Creativity, stories and surprises – why I dig HR!

People ask me why I like working in HR. They seem to think my days are spent listening to complaints and disciplining people – which is actually a very small part of my role (maybe I’m the exception not the rule?). So I thought for a bit of Monday happiness I’d share my favourite parts of working in HR.

#1. Creating weird names for things.
I reflect fondly on the many times my HR counterparts and I sat around brainstorming the name of the next performance appraisal, what theme the next quarter should have or how we could inject the fun into policies. It’s like unleashing your inner Advertising Guru, only you are not a guru you just hope that some random catchy genius will find you.

#2. I get inspired by cool people
Some humans are just god-damn amazeballs. Some of my highlights include: watching people complete qualifications for the first time; seeing coaching in action; getting to know team members with big ambitions; and witty rhetoric with employees who really live the vision, mission and values. I tip my hat to all of you.

#3. I’m continually surprised 
Whether it be people sharing their funny anecdotes with me, or making epic work faux-pas, the laughs never stop when you are in the know when it comes to people’s lives – such a privilege.

#4. I am get great pleasure and amusement out of HR stereotypes
I adore the way HR is portrayed in mainstream media, it’s glorious! The first time I saw Archer and was introduced to the character of Pam I laughed myself silly. I enjoy a good joke about HR and most of all I enjoy smashing the stereotype.

Happy Monday!

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The Graduate Problem

I see posts on LinkedIn across all kinds of forums asking for advice on how to land a role. People offer the same advice:

  • apply for internships and volunteer your time
  • network with others in the profession
  • get your resume and LinkedIn checked out by a professional

This is what I call a band-aid fix. Why isn’t it part of all university degrees to actually do this stuff?

Universities are places where you learn to think, critically analyse stuff, recite the work of others and train your body to live on Red-Bull. Whilst the shift is happening across the education sector to move towards practical application, we have lost sight of why we go to university.

Our job seeking graduate problems started way back high-school when we are learning about what it means to establish a career. Preaching higher education is misleading, we need to be talking about the attainment of quality skills for the role you want to get. University is cloaked in prestige, your first job will not be.

University should be about building a portfolio of tools and experiences that you can sell to prospective employers. Instead, university students are walking into a flooded job market struggling to land their first role.

There will always be the portion of grads who have what I call the gift.

They are driven, resilient and were smart enough to make the university system work for them. They pursued every opportunity and made their own.

They chose part-time jobs that allowed them to pursue volunteering or gave them the ability to practice at least of some their talents. These grad won’t have too many drama’s – they will be employed pretty quickly. These are the grads that ignore the BS recruitment advertisements that say Graduate Position – must have 3 years of experience. They apply anyway because they are champions, when others will get discouraged.

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But there is a robust portion of grads who don’t have this gift. It’s not their fault, we are all different with varying levels of confidence. University needs to stop selling the prestige and start delivering on the promises of education. Help students help themselves. It’s a two-way street, you can’t do the hard work for the grads, but there is little point in a degree if you can’t get a job. Grads paid between 20-50K on average for that degree, the least you could do is provide better transitional services.

I’m not saying don’t go to uni, I went to uni and I wouldn’t change a thing, I enjoyed my uni experience. But you need to be prepared to make it work for you.

Youth and young adult employment impacts us all. Without getting all down in economics we know the lower the unemployment rate the better off we are as a country. This only scratches the surface of what is a real social and economic problem driven by an education system struggling to remain relevant.

Humanity, Culture and Performance Reviews

Performance reviews spark fear in the hearts of managers and employees everywhere. You know you are going to have to sit down with your manager, justify your performance, possibly get a reality check and hear some tough feedback. All accross a boardroom table, fully documented and ready to submit to HR. Then if you don’t improve we are going to use that document to support the performance management process, right through to termination. No pressure people – Performance Reviews are supposed to be fun.

I believe that people working together in communities who share common goals are naturally cooperative and collaborative.

We want to to help each other to support enduring success. Naturally collaborative and cooperative people are always receiving feedback and training, the group calls out bad behaviour and the team develops. Think about a team that you know that works really well together, could be a sports team or a family setting. Do they need a performance review to keep them on track. No, no they don’t.

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Perhaps the reason we dislike performance reviews as we know them is because they actually grind against the core of how we want to operate.

We want to be open and honest, receive feedback in the moment and not feel we need to defend ourselves on paper. We just want to do our jobs, receive feedback and contribute. Performance reviews often symbolise a one time a year feedback session fraught with frustration and headaches for everyone involved. Despite the various attempts to rename it as a performance discussion or one-to-one they are what they are. The manager providing feedback disguised under the veil of a two-way-dialogue.

Performance reviews are personal. Sadly there are lots of managers who don’t connect with their team. If your team doesn’t respect you they certainly don’t care for your feedback. They are most likely job hunting as we speak. We have all been there, working for a manager we don’t trust and couldn’t really give a toss about. Yet they are entrusted to give performance enhancing feedback. Seriously. Just. No.

I don’t have the answers about how to improve this dismal situation and neither do the 1000000000 other HR articles on the internet so it seems.

I do think however that the secret to the Performance Review is closely tied to how and who we recruit and the culture we develop. For some reason, I think if you can truly nail recruitment and you have the right people in the right roles at the right time, trained to do the job they are in.. and they enjoy their work – Performance Reviews will just happen and they will be a natural part of coaching and mentorship.

Right now the situation for many is a performance review system to satisfy performance management needs. Not a process born from a great culture.

Learning about learning from DIY projects

When was the last time you truly pushed yourself to learn something new, that didn’t have anything to do with your day job? Mine was yesterday when after much consideration and frustration I decided to build a fly screen for my kitchen. I went through a number of steps to actually get to the end product, including watching videos online, asking the guy at Bunnings to explain it me, deciding how to purchase a hacksaw and then getting home and “contextualising” all the information.

The task was hard at first and it was SLOW GOING as I haphazardly measured the window frame (measure, cut, swear, measure, cut, swear…) but after I while I got into a rhythm and kaboom like magic I had a fly wire. Once I had completed my DIY task of the year, I had the overwhelming urge to celebrate and show off my achievements so y’know I posted to Facebook and gloated to one of my best mates over pizza – glorious.

Why am I telling you this story?

Sometimes we forget what it feels like to learn something new. This is especially true if we are the subject matter expert or facilitate that content all the time. We forget the frustration when trying to apply the learning and the excitement when we master the skill. I think celebration is really important. That’s why in a learning program that I am designing now the “graduation” and “success demonstration” is one of the most important parts – we need to reinforce the good feels to keep that spirit of life long learning alive and bring people on the journey.

So next time you are coaching people to learn something new, remember the small things – remember to celebrate the awesome!

Quick thoughts on the TAE

This week I have been completing my TAE (Certificate IV in Training and Assessment). The mix of students includes mostly technical specialists who will be involved with training others in the workplace. I have had some considerable conflicts with the content and that was to be expected because I have experience and have been exposed to some really great thinkers in the workplace learning space. However most people in that room will not get that experience and as a result will go on to think of themselves as trainers, not facilitators who tell people what they should know, not facilitators for understanding.

One personal opinion of the trainer was that she doesn’t like online learning. Okay I can understand that – and there were nods around the room from people who felt the same. The problem with online learning is that term itself is so broad and online learning has been done poorly in many circumstances! I like online learning in the right circumstance. I have had some awesome MOOC, video tutorial, discussion board and social media platform learning experiences. But that wasn’t explored in this course, it’s outside the scope but we have 1000’s of people completing the qualification each year who don’t understand that online learning is a critical part of the new world of work and ignoring it, saying you don’t believe it works without seeing what good looks like is a massive gap in the skills of our workplace learning facilitators.

The TAE is the baseline qualification for people wanting to be “qualified” in designing and delivering competency based training in Australia because it links to understanding how our Vocational Education and Training system works. So it does have it’s place. But I question whether it really prepares people to truly support an engaging and dynamic learning experience at work, maybe the qualification isn’t about that, but shouldn’t it be part of it?

How should we structure the HR department?

A while back I went for an interview to become a Regional Manager for a large supermarket chain. During the group interview process I sat through an information session about the company and a Q&A.

When I asked who looks after the HR department and that side of things, the senior manager said that HR was a waste of space and an unnecessary business function (oh snap!)

When I asked who deals with those traditional HR items I was told they instilled a Grandfather policy by where you escalated things to your manager’s manager to keep a layer of separation. Any advice regarding policy or legislation was handled by the legal teams and basic admin was completed by payroll. Okay I thought, I get that…

So then I asked about culture, actually I asked something like what events do you celebrate internally and are there cultural milestones that define who you are as a business. I was met with a blank stare and a comment about sometimes people receive birthday cards from their manager and then the conversation was dismissed. Oh.

I asked whether they had a HR business partner to help guide operations in creating HR systems and processes for their teams. More blank stares. I knew then it wasn’t going to work out – if you know me, you will know one of my biggest passions is how we make workplaces more awesome so this role pretty much stomped all over that.

However this interview exposed me to a whole new way of approaching the structure of HR teams which as been swirling in my mind ever since.  Have seen HR set up in a few ways including:

  1. Outsourcing – hire a consultancy to become your HR team and pay for what you use essentially.
  2. Hire everyone – massive HR teams which act as a safety net for managers (and get made redundant in tough times).
  3. Business Partners: Where HR coaches managers how to execute the process, stepping in only if its high risk.
  4. All Admin – the internal team offers no strategic value and external consultants rotate through ‘innovating’ the business.
  5. I don’t need no HR – they totally wing it or build it out all together (as above).

Personally I think the only sustainable methods are to either outsource your HR team or build an internal team of business partners streamlining the admin process. Speaking generally, competent and capable line managers can manage most of the day-to-day things that most large HR teams are dealing with. HR does not need to sit in on every Performance Management meeting or every interview. It’s certainly not my job to sit down with employees I’ve never worked a day in my life with and tell them they need to improve. That’s the manager’s job, but many HR advisors and managers find themselves involved in this stuff.

It’s 100% my job to support managers to make the right decision when it comes to the tough people issues. It’s my job to build systems, processes and provide advice that makes managing people easier.

It’s not my job to manage operational teams explicitly , that’s where we are getting it wrong. HR is spending too much time doing the jobs of managers or doing admin tasks that robots can do.

When I first started my career in HR I was told that the Happy HR Ratio was 1:50 employees and over the past few years I have seen this number stretch out to 1:200+, so you don’t have to be a genius to realise that HR needs to get smarter with how they use their time and where they put their resources.

It’s time to get real and think about the value you offer as a HR professional.

SME’s turned expert facilitators

Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) do not always make the greatest facilitators, at least at first. Often they make the mistake of assuming the learners know what they are talking about, or they might have little confidence and knowhow when it comes to public speaking let alone facilitating! Today I attended a training course where I watched people who were not career facilitators, trainers or L&D folk give some pretty nifty presentations on the fly.

We were tasked to facilitate a short presentation on a random topic and were given with very limited time to prepare. I watched people with varying degrees of confidence present topic and connect with us as participants in different ways. Everyone has their own unique style of facilitating and great facilitators vary their style depending on the situation; however this activity allowed us to see what ‘felt natural’ to each person. I can summarise what I saw into the following:

  • The energy champion – they work the room, use the space, hand gestures are plenty and they are animated in their delivery.
  • The structured consultant – they are very logical, have a clear sequence and don’t like to divert from the plan.
  • The group therapist – great at reflecting back what participants are saying, reading between the lines and capturing the message.
  • The presenter – delivers the content but finds it difficult to know how to engage the participants.

So obviously my observations aren’t based on science, but it does raise the question about how we get our SME’s ready to facilitate. I see this as a five step process.

  1. Understanding your style
  2. Understanding other styles
  3. Capitalising on your strengths
  4. Learning how to shake it up
  5. Mastering participant connection

The activity we did today was so valuable to my learning. I fall into the first category – it’s my natural style to be animated when it comes to delivering training to a group. But today helped me to really evaluate other styles in a really short space of time. Even though I am across personality and behavioural styles , sessions like this give quick feedback and proactive reminder about style and the ability to flex in and out and think on your feet.

So next time you are preparing your SME for success have a think about the ways you can help them master their personal style, maintain authenticity and connect with the participants all at the same time.