We don't know what's next for business - but what we do know is how to help you be ready. This blog is all about anticipating the future and positioning you for success.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

You Can't Run a Business without People - So Why Try to do it without an HR Team?

Engaging with managers in a variety of organizations I often hear, "Our people are our biggest asset!" Some really mean it and incorporate the message into their business philosophies. For others however, it seems more like a repeated mantra echoed from the latest business book they’ve been asked to read. 

Organizations that really take the intent of the message to heart consider people needs with operational objectives and goals. There is a realization throughout the enterprise of the importance of aligning values associated with making a profit with those connected to how people are treated. The organization demonstrates this commitment to candidates seeking employment, newly hired employees just learning about the organization, employees already contributing and seeking ways to grow and advance, managers building leadership capabilities and employees balancing work and personal life goals. These organizations seriously appreciate the value Human Resource Management (HRM) brings to rounding out the leadership team. How about your organization? Who has the responsibility, as well as the knowledge, skills and experience, to ensure alignment of your people practices?

Today it’s not enough to assign the HR responsibilities to just anyone. That someone needs to have the background, experience and "boots on the ground" experience to earn the confidence and respect of leadership and employees. How would you assess your HR structure? Are they doing the work required to design and implement strategic practices to take your organization to the next phase in this economic recovery? If not, what’s missing?

It’s Complicated
But it doesn’t have to be. Complicating the people side of business these days are issues such as:
  • Dealing with conflicts brought on by inter-generational workplace issues
  • Addressing issues resulting from workplace diversity (e.g., company holiday policies)
  • E-Verify requirements and properly managing issues related to illegal immigration
  • Ever-changing federal employment regulations such as Workplace Accommodations to Support and Protect Breastfeeding
  • Introduction and evolution of the Department of Labor’s smartphone time app designed to assist employees in independently tracking and calculating their wages
  • Impact of social media on business policies, practices and behaviors
  • Special employment regulations in some states (e.g., California preventing unlawful harassment retraining requirements)
  • Equal pay audits and the impacts of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
  • Workforce planning; maximizing talents of full-, part-time and outsourced resources
  • Simultaneously addressing successful change initiatives in the operations and staffing functions
  • Staying informed of the pending pro-union administration
  • Monitoring and addressing the ever-changing elements of Health-care Reform
With the right Human Resource Management team an organization can easily stay on top of everyday issues such as those I’ve illustrated, as well as proactively navigate the challenging waters to their ultimate destination.

Administering HR – The Secret is in the Team
Recently I attended the POW! Awards hosted by Womenitics. One of my clients, Donna Smythe, Executive Director of the Child Development Association was among the prestigious group of women being honored. Donna was acknowledged for her leadership and successful orchestration of the organization’s transition. I was delighted to see Donna recognized for her hard work and stick-to-it-ness. Managing change in good times is challenging enough; in difficult times it really takes the right mix of commitment, passion and vision, which Donna has.

Each outstanding female leader was asked to share her story, and so many of the accounts paid tribute to having the right team to help accomplish the dream. Implementing a successful HRM structure also requires the right team. This function is responsible for linking people-related activities with the strategy of the business, and usually the work divides into two primary components.

Tactical – Every Day Administration
Tactical functions can include:
  • Posting job openings
  • Conducting recruiting activities and screening applicants
  • Processing transactions and questions related to payroll and benefits
  • Processing hiring documentation and conducting orientation sessions
  • Processing performance management evaluations
  • Updating the HR section of the website with timely information
  • Attending job fairs and greeting potential candidates
  • Planning social events
Strategic – Business Planning and Overall Management of the HR Function
On an entirely different level, someone needs to focus on the big picture; mapping the route to the future with consideration to: profits, productivity, compliance, economic conditions, trends, the legal climate, politics and so much more. This senior position focuses on matters such as:
  • Advising senior leadership of employment trends and possible impacts on the business
  • Leading strategic planning efforts to develop plans (workforce planning, succession planning, training and development, executive coaching and mentoring, etc.) to achieve the vision and mission
  • Mentoring and guiding managers in their development
  • Staying current and knowledgeable about pending legislation
  • Handling sensitive and complex employee relations situations
  • Researching and making recommendations related to HRIS advancements
  • Designing and facilitating management and staff training programs
  • Investigating and reporting on employee complaints; working closely with legal counsel
  • Ensuring compliance with federal, state and local laws and employment regulations
  • Drafting and periodically updating HR policies and procedures to ensure the organization is up-to-date and progressive, not only ensuring compliance, but also re-enforcing employee engagement, retention, motivation and productivity
As you can imagine, these two functions require different levels of education, skills and experience. My experience has been that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find one person happy to do the tactical and capable of stretching to do the strategic. This is why considering a team approach is important.

Usually the tactical assignments can be layered with other administrative duties until a full-time position is required. And until a senior position is required on a full-time basis, the organization is usually not well served by requiring a manager not trained in HR to plan and execute the HR function. It’s just too much to ask in today’s employment environment. I think in a situation like this, the organization is best served by hiring a part-time HR manager, or retaining a senior HR consultant to serve as an interim senior manager.

And don’t forget the support of IT and legal counsel. More and more HR tactical tasks are moving to a "self-serve" mode, where employees manage their HR needs on-line, through robust, up-to-the minute HR systems. A collaborative partnership with IT is a must.

Most HR teams today are a mix of outsourced functions, such as payroll and benefits, full and part-time employees and the engagement of an HR consultant to serve as advisor, auditor, and/or special assignment leader. The synergy of a diverse team provides compliance as well as innovation and creativity.

So What’s Next?
According to a recent article in The Economist, organizations are dusting off plans they’ve had on hold for a few years with the intention to revisit, modify them to work in the newly recovering economy and prioritize those tasks that fit within the budget constraints. With that in mind, I think this is the perfect opportunity to take a fresh objective look at operational efficiencies. Most organizations have continued to add technologies more so than people to their business operations these past few years. What impact are these technological advancements having on the current processes and structures? What additional efficiencies can be created, with these technologies in place? How do you prioritize the activities in order to maximize the return on investment?

If you’re revisiting organizational plans, doesn’t it also make sense to take a close look at how technologies, processes and organizational structure are working and to take deliberate actions to close any identified gaps?

As I said earlier, it’s impossible to have a business without people. I also believe it’s inefficient and costly to attempt to implement productive HR practices without the right talent on the team. The second half of the year is quickly approaching. Should a review of HR efficiencies be in your organization’s near future?

So this is what I’m interested in hearing from you – What’s one idea you have for how HR can assist an organization in moving beyond the recovery and into the future? What’s one experience you’ve had with diverse teams of internal and external HR professionals working together to contribute to the success of people-alignment strategies? We’re looking forward to learning from you. Please add your comment below.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Don’t Forget to Plan to Unplug, When Planning Your Vacation!

A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you've been taking. - Earl Wilson

It’s June, school is out, temperatures are rising, and it may be time to plan a relaxing get away. We all know that vacations are a healthy way to recharge our batteries and refresh our spirits. However, with that said, according to an Expedia survey, American workers left approximately 448 million unused vacation days, or close to $68 billion worth of relaxing, re-invigorating, family and fun moments in their cubicles and offices in 2009, and only 38 percent planned to take all of their vacation days last year.  

These findings are understandable in these difficult economic times, but I also anticipate there are other issues influencing vacation decisions:
  • the "they can’t do without me" attitude held by workaholics and individuals who see themselves as more valuable than they really may be
  • options available to workers to not use vacation days; i.e., trade in for pay
  • the strange "happiness" Americans seem to get out of working more so than any other global work group
  • co-worker pressure with regard to picking up the slack while someone is gone
Whatever the reason, organizations should encourage workers to look beyond those issues and take some kind of meaningful break from work. It’s important for each individual, and we certainly see the positive results re-energized workers have on improving workplace performance, quality and productivity.

Whether you are planning a vacation or a "staycation" (time off from work to stay at home) this summer, one of the most important elements in your planning for a relaxing time to renew your spirit is to unplug.

This Is Your Brain on Computers
More and more research is being conducted on the impact 24/7 technological stimulations have on rewiring the way our brains function. According to a NY Times article by Matt Richtel, "scientists report that juggling e-mails, phone calls, and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information which play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provides excitement – a dopamine squirt – that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored."

Consider your attachment to emails, Blackberry, iPhone, IM, Facebook, LinkedIn, iPad, Sykpe, the list goes on….. Depending on your level of need to be connected with these technologies, it’s understandable why an ‘unplugging strategy’ should be a critical part of your vacation planning. Just like any addiction, (that’s what researchers are calling our anxiety and need to check these devices) trying to stop "cold turkey" is difficult, if not impossible. The key to success is in the planning.

Planning To Unplug
Accepting the fact that we all have some degree of addiction to these devices and the stimulation we receive from them justifies the need to include some special considerations in the vacation planning process. Be serious and purposeful about developing an unplugging strategy that will work for you, and provide you with as much isolation from work activities as possible.

CNN recently completed a series addressing this specific issue - No Vacation Nation. In addition to the strategies listed below, check out their articles for tips and techniques that will help you reprogram your behaviors and allow you to improve your abilities to be present where ever your vacation travels take you, and with whom ever you are enjoying them.
  • Initiative Dialogues with your boss, team members and stakeholders to engage them in sharing insights and observations about what key issues will need to be addressed during your time away and how they can take care of those issues with no or limited availability from you.  This strategy helps you clarify your intentions as well as what’s hot, while allowing others the opportunity to step up and expand their roles and responsibilities. You may be surprised that they don’t need you as much as you thought they did.
  • Ease into your new routine at least a week or so before your departure date. Set up an away message that notifies e-mailers and callers that you will not be checking messages after a certain hour, and that you will get back to them in the morning. It’s appropriate to invite them to contact you or a backup person should there be an emergency.  This strategy allows you to practice not reaching for the Blackberry, laptop, Iphone, iPad, etc. You can begin to wind down the amount of stimuli you are craving and turn your focus to the vacation plans and packing. After all, an important part of the vacation is the anticipation of what you’ll be seeing and doing – don’t miss out on that!  When the time comes, update all away messages providing contact information to the person filling in for you.
  • Professional development is an important part of every job. In addition to on-the-job training and mentoring, stepping in while you are on vacation is a great way for a colleague to get the real feel and experience of the job.  Cross-functional training is an important strategy for any organization. Use vacation planning time as a re-enforcement for workers to demonstrate their understanding, expertise and abilities to step in should there be an emergency or advancement opportunity. 
  • It’s all about you - create a reasonable plan that you can honor. If it’s too impossible for you to leave the technology behind, create a schedule that’s workable for you and your travel companions. Just like planning your meetings and work projects, plan for those times when you might (if you think of it, or have time) "check in." But show discipline – remember your goal is to be as disconnected as possible.  If you feel you need it, allow yourself a brief opportunity to check in and delegate messages to others. Perhaps a half-hour after lunch and an hour before dinner would do. Whatever the schedule, don’t expand it. Honor what you negotiated with yourself and let that be it.  Doug Gross from CNN shares this strategy, "Before leaving on vacation a radio show caller shared that he gives all his passwords and user names to trusted friends. One person gets e-mail, another Twitter, etc. They’re under orders on the day he leaves to go in and change the passwords; and when he returns, they change them back." If this is what it takes for you – do it.
  • Practicing the art of mindfulness can assist with reducing the urge to ‘check-in’. Being in the present moment at all times and not letting your mind wander away with distractions helps people relax and enjoy their vacation. Here’s a great article by Jay Dixit from Psychology Today to get you started on developing your mindfulness skills. 
  • Plan for your return. Most researchers find that individuals get anxious the night before returning to work from a vacation, anticipating what will be stacked up and waiting for them. With this in mind, plan for this type of situation, should it occur for you, by allowing a few hours before you go to bed to review and prioritize what needs to be addressed the first morning you are back.  Even before you leave on vacation, plan for your first day back to be a catch-up day and avoid scheduling meetings, calls, appointments or other commitments that will take you away from easing back into your groove. 
  • Be conscious about your privacy. Just a side note while we’re talking about unplugging: Don’t post your vacation plans, dates, locations, etc. on Facebook; this is like an open invitation to criminals. If you feel compelled to let the world know the details of your vacation, wait until you return.
  • These strategies work for family members as well. More and more research is being published about the addiction children are showing to video games, Facebook, computers, texting, etc. As you plan for and model your self-control over technologies you have a great opportunity to also engage the entire family in the process. There could be some great learning here for everyone.
Hopefully you’ll enjoy the unplugged experience so much you’ll periodically revisit it. Learning to moderate technologies, just like you do your intake of other substances and activities that we know can be harmful to our health, is a healthy strategy for everyone impacted by increasing technological demands.

So What’s Next?
The world continues to spin faster and workers are increasingly seduced by the instanteousness and connectedness of ever-advancing technologies. It appears to me that it’s time for HR and IT to not only ensure we receive training on how to use the new technologies effectively in order to do our jobs more efficiently, but to also teach us the skills and techniques for managing our mental and physical health while using these tools.

Linked with these training responsibilities also comes the importance of establishing a culture that values vacation times, unplugging strategies, and healthy management of technology tools. Robots can work 24/7 – people can not.

I’m not an advocate of disconnecting forever, but I personally can share that I have found giving myself permission to disengage after 6:30p in order to spend time with my husband and provide myself with some "quiet time" has been very helpful in managing workplace stress. As I plan an upcoming vacation, I too will be trying to unplug and have some quality re-energizing time. I know it won’t be easy, but including this component into the planning process will give me a higher probability of success.

What do you think about unplugging for periodic breaks or vacations? What works for you? What role, if any, should HR and IT play in improving our knowledge about the pros and cons of working with technology devices?  Please share your ideas and comments below.