Effectively Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – Do the Blocking and Tackling

Since sexual harassment is currently such a big issue these days, I’m going to talk about the tools I’ve effectively developed and used over the years.  I’m writing this in November of 2017 and you can’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or read anything online without learning about some high profile politician, media personality, or famous celebrity being accused of some form of sexual harassment.

What frustrates me is how it has become such a “popular” thing to expose all of a sudden.  If we are being honest with ourselves, we all already knew this kind of behavior has been going on for years but nobody ever did anything about it.  At the highest level possible, we had a two term President in the 90’s who we all knew engaged in it.  And we now have a current President who was recorded bragging about it before winning the election. We also all knew about the infamous “casting couch” in Hollywood which has been around since the 1920s and probably even earlier. 

I’m frustrated that our society tolerated it for so long.

It’s about time that women are finally feeling comfortable about coming forward with their stories of harassment. There is no place for sexual harassment in our workplace and private lives. Never has been and never will be.

While all of the stories, so far, have been from women, and I fully recognize that most of the victims are going to be women,  I’m waiting to hear some men start coming forward telling their stories of how they were harassed – it happens to all genders, in every industry, in every socioeconomic status, etc.

In fact, two of my three biggest sexual harassment investigations were with women as the instigators.  So I know it’s only a matter of time before we hear about a woman politician, media personality, or celebrity harassing a subordinate. Let’s not forget how many female teachers, a female dominated profession, are being caught having sex with their male underage students. So it cuts both ways. Both men and women can be deviant creeps.

So how do we stop sexual harassment?  I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how the old traditional ways of dealing with it – an up-to-date policy, training, and investigate quickly and fairly to all complaints – no longer work.  That we must do something different to put an end to it, things like promoting more women and  implementing predictive analytics!

There is no easy solution and, sadly, no matter what we do, sexual harassment will never end.  It is, unfortunately, part of human nature.  Harassment, sexual and other types, have been around since the beginning of time and will be around until the end of time.

The only way to deal with it from an HR standpoint, in my opinion and experience, is to effectively and consistently do the basic blocking and tackling of having a strong and updated policy, conduct training annually and during onboarding, and conducting quick and fair investigations.  

I’ve had a lot of experience handling sexual harassment complaints and investigations.  And I can say that by effectively executing the basics I listed above is the best way of slowing it down and keeping it under control.  It creates a culture that clearly demonstrates that sexual harassment is not tolerated in the workplace and will be quickly addressed.

I have three steps of a Harassment Policy process that I find work best.

First, during onboarding,while reviewing the employee handbook, I stress that there is no tolerance of sexual or any other type of harassment  in our workplace.

When setting up the employee handbook, I make sure the policy is the first one listed so as to emphasize it’s importance. I also make sure I review it, along with our legal council and/or an employment lawyer, at least once every two years (I would do it right now regardless of when it was done earlier because of the current high profile cases in the media) to ensure it’s up to date. It’s also good to make sure the policy is written in plain english, not in legal handbookese that nobody understands.

Make sure each employee’s signee Acknowledgement of Receipt is in their file so there’s evidence that you reviewed the important policies with them.

Second, later in the onboarding schedule, I have a Harassment Training  session.  I will conduct either a live presentation or show them a video depending on the size of the onboarding class. I have two compliance trainings during onboarding, Harassment Prevention and Drug and Alcohol Prevention, and this again emphasizes the importance of our policy by putting such a primary focus on it during their onboarding.

I also have two mandatory annual all-hands Harassment Prevention training sessions, one for the general employee population and one for the supervisors and managers. I require managers and supervisors to attend the general employee population session so they are seen by all employees to be part of and fully supportive of the process. This also emphasizes to the managers the importance of the policy.

Each of these training sessions has a quiz that I require each employee to take and turn in after we review the answers. This gives you a document for their file that they’ve attended the training session and interacted by taking the quiz. Also make sure the employees sign an attendance sheet and file those sheets with your training materials.

Third and finally, when a complaint is received, I immediately jump into action and start an investigation. I once drove five hours from my office in Denver, CO to a remote location in central Wyoming the same day I received a complaint and immediately started the investigation. I stayed there for two days to interview people, have discussions with management, decide on proper corrective action, communicate our conclusion to affected employees, and conclude the investigation.

I then write up a final report documenting the process of my investigation, who I spoke to and what was said, my conversations with management, and the results of the final decision and corrective action taken.  This document goes into the accused’s file and I like to have a copy in a separate investigation file with other investigations I conducted.  

As you can see, I will always drop what I’m doing and immediately start an investigation when I get a harassment complaint because harassment is the most toxic workplace situation. It creates all sorts of serious legal, morale, productivity, ethical, safety, and many other similar problems. Problems that I can head off if I address the complaint immediately.

While it’s important to keep the investigation as confidential as possible while on site, we all know that the grapevine will communicate why you’re there and what you are doing.  Employees will see the corrective action and understand why.

This final step of a quick and fair investigation followed by the appropriate corrective action, if warranted, sends the strongest message possible to employees that harassment is not tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly. And it only really takes one or two instances to send a clear message and make a positive impact on the culture.

Now, remember, these steps will not completely eliminate harassment but they will go a long way in significantly reducing it to the point there will only be a few cases.  

But you have to do the day in and day out blocking and tackling consistently in order to minimize harassment and keep your company culture one that makes it clear it’s not tolerated.

My HR Journey

How I ended up in HR

I was at a tech industry HR event in Boulder a few months ago and we were all asked to talk about our “HR Journey” – what was it that led us to choose HR as a career. Or what was it that led HR to choose us?

The exercise required that we had to get up in front of everybody and tell our story. We didn’t have much, if any, time to prepare as we didn’t even know we were going to do this exercise. The first “drafts” of our stories were a little rough but then we were allowed to get up again and tell our stories again, and this time they were more polished.

I enjoyed the exercise because it forced me to really think quickly of a story that led me to choose HR as a career. My mind was blank but it came to me as I was walking up to the front of the room to tell my story. Funny how the mind works.

So here’s my story…

I started my career right out of college working for a Pacific Northwest based retail department store called The Bon Marche’ (which is now part of Macy’s). I worked my way up the ladder until I reached my desired goal of being a Store Manager. I loved being a Store Manager and in my 13 years as one, I earned the Store/Store Manager of the Year award twice along with a record number of performance awards during my tenure.

I learned that I loved building consistent high-performing cultures filled with employees who loved doing what they did in a tough, low-paying work environment. In retail, HR is a very important and vital element. It was what I enjoyed the most and I was very good at it and thought I’d do it for the rest of my career.

But there was a particular incident that occurred that led me to seriously consider leaving and focusing on HR as my next career direction.

It was Sept or Oct and a young pregnant woman came in for an interview for the Holiday season. As a Store Manager I always enjoyed participating in the interviewing and hiring process. She interviewed well, I saw that she had potential, and I decided to hire her. I didn’t care that she was pregnant. I only cared that she was smart, enthusiastic, and cared for customers. She would be a great addition to the store team.

Years later, she reached out to me via Facebook and told me how much she appreciated me hiring her that day. I had changed the direction of her life. Nobody else in town would hire her because she was pregnant. To make matters worse, she was single and pregnant and her life was a mess. I had no idea at the time but my believing in her and hiring her gave her new hope.

My team at the store was just that, a team that cared about each other and helped each other. The team took her in and she became part of the store family. She was surrounded by people who cared and she responded by giving us everything she had and became fantastic sales associate.

I’m very proud of the teams I build and how they always cared for and loved each other. That is what I enjoyed most about my job. Building strong high performing cultures of people that loved (or at least liked) their work.  That is why I went into HR so I can help leadership build strong, high-performing teams.

Today, this woman owns her own retail business, has her life together, and is doing very well.  She is also is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter.

Bottom line, the main reason I moved into HR was to use my talent and skills to help organizations create positive, high-performing cultures where people really enjoy coming to work. We spend huge amounts of our time at work and I believe our workplaces should be happy and supportive places where we enjoy being every day.

The ability to create and provide a high-performing culture where people want to be, directly helps accomplish the importance of business goals in any organization. The overall company performance improves, productivity increases, and financial performance improves – all of which produces greater shareholder value.

I want to be able to be a positive influence on employees and, by extension, their families by creating a positive work culture where the employee is happy and feels like they are accomplishing meaningful work.

Frankly, it’s the right thing to do.  And I’m glad I’m able to do it.

Taking a Knee is a Workplace Issue

NFL Players are Hurting Their Employer's Business

I’m going to throw my hat in the ring on the NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem thing. Personally, I don’t like it and, as a result, have changed my NFL viewing habits because of it. With that out of the way, and since this is an HR blog, I’m going to address how this relates to HR.

To me this is purely a workplace issue, not a free speech issue. The players are at their workplace when they are protesting. These protests are hurting their employer’s reputation and earnings as evidenced by the significant drop in attendance and drop in TV ratings week after week.

The players’ free speech isn’t constitutionally protected here. The constitution prevents the government from making a law that stops freedom of speech and the government is not preventing them from protesting. Their protests are causing the NFL direct financial harm by fans boycotting their games either by not attending and/or not watching.

I’ve never worked for an employer that would allow me to protest while I was at work and if I did, I’m 100% certain, I would be disciplined and/or no longer work there.

I’ve read some articles claiming their protests are a protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. This one from the New York Times and this one from a pro-union blog. Their arguments are compelling but I really don’t see it as the players are not protesting their working conditions nor are they engaging in political advocacy as it relates directly to their job.

From my understanding they are protesting in support of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Here is what he said when this all started:

 “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

“This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”

“It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from.”

“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”

His statement has nothing to do with working conditions or political advocacy that relates directly to the job of being an NFL player. I don’t see how these athletes are being oppressed. They’re living the American Dream. They get to play the greatest game on earth, get paid millions of dollars, are celebrities, and are worshiped as heroes by millions of fans.

Kaepernick’s protests are an attempt to bring attention to other people who are being oppressed. In fact he even said “This stand wasn’t for me” in this statement. Whatever you think of his statement and the reasons behind his protest, this has nothing to do with working conditions and political advocacy as it relates directly to their work in the NFL.

I think his reasons are admirable but he brought it to his workplace and decided to protest during our National Anthem and flag unfurling. This has caught on throughout the NFL and many of us don’t connect the two and find it offensive and disrespectful to our country and those who have fought to ensure and protect our freedoms, despite what they say to the contrary.

Now many fans are exercising their power by boycotting games causing the NFL to lose a lot of goodwill, reputation, and most importantly, revenue.

When an employee’s conduct directly hurts an employer’s business, as is clearly happening here, that employer has every right to take corrective action on the employee. The protesting NFL players are protesting while at the workplace and are causing a serious negative financial impact on their employer.

The NFL is, in my opinion, obligated to take the appropriate corrective action to protect their business.

Dealing with National Politics in the Workplace

You can’t get away from it these days. It’s all the media is talking about, it’s all over our social media feeds, it’s on all the award shows and entertainment programs we’re watching, it’s overheard in the stores and coffee shops we are visiting, and it’s in our workplace. Political discussions are everywhere and we are more politically polarized than I’ve ever seen in my life.

With today’s massive megaphone of social media and the 24 hour news cycle, many people have expressed their passion about the political issues and their candidates. And there’s something to offend just about anybody with the current hot-button issues such as race, class, gender, abortion, LGBT rights, immigration, terrorism, religion, etc.

I would venture to guess that we have all witnessed some very heated exchanges between family, friends, and coworkers regarding today’s political climate. I’ve seen people I respect and care about say or write some pretty horrible things about others based simply on their political beliefs.

People are more polarized in their positions like I’ve never seen before and those positions are making their way into the workplace and affecting morale and productivity.

In addition, many of today’s issues swerve into employment law. Political discussions about issues that affect working conditions such as minimum wage, equal pay, and paid leave might be protected by federal law.  While, on the other hand, political discussions about race, gender, and religion may lead to harassment or discrimination claims. And it only takes one person to pop off during a heated discussion and alienate another employee and/or cause a hostile work environment or a potential harassment claim.

I make it a practice not to discuss politics at work – especially these days. I hear enough of it on my Sirius radio when I commute to and from work and when I’m home trying to catch up on the news. Frankly, I’m exhausted of it all and don’t want to have to deal with it when I’m at work.

But, I’m HR, so I have to deal with it at work.

As such, I’ve come up with a couple of proven recommendations to help keep things under control.

First and foremost, HR must remain neutral. This is my number one recommendation. Whatever your beliefs, HR must be neutral and not take a side in a disputed conversation about politics. HR absolutely should not engage in a conversation with other employees expressing their political opinions and joining in with them bashing a side. I guarantee that you have employees on the other side who will hear or overhear what you said which will erode your credibility with them.

The purpose of your neutrality allows all of your employees to feel safe coming to you with their concerns about potentially uncomfortable or hostile political conversations they overheard or were part of. It’s HR’s job to make sure employees feel safe to surface any concerns they have from conversations they’ve had or overheard that make them feel uncomfortable or offended.

Second, Establish and communicate ground rules. Meet with your senior leaders to determine what political discussions your organization is willing to tolerate/accept at work. Will you ban it entirely or will you allow some as long as their respectful, appropriate, and inclusive of all beliefs?

Once you have that established,  conduct an all hands meeting and follow up with an email reminding your employees to be professional, respectful, and tolerant of other employee’s political beliefs. Remind them of the process for airing their complaints and how they will be dealt with and what the consequences will be for violating these ground rules. You must, as HR, clearly communicate to your employee population where you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You can’t be ambiguous.

It’s also important to understand that you can’t ignore the issue at work. Ignoring it will only make the situation worse because these conversations may escalate into profanity and direct threats. Other employees who want to stay out of these discussions may also be unwillingly dragged in.

When you overhear a controversial political discussion happening at your workplace, and you’ve established the accepted ground rules, you simply remind the employees engaged in the conversation that they are not behaving in an acceptable manner (professional, respectful, or tolerant). If they continue after your reminder, you simply begin your organization’s disciplinary process.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you keep your workplace professional, respectful, civil and ultimately productive!

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An Interesting Alternative to the Traditional Annual Performance Appraisal

Adobe's Check-in Performance Approach

It’s a new year and now that the holidays are over, it’s time to start thinking about everybody’s favorite topic – THE PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL!

Yay.

I’ve written extensively about the traditional annual performance appraisal and believe there is a place for it in certain organizations but I also think it’s time to explore something new and innovative that will be more effective in today’s modern workplace.

There’s a lot of talk about scrapping the performance appraisal altogether. I’m starting to believe that the traditional annual PA is becoming obsolete in today’s modern workplace. There still needs to be some sort of tool, however, to set employee objectives and expectations and then to measure how the employee did against those expectations.

Today, I’m going to explore an alternative to the annual performance appraisal that, in my opinion, is one of the better systems. I did some research and landed on one that seems to be the best, Adobe’s Check-in Performance Approach.

There are three components that make up the Check-in Framework. It’s important to note that the Framework emphasizes that it is the employee’s responsibility to take ownership of their career. I love this approach because it aligns very closely to a similar feedback system I’ve been using and refining in the field for years called Responsibility Based Performance, something I will write about in the future.

1. Expectations, which is driven by the manager. This is where the manager works closely with the employee to establish the employee’s expectations and goals. The manager also helps the employee clarify their role, responsibilities, and success criteria throughout the year.

The first step in any sort of performance appraisal discussion is the need to establish clear expectations and objectives. The Check-in Framework is no different. Employees want to know exactly what’s expected of them and how their performance aligns with the organization’s objectives.

Employees and managers need to meet annually to establish and outline the employee’s objectives in writing. The objectives should be clear to both the manager and employee on what needs to be accomplished and how it should be accomplished. Once the objectives have been agreed upon, they will need to be reviewed and refined throughout the year. The frequency of this periodic review will depend on the department or business unit.

In order to hold everybody accountable to this Framework, employees will need to be surveyed several times throughout the year to make sure they have set expectations with their managers and are having regular follow-up meetings to review and refine their objectives. It is also critical that senior leaders show their support for the program and are following up to make sure this is happening.

2. Feedback, which is driven by both the manager and the employee. Feedback is the key to the entire Framework and will require the most amount of training. This is where both the manager and the employee give and receive ongoing feedback. The manager also provides ongoing and timely feedback that recognizes good performance and works to improve and address performance issues.

Again, feedback is the key to the entire Framework and is the most difficult component to get right. It will require quite a bit of training of the organization’s managers and follow-up by HR in order to get it right. The goal with the feedback component is to have employees at all levels of the organization give and receive feedback.

Feedback needs to be timely and relevant to the needs of the business and the employee. It needs to be given with the honest intention of helping the employee understand that they are doing a good job or that they need to improve. Remember also that feedback should be both positive and constructive.

If employees are not meeting their objectives or performing up to their expectations, they will need to enter into the organization’s corrective action process.

Adobe uses the Specifics, Ask, Impact, Do (SAID) model of giving feedback.

Specifics – State what the person has or has not done by using concrete examples.
Ask – Ask open ended questions to understand their perspective. (How do you see the situation? Did I contribute to the problem in some way?)
Impact – Express the impact on the business, team, or you. When framed as a means to reach a specific business goal, it becomes an opportunity to solve a problem or understand how their actions impacted the business directly.
Do – State what needs to continue or change.

I also strongly recommend taking a look at the Manager Tools Feedback Model for advice on how to give effective feedback. It’s similar to SAID but leaves out the Ask element.

Its also worth taking a look at my friend Morag Barret’s recent article on delivering tough feedback.

Again, to hold everybody accountable, employees will need to be surveyed throughout the year to make sure they are receiving regular feedback from their manager. Senior leadership will also need to support and follow up to make sure this is happening.

3. Growth & Development, which is driven by the employee, supported by the manager, and enabled by the organization. Here, the organization and manager must provide opportunities to the employee to develop and increase their skills, knowledge, and experience in their current role. These opportunities, of course, must be aligned with the business needs of the organization and the employee’s individual ambitions.

The organization must provide a work environment that encourages and helps employees grow and develop their skills and knowledge as it relates to the organization’s business. Giving them different job experiences, providing training and opportunities are ways to help employees expand their skills in their current roles and to develop them for future roles within the organization.

The skills and knowledge that are being developed must, of course, align with the needs and objectives of the organization in order for the employee’s growth and development to be relevant and actionable.

The organization should create a form that will help employees communicate their interests, career goals, and professional aspirations. The employee and manager should discuss these so that the appropriate opportunities can be provided by the organization and supported by the manager.

Once again, to hold everybody accountable, employee surveys will need to be taken to measure the effectiveness of the Growth & Development component as it relates to employee engagement.

I really like this Framework and would love to help an organization implement a version of it. It’s an innovative system that would be very effective measuring employee performance and developing employees in today’s modern workplace.

As a reminder, last week I started a new feature called the HHHR Weekly Survey (using SurveyGizmo) where I survey my readers and listeners on the current blog post and podcast. Remember to take the survey I’ve included for this post which is located on the top of the sidebar or can be found by clicking here.

Week Six of the PA Cycle: Delivery Week

ID-10040852We’re getting near the end, Crew! This week is when the managers actually deliver the Performance Appraisals to their direct reports and finalize the upcoming year’s Objectives. This is the reason we did all the work the past five weeks! This is where it all comes together.

Let’s start off by explaining what employees expect from their PA. Every employee who works for a manager and organization wants the answer to three basic questions and during the Delivery Week, all three of these questions are answered as described below.

  1. The first is what do you expect of me? This is answered by establishing and finalizing the upcoming year’s objectives.
  2. The second is how am I doing at meeting your expectations? This is answered by delivering the PA based on the previous year’s performance.
  3. Finally, what do I need to do to meet expectations? This is answered when giving feedback during the objective setting and delivery of the PA on what the manager expects from the employee to meet the expectations of the manager and the organization.

In the HHHR PA Cycle, these three questions are answered at the beginning of each year, when managers sit down with their direct reports and discuss their objectives, expected behaviors, and key job responsibilities. This is done through establishing the employee’s Objectives during the PA cycle. During Week Two, Writing Week of the cycle, managers meet with their direct reports and start the discussion of setting objectives for the upcoming year. I will discuss the specifics of how to establish objectives in a later post.

An effective performance appraisal system is an important tool that gives the senior leaders of an organization the information they need to allow them to make some very important human capital decisions such as:

  • Which employees deserve a raise based on their performance over the previous year? Which employees shouldn’t?
  • Which employees should the organization promote? Can the organization promote them? Is there a position in the organization now or will there be one in the near future? If not, how can the organization retain these employees until there is a position?
  • What’s the depth of the organization’s internal talent? Are there people with the skills, experience, and/or potential the organization needs for the future? If not, what are the organization’s plans to hire or develop these people?
  • Who are the organization’s best performers and what are the plans to retain them? If no plans, it needs to be seriously discussed.
  • Who are the organization’s weakest performers and why are they still employed? Are any of them salvageable? Has their poor performance and conduct been documented? If not, why not?
  • And most importantly, in my opinion, an effective performance appraisal system requires managers to inform their employees of exactly what is expected of them and how they are doing at meeting those expectations.

It’s a moral obligation.

Employees who don’t know what’s expected of them and how they are doing at meeting those expectations are not engaged and not nearly as effective as they could be. Unfortunately, this may be the one time in an entire year when an employee gets feedback on their performance from their manager.

In small organizations, there typically is not much of a training budget for “silly” things such as management training so this leaves a lot of your managers without the tools to provide effective feedback throughout the year. HHHR will provide some of those tools in the future but for now, the best tool we have is the annual Performance Appraisal where providing feedback at least once a year is better than nothing.

Since we are talking about the week where your managers are delivering the PA to their direct reports, here are some important steps to remind your managers to take in order to make the process worthwhile and effective for them, their direct report, and the organization.

  • Schedule and clearly communicate the time and place of the meeting with the employee. Do not call them into your office without warning and deliver the PA. Give them time to think about and prepare themselves. This should be an interactive two-way discussion. It’s not fair to ambush them with their PA. You’re doing all this work so that the employees perceive the process is fair, so don’t ruin it by not giving them a heads up.
  • Schedule at least a half hour for each PA. This should give you plenty of time to review the PA with your direct report without being rushed. You owe them that time so give it to them. Some of your PAs might take an hour and you probably will know which so schedule appropriately.
  • Sit on the same side of the desk or table as the employee, if possible. Don’t play the power game during this meeting where you are behind your desk in an elevated chair looking down at them while you deliver the PA. Get out from behind your desk and sit next to them. It shows respect which they will remember.
  • Do it in an office with the door closed, if possible. I understand that this may be difficult in some office environments but do everything you can to deliver the PA in a private room with the door closed. Nobody wants to have other employees overhear their PA being delivered to them.
  • Hibernate your computer, mute your phones, and dedicate 100% of your attention to the employee. Eliminate all distractions for this period of time and focus on your employee. The PA is very personal, show them the respect.
  • At the meeting, have two copies of the PA, one for you and one for employee. They need to be able to read the PA while you are going through it with them.
  • Establish some ground rules and before starting the meeting and review them with your direct report. Below are a few examples:
    • Promise to start and end the meeting on time but your willing to extend the meeting if needed.
    • There will be no comparisons to other employees.
    • Both of you promise to remain professional throughout the meeting.
    • Either of you can end the meeting or take a break at any time
    • Both of you promise to listen actively to each other when speaking.
    • Encourage your employee to ask questions if they don’t understand anything.
  • Review the message you want the employee to take from the meeting and make sure they clearly understand it by the end of the meeting. (More on this in a future post)
  • Show your employee the respect they deserve during the meeting.

Well, we have now completed Delivery Week and we have one more week to go in the PA cycle – Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives.

Week Five of the PA Cycle: Talent Review Meeting Week

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Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here we are. Finally, its time to dive into the most important aspect of the PA cycle, the Talent Review Meeting!

So, with that, let’s go for it.

The TRM accomplishes the following things:

  • Ensures the fairness of the process by calibrating the scores of every employee in the organization.
  • Removes the pressure managers feel to inflate or deflate the ratings of direct reports.
  • Ensures the end results reflect a shared expectation of performance since managers often have different expectations for their people and interpret standards differently.
  • Reduces evaluation biases by forcing managers to justify and defend their decisions to their peers.
  • Increases employee perception that the process is fair.
  • Allows the organization to develop a succession plan with more complete performance information and data on each employee.
  • Assists managers by providing suggestions and guidance to the reviewing manager on how to present the PA to the employee or how to deal with any other issues or concerns.

Talent Review Meetings (TRMs) are where a Talent Review Board (TRB)consisting of a group of managers meet to review each direct report’s Performance Appraisal in order ensure fairness. Each manager must review and defend, to their peers, the scores they gave their direct reports. Particularly the 1s and 5s.

Now that the purpose of the TRM is understood, it’s time discuss the actual mechanics of it all.

Everything for the meeting was prepared last week – the ranking sheet has been filled out, the schedule has been communicated to the managers, and the notebooks have been built. So the focus this week is 100% on the TRMs.

Obviously, a private conference room will be needed because it’s important that the managers are comfortable having a free flowing and frank discussion about their and their peer’s employee’s performance and conduct. It’s also kinda important that employees can’t hear what is being said behind those doors!

At the start of each TRM, the following materials need to be handed out to each manager and discussed:

  1. The Purpose of the TRM listing the seven reasons why the TRM is an important part of the cycle (see the points above) along with a list of evaluation biases to look out for. Click here for the Purpose of the TRM document: Talent Review Meeting Purpose
  2. The PA Ranking Sheet for their specific TRM session which helps the TRB with their review and calibration. I provided the Ranking Sheet last week bit will do so again here: 20XX HHHR PA Ranking Sheet (Example Organization)
  3. The Talent Review Notebook containing all the PAs for the TRB’s particular session.

HR is in charge of the meeting and is there to keep the proceedings professional, focused on the task, and on schedule.

Once the managers are seated and have been given the documents and notebook, they need to take a few minutes to study the PA Ranking Sheet and highlight the scores that, in their opinion and experience, seem out of place.

The process starts by HR and the members of the TRB opening up the TRM notebook and going to the PA of the first employee on the schedule. It’s best to schedule the strongest and/or most ‘HR supportive manager’ first. Meet with that manager beforehand to review what’s expected so they can be a model to the other managers.

HR should then say “Manager #1, Let’s start off by hearing about Employee #1 and why you scored them the way you did”. The manager will then go through, point by point, the Core Competencies and Objectives defending and giving the reasons behind each of the scores.

During their defense, HR and the managers making up the TRB should be asking questions and challenging the scores and comments that seem unusual, out of place, or those they don’t agree with.

At first, there probably won’t be much interaction as the managers will be afraid of stepping on each other’s toes. So it will be up to HR to model how the members of the TRB should behave. HR should question and probe for reasons why a manager scored their direct report taking special note of the 1s and 5s. Ask for specific reasons and examples from throughout the evaluation year of why they scored them the way they did.

Eventually, a couple managers will start getting it and will take over for you and start the heavy questioning and probing. And soon they will all start participating.

Also, refer to the Ranking Sheet and question the managers who score their direct reports lower than the average and those who score higher. The tough manager might have some of the organization’s best employees but will give them low scores compared to the others and visa versa, the generous manager might have some of the organization’s worst employees but give the very good scores compared to the others. This is where the manager and TRB make the appropriate adjustments to the scores in the PA as they work through it. This situation is very common at first but will correct itself as you continue with the TRMs in the future.

There will be times the manager won’t have a good reason why they scored the way they did. As they discuss, answer questions, and hear comments from other managers about their direct report’s performance and conduct, they will usually agree that the score should be changed. It can go both ways, up and down.

There will also be times when the manager feels strongly about the score despite what HR and the TRB thinks. This doesn’t happen often but when it does, it can get awkward and difficult. This is where HR needs to use their crucial conversational skills and help the TRB and manager make a final decision together. HR may have to accept the score or they may insist on changing it, it will depend on the situation and HR’s knowledge of the people involved. Remember, HR is in charge of this whole thing so don’t be afraid to flex your muscles if needed.

Once the TRB gets going, there will be comparisons between employees and how they’re scored.  Similar performing employees with similar results should have similar scores. This is good and should be discussed and explored. And the scores should be adjusted if appropriate.

It’s important to understand that this isn’t an exact science. This is about people evaluating other people so there will be a lot of intangibles and biases. But the TRB will do their best to even out the scores by exploring the intangibles and reducing the biases.

As a great solo HR leader, you should have a great professional relationship with most of the employees in your organization. You should have a good idea of how everybody is doing since you are constantly talking to and building relationships with them. And, since you have a good idea about the employees in your organization, does the manager’s score jive with your perception of the employee? Have there been forgotten discipline issues or performance/conduct awards the the manager has forgotten and isn’t taking into consideration? Dig, probe,and question. It’s up to you to drive the success, fairness, and accuracy of the TRM.

After each section of the PA – Core Competencies and each Objective – HR should ask if there are any further questions or comments and if everybody is OK with the scores and or revised scores, if any. If there is, continue the discussion, keeping the schedule in mind, and if there isn’t, move on to the next PA.

Keep good notes during the TRM. Record the revised scores and make notes of when you ask managers to expand on or clarify their comments in the PA. Once the TRMs are finished, HR will go back and make the changes to the scores and send the updated PA to the managers for them to deliver, reminding them to update the comments, if needed.

At the end of each meeting sincerely thank the participating managers by telling them the following:

Thank you very much for your participating in today’s TRM. It’s a lot of hard work but important work spending the time discussing the performance and conduct of our organizations most important asset, our people.

We were able to sit down as a team and learn more about our own people and the people of our peers today, and from what I saw, gained a lot of appreciation and value from it. I have a couple more days with other TRBs this week and once I’m done, I’ll get the final PAs sent to you next week so you can deliver them to your people.

Thanks again!

Whew, this was a long post but like I said, the TRMs are the most important aspect of the entire cycle. I could go into more detail but I think this is appropriate for a blog post and I’ll save the greater detail for a book in the future.

This post, hopefully will give you a good sense of the mechanics of how to run a TRM. Please don’t hesitate to comment below if you have any questions. I’d appreciate knowing what I need to clarify and expand on.

Next week, I’ll discuss week six, Delivery Week.

Week Two of the PA Cycle: Writing Week for PAs and Objectives

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Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now that the training has been completed, as I discussed last week, it is time for the supervisors to start discussing objectives and writing the PA for each of their direct reports. I am including a copy of the forms in today’s post.

I spent the past several days dinking around with the forms and made some pretty significant updates from what I regularly use and really like what I’ve come up with. I can keep tweaking this and that but I’m to the point where just I need to get this post written and podcast recorded in order to get both published by Sunday.  So the form may need some further revision in the future.

So here goes.

I have both the Objective Setting Form (OSF) and Performance Appraisal Form (PAF) on a single Excel workbook.  The OSF is the first tab since it is the first document that is to be filled out at the beginning of each year and the PAF tab is the second document since it will be completed after the year is complete and the employee will be evaluated on the objectives established in the OSF earlier.  Also, the forms are tied together and have formulas that transfer information from the OSF to the PAF so you don’t have to re-enter information.

How to fill out the Objective Setting Form:

Page 1 – Cover Page

First, change the logo at the top to your logo and the date in the header by replacing the two XX in the title to the current date.

Second, enter in the employee’s name and title, the manager’s name and title, and the current date.  This information will automatically transfer to the PAF.

Third, read the instructions!  I know, nobody ever reads instructions but I have them anyway and they are important.  This blog post is pretty much is an expanded version of the instructions on the form.  You will need to make sure your managers read these so they understand how to properly fill out the form.

Fourth, is an explanation of the Performance Ratings.  HHHR uses the flowing five point rating scale.

1 – Unsatisfactory. Performance did not meet expectations.  Immediate Improvement is required.
2 – Needs Improvement.Performance met some requirements and expectations.
3 – Met Expectations. Performance met requirements and expectations.
4 – Exceeded Expectations. Performance exceeded requirements and expectations.
5 – Outstanding. Performance consistently exceeded very demanding expectations.

Finally, is the signature box.  This is not to be signed until the objectives have been discussed and agreed upon by both the employee and their manager.  This box is locked and must be filled out by hand.

Pages 2&3 – The Objectives

Here is where we get into the beauty of the process and determine each objective and their weighting.  The first box on page two is where you weight the Core Competencies which are found on page two of the PAF.   This is where the manager and employee determine how important the employee’s core competencies are.  They can be as high as 80% for a new inexperienced employee who has a lot to learn on the basics of the job or as low as 20% for a very experienced high performer where the core competencies are second nature.  When you decide the weighting of the Core Competencies, fill in the white box with that percent.

The next three boxes are for objectives.   Three objectives are the maximum that should be established for a year but there can be as few as one.  It all depends on the employees job description and their experience and competence.

Generally, nonexempt employees will have a higher weighting for the Core Competencies and one or two objectives with small weightings and exempt employees will have lower weightings for their Core Competencies and two to three objectives with higher weightings.  Note that I said “generally”, it all depends on the employee and their job.

For each objective, there is a box to fill out a brief description of the objective.  If you need more space, you just need to unlock the worksheet (the password to unlock is below with the links to the docs) and make the cell larger.

Next, are the Measurement Standards for each objective and a space to describe how the objective will look if  1- Unsatisfactory, 2 – Needs Improvement and up to 5 – Outstanding.  The text you put in each of these boxes automatically transfers to the Objectives section of the PAF.  Go ahead and look, pretty cool, huh? When these boxes are filled in, fill in the weighting which also automatically transfers to the PAF.  Of course, the weightings of the Core Competencies and the Objectives must equal 100% which is calculated at the bottom of page three.

Once the form is filled out and the objectives and weightings are agreed upon by both the manager and the employee, print it out and both sign.  Both should keep a copy and the original given to HR for the employee’s file.

How to fill out the Performance Appraisal Form

Page 1 – Cover Page

First, like the OSF, change the logo and date in the header.  You will notice that the Employee and Manager (Evaluator now) name and title have transferred over.  The only info that needs to be filled out is the Eval Period.

Second, you have to again, read the instructions.  I know, I know, but that’s the only way you’ll be able to complete the form correctly. Again, this blog post is an expanded version of the instructions.

Page 2 – Core Competencies

In this section, carefully read each Core Competency and it’s description and select the appropriate performance rating (1-5) for each by clicking on the cell and using the drop down.  I tell my managers to start at 3 – Meets Expectations as they consider each of their direct report’s Core Competencies and think about whether their performance is better or worse and score accordingly.

The sum of the scores you select will calculate at the bottom of the page.

Pages 3&4 –  Performance Objectives

Next are sections for the Core Competencies and the three (or two or one) Objectives which transferred over from the OSF. The Core Competencies score, rating, and weighting are all already calculated and transferred over so you don’t have to do anything here. For the Objectives, all you have to do here is select the appropriate performance rating (1-5) by clicking on the cell and using the drop down. The weighting also transferred over. Enter your comments about the objective – explain to the employee why you gave them the particular score for each objective.

Page 5 – Evaluator and Employee Comments

Finally, there is space to make Evaluator Comments. It’s very important that your final comments are consistent with your ratings and should clearly express the Message that you decided on when you were writing the PA. This is where you summarize the employee’s overall performance for the year and explain what they did well and what they need to do to improve for the upcoming year. The Employee Comments box is for the employee to fill out by hand, if they have comments, after you deliver the PA.

Well, that’s it for the Writing Week of the PA and Objective Setting cycle.  Next week I’ll cover off on Deadline Week!

Below are the links to the OSF and PAF for Managers, Exempt Non-Managers, and Nonexempt employees.  Like the training document I posted last week, you are free to use and modify as you see fit for your needs.

Managers: 20XX Manager Objective and PA Form

Exempt Non-Managers: 20XX Exempt Non-Manager Objective and PA Form

Non-Exempt: 20XX Non-Exempt Objective and PA Form

 

The HHHR Performance Appraisals and Objective Setting Cycle

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Image courtesy of tiramisustudio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The first of the year, of course, is the time many of us are working through the Performance Appraisal and Objective Setting cycle in our companies.  I know that a lot of small HR departments don’t even do PAs, much less objective setting but I believe it is a critical and a very important part of what we do in HR.  Despite what many in HR think.

Today, even though it’s February and many of us are finishing up our cycle,  I’m going to share how I do the Performance Appraisal and Objective Setting cycle. This post is a quick overview of what I do.  I have a seven week process and in the coming weeks, I will devote a post to each of the the weeks in the process.

Pre and Week One – Prep and Training Week

The first thing I do is send out an email in December to all the supervisors in my company reminding them that the PA cycle will start in January.  I also include a timeline of deadlines in that email. They, of course, love getting this email just before the Holidays!

I then take the time to update all the documents from the previous year to the new year and make any edits to the process of forms that supervisors suggested the year before.

After the Holidays, the cycle starts full swing.  The supervisors already got the heads up from my email in December so there is no surprise when I start sending out all the information about the PAs and Objectives at the first of January.

Then I make all the updated current year documents available on our SharePoint site designated for HR.

Finally, the most important part of this week is training.  I conduct a webcast training session for all the supervisors in our three locations on why and how we do PAs and Objectives setting.

Week Two – Writing Week for PAs and Objectives

Supervisors write the PAs for each of their direct reports.  These are preliminary as I will explain later in this post.  They also have a discussion with their direct reports during this week about objectives they will collaboratively set for the year.

Week Three – Deadline Week for Preliminary PAs

The preliminary Performance Appraisals are due to me on Wednesday of this week.  I make the deadline Wednesday because very few supervisors get these in on time and it gives me two extra days until the end of the week for them to get turned in.  It’s a way to trick my chronic procrastinators into getting their PAs turned in on time.  It generally works except for the real professional procrastinators who probably know what I’m up to anyway.  There are always several who take longer but if you can get the majority in by the end of week three, your doing OK.

Week Four – Prep week for Talent Review Meetings

This is the week I construct Talent Review Notebooks for the Talent Review Meetings that will be held next week.  What the heck are Talent Review Meetings, you ask?  Well, I will explain the Talent Review Meetings more in depth in the coming weeks since it is one of the most important parts of the cycle but you may get the gist of things here.

Week Five – Talent Review Meeting Week

The Talent Review Meetings are where we review every single preliminary PA and the performance scores for each employee are calibrated for fairness.  The PAs are finalized during these meetings before they are to be delivered to the employee.  Again, you’ll learn more about the Talent Review Meetings in the coming weeks.

Week Six – Delivery Week

Supervisors deliver the PAs to their direct reports and have a final discussion on what their objectives for the year will be.

Week Seven – Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives

Completed PAs and Objectives are due to me by Wednesday of this week.  You, of course, know why I have Wednesday as a due date…

 

This the schedule that has evolved in the seven years I have developed this cycle.  It works very well for my company and HR Department of One.

As I write more in depth about each of these weeks, I will include copies of the versions of the documents I’ve developed.  They will be different, but similar, to the documents and forms I use at my company.

Perfection vs. Excellence

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I once had a boss who was a proud perfectionist. He was such a perfectionist that he had a very difficult time making decisions because everything had to be perfect before he could. Of course nothing is ever perfect so it often took a very long time, if ever, for him to decide.

Now, I’m the kind of guy who likes to get things done then move on to the next project. I’m not a perfectionist. If its good enough, I make a decision and move on.
When you work for a perfectionist, unless you are one yourself, it can be very challenging. They will always pick apart and criticize your work no matter how good it is. They look for the one or two flaws, no matter now minor. They will take forever to make a decision. It once took over a year for this boss to finally approve a project I had worked very hard on. By the time he finally gave me the go-ahead, I was very demoralized and frustrated. This became a common occurrence and eventually, I slowed down my production because my work seemed to disappear on his desk or in his inbox. Ironically, I was eventually criticized for slowing down. Lesson learned! Never slow down your work. Keep producing no matter what.

Our performance under this boss was mediocre at best. His team was more worried about making everything perfect rather than focusing on getting the work done and moving on. It was a very risk averse and toxic work environment. It was unsafe to admit you made a mistake, our morale was low and we dreaded coming to work.

In contrast, I had another boss who was clearly focused on excellence. He was happy with projects that were good enough and as a result his team’s performance was excellent. I thrived working for him. This boss trusted us to get the work done to achieve the goals of the company. He didn’t need to sit on things for months before making a decision. He was quick to make a decision and move on to the next. As a result, his team was one of the best in the company. We won more performance awards than any other team during his tenure. It was fun and exciting and we were all very motivated and enthusiastic about our work.

I ran across this list recently, contrasting excellence and perfection.

  • Perfection is being right. Excellence is being willing to be wrong.
  • Perfection is fear. Excellence is taking a risk.
  • Perfection is anger and frustration. Excellence is powerful.
  • Perfection is control. Excellence is spontaneous.
  • Perfection is judgment. Excellence is accepting.
  • Perfection is taking. Excellence is giving.
  • Perfection is doubt. Excellence is confidence.
  • Perfection is pressure. Excellence is natural.
  • Perfection is the destination. Excellence is the journey

What a great message! As an HR pro, a manager, or a supervisor, it is so important to make sure you’re demanding excellence, not perfection. The same goes for what you should expect from yourself in your career and personal life. Trying to be perfect causes way too much stress.

Even the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we will catch excellence” which mirrors the last bullet point in the list. He understood the difference between the two and knew that perfection was the enemy of excellence.

In order to perform at the highest levels, expect excellence from your direct reports, the people you work with, and yourself. Expecting perfection and trying to make your work and life perfect will only slow you down, keep you constantly behind, stressed and frustrated. So relax and focus on producing excellence instead of perfection. It will make your work and personal life far more productive, effective and pleasant.