Archive for April 30, 2012

Where One World Ends Another Begins

We just had a fantastic Louisiana SHRM Conference and being a member of the conference team I’m happy to report that this one is in the bag, wrapped up with a bow and (literally) in the record books.  Allow me to brag for a moment about the super job done by the conference committee and to acknowledge the hospitality extended by the residents of the great state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans as we welcomed more out-of-state guests than we’ve ever had at a conference.  Fun times.

Now I’ve worked on the conference for a number of years but for 2012’s event I took on a new role as Speaker Chair.  As we charted the course for this year’s conference, I laid out a few simple objectives in my mind:

  • I wanted to provide more overall sessions by adding extra concurrent time slots and more options each session – this meant I needed to sign, seal and deliver 27 speakers vs. 16 the previous year (check)
  • I wanted to provide speaking opportunities for Louisiana HR professionals (check)
  • I wanted to provide enough of the traditional content many attendees expect such as legal and compliance updates (check)
  • I wanted to broaden the perspectives of attendees and expose them to some of the leading minds in the HR, Recruiting and social space (check)

To further that last objective I reached out to our wide wonderful community and was so happy when a number of friends came from near and far to join us: Daniel Crosby, Joe Gerstandt, Jason Lauritsen, Bill Boorman, Paul Hebert, Dwane Lay, William Tincup,  Cathy Missildine Craig Fisher and Scott Eblin.   We added a Social Media team with Shauna Moerke and Chris Ponder.  We also had attendees who made the journey from a number of states (Texas and Ohio to name a few) plus Buzz Rooney and Josh Rock, because, let’s face it – who doesn’t want to come to New Orleans?

Gumbo.  Beignets and chicory. Laissez le bon temps rouler.

And a dash of long-standing prejudices and stereotypes.  Sigh.

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The folks who traveled to Louisiana to visit the conference left, albeit temporarily, their worlds and entered our world.  Some of them, while hanging in town, experienced a somewhat casual and institutionalized racism.  Shocking, quite frankly, if you don’t run into it every day.  And sadly normal for those who live in it.

Offhand comments in conversations were tossed about –  “how the city/neighborhood/company was better until they let the you-know-who’s in” (except they didn’t say ‘you-know-who’).

Louisianians casually mentioned how the gays/Jews/blacks/Mexicans/pick-your-group have ‘ruined’ A, B, or C.

I’m not saying this happened continuously, but I do know these types of comments were overheard and these conversations were observed both out-and-about amongst the general Louisiana population… and from HR professionals at the conference.

It led me, when discussing it with an out-of-town guest, to recollect when I first moved from Wisconsin to the Deep South 10 years ago.  Mr. S. and I were at a golf course (he was playing; I was driving the cart) on a lazy Sunday afternoon when we caught up with the group in front of us.  As we gathered near the tee box waiting for the group up ahead to finish on the green, one of the men in the other party said to us “sorry we got all backed up; they never should have started letting those people play here – they’re the ones holding it up.”  And he gave a disgusted snort, chomped on his cigar and pointed at the foursome of black men finishing up the hole.

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Inviting people to a conference is like inviting them into our collective home.

When I invite guests to my home I make sure there are fresh flowers, fancy little guest towels in the bathroom and sufficient assorted beverages.  But I also make sure the trash has been emptied and the cat’s litter box has been cleaned.

I may send a guest home with a little keepsake of the event – a tchotchke, leftover petit fours, that extra bottle of wine –  but I’m NOT going to send them home with a piece of crap from the litter box.

So along with all the good memories and information, I hope we haven’t sent our out of town Louisiana SHRM guests home with piece of HR crap.

Women’s Work

You know what drives me right up the wall?  People using the term “girl” to refer to women in the workplace.  I hear it and it raises my hackles, sets my teeth on edge and makes my brain itch.  Another bugaboo of mine is the subtle (sometimes) reinforcement of gender stereotypes as evidenced by the tasks people take care of in the office.  I’ve made some observations (and these are not 100% gospel-truth but still hold fairly true) that women (more than men):

* clean the communal office refrigerator

* make sure coffee is made and coffee supplies are on hand

* feel the need to feed the office (whether that be having a jar of candy on their desk or a bringing in a basket of homemade muffins)

I’m all for having an enjoyable work environment; if Carol the Director of Marketing likes to cook and enjoys clucking and cooing over her team members when she serves them the weekly lunch that she’s brought from home, more power to her.  But old stereotypes die hard and there is a possibility that the old white guys who run Carol’s company subconsciously think she’s more a nurturer than a business professional…am I right?  Frank from Accounting doesn’t worry about cleaning out the break room refrigerator and Joe in M&A could care less about having a basket of Hershey’s miniatures out for visitors – but Sally brings decorative potpourri to put in the office bathroom.  Does this kind of stuff lead to keeping the “girls” in the kitchen while the “guys” are in the boardroom?

Now it’s nothing new for me to get riled up about this – I wrote a post in July 2010 for Women of HR called “I Enjoy Being a Girl.  I Think.”  I’m totally in the mood to revisit it…..

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If you still call yourself a girl and you’re over the age of 14, I’ve got news for you. Based on the average age of first menstruation in the US, you are technically no longer a girl.

Many of us say it. We have “girl’s night out” or “boy’s poker night.” We tell folks that “the boys are coming over to watch the game” or “the girls are going shopping.” When my grandmother and her friends were well into their 80’s and 90’s, they still referred to themselves as ‘the girls.’ My husband will call me ‘his girl’ as a term of endearment. And you may tell me I’m ‘girly’ when you learn that I like pink, sparkly things and shoe shopping and that I have a mad, unrequited crush on Johnny Depp. I’m totally OK with that.

But I’m not OK being called a girl at work.

I often wonder why, in some work settings, it continues to be acceptable and common to refer to groups of women as ‘girls.’ Sometimes it’s applied across the entire work group – particularly when it’s a predominantly female work group: the girls in Customer Service, the girls in the office, or the girls in HR.

I have three primary issues with the use of the word ‘girls’ in the work setting:

  • The lack of a parallel term for males. While we may call men in the predominately male tool-and-die shop ‘guys’ or ‘dudes’, I highly doubt we call them ‘boys.’
  • An implied  sense of triviality. Referring to adult working women as ‘girls’ within an organization implies a sense of triviality and a lack of importance for their contributions to the organization. If 50% of the members of your leadership team are women, do they get referred to as ‘the girls in the C-Suite?’
  • The message sent. Common use of the phrase internal to an organization makes it much easier to use it externally to customers and clients. If I’m a customer of your company and you tell me that ‘the girls’ will help me, I want to leave and go do business with some adults.

Am I being overly sensitive? Did my adoration for Free to Be…You and Me as a child lead me to place too much importance on this issue? Am I contradicting myself when I attend a ‘girl’s weekend?’ Or am I, hopefully, making you rack your brain to see if you’ve recently referred to a whole group, department, or class of working women as ‘girls?’

Talk is Cheap. Or is It?

(from the archived Schoolhouse files…dateline February 2011)

So often when we talk about communication in the workplace, we emphasize the need for leaders/managers to make sure they’re “talking with the troops.”  We bemoan the fact that employees lack they info they need to do their jobs, or we focus on the failure of company managers to communicate effectively in order to strengthen personal interactions, clarify info or instructions,  or speak honestly.    Poor workplace communication is often placed firmly in the lap of the top-brass, the leaders and even the line supervisors.  The emphasis seems to be ensuring that leaders are doing all they can to communicate at several levels – organization-wide, at the department level, within specific teams or with individuals.

But rarely do we seem to take the time to point out that ALL employees need to improve their communication skills within the organization.

Meaning what exactly?

Meaning that individual employees need to pay attention to channeling information back to their leaders when necessary and in an appropriate manner:

  • Gossip or chatting about rumors is not communication.  Whispered conversations in the 4th floor bathroom amongst a few team members does not equate to making sure a manager is aware of an issue or that s/he knows that employees desire clarification.
  • An anonymous note, written on a torn-out piece of loose-leaf paper is NOT an appropriate method for sharing a workplace concern with either the HR staff member or a manager.
  • Complaining about a team issue and focusing on generalities or personality-characteristics of a coworker will generally mean that the issue will not be viewed as a priority.  Bringing forth an issue with specific details, observed behaviors or violations – and sharing this in a thoughtful and professional manner – will ensure that the company leader is clear on what the complaint entails.

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Remember the Fockers movies? All that talk about the “Circle of Trust?”  Of course organizations strive for that circle of trust – and that circle of communication.  And it’s not top down only.  It IS a circle.

Talk.  Be Heard.

It’s priceless.

The HR Solar System

Here’s one I’ve pulled out from the dusty archives… (November 2010)

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I was witness to an interesting phenomenon not too long ago – a round of “HR Solar System.”   Also known as “I’m in HR and I think the planets revolve around me.”

At a recent workshop, the speaker posed the following question:  “if an employee is getting off track, whose job is it to get them back on board?”

So while I ticked through some answers in my mind – “the employee, the manager” – I really wasn’t surprised to hear an answer bubbling up from throughout the audience – “it’s HR’s job.”

Seriously HR?  Really?

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One thing that always makes me wince is when HR colleagues make statements along the line of  “I have to meet with Sally Sue Employee to issue her write-up/written warning/PIP.”  And Sally Sue works in Accounting.  Or Marketing.  In other words, Sally Sue is NOT having this performance discussion with her manager – she is having it with HR.

Stop it HR.

HR’s role is not to insert itself into every single employee interaction.  Our role is to assist the managers by providing them with the coaching, support and guidance so that THEY can have performance discussions with employees who report to them.

Our role is to assist in supporting a culture where employees are treated with dignity and in which there is adherence to laws, regulations and policies.  Our role is to work to ensure that our organizations provide the foundational structure and the environment in which the employees can succeed.  And ultimately our role is to do all these things in order to impact our organization’s performance and success.

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The quickness of these workshop attendees to respond “that’s HR’s role to get an employee back on track” points to a continuing desire to be acknowledged and validated.  I saw it happen live.  I hear stories about it on a regular basis.  Jason Lauritsen wrote a great post about this syndrome over at Practicing HR after the conclusion of the HR Reinvention Experiment in Omaha.   He made some great points and readers chimed in with some super comments. Go check it out and then let me know —

—- does HR still view itself as the center of the universe?  Do we suffer from Solar System Syndrome?