Archive | October, 2014

HR Friends Celebrate Halloween the HR Way!

29 Oct

Sal, Solo and Sally were chatting over a coffee, which they did from time to time after the train journey back from the city. They took the same train to work every day and often met to travel home together or enjoy some diversion in the city. They had become good friends and particularly after they discovered that they all worked in Human Resources and were quite passionate about their work. They were still relatively early in their careers and still very idealistic about the meaning of Human Resources, and its benefit to business and people in general, if given a chance.

Halloween was just a few days away and they discussed how their different organizations planned to celebrate or, more accurately, allow its employees to celebrate. Employees were permitted to dress up on the day and there may have been some prizes awarded, but HR had little involvement apart from sharing some of the fun, but not usually dressing up themselves.

“We should get more involved this year” said Sally, “Maybe dress up, but something that symbolizes HR more than graveyards, skulls and severed arms”. They all thought it was a great idea and explored several themes. Sal suggested adopting the French national motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. They agreed that it was a great motto, but maybe did not accurately describe values that directly inspire and drive business.

The HR three agreed that although business owners may like freedom to operate how they wish, they did not promote freedom for employees, who were paid to work in a specified way, in return for pay. There was some freedom, for example to be innovative in finding ways to do the job better, but not too much. Equality was important, between employees in general, but their businesses were quite hierarchical and the call for equality was not normally proclaimed from the boardroom. Fraternity, they interpreted as friendship and although a great social value did not seem to be as relevant to business. Harmonious workplaces were important, cooperation, courtesy and open communication, but not quite the same as friendship.


After considerable discussion, more coffee and festive donuts, our three HR friends finally decided on “TRUSTING, CARING, SHARING” as their personal HR Halloween motto:

  • TRUSTING seemed important in so many ways. People said what they meant and followed through with what they said they would do, both employees and bosses and particularly HR. They could be trusted to do what is right and fair and following the spirit of what it was, not just the word
  • CARING was relevant to almost everything. A safe and supportive work environment, the way employees did their work, the way their bosses supported, encouraged, praised and rewarded employees for a job well done
  • SHARING was particularly important when people were committed to helping one another and were willing to mentor, give advice, share experiences and communicate positively together in every way. Sharing was particularly relevant in management being precise about work expectations, giving feedback and letting people know what was happening within the business and what they were all collectively working towards. Particularly nice is sharing success and milestones together, but not unfairly sharing blame when things do not go quite so well

Sally, Sol and Sally were very happy with their Halloween motto and planned to display it prominently in HR with maybe some treats (not tricks) to welcome Halloween visitors. They may dress up in some way or may expand on the theme with the cooperation of their bosses, but even if not, they felt really good that they had found a Halloween theme that seemed so appropriate to business and HR.

Our HR friends recognized that there were many other key words they could have selected, but felt very satisfied with their choice. What do you think? Are there theme words that you consider more appropriate, or suggestions about how we may best celebrate Halloween? I look forward to any thoughts and suggestions you may have.

Wishing you all a very HAPPY HALLOWEEN!



In Search of an Ideal Workplace

25 Oct

An ideal workplace would be a nice place to be for the majority of employees and at the same time successful from a business perspective and smart enough to remain ahead of the competition.  

The business would keep things as simple as possible to meet requirements and not oblige employees to play games and role-play any more than necessary.  Similarly, business values would be as sincere as possible, including practical obligations that need to be met for marketing in a competitive world.

People would be inspired by their own professionalism and motivation to get the job done well. They would not feel unduly obliged to change or mask their true personality and assume a business image alien to their own individuality – particularly if not necessary (simply an illusion) to get the job done.

The business would be defined by its practices. In turn, the executives and managers would be similarly defined, directly linked as upholders and implementers of the practices. Values and practices may include:

  • Appropriate levels of staffing to get the job done without forcing employees to frequently work excessive hours, possibly without pay
  • Work breaks and time-off from work that employees are expected to take to enjoy and refresh
  • Some flexibility (e.g. hours) to allow employees to meet important personal demands (e.g. children, care giving) while still able to fully meet job requirements
  • Fair processes to select employees for internal advancement, training or developmental opportunities based on objective and understood criteria
  • Fair and objective processes for handing disputes, problems and disciplinary processes
  • Adequate training and access to help to ensure employees have resources necessary to perform their job well
  • Ongoing communication so employees understand business challenges and are ready, willing and prepared to put in additional effort in exceptional times e.g. to meet a critical business order
  • Competent management and a strong HR department committed to upholding and promoting the values of the organization and to evaluating the continuing success of the organization, in real terms, in acting in accordance with its values

Nothing listed above is unusual and many organizations may have policies and procedures that are relevant. The difference in the “ideal” organization is that they would be followed with sincerity and pride. In addition, of course, the physical working environment would be appropriate and matters such as occupational health and safety practices and training taken very seriously.

It would be a workplace where people are calm, confident, committed (in their own individual ways) and able to get the job done without a fuss.  Leadership would be firm and fair, but still in touch with human reality and social conscience.

Here are some assumptions, including technology based, that should make the ideal workplace more possible:

  • The role of managers would focus on the efficient and strategic direction of the function for which they are responsible. Effectiveness would be tracked based on data that would be shared with employees, including performance data and feedback that would be tracked online. Relationships would be adult and respectful and managers would focus more on supporting employees rather than micro managing.       Employees would know where they stand at any point.
  • Technology would facilitate employees being largely self-regulated.   Logging in and out would take care of timekeeping and recording against labor distribution codes, when applicable, would feed the system automatically. Employees (and management) would know they are doing well from continuous online feedback, or, from the same source, receive alerts about any concerns or negative variances.  Performance management, as we know it today, would no longer exist.
  •  Training, help and support would be available at all times, whether online, from the manager or Human Resources.  HR would be very active in this environment with a strong employee relations, management support and trouble-shooting role.

What else would employees look for in an ideal workplace?  Pay, benefits and perquisites are important but may not directly affect life in the workplace, unless they are clearly not handled fairly.  People relationships, more than anything else, I believe, make it feel good about going to work and spending large amounts of time away from home.  People at work may be very different, but if there is mutual respect and a culture that promotes fair treatment and positive interrelationships, the differences may evolve as collective strengths. Enjoying the specific work (for what it is) is desirable but not always possible. However, performing less than exciting work in an environment with good people and sound and fair business practices can make the total employment package very desirable.

These are just a few initial thoughts about an ideal workplace.  Do they make sense?  Do you agree that there is a need for an adult environment and for a shift in performance management from retroactive management assessments to a more automated system with continuous feedback and related support systems?  Do you believe that a strong HR function is needed (particularly in fairly large organizations) and will be directly instrumental (with an appropriate mandate) in ensuring that the dream of an ideal workplace may become reality to the extent possible, in this imperfect world? What do you think?

Thank you for your interest.  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.



Illusions of Self

19 Oct

Blogging about Life

Both my daughters turned a year older in the last two weeks and I turn a year older in the next two weeks.

It is a good time to reflect on the past and imagine what the future will hold. There is a very good talk where Dan Gilbert “shares recent research on a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion,” where we somehow imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time. Hint: that’s not the case. “

The reality is that we are transient beings and change every second and it is very unlikely we will be the same person we are today in ten years time.

In some ways this can be rather scary, as many of us expend a lot of energy in trying to maintain the status-quo in our lives. We work very hard…

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Are We and the Millennials Ready for Change?

18 Oct

For years, we have debated the need for change (HR and Business) in a monotonously repetitive way and finally change seems to be in the air. Not, however, based on agreement or consensus between the debating parties, but more, it seems, based on what we believe the millennials expect in a working relationship.   This is somewhat unprecedented, that we care so much about what the new generations want, that we are prepared to abandon principles and ways of doing things that we (many of us) have clung to for decades.

At least this way, people do not have to admit that they were wrong (or debate whether they were) but develop and prepare for change based what the millennials want. The possible explanation is that we did it right for our time and we are now changing it, not for us, but for new generations (a new business model) whose needs are different.  

A cynic may claim that the needs of earlier generations were equally profound, but in the past, they were suppressed.  This time around, there is more acceptance that the millennials will set the pattern for the future. That is hard to dispute, as earlier generations inevitably fade out of sight. The old generations (as throughout history) are being replaced by new generations (including millennials) and this time we are promoting change earlier than usual, possibly before the millennials change their mind or mellow and adapt to their “designated” role in society.

Whatever the reason, it is time for change and we are more ready for change and that is good. Do you agree? The millennial style business will be more efficient and more inclusive (so they say) and one aspect of the desired change that is strongly publicized is the need for frequent and real time performance feedback. How will this affect the traditional way we conduct business?


  • The traditional HR performance management program will be dropped or extensively reformatted – used more for coaching than evaluation? Do you agree?
  • Real time evaluation (by the direct supervisor) will be based on real time work performed and using relevant work criteria aligned to the goals of the functional unit
  • There will be ongoing disclosure between the supervisor and employee concerning performance level and both will have access to relevant online data and tracking processes


  • Whatever may be said about millennials wanting ongoing feedback (and coaching) it will only be welcomed from a manager/supervisor who is respected. If annual feedback is resented, more frequent feedback from a similar style supervisor will be even more resented
  • Millennials giving feedback to other millennials is no guarantee of greater success. Once people from any generation establish their place within society and adopt related values, earlier homogeneous qualities may rapidly dissipate


  • If work measures are as objective as possible, employees are more likely to accept them as valid. Supervisor opinion about the attitude or personality of an individual (as at present) could be challenged as intrusive or subjective and resented rather than welcomed as helpful. Most supervisors do not have the skills to make such judgements
  • Objectivity based on work criteria established at the outset (and clearly measurable) is essential partly due to the projected greater proportion of the workforce who will be contract and temporary employees. There is not time to delay work evaluation and base it on cumulative factors and personal assessments rather than real time work performance

These are just a few thoughts about current changes in the workplace. Do you think that change is being prompted primarily by the reported different needs of millennials, or is it change that most people accept as necessary and particularly because of technological change and our related greater capability to meet business needs without overcomplicating?   One aspect I have not addressed is recruiting. For certain positions, the process may be more analytical and complex than at present, but for the majority it could be primarily online with limited personal intervention – a fast and efficient system, particularly for contract and transitional positions. What do you think?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.



Do Employees or Managers Have to Change the Most?

14 Oct

It is normal for bosses to try to think of ways to make the operations they are responsible for more efficient. Often they express frustration about the lack of interest or negative attitudes of employees. They may consider how they can get employees more engaged, but in many cases engagement is a few steps away and the first goal is simply to get employees to do what they are supposed to do in a reasonably proficient and concerned way.

Who is to blame? Has HR done a poor job hiring or finding new employees? The manager may make the final choice between candidates, but count on HR to do their part and provide the best advice – particularly when things go wrong! It is easy to blame HR. HR is never perfect, but the way employees behave – do their job – is more dependent on the direction and leadership given by their direct supervisor after they start work. How they performed in their previous job is only an accurate indicator if the environment was similar. Do you agree?

Most employees start a new job enthusiastic and determined to do well and recognize that they have to adapt to the way a particular organization operates. Employees react to their environment and generally are quite flexible because they want things to work out.   It is when employees became disillusioned and consider they are working in a hostile environment that things go wrong. If it reaches the stage that employees hate coming to work every day, it can go really wrong.

If employees have the appropriate skills and are reasonably flexible, they should do well. If things are not going well, do employees have to follow better or must their bosses be better leaders/managers? There may be odd cases when the employee is to blame, but in most cases, it is necessary for the manager to change to reasonably expect an improvement in employee commitment and performance in general.

It is more complicated, of course, because managers are also employees and equally reactive to their senior management bosses and the environment (culture) in general. If managers are to be more successful in motivating employees to work well and as a team, is it necessary, sometimes, for the manager to promote a local environment that may differ somewhat from the organization in general? This, I believe, is the way strong leaders can succeed, set an example and achieve recognition from their bosses. This can be particularly relevant for HR functions and HR management.

One of the greatest and most satisfying challenges for HR, is to try to turn around an organization that is failing (to some extent) due to poor management, poor employee relations practices and, probably, unfair treatment of employees.   HR can gradually succeed by adopting different approaches, but at the same time not alienating itself from the organization in general. HR would not operate as a breakaway unit, but in a way that is integral to the business and implementing improvements on behalf of and to the credit of the total organization. The same principles would apply to a smart manager who may need to lead employees in a better way than his bosses (and possibly peers) but would still be focusing on business success goals shared by all.

If things are not going well between a manager and employees supervised, the manager (with reasonable skills) can turn the situation around, but only if he/she is receptive to self-change and acknowledges that much of the blame for the current problem must rest on his/her shoulders. Here are some thoughts:

  • Most employees will work well if given appropriate direction
  • Thinking of strategies and motivators to encourage employee change is not enough if simply tacked on to what currently exists
  • The manager must be able to think through, believe in, and be committed to personal change. In many cases it can be very helpful for the manager to receive some coaching and possibly a professional assessment of his/her current style
  • Generic management training can be helpful, but only if the manager is able (and sufficiently honest) to reflect on differences between his/her current style and able to identify critical aspects that he/she needs to change
  • Feedback of various types can be helpful, but the manager should be cautious in seeking feedback from people (e.g. certain senior management) he/she does not respect – asking for advice and then not following it can be a problem

To achieve greater productivity and business success, I believe the greatest change must be by managers and supervisors and positive employee change will naturally evolve as a result. For our business to be what we want it to be, we must understand what we currently are and be brave enough to make the necessary changes, including our own behaviours and trust in others. What do you think?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.


Adult Workplace Relationships for Business Success!

3 Oct

HR often criticizes managers for the way they communicate with employees. Sometimes we need to consider whether we are setting the best example. We are responsible for policies, compliance and many mandatory subjects. It is very simple to tell people what they must do, to let them know they are wrong, but the way we do it can set the tone for relationships, particularly with management, and possibly define the way we are seen as team members – or not!

If we, and management in general, focus on obedience (“just follow the rules”) employees may comply, responding to those in authority, but is that too short sighted? If we focus on commitment, with employees as partners who understand and have some say in what is happening, collectively we should have the potential to achieve far more.

I believe that we need to communicate with employees (including management) as adults, focusing on understanding and commitment rather than just compliance. We may need to take a stand on issues, that is normal, but we need to engage rather than scold, while at the same time building trust and mutual respect.  Do you agree?  It seems make sense from a human perspective and also when we consider what we are trying to achieve in the workplace.  For example:

  • To hope for an engaged workforce, employees need to feel that they are an integral and important part of the organization and their opinions are valued and respected. 
  • Sharing company information, goals etc. in a lecture style may inform (important to engagement) but unless communicated in a sincere adult way and reinforced, will not change the distance between employees and management. Employees may appreciate the effort by management, but still may not feel part of it – a pawn in someone else’s game!
  • Even more complex is encouraging employees to be innovative and creative.  There may be associated prizes and high level recognition, but it will not change the employee mindset if the environment is otherwise restrictive with them constantly being told what to do and (in their opinion) being treated as though they are unable to think for themselves.  Some employees may submit an occasional idea to win a prize, but there will be no major change unless a true employee thinking (and belonging) environment is promoted.

A key role of managers and supervisors is to translate senior management and HR messages and appropriately communicate them in the workplace.   However, if their bosses are constantly telling them what to do, rather than having discussion and inviting their input and opinion, the managers may be similarly blunt and indifferent when they pass on executive and HR messages, however nice, to employees. The need for adult relationships is necessary between all levels and if it is not the style of top management, it is unlikely to be the dominant style anywhere else. The executive may claim to be promoting engagement, but their actions will speak louder than their words.

Senior management and Human Resources must believe in the messages they are sending and communicate them convincingly.  It is not enough to devise a program or initiative to influence employees to be “better” if the principles are not reflective of the organization. They are particularly dangerous if executives and HR feel they are somehow exempt – that they are acting correctly and it is the employees who must change. Those seeking to create change must first seriously consider whether they need to modify any of their own behaviors consistent with what they are seeking from others.  They must also believe in what they are requiring from the workforce, both for them and employees.

What do you think? In seeking employee commitment, how important is it to promote an adult workplace environment? Is it more important than focusing on obedience and compliance? Is it necessary that true change be reflective of (evolving) corporate culture, affecting all employee levels and with the executive, HR and the highest level of management setting the example?

Thank you for your interest.  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.



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