Category Archives: HR Resources

Performance Reviews: Missing the Forest for the Trees

A discussion with a friend about his recent performance review reminded me that, as human beings, we’re all apt to “miss the forest for the trees” on occasion.  Sometimes we can do something well, and still miss the point of the exercise.  This is such a story.

The Story

Looking somewhat dejected, my friend handed me a copy of his performance review and asked me to read it.  Seeing his demeanor, I was expecting to find nasty comments or low ratings on the review.  As I read through it, though, I saw that it was clearly a very positive review, with a number of strong compliments –even ending with a handwritten note from his boss thanking him for his service and looking forward to even greater success in the coming year.

“I’m a little confused,” I told him. “This is a great review.”

“It is,” he replied.

“It looks your boss has done just about everything we would teach in a Continue reading

Avoiding Rookie Hiring Mistakes

They say that “to err is human.” Indeed. Even after more than twenty years in human resources, I recently found myself guilty of some rookie hiring mistakes. Here’s my story, offered as encouragement to help others avoid similar errors.

Situation

I was helping a senior manager hire for a frontline supervisory role. When I tell you that the prior supervisor, though highly competent and a hard worker, had a contentious relationship with customers, wasn’t able to analyze or streamline processes, and couldn’t help but see the glass as half empty, I’m sure that you could predict every mistake we made in trying to find his replacement.

Hiring Mistakes

  •  Throwing out the baby with the bathwater — We were right to focus on the candidate’s customer service skills and general workplace attitude, given the shortcomings of the prior supervisor. We were wrong to focus on these aspects to the exclusion of the core skill needed in the job—competence in the subject matter.Unfortunately, this is a common error: trying to hire the opposite of the prior person and forgetting about all of the good skills they did bring to the job.
  • Seeing what you want to see—When your assessment of the candidate’s answers is more hopeful than it is realistic, this is an indication that you’re “reaching”—and we were. In addition to being Continue reading

The Wisdom of Others

After trying and mostly succeeding to post once per week for most of the past eighteen months or so, I’ve hit a bit of a dry patch – letting more than two weeks pass since my last post.  It’s been somewhat of a tumultuous period in our office, which has left me a bit tentative regarding my reflections and observations.  This too shall pass, as they say, I’m sure.

In the meantime, though, I recall a wise person telling me, “When you’re struggling with something, it’s often helpful to go beyond yourself – to change your mindset by focusing on helping others.”  Very good advice, indeed.  To that end, I wanted to share with you brief notes on four fellow members of the HR/leadership blogging community from whose wisdom I have benefited greatly over the past few years.  They’re each deeply thoughtful and intuitive about different aspects of the human condition we call “leadership” or “management,” and it is a privilege to recommend them to you.

  • Young Leaders – John Demma is a young manager who writes insightfully about what it is like to be a young manager – the struggle to learn the craft of guiding and motivating others, balancing just-learned grad school lessons with the realities of the school of hard knocks that is the real world of business, and juggling it all with the pressures and joys of a young family.  Written with an authentic, earnest voice, John posts regularly at On Becoming A Leader.
  • Day-to-Day Management, Part I – As someone who struggles to write anything in less than 700 words, I greatly respect those amongst us who can get to the point and regularly share three or four helpful nuggets of advice in 300 words or so – and do it five days a week, to boot.  Experienced executive and blogger, Stephen Meyer, is just such a person.  With a been-there-done-that credibility, he shares immediately useful suggestions for managing employees, organizations, and HR issues at HR Café.
  • Day-to-Day Management , Part II – In a similar vein, Sharlyn Lauby, aka The HR Bartender, speaks with the authenticity of someone who has been through the wars and survived to tell the tale – but always with a upbeat, forward-looking take on things that is nothing short of refreshing and inspiring.  Similar in nature to HR Café in a number of ways (down to the food metaphor), Sharlyn somehow manages to offer her practical, eminently insightful advice and perspectives – without the world-weary skepticism or snarkiness that often infects other HR blogs — on a daily basis at HR Bartender.
  • Executive Leadership – For rising leaders, or those who advise and guide them, executive coach and leadership expert, Scott Eblin, is absolutely required reading.  A former Fortune-500 HR Vice President at a young age, Scott now advises leaders around the world who are striving to get to the Next Level (the name of both his book and his blog).  Scott has a remarkable ability to view current events through the prism of leadership and offer three or four insights you can use every time out.  He can be found at Next Level Blog.

Going Against the Grain: Sharing Interview Questions In Advance

Have you ever had an idea or theory that went against prevailing wisdom, but you knew it would work, anyway?  This is one of those ideas!

Today’s idea is sharing the bulk of your planned interview questions with the candidate in advance (i.e., when the interview is scheduled) — instead of springing questions on them under the “hot lights” of the interview setting.  The goal is to put the candidate in a position to tell you the most relevant information about their skills — avoiding a game of “gotcha” where the most quick-witted (but not necessarily most skilled) candidates beat out the reticent (but possibly more qualified) candidates every time.

Is “Only Extraverts Need Apply” A Good Plan? (No).

My good friend and colleague, Bill, is fond of saying, “We stand from where we sit.”  I’m not sure if this is really a southern expression or just something he made up — but the truth of the statement rings true.  That is, we all see the world through the lens of our own life experience.  I fully acknowledge that this holds true in terms of my views on interviewing.

Having conducted dozens of interview training courses over the years, I’m very comfortable training managers on writing “behavioral” interview questions (e.g., “Tell me about a time you experienced such-and-such — and how did it work out?) … and considerably less comfortable answering such questions. Having 20 years experience in HR, having stories to draw from isn’t the problem — but picking stories that perfectly fit relatively random questions is a problem for me.

For the longest time, I thought this “disability” was unique to me.  Then I read a brilliant new book — Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can‘t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  In this compellingly written and deeply insightful book, I learned that this problem not only isn’t a dysfunction, it isn’t at all rare.  It turns out that introverts (including yours truly) tend to prefer — and function better — in situations where they are able to give thoughtful, well-considered answers to questions, and tend not to excel in situations where time for thoughtful reflection isn’t permitted.

Putting An Idea Into Practice

This revelation helped thrust forward an idea that had been forming in my mind for a number of years.  That is, what would happen if we gave candidates a number of the questions we intended to ask … in advance?  For the extraverts amongst us, this would likely have no impact one way or the other (they don’t need the advance warning and do just fine thinking on their feet).  For the introverts, though, this might set them up for success to the benefit of all involved.

As candidates, they would have (and appreciate) the time to reflect on and formulate answers that provide the best and most relevant information about their skills and experience.  And we, as the interviewers/hiring managers, would benefit by getting information about the candidate that is most indicative of their true skills and experience — rather than having to make hiring decisions (already an inexact science) based on information that may not reflect the candidate’s full experience and capabilities because they couldn’t immediately come up with a snappy answer to an out-of-the-blue question.

Reality Check

Admittedly, I don’t know of any companies or organizations that currently provide their interview questions to candidates in advance … but I truly do believe it would work and help companies (and candidates) reap the benefits of a more substantive, reflective process.  What are your thoughts?

Connecting People: “HR By Walking Around”

A few recent conversations with our company’s receptionist have reminded me of two things: 1 – HR’s unique opportunity to bring people and resources together; and 2 – It is often the “little” conversations that spark the true “eureka” moments and help people and resources connect in meaningful ways.

"HR By Walking Around" can help you connect people and resources in powerful ways

Playwright … Parent … Receptionist

In chatting with our receptionist, Carla, over the past year, I’ve gotten to know her from a variety of perspectives.  Taken at face value, she works hard to serve the company’s needs everyday from 9 – 5 – whether it is “putting a smile into her voice” every time she answers a call, or helping to support other projects. However, that isn’t where her true focus and calling reside. 

Carla is a playwright … parent … non-profit director … spouse … church member … among many other roles … and she puts great energy, meaning, and vocational zeal into each of these roles.  In short, she’s a really neat lady! Given the number of people holding down “ordinary” day jobs while pursuing their hopes and dreams outside of work, I’m sure your organization has people just like Carla, too.

Bridging the Personal and Professional

During one of our recent chats, I casually mentioned the specialty area of someone in our management consulting group. Carla reacted with amazement, as she has been answering our phones for over a year without knowing what this particular person (and many others) actually do on a daily basis (yes, our orientation and training programs need a lot of work – but that’s a story for another day!). 

Having this information would not only help Carla serve clients better on the phone, but also had a “personal” impact.  As it turns out, the consultant’s expertise and personal interests might benefit Carla’s non-profit group.  This followed another chat a few weeks earlier in which, understanding other aspects of Carla’s background, I was able to suggest a project she may be able to assist us with beyond what would ordinarily be a receptionist’s role – and which can benefit both the company (by using internal expertise) and herself (personal and professional satisfaction).  All of this just from a few “casual” conversations!

HR’s Ability to Connect Resources

These events reminded me of HR’s unique role as one of the few functions aware of resources, talents, capabilities, and needs across the whole organization.  In this way, we’re best-positioned to help connect employees with other employees, resources, and opportunities that benefit all involved.

This might happen in a variety of ways:

  • In large organizations, there are sophisticated “knowledge-sharing” databases, and most recently, “chat rooms” and other “social media” venues
  • Many firms have professional development programs (e.g., dedicated efforts — usually stemming from annual performance evaluations – to actively use internal and external resources for professional growth and renewal)
  • Perhaps most to the point of this article, there is “HRBWA” (“HR By Walking Around”) – i.e., getting out of our offices and engaging in conversations with people throughout the organization; getting to know their skills, talents, hopes, dreams, and interests; and making the effort to put the people and pieces in touch with one another, whenever possible (in concert with the manager’s own efforts supporting their employees, of course).

In the constant swirl of events, it is very easy for “HRBWA” to fall by the wayside – a “nice to have” that gets sacrificed to the urgent item of the moment (“I can’t talk to anyone today.  I have to get Project ‘x’ done.”).  If we can fight this urge – at least occasionally – great things (both large and small) may occur.

Looking Forward

For me, there is great personal and professional satisfaction when “little things” like my chats with Carla come together in a way that serves a larger purpose.  What are some of your experiences in helping people “connect the dots” and connect with each other?

Does HR Shoot Itself In the Foot?

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the annual SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) conference in Las Vegas, which I was very impressed with in almost every respect.  Gathering 14,000 HR professionals and keeping them engaged, energized, and pointing toward the future (the slogan was “We Know Next”) isn’t an easy task– and SHRM and its many volunteers did an outstanding job.  There was only one thing that disturbed me: the seemingly ubiquitous “I Love HR” logo items (t-shirts, stickers, teddy bears, etc.).

Does "I Love HR" really send the wrong message?

I know that sounds like there should be a punch line there somewhere – “you’re upset about teddy bears, really?” — but I’m actually serious about that.  I believe that the “I Love HR” message is quite self-defeating.  Here’s why.

The “Seat at the Table” Conversation

I wrote last week about HR’s unique positioning as an “internal external” consultant – i.e., sharing perspectives that others are too close to the battle to see.  Ironically, HR isn’t excluded from this truth, of course – i.e., we’re too close to our own issues to see them clearly, just like everyone else.  (Example: HR is notoriously bad at Continue reading

Managing By Cliches, Part 2: Let the System Work for You (not vice versa)

Michael Dorn and Robert O'Reilly as Worf and G...

Naming an HR database after Star Trek villains wasn't a good omen

This is the second in our series of posts around the idea of “managing by cliches.”

During the past few weeks, I’ve been involved in a number of on-line and real-life discussions about the merits of various performance evaluation systems.  One colleague described a particular system as being powerful but “difficult to learn and implement.”  This brought mind past experiences implementing unwieldy systems — times when it seemed that rather than the system working for us, we were working for the system (never a desirable state of affairs).

The Klingon System

Once about a time, I worked for a Fortune-500 company that chose to implement “Klingon” as its HRIS database.  OK — that wasn’t really its name Continue reading