The most important right of all?

Employment rights have been much in the news of late. The Taylor Report into good work makes a number of recommendations.  I won’t cover them here as finer minds than mine have already done so.

When the law changes for any reason, people like me have to make the necessary changes to HR policies.

But as I have said many times before, when we have to revert to employment law, when we have to find a company policy on the intranet to determine what to do in any particular set of circumstances, sometimes we are half way to losing something important.

Losing our ability to see someone as the individual that they are.

The opportunity to consider the unique context.

The need for common sense, always.

Even the entire argument.

When we defer our decisions to documents, we run the risk of losing our ability to be compassionate, to apply a little tolerance, to treat people as humans and not resources.

The one right we should all have at work, is to be our imperfect human self.

And a simple, human conversation, is our most significant opportunity to change any work situation for the better.

All the policy that is fit to print

I am spending a whole lot of time at the moment writing people policy. It’s one of the main areas of focus for my interim work.

On people policies, I so often hear the same complaint:

The policy doesn’t work.

Of course sometimes this means something else. I don’t like this policy.  Enforcing this policy isn’t my job. I don’t want to have this conversation.

 

Here is what I know about people policy:

You can write whatever you like .

You can agree approaches with your trade unions or employee forums.

You can establish a tone of voice and a format. You can make the language inclusive.

You can place responsibilities wherever you wish.

You can produce accompanying guidance notes and toolkits and flowcharts.

You can introduce all of the above with great internal communication and mandatory training.

You can consider the impact on equality and diversity.

You can follow all of the best practice.

 

But so what?

Documents don’t change stuff. People do.

 

Policies can fall down in the drafting. Documents written in the abstract, following what is the so-called best approach rather than what is right for the context. Only in my experience, that’s rarely the issue.  When companies tell me that they have a problem with their policies, often isn’t the policy itself that is the problem, it is the application – and the lack of consequences.

The problem is not in the drafting but the doing.

If your absence policy says return to work interviews are compulsory but no one does them, is the policy wrong or the manager who doesn’t bother?

If probation reviews are seen as vital, but you don’t actually monitor completion and the only time they take place is when someone is underperforming, where does the fault lie?

Are there any consequences for ignoring the policy? Does anyone care?

I will always favour people doing people stuff because it is the right thing not the told to do it by HR thing. I don’t want HR to be about compliance.

But…..

Policies are targeted at employees.  What they can do and what they can’t.  Sanctions. Responsibilities. Requirements.

The question arises…..

Who manages the managers?

You can have all of the policies that are fit to print, but what matters is that documents come alive. That they make the transition from paper to real life action.

HR can listen, draft, consult, support, guide, teach.

But ultimately it’s the people manager that make this stuff happen, in the every day.  And if they are not, the response shouldn’t be to change the policy or produce more checklists, flowcharts and scripts.

Its about skills – and accountability.

Social media and conflict in the workplace

Today I am at Manchester Metropolitan University, sitting on a panel to talk about social media and its impact on employee relations, and specifically on conflict at work.

The panel is mostly academic types, and I am there to provide the practitioner viewpoint. I seem to be one of the only tweeters, so I guess I might be providing the advocate viewpoint too.

So in advance, I am collecting my thoughts on the topic.

Whilst there are other theoretical positions, I think most people will agree on a practical level, conflict at work is inevitable. Frankly, so is social media.  Whilst there are plenty of individuals who aren’t interested in it, and many organisations still yet to catch on, in a world where there are 2billion people on one network, we can be assured it isn’t going away.

Social media has fundamentally and irrevocably shifted the way we communicate – at work and at home. The ever increasing blurring of home life and work life sees a spill over of technology and social media into every corner of our lives.  Social media is a place in which conflict can arise or present itself.  In many ways, it is merely the medium, not the cause.  But this spill over has the potential to move it out of the workplace.  Conflict doesn’t end at 5pm when we can connect so easily with colleagues in a virtual space.

The expectations of employees are changing as a result of technology. As consumers, we are used to ordering goods to arrive on the same day, tweeting a brand to share our dissatisfaction, having information at our fingertips via the devices in our pockets.  Why wouldn’t we want this at work too?

Consider typical methods of conflict resolution. A lengthy grievance procedure.  Multiple meetings.  Letters and policy.  Who has got time for that?  I read a paper recently on innovation in conflict management.  This so-called innovation involved rolling out internal mediation.  Hardly my definition of innovation.  I trained as a mediator a decade ago, and it was old school then.

These days, our employees are much more likely to post a bad review on Glassdoor or share their frustrations on Facebook. And here is where social media changes workplace conflict in another way – what used to be contained within a letter in the HR office or to a few friends down the pub, can be seen by the many – and lasts longer too.

For the social media generation (which spans age related stereotypes) are we likely to see them raise a formal grievance, or just tweet about it instead?

There are plenty of people queuing up to tell you about the risks social media can bring to your workplace. Companies still fighting the inevitable and blocking sites on the corporate network.  But when we consider the risks, we must also acknowledge the significant rewards too.

My view is that just maybe, social media, instead of being a place for conflict, could just be your best employee relations opportunity.

Social media is about conversation. Transparency.  Community.  Interaction. It is about building trust.  Availability of information.

And so is good employee relations.

If I go back to the theory for a moment, trust is at the heart of a good employee relations culture. When there is trust, there is less of a requirement for formal, traditional mechanisms.

The theory also tells us about the importance of employee voice. For many writing about employee relations, this means formal structures for employee representation.  Personally, I’d rather find my CEO on Twitter and engage with him or her there than raise an issue through the inevitable bureaucracy of trade union consultation.

In many organisations that I have worked in, there has been a gap. A gap of communication and information.  A gap in visible leadership.  A gap where meaningful voice can be spoken and heard.   A gap in trust.

Social media has the potential to fill some of these gaps. If we take the time, if we invest in it.

Although social media has been around for a while now, in many ways, in the workplace it is still an unfolding dynamic. For organisations it is still new space.

But for those places who want what the employee engagement lobby promises but doesn’t always deliver, maybe social media the place to start.

What HR can learn from going to the cinema

This is one of those ‘lessons you can learn from’ posts. I don’t write them very often, but I had such a pleasant customer experience recently, it got me thinking.

I love going to watch a film at the cinema. But it’s something though that I rarely do, as I don’t enjoy the experience that surrounds it.  Usually, there is queuing involved.  To buy tickets, to pick up pre-paid tickets, for the toilets, for popcorn, and then to get into the actual screening.  Then there is the bit that bugs me most of all.  The adverts.  I am a stickler for punctuality.  If I go to see a film that is starting at 7.30, I’d like it to actually do so.  But the time a film is supposed to begin is usually the start of multiple adverts, suggestions to go out and buy more junk food, and trailers for films of an entirely different genre that I don’t want to see.  The actual film probably begins a good 30 minutes after that.

I’m starting to moan. I’m sorry about that.

This weekend I went to a small, local, private cinema. There was no queue.  Just a wave of your phone with the tickets on it.  There was also no queue for the sweets – and you didn’t have to take a mortgage out to buy them.  Best of all was that the film began….. on time.  There were just a couple of trailers for similar films. And… there was an intermission.  Where someone came out and sold ice-cream.  If that wasn’t enough, individual bottles of Proscecco to drink during the screening.

I didn’t love the film all that much. I might, in fact, have had a small nap during it.

But I did love the experience.

First of all, it felt personal. They clearly understand what their customers want and value, they deliver it.  In the march of progress they had held on to the special touches, like the intermission and the ice cream seller.  The staff were friendly – and didn’t appear to have targets to upsell you a larger popcorn.

There wasn’t the range of sweet stuff you get in a big screen cinema. No fancy reclining seats. And no hot food either (because there’s nothing like sitting next to the guy with the highly odorous hot dog).

In much the same way that we have seen consumers begin to value once again the small, independent and local retailers over huge out of town supermarkets, what we want as customers and as employees has changed over time.

On one hand, we want speed and immediacy. Quick responses on Twitter. Products at our doors in ever decreasing time frames.  But at the same time we want something personal.  We don’t want to feel like a cog in a machine.  Processed.

When it comes to people stuff, big isn’t necessarily better. One size only fits one.  Targets, as we know, have unintended consequences. What is valued, is highly variable for different people. For all I love technology, it is possible to lose the human touch along the way.  We don’t have to automate the heck out of everything.

While fast and fancy is good, we don’t necessarily want to trade experience and feeling for it.

Less, can most definitely be more.

 

There’s probably also a HR lesson in the price of pic n mix…. but I’m still working on that.

No job hoppers

This morning I came across a discussion thread on LinkedIn. A fellow HR type was calling out a job advert for a HR Director that stated in the requirements: solid career progression and consistent career history (no life time interim contractors or job hoppers).

As someone currently in the interim market, I am naturally going to disagree with the sentiment behind this statement. Interim work has broadened me as a professional.  Through undertaking it, I have added new sectors to my CV, been exposed to different approaches and ways of working and widened my network. It has certainly made me resilient.

You need a certain skill set to do interim stuff. Typically, you are there to do a particular project or programme.  Maybe you are there to fill a gap or bring along some specific experience.  Either way, it needs focus.  You need to be able to hit the ground running.  You need to be able to quickly find your way around – the building, the systems, the processes and the hierarchy.  You need to be able to get stuff done.

Skills that are transferrable to many organisations and roles.

There are several underlying assumption behind the ‘no interim or job hoppers’ statement. First is that these two things are one and the same – they are not.  Second, is that either of these things equal a lack of commitment, loyalty or engagement.  ‘Job hoppers’ in particular has negative connotations.  That someone can’t stay the course, doesn’t know what they want to do, or maybe is a low performer.

Assumptions without evidence.

The world of work has changed. Shorter service is much more typical.  More and more people are making different choices around life and work.  Many are in the gig economy – some through choice and some through necessity.  It’s no longer about giving your all until you get your gold watch.

Here’s the thing. If you make sweeping assumptions about people in a job advert then you are limiting your talent pool.  Even if I had been looking for a role like this, this wording would have entirely discouraged me from applying. This advert tells me this isn’t somewhere that I want to work.  This advert tells you that this company are oblivious to the present and future of work.  Plenty of people don’t have, or even want, linear careers. Lots pf people chose family or balance over progression.  Many chose to retrain and change direction during their working lives.  When we are all living to 100 and working into our 70’s this is going to become the norm, not the exception.

A so-called ‘solid’ CV means nothing. It is no indicator or talent.  It might instead be an  indicator that someone has spent a long time in one place and hasn’t been exposed to new ideas.  Or it might not.  Assumptions, without evidence.

It is also, frankly, arrogant. It’s like those job application processes that make you jump through a thousand hoops because they think you should be willing to do anything to work there.  Only it’s 2017.

So the company that are recruiting with this approach I say simply this.

More fool you.

Go home on time… or whenever

Today, it came to my attention via Twitter that the 21st June, the longest day of the year, is ‘Go Home on Time’ Day, organised by Working Families.  They say: We want to start a national discussion that puts work life balance and employee wellbeing at the forefront and stresses that going home on time should be the norm, not the exception.

I’m torn.

I like anything that raises awareness of the need for life work balance and integration. That challenges thinking about the way that work is usually done.  But at the same time, I find it sad that we need such a day.  That we need to raise awareness, give permission, remind people, to leave their work at their normal finish time.

Here is what I know.

Time spent at a desk does not necessarily mean high productivity.

Time spent in the office does not necessarily amount to good work.

Time spent working after the end of the normal working day does not equal hero status.

Time spent working does not necessarily equal business performance, an increase in the financials, innovation or creativity or any of the other things that businesses need to survive and thrive.

A culture of long hours can be damaging. But all the same, it is hard wired into many places – and leadership styles.

If your people are regularly working excessive hours it should tell you something.

At best, you have a cultural problem.

It may also mean that there is a resource issue, unrealistic expectations set, excessive pressure or demands, or simply, a time management issue.

But something is wrong. The wrong stuff is being valued.

Here’s the thing. People value flexibility.  Research suggests many will take it over a pay rise.

I love the work that I do. I also need balance.  If I go home at 5pm, I am no less committed or engaged.  And I am not the only one.

It’2 2017. It is long past time to judge people on the hours that they work, or the time they clock out.   Judge them instead on what they bring, deliver and contribute.  The value that they add – all the time.

Not just after 5pm.

Are your employees really your greatest asset?

simon heathThe first tweet I saw this morning was from Simon Heath. He was calling out that old staple ‘your employees are your greatest asset’.

It is a statement that has become a cliché.

It’s also a cliché to say that actions speak louder than words. In the case of employees, it is most definitely true.

Anyone can say that employees are their greatest asset. In much the same way that anyone can come up with a generic list of values and put them on a website and into the corporate induction.

When it comes to leading people, words are just words.

Whether you really mean them is shown up in your actions, in the every day.

Putting aside the idea of employees as assets (something that I instinctively dislike), this is something you shouldn’t get to say unless you mean it.

If people are your greatest asset, don’t say it, prove it.

It should be evident in your recruitment practices, your people policies, the reward that you offer, the learning opportunities in place, in the actions of your leaders.

To anyone organisation that says people are their greatest asset, I would pose these questions:

  • Do you pay the living wage?
  • Do you offer flexible working?
  • Do you go out of your way to create a great candidate experience?
  • Do you have an induction that supports this statement?
  • Do you invest heavily in your leaders so that they can bring this to life when it comes to leading their teams?
  • Do you have a way to give people regular feedback on their performance – and I don’t mean a once a year appraisal.
  • Do you have awesome internal communications?
  • Do you offer people the freedom to do their best work?
  • Do your people polices treat people and speak to them like they are adults?
  • Do you invest in people’s development even when budgets are tight?
  • Do you offer a range of rewards that are flexible and meet the individual needs of your employees?
  • Do you treat your employees as well as you treat your customers?

As a minimum, if you can’t answer yes to these questions, then your actions don’t match your words. You are not treating people like they are your greatest asset.

So stop saying it.

Image by Simon Heath.