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Monday, July 25, 2011

Separating Social Media Messages and Sites

If you've read this blog or followed my tweets since I started using social media you know it has been an uneven path.  I have twice deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts only to re-start them some time later.  I have vacillated on the best use of this blog and generally questioned the whole purpose of this medium. Now a few years later I use this blog, Facebook, Twitter and Linked In on a regular basis.

The reason I use four sites when I once questioned the use of social media at all is simple; it makes sense to separate various types of communication among various outlets and restrict access to some.

If you have ever sent a Facebook friend request and been ignored, or worse yet been accepted and subsequently dropped, do not feel excluded.  I use Facebook for family and current close friends only. By that I mean if we grew up together but haven't seen each other since high school, or we work together but do not see each other socially, I don't grant you access on my Facebook page. I then restrict access to my content to anyone who is not specifically a friend or family member.

This is the place where I feel free to be candid; to communicate to my closest friends and keep in touch with (sometimes sordid) family business.

The reason I have resurrected my Facebook page for that purpose is that sometimes content intended for our internal audience (most of the readers of this blog) can come back to bite me from people outside the company.  At my level in the organization outsiders sometimes mistake my opinions for the company's positions on this or that.  Separating those two is important, and difficult, so I keep politics and religion on Facebook and reserve this outlet for business and professional topics.

This blog is my outlet for professional speech.  It is all about workplace issues and HR and little else.  Anyone is welcome to comment and I never censor comments unless they are vulgar or compromise the confidential information of an employee.  Otherwise this blog should be a place for open professional conversations.

Similarly I use Linked In for professional networking.  Just like I don't censor comments on this blog, I rarely turn down a Linked In connection.  As far as I'm concerned the more the merrier.

The hybrid in my system is Twitter.  I generally try to shy away from controversy and just talk about what I'm doing and where I'm going.  Long periods of silence generally indicate that I'm working in that part of my job dealing with confidential matters and I just can't talk about it.  Otherwise I like to mention products and services that I like and talk about places where I'm traveling to or from. I also use it to point people to blog information that I think is important, as I have far more twitter followers than blog subscribers.

For what its worth that is where I've come down on social media.  Blog and Linked In for professional communication, Twitter for travelog and blog traffic, and Facebook for private conversations with family and close friends.

Comments, ideas and suggestions are always welcome.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Concept Workplace, Meet Reality

There are all manner of new-concept workplaces written about in on-line and print media.  From Google to Zappos HR professionals are forever getting articles, some of them sent anonymously, about the rule-less workplace; where performance is all that matters and policies are so last-gen.

New Concept, Meet Reality.

As much as I would like to build a workplace where the rules are minimal to non-existent, there is a huge looming presence that makes that irresponsible in the form of Federal, State and Local Governments.

The various laws and regulations promulgated and enforced by various government agencies at all levels comprise a bureaucracy that can be used as a weapon against employers.  Some of these are staffed by true believers who honestly feel that greed and discrimination are institutionalized in every workplace and its their job to use the full force of government to set things right.

HR's job is multi-faceted, but it is primarily to build a fair workplace where good people want to come to work, stay a long time,  and can advance as their talents and efforts warrant.  Implicit in that same system are controls built-in to make sure that poor employees not hired, not promoted, or let go don't use the bureaucracy and its true believers to extort money from the company.

The way this is done is a system of job descriptions, performance records, disciplinary records and work rules designed to identify similarly situated people.  This is a fundamental concept that cannot be overlooked or omitted.  If a current employee complains about treatment, we must be able to identify the rules and see if they were broken by employee or management, and know what we've done in every other similar situation, i.e. with other employees who were similarly situated.

If the accusation or complaint comes through a government agency, such as the EEOC, we must be to able to provide the agency with information on every similarly situated employee and include their race, age, gender, disability status, national origin, etc...  If we can (and we always can) then we can prove that we manage by policy and not by discrimination.  If we can't (and shame on us if we can't) it gets expensive.

So as much as I'd like to make it into Fast Company or WSJ for our innovation, until there is a change in governmental structure and policy (don't hold your breath) it will be the duty of any responsible HR team to administer a system that, among other goals, protects the enterprise from all enemies foreign and domestic.

And yes, that's necessarily bureaucratic at times because that's the government-induced reality of HR.

The new concept workplaces are mostly less than 5 or 6 years old and have a small number of very young highly-educated employees.   All the major social media companies combined have about 80 employees.  As these workforces grow and their employees mature, it remains to be seen how many bogus $100,000 settlement checks are written before equity ownership mandates more traditional HR programs. Meanwhile HR pros have to put up with looking old-school and behind the times while we continue to win cases and protect the workplace.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Leading Through Your Failures

I came on board at Thomas Nelson in April 2001.  There was a lot wrong with the overall HR program for a lot of reasons (no body's fault in my estimation; just a dysfunctional evolution), which was why I was recruited.  The one thing that was going right was payroll, and by May of 2001 I had managed to screw that up pretty well.

We were closing all operations except Plano, TX and Nashville.  To do that required that we consolidate payroll processing from four ADP processing centers in four different regions of the country into one center in Atlanta.  We had a new payroll person and we didn't know what we didn't know.

The first pay date after going live with the consolidation we had 265 messed-up paychecks.  The ADP center in Atlanta, we would come to find out, trained its people on small accounts like ours.  Our instructions weren't followed and we didn't know how to find that out before the line formed outside our door. One fateful week all sales commissions were coded as "Christmas club" which is a benefit we don't have, so tens of thousands of dollars in compensation floated around cyberspace before bouncing back to us four days later. Meanwhile people needed their money and couldn't get it.  Let's just say they weren't charitable and understanding.

So here I was, "new guy" here to shake things up, and all the keepers of the status quo who opposed change were enjoying our misery a little too much.  Some of those included members of the staff I'd inherited.

So I called the staff into my office and I told them, "We screwed up, we need to understand how it happened and how to fix it, but fix it we will.  We have the talent, we'll find the resources and we'll fix it.  And, if you or anybody you know is enjoying this too much l have a message: Enjoy it while you can because you won't be able to enjoy it much longer."

Now I'll admit that I stole that from Coach Jackie Sherrill who was at Texas A&M when I was in grad school.  He got the richest coaching contract in the history of college sports at that time, won three games his first year, and used those words to put the Southwest Conference on notice.  In Year Two he went to the Cotton Bowl.  So while not original, it worked.  Here's why:

1.  When you lead a team that fails, job #1 is to acknowledge the failure.  You can't fix something until you call it by name and know what needs to be fixed.

2.  You can't tell the team "they" failed; it has to be "we" failed.  You are in charge so you get most of the blame anyway, and if you are seen as throwing blame on your staff in time of crisis you have just lost your credibility and ability to lead.

3. You must be defiant in the face of failure. If you accept the failure and become resolved to defeat so will your team, and your days in charge are numbered.

4.  Enroll everyone in the analysis of the failure and in the solution.  The team has to own both the problem and the solution before they can share in the success of overcoming and winning again. If they won't, the professional naysayers and cynics have to go.

5.  Do what it takes to fix the problem and win.  Nothing makes you look strong as a leader like winning. Conversely no amount of sound leadership theory makes you look good to a losing team.

Once we discovered that we didn't have reliable contacts at ADP we hired our own former ADP processor.  She worked within our team to reset our program and also rode ADP's Atlanta staff hard until they lived up to their contract.  She also educated me about how ADP worked and pointed out that my newly hired in-house payroll processor was inept.  We replaced the in-house processor, overspent our budget by $98,000 (and forfeited my bonus for the year) but we reset the payroll and HR programs like we set out to do.

Too often managers, especially in Christian organizations, don't want to speak the hard truth of, "We failed."  They don't want to lose face, or they don't want to deal with the conflict if team members can't or won't respond to their leadership.  This is absolutely the wrong thing to do.  You won't win all the time, and when you lose your team can't fix what they don't know is broken.  Be brave, fear not, and a little humility never hurt a manager or minister. Unless you think you are always going to win, this is a career strategy you need to master.