Friday, March 27, 2009

The customer may not always be right, but you better have a smile on your face when you tell me I'm not

Despite the snarky title, this is a feel good post. Well, it is for me.
I've just returned from 14 glorious days away from the office - 5 of them in a car to and fro home to Florida and 9 of them relaxing in warm, sunny Florida.

I was so relaxed that I took all the emails, mail, and problems that were waiting for me in stride. No problem - I'll get to it. You need to talk to me now? Come on in. Of course I was exhausted by the end of the day since I didn't get my daily nap and the coffee sucks at work. But that's okay.

My trip was for pleasure, not business, and yet I found myself going into HR mode. Or so I thought it was HR mode, until I realized it was more of "hello...? can I get some common courtesy over here please".

Honestly, for a State that is dependant on oranges and tourism, you would think there would be some more love going around. Initially I was complaining that people were rude, but then I realized that rude is a conscious behaviour - it requires thought and premeditation. The people we were dealing with just didn't care. Period. This ranged from gas stations (btw, what the hell with all the prepaying your gas deal...omigod...and one price for cash and another for credit...what the hell?), restaurants, Walmarts (don't even get me started on this experience), bike shops, retail stores...the whole gamut. Zombies.

My first reaction was to ask : "do you like your job? 'cus it doesn't really show", but it was apparent that would have no impact. Over and over we were robotically told how much we owed and handed the bill - no greetings,no interactions. I considered it an upscale place if the employee didn't a) bitch to their coworker about not getting their vacation approved (this is the Walmart experience) or talking on their cell phone the entire time.

My second reaction was to think like I do at work. How did this person get hired? Why is this type of performance tolerated? What type of training do they do here that gives these people the impression that this is acceptable? Does anyone care about this?

I don't like to automatically blame a parent for their child's behaviour since I'm a parent myself, but ultimately you have some influence in that realm. So when I see employees behaving badly, I'm thinking...what kind of supervisor do they have.

Customer service, client relations, whatever you want to call it. They people you put in these roles are the face and voice of your company, your department, and yes Manager...you. If you are the one that hired, trained, and evaluated them..then they are a reflection of your abilities. If you choose to ignore the problem and hope that they grow out of it - then shame on you.

As long as they work under your roof, they should be following your rules, your example, and your expectations. Have you made this clear? Do they know what these are? Are you prepared to deal with handing out consequences?

Let me sum it up, Customer Service isn't just important, it's everything.

(And just so I don't blanket the whole State of Florida...we had THE most wonderful, fabulous waitress at a dinner. She received a very well deserved tip)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Working with biases

One of the most challenging aspects of HR is dealing with perceptions. Of course everyone has this challenge, but in HR you are suppose to be bias-free and follow some key rules (or at least rumour has it):

HR supports employees, supervisors, managers, and executives alike.
Equally. All the time.

HR does not judge people based on their work ethic (or lack thereof), their position, their interoffice relationships, or their personality.

HR cares about everyone and everything.

HR deals with the touchy-feely, mother-hen stuff

HR people are extroverts & social butterflies

I have concerns with these perceptions. I have concerns about being able to live up to these expectations. No, let me rephrase that…I am not able to live up to these expectations. I will not live up to these expectations.

I thought that one of my shortcomings in the world of HR is the fact that I’m in my late-30s and just new to the HR area. I’ve worked 15 years on the other side of the desk and only recently managed to move my ass to the other side. I’m slowly making the transition from the theoretical to the practical (and impractical) applications of HR.

However, I’ve come to realize that my 15 years of non-HR work is one of my assets. You see, I know what it feels like to have my requests ignored, to receive incredibly ambiguous answers to direct questions, to scratch my head in confusion over the recruitment process, to complain about the futility of performance reviews (see previous blog post for more details on this one), and to feel betrayed when my confidential vent became common knowledge.

And like my vow to not repeat the “mistakes” that my parents made, I pledged to not make the “mistakes” that my HR people made.

Of course, like my vow to not repeat the “mistakes” that my parents made, I have made some of the “mistakes” that my HR people made.
Sometimes unintentionally.
Sometimes intentionally.

Why? Because like parenting, you never truly understand the scope of the job until you have to do it yourself.

As a parent, I now realize that “because I said so…” is a completely valid response to my child’s complaint. And as an HR-er I realize that “well it depends…” is a completely valid response to just about any question thrown at me.

My perception of what was HR and what I could do was fairly realistic; however, for every work experience I brought with me, I also brought my baggage.

I have a low tolerance for people that do not accept responsibility for their actions, I believe in accountability, I believe in being honest and direct, I am not a big fan of the social committee, I believe that HR is a part of driving the business, not just a safety net for fallen employees and due diligence.

So when an employee comes to me with an issue that they are having with either a colleague or their supervisor and not only do they not see themselves as part of the problem, but they expect me to fix it, my “cares about everyone and everything” credo takes a nosedive.

When a manager repeatedly avoids dealing with an employee that is performing poorly, refuses to document anything, and then gives the employee a positive performance review. I can and will judge them on their inability to do their job. And I will have a hard time supporting their decision to can the person.

Fortunately, I am finding and talking to more and more HR people that are like minded. They are business first, but they balance this with humanism. Human resources are resources, but they are still human.

A former colleague of mine once commented that he was surprised I was going into HR. In his words, “you are so not a people person”.

Personally, I think it is because of this quality that I am doing well in HR.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Reviewing performance reviews

This may not be a newsflash for some people; however, it may be novel to hear an HR person say that performance reviews suck.

There are many reasons why they aren't worth the time, effort, and standardized forms they are printed on. It could be the lack of training for managers on how to present them, it could be the employees' lack of understanding on how to interpret them, it could be the format, or it could even be time of year they are done.

All of the reasons above are true, but there's still something bigger.

The real issue is that performance reviews are after the fact.

By the time you sit down with your employee to go over what went well and what didn't, it's over and done with. You can pepper the review with fantastic evidence and examples, but it's in the past. And if you are like many managers, you probably aren't able to reference past November, unless it was a doozy of a mistake, in which case you over-fixate on this issue.

The truth of the matter is that the performance review is more about and for the manager than the employee.

It's true.

In many instances, the manager fills in the review form based on the components of the job that are most important to them. They then recall examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly based on their recollection (or worse, based on what others told them) of the employees performance. They may also take this opportunity to over document concerns that may help justify a potential termination in the near future.

Recently I sent out a reminder to managers that they should be scheduling the performance reviews and goal setting sessions for their employees. I went out on a limb and suggested that they provide the completed forms to their employees before the meetings so that they had a chance to review them and so that they can to the meeting with their own comments.

One manager called me on this - he said, "I can't give them their performance review before...what if they misinterpret what's written there? What if they share it with others? By the time the last person gets into the meeting room, they will be primed and pumped to go".

My first thought was "paranoid much". My second was, what are you putting in the performance review that has the potential to be so misunderstood and could serve as such potent fuel? If you are being honest with the person, and have been throughout the year, then there should be no surprises - only confirmations.

But herein lies the problem..."throughout the year".

Getting feedback, whether it's positive or negative, once a year is pitiful and insulting. It's like having to participate in a stupid secret Santa gift exchange at the Christmas potluck. You hate doing it, but know you have to smile and go along with the tradition. It's pointless and in the end you are going to end up with another stupid coffee mug.

Until managers are prepared to take the time to deal with performance issues as they occur and offer kudos and support when it's needed - the annual performance review is a waste of their and the employee's time.

And since most managers and employees share this very sentiment with me at every possible opportunity they get, I know I'm not alone in in this thought.