Archive | June, 2015

How Can We Be Prepared? The Smart Way!

24 Jun

I think most people would agree that we have to be prepared for whatever may happen, but that is easier said than done! The way we balance our preparedness makes a major difference in balancing between day-to-day life quality and future consideration. At work it is similar. We prepare by following appropriate studies of our subject, e.g. Human Resources, and ensuring that we understand key principles and how various aspects should be handled and why. We have prepared by learning the theory of our subject, but how ready are we to convince others to follow what we are able to do and be impressed by our interactive demeanor? We have to understand the environment we are working within and people we are working with to be truly effective.

One example of attempting to be prepared, that I remember very well, is when I set-off on my first extended travel journey many years ago. When I look back it is unbelievable how much stuff I decided to take with me. I bought a very large backpack and filled it and had items attached to it including the following:

  • A small tent I bought at the railway lost-property office
  • A suit (Burton’s) in case I found a job in Paris (the official purpose of the trip was to take CII Insurance exams at the Paris centre – more an excuse than true objective!)
  • Foreign language dictionaries, some “Teach Yourself” language books and writing materials
  • A plastic bowl and cleaner in case I had to wash clothes
  • More routine travel stuff and shoes etc.

As you can see, I was well prepared for some specific things, but not really for travel. For example:

  • Apart from some Youth Hostel information I had no travel guides and although there were cities I wanted to visit, I had no idea what I would do when I got there (anywhere!)
  • I had a shortage of day-to-day comfortable clothes, particularly for walking
  • My backpack was so heavy I was bowed over as I walked – I had not considered (sensibly) that I may have to carry my luggage with me while sightseeing

Travel was so different in those days (pre-EU) with no cell phones, electronic devices or internet. Most information I obtained from information booths at train stations or from other travelers. There were also currency restrictions and a maximum of £40 could be taken out of the UK at that time – not that I had much more available!

So, I was very well prepared for things that were unlikely – finding (or wanting) an office job so early in my travels and imagining I would have time to spend learning languages. In contrast, a key pastime became visiting breweries and enjoying free beer and just enjoying the company of other hitchhikers!

My “portability” issue was quickly resolved. I stayed at a Youth Hostel in Suresne (Paris) for a week or so and left most of my luggage there as I set-off towards Yugoslavia. I was certainly more trusting in those days, but when I returned a few months later everything was still there – and I hadn’t needed any of it! On subsequent similar trips I took only a small bag and that was perfect. I had flexibility and comfort and was able to concentrate on what was most important – becoming familiar with other countries and other people some of whom I am still in contact with and influenced my ultimate (so far) move to Canada.

How important do you think it is to plan and thoroughly prepare? Looking back and considering the twists and turns in life – and changed interests – I think it may be more important to became very skilled at recognizing and knowing how to respond to opportunity and sometimes enjoying going in totally different and unanticipated directions. What do you think?

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

Ian

Considering Goodwin Sands and Critical HR Change!

13 Jun

Not so long ago (maybe 5000 years) there was no sea separating Britain and France and people (presumably) could walk from Dover to Calais and stop for a meal on Goodwin Sands without  the risk of being stranded and drowning.  Today, the Goodwin Sands are a reminder as land, in the middle of the channel, that surfaces only at low tide and allows curious tourists to fleetingly tread where few people choose to tread.

There are no records from that time, but you can imagine the HR challenge when mid-channel people realized their lands were being flooded and had to choose whether to resettle in France or England. Similarly, Personnel had to choose between becoming Human Resources or ressources humaines and enjoying bland or spicy food!

How fast do people respond to major impending change? I understand the water rose gradually so the risk was not of immediate drowning. People did not have to swim to the closest shore, but noticed their lands becoming increasingly submerged and non habitable.

We can imagine that some people of the mid-channel lands, as soon as they recognized that the flooding was unstoppable, sold their belongings for whatever price, studied English or French and left as soon as possible for solid land where they could start again.  Was that smart or was that giving up? It is amazing how many of us will remain until the last moment in adverse circumstances as we are nervous about leaving what we have become accustomed to.

Many people, however, were fighters and would not accept inevitable change.  They built sea-walls, elevated their dwellings to as high as possible and resolved to fight.  Maybe they out-survived their neighbours by a hundred years or so, but having a home increasingly surrounded by water was not really preserving quality of life, but refusing to accept the need for change. We are unlikely to look back with surprise, as humankind still choose to reject reality, e.g. global warming, and cater only to short-term selfish needs with little regard for the future.

Some people refused to accept the changes that were happening and fought on, ignoring until too late the rising water. Maybe they ultimately drowned – maybe they invaded and replaced folks living on higher ground who had prepared better.

How does all this relate to Human Resources – to every aspect of our life?  It is not water that threatens most of us, but in a business environment the unstoppable flow of online information and technological know-how that can make anyone somewhat of an expert on most subjects. It can be as simple as acquiring appropriate technology with the right algorithms to explain what it all means and reach certain conclusions.

We cannot pretend change is not happening and expect our traditional HR way of doing things to endure regardless of the environment. Consider the following:

  • Many traditional HR approaches were based on the limited technological capability that existed at the time and were, of necessity, somewhat simplistic and untimely including, in particular, traditional performance management. Now we have the ability to factor in everything and develop systems, if we desire, customized for each employee and interactive in real time
  • Much HR strategy was based on our expertise on HR subjects (exclusive knowledge) that was not shared by others who were expected to defer to our “expert” HR opinions. Such humility no longer dominates and other function peers can elect to become experts in whatever interests them, based on all the online research materials available
  • Respect for “superiors” can no longer be assumed. This can reflect in family life and at work when different thinking (technologically influenced) of new generations may result in viewing earlier-age bosses and influencers as somewhat out of date, and strict hierarchical organizations (suppressing employees) similarly belonging in the past

We are being flooded by information delivered through the internet, by data collected, sorted and transmitted online and by intelligent programmed machines that can make decisions and interact, train and provide help, better than us, on multiple subjects. Is that the flood we have to be prepared for that threatens to submerge or swallow HR? If so, how can we be prepared and remain as essential to business support as in earlier days? For example:

  • We must expand HR skills consistent with today. We program the machines and make them work for us, but how well do we use them? How well do we instruct them? To what extent do they reflect the culture and needs of our organization or are they largely off-the-shelf purchased items that sound good?
  • Do we tend to try to use new technology, not to develop new approaches but to keep all the concepts, programs and processes we are comfortable with alive, but using a more efficient platform? 
  • On a day-to-day basis do we demonstrate that we can resolve problems (regardless of any technology) using our interactive/analytical HR skills and clearing the way for our business partners to proceed with their priorities without serious impediment?

Like the mid-channel fighter/survivor, we can use all the wonderful modern technology to move forward to achieve better things, rather than simply sustain what is currently in place. What we liked in the past was often the way it was because it was the best we could do, at that time, with the resources available.  We celebrated our progress and glossed over the limitations because there was little else we could do at the time. We were very happy with what we had and can continue to be happy (fulfilled) as we, with open minds, bravely move into the future as an integral part of the new world!

What do you think?  With all our enthusiasm for new technology, have we sufficiently adapted our minds to utilize it to the full potential?  Are we clinging too much to the past?  In the case of the new generations, are we clinging too much to what we are comfortable with in providing leadership although the context may be significantly different? How can we change our thinking?

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

Ian

EMPLOYEE RELATIONS – Key to HR Success!

11 Jun

I am proud to be an EMPLOYEE RELATIONS professional – the key to trust, working together effectively and achieving mutually beneficial results!

I have had various impressive HR titles and been associated with more high fallutin aspects of Human Resources, but the magic ingredient, I believe, that holds everything together, is Employee Relations. I should make it clear that although the employees we need to relate to are often quite junior, the same principles apply to relationships at all levels, including senior management.

HR people behind the scenes can work on impressive Human Capital Management programs and initiatives, but it is Employee Relations aspects that will often determine their success.  The same program can be seen as inspiring or can be seen as more HR foolishness depending on the thought, strategy and sensitivity that goes into implementation.  The way it is communicated to management and employees will determine its credibility – whether it is seen more as HRspeak or management  gibberish or whether it is seen as something of value to be thought through and objectively considered.

Employee Relations is not a simple selling process, but more the establishment of an environment where there is trust and confidence about the motives of management when they talk about subjects and initiatives – an environment within which employees feel valued for their contribution and intelligence.

Employee Relations does not have the same acceptance as other HR functions because it is not held together by tangible facts, universally applied strategy or precise methodology and program evaluation techniques.   It is less defined than other aspects of Human Resources and as a result is more challenging for Human Resources people wishing to become Employee Relations proficient.

Employee Relations is key to the success of engagement initiatives.  Employee Relations is critical in Labor Relations – in keeping the relationship between management and bargaining unit employees strongly in place – can make a decisive difference when employees are voting to accept a negotiated package or go on strike.  Employee Relations will determine the effectiveness of our business partnership with peers – our acceptance is not based simply on how smart we are, but how smart we are in projecting our smartness and the way in which we are committed to their (functional peers) interests and working with them.

Employee Relations is the icing on the cake for almost every HR initiative – the add-on to open many doors – ultimately the key to HR acceptance – regardless of whether or not the organization style is employee friendly.

If Employee Relations is so important, how can we become more proficient?  What do you think? There are books and courses, but a very practical approach could be to spend a day, away from the normal hustle and bustle and just think, reflect and try to understand who you are dealing with and communicating with on a day-to-day basis – try to see their needs from their perspective:

  • What is most important to the average employee?  What makes them feel good?  What turns them off?  As an employee, what kinds of things encourage MY buy-in?  To what extent, when I present things to employees, do I present them in a way that would influence me to accept (and be enthusiastic) if I was the person being sold to?
  • As a business partner, how do I want other business partners to communicate with me?  What is most important?  Is the way I approach business partners the way I would want them to approach me?  Am I projecting as an equal partner or a partner providing specific services?  If I present advice about THEIR business, is it the way I would like them to offer me advice about HR?
  • When I address issues with union employees am I communicating to gain their trust and confidence in the company?  Alternatively, am I addressing them as though they are the union and tainting dialogue with negativism and possibly some contempt?
  • When we are handling situation of extreme sensitivity do we ensure that our approach is professional and sensitive while still assuming a leadership role? This could apply to sickness, death, terminations and many different types of conflict and uncertainty that could seriously affect employees if handled badly.

If you have a problem thinking through the concepts outlined above and if they do not make much sense to you, then another approach could be to explore further, possibly with a coach or mentor, someone you respect on Employee Relations matters.  Earning your Employee Relations “badge” could make all the difference between remaining a backroom HR support person (although nothing wrong with that) or, becoming a great HR leader if that is your career goal.

How important do you consider Employee Relations?  What advice do you have for HR people seeking to become more effective Employee Relations practitioners?  Do you believe it is something that can be learned?  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Thanks,

Ian

Perchance to Dream! What Does it Mean?

4 Jun

Well, I spent Tuesday night at one of the Toronto Sleep Clinics (Bathurst and Dundas), hooked up to extensive sleep measuring equipment and today, maybe as a result, feel sufficiently motivated to write another post about my medical experiences this year. The referral to the Toronto Sleep Clinic was made when I was discharged by Sunnybrook, as my sleeping habits were not considered particularly healthy. My sleep pattern, for as long as I remember, was to sleep little overnight, frequently work into the night and then early in the morning and during the day possibly have episodes of tiredness. 

I knew nothing about sleep studies until this current experience and was amazed to read that so much information is gathered from an overnight stay that it forms the basis of an 800 page data report that takes four to five weeks to analyze. I can hardly wait for the results!

I had to complete questionnaires before and after my period of recorded sleep and there was a strong link between stress/concerns of the participant and sleep. Questionnaires are interesting. I have completed many and usually face the same dilemma. If there are, for example, one hundred questions/statements to be rated on a scale of 1 to 5, I may be interested in or have strong feelings about one or two, but have little interest in most and rate them all the same – usually positive as that seems a reasonable default if I feel nothing negative.

I have to say that my overnight stay at the sleep clinic was very comfortable with my own room and very attentive and friendly staff to help and encourage. They were able to rationalize the concept of recording the sleep pattern of people with difficulty sleeping, over an 8 hour period, and what I thought would be very difficult – remaining in bed until 7.00 a.m. – was not a problem. I recorded waking up about eight times during the night, but they were just interludes between quiet times and a few nice dreams.

I had to feel comfortable about my every move being watched, listened to, and recorded, and the absence of any privacy, but my other hospital stays in 2015 had prepared me for that. The watchfulness of the staff was particularly demonstrated when after a series of pleasant dreams I sat up to think about them and almost immediately a nurse came in to make sure everything was o.k. 

I recorded in earlier posts how my dreams at the hospital were about alternative reality, changing the situation in quite a nice way. At the sleep clinic, my dreams were more standard (for me) including travel (London, Montreal), collectibles and friendly encounters. The collectibles I dreamt about in this case were medals that somehow connected to a church exhibition (same dream sequence) I attended. Probably I consider dreams about collectibles (not a precise category) as among the most interesting. I may be browsing through old books or photos and find interleaved notes (or other “treasures”), or find an old guitar, or even selections of true collectibles including coins, stamps, books, comics and various antiques. I think my interest is primarily the uniqueness of the dream items and what they represent rather than their value. With an old guitar, I can play it and often better then in “real life” – a real bonus!

In this post, I cannot offer any advice or insight into the sleep assessment process. I received no feedback following the session which is probably not surprising if, as previously mentioned, they first have to review 800 pages of data about me. However, the objectives are important and can be very helpful and the experience is quite pleasant. I look forward to receiving the results of my assessment and the only advice I will give to people considering such a study is not to drink too much in advance as being unhooked from masses of wires and electrodes to be able to go to the washroom (each occasion and then to be re-hooked) can be daunting!

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

Ian

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