Suzanne D. Williams

The Ever-Evolving Role of Human Resources Management

Those responsible for human resources management have always found themselves in a precarious position. After all, HR pros often deal with a trust deficit on either side of the bridge they span. From one side, senior management feels HR practitioners lean too much towards employees. From the other, employees often blame HR leaders for taking the side of “management.”

A problematic situation, indeed. And one complicated by the almost unannounced pandemic that has arrived much like an uninvited, overbearing guest.

With the potentially long-term impact on our workplaces, Human Resources Management will need to evolve. We must redesign the theories and practices of the 21st century to suit the new demands.

So, where does one start?

First, we must realize that moving forward, organizations will take the form of dispersed networks rather than formal structures. Leadership and HR teams will facilitate collaboration between individuals and teams separated by distances, time zones and cultures. A significant portion of these may be folks who come on board for specific projects. Once they accomplish team goals, those people will move onto their next gig. In fact, Gartner’s 9 Future Trends of Work Report estimates 32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure already.

Given this fundamental reality, the approach of human resources management will need to transform in a manner never seen before.

Let us see what the key salient features of this new approach to HR management would look like.

Guiding, not Driving

For far too long, the HR function has been a gatekeeper of the organisation’s culture. They have also been very directly associated with driving policy adherence. No doubt, this is required to create a unified operating methodology. However, it also often leads to restrictive practices that limit creativity and experimentation.

In the current times, employees are juggling more than work. In many cases, they are dealing with multiple challenges such as pay cuts, health matters of close family members, online study requirements of their children, and the like. This means HR managers and leaders need to play the role of guides and mentors during their operations. They must help employees perform in their new environments with a ‘silken glove’ approach.

Empowering, not Policing

With policies and practices, comes policing. It is this compliance mindset that has become the silver bullet in every HR practitioner’s arsenal.

We have forgotten, perhaps, that humankind’s most successful creations have come from individuals who are self-motivated to build a better future. Instead, many in the HR field have attempted to create an environment closeted by rigid boundaries. In fact, today’s automated reporting means there is no shortage of data when it comes to tracking employees.

However, as many ‘pundits’ have shared over the ages, nothing works better than enabling and empowering employees to take charge and work responsibly.

In any case, as we have witnessed in the ‘Work-From-Anywhere’ environment, much of the tracking falls apart due to lack of last mile ‘surveillance’. Hence, the mantra really has to be about moving power into the hands of the employees. With, of course, the right amount of coaching to ensure that they put the organisation’s interest at the top, in all matters under their purview.

Counseling, not Judging

The sudden move to a remote working arrangement did thrill some hearts in the initial stages of the COVID-induced lockdowns experienced in many parts of the world. The euphoria was very short-lived, though.

Surveys, including one by Kincentric, a Spencer Stuart company, showcase that the life altering pandemic has impacted the wellness of employees at many levels. Given this realization, HR fraternity members will have to simultaneously don the hat of confidants and counsellors. While supporting their colleagues, however, they will need to be appropriately empathetic towards them. As they stretch to extend a helping hand (or shoulder) to them, HR practitioners will have to ensure that they adopt a very mature approach. This will be especially true when it comes to balancing the needs of the organization with those of its employees.

Human Resources Management in Transition

In summation, the HR community must realize the industrial era practices that evolved into the era of the services economy will no longer work for the digital, distributed age we live in now. In such an environment, an employee has maximum touch-time with managers, not HR. The quality of this interaction assumes greater significance given that much of this interaction is remote and bereft of social connection, quite unlike the past.

Therefore, extending HR management beyond the HR function is the need of the hour.

This means HR professionals must enable all managers in the organization to own the HR agenda as well. This will require more of our workforce to be elevated with regards to their maturity and ability to handle people processes.

The optimum starting point for embarking on this journey is to stitch trust into the fabric of the organization and enable managers and employees to have faith in each other. It is only then, that the foundation of our organizations will be built on solid bedrock. Only then will be in a better position to survive the kind of shock we are now facing.

It is now up to human resources management professionals to rise up to the challenge!


Reach For Greatness – Developing Development

Continuous improvement is one of the key phrases of our age, and it applies as much to employees as to processes. We want our staff to keep developing themselves, to take on new skills and refine their existing ones, to absorb the values and priorities of the organization even as those shift over time. But this isn’t easy. Change is scary and people need to be encouraged. So how can we do that?

Developing The Meta

A stagnant, unchanging approach to development is clearly counter-productive. If employees are told that they should develop, but they don’t see that the organization itself develops, then you are sending out mixed messages which will create resistance.

To counter this it isn’t enough to talk about development within the employee development program. You need to engage employees in a meta-analytical conversation, looking at how the development program and the support for it develops. Then take this one step further and apply it to the company as a whole.

Get employees’ opinions on what works and what doesn’t in the organization. Engage them in improving it. Create an organization that doesn’t just talk about development but that lives it, where employees can see innovation, improvement and development in every corner of their working lives. Then they can’t help but buy into development.

Developing A Space

If development of the organization is going to encourage self-development then it has to exist within employees’ control. Thomson Reuters have done a lot of work on this in recent years, creating a culture in which teams can put forward ideas to change the business and then get involved in working on them.

The Thomson Reuters example is a huge and intimidating one, but the principle behind it has applications on even the smallest scale. Rather than trying to develop your employees from the outside through massive programs, create a space in which they are encouraged to develop themselves. Provide the tools, time and opportunities for them to pick up skills and knowledge that are in line with the culture and aims of the organization, but that also suit them.

Use this space to let employees contribute to organizational improvement as well, even if it’s just updating their team’s procedures or improving template letters. By giving them an active role in shaping both their self-development and the development of the company you foster a positive and empowered attitude.

Developing Daring

‘failure always arrives in a whimper’ – Seth Godin

If you want truly great employees then you have to foster truly great employee development, and fostering anything truly great means taking risks.

Giving people the freedom to shape their own career and skills means risking that they’ll go in a direction that you don’t want, or that they’ll waste the time and opportunity that you’ve given them. A minority will abuse the chance, and you’ll have to deal with that.

Giving them the chance to shape your organization means that mistakes will be made. There will be failures and dead ends, just like always.

But giving people the freedom to shape their development and that of the organization also gives them the space to be great. For every failure there’ll be a dozen successes, and some of those will be truly great. These will forge the game changers, the homegrown leaders of your company’s future, the improvements that save you millions or sky-rocket sales.

So create a conversation around the development conversation. Create a space for employees to improve themselves and your business. Be bold in how you encourage development to take place.

Take a risk and reach for greatness.

Photo credit: Bigstock

Learn to Love Your Customers

On its face, this is a ridiculously high standard, but in practice it’s the most rewarding and resilient way to build a business. Working with and for customers that love your company — rather than hate it or couldn’t care less — is simply a more satisfying way to spend the 60% of your adult life that is work.

When they’re crazy about you, they’re generous with ideas, perspectives, praise, and referrals. They’re resilient when you come up short (as you surely will) because one problem rarely empties a deep well of crazy love.

In the long haul, it isn’t harder to create this kind of engagement than it is to have mediocre relationships that don’t last, that can’t absorb the inevitable shortcoming, that require outright fire fighting or that inspire your customers to pit you against your competitors. However, It is a clear strategy and requires dedicated execution; it won’t happen by accident or luck.

My short list of values and behaviors that inspire crazy customer love is below — I’d love to here what’s on your list!

  1. Add genuine value in each engagement and touch point. Help people rather than sell to them. Leave out the self-congratulatory stuff; never thank or pat yourselves on the back and expect the customer to clap.
  2. Put customers first. Not second, never last. It is all about them, and even you are about them. They are your right to exist as a company and the return on that existence.
  3. They’re individual people — engage them that way. Connect to what they need, worry about and care about as humans. See that they have futures and pasts.
  4. Be authentic and human yourself, but make it your best self.
  5. Let compassion for users guide products, sales and messaging if you provide products for business customers. It’s work not vacation; you can’t really help customers without compassion.
  6. They’re your company’s family. That family doesn’t end at your employees — it ends at the customers that share their time, ideas, and intentions and that make career investments with you.
  7. Care about each customer. Celebrate when they decide to join the family and mourn each and every one if they leave. Bring everyone in the company into this celebration and mourning.
  8. Recognize that working with customers is pure joy, even when it’s not all rosy. It’s how you know you’re working on something worthy and it’s how you learn to grow your value to them and others. Let these thoughts nourish your soul and your company’s.
  9. Demonstrate and assume intelligence and integrity. With this platform for partnership, you will have a perfect relationship even when you or they are imperfect.
  10. You will fail and it will be problematic for your customers, but how you respond will define your relationship for years to come. Rise responsibly, quickly, and with even more integrity and compassion for their situation and you will be friends for life. Fail at failing, and you’ve lost a customer as soon as they can practically leave you.
  11. In my experience, every person at your company must act with this belief system. Crazy customer love comes when every facet of engagement — yes, even bill collecting — functions with the same commitment to customer.

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with amazing teams that embodied this belief system and of working with wonderful people as customers over many years as a result. (Sonia Cheng, Scott Cohen, Mike Meehan and Nicholas Tsang top the team list.) This is the strongest thread in the company’s fabric, weaving together your company’s financial success, your customers’ success and your cultural health.

What’s your experience when you’re the customer? the provider? an employee? What’s on your list?


One Powerful Technique to Amplify Team Success

Whether you are a first time leader or experienced one, chances are that each day you struggle with information overload. Struggle to spot the most useful methods, techniques and knowledge. Especially when leading a team of talented individuals, you are forced to constantly figure out new ways to amplify your team’s success and become even greater than you were yesterday.

Before building great companies, we need great employees. Therefore, keeping up with your team and keeping them happy, should be on top of your list. What is more, according to Quantum Workplace’s report mistrust in leadership is the No. 1 reason employees choose to leave current roles. So, don’t jump into blaming others.

For a sake of a experiment typing “Team Leadership” in Google search, gives you alone over 472 000 000 results. So, how to navigate in this pool of information? How to spot the management techniques that are worth experimenting with?

The answer is easy – learn from others.  Although it might be difficult to learn from others mistakes, it is possible to get valuable insights from their learning experience. For example, Mark Fernandes has talked about own experience with Values-Based Leadership and the exponential effect it has made in people’s lives. His train of thoughts makes you want to try it out.

Yet another possibility is to investigate successful enterprises. For example, what is the one common thing between Skype, Ebay and startup accelerator Seedcamp? They have rolled out one simple but efficient management technique called PPP – progress, plans, problems.

Progress, Plans, Problems is a management technique for recurring status reporting. The core idea behind the method is simple. During a specified period (daily, weekly, monthly) each team-member reports about 3-5 key achievements, future plans and obstacles.

Why is it so valuable? First of all, in addition to team-leaders in Skype and Ebay, it has helped thousands of others from SMEs to Fortune500 companies. The key to success is that it’s easy to implement and saves hours from useless meetings. PPP methodology solves the one common problem in team leadership by keeping the whole team up-to-date with current information. And as said by Cleve Gibbon “PPP reports communicate three essential facts that are both informal and informative. They are rich in stuff and low in fluff.”

While bringing this process into your team, it is important to remind everyone that the goal is to bring everyone on the same page regarding what’s happening in the team. In order to achieve that everyone needs to concentrate on most important items and not overwhelm others with too many details. That said, each and individual team member should list key items under each of the three P-s:

  • Progress – key accomplishments that got done during the reporting period. It should give a straightforward answer to the question what have you done?
  • Plans – this should contain key plans for the period ahead. These are the goals, objectives, items that need to be finished either within a day, week or month. This is the answer to the question what are you going to do next?
  • Problems – these are the items you can’t finish, for whatsoever reason. This is an important part of any report. This is the part that signals the whole team of upcoming challenges. But if it’s done properly, there is still time to act.

Overall, the process is easy and enjoyable, for both the managers and the employees, since it keeps everyone in the loop.

Apply Now

(About the Author: Külli is the marketing director of Weekdone, a start-up that builds team collaboration and employee progress reporting tools based on popular management methodologies like PPP and OKR. She is always on the lookout of new ways to achieve more by doing less. You can connect with her and the Weekdone team on TwitterFacebook and Google+.)

photo credit: Peter Fuchs via photopin cc

Engage The Humans for Social HR Leadership: #TChat Preview

There’s a fun event today, Wed May 16th – A Live Social HR Camp being hosted from Vancouver, BC Canada and six other locales spread across four countries. It’s the first-ever SocialHRCamp, an un-conference aimed at  helping HR professionals collaborate to determine what it takes to leverage and integrate social media within the workplace. Pretty cool stuff. Also, check out Hashcaster for the live tweets and of course your favorite Twitter client.

I’m also excited to play hostess, speaker for our Boston, MA event that will take place the first week of December here at Google Cambridge — Please stay tuned for more information on this event. This will be big fun and a hands-on social learning experience for all.

You can imagine, given my heart for social workplace and all things Canada (No, I’m not Canadian but sometimes I’m mistaken for – cue laughter), how much I’m looking forward to the event. Many of our community players will be here live. So many friends in fact that we’re integrating it into this week’s World of Work #TChat. As we Chat, we will be pulling in attendees from #SocialHRCamp from the cozy confines of Cambridge and around the globe.

I won’t have to bring a sleeping bag or worry about spiders or outside showers, but I will be a happy camper, chatting about our philosophy:  Leaders need to be more active and hands-on in social media engagement and strategies.

Regardless of your industries, roles, or belief systems, it’s critical, as leaders and HR professionals to be active in social media. Building trust with employees, customers and prospects through your brand, using social tools, is now a core competency. Together, we’ll also explore how (or maybe when) to combine personal and professional social as it relates to workplace and career to strike a fine balance, based on common sense and your own beliefs regarding brand humanization.

The theme for this week’s #TChat World of Work will be ‘Social HR: Engage the Humans for Social HR Leadership’

We’ll ask, and debate, the following questions:

Q1:  How should HR play authenticity and transparency when stepping into social for the first time? What tools should we use?

Q2:  How does social recruiting differ with Gen Y than other generations? Why or why not?

Q3:  Is LinkedIn just a job board pretending to be a social network? Why or why not? And should HR care?

Q4:  Should business leadership be blogging, tweeting and sharing on social? Why or why not?

Q5:  Should we combine the personal and professional in social? Should there be boundaries? Why or why not?

So grab your canteen and join us Wednesday on Twitter for #TChat. This is happening May 16th on Twitter from 7-8 pm ET (4-5 pm PT).  Please tune in from wherever you may be. I’ll be your moderator on Twitter @MeghanMBiro along with @socialmediasean and @brentskinner – We will be aided by our live Vancouver panel moderators @KevinWGrossman @SocialSalima and other community friends.

Think it’s almost summertime. Think camp. Think about how to use social media to engage as a leader or employee in your workplace or career role. Talk to you Wednesday!

Image Credit: Pixabay

The HR Technology Disconnect…Not What You Think

Last week on May 25th and 26th, Las Vegas hosted the 2011 HR Demo Show in conjunction with the HRO Today Forum, including the RPO Summit. The point of the demo show was to showcase the best and latest HR and talent management technologies. Organizations that presented were Kenexa, Guidant Group, Epicor, CareerBuilder, Taleo, iCIMS, RECSOLU, JSTN, OneWire and many more. Throughout the two days, I closely followed the main hashtags for the event, which were #HRDemo and #HRTech. I also paid close attention to the Blog Squad, particularly the ones I personally knew—Geoff Webb, Meghan M. Biro and Jessica Merrill.

During the event, the weekly #TChat that I am religiously a part of focused on “Innovation Gap Realities Workforce Technology.” From my perspective it was probably one of the most active #TChat’s that I have ever participated in because the focus was on innovation, or lack of innovation when it comes to HR technology. Here is the high level “Jeff Waldman Brain-Dump Summary” of what I discovered during this chat, which is also inspired by the #TChat Recap: “HR tech innovation should keep us all in business.”

  1. Most HR technology is focused on recruitment and talent management.
  2. People think that innovation must be something new or a re-imagining of how technology can drive efficiencies in HR, and contribute to the business.
  3. HR practitioners need to better educate themselves on the use of technology in the workplace.
  4. Technology “users” think that existing HR technology is NOT innovative but “providers” think otherwise.  As Meghan M. Biro of TalentCulture stated, “HR and recruiters just are not perceiving what’s out there as innovative, perhaps because most of what we’re seeing isn’t screaming cloud, mobile application.”
  5. There is huge disconnect between technology providers and technology users regarding their perception of how valuable technology is in completing work.
  6. Technology cannot replace the human element.

What’s the main point in all of this?
The one thing that I heard consistently was that a huge gap exists between HR technology providers and HR technology users (a.k.a. HR practitioners). I could not agree more with this. But… yes, there’s always a “but!”  But, I strongly believe that the reasons that were discussed for this disconnect missed the boat.

The Technology IS There!
There are so many phenomenal platforms that HR practitioners can strategically leverage to help them add more value to their clients. Off the top of my head, awesome platforms that come to mind that I have used include Rypple, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, ZuzuHire, SurgeHire, StickyHQ, Yammer, ClearFit, FreshTransition and BranchOut.

Now, I want to note that I bring a unique perspective to TalentCulture because I work in Canada, and the majority of my professional experience is with Canadian organizations. Here is the problem… the HR community in Canada does NOT possess the knowledge and understanding of HR technology, the necessary technological skills or the ability to evaluate the strategic impact of HR technologies. They inadvertently avoid the conversation about HR technology because they have not a clue where to begin.

So, it does not matter how good the technology is, the Canadian HR community as it currently exists will never get to the point where they will be on the same page with technology providers.

Change is Change… “We” Don’t Like Change!
Technology is a tool. It is not meant to replace the human element or the responsibility of performing the activities that impact “brand building”—e.g. talent attraction, employer branding, employee engagement and the overall employee experience. Integrating new technology into the workplace represents a change.  It could be a huge change, or it could be a small one. It doesn’t matter; people naturally are not very good at coping with change.  So let me ask you this question. If the majority of HR practitioners are unable to even begin the technology conversation, do you think HR technology providers are able to lead and manage change?  Hmmmm…. I don’t think so.

Case in Point…

A couple of years ago I was brought into a very entrepreneurial, yet small organization that possessed an extremely strong corporate brand. They sold really cool things, and employed some really neat product marketing and promotional tactics. This company was really just starting to build its HR infrastructure, and they were in the process of implementing a technology to help them with the full recruitment cycle, all the way to on-boarding.

They retained a PMP (Project Management Specialist) to lead and manage this project. He did an absolutely stellar job of identifying business needs, potential technology platforms, engaging most of the right internal players to select the platform, all the way to “flipping the go-live switch” on the new platform. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well… the execution failed miserably for one simple reason. He completely ignored the end-user. To add fuel to the fire, the technology providers were completely hands-off with the people change management components of the execution; they just focused on the technical aspect (of course, this is where their expertise lies). The failure basically boiled down to a couple of things:

  1. The end-users (HR practitioners) were technologically illiterate.
  2. The end-user was never engaged during the technology selection and implementing process.
  3. The end-user was never trained on the new technology.
  4. No platform testing was performed with the end-user group during the project phase.
  5. The end-user was simply directed to “just do it”.

Technological innovation is NOT the problem right now. The problem is a severe lack of technological competence within the HR practitioner community and a complete disregard for change management being fully embedded in the technology integration process. If you can resolve these two fundamental problems, the perceptions of providers and users regarding technology innovation and work-related value will be pretty close, and the result will be favorable.