If You Can’t Beat ’em, Hire ’em

I have hired a lot of people in my life. I stopped counting after I got to three hundred. But the hardest hiring decision of my career, without a doubt, was the time I was faced with the opportunity to hire the runner up for the job I held. I worked really hard to interview for this job I got. The CEO who hired me tells me he got 500 applications. It came down to me and one other guy. I barely got the job, and let me emphasize barely. Well, some months into employment here I opened up a new role on my team and this candidate applied. We decided that given the amount of HR issues we needed to turnaround that two leaders were better than one. So, when my boss asked me to consider if I’d hire my competition to work for me I have to say that this was excruciating. After lots of conversations with the angel and the demon on my shoulder I told myself I needed to practice what I preach. No fear. Hire people as good or better than you because that’s how you drive a business forward. Well, I confess I was far short of the no fear part, but this wimp decided to cross over the fear line by 1/2 inch and I’m better for it. I’m convinced I preserved my health and my sanity through that move. I deeply respect this individual I hired and together we knocked out some mega things. He’s honestly smarter than me with a leg up on experience in the niche industry I was in at the time, and a step ahead degree wise with a masters degree from a better school than the one I’m attending now. When I moved on to a new opportunity he of course stepped into my role and I was pretty excited for him. I keep up to follow the really cool things he continues to do at that company to this day.

Here’s the deal. The big secret about leadership is that it is really about managing and developing people. It has absolutely, positively, totally nothing to do with you. As a senior officer of a multi billion dollar company I once worked at said at one of our leadership meetings, people will cut you a lot of slack if you are a listening and humble person (that’s my summary of a brilliant speech he gave). It’s true. Great leaders are vested in the success of their people even before they sit back and think about the big I am. They are at the front lines cheering their people on. They care. Heck, they even love them. They sometimes shed tears over the wins and the losses of their people. And something magnificent happens when you experience this more tranparent side of leadership. Irony presents itself. You see, what is so ironic is that when you stop being in the game for the big “me” it suddenly means that you succeed on the level that transcends money, and you also move the needle on productivity and profits to boot. This is because you engage a very special part of your people and they start showing up to work to really give their all. Not just lip service. Not just for the bucks. They show up because they like working for you and they really want to shine for the team. You see, it is the coaches and the poets of the world that change the world and spur the masses on to achieve at higher levels than even imagined. As Henry Miller put it, “The real leader has no need to lead – he is content to point the way.” I hope that I can be content to point the way. I always ask the people who work for me to tell me the truth, to correct me when I’m wrong, and to celebrate when THEY have wins.

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Leading Change – A Lynchpin for Company Success

The field of change management has been a wide scale topic of interest in the business industry for close to three decades now. The heightened awareness in more recent years is certainly tied to the fact that technology and product development demands are ever changing and evolving at a pace and scale not seen in decades past. Just look at changing automobile designs, medical technological developments or the rapid evolution of PCs and smartphones. In order to keep up with the rapid pace of business environments that demand better and faster all the time, successful businesses need strong leaders who are trained and talented in the area of change management.

A critical piece of leading and developing the workforce is teaching them to manage change appropriately. As the adage goes, the one constant is change. What is frightening, however, is how often management teams fail to apply a disciplined approach to change. Perhaps this why John Kotter, one of the most renowned leaders in the study of change, points out that 70% of change initiatives fail in organizations (http://newdirectionsconsulting.com/4639/blog/why-70-of-change-initiatives-fail-2/).

So what qualifies as change? I’ve experienced the large and obvious, such as leading a company through a workforce change across multiple states. Or, rolling out a widescale new IT system in over half the country. But how about the smaller changes? Did you know that humans experience the same emotions with both positive and negative changes? Did you know that every time we get a new team member, and certainly a new leader, we go through a cycle of team chaos and eventually forming and getting normal? Did you know that this change continuum mimicks the symptoms of dealing with death and dying? The reality is that change is part of our human experience, and dealing with it part of our human fiber. Emotions are normal and we cannot keep them from being provoked when change presents itself. As such, critcal to any corporation’s success is learning to teach employees to manage through change and to manage through these emotions in a healthy way.

As a matter of regular daily management I tend to apply what I call a blueprint for winning in my activities and projects. Sometimes I map it out on a real paper blueprint. Sometimes I just keep this in my mind. It goes something like this. Whenever setting out to accomplish a significant task with critical outcomes, I enter into an exercise whereby I list out the present state and then list out the future desire state. Then, I map out the various obstacles that are likely to crop up in the journey towards the desired future state. From here very intentional planning needs to take place. And this very intentional planning needs to be realistic. For example, last year I set out to roll out a new LMS system to 270 employees. We knew that a huge portion of the employees had little to no PC experience. So there were a bunch of things that were going to be obstacles. For example, simple fear of technology. Anticipating this we campaigned in advance and sold the many benefits of the new technology. This included learning skills to prepare for electronic medical records (something mandated by PPACA and planned for rollout to all healthcare practitioners). This also included becoming more agile in skills which can be a benefit personally. This also included a more efficient learning process to save time, and a great way to tracks CEUs. And so forth. These selling points were preached in meetings and newsletters and other communication mediums. Sell though we may, of course we had many who were struggling more intensely. We created a culture of acceptance in terms of understanding the struggle. On many, many occasions we set up 1:1 in depth training with employees to help them grasp the new systems and just to talk through how they were feeling. The point is, this simple thing, which involved having associates take a variety of simple online classes each year, was not so simple. Had we not planned the obstacles in the path of desired future LMS state (fear, IT trouble, etc), the expenses poured into a new training facility / PCs / LMS platform / training leader salary / etc, may have been a business waste.

The reality is that leaders need to be thoroughly trained in the knowledge of change management. Without leaders bought in and sensitive to the human impact of change, failure is imminent. The most dangerous force in a change continuum is an impatient leader who judges and does not lead wisely. There are outside seminars and courses that can equip your leaders to proper diagnose change need, sell the change to teams, lead change and sustain change. Only leaders who see themselves as constant change agents engaging in this process can be good leaders. This is because change is a constant, and therefore strong change agents are a constant need for the successful business.

Building Your Own Learning Plan

My strong belief is that the best HR professionals are those who have a truly blended and generalist core first and foremost. This skill set can be used and drawn from throughout one’s HR career, whatever focal area is selected. As a means of depicting this concept it may be useful to diagram out the learning process itself as a means of picturing these critical overlaps in the HR body. The diagram below (click on it to expand) is one tool I’ve developed in a current masters HRD program as part of a school project. It’s one possible way of dissecting the HR learning model, though there can be many tools for this. The below diagram only captures a portion of HR fields. In reality of course there are additional branches. However, as a means of practical learning and development I have started with some very standard functions. The core would represent the more basic junior generalist or HR assistant role. The branches on all sides of the plus sign from here then show focus areas such as training, benefits, payroll, or the more traditional pure generalist to generalist management.

I don’t know about you, but my philosophy is never stop learning. In mapping out all of these areas I myself began to build out my own personal development plan a bit more. Do you have a personal development plan? If not I would suggest it as a wise practice. I learned this from a boss I had a few years back. She was a VP of Finance but the most entertaining VP of Finance I’ve ever known. Leslie was known for being a pro at lifting the human spirit and helping a person stay on target. It was the little things like the fun bag she once brought me with clown nose and motivational DVD inside. Then it was the more serious things like helping me map out my goals and objectives, and learn how to use successes and failures to guide my course and learning. She is the one who also helped me learn how to always have a personal development plan. So, if you don’t have one, I’d recommend it! Leslie if you are reading this, thank you for your coaching in this area!

Whether you are in HR or another field entirely, the below model is a possible place to start. First map out the core elements that every junior person in your field needs to have. Then, begin to build out the branches of each focal area. As you diagram this you might actually find yourself gravitating in one direction or another. It’s never a bad thing to learn some things from the other branches as well, even if you don’t plan to work exclusively in those areas. For example, I am a pure HR generalist by trade. However, I’m choosing to study HRD because I see that as a huge value add to build out the HR leadership side. There is only gain in being multidisciplinary in how you think because therein lies the cutting edge.

Happy learning!

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Training HR itself to be Strategic

I’ve been following a posting on Linkedin all week and it is up to 108 posts as of today, http://lnkd.in/RhT4i4. It’s a great discussion around why HR is often accused of not being strategic. This is a thought provoking question for me. How do we, should we, as HR practitioners make sure that we are training ourselves to be current and strategic? We are good at leading others (employees) through training and development, but are we holding ourselves to the same bar? I’ll share a few of my personal thoughts below, however, I would love to hear from all of you bloggers about how you keep your skills and thinking strong in the HR field to avoid being viewed as non value add. I have fallen into the mundane transaction based HR trap one too many times in my twelve years in the field. Luckily failure is the best lesson to learn from and leads to success if humbly one lets it be a tutor.

In HR I think we all too often fail to link to strategy and deliver bottom line (measurable) results. Because we consider ourselves to be somewhat consultative and separate (eg for confidentiality sake) in our nature and function, we can easily isolate ourselves from the mainstream business functions. This leads to what every CEO is most worried about HR becoming – a transaction based operation and not a strategic operation.

HR departments need to be metrics based and conjoined to strategy same as all other departments. We need to be as fluid and changing as the other pieces of the business. The HR teams that fail typically fail because they become separate and set in their ways. Because we are by nature a compliant/legally charged bunch, we can become legalistic in our mindset and become more focused on following process and steps, and not measuring outcomes and value (in dollars) that we create. Rigid mindsets are the enemy of change agility and strategy. So this is the first thing I will take on in myself when trying to stay strategic. We are not the gatekeepers so much as we are the partners in achieving ideal human capital outcomes and productivity. Yes, we uphold laws and are gatekeepers of behaviors. No, we are not primarily here to do that.

In a past position I was brought into an organization to turnaround the HR operation from old school to new school. We changed the structure by looking at ways to make processes more efficient (this way of thinking came not from my HR training but my Six Sigma training). One area of low hanging fruit was recruiting. We had distracted HR staff members managing this process. But because we hired over 150 staff members a year there was zero room for distracted. So I hired a recruiter and taught this recruiter to utilize process improvement methods to drive cost down and productivity up. We also revamped the screening process and created streamlined and more modern screening tools for managers to use that were less prone to human error (screening in too many or screening out too many). And we did a lot more outside of recruiting. For example we more than doubled outcomes (winning cases) with unemployment by ending the vendor contract, hiring a vendor with a different approach to cases, and developing disciplines in house so that policies and documentation were solid and likely to be upheld by the IDES. There were a few other areas (learning and development and work comp projects) that were also selected as key projects at this company. We chose the areas of focus by always, as Stephen Covey puts it, “beginning with the end in mind.” We looked at the five year corporate strategy and built process improvements around it and not our own whims. We looked at the waste (money overspent, and time overspent) and we blew up the current process and were tenaciously determined to rebuild the process around process improvements. We then measured outcomes every quarter and published them for our business partners (other depts) to see and hold us accountable. Every quarter our process and focus would change as the need changed. This was the opposite of rigid and legalistic and instead required a fluid, ever changing HR team that built people and process around strategy and need.

I did not learn this way of approaching HR from a business and problem solving angle from my fellow HR practitioners. The minority of HR practitioners are as aggressive with outcomes based methodology as our finance, operations, etc, counterparts. I learned this way of thinking by working for a Finance VP and CEO where this thought process was required for survival since they expected it of me.

I hope to keep learning from the logical and measurement based folks in business. I love working alongside finance associates, engineers, programmers, operations and executive level associates. I try to keep my cup empty enough of myself, of HR, so that I can gain insight from them. It’s the edge I crave and need to be a strategic HR practitioner.