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Author Archive for Elaine Cruise Smith

Diversity Rant – Where the Rubber Meets the Road

February is Black History Month and in the U.S., Diversity Month is coming up in April. I’m not sure when the official “Diversity Month” is in Canada, as we are proud to be a diverse nation and celebrate diversity every day. Or do we?

As I noodled the topic of Diversity, I felt puzzled and frankly, a bit frustrated. As I got curious about my frustration, I thought about the different groups covered by the umbrella of Diversity – women, different religions, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability. I thought about different initiatives I’ve seen and dodgy situations that have left me wondering at times, if we really do walk the talk where Diversity is concerned.

I found I don’t really have any answers, just questions and concerns, so let me throw them out there for you to consider. Here are the questions that are bothering me about Diversity, in the form of a rant:

Women:

How do women really fare in the workplace? Are opportunities to get to the top truly equal for us?

Why are female CEOs (like Yahoo’s Marisa Mayer) villainized when men in the same position would never be under the same scrutiny? When are men ever accused of the double unhappiness of being a “bad male CEO” and a “bad father”?

And why are women typically paid 70 cents on the dollar compared to men? Are we just lousy negotiators or is there more to it?

I would like to know why, when push comes to shove, do women get asked to answer the phones, “man” the front desk, or organize social events in the workplace?

Why does “The Boys Club” prevail and why is there no “Girls Club” of equal clout?

And why are there so many women in the HR field? Or so few men? And why do more of the small-ish population of men in HR achieve VP and C-suite titles faster and seemingly easier than the women? But we are all aware of the issues around HR and its perceived “femaleness” as a perception. How we change it is the question.

Religion:

Really, how much of an inconvenience is it to provide a prayer space or quiet space for individuals to pray during the day?

Does it really matter what god an employee worships?

And why would an employer refuse to consider a Muslim candidate and tell the Recruiter, “Are you crazy, sending me a Muslim candidate when I’m [insert religion here]?” I suspect the better question is, who exactly is the crazy one and how dare they try to make the Recruiter feel lesser for doing the right, civilized, backed-by-Human-Rights-legislation thing?

Ethnicity:

Ah…another one of my favourite topics. Why do North American employers think “Canadian experience” or “American experience” is absolutely critical, a deal-breaker in fact, when hiring? Are foreign trained workers’ brains emptying over the Atlantic ocean as they migrate to North America?

I used to hire foreign-trained employees who had no North American experience for a particular company and it was a win-win. The company got the workforce they needed and the employees got their first North American job and everyone was happy. Or happy for a while, as the company would pay well below market wages and when the employee realized his/her market value a couple of years later, they would leave. Despite my recommendations to provide pay increases along the way as the individual progressed, the company would say “They negotiated their pay, they can live with it.” Which begs my next question: Why do we take advantage of those in a disadvantaged position? Are they lesser because they weren’t born and raised in North America?

Disability:

Why do employers shy away from hiring disabled candidates? Sometimes it’s the perceived cost of adjusting the physical space, but beyond that, is there more to it?

I once “temped” in a call centre environment and one of the top CSRs was a visually impaired woman, who sat near me. Day in, day out, I heard her on the phone with her customers and she was fantastic. The level of attention and focus she provided to her customers was superior to those around her. Was this because of her disability? Maybe. I don’t know, but I would bet yes, it was. So it was a benefit, not a problem.

So why do employers we have a perceived problem with disabled candidates? Are they uncomfortable? Afraid? Awkward and unsure of how to approach the individual?

I could go on about other groups but I think we can all get the point. As much as we value diversity and often put it up on our office walls as a “Company Value”, really, what do we or our employers do when the rubber meets the road? How do we really behave? And what can we do differently, perhaps, just by asking questions?

I don’t know, but I’m going to keep asking tough questions and not accepting the status quo.

 

Elaine Cruise Smith takes an irreverent and (sometime brutally) honest approach to authenticity in the workplace. She blogs about it at “Get Real: People, Passion, Profit$, where she explores how getting real with people (colleagues, employees, the boss, and customers) frees us to be extraordinary and to achieve extraordinary results. Elaine also blogs about living large without breaking the bank at “Champagne Taste …on a beer budget”. Follow her journey and musings at http://getrealhr.blogspot.ca/ and http://champagne-taste-beer-budget.blogspot.ca/ and connect with Elaine on LinkedIn.

HR Lessons from Wolf of Wall Street

The award-winning film, The Wolf of Wall Street tells the fascinating true story of stock broker Jordan Belfort, his rise to unbelievable wealth, and his eventual fall through crime and corruption.

Belfort’s moral compass was completely out of whack, as demonstrated not only through his criminal activities in the workplace but in his personal life, with his addiction to hookers and blow wreaking havoc on his family.

Despite Belfort’s criminal background and questionable judgement, there’s no doubt he was smart. Fraudulent activities alone would not have led him to reach his goals, make a huge pile of dough, and allow him to bring other colleagues and employees along on the wildly successful ride with him.
As HR Professionals, we are smart enough to set aside Belfort’s notoriously bad behaviour while extracting some key HR lessons from his career. Here are 5 lessons for success we can learn from “Wolfie” (Belfort):

1. Your team is the most important thing

Belfort put together a loyal team with diverse competencies at Stratton Oakmont. His senior management team was primarily comprised of his closest friends, who admired and respected him. As well, they all had different backgrounds, skills, and strengths which allowed them to fill one another’s gaps and lead the organization as a strong, united team.

Employees were hired less for their skills and experience and more for their drive for success and willingness to learn fast and work hard. Belfort preferred hiring individuals desperate to earn big money and encouraged them to paint themselves into a corner financially to ensure their focus was on working hard to earn big. The diversity of the team as well as the opportunities and rewards they were provided created an extremely loyal and committed employee base at the firm.

2. Reward your team and keep them happy

At Stratton Oakmont, employees were expected to work hard but were rewarded extremely well for their efforts. “A rookie stock broker was expected to make $250,000 his first year. Anything less and he was suspect. By year two, you were making $500,000 or you were considered weak and worthless. And by year three, you’d better be making a million or more or you were a complete f***ing laughingstock” – Jordan Belfort

Employees were paid far above the going rate for stock brokers and Belfort occasionally selected top performers to be mentored by them in starting their own brokerage firms.

Belfort encouraged employees to solve all their problems by becoming rich and overcomers were held up as positive examples of this. At Stratton Oakmont, money solved all problems, although it eventually created many problems for Belfort and others.

Employees at the firm were regularly rewarded with parties where celebrations included drugs, alcohol, and plenty of debauchery. Fun, be it harmless or not, was the name of the game and partying hard was expected. Through all these incentives, Belfort drove commitment and focus on hard work.

3. Create an enticing company culture

Belfort created a company culture where seizing opportunities and achieving wealth was everyone’s goal. He encouraged employees to make as much money as possible and to compete with colleagues to spend more money and live crazy, luxurious lifestyles. Belfort did this by leading by example, and living an over-the-top lifestyle of luxury items and partying, and encouraging employees to join him on his wild adventures.

Reinforcing the company’s goals was something Belfort did regularly. There are several scenes in the film where Belfort gives loud, outrageous, motivational speeches to his employees. He reminds them of their mission, where they’re going, what’s in it for them, what works and what doesn’t. A few individuals are humiliated along the way but make good examples for the others to learn from.

“Let me tell you something…I’ve been a poor man, and I’ve been a rich man. And I choose rich every f***ing time…This is the greatest company in the world!” – Jordan Belfort

Through the culture and in reinforcing it regularly, Belfort created a focused, loyal, and adoring workforce at Stratton Oakmont.

4. Training is a necessity

Belfort ensured everyone in his organization could sell and continuously provided training to ensure they were successful. It was critical for him to come up with a way to teach and transform young, uneducated people into stock broking professionals.

Training was through watching, learning, role-playing and doing, using the simple formula of basic instructions and scripts. He reinforced that the pitch was always more important than the product itself, and never to take “no” for an answer. Employees who practiced the sales techniques from the training would find success and job applicants began appearing in droves.

“And as word of this little secret began to spread…that there was this wild office…where all you had to do was show up, follow orders, swear your undying loyalty to the owner, and he would make you rich – young kids started showing up at the boardroom unannounced.” – Jordan Belfort

5. Act the part

Hungry for success, Belfort and his team led with confidence, even when they started out from nothing. They dressed well and had a calm, successful, and somewhat cocky demeanor that enabled them to land sale after sale.

Every Stratton Oakmont employee was reminded incessantly to act “as if”, and to dress well and look the part. As well, Belfort even hired a tailor to make suits for the up-and-coming employees of his firm. This reinforced their confidence and selling abilities.

While Jordan Belfort doesn’t model the kind of values we should practice as HR Professionals, we can find inspiration and motivation from his seize-the-day attitude.

“The only thing standing between you and your dream is the bullsh!t story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” – Jordan Belfort

Elaine Cruise Smith takes an irreverent and (sometime brutally) honest approach to authenticity in the workplace. She blogs about it at “Get Real: People, Passion, Profit$, where she explores how getting real with people (colleagues, employees, the boss, and customers) frees us to be extraordinary and to achieve extraordinary results. Elaine also blogs about living large without breaking the bank at “Champagne Taste …on a beer budget”. Follow her journey and musings at http://getrealhr.blogspot.ca/ and http://champagne-taste-beer-budget.blogspot.ca/ and connect with Elaine on LinkedIn.

A Day in the Life of HR: “How did this become even remotely an HR issue?”

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

Somehow, as issues or ideas arise, or more accurately, when people are looking to delegate (or let’s be honest, unload) an unpleasant or ridiculous task, it somehow winds up in the HR department. Or else it’s an initiative that’s a great idea but they don’t know who should be responsible for it.

The logic usually goes like this: “Well, there are people involved. HR deals with people. Therefore, HR should look after it.” And that’s how we wind up organizing a Christmas party for a bazillion children on a Saturday afternoon.

Or have to talk to someone else’s employee about their body odour problem.

Or someone lost their money in the break-room vending machine and takes it up with HR.

Or there’s an idea to pursue an environmental greening initiative, which sounds kind of “out there like HR”, but couldn’t possibly be taken on by Building Operations who actually look after the facilities because they’re not fun or necessarily “green” community people like HR should be.

Or maybe, and it happens more frequently than most would imagine, someone’s unable to look at a calendar to find out what day of the week Christmas is – so they ask someone in HR. (By the way, despite my 2 Christmas-related remarks, I don’t actually dislike Christmas, just all the nonsense that comes with it, especially in the workplace. And pretty much anything around the administration of Christmas, like shopping, decorating, family politics, cookie exchanges – just not the holiday itself.)

Now, I would argue that all of these people looking for our help use computers or can dial a phone, so it must be an IT issue. But somehow, no one wants to take these issues to IT, and from what I hear, IT gets their own collection of bizarre requests so we’ll leave them alone. For now. So it becomes a predicament: If you just say, “No”, then you get viewed as not being a team player. In fact, you might even hear, “Those folks in HR always say ‘No’.” We are oftentimes viewed as the killjoys who say, “No, you can’t do that.” They usually forget we’re saying “No” to something illegal/unethical/ludicrous, but they don’t usually remember what it was, just that we said, “No” to them. And then we’re painted as saying “No” to everything. But in the same token, we get viewed as the people-pleasers and that we should be saying, “Yes, of course, it’s all rainbows and unicorns for our employees.” Which is interesting, because you’d think we’d either be viewed as Yes People or No People, but not both. But then again, we are frequently seen as a fluffy friendly lot until layoffs occur, then we’re seen as the Grim Reapers. But that’s another discussion for another day, our identity crisis challenges.

Of course, saying nothing is not an option, because to do that is to silently agree to organizing the employee carpool or cleaning out the fridge in the lunchroom or what have you. Rock, hard place, you. There you are.

So what’s an HR Professional to do? While I’m no expert on diplomatic relations in the workplace, given HR’s focus is to be on spending time within the business and delivering/coordinating initiatives that strategically support the business, I do know that taking on a time-sucking, thankless job will be one heck of a detour from what we’re supposed to be doing. Yes, I know, we need to get in the trenches with employees and do things with (and sometimes to) them, but there is a limit to our time, like any other department.

Here are some steps that might help – employ all or some of them, however you see fit:

1. Wherever possible, buy some time. “I’ve got a lot going on right now (or I’m on a deadline), let me think about it and get back to you.” This allows you to go back to them and say “No”, it gives them a reality check that HR isn’t a doormat, and also, if you’re lucky, they’ll be impatient and go ask someone else.

2. Determine that honestly, this is not an initiative you need to be taking on right now, due to priorities or limited resources. Disliking the initiator of the request isn’t reason enough, nor are guilty feelings or people-pleasing tendencies.

3. Once you’ve bought your time and thought about it, go back and say “No” and be polite but firm.

4. You don’t have to offer an explanation why you won’t take on their challenge, but any combination of the following might work:

  • “We’ve got a number of urgent priorities on the go right now and I don’t know when we could get to that.”
  • “We don’t have the bandwidth/resources.”
  • “We’re on a tight deadline and if I do this, the wheels will come off the whole project.”
  • “I couldn’t get to it until weeks from now.”

5. You could offer to point them in the right direction or give them a few ideas on how to manage the project/issue. Especially if it’s a “My employee smells” issue – go ahead and coach away but don’t take that one on yourself. Their stinky employee, their issue to deal with. Let’s face it, when it comes time to give that stinky employee a raise, they’ll gladly do that. But deal with a not-fun conversation? Why dump it on HR?

6. Send them to IT. Just kidding. Don’t do that, or the IT folks will disconnect you from the network or hack your Facebook account.

7. Cover your assets. If you need to, give your boss the heads-up about your “No.” This way, if someone goes up the food chain over your head, you already have that base covered. So say “No”, be nice, and remember, tackling the vending machine for a refund does not support the business, nor HR’s credibility. Just because the request comes from a human, it doesn’t necessarily have to be performed by HR.

Again, I’m not suggesting to be a “b with an itch” or not a team player and say “No” to everything, just the crazy far-fetched items that really have nothing to do with supporting the business. Non-value added items or items that others can do don’t have to be our burdens just because it has something to do with a human, therefore it must be Human Resources’ issue. Because let’s face it – you know those Performance Reviews we’re nagging everyone about? Well, our personal Performance Reviews should have just as many meaningful accomplishments on them as everyone else has.