The Employment Opportunities List

The Ultimate Source for HR Jobs and Blogs. Friends Helping Friends of Friends.

Author Archive for Leona Wilson

A Rant Against the Rise of the Rookie

This blog is part of our Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice series offered this Fall.

I read recently of the advantages of having the rookie mindset. This was translated into hungry to learn and unencumbered by rules, history and constraints. I bristled as I read this article and not just because I am a few decades past “rookie.”

Let’s face it, human resources is a murky place to be. Our days are fraught with shades of grey, endless situational analysis and trying to keep up with the impact of case law on our policies and practices. The answer to all this is “rookie mindset?” Really?

I respectfully suggest that that is one of many reasons why HR consultants have clients. We are brought in to help deal with the consequences of the exuberant rookie mindset!

As we read the latest and greatest management book available we need to ask ourselves some critical questions. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Who would this apply to in my organization?
  • What industries would this be most relevant to?
  • Which functional areas of the business would most benefit from this approach?
  • In which functional areas would this likely be problematic?
  • How would implementing these ideas require a change to our due diligence practices?
  • What stage of the growth curve would you need to be at to realize the greatest benefit?

No doubt the creativity that comes from the rookie mindset has significant upside. I am all for taking a fresh approach. The creativity that comes from someone who is seeing and working through an issue for the first time can be a real eye opener. However, let’s not confuse good for some with good for all! That’s rookie lesson #1 in my book!

Using “Friendship” to Avoid Paying the Price!

Boss or Friend? Why Boundaries Matter More Than Ever!

You’ve been in HR awhile and have learned to navigate the slippery slope of work relationships. You know that crossing the line is easy because it is an invisible line. We are social creatures and need to collaborate with others to achieve results far beyond what a sole contributor could create. Work is not just about money: we develop our interpersonal skills there and seek to build working relationships based on trust, respect and mutual regards. So how does it go wrong?

Scenario 1:

Owner in a start-up was short of cash but highly in need of a particular skill set and so the path was laid. A friendly relationship between owner and technical guru ensued. Promises of deferred compensation aka: work now – be rewarded later AND to sweeten the pot, a future equity partnership was offered. The guru bought the dream, accepted in good faith and set to work. This guru also had access to revenue and profit projections but dreams take time to convert to cheques and legally drafted partnership agreements cost money.

Scenario 2:

When their careers were still in embryonic phase the players knew each other as friends. The decades gave space for leadership skills, ambition and hard work to shift the level playing field of wet behind the ears rookie. They come together again but leadership and team roles are not clearly defined. It is an exciting time as things are moving quickly. Team player feels they are all still equal. That’s how it used to be in years gone by.

Scenario 3:

Owner wants a happy productive team. Rules are set and not followed consistently but hey, the performance is there so why rock the boat? The tension mounts as one tries to maintain the standard while the other continually tests for new fault lines. The resulting squabbles are reminiscent of the kids fighting in the back seat of the station wagon. Finally the point of no return is reached and it is ugly.

HR professionals are in a unique position to see the problems festering in the scenarios above long before the players do. Boundaries at work are more important than ever. We have an important role to play in helping our teams and clients see the potential doom that lies ahead. It is not easy to shift the focus from friend to manager. U2 said it best: “Achtung Baby!”

What helps is to point out the impact of the situation. I find role play is very helpful in isolating the dynamics in play between people and how it is likely to go in the future. Simple works well here: “Sounds like you are feeling the need to explain your decision to your direct report. As the company gets busier can you see yourself continuing this? Whose decision is it to make and when does brain storming give way to decision-making?” Compare and contrast is also useful as in: “You have 3 reports but you only go for lunch with one. Would the other 2 maybe see this as favouritism?” Often just sharing how it looks to me is enough to start the conversation and move things along.

Types of boundaries at work have been described as: job responsibilities, interpersonal and personal. I find this to be a helpful way of looking at things and clarifying for myself:

  • Is there an issue?
  • Whose responsibility is it?
  • What is the possible risk? Non-compliance with Employment Standards, lawsuit over partnership promises depending on documentation and discussion (Scenario 1), possible harassment (Scenario 2), wrongful dismissal/harassment (Scenario 3.) In all the scenarios the working relationships would be strained and productivity would be impacted.
  • Whose decision is it to make?
  • What conversations are needed to manage personal friendships that are now also work relationships?
  • Is the attitude demonstrated between people acceptable given the circumstances?
  • If you didn’t have a prior history would you be involving this person in this discussion?
  • Have the consequences of not changing the current situation been discussed with everyone?
  • Discussion around there is no “off the record” and human rights legislation obligations don’t stop when you leave the office.

It is a complex topic but the story of Goldilocks is helpful. How can we help our teams and clients have their professional relationships “just right?” Not under involved or over involved. How can we help them be “friendly” and not “friends” so they can stay focused on their professional roles? We have a unique vantage point and a wealth of experience in this area. What are your thoughts  and how do you handle this?

Are We the Unsung Heroes of Conflict Resolution?

If I could write an inscription for the HR Statue of Liberty it would read:

Give me your angry, your frustrated,
Your livid executives, yearning to breathe free of,
The wretched refuse of your performance systems,
Send these, the passionate, self-righteous senior leaders,
I raise my emotional walls to quell your drama.

Who teaches HR on how to deal with conflict? I may be dated but it was not in my course material! Much of what I learned was either the hard way, watching others strategize or from reading!

Key learning for me was: “Don’t take the bait!” Getting angry or annoyed leads to loss of impulse control which just seems to unleash the feeding frenzy and ratchet up the drama. Not recommended!

On the other hand staying calm and repeating back the facts without the “f*#)ing idiot” and other colourful adjectives generally helped me focus enough to figure out what really was the problem.

I’ve also learned that staring blankly at someone who is frothing at the mouth is not well received. Somehow no reaction means the story and frothing must be repeated another 6 times since I obviously don’t hear very well. That ever happen to you? Even if I fail to see the issue, because there is none, I must still nod and listen with empathy. “Yes, I can see that really upset you.”

Our magic is really heading off the conflict before it even occurs. Like the Poirot mystery where he must solve a crime that has not yet happened HR comes to the rescue quite often. Keeping the peace successfully is a thankless job though. Without irritation, slamming doors and flying papers all around us our efforts seem to be invisible. Perhaps you have heard all about your “cushy” job where you can chat all day and drink coffee. Uh huh?

To work in HR is to be in the midst of endless disputes of varying magnitude. Through it all we must be professional and not allow ourselves to become jaded. Let’s give ourselves some credit for the difficult work we do. HR professionals really are the unsung heroes of conflict resolution.