There is no tougher job in any organization or corporation, no matter the size of the staff, the makeup of the employee team, the level (or sometimes the lack thereof) of middle management, or if the CEO is “hands on” or “hands off”, than the tasks handed to every Human Resources professional.
Find the right person for the right job. Ensure a solid fit with the corporate culture. Drive the team to stay engaged in their position. Evoke positive emotion and greater production. Turn those “B” and “C” employees into “A” grade, at the very least give them every chance to attain it. Increase the retention rate. Be certain those tattoos are not offensive.
Strive to make those employees happy to come to work, every day, with no fear of losing their job.
It has been my experience that far too often, Human Resources has been relegated to dealing with three specific areas of concern, none of which allow the dedicated professional to utilize their skill set to it’s maximum.
First, interact with employees as they come in the door with a hearty handshake and smile. The biggest issue here is ensuring the handshake and smile are sincere. Sad to say that after a few of these, they become by rote and seen as little more than robotic by anyone save for interns, recent college graduates and those in the throes of changing careers.
Second, holding seminars and tutorials, many of which focus on benefits or unraveling vacation dates. There is nothing more dreaded for any employee at any level than to be lectured to, surrounded by co-workers and being force fed an aging and often poorly produced interactive slide show. Cold, impersonal, and almost always counter-productive.
Third, and without question the least attractive to anyone, is the firing process. Let’s not sugar coat this by calling it “separation process”, or dressing it as some other dusty bauble. It’s what no HR professional looka forward to. Of course, the person being bounced enjoys it even less.
Each one of these, while being a part of the job, don’t allow the HR professional to use their knowledge and experience in a much more productive and positive fashion.
The real work of Human Resources, what will turn this department and these professionals into the more engaged professionals they seek to be while at the same time creating a more cohesive and productive work environment, is what happens after the orientation, away from the benefits meetings, and well before the split on positive or negative terms.
In a more than 30 year corporate career in management, marketing, sales and public relations, (all of which come to bear in the amazing broadcast industry), I have paid close attention to the role of Human Resources. Over those years, I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of dedicated professionals that appreciate their role in the workplace structure, and work diligently to improve it for every member of the staff.
Unfortunately, I also have first hand experienced the sheer impossibility of doing this in more than a few places of business. I have spoken to management and assistants in Human Resources who feel trapped and minimized in their roles due to circumstances out of their control.
Along with those who bring a severe level of disrepute to the profession by purposely failing to follow that simple idea of ensuring the word “human” is well defined in regard to resources.
These are the professionals who can benefit from the concept of having an “ombudsman”, if you will, at their beck and call to head off internal issues before they happen. Before HR has to get involved in what many employees see as little more than acting as “Angel of Death”.
When I speak with HR pros about what might make their lives and that of their staff better, I take in all their suggestions and have consistently emerged with some simple ideas that few companies consider.
They should. Every single one. Immediately. Without hesitation. For a few obvious and positive reasons.
Decreasing, if not eliminating, the turnover rate. Create and maintain a positive workplace that in turn makes for a more positive employee.
In turn, that means greater personal profitability and advancement possibilities for the employee, a greater chance for corporate profitability, and the knowledge from high above in the ivory tower that the HR specialists are keeping the peace, ensuring the machine runs without a hitch.
So what has been the key to improve every organization, work in tandem with HR professionals, remove the stigma attached to their position, and drive up productivity at every organization of every size?
Making the experienced, trusted, dedicated and “loaded with new ideas” consultant, educator and trainer part of the team.
This is the person with a specific focus, one that does not include retirement benefit meetings, paperwork seminars, reviewing legal matters for employment, none of the above.
This individual drives every member of the team on a consistent basis to improve personally and professionally. The irreplaceable part of the team that is there to do nothing more than engage the staff, develop a “killer instinct” for success, and ensure that the corporate brand is held to a higher level than anyone thought possible.
It’s a conclusion I come to based on more than a few personal experiences.
I went to work for a major broadcasting company in a major American market. Having been in that city for some time doing television sports, I was approached by the Program Director at this radio station group about also hosting a daily afternoon talk show. Having started my career in radio, it was an exciting opportunity I readily accepted. Honestly, this was a city and a job I hoped would be my last stop.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. And part of the reason was years later revealed to me in a frank conversation with one of the HR assistants who was there at the time.
My first day, I was hustled along with 8 other people into a conference room. We were handed packets that were sealed and told not to open them until instructed. For a moment I was concerned there would be someone going to each individual asking for a small drop of blood for testing, and then perhaps a secret handshake.
Thankfully, neither was the case, though I still to this day believe there may have been a secret body scan being conducted unbeknownst to us all.
Upon opening the packet, we were all regaled with a power point presentation detailing the specific rules of the ownership conglomerate. As is the case in many of these proceedings, a good number of them were, at least to me as a veteran of such workplaces, of the “common sense” variety.
However, by then and to this day I reminded of another Granny Berliner admonition which she could never have known how true it would become in what to her was the unimaginable future.
“You will find that common sense is not as common as you might think”.
There was also a video about the company and it’s employees, which as many of these usually are was rather dull, poorly produced and uninteresting. About two minutes into the presentation, I could tell that four of my new colleagues were experiencing a deep form of hypnosis that had lulled one individual into what can only be described as preparation for a guest spot on “The Walking Dead”.
Almost 90 minutes later, we were free and clear. Newly minted employees having indeed been given the “secret launch codes” to embark on our course to becoming happy, healthy and obedient members of the organization.
One, it became more than a little obvious within a few weeks of our indoctrination that the entire session was a waste of time to more than half of the group. It took that long for specific rules to be broken, one HR complaint from a veteran member of the staff against a new hire, and two departures from the company of their own accord due to a failure to be properly trained in their job tasks, then being held to ridicule by a member of middle management in front of fellow employees.
As one person said to me a day before she decided any career was better than the one she was hoping for with this company, “I’d rather be actually defecated on, (using the more common and vulgar word for human defecation), than be a part of this clueless place and the idiots it employs”.
She later went on to a successful career with another broadcast group and eventually became a manager. Years later we spoke briefly and she told me that “everything I learned about being good at my job was learned at (the company in question here) because it taught me everything not to do”.
“And (the company with which she went on to great things) trained me, stayed with it, never wavered in their dedication to the staff, and gave us all the opportunity to succeed”.
It quickly became obvious to me the key element that was was achingly missing.
Informative training, followed by simple consistency.
A massive mistake that could, and should, have been easily prevented.
Save for the moment I was part of the indoctrination seminar, when I asked for a clarification of my vacation days about a year later, and on my final day at the station for the surrendering of door cards and signing the standard documents promising I would not divulge the secret handshake, I never once spoke with a member of Human Resources, other than a passing “hello” in the building and seeing them at the annual Holiday party.
Gatherings where they never once mingled with anyone other than upper management. They couldn’t, for they were more feared than respected. The greater problem was the attitude some of them took, enjoying that “fear factor” and the “respect” the believed it brought them.
It was several years later, in a chance encounter, when I spoke with an assistant in that HR department and sought out answers on how business was conducted. More to the point, I wanted to know why HR never spent any time actually working with the employees to ensure it was a positive working environment.
The answer, frankly, didn’t shock me. But it was so detailed I wrote it down on a cocktail napkin at the first chance.
“We were never asked to get involved with the employees outside of our standard tasks. We were told to deal with the employees issues as they came up and stay as invisible as we could. If there was legal problem, deal with it. If there was a fight between employees, figure out which one to fire. Keep the vacation days in line. Back up management at every level and without question. Remember that employees are expendable and company profits better not be f***** with.”
I asked why this was the case.
“Because we were understaffed, overwhelmed, and micro-managed to death”, was the angry reply.
What would help, I wondered?
“The General Manager and the people above him needed to bring someone in to help us work with the employees. It’s not what we were trained to do. We were never trained in leadership or image skills, yet were expected to suddenly have them at our fingertip as if by osmosis. No matter how hard we tried to make them understand that spending money for an experienced consultant would make them more money, it was a constant deaf ear. They just couldn’t grasp that this would take the pressure off us to be mind readers in trying to guess where trouble was coming from”.
“It might also have stopped everyone in the building from hating and fearing us every time we walked into the room”.
At this time of my education in this part of the business, I hoped this was the exception rather the rule.
I was wrong.
I, and many people at varying levels of corporate responsibility, have experienced this indifference as an employee, an observer, a client and a consultant.
What always made me shake my head was that this is fixable. This is something that can be repaired easily, efficiently and effectively.
Every place I have worked, every place I have asked about where colleagues work, and most of the middle and upper management I’ve questioned all agree, that HR is the most feared division in the building.
Why? Because the sentiment is when you see them coming, someone is getting suspended, punished, admonished or fired.
Even worse, the inner belief that HR will not protect the employee. The dread that HR is there to cover up for and protect management at every turn, making the lower level employees always expendable.
Which is not what Human Resource professionals have trained for, and certainly not the reputation they seek. Yet it would seem to be the niche they have been handed by those in charge.
Later in my career I had the misfortune to experience the most dysfunctional, chaotic, ineptly run organization in the history of broadcasting. Time spent that opened my eyes to the need for the dedicated education and training I would make the centerpiece of my next career.
Since the moment KDKA-AM threw the switch in Pittsburgh PA to become the first radio station in America on November 2 1920, and from the instant inventor Charles Francis Jenkins made W3XK the first commercial television station in America on July 2 1928 located just outside Washington DC, a more befuddled and badly managed alleged broadcast outlet has never existed.
A more in-depth study of this nightmare is, as they say, another story for another time. But it does segue into a cautionary tale about how Human Resources and the proud professionals who call themselves part of an honorable fraternity are misused and made “the fall guy” for the mismanagement of others.
It also screams the arrogance and indifference of ownership and upper management in failing to not merely recognize the problem, but to take any substantive action to correct it.
Which is why within three years, this organization had lost more than $50M and went from a corporate division with more than 90 employees to a ragtag band of moribund survivors numbering no more than a dozen. With each and every one spending time every single day seeking a manner of escape to anything that would provide a comparative paycheck.
This organization had been in business as a successful print magazine, a very opinionated and often misleading book publishing division, a seller of survival foods for the next apocalypse, and aggregate website masquerading as a news outlet. With those profits and a hefty amount of investment from wealthy benefactors who were victims of a perfectly crafted snow job, they decided to ply their wares as a cable broadcast network.
Having been intimately involved at the upper management and talent level for several profitable media networks over my career, I offered my services to hopefully bring another dream to fruition and create a solid workplace for aspiring broadcast professionals.
Unlike the earlier noted experience, there was no HR “welcoming seminar”. No instruction as to company policy. No guidance from anyone as to what was expected. Just a very nicely put together glossy folder armed with, among other things, a company handbook detailing various policies. Most of the rules were of the boiler plate variety and spoke little to the actual corporate culture of this business.
A handbook for which I could not find one person employed there had ever cracked. Not one.
When I asked someone why this was, I was tragically amused to hear an answer that could have indicated this person was listening in on my conversation with the legitimate broadcasting company individual from the earlier tale.
“Hell, no one pays attention to that bull****. Everyone knows the only reason they toss it at us is so they can use it to fire us later”.
What about Human Resources, I asked?
“A complete joke”, came the immediate answer. “The only reason you ever see them is when they’re coming to fire someone”.
Yogi Berra said it best. “It’s deja vu all over again”.
Delving into what transpired at this company produced a near carbon copy of the mismanagement and professional abuse of Human Resources at the earlier firm.
Because the broadcast studios were located in a satellite office from the main hub, HR had to make a trip to visit and deliver. As they were not part of the daily scenery, every time one of them showed up, there was immediate angst and a clenching of various jaws preparing for the worst.
No matter they were behind closed doors with middle management, there was no doubt among the hired hands that something was being discussed that would mean another downsizing, (there were several due to the mismanagement of ownership), someone’s career was unfavorably being discussed, and the end result would be another body flying out the door feet first carrying their belongings.
Other than meetings about changes in corporate insurance policies and other benefits, no one from Human Resources ever came to just talk, get to know the people at this level, or to seek ways of helping them work better in this workplace atmosphere.
No one from Human Resources or upper management ever just sat with an individual worker and asked, “So, how’s everything?”
I later ascertained why. No one in HR at this company had ever been taught or asked to provide leadership. None of them were trained in the discipline. From that, they became resigned to being nothing more than trainers of the employee software and the facilitator of expulsion paperwork.
And they did not care to learn because, here’s the kicker, “it wasn’t their job”.
Every time other than those benefits meetings, it was bad news when HR walked briskly through the door, notebook and packets in hand, bending close the delivering the heart wrenching “we need to talk” whisper.
There were a number of times when employees filed numerous complaints against their immediate supervisor. This was a person elevated by the CEO because he made no bones about being there simply to carry the CEO’s message down the line. Having worked with him at their level for 2 years or more, the staff had experienced his level of dismissing most people as beneath him. His trademark was arrogance, open insult, belittling people in front of their fellow workers, and quietly threatening workers with punitive action.
Word filtered throughout the staff that this manager would be forced, at the recommendation of Human Resources following reports to upper management, to undergo “management training”, making him “more sensitive” to proper leadership and productivity.
It never happened. Reportedly when an employee expressed frustration and asked why things weren’t getting any better and if this person was indeed forced to undergo any management training, the response from the HR manager was a shrug of the shoulders and what amounted to a “hey, it’s not my job”.
Human Resources was made the fall guy. As in the earlier example, they were never given the proper guidance from ownership and upper management, were not allowed to do what they were trained for and what they could have been trained for, and become nothing more than vacation schedulers and the bearers of bad news.
Understaffed. Overworked. Not being allowed to lead. Merely collecting a paycheck and, in the process, watching as what was once a promising mix of seasoned professionals and aspiring young minds be reduced to a morose and disinterested staff merely collecting that check until they could find their way out the door for a better workplace environment.
While this was a specific type of company, something similar is happening at this minute at many other firms. Either by failing to see the signs of workplace unrest, putting the figurative head in the sand hoping it goes away, thinking of employees and HR managers as expendable and replaceable, or not willing to grasp a simple concept of business.
You have to spend money to make money. And when you have a problem, do not hesitate to seek out someone who will turn things around. A professional. Someone who does this for a living and will compliment the people you already have on staff.
You hire a mechanic, whose job is to more than repair what’s gone wrong. This professional also become part off the “preventive maintenance”, ensuring no skip in the heartbeat engine of your business. No breakdown of parts that have become worn and will destroy momentum. costing the team and the company money.
Getting ahead of problems before they even have a chance to sniff the open air of occurrence.
Let’s get back to what we talked about at the beginning of this column.
What would improve every organization, work in tandem with HR professionals, remove the stigma attached to their position, and drive up productivity at every organization of every size?
The demands placed on human resource professionals is more demanding than ever before. The speed with which companies grow. The instant gratification expected from management to not only keep employees “in line”, but to magically anticipate where issues will drop up. The need to make HR a friend to employees instead of someone who should be feared and make grown individuals cower at the sound of their footsteps.
There is not a human resources professional who could not benefit from having a specialist on call. A third party charged with working directly with the employees in a very personal “1 on 1” experience. The person who is not seen as the “for-bearer of doom”, instead someone who is there to understand the employee side of the job, and work with them on a consistent basis to keep the engine humming.
A fresh set of eyes and ears that will breather new life into every team.
Here are the simple analogies.
You own a car and care about it’s performance. So you, not wanting to see that car breakdown and drop a major hit onto your bank account, do what is necessary before the calamity occurs.
You perform the oil changes at the scheduled time. You have those tires checked and replaced when they’re worn out. You even make certain that “Washed Replacement Fluid” light doesn’t become the bane of your existence.
You practice preventive maintenance.
You fly planes for a living. You do more than just the routine checks, going over the log books and the equipment with the veritable fine toothed comb.
Do people still use combs???
You have the responsibility of other people in your hands. It’s your job to be absolutely certain the parts aren’t worn to the point of breaking. You check and recheck your flight plan against the prevailing and always changing winds. You understand your responsibility to those you lead, even for a short time.
You do the necessary preventive maintenance that will guarantee nothing goes wrong. You play it smart, spend the money up front before the emergency strikes, because when that machine breaks, the cost of repair will be three or four times what it would have been if attention had been properly paid to preventive maintenance.
Then, there is the sports analogy.
Every business is a competition. Every workplace is the locker room. Every day is a new game. As sports franchises have grown and more closely examined their human element, they do not hesitate to add coaches specifically tasked with minute details. The more prevalent here in the 21st century is the coach that becomes a watchdog over the culture of the team and everyone involved. The individual who is there to be someone outside of the playbook mainstream and to keep everyone in point.
Their task is not to write the plays. Their focus is to ensure the motivation is there every day for every member of the team to deliver their best effort at executing the plays.
That’s where I come in.
My job is to be that person who does the work ensuring that machine never skips a beat. That skilled and professional mechanic who understands what is at stake, and how to best work hand in hand with the HR professional and upper management or ownership, partnering and become a caretaker of the corporate performance and brand.
I have found employees are much more likely to open up to someone who is there for the specific purpose of working with them from the moment they finish their orientation meeting, to the moment they leave the company, feeling as if they have taken a great step forward in their professional development
All thanks to this firm and the motivation they provided. This leaves the employee with a positive experience, one they will recount to others who might become part of their former employer. And if that employer is the producer of consumer product, the former worker will be an excellent spokesman for their product and their brand. Instead of bad mouthing the company and the product, they become ambassadors of good will.
They also unknowingly add to the possible future success of the company as unpaid sales and marketing spokespeople.
Being a partner with the company as that third-party voice and ear is a much more relaxed and revealing process for an employee than being called into the HR office. Less angst. Less tightening of the jaw. Someone who doesn’t deal with benefits or vacation days. Instead, someone who is there to stir up the “pain points”, seek solutions on a human and personal level, evoke emotion and bring them to a level where they not only want to come to work, but they look forward to it.
Someone from whom the employee is not on guard from the first instant a meeting begins because all they experience is a sense of doom, and a fear of retribution should they say the wrong thing.
The most important facet in crafting a winning and profitable atmosphere for everyone boils down to one word that should always accompany training at every level.
I speak at numerous events, conventions, workshops, retreats and other corporate gatherings. In very few cases do I appear as a “one off” cut and run. That’s not the way I do business. Because in my mind, and what I impress upon those I now call “partners” instead of clients, that hour we spend together on stage and then the time speaking casually in the “post-game”, is just the beginning.
Consistency is the key. From the moment an individual becomes part of the team, there begins the motivation, the sense of ownership, the training that every person needs from the CEO on down. There is no excuse for not being consistent in training, and those who find the excuses are more often than not failures in their field.
Training in motivation, brand image, leadership, responsibility, accountability and integrity never stops. It is as constant as the Northern Star. It as part of the firmament of every successful individual and organization. It is the “eat all you eat” buffet that keeps people coming back for more.
It must be the very air that an organization seeking to be head and shoulders above everyone else must breath in deeply every day.
Successful companies and organizations understand the changing of employment times, and how critical it is to treat the employee as a member of a team. Someone whose opinions are valued and never ignored. An individual who is not easily replaceable.
Who believes the company has their best interests at heart.
I work with Human Resources and compliment their efforts. To be honest, there are many in the profession who at first view me with a jaundiced eye of concern. More than once I’ve experienced the HR Manager or someone on their staff tell me in no uncertain terms, “I know you’re here to take my job”.
Which could not be further from the truth.
My job is to inspire, motivate and educate a staff before issues arise. It’s my job to be the trained mechanic who, with an ear to the windings of the engine, understanding where the problem is and solve it before it cracks productivity. That’s a trait taught to me by my Grandfather Emil, the Master Electrician and someone who could tell a misfiring motor from 100 yards away.
I can tell a misfiring workplace culture from the moment I do my research, and then talk with the first member of the team. At any level.
I make Human Resources look better every day to their counterparts and superiors. I am that “management trainer” ensuring every level of management understands the imperative need for leadership and integrity. I provide a level of support unheard of in many corporate arenas.
Because my job is to get into that arena and fight the battles before they spill over into the crowd.
It’s my task to make the entire HR team more productive, more focused on the daily demands of a difficult position, to in essence allow them to clear the clutter from their physical and mental desk to deal with the critical issues.
To rouse the organization and it’s people to a greater level of success than they could possibly imagine.
I have always seen the task at hand one of being not merely the buffer, but also being the “firestarter” to help not only human resources, but middle and upper management to become more productive leaders.
While also working with those same leaders “1 on 1” to rouse their passions in becoming more efficient and much happier in being the one people look up to.
It’s the necessary investment in the human element of every organization. It is the money well spent that provides an immediate return on investment. It is the investment for the investment.
It doesn’t wait for the inevitable breakdown that occurs in every organization. Sooner or later, something will happen that will necessitate involvement from HR or up the food chain that could destroy a productive working environment, leave a trail of bad feelings and perhaps even revenge motives, and leave the work force demoralized and unproductive. Even worse, failing to get ahead of these issues could spell legal trouble in the form of lawsuits.
Be proactive. Bring in the professional before that corporate car is limping down the road on the verge of collapse. Work with the team to bring every individual to their best effort and then 10% more. Ensure the star players become leaders while the second and third string get the support and motivation they need to prove they can aspire to be part of the starting lineup.
Educate. Motivate. Put the “human” back into human resources.
It’s forward thinking like this that will turn every HR Department into something not be feared, but to be appreciated and looked up to as a positive element in the daily working world.
And it will prove to upper management there is much more to HR than welcome packets and carrying the scythe of doom.
Stop just handing out those welcome packets. Have the vision of preventive maintenance for people and products. Bring in the individual with the right tools to forge the undefeated brand.
TOP 5 NEGATIVES IN HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENTS.
– Failing to personally connect with each employee. It’s difficult and time consuming, but the workforce of the 21st century demands a greater personal touch than ever before.
– Relying too heavily on packets and print material. Most of it goes into a drawer and is forgotten no matter how many admonitions an employee receives.
– Not providing each employee at every level with motivational support. Everyone needs a good kick in the rear every now and then.
– Teaching mid-level management to be the leader in delivering that inspiration. The key here is leadership, and it has to come from the next level of management and HR in lockstep.
– Showing up only when something is amiss. This leads employees to see anyone from HR as more of the “executioner” than someone there to help them grow personally and professionally.
TOP 5 POSITIVES IN HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENTS.
– View every employee at every level in the same light. No favoritism. Never cease encouraging them to be greater than they are. Not for the company, but for themselves.
– Deal with internal issues right away. Don’t let them fester, as that will only make the issue tougher to solve with time.
– Keep employees at every level updated on their work progress. Six months or a year is far too much time to allow in evaluating and helping people get better at their jobs.
– Be friendly. You’ll be surprised how far a smile and personal advice will go. Convince upper management this will lead to greater productivity and less turnover.
– Consistent education and assistance from outside resources that will assist with employee relations, leadership training, brand image understanding and the pitfalls that will affect employees and the company.
Tend to the engine and provide the preventative maintenance every human vehicle needs to succeed.