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Why Unemployment Numbers Shouldn’t Matter To You

This week, the government will release federal unemployment numbers. From all indications, it is not going to be good news. Here in Oregon, we are at nearly 10% unemployment and other areas are even worse. There is a lot of gloom and doom going around and it isn’t pretty. We’ve all become numb to news stories about layoffs, sinking stocks and unemployment numbers.

I am telling you though: the only people who should care about unemployment numbers are the people who work for the unemployment office. And I would be worried about those folks as they try to process more applications with less resources (many states are using inexplicable hiring freezes across all state agencies). Why would I suggest this? Three points:

What are you going to do?

Ask yourself what you can do to control the unemployment numbers. You can’t do much except control how many people you insert into the unemployment pool. That means you have to think about yourself and your business first. Those unemployment numbers aren’t going to help or hurt you.

If you are a business owner or manager, that means buckling down and trying to preserve what you have going. If you are an employee, that means trying to stay employed by adding value and helping your employer stay afloat.

If you are part of the unemployed, the only impact you have on that number is yourself. If you’ve ever been unemployed though, you know that the only person that matters is you. So if your competition is 10 people or 100 people for a position, it doesn’t change the circumstance. You still need a job.

What would you change?

The key question I ask people in businesses fretting with unemployment numbers is, based on the numbers you’re seeing out there, what would you change? If you are out of a job, you always have competition. More competition doesn’t always mean better competition though. And having more competition shouldn’t change your strategy.

Some will admit that they wouldn’t change anything and some will start talking about leading economic indicators. Give me a break. If your retirement account loses 25% of its value in two years or your bank is failing, you don’t need unemployment to tell you things are going poorly.

Business As Usual Is Possible

Call me an idealist but great companies should be better prepared than the average company for these sorts of economic situations. Instead of starting to look at cost savings, they’ve already investigated and implemented cost savings. Instead of starting lean manufacturing programs today, they started them years ago and are realizing the flexibility and cost savings. Instead of looking to lay off over-compensated employees, they retooled their compensation a long time ago.

The only thing that isn’t necessarily business as usual is that these companies are often hiring right now, realizing that they can get good employees looking for a solid business.

I don’t believe capitalism always selects the best businesses to succeed (even though I still think it is the best system). There are obviously a lot of factors there. But I think, at least in this case, a lot of the companies being plunked in mergers and pennies-on-the-dollar acquisitions were weaker companies that weren’t well positioned to begin with.

For companies that have either failed or been merged or acquired, the unemployment rate had nothing to do with that and won’t have anything to do with it. Ever. So stop fretting it and make your impact the most important one: your job, your business and your life.

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Why You Hate HR And How To Fix It


The US election is thankfully coming to a close. Is there anyone who is disappointed that it is ending out there? Anybody wish there were more attack ads, lies and deception to keep the great Republic running? Maybe the media wishes there were a few more weeks but I think everybody else has had enough.

Is this the best way to pick a leader? If you subscribe to the maxim that leaders can only be as good as those who pick them, how does this perverted process help us make the best decision? And when a good portion of the population is always dissatisfied with the process and choices, how do we move forward?

HR and the Failure of Leadership

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking: “This somehow relates to HR (or at least Lance thinks it does).”

Of course it relates to HR!

When I was reading a blog post on BNET about “Why Everyone Still Hates HR” (thanks to the many of you who sent it) and it references the source of many angry HR rants “Why We Hate HR”, I continue to think that these people get the HR department they deserve. It is truly a failure of leadership (from ownership on down) when HR departments don’t execute.

Oh yay. I am trying to blame someone else, right? Not my fault, right? Not exactly.

Why Do We Treat HR Differently?

Imagine if your sales department was constantly under-performing. Other departments complained about its performance and thought it was really an anchor on the company’s success. Not only that, imagine that the sales department was more concerned with marketing the product rather than selling it. So they went to trade shows and instead of trying to line up sales, they concerned themselves more with branding and putting on a positive image. In fact, when a potential customer came up and said they were interested in ordering, they said they couldn’t do that there.

Quick quiz: If you are in the C-suite overseeing that department, what do you do?

  1. Meh, that’s just how sales is! You’ll just have to deal with the poor results.
  2. Have a meeting to talk about what could be improved but never do anything about it.
  3. Hold sales accountable but never tell them exactly what they are being held accountable for.
  4. Fire the head of sales but replace them with a person that shares their philosophy.
  5. You realize that your sales department is under or wrongly trained but it just isn’t in the budget to fix it.
  6. You get new leadership, retrain your sales department to actually sell, let go those who are incapable and hold them accountable on their critical metrics.

What sort of insane person would not do number six? What if the response to the problems in sales were any of the first five? Could you imagine a company being in business for that long if nothing was ever done about the situation?

So why do we hate HR? If you are a rank and file employee, it is because their incompetence and organizational value is never addressed by the leaders of the company. If you are an executive, you hate HR because you have no idea how to fix it and make it better. And fixing it is fairly easy if you look at HR and expect the same things as you do from every other department.

The Scapegoat for Poor Leadership

It is sort of like how everyone bangs on the President or Congress but never changes their own behavior to fix the issues. If you consider that the American people are the owners of our country (and we are essentially shareholders), we become frustrated because we can’t figure out a way to get better leaders. So while there are a million posts stating things like “How did we get these choices?” or “I wish our Congress would do something for once” or “Why can’t our government be more pro-active?” there are very few posts on “How we can get better choices” or “How to get your Congressman to vote the way you want” or “How do we elect leaders that will see our problems before they hit us smack in the face?”

When you respond to attack ads and lies by doing the same thing at every election and never expecting much from the government because “that’s just how they are”, you aren’t much better than the executives who continue to allow HR to underperform and never expect more than what they delivered yesterday.

Sure, HR and our elected officials may be incompetent. Guess who picked them though? Guess who allows them to be incompetent?

My guess is that it is easier to pass blame than to take responsibility for your part.

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Terror and Evolution: The Story of Politics in the Workplace

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Politics.

With the US elections just a week away, I’ve started to think more and more about how politics and the workplace intersect.

I’ve always been interested in the nuts and bolts of how companies operate. This is why, at its core, I chose HR over other business paths. People are the drivers of business they say so HR touches on people that drive the business from start to finish. The problem with having people drive your business is that they can often be incredibly unpredictable and can respond to the same stimulus in completely different ways. I am no psychologist but when it comes to how politics and the workplace interact with each other, I couldn’t think of a better case study. Consider these situations:

  • The company CEO sends an e-mail to the entire organization encouraging them to vote (and mentioning his favorite).
  • A president writes editorials in a newspaper in favor of one candidate.
  • A union representative uses scare tactics in encouraging members to vote a certain way.
  • A company’s executive team is intimately involved in lobbying in their industry.
  • The company’s political action committee (PAC) communicates with employees via mailers and workplace fliers.
  • Employees want to be moved away from each other after getting in a political argument.

All of these have happened to me in my professional life. This spans industries and job function (not all of these happened when I was in HR).

In the past, these things used to make me freeze up. I would ask myself a million questions: How are people going to react? Will the conversation continue past this instance? Will people start questioning my political beliefs if I don’t speak up? I would be cool in other workplace conflicts but when it came to politics, I would clam up. I honestly don’t know what my problem was.

I had to rethink the equation to really start to understand and embrace the role politics plays in the workplace. How’s that?

Politics directly impacts all aspects of the work environment. Consider the 40 hour work week or the tax incentives that mean the difference between being in business or shutting the doors? How about labor relations and pay equity? These are two major issues that will be impacted by the result of the elections in one week. The government giveth and the government taketh away. As long as the government impacts the workplace, unions, employees, executives and corporations all have a responsibility to be involved in the electoral process.

But how do you get involved in politics without employees feeling like you are big brother? There is a fine line to be walked

For Companies and Unions

  • Focus on accommodating discussion rather than driving it — Maybe one candidate is offering a business incentive to your company. Maybe another is advocating stronger union rights. You want to talk about these issues to show that political decisions will also impact the business and union. Throwing something out there and letting people discuss it in an open environment can go a long way rather than intimidation or scare tactics.
  • Make it time appropriate — Set aside a time and let people choose whether to participate or not. Some people may not be interested in discussing politics at work and that should be respected.
  • Be sensitive to alternative views — People choose to vote for a variety of reasons and you should respect those reasons. If someone is voting for a candidate that you believe will kill your business or union, people should still know that they will be judged on their performance, not political views.

For Executives and Employees

  • Don’t interrupt or dominate the conversation — If you are expecting to have a productive conversation about politics, you have to be able to listen. That includes not interupting, not dominating and being a polite listener in general.
  • Remember, you are still co-workers — You still get to work together, even after November 5th. Emotions can run high so it is best to keep a respectful tone. I’ve seen people get worked up over sports teams so politics isn’t much of a stretch.
  • Don’t use your position of power or subordinance as an excuse — If you are in a position of power in your organization, do not think you have a greater need to get your point of view across than anyone else. Similarly, if you are an employee, don’t let yourself be held back from a conversation because you may not have enough power in the organization.

I am looking forward to the conversations that will be happening this week coming into election day. I hope that you can find a way to enjoy the important discussions taking place as well.

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You’re More Likely To Hire Someone You Like (And That’s Fine*)

In Oregon, you get a pretty reliable indicator that election season is almost over: A voter’s education guide that is the size of the phonebook a week before you receive your ballot in the mail. I am not joking when I say that I received booklet one of two total in the mail on Friday. Oregonians love to put a few thousand measures on every ballot. It is really fantastic.

You also know it is closing in on the end of election season when pundits from all over start talking about who American’s would rather have a beer with. It is a great conversation because there is no real wrong answer and it seems entirely irrelevant to the process of vetting a president. People can get red in the face arguing about who would be better at the bar. And they can get red in the face arguing about the relevance of the whole comparison. Really, all I care about is who is buying my next drink.

The interesting part about this is nobody ever wants to admit they’d make a decision on the most important office in the country (the world?) based on whether they would be somebody they’d drink a beer with. After all, if that’s all you need to do to become president, I think the least I could do is start practicing my bar etiquette for my run for president in 2016 (the first year I am eligible).

Call me crazy but I think whether or not you’d have a beer with someone does have something to do with how you vote and it isn’t completely illegitimate either. The people I’d like to have a beer with are generally interesting, intelligent and have generally agreed upon views and values. We obviously don’t agree on everything but that’s what makes the conversation interesting. I’d like to believe we are both intelligent enough to be considerate of differing views and yield when incorrect.

How many times have you sent several candidates to a hiring manager thinking that it would be a no brainer and they come back with someone different than you were thinking? Nobody wants to admit that they hired the person because they liked them better but it is obvious that is exactly what transpired. Yet, several months down the road, there has been better than expected results with the new hire (even more than you would have expected with the no brainer).

This is where we get into the idea of hiring for “fit.” You’ll take a candidate who is less perfect if they are a better fit in the organization. And really, when we talk about fit into the organization, we talk about fit with supervisors. As you probably know, people more frequently quit their supervisor than their job. If you can eliminate the supervisory conflict at work, your retention should be better (at least according to the theory). And as a supervisor, you may be considering the personality. It is likely you are also going to consider whether or not your future employee will be a good fit for the organization or that they will not make your life difficult by not being competent enough to do the job. You may like to have a beer with your employees after work but you don’t want to be doing it with incompetent employees or people who don’t share your commitment to the project.

From an HR standpoint, we obviously want to strive to balance this with other evaluation methods but I don’t think you can dismiss it out of hand. If a supervisor comes to me and says “I know this person is more qualified on paper but I just really like this other person much better.” I think if you explore this idea more, you may find there are a lot of solid reasons behind this typically flimsy response.

* I feel like I had to add this star to be accountable to my readers. Some people use the “I like them” excuse to promote a homogeneous culture. Some also do it as code to enforce a glass ceiling. That is not cool, not at all. This is why I say to ask more questions when someone says they like a candidate over another.

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It Doesn’t Take Courage To Stand Up For Your Beliefs

One thing I’ve never understood about many human resource professionals is how much we pat each other on the back for doing things that should be standard practice. Oh, so you’re actually standing up to your peers and saying they have to treat employees fairly? Good for you! That’s your job.

So when I heard the story about the ousted CEO of AIG Robert Willumstad rejecting his 22 million dollar severance package (which he was contractually obligated to receiving), I was like “Hey, someone wants a pat on the back for doing their job”:

Willumstad, 63, served as the chief executive officer of ailing insurance giant American International Group from June until he was replaced earlier this month. He was eligible for a severance package of $22 million, but in a Sunday e-mail to his successor, Edward Liddy, he said that he would decline the package.

“I prefer not to receive severance payments while shareholders and employees have lost considerable value in their AIG shares,” he wrote in an e-mail, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Given this year’s turmoil in the stock and credit markets, AIG is far from the only firm to see massive drops in share value. But don’t expect executives from other financial firms to follow Willumstad’s example, at least not voluntarily, said Robert Reich, the former U.S. labor secretary under President Clinton and a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.

My views on this are pretty simple:

  1. Willumstad had every legal right to take the money. I believe that as a squishy capitalist and as an American. He negotiated a great deal. Good for him.
  2. Willumstad’s job is to create value for the owners (i.e. shareholders). Willumstad felt he had failed in this duty (he had three months so who really knows how much he could have done).
  3. Willumstad didn’t do his job so he didn’t take the money that he was supposed to get for doing his job. That’s the ethical thing to do.

Willumstad put his money where his mouth is and stood up for his beliefs. It wasn’t brave, it was right. It was both the least and the most he could possibly do. In the world of executive compensation, this is big news.

What would have been more difficult? If you have the same beliefs as Willumstad, the difficult thing would be taking the money and feeling like you didn’t do anything for the people who had the bottom dropped out of their 401k or stock portfolios. It may be a small gesture in the larger scheme of things but it was probably one of the least difficult decisions of his life.

So I guess when HR people pat each other on the back for doing things like making a difference in an organization (things they should already be doing), I have to question what exactly is so hard about this? And of course, I get my answer from the above story.

The reason that this is a big deal in the HR world is because it is uncommon and unusual that HR brings tremendous value to the table.

It doesn’t take courage to stand up for your beliefs. You just have to do it. It takes more courage to sit in the back and cry about it because then you have to have the guts to admit you’ll never be up there. You’ll have to admit that you work in a field that has more limits than a calculus class (maybe I should have used a different analogy for HR people). I am tired of HR people limiting themselves from doing their job because they don’t have the courage to do their job.

If the typical company was Christmas dinner, HR would be stuck at the kids table. We’ll be there as long as stuff like “HR understands an organization’s people needs and delivers” is front page news in the industry.

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Why Aren’t You Helping Your Employees Out?


I have to admit, my time has been limited and I’ve been coming home exhausted from work. I have many different posts ready to start or complete but I haven’t had the energy to write something worthwhile. And if anybody knows when I put out crap, it is my readers. So I have chosen to not post instead of giving you sub-par performance (you’re welcome, by the way).

Why has it been an exhausting couple of weeks? Sure, there are always work things going on that take up a lot of time and energy. That’s not it though.

The biggest brain drain this week has been the financial crisis that has hit Wall Street (and Main Street). While our politicians are busy trying to make things worse in Washington D.C., we are trying to calm fears in our own workforce. I have answered more than my share of questions. I have also tried to be proactive on the employee side. But with each passing day, it seems more and more evident that uncertainty is ruling the day.

What I haven’t seen in all of this are ways that employers are helping out their employees. Has anybody seen stories of ways that employers are helping? If so, please share!

If a raging newsaholic like myself can’t find an article on workplace assistance for those employees impacted, I have to believe we haven’t come up with anything good yet. And if we haven’t thought of anything good yet…

What are we in HR getting paid for? Being old school mentality HR people? Not looking at the bigger picture? Doing the same thing we say we are fighting against (the perception that we aren’t strategic, don’t have vision and can’t see beyond our employee handbook). Yes, yes and yes. That’s exactly what is happening if you aren’t moving to think about how you can help now.

I was going to wait for someone to pipe up about right now. “Hey, what do companies care about this? We can’t babysit our employees? Yadda yadda!” I’m not waiting. You should care about it because it hurts your employee’s performance. Does that perk up your ears folks? It should.

How could it impact an employee’s performance?

  • Employees could be facing more personal financial pressure. That could lead to
  • Employees using work time to stress out about their financial position
  • Employees moonlighting (or even daylighting) to relieve credit issues
  • Employees looking for positions elsewhere to increase income
  • Employees could be worried about the current economic condition of the company
  • Employees could be worried about their pensions or 401k if they are close to retirement

How could this impact HR people?

  • Poor employee morale and productivity
  • More turnover (both layoffs and voluntary turnover)
  • More anxiety and questions about the company
  • Increasing uneasiness about retirement

So again, how is this not your problem HR person? And if you acknowledge that it is a problem, what are you doing to fix it? Need some ideas?

  • Look at your pay advance and hardship loan policies
  • How flexible can you be with time off? Let your employees take personal time to take care of business while banks and brokers are open.
  • Bring a financial adviser on site to meet with employees.
  • Advise employees of the financial situation of the company and be honest about some of the struggles you may be facing because of the economy.
  • If you know a layoff may be possible, start preparing right now with outplacement resources for impacted employees.

And most importantly, make sure you help the company stay in business. The best support an employer can be during this time is often a steady paycheck.

Any other good feedback from HR folks?

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Poor Benefits Situation in the US Stiffles Innovation


I consider myself moderately on the right as far as US politics is concerned. I am exceedingly pro-business and think, as Thoreau said, “That government is best which governs least.” So you may be surprised to hear that when it comes to health care policy, I believe innovation in this country will continue to decline and shift to emerging markets if changes are not made soon.

The Ugly Face of Our Current Situation

Why am I bothering to point this out? If you work for a company of decent size, I am on the front lines of your current health care plan and let me tell you something: things aren’t going so great over here. Costs continue to skyrocket and companies like yours are struggling to shoulder that cost effectively. You may have noticed:

  • Rising medical premiums coming out of your paycheck
  • Rising deductibles, increased burden of payment, and out-of-pocket maximums
  • Reduced coverages, more stringent limits
  • Wellness plans and incentives to do anything healthy
  • The push to consumer driven plans (health savings accounts and high deductible plans)

Sorry about that. I feel bad that we have to do these things but we have very little choice in the matter. When faced with double digit increases (increases that are anywhere from three to six times the rate of inflation in many cases), we have to take action to try to stabilize our costs in this whole thing.

Innovation and Small Business Go Together

Rising costs are difficult to deal with but you can typically figure out a way to cope and adjust your budget. Do you work for an employer with less than ten employees? Are you an employer with less than ten employees? Then you know the real difficulty here: decent health insurance is just plain difficult to find much less afford. I know too many entrepreneurs that depend on their spouse’s insurance because there is no way they can get it for their employees. And if you are a small employer, you know your recruiting job is going to be much more difficult when you can’t offer competitive health insurance.

If you can’t recruit great employees and you have to take inordinate physical risks in order to start or work at a small business, it will end the bootstrapping era of entrepreneurship in this country. If you can’t get a business off the ground without $500k of venture capital, then we are going to see innovation limited to things that are nearly certain to pay for itself. If you ask me, that isn’t innovation at all. And in a globalized economy, that is just begging for people in emerging markets to grab the baton out of our hand.

When you make it more difficult to start or continue to run a business, isn’t that anti-business? So why is it that so many people who consider themselves “pro-business” are also against doing anything real about our wretched health care system? In the next five years, health care in America will become a leading business issue. Mark my words.

What Are Some Solutions Being Proposed?

There is a ton of chatter about this (especially since this is election season). The problem is that after elections, the chatter usually dies down. Potential solutions have typically been proposed along the following lines:

  1. Tweak the current model — This includes either additional regulation or rule changes on the current system and sometimes an expansion of medicaid/medicare system.
  2. Universal health care — Some sort of mandated system of care, often proposed as single payer system (i.e. primarily tax driven).
  3. Consumer driven health care — Individual is responsible for health care. Similar to the way car insurance is handled (mandated, regulated with minimum levels).
  4. Some sort of hybrid of these — A three headed monster of making the responsibility more on the consumer while still involving businesses and expanding tax payer funded measures.

I know what it is probably going to be (hybrid plan) and I know what I would prefer (consumer driven with protective regulation) but I am interested to know if you have seen any proposals that you’ve really liked. I’d also be interested if you are one of the people that say “we don’t need no stinkin’ change.”

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How To Be An Effective Loser

One of the unique things about HR is our exposure to a lot of losers.

Hold on now, let me pull that back. I already started this post in the hole. I am going to have to dig myself out and quick before you go off to other posts that praise everything you do!

Being a loser holds a bad conotation in many people’s heads. Nobody wants to be a loser. Nobody. People don’t aspire to be losers. And if they are currently a loser, nobody ever wants to admit it. But I don’t think being a loser is as bad as people make it out to be. It is a temporary state. Being a winner is a temporary state too but it feels better so less people examine or care about it. That’s why this post isn’t about winners. Who gives a damn about winners? If you can’t figure out how to be effective as a winner, too bad. My first experience as a loser was pretty vivid:

I was in the fifth grade and I was in love with the girl next door. It was so cliche but I didn’t even know what that word meant. It also wasn’t actual love but some sort of combination of hormones and the trance of my future Scandinavian love princess. Like most boys my age, I had no idea how to talk to girls or what they were even interested in so when I invited her to a baseball game and she said no, you’ll have to forgive my ignorance. She wasn’t interested in watching professional baseball, much less a bunch of pre-teens striking out and missing catches.

After several other tries to woo her with invitations to ride bikes or play tag, I got the message from her un-love-princess, non-Scandinavian friend: she doesn’t like you and you’re a gross boy anyway so ewww.

I was bummed but I didn’t know what about. We didn’t have any good times together, I couldn’t even talk to her and she didn’t want to hang out with me. I was bummed because I was a loser, at least in the eyes of a couple stupid girls.

The moral of the story is that not much changes about being a loser from that point forward in your life. The fact that winning at various sports events, being on the right side of the debate or tricking marrying a great woman is just as important, somehow vivid memories are created at those points in our life when we are the loser. And if you’ve been turned down for a job, been reprimanded, been a low performer or quit/got fired from a job, HR has been there.

How do people deal with being a loser effectively? Let’s take a look:

  1. Everybody loses — Everybody. So get over being the loser. Everyone on this planet has been in your spot before and they have managed to pick themselves up and win again.
  2. Winning is just as temporary as losing — Abraham Lincoln said victory is short lived. When you get that new job, a bad performance review, a layoff or a bad environment can take you off of your victory lap and into losers lane.
  3. Have a short memory — Do you remember who came in fourth in the 100 meters at the Olympics? I rarely remember people that have not been hired so stop dwelling on them like a Scandinavian love princess. People remember when you win, you should do the same.
  4. Be a good loser — You don’t like winning? Neither does anyone else. Be gracious when you have been beaten and fight the fight the next day. And remember the feeling the next time you win so you have compassion for people who loses.
  5. Do something about it — If you can’t get over being a loser, then it will never change. Pick yourself up and try again. And if you lose, you’re not in any worse shape and at least you tried.

Is there anything you would add to this list?

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What Tom Brady Taught Me About Succession Planning

So I was watching the NFL opening weekend and annoying my wife by not taking it off of football coverage the entire day. It was a terrible weekend for sports in case you were wondering. First of all, my alma mater Washington State University suffered the most humiliating defeat ever (66–3). Then the Seahawks lost to the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo? And lastly, we saw one of the greatest quarterbacks in the game go down after playing for all of eight minutes this season. Tom Brady is done for the season and his mobility could be hampered for the rest of his playing career.

Now the first thing an HR person like me thinks about is “Hey, I wonder if they have a great succession plan in place?” Of course, I end up tweeting about it and asking Kris Dunn over at the HR Capitalist when he is going to do a post because he is a sick, sports obsessed HR person like myself (Update: He delivered). Anybody else think of it like that though?

Anybody?

Bueller?

The thing is, you did think it. You thought it as you wondered: “Who is going to replace Brady?” “Is this guy going to perform?” “What’s going to happen to the team?”

I know it is sick to think about this sort of stuff when you are watching the NFL but I just kept thinking that the thoughts that were going through the minds of Brady’s teammates and fans were the exact same thoughts that go through a team whenever they have to deal with a top performer taken away suddenly. There are a lot of unanswered questions.

This doesn’t just happen to New England Patriot fans, this happened to Seattle Seahawks fans when we learned that we now have our four best wide receivers out with various injuries. And it isn’t uncommon league wide. I heard a stat coming home from work today that cited a 16% injury rate in the league (missing one game or more). When you factor in retirements and trades, that’s a lot of upheaval an organization will have to face. And every single change makes you wonder about what it will do to team chemistry, planning and who will step up to the new challenges that the team will face.

Now as a career backup quarterback takes over the reigns of last year’s most potent offense, every single Patriots fan (and a lot of fans outside of New England like me) are all asking the same question: What’s going to happen?

So what’s going to happen when your:

  • Top salesperson leaves for the competition
  • Your accountant’s mother is in the hospital
  • An Engineer is going through a divorce
  • CEO retires and hands the reigns over to a career VP

Everybody in your organization is going to be observing and watching the moves you make more closely than you can imagine during these critical times. That is, unless you have a solid succession plan. Where do you start:

  1. Make a plan — Start hiring for your top salesperson today, while she is still here. If your salesperson is gone tomorrow, you have to know exactly who is going into the game to handle your key accounts.
  2. Constantly update your plan — Keep your succession plan up to date. People change, they ebb and flow. Your job is to make sure that you aren’t promoting someone off of a five year old plan.
  3. Make your plan known — This is the key hurdle that most people never cross. Make your plan known, at least to the people involved. Even better, make it known to others in your organization so that if something does happen, there is an immediate response and relief.

Obviously succession planning is much more complicated than those three steps. The problem I see is that we make it complicated enough so that we never get started on the planning stage. Even if the plan is basic or it covers only a handful of people, start it today. When the inevitable happens, crisis mode will hit and instead of hitting the panic button, you can pull up the simple document you made and analyze your next steps.

And believe me, nothing feels better than hitting your employees fear back with a well timed and executed succession plan.

We’ll have to wait and see if the Patriots succession plan works. Do you have that luxury with your employees?

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Why I’m Not An Idealist In Politics Or HR

I don’t do politics blogging well anymore and I am a big proponent of sticking with what you do best. That being said, being an ex-politics junkie means old habits break very slowly. And by slowly, I mean not at all. So when I thought of a great parallel in both the political and HR world, I had to run with it.

The Obama/Palin Factor In Politics

There is no denying to me that both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are incredibly interesting politicians and that Joe Biden and John McCain are the complete opposite. As I was driving home from work, I thought of why this was. And what is sure to be obvious to some people, my feeling is that both of these candidates represent the idealist in ourselves. Unmolested by the politics of Washington DC, we feel like we can rest hope on these people. They don’t have to bend to the rules. They can have strong opinions without having to worry about the record.

While Obama and Palin embrace the idealist side of politics, Biden and McCain represent the realist in us all. They’ve been doing the same thing for over 20 years. They have long records with nuanced political positions. They have votes that, given the circumstances at the time, made sense but now are hard to look back and defend. You can pick their thousands of votes apart. They’ve come to realize that playing within the system is the only way you can make any progress. Their records show they’ve had to game the system at times to push forward their agenda.

What Does This Have To Do With HR?

As we have been in the process of doing a search for a HR manager, there seems to be quite a few HR people with an idealist view of the HR world. They talk about eliciting positive change in the workplace through proactive communication. They talk about diversity initiatives working. They talk about strategic HR. They talk about creating a learning culture.

Nobody wants to sell you a Joe Biden or John McCain. Everyone wants to be Barack Obama or Sarah Palin. They want to show that they are an idealist and they don’t have to bend to the rules everyone else does. They want to be sexy. And really, can you blame them? Being an idealist is cool.

When you have seven to ten years in HR though, how can you sell that optimism and idealism honestly though? The people I have encountered seem genuine in their beliefs. Certainly though, a seven to ten year veteran in HR has to be more like Biden or McCain than Obama or Palin. They know what a layoff looks like. They’ve seen people hurt by company policies. They’ve seen under-trained managers wreak havoc on unwitting departments.

What Companies Want To Hear Versus What They Need

They aren’t selling that experience though. Nobody wants to talk about the DOL audit they weathered or the employee that was wrongly fired (that you vowed to never let happen again). People want to talk about matching people with great careers. While I am all for idealism, I think it has to be tempered with appropriate expectations and a good dose of reality. Because while being an idealist in HR, I’ve found:

  • A supervisor who undermined my policies while acting like he was being open with me
  • A manager who made it an unwritten rule to not hire Hispanics
  • A senior leadership team that undermined HR
  • An organization that paid a lot of lip service to being pro-training but never bucked up

That’s the reality HR people face every day. It is a road block to idealism. It turns us into Joe Biden’s and John McCain’s. It makes us doubt the idealism that the Barack Obama’s and Sarah Palin’s bring to the table. We work to find dings in their armor. And when they fail to break the status quo (and they almost all do), we sit back and say “What did you expect?”

No matter who is elected, most will be disappointed that their selected person will not be able to break the barriers they had hoped for and if you choose the idealist for HR, you are no doubt going to be disappointed that they will not be able to break down those same barriers. That’s why I’m clamoring for a Biden or McCain. Someone who has proven they know how to push the right buttons to get the change. At the most critical times, that’s what you really need too — no matter how much you are looking for that idealist to come in and change the world.