Monthly Archives: June 2012

Eat me – alice, wonderland and recruitment through the keyhole

Ok this one may be a little more self indulgent so bear with me.

I studied classical music originally and started work with a well known retailer shortly after graduating. There aren’t any permanent paying roles as a classical composer and I have always worked in retail through school and university. It was a company I love and thought I was lucky to get myself settled straight out of uni. Over time I started delivering training and found a love of learning and development and coaching in particular. It became my whole role and decided that being employed as a sales person didn’t offer the career path I was most interested in. So after a couple of years I started looking for entry level training roles. I was always employed as a sales person so my CV couldn’t reflect all the experience I had gained. I didn’t know everything about training but felt I had a good grasp of some basics and thought I would send out some CVs.

The only response I got was, I didn’t have relevant role experience.

I got disheartened and after a long chat with a good friend I looked up to, the path for me was clear. Go back to school. Study L&D and let people know that you know what you’re talking about. So I finished a foundation CIPD certificate in L&D and applied again. 

No relevant role experience.

I found this odd as the people I studied with have been employed in HRD for many years and are being sponsored by the employers to complete the same course I did. Surely I was a step ahead of some candidates with no academic background? I began to think my CV wasn’t suitable and contacted a recruitment agent. She said it was a good CV but didn’t have a relevant role on it so recruiters would overlook it. 

So now I am studying for my Masters in International HRM. In class I am sat next to HR managers of 10 years experience who somehow found a role in HR and I wonder what they have that I haven’t had in the past. You may think they had a role or graduate job or they have transferred internally or it was even added to their role. I have come to think there is only one thing.

Absolutely nothing.

I have a friend who left their job as a tax lawyer to go travelling for 6 months. They didn’t enjoy their job and wanted a career break. After coming back from travelling they decided to look for a new career path. 6 months of looking and they have found a job. As a tax lawyer.

When I look at job postings I always smile when it comes to lists of requirements. Some job specs have over 20 points that are needed to qualify for the role. Some are very specific, like knowledge of particular software. And some are very vague, like extensive travel experience. The questions in my head after all these years of trying to move from retail into HR proper is:

How do you fit without a job in the area?

Our skill set puts us on a career conveyor belt. Sometimes the belt is quite wide and you can move side to side but rarely have I known someone that has moved to another path. Graduates of many areas of study join graduate programmes in one particular area. They are trained to fit. They probably won’t stray for the rest of their career. Recruiters can look at the employable potential of a graduate but when it comes to career professionals they only seem to look at previous experience. 

So how do you break the mould?

I honestly have no idea on this one. I’ve not been fully involved in recruitment. The pressures on recruiters are high so they very rarely have time to step back from the immediate. The only person that can majorly change this one is the hiring manager.

Look at the core competencies of the role and what behaviours you would like in a candidate. Behaviours can be developed in any role and can take a lot longer than knowledge.

Look at available training programmes used internally to train staff and examine the feasibility of using them with new recruits. This may take longer to have the candidate up to full speed but having someone with the right attitude and behaviours can prove more powerful than instantly knowing how to use your in house software.

Look at the successful facets of other roles, industries and sectors and look to bring them into the organisation. Diversity doesn’t stop at demographic. At a senior level business managers can now oversee HR. There is no reason to use the same ideals at every level of the organisation. 

Examine what challenges are available for a candidate who can perform the role well from experience. Is there going to be enough to keep them with the organisation if they are an ideal candidate?

Don’t get me wrong. I know that an interior designer couldn’t be a doctor without extensive retraining. But in an increasingly difficult job market with a lack of talent maybe it’s time to mould any strong talent available into the talent you want after they join the organisation. 

Stripping the rainbow – Employee Engagement

There is a lot of literature about the power of employee engagement and how it is the key to organisational performance. Some even say it helps in sustaining the human capital of an organisation. There are consultancies who offer a comprehensive (and fantastic) service to survey your employees anonymously about how engaged they are. They can pull together neat little reports of pie charts and graphs and pictures of people looking happy to say that your workforce is engaged. I haven’t worked for a lot of organisations but this seems to be the norm for finding out how engaged an employee is. This buzzword can now encompass motivation, job satisfaction, etc. It has become the holy grail of a lot of HR departments strategic long term focus. For me, there is one main problem…

When you ask the staff “are you engaged?” most will show you a wedding ring.

There is a great focus on creating an engaging environment for workers. We then survey how engaged they are. We look at the results and are happy that 40% of our workforce is highly engaged. We celebrate as an executive team that our workers love us. What we don’t do is ask what being engaged means to the staff. If we did some people might say it was turning up on time or having no sick days. Others might say it’s smashing targets. Some might even say it’s dedication to the cause. And then you realise. The thing you have been seeking to achieve could be anything. Engagement right now is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Without a “standard” for engagement how do we measure it? Providing a context for engagement in the workplace may be the first step away from the rainbow approach. But rather than discuss this in management meetings, talk about it with employees. It could be included in the mission statement or the charter of organisational citizenship behaviours if you have one. As long as you spell out what you want an engaged employee to look like that pot of gold becomes a lot easier to reach.

Secondly, rather than being accountable to increase the levels of engagement, be accountable for engaging employees. Instead of asking if and why they are engaged get out there and engage them. Businesses are built by people and it is people that drive them. Managers aren’t the most important, they have the most influence. Employees like the attention.

Let staff know why you want them to be engaged and also what benefits it may have for them in the long run. Engagement isn’t just moulded by the organisation, the employee has to be on board.

Take out your ego when managing engagement. When people complain about the workplace it means they think it could be better, not that you are doing a bad job. They may be right or wrong but the only way to find out is to ask them. It’s a chance for both of you to learn. Be more afraid of the people who don’t interact at all.

This is your destination but it is not yours to reach. The only people that can reach this for you are the employees. You may set the standard you want to achieve but it’s out of your hands after that.

Changing engagement levels is like an organisational behaviour. Take an unhealthy lifestyle of over eating and under activity and you realise it’s difficult to build the correct behaviours but really easy to lose them. Reaching that standard of engagement is only the first step. The journey is maintaining it.

Remember that engagement isn’t the goal, it’s one of the conduits for great performance.

Santa Claus and the ‘nice list’ – appraisals in the workplace

So we looked at appraisals during a module on my course. There was the usual discussion about who should deliver appraisals and the issues with line managers being involved or wanting to be involved and their effectiveness.

We all want a good appraisal. It recognises our hard work over the year and can involve a nice reward for the next. We get nervous before the interview with our manager discuss all the great achievements, turning our last couple of projects into the odyssey.  We feel rising sense of pride in our year’s accomplishments and begin to think that we can only receive the best possible reward available. We finish our story and the manager readies to talk. They give their description of your year and where they think you have been a real asset to the business and where you need to develop. That reward is looking less shiny now. During the conversation you notice the manager has written out all the things they want to discuss and most of the things on there happened in the last 3 months or what they can remember. Your proudest moment from 9 months ago where you won a major contract doesn’t exist any more. Your manager states you really have been “one of the good guys” this year and gives you a reward for it. You walk away happy in your reward but frustrated that most of your work has gone missed.

I want to make one thing clear, this isn’t a tirade on why managers need to care more about appraisals. And it’s not about employees either. Appraisals, on a yearly basis, have two major flaws: impression management and Santa Claus.

Appraisals are about people, and when we talk about people it’s very difficult to put them into a box. What if that box is “good” performance or “great”? Sitting as a manager, KPI’s aside, how do you put your employees in a box? There is no formula out there and usually no time to reflect on it, you go on your gut instinct. Those staff that have left a lasting impression “impress” more. They have spent time with you and you see their personality and behaviours towards the role. The other staff haven’t given you the full picture and what you’ve seen isn’t as good. It may be that the “impressing” staff seem the better performer but what about the hidden variables? Like team morale contribution and solution creativity? If they have been impressing you, what time have they spent with the team?

Impression management is a necessary evil within the workplace as we don’t have time to watch all our employees do all of their job. We rely on performance reports and spreadsheets with easily accessible information to show how our team are doing. The numbers aside, we have an opinion of what else they add. The danger comes when staff can see a discernible link between impressing the manager and better opportunities. You may not think you are deciding on these merits but it can be what we don’t say to employees that has the biggest impact rather than what we do say. Silence of the manager on a subject is a bit like the film ‘Cloverfield’. You can’t see it, but you get the sense there is a huge monster lurking in the area and you begin to draw things together that don’t even make sense. This is what can happen when a managerial decision isn’t spelled out to employees.

You may feel that i’ve gone off topic and you are still wondering where Santa Claus comes into this? As a child we are all reminded that to get presents from Santa Claus we need to be on the nice list. We see the fur trimmed red coat from early november in most cases and as a child we begin to behave in the hope we can get that new bike with the green handlebars come christmas. In fact any bad behaviour is immediately met with the rules of Santa’s gift giving. Children are much better behaved for 2 months of the year. Until boxing day when toys are broken and patience wears thin.

Have you ever known an employee to try harder just before their appraisal?

I like to see the Santa Claus effect in the workplace as strategic impression management. Staff pick up their game to impress managers for the quarter before their appraisal, and why not? That sheet of notes the manager held in your last appraisal was only what they could remember. The major contract you won 9  months ago was nowhere to be seen. With the rate that most companies change at, what happened 6 months ago isn’t relevant within your role now.

So how do we improve this?

I would like to propose following in the footsteps of education. Rather than an end of year exam where performance is based on a memory test use continual assessment. Those monthly catch ups could be scored and then use an average from the year to gauge performance. The massive admin task of yearly appraisals then disappears.

Secondly, reassess the criteria for good performance. If working in teams is important move the focus purely from individual competencies and include team working competencies into an individuals performance. They might spend less time trying to impress you as a manager and begin trying to impress as a team.

Thirdly, remember and communicate all aspects of appraisal and what your decision is based upon. It can be what you don’t say that sticks in people’s minds rather than what you do say.

And remember an appraisal’s not just for christmas, it’s for all year round.

Creating a noose to hang jelly – the Beecroft report

I find the Adrian Beecroft report fascinating (you can get it here: the Beecroft report, (PDF, 184 Kb) ). It says a lot of things to me; this man is very brave to challenge the working culture of the UK head-on; it might be a sign of desperation (in general) surrounding the recession; if these recommendations go through then the HR landscape will change drastically; and change management on a national scale is hard.

I admire this report for one main reason. It’s challenging. It provides a challenging viewpoint for all HR, managers and employees which turns UK employment legislation on its head. It’s challenging in its simplicity of rules. Employment law surrounding unfair dismissal is often misunderstood amongst staff, particularly employees who whisper of an elusive “workers El Dorado” where they can stick it to the man. Many have spoken of it, gone in search of it and never come back. The rules suggested by Beecroft would make the treasure map much clearer, stray off the path and you will find quicksand.

On the flip side it’s challenging in the wrong way as well. The role of HR would need to be restructured completely. Consistent performance management would become imperative to maintain trust in employers when dismissing under performers. With all these unsuitable employees leaving the company recruitment and talent management roles would sky rocket, employment law would shrink with less tribunals but the hidden change may be in reward. With less reason to motivate staff other than for the fear of dismissal why should companies  push to retain talent? If every company has the power to fire at will then the performers are rewarded by keeping their job. Granted it could boost profits for the company but with less financial reward for employees, the economy may not move any quicker.

The main challenge of implementing these suggested changes is: how do we control what happens next?

I get a sense of 1984 from Beecroft’s report. Not in it actions, but in the way it is written. Employees are not numbers, but actual human beings. While studying, a fellow student was explaining about absence management processes in their workplace. It included a regular “3 absences in a time period and a discussion is had”. They said it was well implemented but on looking at patterns there were a group of staff who made sure their third absence fell just outside the time period so it went undetected. Back on the organisation’s treasure map, the path may be surrounded by quicksand, but staff may just climb a tree to vanish. With these changes the system will be much clearer, and when it’s clear, people will begin to play the system. Does it mean organisations will get more out of their staff? Marginally, to make sure they aren’t dismissed. But will they be engaged to help the organisation succeed? Not unless they were before.

Somethings will never change, people will always try to outmanoeuvre the status quo. In fact, Adrian Beecroft has done it on a national scale. Now I’m not saying this is right or wrong but it has certainly grabbed peoples attention about issues in employment. And if the power to act out of line is reduced for employees. With these suggested changes, who will highlight issues to the organisation? With less reason to listen to the issues of employees, managers may hinder the growth of the organisation even more.

 

Alastair

 

 

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Laughing at the boss’ jokes – CIPD, stewardship and when to say it’s not funny

We’ve all done it. Laughing at the boss’ jokes is a hard one to grasp at the start of your career. You don’t want to be a suck up but that person you despise for that very reason just landed a big account after drinks with the boss. They are apparently new best friends and you wonder why your hard work hasn’t got you as far. So the next day you push yourself into conversation with the boss which is uncomfortable enough until you somehow find something the boss says funny. You see the boss’ eyes light up and realise they are just like everyone else, an ego massage goes a long way. The next thing you know you are agreeing with the boss just for more attention and to be trusted with information beyond your role. You land a project that stretches you and opens up a whole new network and possibilities and you keep up the belief that your boss is the brightest new businessman come stand up comedian. In fact when you grow up you just want to be like your boss. That’s great, but there is one problem:

Your boss is an arrogant jerk who causes everyone a lot of problems.

Very few of us work with the ideal boss, in fact most people I know who have progressed in their careers would say they “grin and bear it”. And that includes those in HR. You might be sitting reading this thinking that you have been in this exact situation or you know the person in work who has sold their soul to get ahead. You might even think that you should give it a go and see if it works. But what if the idiot boss goes beyond causing problems and begins to cause harm, either to the organisation, team or individuals? The same boss has confused your obedience with loyalty and relies on you to be their wingman. You decide to speak up and the fire of 1000 suns appears instantly in the boss’ gaze. What do you do?

The code of conduct revision from the CIPD (members can access here: http://www.cipd.co.uk/about/code-of-conduct-review/_draft-code-professional-conduct.htm ) now requires members to question unlawful and unethical practices as stewards of the organisation. When the boss’ poor jokes are replaced by the executive team’s poor people policies how does an HR worker step up and question their boss? I know very few workers in large organisations who are happy to rock the boat and it makes sense from a survival perspective. When HR professionals look to improve people practices there is going to be an element of saying “what we have isn’t good enough” no matter how many times you say “i just want to make it better”. It would seem it’s only the brave, or well equipped, who dare to make this jump to strategic thinking and implementing. “Yes” men seem to live longer.

So where do people learn to become equipped in giving bad news? My other half is a nurse which includes the terrible job of telling families when a relative has passed away. I can honestly say anything I do in my career won’t be anywhere near as difficult to do as that but it shows that there are people out there with the experience and skills to communicate anything. Where are they in the business world? There are lots of people who talk about winning friends and being positive the whole time. Vaseline smiles all round. But what about being honest about what’s best? In an ever changing marketplace organisations need to be critical to reduce inefficiencies and genuinely celebrate when things are going well. Honesty is lean. It gets straight to the point and makes things clear. Do you know someone like this? If you are a manager, do you help your staff feel comfortable being honest? Are you honest with yourself and others?

I’m not saying we need to speak our minds about everything and crassly criticise everything in our view but if we want to enjoy an open, successful work environment, maybe it’s time to be a bit more honest.

Alastair

HR business partner – a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Ok so i’m looking at jobs for after finishing my masters and i’ve got to be honest i’m a bit unsure about the concept of having a role as an HR business partner. As far as I can see an HRBP works with the line managers to improve people practices in the department. Yes I understand that every HRBP role looks different so i’m going to sweepingly generalise here but why do HR professionals push to distinguish themselves from line managers as a business partner? Surely inherent in the name is that each HRBP is working on the side of the business and not on behalf of the staff. A lot of discussion in HR surrounds HR’s role in the business, becoming strategists for the organisation and the lack of HR presence on the board of most companies. A lot of discussion outside HR is how much they annoy line managers and don’t understand how a business works. We are increasingly offering duties to line managers to complete that were previously HR’s responsibility so we can focus on “strategic” objectives.

In HR we have professional bodies, such as the CIPD and SHRM, to proudly hallmark ourselves as separate from other management. We network with other HR professionals and discuss best practice with policies and procedures. We develop initiatives in areas outside of direct productivity. We spend so much time differentiating ourselves from other departments that they might stop wanting to play with us. They stopped letting us play on their corporate ladder so we built our own. The thing is, HR aren’t that good at building ladders and evidence would suggest it doesn’t go as high. 

Im ambitious, I want a great career and to go as high as possible. I’m not exactly a high flyer (yet) but I want to give myself the best chances possible. So a role as HRBP may be the key. The business partner role is a great way of rejoining the regular corporate ladder and showing that you “understand all aspects of the business”. I have one major issue with this role though.

Is it really an HR role, or is it a manager with specialisms in people practice?

You could argue either but much like HR in general, if we distinguish ourselves as HR, we limit our career prospects. Rather than coming in as a foreign official maybe we should try becoming a double agent. Yes it would take more skills for us to learn but the opportunities could be much greater, even maybe double “O” status.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to put a downer on a career in HR, I’m doing it myself. There is a vast and ever growing HR ladder to climb, but maybe it’s time to market ourselves differently.

 

Alastair

the sHRed

Hi

Welcome to my blog.

So i’m in HR. So what? I’m studying right now for a masters in HR and wanted to share my thoughts on HR, without the need to reference. Hopefully this will create some conversation around HR and possibly tear apart some of the pretences around it.

Hope you enjoy

Alastair

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