Thursday, August 27, 2015

How Do We Choose Managers?

You have an open supervisory/managerial position you need to fill. You want to promote from within. Great! Developing and advancing your current staff is wonderful. How do you go about choosing the right candidate? If you’re like most employers, you choose the employee who was good at the job he was doing before you promoted him. You figure if he was good at his job, he’ll be good at managing other people doing the same job. But, is that the best way to choose? Most likely not.

Recently, I read two short blog posts on this subject from HR thought leaders Kris Dunn (SELECTING MANAGERS: What's The Right Mix of Functional Area Expert vs. Ability to Deal With People?) and Paul Hebert (Stop Promoting Functional Experts To Management) that got me thinking again about how we choose who to manage, who to lead.

How do we make better choices? Or, how do ensure the choices we make yield the results we want? The easy answer is training. But, I think the better answer is more along the lines of development. Those are two different concepts. You can train people to do tasks; give them the X, Y and Z of the process. Development gives them the understanding of why those tasks are important and necessary and how they fit in with the big picture of your company.

Many will say that leaders (or managers) are born and not made. I’m not sure I totally agree with that concept. Investing in employees you hope to promote by imparting the knowledge and understanding of how the business works (or at least their part of the business) can be "taught". If they don’t have the information, or the understanding of how the business works, how each function fits into the whole and interacts with other functions, they clearly won’t get it.

This is where leadership development programs, or at least leadership develop activities, are useful. But as I’ve written about before here, such programs have to be structured and run properly in order to be effective.

It’s important to choose managers and supervisors based on skills beyond their functional expertise. While I don’t necessarily agree, there are some who say that a good manager or supervisor doesn’t need to know how to do the jobs of the people she manages or supervises. Personally, I think having that knowledge and those skills better prepares someone for the manager role. But, the point is there are other skills and qualities a good manager needs. Training and development in managing people, and everything this entails, is essential. We have to provide that training to our employees. Ideally, you’re providing this to employees you feel have leadership potential, even before they’re placed in managerial roles.

Paul Hebert refers to "EQ" (emotional intelligence quotient). This is the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them. EQ is not just about being sensitive to your employees and their personal issues. This doesn’t mean just being nice. Being nice is great. Being liked by the people who report to you is great, but it doesn’t make you a good manager, and it likely doesn’t make you effective as a manager.

A good manager has to understand she is now a role model to her staff, a role model for the company’s mission and values. She now needs to understand that her contribution as a manager is different than her contribution as an individual employee. It means she has to rely on others to contribute to her success and the overall success of the company, and figure out how to cultivate the atmosphere that will result in her employees’ success. The ability to be consistent and accountable for her actions and those of her team are now more important. Critical thinking and the ability to make decisions (sometimes quickly) become essential. The ability to make the leap from employee to manager of employees.

Are you assessing these skills and characteristics in the people you want to promote? Are you developing these skills in the people you hope will help lead your company in the future? 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Say What??

Resume lies, blunders and crazy interview gimmicks

Looking for a job sucks. We all get that. The result may be an exciting new opportunity, but the process – not so much. Whether it’s writing the perfect resume and cover letter, or wowing them in the interview, the whole shebang is stressful and just plain difficult most of the time. HR pros know this and we mostly try to smooth the way and make it as easy as possible, but the lengths some applicants go to get the job are sometimes hilarious, but just as often annoying as hell.

In two recent surveys (here and here) CareerBuilder shows us just what some people will do, and it ain’t pretty.

Lying on a resume can get you into big trouble, or at least lose you the job. Apparently some folks haven’t figured this out, yet. Here are a few of the responses CareerBuilder received in its annual survey:

  • Applicant claimed to be a former CEO of the company to which they were applying.
  • Applicant claimed to be fluent in two languages - one of which was pig Latin.
  • Applicant claimed to be a Nobel Prize winner.
  • Applicant claimed to have worked in a jail when they were really in there serving time.
  • Applicant for a driver position claimed to have 10 years of experience but had only had a driver’s license for four years.
  • Applicant listed as a reference an employer from whom they had embezzled money and had an arrest warrant out for the applicant.

Looking to impress the hiring manager? It might be a good idea to skip these tactics:

  • Candidate lit a corner of their resume on fire to show their "burning desire" for the job.
  • Candidate had his daughter call the hiring manager in advance of the interview to thank the hiring manager "for giving her dad a job."
  • Candidate acted like a game show host.
  • Candidate brought a bag of props into the interview and pulled them out as they were relevant in the questions/answers.

*sigh* What’s a person to do? While there are some businesses that might see some of the interview shenanigans above as creative, or at least amusing enough to let them slide, most of us would be turned off and in some cases, a bit freaked out. Thankfully, I think this type of thing is fairly rare. However, resume "embellishments" or outright lies are unfortunately much more common (according to the survey, more than half of employers (56 percent) have caught a lie on a resume). How does HR or the hiring manager handle this? The answer to this question may be related to your level of tolerance for "embellishments" or exaggerations. Although, I would think most would simply reject a candidate caught in an out and out lie, you may be more understanding of a candidate’s desire to get your attention by exaggerating his qualifications a bit.

In general, pay closer attention to things like a resume that is customized for the position, and/or a cover letter that is customized to the company and open job. These things show that the applicant actually spent some time and effort to craft their material based on the job. If an applicant has done even a little research on your company, it’s a clear indication of attention to detail and the applicant’s level of interest in your company.

During the interview, you can tease out the details and truth behind any suspected embellishments by carefully listening to the applicant’s description of his prior experience, and questioning further to determine how much knowledge he actually has. This requires asking questions that require more than "yes" or "no" answers. Look for industry, function, level, recent experience, education and stability and then ask the questions that will get you the detail you need in these areas.

So, while you might tolerate the exaggerations, you can still ferret out the real deal. And just dump the liars.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

HR and Management

Too often business views HR and management as separate and sometimes, contentious, functions. As HR pros we are too familiar with management who perceives us as a necessary evil that creates roadblocks and interferes with their ability to run the business. While there are certainly some HR folk who unfortunately contribute to this perception, on the whole, this is not what we intend, and in fact is not the case at all. The proper and most advantageous way to view HR is as part of management, in concert with the business as a whole and supportive of the business’s overall goals.

However, too often it is clear that the function of HR is not seen this way. Too often it is seen as not "mission critical" to the organization. Or perhaps, the mission of HR is seen as providing the warm and fuzzy, party-planning function rather than anything that may be essential to the operation of the business.

HR has many functions – interpreting and implementing applicable federal, state and local employment laws and regulations; helping to define and maintain an ethical and professional environment for all employees; as well as utilizing effective hiring, performance management and benefit systems. The end result of the proper application of good HR policies and procedures is a company that treats its employees consistently and fairly (and legally). And that goes a long way to significantly contributing to a productive and engaged workforce – which in turn contributes to the success of the business. Something we’re all interested in, right?

At the risk of using the sledge hammer approach (and really, sometimes this is just necessary!), let’s look at this from a different perspective. Most, if not all, businesses operate under various industry standards as well as laws and regulations around the product or service they provide. Do you have to comply with EPA regulations (and/or state equivalents), FDA, DOT, SEC? How about JCAHO, or OHCQ (Office of Health Care Quality in some states)? What licensing standards does your industry need to maintain? Accreditation requirements?

Now, what happens to your business if you fail to comply with any one of the laws or regulations covering your industry? What happens if you simply just fail to file required reports (even if you don’t actually otherwise violate a law)? Are you subject to fines and penalties? Could you possibly face losing your license or otherwise the ability to operate your business? What would be the PR fallout if you’re found to be in violation of some regulation or law? Could be pretty serious. In fact, you probably have a whole department, or at least one person, whose job it is to keep you on the straight and narrow in these areas. Maybe it’s your Quality Assurance function, or some other compliance related activity. That person or department is your first line of defense in these matters and you most likely take their work and their advice pretty seriously. Could your business afford (financially or from a public standpoint) the consequences of not doing so?

So, here comes the sledge hammer. You need to view HR and the proper execution of the function in the same way. Violating, even unintentionally, employment laws and regulations could cost you tens of thousands (or more) just in fines and penalties or lawsuit settlements. The damage to the business’s reputation and corporate citizenship could cost you even more in lost customers, lost potential employees, etc. And make no mistake, there are people out there whose job it is to monitor court filings and actions in the employment-related area and then to report on them publically, just as there are those who do so for health or safety or financial violations. And the major regulatory agencies also distribute press releases and maintain public websites to report on these things as well. (EEOC Newsroom, DOL News Releases and Briefs)

What can failing to comply with employment laws cost you? As an example:
  • From 2001 to 2012, there was a more than 500% increase in the number of multiple-plaintiff wage-hour lawsuits filed in U.S. federal court (Littler Mendelson, 2012)
  • Employers paid out a total of $2.7 billion in wage-hour settlements between 2007 and 2012, with settlements totaling $467 million in 2012 alone (NERA Economic Consulting)
  • In 2014, LinkedIn paid $3.4 million in back wages and $2.5 million in liquidated damages for violating the overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

    Take a peek at some recent lawsuits and settlements just from the DOL and the EEOC:

    Celadon Trucking Services, Inc. to Pay $200,000 to Settle Lawsuit

    Hillshire Brands Company Sued by EEOC for Racial Harassment at Sara Lee Plant

    Local Office of Enterprise Rent-A-Car to Pay $425,000 to Settle EEOC Age Discrimination Charges

    Appeals Court Affirms Jury Verdict of over $1.5 Million in EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Suit Against New Breed Logistics

    United Airlines to Pay over $1 Million to Settle EEOC Disability Lawsuit

    Magnolia Health Sued by EEOC for Widespread Disability Discrimination

    Savannah River Nuclear Solutions to pay nearly $235K to 72 employees
    More than 160 direct mail and printing workers will receive $1.4M in back wages

    Baltimore staffing agency allegedly harassed, discriminated against Hispanic employees

    Staples to pay fired employee $275K in wages, benefits and damages

    Could your business afford the financial and PR consequences of any of these actions?

    Here’s the deal: HR is your first line of defense in the employment arena. We are there to help you interact with, manage and develop your workforce in the most efficient, productive – and legally compliant way possible. It is vitally important that management knows when they should include or defer to HR, and that they have a clear understanding of the consequences to the business when they don’t. HR should be at the front, guiding management through the maze of legal responsibilities and risks. No, we’re not above occasionally being involved in the warm, fuzzy, party-planning activities – that’s just not our main purpose. Our purpose is to partner with you so your business can grow, prosper and succeed and that includes helping you to avoid having to deal with unnecessary roadblocks like expensive lawsuits and fines.

    Thursday, August 6, 2015

    When to Cheer, when to Lead

    Cheerleading is not leading

    If you’ve ever been a cheerleader (or even just watched cheerleaders) you’re familiar with the excitement they can add to an athletic event. Their performance adds to school spirit, team spirit and both the crowd and the athletes respond positively to the enthusiasm they generate. Cheerleading also has a place in business.

    The encouragement and reward offered by cheerleading in the workplace really is a piece of the whole employee reward and recognition process (which is itself part of building employee engagement). The importance of telling your employees "good job!" can’t be underscored enough. We all need to that; and we all need to hear that our efforts were appreciated even if the outcome was not as successful as we would have liked.

    What we need to know, however, is that cheerleading is not leading. The cheerleader may make us feel great about our work and our performance, but that isn’t going to get us to recognize if we’re making mistakes or that our efforts are not focused on the most productive things to help us succeed. The coach is the one analyzing our game and helping us to refine and focus our skills to the best advantage. 

    It’s time to cheer when your staff has done the best they can, given their "all" or need some encouragement to get to the finish line in a difficult or long project. You can cheer them on when their spirits are low and when circumstances are beyond their control. At these times, hearing that from their "coach" can be invigorating, or at least validating. And of course, cheer when they’re on the right track and something special happens and the outcome is better than expected.

    On the other hand, it’s time to lead when your team is headed in the wrong direction. When they are not working together, are not coordinated in their approach, you need to lead. You need to coach them to recognize when an avoidable mistake has occurred. You can make it a teachable moment so these mistakes won’t happen again, but it needs to be recognized. In times of crises, you stand up, lead, and use your expertise to coach them through it.

    As leaders and managers, we’ve all been frustrated at times with employees who just don’t seem to get it, and are not performing up to expectations. At times like this, it’s easy to look outward and find an excuse as to why that’s happening, and just as easy to think that if we just encourage them more, they’ll turn around and all will be well. Cheering them on in this case probably won’t be the best choice, though. You need to find out the root cause of the problem and help turn them around. You need to be a leader, or least a manager, to do this in order to truly support them through a rough time. 

    Leading in this case may mean ensuring your expectations for their performance are clear, and that they fully understand those expectations. It may mean ensuring they have the necessary skills and resources to perform the job you need them to perform. As the coach, it’s your job to analyze their game and refine and focus their skills and performance for the best possible outcome.

    And leading in situations like this may mean helping an employee to better apply their skills in some other area of the organization or even outside of the organization. Sometimes that’s the hard truth.

    To steal a line from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, sometimes you need to stop looking out the window and look in the mirror. Collins describes a Level 5 Leader as those who look out the window to give credit when things go well, but look in the mirror when things do not go so great. Bad leaders do the reverse. They look out the window when things fall apart in order to place blame and then bask in the light (look in the mirror) when things go well. 

    I’m not saying that good leaders can’t be cheerleaders, but good leaders know when to cheer and when to lead; and they know the difference.