What it Takes to Have a Dream Company

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Creating the Best Workplace on Earth, they discuss the six attributes that make an organization a ‘Dream Company’.

I think it can be safely said that we’ve all heard about these attributes at one time or another and it never hurts to go over them again.

1. Let people be themselves.

2. Unleash the flow of information.

3. Magnify people’s strengths.

4. Stand for more than shareholder value.

5. Show how the daily work makes sense.

6. Have rules people can believe in.

These are all excellent attributes that will make any organization more effective and profitable.  But it is difficult to achieve because several of the attributes conflict with common practice and some can be expensive to implement.  There is risk involved with change and many in leadership are, understandably, unwilling and uncomfortable to take on that risk.

It takes a very strong and confident leader to lead an organization to fully embrace and practice these six attributes because there will be resistance all along from all levels.  But in the end and if the leader stays the course, the organization will benefit because as the article beautifully states in its concluding remarks:

People want to do good work—to feel they matter in an organization that makes a difference. They want to work in a place that magnifies their strengths, not their weaknesses. For that, they need some autonomy and structure, and the organization must be coherent, honest, and open.

Feeling Good About Your Work

Here is a Ted Talk I enjoyed listening to today.  It is Dan Ariely who talks about what makes us feel good about our work.

I enjoyed hearing about the various experiments he conducted and especially related to the example of the large computer software firm in Seattle.

In the story, the CEO unexpectedly announced the cancellation of a big project that involved a large number of employees.  There was no recognition or acknowledgement of the work they had done – it was just cancelled with all their work becoming meaningless.

In a meeting, the employees were asked how many now come to work a little later and leave work a little earlier than they did before.  Most raised their hands.  They were also asked how many now fudge on their expense reports since the announcement and while nobody admitted it at the meeting, they did confirm they do later at a more private get together.

This goes to show you that, despite the fact that these people were still employed and making the same income as before, they became disgruntled employees because their hard work was relegated to the trash can with no acknowledgement that what they were doing and toiling away at was important.

They lost their motivation to give 100% at work and are now even working against the company to a degree.

Our workforce regularly needs that ‘pat on the back’ and the recognition that we are doing a good job and contributing to the company – even when what we have been working on has been cancelled or ended.

Simple regular recognition and acknowledgement can make a huge difference in a workforce’s effectiveness and motivation.

A Case Against “Industry Experience Required”

As HR leaders, we’ve all seen the job postings for  where we know we would be a perfect fit for the job – except for when we come across that dreaded statement: Industry Experience Required  – or something similar.  Despite the fact that we meet the required education, years of HR experience, certification, etc., they won’t even look at our cover letter and resume because we never worked in their industry.

I once heard an executive proudly declare at a meeting that his organization’s industry is “all about the people” – as if other industries are not “all about the people.”  I know he’s very proud of what he does and the industry he has worked in his entire career.   So that’s all he knows.

Most recruiters and executives think their industry’s human resource requirements are so unique that only HR leaders with experience in their industry could understand.  They have a bias against candidates who don’t have experience in their industry. 

I get it.  They don’t know any better and it’s just easier for them.

Having been someone who has changed careers and industries, I can tell you from experience, how valuable it can be to bring a fresh and creative perspective to the table. 

Now before getting into my case against Industry Experience Required, I can’t stress strongly enough about how important it is for HR leaders to know their business – I even wrote a series of articles about it here.

Here are two points that support the case against “Industry Experience Required”:

First, bringing in an HR leader from a different industry gives the organization somebody with a fresh perspective, a new set of eyes that can see past the “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality.  Being able to offer a different HCM perspective to the organization’s strategic planning will set the organization apart from its peers and may help establish it as the employer of choice in their industry.  One that is different and more creative than other employers.

I came from the stores organization of a major department store chain and routinely planned and executed major hiring blitzes every Fall for the Holiday Season for my store.   In my new role in the mining industry, I was able to use that expertise when it came time to hire and staff our new mine in less than a month and a half.

Second, people are people when it comes to dealing with the HR performance and conduct problems. It does not matter if they are a retail sales or support associate or a highly educated engineer or scientist.  They all have their “issues”.   I deal with nearly the exact same problems with highly educated engineers and scientists as I did with retail sales and support associates.  People are people. 

So, I’ve defined the issue and given two reasons why I think Industry Experience Required for HR leaders is ineffective.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

In future posts, I intend to explore how we can overcome this bias.

The Best Employees are Those Who Make it Look Easy

ID-10095003Have you ever watched pro golfers?  Or pro hockey players?  Or any other high level of sport?  The very best athletes make their sport seem so easy and effortless that anybody can do it – that is until we actually try to do it!   Watching them is a pleasure because we know the amount of sacrifice, hard work and practice they endured to get to the highest level of athletic performance. They are admired, respected and rewarded because of their excellent performance.

I often wonder why this isn’t so in many workplaces. It often seems that employees who make what they do seem easy and effortless go unnoticed and unrecognized.  Obviously, the workplace is quite a bit different from the athletic arena but my point is that we need to make sure we are recognizing those employees who make it look easy.  They are the true professionals in the workplace.

Throughout my career I’ve seen the employee who always makes a big production about the difficulty of their work.  They are seen as “putting out the fires”  and dealing with crisis after crisis (usually of their own making) and getting most of the positive recognition as a result.  By contrast, I’ve seen other employees quietly and competently getting their work done making what they do appear easy and, as a result, not “worthy” of recognition.

As a leader/manager/HR Pro it is important to recognize this situation and make the appropriate decisions regarding recognition and reward. The best at what they do always make it look easy and effortless.  Don’t let your true professionals become unhappy and leave your organization because they perceive you don’t appreciate them.

Building and Maintaining Professional Relationships at Work

Building and maintaining professional relationships at work is a strategic advantage for any HR professional.  These relationships extend both above as well as below you on the organization chart.  HR pros must do the hard work of building relationships every single day.  It’s no easy task.  It’s so easy to get caught up in plugging away on this project or that project each day until it’s time to go home.

But, as an effective HR professional, you need to take the time, each and every day, to have a regular conversation with the people in your organization.  Get out of your comfort zone and your regular circle of acquaintances and make an effort to speak with two to three different people in your organization each day until you’ve talked to everybody then go back and start from the beginning.  Visit or call them and spend a few minutes and just chat about what they are working on right now, what their plans are for the weekend, what can you do to help them, etc.  Tell them what you are working on and what your plans for the weekend are.  Remember, you are building and maintaining a relationship here.

HR needs to know what’s going in in their organization and the only way to do this is to be having regular conversations with employees at all levels. It’s a critical part of our job.  People will start sharing some pretty interesting stuff  about what’s really going on in the organization when they start really trusting you.  This will make you a much more effective HR professional giving you valuable information about current simmering problems,  potential future problems, who the real leaders are, candidates for promotions, etc.

Improve Communication – The Best Way to Increase Morale and Engagement

The best and most effective way to increase employee morale and engagement is to improve communication. this Accountemps survey of 300 HR Managers, the number one cause of poor morale is a breakdown of communication.  “Lack of honest, open communication” comes in as the number one response at 33% with “micromanaging employees” coming in second at 18%.

According to the survey:

“Managers can be doing everything right, but if they’re not including employees in the information loop, staff engagement could suffer,” said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Human Resources Kit For Dummies®, 3rd Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). “To improve communication, keep team members apprised of company goals and performance, and encourage them to ask questions and offer feedback.” Messmer added, “Fortunately, morale problems can often be addressed relatively easily. Improving workplace communication is one of the most effective — and one of the least costly — ways to combat the problem of a disengaged workforce.”

Based on my own experience, I can say that Mr. Messmer is spot on.  I have worked for organizations both excellent and terrible in their communication.  It was fun and exciting working for an organization that openly shared and communicated.  On the other hand, it was frustrating and depressing working for an organization that kept everything “secret”.

As a General Manager, I worked hard communicating to my team – and it is hard work where many managers fail – as evidenced by the above mentioned survey.  I led operations of over 100 employees to multiple performance awards and attribute much of that success to regularly and consistently communicating our strategies and progress to the team.  They bought into and, as a result, were fully aligned towards executing the strategies and took each of my operations to the highest award in the company, Store of the Year.  That award is very difficult to earn and to do it twice in two separate locations is nearly impossible.  It could not have been done with open, honest, and consistent communication.

Open the Books and Encourage Ownership Thinking

Back in January, at the CHRA 2013 Annual Conference, I attended a Master’s Lunch session called “Ownership Thinking” by Brad Hams and received his book as a bonus for attending.

I planned on reading the book and blogging about it earlier and am finally getting to it now that I’m posting every day. I read the book right away, however.

I also just came across an article in the April 2013 HR Magazine “An Open Book” by Dori Meinert that basically discusses the same topic.

So with that, I am going to blog about both because I love the concept!

Both books encourage companies to be transparent with their information and encourage all employees, including line employees, to participate in important business decisions. Open up the books to all employees and start encouraging them to think like they are owners of the company.  Hence the titles An Open Book  and Ownership Thinking!

Hams’ subtitle,  “How to End Entitlement and Create a Culture of Accountability, Purpose and Profit”   directs you to his focus of where he sees the problem with many companies today.  He believes that entitlement is the “insidious disease”  crippling companies and destroying our economy – not the recession or scandal.  That too many employees think they are entitled to a paycheck just because they show up for work. He understands that many of these employees actually want to do a good job and contribute to their employers in a meaningful way but they need an environment to do so.

His book provides the framework for doing this and breaks it down into a four step process:

  1. The Right People: Ownership Thinking creates an environment that promotes learning and development, while at the same time increasing visibility and accountability. Your best people will excel, and your poorest performers are generally self-selected out by their peers.
  2. The Right Education: Employees are taught the fundamentals of business and finance, so that they are better equipped to make decisions that are financially sound.
  3. The Right Measures: Rather than focusing only on lagging financial measures, an emphasis is placed on identifying the most critical leading, activity based measures (Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs), and utilizing those KPIs to forecast results on a regular, formal basis.
  4. The Right Incentives: The process of employee education and focusing on the right measures in an environment of high visibility and accountability will increase your organization’s profitability – guaranteed. We can now design and implement a broad based incentive plan, because it is self funding.

Meinert’s article encourages the concept  “open-book management” of sharing financial information with all employees and including them in the decision making process.  She gives several examples of companies that have successively practiced open-book management including SRC Holdings who claim it requires more than just sharing financial statements and should include:

  • Teaching employees to understand the business and what makes it profitable.
  • Helping employees determine how they can affect the bottom line by setting companywide and department-level goals, keeping score, and holding people accountable.
  • Providing employees with a stake in the outcome, through bonus and incentive programs that encourage them to get involved in improving business results.

She also talks about how rare transparency is and how reluctant corporate management is about sharing financial information with the rank and file.

Only 7 percent of private companies share financial information with all workers, according to an April 2012 survey by Robert Half Management Resources. Another 17 percent provide quarterly or annual financial data to select employees, while 76 percent don’t share financial updates with employees at all, the survey of 1,300 chief financial officers found.

Many CFOs and CEOs “don’t want to let the secrets out because they are afraid … information is going to get to their competitor that can harm them,” says Paul McDonald, a senior executive director at Robert Half.

I fully understand these concerns but I would like to think that companies can trust their employees and would increase the trust these employees have of management if they would be included in discussions and important decision making and are taught to understand the financial  information of the company.

Meinert breaks the process down to three steps which you will note match up with Hams’ steps 2-4 and, ironically, leaves out the “people” element:

  1. Financial Literacy Training
  2. Keeping Score
  3. Cash Incentives

I think teaching all employees to understand the company’s financials and including them in decision making and keeping them “in the loop” is important to the long term success of any company.  The process helps create a strong culture of engaged long term employees who actually care about the contribution they make towards the big picture because they understand how it all relates.