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So You Fire People?

HRThis blog post is part of our “Day In the Life” series offered this summer.

“So, you fire people?”

At a wedding last summer my fiance’s niece (who has an intense curiosity about work and jobs) had just been told what my job was.

“Well, sometimes.” I said, inexplicably feeling a bit defensive, “But I also hire people, and mostly I help resolve problems. You know, people problems.” She shrugged, clearly unimpressed by these less ruthless activities. Eight year olds are such savages.

There is no doubt that describing what we do day-to-day as HR professionals to non-HR people can be a disconcerting experience for everyone involved.

First, there is the sheer variation that exists between what we can credibly refer to as “HR roles”. A day in the life of two HR professionals can look as different as a Monet and a Picasso. What an HR person does at a small organization looks awfully different than it might at a large one. This makes any points of reference a non-HR person might have unreliable.

Non-HR Bob: “HR, right. Yes, we have an HR person who does payroll and organizes social events”

HR Sue: “Yeah, I don’t do any of that”

Then there is the unpredictable nature of working with people, change, and sometimes conflict.

Non-HR Bob: “So, what does your typical work day involve?”

HR Sue: “It depends…on whether we’re hiring, or firing, or if someone filed a complaint about someone else, or arrives in my office crying, or arrives in their manager’s office crying, or someone wants to do something that might get us sued, or…”

Usually at this point non-HR people will have given up and just muttered something about an appointment into their drink before shuffling away. Although every once in a while you’ll come across someone willing to persist.

Non-HR Bob: “So, when an employee comes and complains to you that their manager is a jerk, you sort it out?”

HR Sue: “Well, that depends…”

If at this point it seems that someone might be preparing to kick you in the shins, it is probably the opportune moment to bring up Scott Schaefer’s recent article in Harvard Business Review, which reminds us that “it depends” is by no means a sneaky side step. Rather, it is “The answer to every strategic business question”, and the trick is knowing what ‘it’ depends on. In my view, this is especially true in HR. How we respond and address concerns, conflicts, ‘people problems’ and opportunities are so dependent upon context: organizational, personal and circumstantial.

The reality is that an employee who complains about their manager might be the victim of a dangerous bully, or could be a serial complainant who is seeking retribution for a less than stellar performance review. Most likely, the truth is somewhere in between, and determining an effective response to this scenario (and most others) rests on identifying and weighing the factors that such a response depends on. Is the employee acting in good faith? What are their motivations and the desired outcome of their complaint – resolution or punitive action? What is known about the history of the employee? And their manager?

The factors that an effective response might depend on will vary depending on the issue at hand, the organization you work for, the people involved. Add to that the filters of organizational culture, policies, and precedent and it is a veritable ‘choose your own adventure’ story! Schaefer’s article notes that “Managers successfully address seemingly similar problems in very different ways and, as our corollary suggests, the trick is to find which solution fits with the specifics of your business.”That is a whole lot of ambiguity we wade through every day; x + y does not always equal z…but sometimes it does. No wonder trying to explain what we do is so difficult.

I for one accept this ambiguity, and in fact I look forward to continuing to confound eight year olds and non-HR people at weddings and cocktail parties for years to come. Don’t forget to tip your waitress…

What do you think? Does knowing what ‘it’ depends on feel like the right way to describe what we do?

The Investigation

BoxThis blog post is part of our “Day In the Life” series offered this summer

I consider myself very lucky in that I began my career in HR getting a pretty cool gig. I was to be 1 of 4 Consultants in a high-profile organization, and was the youngest by at least 25-30 years. No really it was like that. Of course being the energetic young buck I was I wanted to dive into every single aspect of HR I could possibly get my hands on. What did I do? I volunteered for every imaginable project, new initiative and personal development opportunity. As cool as my job was, there were some things that I would describe as ummmm… downright icky.

A few months in, I was handed an employee file that was literally 15 inches thick. Not sure what it was initially, all I remember was thinking, “what on earth is going on here… this couldn’t possibly be my employee file, I’ve only been here a couple of months”!!!

It turns out I was being asked to investigate a difficult case involving a long-service employee and his alleged inappropriate use of his computer at work. Oooookaaaayy!

In fact, this alleged misuse was for a period of at least 5 years, and it was related to the viewing, storing and sharing of pornography. The interesting thing about this situation was that the hard drive on this employees’ computer had been upgraded a couple of times during the 5 years. Geez I wonder why!!??

What was my role? I was going to be doing the investigation—evaluating the evidence, writing the report and making a recommendation to a senior official on behalf of the organization. Fannnntastic…. here I was a 22-year-old kid soon to be conducting an investigation relating to pornography in the workplace.

After the 20-minute meeting with my boss I took the file and walked down the hallway back to my office. I distinctly remember that walk—think of a movie where the action gets slowed down to a crawl. That’s exactly how I felt.

So, what could have been my first task? Yes… look at the contents of the file. Just great! I get to look at porn and everything related to porn while at work. Life was just grand wasn’t it? The only thing I will say about what was in that file was nothing was left behind. Enough said… let’s move on!

I eventually performed the investigation with the employee, his manager and the IT person who upgraded his hard drive on several occasions. Do I really need to say what my recommendation was? In the spirit of true confidentiality I am not going to say it, but you can guess (if you know me) what I recommended. I completed my report and presented it, along with my recommendation. It was accepted by the senior executive and legal counsel. We proceeded with the inevitable.

The good news in all of this is I did not have to conduct the termination; my boss took that one of my hands, and, I avoided shaking this employees’ hand throughout the process.

Entrepreneurship – is it all it’s cracked up to be?

This blog post is part of our “Day In the Life” series offered this summer.

When asked by Bonni if I would write a blog on “the day in the life of a coach”, I was thrilled and at the same time a little scared. I know what you’re thinking….how can I be scared? Well, maybe scared isn’t quite the word I should use. It might be more like “how am I going to fill a blog on what I do?” I’ve always written about other things pertaining to coaching as in networking, career transition, job search and more. Now I’m to talk about myself? Really? This should be good…..well here it goes folks, I hope you enjoy it.

After 25 years in the corporate world of Human Resources, I found myself just over three years ago with a startling discovery. It was time to answer to only one person and that was ME. I had returned to school, got my accreditation in coaching and was now all ready to take flight. I spread my wings and soared, or I thought I was soaring and then realized I was missing something. What could that be? I was my own boss, connecting and building relationships, controlling my own destiny and choosing when I took a contract or not. Having days off when I wanted them, choosing to be with my grandchildren if I wanted so life should be perfect right? Not entirely…..as I found out.

“Entrepreneurship” as I like to call it carries with it many pros and also many cons. If you’re not prepared you could find yourself deep in the cons and before you know it you don’t know how to get out. Lucky for me, I have a strong support group of colleagues and family members who could see what was happening and were there to catch me as I was falling. Maybe I should go back just a little to explain what I am talking about.

As an entrepreneur, in the first couple of years you’re working very hard to get your business off the ground. In fact, I would say you work harder and longer when it is your own business than when you’re working for an organization. Obviously, the satisfaction is very different and when you get your first contract you’re so excited you can barely contain yourself. All these happened to me and more. I was enjoying the challenge, the creative process and the ability to make my own decisions. This went on very well until the third year in 2013. The change was gradual and caught me totally off guard. Contracts were not coming in, networking seemed to be at an all-time slump, expenses were still occurring and isolation from people began to rear its ugly head. As an HR professional and coach I have always been surrounded by people. Guiding others to make the changes they needed in order to live a fulfilled life with purpose and passion has been what got me out of bed each day and now I couldn’t find that reason anymore. How did this happen?

What I did realize with the help of others is you can’t dwell on what is not working only change that which you can. So again….I had to find a way to reinvent myself. I knew I didn’t want to go back to the corporate world and give up just yet (though it did cross my mind many times – even sent out some resumes). I secretly hoped they wouldn’t call because my heart was not into going back only forward. I had an interesting conversation with a colleague who said to me “Carm, you need to look at those transferable skills. It’s those skills that you can take anywhere and consider other avenues where you can make a difference”. So, I pondered what I heard for a while and began searching. I didn’t have to look too far, you see the reason I left the corporate world was to begin my coaching business and to work with students/graduates either as they approach completion of their schooling or when they leave post-secondary. As a life-long learner and an avid student in career development I believe a designed career path is essential in our ever changing economic world and is extremely necessary within the post-secondary environment. So I went in search on how I could consciously and continuously make this my goal and work with our young people and those individuals in transitional change as they design their professional future.

What was I looking for? I was looking for the missing spice – “variety”. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. Guiding individuals as they make decisions that benefit them both personally and professionally. I support my clients who are ready for change by putting them in touch with what is working, what is not and where do we go from here. Yet, working with students / graduates had eluted me and I HAD TO FIND IT FAST. So, what did I do…..I looked to my network of course. I began contacting those in my network who were instructors, teachers, professors and spoke to anyone who would listen to me as to what I wanted to do. There is a great need in our education system (post-secondary especially) for guidance/ coaching of our students. One thing lead to another, applications were filled, resumes sent out and constant connections were made until one day in January 2014 when I saw an ad online for a Career & Employment Strategies Instructor at Everest College. I did as I was doing for about 4 months, filled out an online application on January 2nd along with supplying my resume. Well, two days later I got a call from the Director of Education at Everest asking if I was still interested in the position. I thought I was dreaming….seriously she was asking me if I was interested? Within two more days I’m sitting answering questions and signing documents in order to get my application expedited quickly.

On January 22nd, 2014 I became faculty at Everest College and so began the next chapter in my career. I have to say that instructing at a career college has brought me so much joy. The courses I teach are very short compared to the programs the students take and I say to myself…..how do teachers do it. How do they say “good-bye” to these students? You form a bond that I cannot explain. The first time I got told by a student “thank you for being such a great teacher” “for helping me understand” “for not giving up on me”. WOW….I was blown away. Recently, in June I took part in the summer graduation of approximately 200 students. Because I had only been at the school for six months, I didn’t think any of the students would say anything to me. Boy was I wrong…….the hugs, the pictures, the tears all were there and more.

So, I now can say I am a Certified Professional Coach, Human Resources Consultant, HRPA Board member, Mentor, International Career Consultant and a Faculty member / Instructor at Everest College. My plate is not quite full yet but my heart is overflowing. So, I say to those of you who think you’re too old to make changes, I say look forward not back and open your heart to what is possible.