Author Archive

What is Your View of HR?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Close your eyes and picture the human resources function at work.  It could be a deep department or it might be led by an office manager.  Either way, I bet your picture is incomplete.

Key roles of good HR will help you during your career.  Plug into them.  Ask the right questions.  Expect good service.  Be patient when things seem too slow.

  1. Timely Trains

HR makes the trains run on time in most businesses.  Incredible complexity, regulation, and risk are behind every paycheck, every 401(k) deduction or match, every group health claim dispute, every payroll deduction form, every voluntary benefit, every stock or bonus plan and every performance review.  We take them for granted.  Stop and thank HR.  It is really impressive that these things work almost all the time.  It is equally impressive HR gets anything else done.

  1. Truth Teller

Effective HR tells employees and leaders the truth.  If you want to hear the truth and are ready to act on it, ask HR how you can grow.  Ask HR strategies to work with your manager (they already know you have an inexperienced manager and how that feels).  Allow HR to help you understand the negative comments on your performance review and how easily most things can improve.  Ask HR how you can change career paths at your organization.  They have heard it all before and usually have good advice to give.

The CEO and a senior team really need someone with the information, credibility, and neutrality to tell them the cold, hard truth when that truth is needed.  Great HR does this well.

  1. Ombudsman

The toughest role for HR is finding the right balance between an advocate for management (and its business goals) and the employees.  Good HR finds a way to do both.  Know that human resource professionals struggle with this balance and usually do see your side of things.  Talk to them about this balance, about management’s position on an issue and whether employee needs were considered.  Most of the time, you will come away with a clearer view.

  1. Gatekeeper of Talent

The biggest impact from really good HR is who gets hired and who gets fired.  The “who” affects everything that follows.  The who makes strategy work (or fail).  The who makes it a nice place to work (or awful).  The who supports company values and engagement (or destroys them)

  1. Guardian of the Culture

HR has to make all this happen in a way that improves company culture:  how people behave when no one is looking.  If the trains run on time, truth telling is valued, employee needs are balanced with business goals, we hire (and keep) the right people, then a good culture will usually follow.

At CAI we build engaged, well-managed, low-risk workplaces. If your company could use an HR partner, please contact us at 919-878-9222 or learn more at CAI.

Bruce Clarke serves as CAI’s President and CEO, and has been with CAI since 2001. Bruce practiced labor and employment law with the national labor law firm of Ogletree Deakins for 18 years. He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America and was selected as one of North Carolina’s Legal Elite by Business North Carolina Magazine. Bruce is 100% committed to helping companies maximize employee engagement and minimize workplace liabilities.

4 Ways Managers Can Help Improve Employee Performance

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

When a manager says “meet me halfway,” what do they mean?

Halfway is never the goal in our work or personal lives. We want 110 percent from each other, right?

In the workplace, meet-me-halfway is shorthand for “I have to decide if you are worth more investment of my time and energy, and if you do not meet me half way, I have my answer.”

Poor performers are so for a variety of reasons. Putting problems clearly on the table, along with solutions, is difficult. Meet-me-halfway can be a useful clarifying tool.

Managers may use these four questions to decide whether a poor-performer will meet them halfway:

Have you contributed in any way to these poor results? An employee who says they have no part to play in their poor work is unlikely to do the things needed to improve. Giving a chance to acknowledge fault is a good way to advance a stalled conversation about improvement. Surprisingly, there are poor performers who will deny any part in the problem. In that case, you have your answer and it may be time to move on.

What are you ready (and able) to do differently, starting now? This question allows a more detailed conversation around specific changes which must be made. Forcing an employee to generate their own list (rather than seeking yet another agreement to your list) is better at this stage. It shows you if they are listening if they understand what good work looks like and if they care. Answers such as “I guess I just need to do what you ask me to do” are not good. On the heels of several performance discussions, and this meet-me-halfway conversation, lazy or passive responses show you do not have their attention or commitment.

What can I do differently to help you succeed? If you get an admission of some fault, and that fault is reinforced by a thoughtful description of the ways behaviors must change starting today, it is time to seal the deal with a genuine offer of your help. The offer does two things. It firms up the commitment to change and gives you a measurement tool for the coming days/weeks.

How will we both know you are meeting performance goals? This is the time to clarify ultimate expectations and timelines. Performance cannot stay at half-way; that was just a place to meet and recommit to something much better. The timeline will depend on the performance gap, the failed efforts to date, the perceived chance for success and such. Whatever that timeline and performance definition, they should both be very clear.

Employees who know or sense their manager is dissatisfied with their work should bring it up. “How am I doing?”, “What can I do to get better at this role?”, “What do you see as the difference between my work and the very best work done in this area?” Make the topic of your performance a welcome and natural one for you both. You will both benefit.

Bruce Clarke serves as CAI’s President and CEO, and has been with CAI since 2001. Bruce practiced labor and employment law with the national labor law firm of Ogletree Deakins for 18 years. He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America and was selected as one of North Carolina’s Legal Elite by Business North Carolina Magazine. Bruce is 100% committed to helping companies maximize employee engagement and minimize workplace liabilities.

Coaching in the Workplace

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News & Observer column, The View from HR.

There are more coaches working in corporate America than in all of college sports. What are these workplace coaches doing?coaching

So many kinds of workplace coaching exist because individual circumstances vary greatly. Generally, internal coaches are experienced mentors or managers assisting an employee.  Internal coaches tend to focus on performance improvement or career advancement (succession).  Staff coaches know so much more about the business and how it works than external coaches.

External fee-based coaches generally focus more on employee behaviors. Of course, behaviors affect performance but in different ways than a lack of job skills or experience. External coaches usually have more experience with assessment tools and helping an employee understand the role of behaviors in their success.

Whether called coaching, mentoring, managing or succession planning, the idea is a coach can help someone see what they cannot see by themselves. The coach is there to help create a pathway for change and growth.

The best workplace coaches are great listeners. Before employees trust a coach’s process or guidance, they have to feel heard. This is especially true in behavioral coaching.  Behaviors are so personal and emotional, change often requires an equally strong emotional counterweight created with the help of a coach.

Great coaches are always looking for ways to bring awareness to the employee. Until we see what we do not know, how our behavior impacts others, or how our role (or future role) will test us, we cannot change.

Good mentors, managers and coaches are willing to devote the time needed, first to build a good relationship and second to create the space to process and learn. Performance coaching (managing) can be directive at times with steps and instructions. Behavioral coaching usually includes more questions than answers plus the use of objective personal assessment data. Mentor-style coaching might be mostly about providing a newer employee with helpful context and scope earned from experience.

Logic, emotion, listening, direction, awareness, venting, conversations, context, history-telling, role-modeling, sticks and carrots: all these and more fit under the big umbrella of coaching.

Successful coaching matches the purpose of the engagement with the tools and techniques of the right coach. Is a coach needed to keep an employee’s career train from jumping the track? Or is a coach assigned to help a high potential employee grow into their next role?

The best managers in any organization are already coaches without the label. They use patience, conversations, relationships, listening and direction to provide employees every chance to succeed.  Poor managers need their own coaches to help see the damage created by bad behaviors.

The mistake we often see employers make is offloading a problem employee onto a coach’s (or manager’s) plate expecting a miraculous conversion. Good coaching requires workplace reinforcement by leaders with skin in the game.

Employees sometimes reject the help. Behavioral change is key to success as responsibilities increase, but it is hard.

If offered a workplace coach or mentor, seize the opportunity as a gift to you and your career!

Bruce Clarke c

Bruce Clarke serves as CAI’S President and CEO, and has been with CAI since 2001. Bruce practiced labor and employment law with the national labor law firm of Ogletree Deakins for 18 years. He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America and was selected as one of North Carolina’s Legal Elite by Business North Carolina Magazine. Bruce is 100% committed to helping companies maximize employee engagement and minimize workplace liabilities.

When An Employee Has A Serious Complaint

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News & Observer column, The View from HR.

It happens in every workplace. The same serious and unlawful misbehavior we see in our communities sometimes find its way to the job.  People are the greatest asset of an employer but can be the “crabgrass in the lawn of business,” as my friend says.workplaceissues

What should happen when harassment, discrimination, abusive treatment and other serious misbehaviors rear their ugly heads?

Managers, please view a complaint as an opportunity to make a situation better AND the long-term relationship with the victim stronger. Psychologists in workplace studies say that an emotional crisis is a key point where your response can make the employee’s attitude much better OR much worse.  Some even say that the best predictor of whether a problem will end in a lawsuit is how fairly you process the problem, not the problem itself.

Good managers do several things. They embrace the complaint, rather than avoid it, and focus on finding the right solution.  Neither of you caused the problem, so let the chips fall where they may and avoid prejudgment.  You will create a much better investigation and solution if you remain neutral on the outcome.  If you cannot be objective, ask for help.

Follow through with good listening, appropriate pushback to the victim for the whole story, and appropriate speed and discretion. Take any quick steps needed to prevent repeat behavior while you work.  Ideally, keep the victim informed of your progress.  Get help from HR or a mentor.  Follow your company’s complaint process, at a minimum.  Precedent can be important to consider, but avoid a foolish consistency as the saying goes.

Employees making complaints have an equally important role. Follow the complaint policy if there is one, but skip to another manager you trust if needed.  Your manager wants to hear how you feel, but must have facts to investigate.  Focus on the facts.  Who can help support your story?  Bring the problem to a trusted manager sooner rather than later.

Be honest about any part you may have played in the problem or steps you have already taken, good and bad. Have some discretion and give this time to work.  What is your manager going to hear when he or she investigates?  For example, be prepared to hear some things about your performance you may not like (but need to hear) if work quality is an issue.

An important question that employees and managers often fail to ask is: “What is the ideal outcome here?”  I am often surprised at how reasonable employees can be even in serious situations.  They know employers cannot guarantee perfect behavior by all.  But they have the right to expect help when they seek it.

Solutions to early-stage problems handled properly by all can be simple and effective, preserving relationships and protecting careers. Problems that are buried like a bone in the backyard will only get worse with age.

Bruce Clarke c

Bruce Clarke serves as CAI’S President and CEO, and has been with CAI since 2001. Bruce practiced labor and employment law with the national labor law firm of Ogletree Deakins for 18 years. He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America and was selected as one of North Carolina’s Legal Elite by Business North Carolina Magazine. Bruce is 100% committed to helping companies maximize employee engagement and minimize workplace liabilities.

Avoid Workplace Drama and Spend More Time on Ideas

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News & Observer column, The View from HR.

“Management by walking around” is a time-tested method to stay connected with the real work of an organization. When you listen, learn and create unstructured conversations, everyone is better informed.  Sometimes problems are solved or confusion clarified on the spot.Workplace Communication and Gossip

There is another free-form type of conversation between managers and employees which is not productive: management by gossiping around.

Workplace gossip is generally rumor or exaggeration about others, especially about their behaviors. It can relieve stress, and deflect or assign blame.  It might just be a way to make the gossipers feel better about themselves.

I wish it was uncommon, but we see evidence that managers gossip with employees too often. Whether a misguided attempt to create a relationship, or just blowing off steam, gossip is harmful.

When managers gossip with employees, about employees, or about other managers, several bad things happen.

Loss of Respect

The gossiping manager loses every time. Employees hold managers to a higher standard of behavior than their own peers.  A manager who gossips cannot be trusted with personal details and private information.  A manager who gossips will gossip about you!  What does the manager know about you that could be embarrassing or misunderstood?

Loss of Influence

Managers get things done through a combination of formal authority and informal influence. Sometimes unilateral decisions must be made, but real advances and engagement happen in the influence zone.  Gossiping managers lose the high ground that provides a foundation for influence.  Managers who gossip trade a momentary rush for long-term loss of effectiveness.

Loss of Focus

Gossip is idle conversation, not problem solving or relationship-building. Gossiping managers would rather talk about an employee who may be part of a problem than resolve that problem.  Gossip is easier than real work and it prevents true progress.

Loss of Opportunity

Employees with real work problems will not come to gossiping managers for help. Why reach out to a manager who gossips about members of the team?  Managers trying to be “one of the peeps” by joining these high calorie/low nutrition conversations hurt their own chances to learn about real issues.

Future Limits

Finally, gossiping managers put a lid on their own careers. The only thing worse than a loose-lipped manager is a senior leader who talks trash.  A fish rots from the head down and senior leadership sets the tone.  Good leadership will not ask bad leadership to join its team.

Employees living with a gossiping manager have choices to make. Start by avoiding gossip.  Silence is a good response to inappropriate comments.  Even better is a question:  “If that is true, what can you and I do to make the situation better?”

Employees suffering with gossiping teammates might be even more proactive: “Gossip will not make anything better.  What positive steps can we take?”

An old proverb applies: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people”. Spend more time on ideas and events.

CAI can help your organization grow and succeed by developing your most important asset…your people.  We offer an abundance of learning options and specialize in management development, HR and professional development.

Bruce Clarke c
Bruce Clarke serves as CAI’S President and CEO, and has been with CAI since 2001. Bruce practiced labor and employment law with the national labor law firm of Ogletree Deakins for 18 years. He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America and was selected as one of North Carolina’s Legal Elite by Business North Carolina Magazine. Bruce is 100% committed to helping companies maximize employee engagement and minimize workplace liabilities.

Unintended Consequences of Workplace Laws

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

courtgavelThe following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News & Observer column, The View from HR.

Our nonprofit association helps employers understand and comply with employment laws. We talk with lawmakers about workplace realities and the unintended consequences of well-intended rules. Employers understand the lawmaking process is chaotic and bears little relationship to a high school textbook on government. Still, the cumulative impact of thousands of laws and rules is a crushing burden to smaller employers.

Putting Out a Fire

State legislators are good firefighters, much better than Congress.   Show them a problem nearing the point of no return, and they will act. Workplace examples include workers’ compensation reform and unemployment insurance overhaul. Both became so unaffordable and unsustainable, difficult changes were made under Democratic and Republican leadership. True, if acted on sooner, the reforms could be gentler, but it is just not the nature of the legislative beast.

Solving the Real Problem

Many thoughtful legislators work hard to draft a solution to a significant, complex issue only to see additions or deletions gut the original intent. Sometimes, just the title from the original bill remains while the final text avoids those issues or addresses new ones entirely. When we ask human resource leaders to speak to committees about workplace bills, employers are surprised at this incongruence.  “What problem is the bill now solving?” and “What problem is the bill now creating?” highlight the squirrely journey from concept to reality, or on to legislative oblivion.

Protecting an Industry

State law contains many specific protections sought and maintained through smart lobbying. Tobacco companies won the “Lawful Use of Lawful Products” statute years ago to prevent employers and others from turning no-smoking rules into no-smokers rules. “Lawful products” were protected rather than the less-sympathetic cigarette. Lobbyists seek statutory licensing requirements for all-manner of trades and vocations with part of an eye on consumer-protection but both feet planted in competition-reduction: private investigators, cosmetic artists, nutritionists, massage therapists and lawn irrigationists are examples. North Carolina has over 100 tightly restricted trades, one of the highest numbers in the nation.

Pet Peeves

More often than we realize, a lawmaker’s idea for a bill is based on a single anecdote. A contractor in a lawmaker’s district did not get paid by a homeowner, so a bill was introduced to require paycheck deductions to repay all types of consumer debts. Imagine every employer withholding payroll dollars on past due credit card bills statewide, all because this one contractor was not paid?!   The bill failed, but each session brings a rash of next-door-neighbor bills and some do become law.

For these reasons and more, on balance, new laws tend to have more unintended than intended consequences. Some of those unintended consequences are good depending on your perspective. Others cause employers and consumers expense way out of proportion to any good accomplished. There are some great people in public service. Listening more to the people regulated or restricted by new laws, rather than primarily the isolated complainer (or well-financed advocates), would lead to better legislation.

CAI helps 1,100+ North Carolina employers with HR compliance, guidance, local survey data, training, tools, templates and more.

Bruce Clarke c

Bruce Clarke serves as CAI’S President and CEO, and has been with CAI since 2001. Bruce practiced labor and employment law with the national labor law firm of Ogletree Deakins for 18 years. He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America and was selected as one of North Carolina’s Legal Elite by Business North Carolina Magazine. Bruce is 100% committed to helping companies maximize employee engagement and minimize workplace liabilities.

 

Find, Develop and Keep the Best Employees

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News & Observer column, The View from HR.

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

When the economy crashes, a blindfolded rhinoceros could find good people to fill open jobs. When labor markets tighten, great hires are in short supply again. It is a cycle as predictable as the tides. Finding, developing and keeping great talent is not complex. It is hard, expensive and time consuming. It means you know what the role requires, what your culture rewards and what your tolerance is for variations. Tight labor markets mean it is time to think differently. Our organization teaches best and next practices to HR professionals and managers. Here are some tips for small and mid-size employers.

People are Human

Every employee eventually reveals their humanity. The key to great hiring is learning what makes this applicant human before you make the hire.  Internal hires, promotions, employee referrals, social networks and live networking give you free previews. References will lie and interviews are usually terrible predictors of future success.  Certain assessment tools will help, if you understand which tool suits your specific needs. Maximize your funnel of applicants that you know something about! Fill that funnel in advance of a need.

Be Specific and Demanding

Spend as much time screening out as you do screening IN. How will you find the best fit if you cave on your criteria early? Look for legitimate job-related reasons to eliminate applicants:  not typos on resumes, but a true lack of skills, experience, desire, capacity and fit. You may have time to purposefully modify your requirements later. For now, stick to your guns.

Interview for Successful Experience

If the role requires experience or judgment, spend interview time on these things. This is not the time to explain your company culture or role requirements. This is the time to test for them. If an applicant cannot describe their solid sales process, it is unlikely they will be an immediate contributor on your sales team. Resist the temptation to overlook serious gaps with the hope energy and effort will prevail.

Get it

Successful, growing businesses are unique. Their best employees “get it,” embracing that uniqueness. Short of a hostile or illegal environment, each employer still has the right to select people who “get” their uniqueness and their customers. A tech start up has a very different “it” than a drywall contractor. Know the “it” and hire people who get “it.”

Developing People
Your best people want development, on the job experiences, rotations and new assignments. The best employees deserve mentoring and coaching.
Training is another great way to introduce new skills.  The point is, development is important for employers to get the most from employees but is also an important retention tool. Good people leave workplaces that offer no growth.

Keep the Best

Great people quit for many reasons, both preventable and unavoidable. Managers are surprised to learn these reasons:

  1. Unrealistic pre-hire expectations
  2. People will exchange some pay for some flexibility, but it must be real flexibility
  3. Employees who feel ignored by their manager may look elsewhere

Stop allowing the economy to guide your commitment to talent acquisition and retention. Grab the reins!

Good Hiring Managers Make Effective Use of Data

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News & Observer column, The View from HR.

Human Resources and management require soft and hard skills. Still, the best HR leaders and managers succeed primarily because of their soft skills in working with people. The ones who fail usually have inadequate soft skills.

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Because HR and management professionals rely so much on their ability to advise, convince and problem solve, they too often underutilize hard skills that could make them even more effective. One hard skill that would make us all better is the regular and effective use of data.

I am not talking here about “big data”, the kind of server clogging repositories that allow marketers to slice you up into multiple consumer categories. No, I am talking about basic data every workplace has, or can easily obtain, to make much better decisions.

We meet employers frustrated with their inability to hire the right people for the job. “Where are the candidates?” “Which internet sites should we use?” Those are probably the wrong questions.

Finding success

A better place to start is where you have success today. Where did the best hires in the last two years come from? How did they find us? Which prospects did we successfully convert at a higher rate than others? Can we find out where this particular skill set “hangs out” digitally and how they prefer to send and receive communications?

When we make good hires but they do not stay long, why is that? Where are they going? What were the reasons? Are we avoiding the difficult pay decisions? Did we talk with them or just warn them not to violate their non-compete clause?

Some data is numerical and some is opinion information sliced in useful ways. For example, we conduct a 31 statement organizational assessment for member companies that asks management team members to rank how they think they are doing on important measures. When the team replies collectively we are at 1 or 2 on “we always hire the best people for the job”, there is a problem.

Right data

The value of HR and management data is to help frame the right questions. If we all agree the company does a poor job hiring great people, then we can ask if we want to improve, the benefits of improving, how we can improve and what resources are needed. Without this data, it is so easy for opinions to dominate and action to be delayed.

Author and businessman Andrew Glasow said: “The fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion.” A danger in HR is that the relative lack of traditional numerical data from accounting or operations allows us to hide from the facts. Yes, data must be interpreted, but an imperfect interpretation of reality is better than a mere reaction to anecdotes.

Employers should look for the data right in front of them in the form of opinions, results, behaviors, rankings, ratings, preferences, effectiveness, cost, market pricing, efficiency, rationale, alignment, purpose and points of agreement (or disagreement). It will be well worth the reasonable effort required to collect and analyze.