HR Southwest Part 2: Most Of What You Fear Never Happens

Editor’s Note – Today’s post is brought to you courtesy of Dustin Henderson, co-founder of MeritBuilder. Dustin went to HR Southwest conference last week to cover the show for us. You can follow him on Twitter. Thanks!

HR Southwest (the 2nd biggest HR show in the US) is over. I thought I would take a few moments and summarize my thoughts on the show. Luckily I tweeted most of the stuff that was on my mind because to be honest my memory is beginning to fail me. For the full twitter experience search twitter for #HRSW.

In hopes of making his recap a little more interesting I thought I would expand on some of my tweets. Unfortunately I could not fit it on to one post so you guys are stuck with a two-parter (see part one here).

79% of employees leave b/c poor trust and appreciation

Alice of GoToAlice.com quickly filled in for a canceled speaker. I almost turned and walked back out of the session – but she was at the door waving passers by into the room. I figured, if she was going to put that much effort into it, I should at least stay and listen to her. I am glad I did.

She was OUTSTANDING! Thanks Alice!

Until her session I was beginning to wonder if MeritBuilder would ever have an audience in HR but she affirmed what we at MB have been saying for a while. Relationships matter. Getting to know your staff matters. Trust matters. Appreciation matters.

Average employee talks to manager 2-5 times a day / m-gen text 80-200 times a day – who has more influence

This is one of those “m-gen” stats but it is an important one. I talked to several HR recruiters telling me about “helicopter parents.” Those parents who involve themselves in their 20-something child’s employment decisions. In some cases recruiters answered angry calls from parents wanting to know why their child had not gotten the job.

Bad ECONOMY or NOT, this generation is coming (BIG TIME). Are you ready? I think not, but don’t feel bad – no one is :-)

Are lawyers what is wrong with what HR should really be trying to do? maximize the “human” resource

I attended a number of presentations by lawyers and I was once told, “If you want to go into business, DON’T ASK A LAWYER his opinion.” The primary role of a lawyer is to minimize your exposure to risk. Yet many believe their advice constitute how you should manage people. Please note – Law is the minimal not the optimal.

Understand the risks, accept them and then live your life. It is good to know that if you recognize an employee for a job well done then it might be hard to fire them later. That doesn’t mean you should not recognize employees, it just means recognize things that matter and document the crap out of it before you fire someone.

Change: most of what you fear never happens – it is made up to justify internal feelings about change – name the fear

There is a simple method for dispelling fear in life and organizations. Just name it! For example, when I started MeritBuilder there was the possibility that we would fail. That meant I would have to find a new job. If I could not find a new job, it would impact the family in a very negative way. Therefore I should stay where I am, right?

Wrong because if I was going to name the fear of failing with MeritBuilder, then I needed to name the fear of failing with my current employer. In my case, the impact of failure for my job or my new company was the same, but the new company had far greater upside.

Once you name the fear and weigh it against the alternatives, the fear tends to subside. Name your fear and push through the change.

I fought the law and the law won

While many of the HR people I know in the field are very principled people but one thing where that changes is in regards to the law, specifically employment law. Litigation avoidance is one of the main assumptions most people in my field make about their employers. And not to get too political on you but over the last 30 years, it has become less and less difficult to bring litigation against employers. Whether you agree or disagree with that enhanced ability, there is no denying that it has changed the face of the business world.

For one, the concept of litigation avoidance was unheard of 30+ years ago. Companies rarely got sued and if they did, it was typically by consumers who had suffered through some sort of physical harm. If you paid minimum wage and you weren’t physically abusing your employees, you were probably alright.

In those days, being an employee was like being a child on a teeter-totter with a 300 pound adult on the other side. The equation was out of balance.

Since the formation of the EEOC, the balance has slowly shifted. Sexual harassment policies started taking effect and those who were used to the good old days had to adapt or be out of a job. Same with discrimination (which is still in the process of being full adapted). And for the most part, these regulations have been for the better. It has put the focus on work. Studies have been focused on the glass ceiling in workplaces where people are not allowed to advance due to non-work related reasons.

The balance has changed and we can argue all day long as to where that balance is but it is incredibly important to realize that most businesses have changed policies and that has had both a good and bad effect on the performance and morale of employees.

Whenever a sexual harassment charge comes to me, the “factory” shuts down. Regardless of my view of the reliability of such a charge, I must take certain actions to ensure my butt (I can be sued personally) and my company’s butt stays out of the line of fire. Whatever I was doing before is of no consequence. A sexual harassment investigation could take weeks of interviews, documentation and communication between all parties. If it goes to litigation, it could be months or years. Not all of that is going to be spent on this case but it is going to change my workload severely.

So whenever I make sexual harassment policies within the workplace, I am pretty much banning almost every type of non-work related conversations imaginable. That may seem over the top and my enforcement of it may be incredibly rigid but look at the alternatives I have. Either we spend the hours up front to ensure that people understand that we want them talking about spreadsheets and TPS reports, not big butts and Jesus or we spend days, weeks, months or years defending why we didn’t talk enough about it to begin with. The choice seems pretty clear to me.

Not all businesses are that strict but there is a significant risk attached with that. So if I seem a little keyed up while people tell jokes around the water cooler, maybe you have a little taste of why that is the case. :-)

Working with lawyers

SigningI never thought I would ever have a job where I would have a lawyer’s cell phone number for professional assistance. I guess I should change that and say “not so soon.” With litigation laws like they are and penalties for out-of-compliance employers on a broad range of issues, a lawyer has become as valuable of a tool as any book or resource I use.

I don’t encourage people to use lawyers needlessly. If you have an in-house staff, it is less of an issue but if you are pegging an outside contractor every time, it can get expensive quickly.