Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Conversations At Work

What kind of conversations do you have at work? I was prompted to think about this a lot over the past few weeks by hearing some perspectives from people I have worked with that surprised me somewhat.

When we work closely with people over an extended period of time we often do so in ways that are focused on the technical details of our work, resolving a problem, or how to reduce potential problems with perhaps a little personal chitchat to balance out our days. But how often do we take the time to tell our colleagues how we see their contribution to our work experience beyond the efficient but not particularly informative “good job”, “thank-you”, “well done” etc.?

When was the last time you told a co-worker in specific terms what their contribution meant to your work experience? Have you ever received a recommendation from someone you worked with that surprised you because it included references to work that in your view was just “doing my job” but discovered that the people you worked with saw it as a significant and positive contribution to the effectiveness of the workplace?

How would having such specific conversations on a regular basis with our colleagues affect our motivation, our stress levels, and our ability to be clear on what is working well?

What do you think? What happens in your workplace? When was the last time you told a colleague in specific terms how their contribution made a difference?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Employees Bring Talent

I read a lot of business articles and books, many of them focussed on human resources, organizational behaviour and social networks. One thing that shows up a lot is the references to the low levels of engagement among employees in contrast the the belief that a higher level of engagement is required for companies to have long-term sustainability.

One thing that comes to mind when reading these sources of information is the disconnect between the terminology that is being used and the way people feel about that terminology yet there is little discussion on this topic. Perhaps there is a fear of being too 'politically correct' or of being seen as not focussing on the real issue. Perhaps the terminology is part of the real issue, so I thought I would share some thoughts and see what you think.

Terms that are frequently used in articles, blogs and discussion groups when the topic is human resources are referring to people as assets or talent; and today I saw an article that referred to employees as weapons. When I listen to people discussing how they feel about this use of terminology in reference to employees they most often state that they feel like they are not considered as a whole person but as a thing, not much different than the equipment or building their employer purchases.

People are not assets or talent or weapons. They are human beings who exchange the use of their competencies, skills and abilities for a financial renumeration. A business does not own people, they lease their abilities.

If organizations believe that the people that work for them provide the value that is needed to sustain their business perhaps they might consider that disengagement can start with the way we communicate and can be resolved with the way we communicate.

What do you think? Do you feel the same way about being called assets, talent or weapons as the people I am hearing from?

Friday, November 04, 2011

A Small Organization Awakening

I was having a conversation with a friend recently in which we put forth our perspectives as to whether organizational life has really changed much over the past three decades. Certainly we are easily able to read about the "rapid pace of change"-I have been known to write about it and it helped shape the way my book Change, Resilience and Organizations turned out. (http://www.amazon.ca/Change-Resilience-Organizations-Karin-Wills/dp/3639068718)

Even though there have been many changes in the way the world operates largely created by globalization and technology advances, human expression has not really changed that much. We may use email, text message and social networks to communicate more often than we use the phone, save our documents 'in the cloud', interact at work with a much more diverse work team both locally and globally than ever before, but the behaviours we exhibit are only marginally different. Which means that the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of organizational life still occur and those tasked with managing people in organizations are dealing with the same plusses and minuses that occured 20-30 years ago, perhaps at a more public and rapid rate.

When I was researching for my book A Social Media Primer: For People In Organizations, the pace of change was mind boggling as during that 18 month period social media/social networking changed dramatically. But it is important to remember that such changes are adopted by people in a range from early adopters to not there yet but all those people are still managing. It is a good reminder that social media/networks are tools and they in and of themselves don't do anything, it is the people using them that create what happens. (https://www.ebookit.com/books/0000001007/A-Social-Media-Primer.html)

I am more apt to look at what is going to happen in the future than on history, but if we consider history and systems thinking in a big picture view of organizational life we will recognize that we have been *there* before. This can be a calming perspective when change feels like too much, too soon-we have been here before and we managed and we will do so again. I tend to be an early adopter possibly because of my intense curiosity for things that are new but I often go to my friends that are late to adopt for a good dose of perspective, reality and reminders. They have their own brand of wisdom to share and it helps me stay balanced in my approach which makes a difference when you work with diverse people.

So, what is your biggest concerns about organizational life these days? What problem are you trying to solve? What helps?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Why Does Your Small Business Need HR?

One of the reasons I advocate for small businesses to start to build their HR infrastructure early in the start up phase is because it will help save time and money over the long term. Putting aside for now the practical aspects of being within compliance of employment laws we need to consider the culture we envision for our business and to understand the internal and external factors that will affect that culture as the business grows.

In my first discussion with a business owner to determine what the HR needs of their business is I ask that they answer a short series of questions that provide a good picture of their business today and their plans for the future. Answering these questions is helpful to me in understanding the goals for the business but it also provides the owner with another opportunity to review the overall system and strategies from a fresh perspective.

Understandably the focus of most small business owners is attracting and engaging a paying client base but attracting and engaging employees is equally as important as your business grows. Having an agile, well thought out and straightforward HR infrastructure is essential to ensuring that your customers have the kind of experience that will bring them back and prompt them to refer your business to their contacts.

Having the money available to properly manage your HR considerations is a very real concern when a business is in a growth phase, perhaps more so in businesses that have significant cash outlays for premises, inventory and equipment. This is just one reason why an agile, module based infrastructure is ideal and it will allow you to implement only the aspects you need and add additional elements as the business grows and more employment related demands are required.

If you determine what values that you want the culture in your business to reflect and build your HR infrastructure around those values you will have a better shot at developing and maintaining the core cultural aspects that are the most important to you as a business owner. Trying to fix a culture that has gone off track is an expensive and time consuming prospect and can easily derail your focus on other aspects of the business.

Many companies include values such as integrity, honesty, and hard working in their core values, all good values. However, as the leadership figure in your business you need to define precisely what those values look like ‘on the job’ to your employees and customers. This is an oft overlooked but vitally important approach to take when building your business. It helps in the hiring process, as you are clear on the necessary skills and approaches to work you are looking for in the candidates you recruit. Retaining employees requires in part, maintaining the values based culture that you presented to candidates during the hiring process. And ensuring that employees present the customer experience you have determined for your business means a common understanding of what those values look like on the ground.