made all twelve babies begin hysterical crying. Later in the week when I dressed like a lion, my four year olds loved it. Your costume guidelines should consider who your employees are and what they will be doing.
Decide whether or not to include families
Nothing is cuter than a baby dressed as a tiny owl. Or a toddler in a pumpkin costume. Or a child dressed like a cowgirl. Basically, any small person in any sort of costume is sure to be adorable. Working parents might want to show off their little elephants and California rolls (which is what my nephew and niece wore their first Halloween). You have to decide whether or not to allow children in the workplace.
Some offices allow their employees to bring their kids for some cubicle to cubicle trick-or-treating. Let your employees know whether or not their families can be included in Halloween celebrations. Again, your company’s culture and business practices will be a huge factor in whether or not this is appropriate. Though children in costumes are sweet, they also might be distracting. Some employees might not want to be interrupted with trick-or-treaters when they are trying to work.
Personally, I will come to work on October 31st in an appropriate costume (any suggestions are welcome). However, I won’t judge my peers that choose to dress in their normal clothes. Halloween is subjective, so though I find it delightful, I don’t expect you to. Even if I am the only person dressed up, I’ll wear my costume with pride. It can’t be worse than the year that I worked a ten hour shift at a hotel only realize when I got home that my wings were on upside down the entire time.
Photo credit iStockphoto
About the author: Erin Palmer works with Villanova University on programs such as Masters in Human Resources. She happily writes for a living and enjoys mentioning that fact to people who think that Writing and English majors will never find a job. She loves to meet new people, so reach out to her on Twitter @Erin_E_Palmer.
The photo on page 25 shows your marketing department playing ping-pong in the cafeteria. The caption next to your director’s shirt reads, “No tie required, but ironing is encouraged.” Another picture includes your shipping department filling out their March Madness brackets and the description reads, “Playing for fun only, no money changes hands. Aren’t they a well- groomed looking crew?” The receptionist’s picture has an arrow pointing to her legs with this tag: “Nylon hose is optional. We left that back in the 1970s and we welcome your comfort.”
These pictures are not pinned up in the storage room behind the 5-gallon water bottles or in the lunchroom where they’re sure to be bleached by the sun’s rays. Rather, they are strategically and playfully illustrating the company’s culture and policies in a book created BY the employees to get buy-in FROM the employees.
Is this book a small toy company’s employee manual? No, being creative and engaging when it comes to company culture and policies is not confined to small, edgy design firms. Any company, from Fortune 500 manufacturing and leading technology giants to your local start-up can benefit from tossing their stale, facts-only, what-not-to-do handbooks in favor of something human and real. This method allows you to create a culture handbook with greater transparency and buy-in.
When you have a culture handbook that is filled with photos of the employees sharing comments about a positive, productive work environment and what that really means to them, you are establishing and sustaining your company culture. It’s a fun (and sometimes funny) way to engage people in culture creation.
It’s not Human Resource’s job to craft a company’s culture, it is a privilege given to each department. Assign them the responsibility for a 3-4 page spread. They should take photos of their team members, write out what they do, and how they contribute value to the hum of the company. Of course, each department’s contribution must pass the “corporate” legal experts, but it will do so in a way that supports commitment over compliance.
You can even address your company mission (and pet-peeves) in a playful way. For example, let’s say one of your missions is that you want the company, as a whole, to be helpful – to each other, your clients and your vendors. That’s a great mission, but what does it mean?
What things are you doing, saying and projecting that are measurably helpful? Is it helpful to leave a half-dozen dirty coffee mugs in the sink right next to the working dishwasher, expecting someone else to load it (does your mom work here)? What does it do to the company culture when no one takes responsibility for the overflowing trashcan? Is that behavior congruent with your “helpful” company mission?
What if you had a photo of the used “K-cup” in the coffee maker and crafted a pithy caption that illustrated how important it was to take responsibility and be helpful? It would be far more effective and better received than pointing fingers and putting up obnoxious signs on the kitchen wall. The fact that the mugs, the trash, and the K-cup made it into the handbook at all sends a strong message.
When the culture handbook is published, not only does each team want to see their own pictures, they want to look through everyone else’s photos and read policies in the form of fun captions in the language of your company. Your culture handbook will still comply with Federal and State regulations, but it is now an engaging document that people will want to read and even want to embrace.
Photo credit iStockphoto
A couple weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about HR. He said that my job must be really difficult since no one trusts HR.
I always find this topic quite interesting because it’s true.
I was in a meeting around culture and inclusion at my employer and I was the “Lone HR Ranger” and there was a lot of beef about how people don’t trust HR.
So, with this is mind, I said to my friend:
“I don’t think there are a lot of people in my field who would admit to this, but I think people distrust HR because in most organizations HR serves management first, rather than the associate.”
I find this to be so incredibly true in my experience. Very rarely do we take the extra time to find out both sides to the story. We don’t create a 360-degree vision while solving employee relation issues. Sometimes the metrics speak for themselves: Are they meeting their numbers? Are customers complaining? Are they actually working? In those cases, fine, I get it. That’s clearly a performance management issue there. Case closed.
But, stepping back and thinking through conversations I’ve had with friends who don’t work in HR at my employer and with friends at other organizations, people flat out do not feel comfortable bringing issues to light to HR because they believe their job will be in jeopardy, no one will listen or the story will be turned around on them.
I personally find myself on the fence around this issue.
There isn’t a perfect answer. One side of me says, “HR is here for the employee.” The employee is obviously defined as management AND non-management. The “employee” is anyone who works for the employer. I’m not writing this because I feel like I have the answers. In fact, I don’t have any answers at all.
However, here are some things to think about:
- We have to create a 360-degree vision around employee-related issues in HR.
- How well do we honor the confidentiality of the employee? Are we giving them reason to not trust HR?
- Do we create a sense of safety so they feel like they CAN trust HR? How often have you received a phone call where the employee doesn’t even want to tell you his/her name?
- Are we listening as an ally with the employee? I mean, really listening. Listen first, talk second.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again, I do not have the answers and this is only my experience. So tell me – does your HR organization work mostly for management or the associate or BOTH?
Can HR be trusted?
Photo credit iStock Photo
My primary online community (other than this one, of course) is a place called Metafilter. I”ve been involved there for more than ten years now. In addition to cataloging “the best of the web,” the site hosts a question/answer forum called Ask Metafilter. Unlike Yahoo Answers or so many failed similar sites, the responses to queries on AskMe are almost uniformly thoughtful, on point, and informed.
For instance, in response to a typical Dear Abby-type question regarding an acquaintance asking to stay with a MeFi member in their NYC apartment for ten days, Andrea Donderini, aka Tangerine, posted a response that I’ve thought about for months. She said,
This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.
In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.
In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.
The writer cuts a cultural distinction that subtly affects all of our careers, workplaces, and families. Too focused on making the Ask, and you’re seen as a boor. Too focused on timing the Guess just right, and you’ll get run over.
Add that framework to an understanding of the power dynamics in any typical workplace, and you’re well on your way to clarity regarding some of the reasons conversations regarding performance, pay, and other delicate matters get weird.
I can think of dozens of examples where this difference has played out at work, with friends, online, and in volunteer situations. I bet you can, too. A recent example: My “Guess Culture” HR intern had her feelings hurt recently because, in response to a request for some time off, my “Ask Culture” assistant was much more blunt with a “No” than my intern would have been. To my intern, the “No” served primarily as a rebuke that she had made a request at all, and was much more embarrassing than it would have been to my assistant. And discussing it was just pouring salt on the wound – far more painful than just leaving it alone. My assistant is both very assertive and very extroverted, so everything in her wanted to process the upset – while my intern simply wanted to all go away.
When we think about diversity, it’s easy to forget that there are many, many, layers to our differences. The worst thing you can do is to assume that someone wants to be treated as you’d like to be treated – by paying attention to these subtle style differences, you show respect and a willingness to meet your coworkers where they are, rather than where you are.
And you’re welcome for the introduction to Metafilter. Don’t get too addicted!