Over the years I’ve had a handful of people reach out to me to find out what my thoughts are on workplace flexibility–namely, for men. Many people still seem to be stuck in the thought process that women need flexibility for work and family time, but men don’t.
And that sucks.
I have a wonderful wife and twin girls running around at home. My wife works full time as a teacher, and if she ever has to be off work it takes several hours of advance planning and preparation for a substitute. Guess who has the “easy” job when it comes to flexibility? Yeah, I drew that straw.
The great part is that I work for a wonderful company. The not-so-great part is that as the resident HR pro, I have to be vigilant about fighting off the insidious mediocrity that lurks around the corner. A manager starts talking about “core work hours?” I coach them in the other direction. Another leader starts talking about eliminating the ability to work from home? I discuss the retention of key people due to our flexibility in the past.
99% of the time these discussions aren’t difficult or malicious, and in every instance thus far I’ve been able to guide the manager back to the reason we offer these accommodations to our staff in the first place. We want to be different. We want to focus on our people. We want our people to trust us so that we, in turn, can trust them with our customers.
Whenever my focus starts to slip, I think back to the day when the girls were born. We had been expecting it for a few months, obviously, and I went in to tell my manager that I needed a week off to help with the girls. The look of disgust on her face has never left my mind even after several years.
That’s why I fight for our people.
That’s why I fight for flexibility.
That’s my battle cry. What’s yours?
About the Author: Ben Eubanks is an HR professional, author, and speaker from Huntsville, AL. During the day he works as an HR Manager for Pinnacle Solutions, an award-winning defense contractor. After work hours, he writes at upstartHR, an HR blog focusing on leadership, passion, and culture.
Do women think and behave differently than men when making ethical decisions? Are we really the exemplars of good decisions and good deeds when we occupy leadership positions?
Women aren’t ethical simply because they are female. Carol Gilligan, psychologist, asserts that women do operate with a unique ethical perspective because of cultural conditioning. She states that men are more concerned with issues of rules and justice, while women focus more on caring relationships and are less likely to judge others. Such concern does not in itself lead to ethical (wise) decisions. The practice of ethics takes a lifetime of learning and we are only as good at it as our history indicates. Those striving to be ethical start over every day, hoping to do it right.
Both genders share some common misconceptions about how to activate ethics in the workplace. Whether a decision is ethical or not is not defined by expressed beliefs or a values statement, but by behavior—what is actually said and done—and its impact on others. Women should prepare to maintain an ethical perspective backed by actions once in the midst of corporate demands. Understand that “good people” can do the wrong thing. One slips down an ethical slope one small step at a time. Understanding the laws of behavior make that slip less likely. Here are a few practical steps to help you maintain your balance:
Step 1: Learn about behavior.
Once you begin to see ethical behavior as a function of the consequences that have surrounded that pattern over many years, you see how much you can do to help a person learn new ways to demonstrate values. To increase ethical behavior, don’t look to what people say they do, rather, look at what they do and the impact of their behavior. Learn how to pinpoint, measure, and reinforce the patterns that count.
Step 2: Make open dialogue possible.
As women, we tend to think that we are great listeners and conversationalists. But we, too, may be guilty of closing the door on dialogue when we’re in charge. To sustain ethical patterns of behavior at work, telling the truth is essential for all employees. Therefore, leaders at all levels must understand their role in promoting, not punishing, truth telling. That is where ethical leadership does the most good—you must always be ready to influence the ethical conditions, or lack, in your workplace. The freedom to discuss issues without negative repercussions is a sign of an ethical workplace.
Step 3: Live the example.
The workplace is not a democracy, but a venue in which some are reported to and others report. This hierarchal structure can create situations in which those in charge forgo common courtesies. If it is unacceptable for your employees to slam doors, yell, or make derisive remarks, then don’t do so yourself. When you use negative techniques to get what you want, employees are afraid to tell the truth about things that matter. Such aversive tactics are doubly unethical when you are in a position to control the consequences for another person.
Step 4: Be accountable.
Currently, there are now more discussions of caps for executive compensation—a pay for performance notion. Imposed regulations will escalate if individuals don’t stand up for reason and fairness on this issue. Watch the perks of the office. Be alert to who got you there and take care in how you exercise your ‘rights’. Male or female, we learn to justify inequities that are in our favor one step at a time. If you ask your employees to make sacrifices, make those sacrifices yourself; that may not be the rule, but it is the ethical choice.
Step 5: Reward yourself and others.
Employees need to know what you value. People aren’t all alike and don’t want the same types of recognition. Some people love public hoopla; others hate it and might just appreciate a sincere thank you. Find out the differences and let people know what is important to you as well.
Treat yourself the way you want to be treated. Make decisions seeking a balance between the rights of others, justice, the common good and self-interest.
Gilligan concluded that women are not inferior (or superior) in their moral development, but different, because we focus on connections with others and lean toward exercising an “ethic of care” over an ethic of mere justice. It is this unique difference that we should use and integrate into our workplace interactions.
About the author: As internationally known consultant and president and chief executive officer of Aubrey Daniels International, Darnell Lattal designs and implements behavior-based business strategies to achieve core initiatives. In partnership with her clients, Darnell has expertly contributed to organizational redesign and change management and other core business processes. Darnell has authored several books.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
Company executives often appear to be Jekyll and Hyde to regular employees. What do I mean by that? Take the current trend to include “entrepreneurial mindset” on job descriptions.
By including this item, executives are saying they want people who don’t just “do.” They want people who ask meaningful questions, look across disciplines for better opportunities, identify and manage risk, and work hard, oftentimes with long hours. It’s not uncommon to hear, “create an ownership feeling with the employees.”
The problem with this desire is that most employees don’t have any ownership in the business. Their efforts may be rewarded with a bump in pay or a bonus, but those things are not normally directly related to profit. They’re calculated by many different means, but in the end it often comes down to a subjective measure by management about how well they felt individual employees performed.
So what employees hear is that they should work long, hard hours, question the status quo, and take risks. Questioning and taking risks means there will be failure. This fact is inevitable. When an employee fails, he is not rewarded. In fact, he is often punished. His potential raise or bonus is decreased or eliminated.
To add to the confusion, managers often criticize employees for asking questions or offering alternatives to the task at hand. It takes a very strong manager to create an environment in which employees feel safe asking questions or offering suggestions.
Most companies would benefit if all their employees had an entrepreneurial mindset, and felt safe enough to exercise it. When you find yourself including this item on job descriptions, perhaps you might take a step back and look at the management staff in place. Are they strong enough to allow people to question them?
About the author: April Kunzelman spends her days working with the non-profit organization Chemo Cargo, aimed at assisting first-time chemotherapy patients. Connect with April on Twitter as @akunzel and @chemocargo.
As women in business, we’re accustomed to seizing opportunities when they present themselves. One opportunity that is consistently under-utilized and undervalued is competitive synergy, working with your competition instead of against them. In today’s economy, if you want to succeed, you may have to put to rest that old “them or me” spirit and view your competitors not as enemies but as potential allies.
Think about it: five fingers alone don’t cause much damage in a fight but when you bring them together to form a fist, well, you can pack a pretty mean punch. Now imagine those fingers are five women on their own in the business arena and consider how much damage they could do if they came together.
That is the essence of competitive synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By working together, you and your “competition” can both be more successful and gain that market edge that neither one of you seem to be able to reach on your own. By communicating with those around you, you can turn a potential negative into a positive and start working smarter, not harder.
Onward and Upward
It’s no secret that one of the driving forces behind striking out on your own in the business world is to be your own boss. You want to be in charge of your schedule and in control of your own success. A great benefit to partnering with other like-minded business women is that you can maintain your autonomy while drawing from each other’s strengths. You can work with each other instead of working for each other. And those are always the best partnerships – ones where both members are on equal footing.
Even though you are on the same level, you both have something unique to bring to the table. Start by reaching out to those in your “circle.” Identify those professionals, both women and men, who offer the same or related goods or services as you. For example, if you are a wedding planner, your circle consists of other wedding planners, as well as caterers, florists, musicians, bridal shop owners, party suppliers, hotel and restaurant managers, etc. Pay them a visit and introduce yourself, leave some business cards and take some of theirs. Ask them to hand yours out and offer to do the same.
Chances are they will be receptive to you because they recognize that by teaming up, they extend their reach into your resources and now have access to your customers and clients that they might not have had otherwise.
To the Victor Goes the Spoils…and so much more
One of the keys to a successful business endeavor is minimizing risk and maximizing returns. If you combine the time, energy, effort, expertise, and finances of others, think of how much more you can accomplish than on your resources alone. By joining forces with those in your circle, you not only share the glory when your efforts succeed, but you also share the losses, the upfront costs, and the responsibility.
For example, one way to engage your new alliance might be to offer your brides (in keeping with the wedding planner example above) a package deal. Go in with a caterer, a photographer, a bakery and an entertainment company and promote yourselves as a “one-stop shop” for brides. Each of you can market the deal separately, and divide the costs for a large radio or television spot, and you have now reached five distinct pools where you would have only hit one before.
Alternatively, you could co-host a party or co-sponsor a benefit with your new ally. Divide duties and costs between yourselves and each of you can invite your respective rolodexes. The end result is a great time and new connections for all, with each of you only bearing half of the brunt.
It’s a Win-Win for Everyone
Not only will you increase the bottom line for both of your businesses by what you save, but you will also increase your professional goodwill in your community for what you give. For example, if you are not so fixated on how to beat your competition, you can focus more on customer service. This includes the security to send your patrons down the street to your new partner when she can better meet their needs. Not only will your customers thank you for saving them time, but they will also appreciate your integrity and are more likely to return to you in the future and direct others your way. Moreover, your new business buddy will pay it forward when she can send her people your way. Everybody wins.
What are some of the ways you have teamed up with would-be competitors? How else do you see partnering up with others in your field as a good thing?
About the author: Erin Schwartz is the marketing and social media manager at 123Print.com. 123Print is a leading provider of a high variety of quality items for small businesses like custom business cards, address labels, and other materials for small businesses and solo practitioners.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
We are all guilty of it at one point or another. We mislabel it as hand holding, coaching, giving directions, leading, etc. In reality there is a world of difference between what we are really doing and all these labels we mask it under. I’m talking about nothing but that hideous spoon-feeding we all do.
Everyday we hear of stories from managers complaining about how over-reliant their employees have become on their managers to solve the tiniest of problems; how no one bothers to research an answer, and worse, as one manager put it, how this ’laziness’ as he termed it, is catching up with whom he thought were the stars on his team. The managers’ agonies are genuine and we do sympathise with them (by we I mean the HR community. After all, of all functions, HR suffers most from this spoon-feeding habit: as an employee, I don’t have to research what benefits I’m entitled for, I will call HR and they will read me that clause in the policy which by the way, is a click of a button away from me on the company portal!).
But being genuine doesn’t take away our responsibility as leaders for allowing this to fester. Let’s admit it, spoon-feeding is our own hands wrong doing. We do it with all the good intentions in the world but a time must come when we must push back if we want to institute a performance culture in our organisations.
For the one or two of you who want to know what sparked the idea of me writing this short posting about this topic, well the HR team literally spent the past 2 weeks answering employees calls and responding to emails of how to complete the employee engagement survey launched earlier last month. Despite the fact that the communication employees received was so clear, and contained a detailed step by step guide, yet no one seemed interested in reading and instead, the easy way out, ring HR, they will read for us!!
So yes, back to my point, for everyone’s sake, let’s please stop the spoon-feeding. And here’s why:
- As a leader, you want to encourage your employees to find solutions to problems they are facing. You expect them to have explored all possible solutions before knocking on your door with a problem. After all they are fully competent to do so. One leader I know constantly pushes back by asking his team two questions when they come to him with a problem: a- what in your opinion is the solution to this problem? And b- if you were me how would you solve this problem?
- Embedding the above within the culture of your organization is a perquisite of innovation. One effective approach is to challenge assumptions and stay in question mode. You want to ensure that your employees are exhausting all possibilities, and they are doing this on their own. Your role as a leader on the other hand is to trust and provide them with the right environment and resources. Do that and a new idea is inevitable. You start unearthing the potential in your team, which leads me to the third reason.
- Stopping the spoon-feeding is an effective approach to identify future leaders. Combined with the right level of empowerment, the stars on the team have an opportunity to discover new ways of doing things, do away with ‘that’s how things were done in the past’ syndrome, and outperform. Spoon-feeding keeps employees stuck in a rut and breeds mediocrity.
- Spoon-feeding erodes accountability. There is no ownership, period. You, the leader, get sucked up into solving day-to-day problems. Productivity and performance suffer.
Moral of my posting today is to say ”No” to spoon-feeding if you want an engaged population and you able to add the value a leader should be bringing to the table.
About the author: Hanadi El Sayyed is a Senior Human Resources Business Partner working for Majid Al Futtaim Properties, the market leader in development and management of shopping malls in the Middle East. Based in Dubai she specialises in strategic workforce planning and development with an emphasis on corporate sustainability and sustainable development. You can reach her on Linkedin or on Twitter as@Hana_ElSayyed.
I happen to have a propensity for guilt. Although I am not sure of the origins of this tendency to own every hiccup in life, I battle it daily. Add that I am a working mother of two small girls and this doesn’t help with my guilt ridden personality.
When it comes to being a working mom, I often cannot quite tell what exactly I feel so guilty about. Do I regret not having as much time as I would like with my girls? Or am I feeling badly about the fact that I like my job, that it satisfies a core part of my personality? If the latter, what kind of mother does that make me?
I would like to think that every mom feels just like I do but the fact is they don’t. I have some amazing women in my life who are strong and confident in their choices to excel at work and raise really likable children. These women are wonderful examples to me and their advice helps me curb the guilt.
Recently I had coffee with a girlfriend who is not only successful but is raising two adorable boys. I asked her to share insight on how she gets through the day without nagging bouts of self-reproach.
- Stop apologizing for your choices. Yes you work. Yes you like it. Yes you love your kids. All of these things can go together without competing (well most of the time-perhaps not when you have to call in sick because your 2 year old caught some awful version of the stomach bug). Change your perspective and focus on what a great example you can be to your children by modeling work ethic, passion, and drive. These are important traits to possess and who better to teach your children than you?
- Be true to who you are. Follow your own path and not a prescribed path you think is correct. There are so many ways to “mommy” children. Do it your way and you will feel better about it. I spent the first year of my oldest daughter’s life trying to prescribe to every sleep ritual out there. None of them felt right to me and none of them worked well for my daughter. Once I accepted the fact that the
There are a lot of guides and books that will provide information on how to get a promotion. The problem with these books is that they assume the journey ends after being promoted. Once somebody has been promoted they are going to be under even more pressure than before because their superiors are going to be checking that they can cope in their new surroundings.
Knowing how to get promoted is one thing, but knowing how to keep that promotion is another one all together. Here are three core tips to help you keep that promotion and flourish.
Ask for Help
When someone is thrust into a new and exciting position they’re not going to know everything about everything. At the same time, their egos are going to be peaking and they will want to show that they can do the job. Naturally, asking for help isn’t going to be something that ranks highly. The truth is that not asking for help is the worst thing that can happen.
Asking for help is expected. Those superiors know that their newly-promoted employee hasn’t done the job before. They know that they don’t know everything about what they are supposed to be doing. On the contrary, asking for help is a sign of professionalism and expertise. Peers and superiors are there to help. The worst thing in the world is pushing forward and destroying one of the company projects or upsetting a major client.
People are promoted based on what they have displayed in the workplace. It means that superiors want that same behaviour and same display in this new role because they believe that it’s right for the company. Changing face to beco
me more of a disciplinarian or more of a person who demands respect is not going to impress anybody.
Think of it like this, a new role has been taken up, but this new role shouldn’t have a new person in it. The person should be exactly the same and they should be making sure that they don’t change for any reason. Approach the task with the same professionalism that won the job in the first place.
Companies who promote their employees are looking to see if those same employees can properly adapt to their new roles. If they are now a superior to their friends then they expect them to treat them accordingly. They shouldn’t be taken advantage of and they should be making sure that everybody does their own work.
One of the major failings of managers who are promoted is that they will do their friends lots of favours. If a project is running overdue then it will be them who work late whilst their friends go home. A good manager is friendly and firm. They shouldn’t let their personal emotions get in the way of their duties. The company might not demote the manager in this sort of situation, but they will quickly become stressed out as they are shouldering the burdens of others.
Transition to a new leadership role can be daunting. What tips do you have for new or aspiring leaders?
About the author: This post is written by Miles Schmidt who works for Ochre House, the leading international partner for HR Outsourcing, recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) and strategic talent management.
Photo credit: iStockPhoto
When it comes to leadership, inspiration and determination go hand in hand. Women CEOs of some of the biggest corporations around have put both to great use with how they established themselves to provide leadership to their organizations.
Yahoo has tasked Marissa Mayer’s inspiration to lead the lagging Yahoo enterprise back to prominence. I’ll always remember her advice at the 2011 Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner, “When you do something you’re not ready to do, that’s when you push yourself and you grow.” With the news of Marillyn Hewson’s position atop Lockheed Martin, the number of women CEOs in corporate America strengthens to 21. And whether it’s Hewson, Mayer, Rometty, Woertz or the other women CEOs making waves, there’s no shortage of inspiration and determination to go around.
Here are a few ways to put your inspiration and determination to good use and sharpen your leadership skills - with a dash of confidence and sprinkle of humility.
Yearn to Learn More
Don’t settle for being content with whatever role you hold in business. By content, I don’t mean being happy with the position you hold – CEO, V.P., Executive Manager, or Assistant Manager, it doesn’t matter. I’m talking about reaching higher and wanting to learn more about what new marketing practices await or how to top the best motivational speakers out there, or how to think more creatively. There’s so much to attain. Tell yourself you haven’t mastered your role and that it’s always an evolution.
Trepidation Just Asks For More Quicksand
Stop second-guessing yourself and making only timid attempts to give your business a swift kick in the rear. Basically, any attempts to avoid grabbing the limelight and put it to good use can slow down the progress of your business and shackle the truest sense of your leadership.
Your employees beneath you are begging for direction in some form. And a timely assertion, no less. The moment you start pulling in the reins of your decision-making because you have shreds of doubt about how it might be perceived by others is the moment your confidence begins to drain, and employee motivation may wane soon after.
Instead, lead with confidence and enthusiasm at every turn. Be that beacon that steers your employee’s ship to an ocean of possibilities, rather than guides them toward the rocks.
Lead With Humility
Now I know what you may be thinking. I just said to assert yourself on a moment’s notice just then, so why be humble if some people think that as a sign of weakness? I’ll tell you why with a true story that still continues to this day.
It’s about a friend of mine who holds a V.P. position of a very successful, Fortune 500 software company. And a good part of her job requires hiring high-level management roles that demand a ton and pay handsomely. There are numerous interviews, sit-downs, performance reviews and so forth, and the process as a whole can take a while. Yet, the one determining trait I always came away with was how she would end every interview with the potential hire:
Do you feel lucky?
If answered no, the person wasn’t considered for the job. It wasn’t because she had bad experiences around boastful people, it’s beca
use she demanded a humble approach to the role. Because if you can’t feel lucky for every networking opportunity you received in life, or how all your hard work and all the hoops jumped through led to this position, at this very time…then it’s a trait that may not mesh well in the end with the employees you’re responsible for.
Open The Doors of Creative Expression
Creative expression in business is a plus with every employee, whether they’re entry-level or higher up the chain. Not to use the oft-repeated buzzword of “thinking outside the box” (because that’s been played out far too long), but creative mojo leads to innovative thinking, better communication towards problem-solving and births new marketing foundations and approaches to projects.
As a leader, you should welcome all questions and thoughts from your employees, no matter how small or obscure the idea may seem. Constructive criticism should – and often does – lead to a consensus that all levels of employees can eventually build upon. Invite the best from your employees at every turn, and the leadership commanded from that simple request can grow to great heights.
And By Golly, Find Time For Yourself!
I was reading through an exceptional op-ed on the Harvard Business Review from Lauren Stiller Rikleen on U.S. competitiveness from a global perspective in relation to work-life balance. In it, she notes that the U.S. ranks 17th worldwide in work-life policies, with many of the leading countries offering many supportive measures of a well-earned break – whether it’s maternity leave or something more – for employees. Multiple studies concluded that, through flexible policies for businesses and their employees, loyalty (and you could argue, productivity) to the company was very high.
And really, the work-life balance dilemma is a tricky issue to master for some. Hours in the office can pile up quickly with more responsibilities to shoulder. Job security fears creep in for a lot of people, and loss of productivity settles in for the rest. And this isn’t to say you must immediately go into work tomorrow and rewrite the book on holiday vacations, paid-time off and other novelties for your staff. That’s to the discretion of your business and what you think is best.
Rather, this is about viewing the work-life balance position with more focus, both to yourself and to your employees. Regardless of how committed you think you are by working 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week, the need to recharge your batteries should be a priority somewhere along the way. A confident leader needs their R & R, too.
No amount of reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in relation to business leadership can justify real-world business proceedings to the fullest extent. You can be confident without self-help books, without having to rule the office with an “iron fist” (another poor buzzword). Lead by example, lead with quiet confidence and create an open-ended approach to business that your employees can follow with the same grace and poise you preach.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
About the author: Miranda Darrow is a freelance writer and consultant for ej4, an eLearning company that creates concise training videos to help increase employee knowledge in the workplace, educate HR departments and help business structure align and shine. You can follow them on Twitter for more information.
Businesspeople and leaders from all walks of life face a steep climb to the top, but for women the road is often filled with obstacles (both real and imagined) that simply do not exist for men.
The media narrative continues to spout that true equality has already been realised in our workplaces, yet the facts don’t quite align with their spiel. American women for example still only make seventy-seven cents for every dollar a man earns in the same job, and the statistic is even worse for women of colour. Hispanic women for example earn just 56 cents for every dollar a white male makes. Women make up a disproportionately small amount of our political and business leaders, and while the numbers show growth the underlying differences remain.
This has led many women who seek leadership roles to wonder what they can do differently to make room for themselves at the top when the odds seem stacked against them. Here is some practical advice about how to deal with some of the issues women face in leadership, and how you can help turn the statistics around.
Recognise your abilities
Women do not struggle in leadership roles because they lack the necessary skills, but because society has inculcated into us a sense of unease at exercising our abilities. Don’t buy into the system. Recognise your own abilities as a leader and don’t be afraid to direct.
Engage with the male environment
Many women (especially in business) work in male-dominated environments that perpetuate an office culture that sometimes feels alienating. Even if it might not be your scene, don’t ignore group social and work events just because you may be one of the few women attending. Even if your presence is awkward at first, demonstrating to the men of your office that you are part of the team just like everyone else helps intra-office relations and helps breakdown some of the initial hesitations in male-female office dynamics.
Break your own glass ceiling
Women business leaders are actually more likely than men to be the head of their own business, as opposed to working their way up an employment chain. Women entrep
reneurs who run their own businesses do not face the same challenges as women in other business sectors because they are already at the top: instead, their problem is breaking the glass ceiling they set for themselves.
One example is women leaders’ attitudes to expansion. Women business leaders are statistically less likely to expand their businesses and hire staff even if they are well placed to do so. Although the reasons behind this are unknown, examine your own choices and see if there are any reasons why you might not be expanding when you could.
Use your authority
It is a recognised double standard that a strong-willed man is a leader but a strong-willed woman is at best a ‘ball-buster’ and at worse … well, something way worse. The negative connotations (or sometimes downright profanities) used in association with women in authority often leads women to hesitate for fear of being labelled. However one must rise against the stereotype and simply do what needs to be done – whether you’ll be called names or not. If an employee needs disciplining, don’t hold back just because you fear for your reputation. When leading a project, take charge firmly but in a way that doesn’t alienate others. If you don’t have a problem with your leadership skills, usually others won’t either. Expect the respect you deserve.
Above all, do your best. It is such a simple maxim, but nobody can criticise your work if you constantly work hard and to the best of your ability. Show yourself to be a great worker and leader not ‘just for a woman’ but as a person. Rising to the top may have certain inbuilt difficulties as a woman, but as long as you work hard and refuse to let the system play you, then there is no reason why leadership roles should be out of your reach.
About the author: Kate Simmons is a freelance journalist and full-time consultant currently working for a company offering leadership development courses. She is mainly interested in topics related to education and business.
Photo credit: Unknown
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