Archive for October 31, 2011

Remove the Barriers to Raise the Bar

This post originally ran at SHRM’s We Know Next.


There are many things that great leaders can do to create opportunities for employees to perform at their highest possible level.  Aside from developing and sustaining strong personal relationships built on a foundation of trust, feedback and coaching, leaders have the power to implement workplace initiatives such as flexibility, inclusion and a culture of candid communication.  We all want to have a ‘great place to work’ so we tinker and adjust and align our ways of operating and our workplace values with our goals and strategy.  We speak of empowering our employees so that they can have control over their work.  It’s practically a slogan for the modern-day leader to state “I like to hire great people and then set them free to do great work.”

And we mean it; I truly believe we mean it.  But I don’t think we spend enough time acknowledging the barriers we have in place that hinder true employee empowerment.  Those pesky organizational/cultural roadblocks we place in the path of those great people we’ve hired – barriers which slow them down or derail them completely from doing that great work.

So what do these barriers look like?  And how can we tell if we’ve got them in our organizations?

Barrier #1 – It’s important to define the most effective ways for employees to talk, listen and interact with each other.  In our fast paced go-go culture we may need to step back and think about some basics – do we share common definitions and understandings?  Are we using the appropriate technology tools to communicate with each other?   Are we ensuring that the right people are getting the right information at the right time?  If not, we may have a Barrier to Communication.

Barrier #2 – While we may talk about innovation and change and the need to compete in the global economy, when we fall back on the tired old mantra of “it’s fine to do it that way; it’s worked for us for years” then we know we’ve got a Barrier to Change. Legacy processes, sacred cows (“we can’t cut the KamaKama product line!  That’s the one the President started!” ) or just plain comfort, all contribute to building this roadblock.

Barrier #3 – Hierarchal org charts, physical environment and turf wars lead to the erection of virtual silos which in turn minimizes the opportunities for true collaboration.  Add in power struggles as employees jockey for favor and recognition and a challenging situation becomes even more difficult.  Are our employees involved in discussions and planning around process improvement activities?  Do they have the ability and freedom to walk across the hall or pick up the telephone and call a peer in another department to discuss, brainstorm and make an impact on their own job? If not, we may be running into a Barrier to Collaboration.

Leaders have the opportunity to impact results by supporting employees in their jobs. And removing obstacles that get in the way of success, achievements and performance is an absolute necessity.

Joe Strummer…(my) HR God

I can’t say I’m a music guru like my friends Steve Browne, Paul Smith, John Jorgensen, or Mervyn Dinnen.  I’m not even the wonderful Bill Boorman with his never-wavering love for Madness.  But I know what I like.  And not in a “I know it’s pornography when I see it” sense.

So let’s just all accept it this fact – Joe Strummer is the closest thing to a deity that music has.  And to make your Friday – I present you with this totally-couldn’t-be-anymore-HR-related-economic-times-we-are-in-sing-it kinda song.  One of my all time favorite Clash songs.

Oh – and the best is this version sung by the kid’s choir on the Sandinista album.

Bus driver.  Ambulance man.  Ticket inspector.

God I love those kids.

RIP Joe.

(yeah yeah – y’all have to click on the links to get to the good stuff; I am inept at embedding the videos. Deal with it)

HR is as HR Does

I love going to talk to students who are in HR programs (shout out to the LSU and Southeastern SHRM student chapters).  I like to hear the stories of how and why these bright young minds chose to study HR Management and have their eyes set on working in corporate (usually) HR Departments.

Last night I had the opportunity to make my annual pilgrimage to the SHRM @ LSU chapter meeting.  After the requisite silent moment of observation for the #1 ranked Tigers, we got down to the business of HR.

Over the last few years when visiting the students I’ve covered topics ranging from “The Value of SHRM Membership” to “Your Future Role in HR,” to “Is HR Still Relevant?”  Last night we talked about “HR Y?” As part of the conversation I gave them a glimpse into my first HR job back in the Reagan era.  The days when HR departments ran on the sweat and backbone of HR assistants (like me) who filed, answered phones, typed letters/memos/correspondence (on electric typewriters no less), planned picnics and tracked everyone’s PTO manually.  The days when processing timesheets and payroll took 3 days of data entry and running adding machine tapes to calculate our batch totals.

Good times.  And fun (sorta).

OK – maybe not so fun.  But they were good because I had the chance to enter the HR field, work my tail off, and start my climb into new positions and jobs with increased responsibilities and opportunities. I venture to guess that many an HR Leader spent some time toiling in the thankless trenches of administrative HR.


It’s always interesting to reflect on those early days of my HR career.  It was a time when the focus for many HR Departments was on service-delivery – not on strategic leadership.  I can recall the first time an HR friend with another organization got the fancy new title “HR Business Partner;” she had to explain to us what it meant.

And it fascinates me to chat with the next generation of HR’sters who are getting ready to enter the profession.  Last night we talked about the changing world of work.  We discussed jobs and types of jobs that are gone and never coming back.  We chatted about the absolute necessity of being well-versed in the use of technology, the need for them to focus on business first, and the requirement for them to think, learn and stay current – and thus relevant.

I wonder – 20 years down the line what is HR going to look like?

Every time I talk with students I remind them that they have the power to shape the profession.  HR will be what they make it; and it will be based on what they do.  Now that’s fun.

The Paper Chase

I’m all for getting rid of waste and eliminating unnecessary steps in any process. We owe it to ourselves and our organizations to toss out the busy work tasks that serve no purpose and drain us of our energy and enthusiasm. 

One of the outcomes of an out-of-control process is an overabundance of paper.  Forms, checklists, paper, paper, paper.  Collectively we fight the good fight; we adopt technology and cool tools so that we can store information online, capture electronic signatures and relegate our file cabinets to the trash heap.

But I don’t know.  I seem to have as many stacks of paper and file folders on my desk as I did 15 years ago.

So how do we tackle this mess?  I say we come to some agreements:

  • Don’t give me a printed agenda at a meeting.  I don’t need it, want it, nor do I retain it.  Send me the agenda with the calendar appointment so I know what’s going to be discussed, but don’t kill any trees so that we all have a piece of paper at our place around the conference room table.
  • Don’t print emails and file them in your desk drawer.  Please.  Stop it right now.
  • Don’t send me catalogs, postcards, circular advertisements, neighborhood newsletters or phone books.  While I appreciate these industries employ hard-working Americans and may be the only thing keeping the USPS afloat, I’ve had enough.
  • Don’t capture my signature on 6 pieces of paper as an acknowledgment when one will do.  Seriously – guy at the bank, receptionist at the doctor’s office and nice HR lady – streamline your process.

So let’s wage the good fight and stop chasing paper.

Oh heck, but go ahead and print out a copy of this blog post if you want to save it.