Thursday, July 25, 2013

The NLRB and Your Workplace

If you’ve been following this at all, you know that last year, President Obama employed several controversial "recess" appointments, two to the National Labor Relations Board. Several federal appeals courts challenged those appointments, and the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the issue in its upcoming term. That decision will determine the legitimacy of all the NLRB rulings since the president made those appointments, putting more than a thousand recent determinations in jeopardy (we can only hope!).

Those recess appointments became a critical bargaining chip in last week's Senate negotiations over filibuster rules. Republicans agreed to not filibuster several presidential nominees, including the Labor secretary and the EPA administrator.

In return they demanded that the White House offer up two new nominees for the NLRB. Those two are Nancy Schiffer, who has been a lawyer for the AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers, and Kent Hirozawa, chief counsel to the NLRB.

What does this mean to business? Potentially, a lot, and what it means probably won’t be friendly to businesses that are not unionized. The National Labor Relations Act does apply to nonunion employers as well. Here’s a good article explaining how nonunion employers are subject to the NLRA: Warning for Non-Union Employers: The NLRB is Watching You by Tanja L. Thompson of Little Mendelson.

A recent article from the HR Policy Institute here outlines some of the probable outcomes of a Board with these very pro-labor members. Of the most important actions for employers to take note are:

Quickie Elections. The Board is likely to again issue these rules that would be to enable a union to obtain a vote within 7 to 21 days after filing a petition and would eliminate a number of rights that employers now have. Employers would have just days to provide employees with information and to show them a comparison of the pros and cons of unionization (which they would never truly get from union organizers) and employees who want to remain independent will have limited time to lobby their co-workers to oppose unionization. The result is that employees will not be fully informed about unionization, making it easier for union officials to expand their ranks. Many feel efforts to speed up the election process is being driven by the ever decreasing union membership.

Further Regulation of Workplace Policies in Nonunion Settings. The Board has been ruling against employers' policies on social media, workplace misconduct investigations, and others finding that they "chill" employees from freely discussing workplace concerns and engaging in disruptive activities to try to change them. These have been grossly unwarranted intrusions into private, nonunion businesses ability to manage their workplace. This will likely continue and become even more intrusive.

Increasing Union Access to the Workplace.  It’s been widely recommended that employers be cautious about allowing charitable and other solicitations in the workplace if they want to avoid providing the same access to union organizers.  The Board is also likely to expand the right of off-duty employees to enter the workplace to engage in union organizing activities.

Since the NLRA was passed in 1935, thousands of federal, state and local laws and regulations governing almost every aspect of the employment relationship have come into existence. When widespread abuses have occurred, Congress and the various regulatory agencies have responded with broad laws that go well beyond protecting against the specific abuses that gave rise to them. It seems the current NLRB is intent on expanding their (over)reach to effectively subject businesses’ otherwise-legal policies to ever newer levels. While we should all be very concerned about this effort, we should also recognize the desperation in these moves – an attempt to bolster the flagging numbers of union members, and less about attempts to improve the lot of employees.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Performance Management vs. Employee Engagement

Performance Management and Employee Engagement are currently very hot topics among business leaders and human resource professionals. While these are actually two different concepts, they intersect in many important ways. Effectively managing can lead to higher employee engagement levels. There are those who believe that employee engagement efforts should replace performance management. I however, believe that if you focus on engagement to the exclusion of management, you and your business will not succeed. These two concepts can be mutually exclusive. You can have performance without engagement, and engagement without performance. The trick is to get both, and have one support the other.

In reviewing many recent articles floating around the web, it seems clear that there are many issues surrounding the management of performance, and how that might impact engagement. 
The difficulty with performance management is that many managers really don’t want to manage performance. They just want it to happen. They are reluctant to give feedback, and especially reluctant to confront inadequate performance. Why? There are many reasons, such as:

  • I don't know what to say
  • What if they quit?
  • What if I make things worse?
  • He's been here a long time, why should we deal with it now?
  • It will demotivate the employee
  • I hate conflict
  • Maybe if we ignore it, the problem will just go away
  • I don't think this person is capable of changing
  • I don't know how to fix this problem performance.
In theory, managers know they need to be managing performance. They know that they should be conducting annual performance reviews, and that they should be having regular discussions throughout the year with their staff about their performance, goals and company objectives. But clearly there's a difference between knowing you should do something and actually doing it. And when managers don't manage, the business suffers and so do their staff.
Employees and managers often perceive performance management systems to be more punitive than productive. And given how performance management is often handled, this isn’t a big surprise.

Criticism related to traditional performance management systems can include several factors: 
  • Traditional models don’t demand ongoing feedback and can limit honest discussion. The outcome of a traditional performance review is often used to inform decisions regarding an employee’s compensation and potential for promotion. Ongoing discussions don’t often occur outside of the time period for deciding raises, promotions, etc. This leads to wide gaps between expectations and performance, and often surprise at the annual review.
  • Performance reviews focus on the negative. The nature of traditional performance management is often the tendency to look for what is not working or to stress the weaknesses of the employee. While this is indeed important in order to clarify what needs to be done, it is equally important to add a development perspective to performance reviews, and to encourage input from employees in regard to their jobs.
  • Fairness and consistency in ratings or the judgment of performance cannot be achieved. While studies show that most organizations use rating scales in their performance appraisal systems, there are problems with this practice. First, it is difficult to make a distinction between levels of performance with the exception of the really good or really bad performers. Secondly, managers will attempt to manipulate and distort ratings to get a predetermined result. Or, despite wanting to rate fairly, managers can (consciously or unconsciously) bring biases into the process. The traditional ‘Exceeds, Meets, Needs Improvement’ rating scale (and all its variations) puts the manager in the position of being a judge. And that’s a position they often don’t want to be in. Refer to the above list of reasons for not wanting to give feedback. Managers may not want to confront less than desirable performance, or may fear how their employee will respond. The result is a process that is not meaningful and in fact, counterproductive to success.
  • Paying for performance does not always ensure good performance. A recent study by the American Compensation Journal concluded from its review of the evidence that "financial incentives may not necessarily improve performance quality." Money alone is not always the motivator we seem to think it is. Employees want more. They want meaning, challenge and input into their jobs. For some, rewarding their efforts does not result in continued effort, it may result in complacency and a sense of entitlement. Only using performance appraisals as a means to justify raises backfires.
Studies show that most companies overlook the importance of the human element. The relationship between employees and their manager is vital (and that relationship can drive engagement). A Gallup survey of both managers and their employees revealed that employees’ perception of both the company’s performance management process and their manager was greatly influenced by their relationship with their manager. It showed that really good managers provided their employees with:

  • clearly communicated performance standards and what good performance in a role actually looks like
  • regular feedback and communication on performance expectations, rather than only once a year
  • and helped employees understand that the purpose of the performance management system was to aid in their development; it was not just an activity required for pay or promotions

It’s imperative to ensure that both managers and employees understand the importance of performance management and the systems in place to track it and improve it. They need to know, from leadership’s perspective, how effective performance management impacts business success.

It can’t stressed enough the importance of manager accountability in this equation. Until you hold people accountable for this critical job function, the job of managing the staff will simply not get done. And when managers don’t manage, the organization will not get the results it would if the staff had clear direction and strong guidance. And without direction, guidance, and effective management, you won’t get engagement.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tips to Avoid a Bad Hire

And, how not to be a bad hire!

We’ve all done it, and we usually kick ourselves when it becomes obvious. Whether HR, or hiring manager, bad hires are troublesome to us and we often don’t know how it happened. I mean, they were fine when we were done with them!  What happened after that? The resume looked good, the candidate seemed to interview well, she said all the right things, and the references were good if not great. So, what happened?

The painful reality is that there are times when there are no obvious tells during the interview and hiring process, and there’s no way to know how someone will work out until they’ve actually been on the job for a while. But, there are some things we can watch for, and pay attention to in order to avoid some of these bad hires.

On the flip side, if you’re the applicant, these are things you should avoid.

A few things to keep in mind:

Know who you want to hire. I don’t mean the specific person, but the type of person who will be successful in the job. What are the qualifications you need? What experience? Look at your most successful employees and ask yourself what makes them successful? Use that information to craft your recruitment process, your interview questions, and your decision making process.

Don’t move too fast. Resist the feeling that you need to fill the job quickly. Don’t take the first applicants who cross your desk. Take the time needed to find the right person for the job. We all have times when we need to get a body in the chair, so to speak. We feel the pressure because we’re short-staffed and overtime costs are creeping up. But, when those rush hires fail, you’ll only be spending more time and more money to fill the job again.

Always check references. This is the one part of recruitment that makes me the craziest. We HR people need to get a clue and stop passing bad employees around, and stop making it hard for good employees to find a new position. We need to get better about giving appropriate references!  Regardless of how hard it is though, it needs to be done, and it can be done. You can learn a lot from reference checking by listening to what is being said, how it is said, and what is not being said. Listen between the lines.

So, what are some red flags we should watch for in interviews?

Unprofessional behavior even before the interview. Was the candidate rude or otherwise unprofessional to the receptionist or anyone else he saw before sitting down with you? Listen to what your receptionist has to say about candidates while they’re waiting for you. It can tell you quite a bit. If he’s rude to someone at this stage of the game, he may well be a general PITA after that.

Appearance. Not every company or every interview requires a suit. However, being dressed appropriately is still important (clean, neat, etc.). If they don’t care (or don’t know) to present themselves well, do you really think they’ll care enough or know enough) to do a good job?

Bring children, parent(s), spouses or others with them. Even if those other people are left in the lobby, this is just wrong. If they can’t manage to get to an interview without their family or friends in tow, they’re probably not mature enough or responsible enough to handle a job.

Knowledge of your company and/or the job. If they know nothing about your organization, why are they even there? This indicates they may only be interested in any job, and that can be a real red flag. Taking a few minutes beforehand to research the company is such an easy thing to do. It shows interest and commitment. Lacking that should tell you something.

Inconsistent. If there is a disconnect between what’s listed on a resume or application and what an applicant’s answers are during an interview, it can indicate she overinflated her background and experience. While we all want our resume to look great since that’s often what gets us in the door, it’s quite telling if a candidate cannot provide a detailed answer or an example of the experience indicated on the resume.

Bashing a former employer. If your candidate spends time telling you how bad his former employer was, and how he was always blamed for everything that went wrong…………..there’s a good chance the candidate was at least a good part of the cause of things going wrong. This is a huge red flag waving in your face. Pay attention to it.

Unable to provide any details or examples of prior experience or accomplishments. If unable to describe skills and knowledge adequately, suspicion is raised whether they actually have those skills/experience.

Does not ask any questions. While it might be nice to think I’ve done such a thorough job during my description that the applicant simply can’t think of one thing to ask, it’s not too often that happens. Not having any questions or having the wrong questions (see below) should be considered. Does the person really understand the job for which she’s applying? Does she really care what the job is and what it entails?

Focusing too much on money, benefits, time off, etc. During a first interview, if the applicant asks about these things and nothing much else, her commitment to the job and your company could be lacking.

Other signs: being late, ringing cell phones during the interview (or worse yet, answering the phone during an interview!), arrogance (I came in for the interview, you must give me the job!), unable to provide any references.

Other than recruiters, maybe, I don’t think I know anyone who actually likes to conduct interviews. We all know they’re important and absolutely necessary, but that doesn’t make them fun. However, if we keep our eyes and ears open, we might put ourselves in a position of not having to do them more than necessary.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

Workplace Communication: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw

Truer words have never been spoken. Communication or the lack thereof, is probably the one topic that repeatedly comes up when organizations discuss how they can improve. It doesn’t matter how many times we talk about it, or how many times we try to improve it, it always seems to need more discussion and more improvement.

The need for effective communication is not rocket science. It also needs to be a two-way street. Actually, maybe even more than two-way.

Top-down communication (from management to employees) promotes and disseminates clearly defined goals, objectives and vision; and demonstrates that management supports and values the products and services that are its mission, and the people who work to deliver those products or services. Executive team members need to communicate the desired direction of the organization in a way that makes sense to all employees; in a way they can relate it to how they do their jobs each day, and what it all means for them. Without that, you have no engagement, no "buy-in" from the people who carry out your mission.

In day to day operations, managers and supervisors need to clearly communicate with their employees. They need to communicate the organization’s mission, vision and values, and what that means to their employees. When changes are afoot, or when problems arise, communication is essential. Failure to adequately communicate leaves an information vacuum that will be filled with assumptions, rumors, and drama that will rival a good, old-fashioned soap opera. When left in the dark, employees will fill in the blanks with their own speculations and it won’t be pretty.

There is often a disconnect when executive teams expect mid-level managers and supervisors to pass along information and that doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen effectively. The result is that the rest of the employee base then assumes no one is communicating with them about anything. That’s when you get resentment and dissatisfaction.

Managers and supervisors need to also be able to clearly explain to their employees their job responsibilities and duties, ways and protocol of getting the work done as well as the results which are expected of them, and how to improve their performance if it is not up to the mark. A well-informed employee will have a better attitude than a less-informed employee. When people understand what’s going on, and why it’s happening, they are much more likely to support whatever decisions or changes are made. At the least, if your employees know what you want of them and what you don’t want of them, operations will be much smoother.

Bottom-up communication (from employees to management) is really just as important. The folks on the front lines may be the first to know when something isn’t working the way it was intended. They certainly know when something is going really wrong. But often, they don’t tell anyone who can actually do anything about it. We’re not psychic, people! Tell us! When you have a problem, whether it’s with a job task, a customer, or a co-worker, we need to know. If you don’t understand what you should do, or how to do it, ask. There is no way we can help you or even attempt to address a problem we know nothing about.

Certainly, there are those managers or supervisors who fail to listen to their employees. They fail to understand that open communication in the workplace can help prevent and resolve many conflicts, and fail to understand that not communicating causes a great deal of conflict and problems. They will lose the respect and the support of their employees.

Lateral Communication I’m referring mostly to interdepartmental or interfunctional communication here. It’s not possible to function effectively if needed information is not shared in a timely, effective fashion. Or worse, not shared at all. The failure to communicate effectively and withhold important information can lead to wasted time, money and effort. It can be dangerous to the organization if the lack of communication leads to compliance issues or legal risks.

The Shared Responsibility to Communicate In a workplace, we’re all supposed to be adults. What this means is that not only do we need to talk to one another and impart needed information, but we all have the responsibility to listen to and act appropriately on the information we receive. Information is passed along in many different ways – verbal, written, visual – we have one to one conversations, group meetings, presentations, newsletters, websites, emails, policies, handbooks, etc. Most organizations utilize all these methods to get information out to everyone who needs it. Please, please, for the love of all that’s good and right, don’t say "I didn’t know" or "no one told me" or "I didn’t see that". You did know, you did see it and you were told. Listen to it and act appropriately in regard to what has been communicated to you.

In the end, complaints about too much information, not enough information, or bad information, will continue in most workplaces. We will never totally solve these issues but, making a commitment to increase the effectiveness of your organization’s communication and meet your own responsibility for communicating, and listen to others’ communications, will only serve to make us all more successful.