Help, this thing is broken!

When I talk to people who have just started a new position as an HR leader, they often mention that the department they’ve inherited is a mess. Their main question is, “How do I turn this thing around?”

We’ve all wondered this at some point, haven’t we? Help, Timmy, this thing is broken!

Usually, your first leadership role isn’t handed to you on a silver platter. You’re brought in because something’s broken and needs fixing. It’s rare to step into a perfect setup where everything runs smoothly, everyone gets along, and the budget is overflowing.

If it were perfect, they wouldn’t need you!

Here are the steps I recommend from my experience in turning around struggling HR departments:

Step 1 – Don’t Expect Instant Cultural Change

You can’t change the culture overnight. The existing culture is strong and takes time to shift. The only way to change it immediately would be to replace everyone, which isn’t realistic. I mean technically it’s possible – but focus on gradual changes instead.

Step 2 – Look for Quick Wins

Find the easy fixes first. There are always simple things you can improve that will make a big difference. These quick wins create positive energy and give you time to tackle bigger issues.

Step 3 – Remove Problem Employees Fast

Don’t be afraid to fire toxic employees, even if they have essential knowledge. Negative people can drag down the whole team. If the department is already broken, a bit more disruption won’t hurt and can actually help in the long run.

Step 4 – Hire Loyal Team Members

Bring in people who are loyal to you first and the company second. High turnover in HR leadership can be a red flag. When interviewing, ask how many leaders came before you. A supportive team is crucial to help you through the tough times.

Step 5 – Have a Clear Plan and Communicate It

Develop a plan and get buy-in from executives early on. Keep them updated on your progress regularly. Change takes time, but consistent communication ensures you have the support you need.

Step 6 – Build Relationships with Other Departments

Make friends in IT, Marketing, Finance, Operations, and other departments. You need their support to drive change. It’s okay if not everyone in your department likes you, but you need respect and backing from other departments.

Step 7 – Change the Way You Talk About HR

Stop saying HR is broken. Use positive language to describe your efforts. Talk about building great processes, using top-notch technology, and developing amazing talent. Changing how you talk about HR helps change how others see it.

The hardest, most challenging, thing you’ll ever do is turn around a broken department, but it will also be the most rewarding and best thing that ever happened to your career!

The Employee Benefit That Costs Nothing

Every few months, news outlets release rankings of the benefits that employees value most. They include the usual: compensation, remote work, health insurance, paid time off, retirement plans, blah, blah, blah. While these benefits are consistently listed, the rankings vary slightly based on factors like age, gender, and location.

It’s 2024. We’re in an era where certain benefits are now baseline expectations. If you want to attract and retain truly talented employees, offering good health insurance, competitive PTO, retirement plans, and life insurance is no longer optional. These are the minimum requirements just to compete. Without them, you’re not even in the game.

So, what can genuinely differentiate your company in this competitive landscape?

If you ask me, the answer is simple: flexible work schedules. It’s THE employee benefits that employees care about.

Flexible work schedules are a big plus for many employers, but they don’t work for everyone. An insurance company can allow employees to start their day at 10 AM and work until 7 PM without impacting operations. But, a restaurant can’t have its cook showing up at 2 PM when the lunch rush starts at 11:30 AM.

If your business can handle flexible work schedules, you’ll have an advantage in attracting top talent.

Why aren’t more companies embracing flexible work schedules? Many industries and organizations that haven’t traditionally offered flexible schedules could do so with minor adjustments. However, they’re often led by baby boomers and some Gen Xers who believe that if they can’t see you working, you must not be working. It’s really that simple.

The reality is that time spent in a seat is no longer a valid measure of productivity. With modern technology, we can accurately track the productivity and performance of our workforce. Unless an employee’s role strictly requires specific hours, does it matter if she prefers to start at 9 AM and finish at 6 PM instead of the traditional 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM?

Another common argument against flexible schedules is that it’s unfair unless everyone can benefit from them. What?! Not everyone gets a company car, but that doesn’t stop companies from offering them.

Employees who need to be there at specific times get why it’s necessary and probably won’t mind others having flexible hours. Instead of treating everyone under the same blanket schedule, why not be more flexible where you can? Your employees will appreciate it, and it won’t cost you anything.

The Day 1 Speech

Are you or someone you know stepping into a new leadership role? This guide is for you!

When starting out as a leader, there are two things you bring with you:

  1. Your resume
  2. Your speech

Your resume is easy. It’s all the crap you did in your career to this point. You’ll be judged on that resume by your new team. It can go several ways, but usually, if you get hired, you have the resume to back it up.

Crafting your Day 1 speech is the important part. It’s your chance to share your vision, goals, and leadership style with your team. Here’s what your speech should cover:

  1. Why you’re the right person for the job and what drives you.
  2. Your role and objectives within the organization.
  3. How the team fits into your plans.
  4. Clear metrics for success.
  5. Insights into your leadership style.

Although it might be tempting to wait until you’re more familiar with the team, it’s important to deliver your speech early on. Your Day 1 speech sets the tone for your leadership and builds trust with your team. Get ‘er done!

You are now the leader. All eyes are on YOU for the answers. You might not have any of them, yet, but you better make it sound like you have them, or you’re about to discover them!

You only bring two things with you into each new position. You only control one of them, at this point. Don’t miss.

More, More, More!

Welcome back to Re-Run Friday – this post originally ran in May 2019!

The Future of Work, is More Work!

I’m sure you’ve read an article or listened to a podcast that had something to do with “the future of work”. It’s a hot topic to talk about, primarily because it’s all just a big fat guess and the best content is content where I just get to tell what I think will happen, but really have no idea for sure.

When I take a look at the HR technology landscape and see the tech that is hitting the market around work and performance, I think the future of work is actually just more work!

When I say ‘more’ work I really mean “More” work! Much of the technology that is being created and launched around HR Technology falls into a few buckets:

  1. How can we make workers more efficient at what they are currently doing?
  2. How can we monitor workers on what they are doing (tracking)?
  3. How can we leverage A.I. to do certain tasks workers are doing right now?

Don’t get me wrong, the technology doesn’t scare me in the least, I think it’s amazing, but the reality is much of it is designed to help us humans reach our full potential. If my couple of decades in HR has taught me anything it’s that very few of us humans want to reach our full potential!

Reaching your full potential means you are working really hard!

I have a great story about working in a union job the summer I first got out of high school. My Dad got me the job working in a grocery warehouse picking orders to be delivered to supermarkets. The warehouse just implemented a new software system that tracked the productivity of each worker.

Basically, I would be given an order and the system had estimated how long that order should take for me to complete. If the order was complex I got more time, it is was simply pulling a full pallet of one type of item, I might only get ten minutes or so to complete, some orders were estimated to take 75+ minutes to complete.

The union had negotiated that I only had to work 77% of the time. Yes, you read that correctly! If you added up all of my order minutes, in theory, to keep my job, I had to be 77% efficient. So, in an eight-hour shift of 480 minutes, once I reached my 369.6 minutes of work, I could actually just stop. In fact, I was encouraged very strongly by my union brothers to stop at the exact point!

Now the “new” computer system didn’t account for extra effort. So, if I had an order that was supposed to take 60 minutes, but I worked really hard and completed it in 45 minutes, I just earned myself an extra 15 minutes. By the end of the summer, I was efficient enough in getting orders completed that I spent about three hours a shift playing cards with my union brothers in the back of the warehouse until my shift was done!

The new HR Technology that is in play right now, based on AI and machine learning, would have made these corrections individually within a few shifts, knowing I could do that work more efficiently than another person and soon my orders would have been adjusted. The technology would have ensured that my ‘extra’ effort turned into my normal effort.

We already know that my warehouse work will be replaced by robots, so my example is already dated. But what about that office job? Will a robot replace you? No, not right away, we are a ways off from that, but that same AI/Machine learning technology will track and measure everything you do and soon you will feel as busy as ever, because ‘down time’ is unproductive time and the tech can compute that!

The future of work is more work.

My First Time!

It’s Re-Run Friday again – this post originally ran in April 2019!

Do you remember your first time!?

I was twenty-six years old.  At the time, I was living in Michigan and working in my first job right out of college.  I had been doing pretty well for myself and began moving up in the company.

I had just been put into a position where I had a couple of people reporting to me, and I had to hire a new person to report to me as well.  I hired this smart, young person right out of college. Their passion and energy immediately attracted me to them.

Oh, wait, you think I’m talking about…

Okay, let me start again.  This post isn’t about sex! This post is about my first termination!

Can you remember yours?

In my career, having to terminate individuals are some of my most memorable experiences.  I think if you have half a heart, you’re probably the same.  When I talk to upcoming HR graduates, I always try and forewarn them about this part of our job.

Terminating employees leads HR pros to heavy drinking or other forms of stress relief. That is a fact.

From time to time I hear HR pros talk boastful about firing someone, and it makes me sick to my stomach.  While I’ve had to terminate individuals who clearly deserved it, I never took pleasure in doing it.  It’s the one thing that really sucks about having a career in HR.  We get to see people at their weakest moments.

Most of us pray that no one ever has to see this side of ourselves.  Let alone, be in a position, where you frequently get to see this side of humanity.

When you terminate someone, there is a good chance you’re going to see this person’s biggest fears.  I have enough of my own fears. I don’t need to carry around the fears of others!

My first time?

I had to fire the young kid I hired with all the passion and energy, hoping they were going to change the world, fresh out of college.  This person just couldn’t come up to speed as a recruiter. It happens. I worked with this person, encouraged them, but eventually this person was ‘dead-employee’ walking.

Their body kept showing up for work, but their mind and heart had given up.  No matter how hard they physically worked, it wasn’t going to happen for them.  So, I pulled them into the conference room and told them it was time.

No real emotion to make this termination more memorable than any other. The person was upset, and you could see this was not something they had written on their bucket list.  They stood up, walked out, and my life went on.

Nine years later, I’m working at Applebee’s in HR.  I was responsible for seventy restaurants, and I happened to stroll into one of the locations and there was my first termination working behind the bar!  I saw him before he saw me, but once he saw me he froze.

I went over to say ‘hi’, and catch up.  It was awkward and clunky, but I’m an HR pro, I was trained to do this.  After I let him go, he bounced around for a few years, and finally decided to go back to school, and had taken the bartender job at Applebee’s to make ends meet.

I saw this person a number of times after, and on one visit, he asked to talk.  He said that the day I walked into the Applebee’s, and he learned who I was, in my new position, he assumed I was going to fire him again.  I said, “For what?!” He said, “I don’t know, just because.”

It hit me hard.  This wasn’t about terminating a poor performer and moving on.  This person carried that termination around like a backpack for nine years, and as soon as they saw me, all that fear and feelings of failure flooded back to him.

Welcome to the show kids. Sometimes working in HR sucks.

So, you want to lead?

I’ve been talking with a lot of C-suite leaders lately who are worried because they don’t see next-gen leaders on their teams. It’s not that they lack team members, but they don’t see these individuals as future leaders, or they feel they’re not close to being ready for leadership roles.

The current team members mean well. They want to be leaders and often talk the talk, but just wanting to be a leader isn’t enough. This is a common sentiment among C-suite executives.

Real leadership isn’t about making promises—it’s about taking action and producing results.

Give me someone who can achieve goals, and I believe I can help them become a leader. Too often, we look for leadership qualities like we look for friends. Is this someone I’d want to hang out with? Can I trust them? Are they pleasant? Do they smell nice? Do I get along with them, and do others as well? Would I follow them? If they jumped off a bridge, would I jump off a bridge?

I don’t need my leaders to be my buddies; I need them to accomplish tasks. Can you get things done without upsetting everyone around you? Finding this balance is important. Sometimes, we focus too much on one side of the equation, and it’s not the side of getting things done!

So, you want to lead?

Great! The key is to deliver results. The approach is simple, but many fall short:

Clearly explain what needs to be done. Identify and address obstacles. Set deadlines and agree on how tasks will be completed. Remove roadblocks and excuses. Follow up consistently. Emphasize accountability. Get things done.

In my experience, the most effective leaders don’t make promises; they deliver results. Every day. Every project. Leaders who rely on promises often fade away over time. Turns out most organizations value actions over words—they need tasks to be accomplished.

What’s Your Manager’s Salary?

Should you know your manager’s salary? Should companies share this salary information internally? I get it – they’re common questions. In today’s push for transparency, this is a complex issue. Generally, higher-level employees (not in publicly traded companies) are less inclined to support sharing this information within the organization. On the flip side, lower-level employees often desire more transparency.

Why is this?

The desire to know colleagues’ salaries boils down to trust. Interestingly, the higher you climb within an organization, the less you tend to trust those below you. That sucks, doesn’t it?  The lower you are, the more you trust those above you are making the right decisions. You could argue this. Sure many people at low levels don’t ‘trust’ management.  Yet, they still show up to work each day, and grind it out for $15/hr. Those at the top are making 6,7,8 figure incomes, and jump around from position to position.  Who is more trusting?

Whole Foods is known for its policy of disclosing all employees’ salaries internally. From Business Insider:

Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey introduced the policy in 1986, just six years after he co-founded the company. In the book, he explains that his initial goal was to help employees understand why some people were paid more than others. If workers understood what types of performance and achievement earned certain people more money, he figured, perhaps they would be more motivated and successful, too. 

“I’m challenged on salaries all the time,” Mackey explained. “‘How come you are paying this regional president this much, and I’m only making this much?’ I have to say, ‘because that person is more valuable. If you accomplish what this person has accomplished, I’ll pay you that, too.’”

Beyond making compensation data available to all employees, Whole Foods also has its managers post their store’s sales data each day and regional sales data each week. Once a month, Whole Foods sends each store a detailed report on profitability and sales at each of the chain’s locations. In fact, in the late 1990s the widespread availability of so much detailed financial data led the SEC to classify all of the company’s 6,500 employees as “insiders,” according to a 1996 story by Fast Company.

“Timmy, that only works at a big, great companies like Whole Foods!” Yeah, you’re probably right. It takes a strong, positive culture to handle this type of information being out in the open. It takes extremely good leadership to handle the challenges coming in from average and weak performers believing they should get what someone else is getting. It takes a great talent acquisition team to hire the right people with the maturity to work in an organization that has this much trust in their employees to handle such delicate information. It takes co-workers trusting one another, that each one is adding value to the corporation, and respecting the value each brings.

Meaningful Work Isn’t Just Saving Puppies

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes work truly meaningful. Many HR professionals believe that for employees to be truly engaged, they need to feel that their work is meaningful.

I agree with this idea.

However, some HR pros have misunderstood this concept. They’ve started pushing social causes onto employees, thinking that supporting these causes equals meaningful work.

Tom’s shoes are the best example. Each pair costs around $45, but the materials and labor probably only amount to about $5. While Tom’s donates a pair to a child in need for each one sold, they’re essentially sacrificing $5 of profit per pair. Can we really say this is meaningful work?

So, what’s my idea of meaningful work?

Meaningful work isn’t about saving puppies. It’s not about supporting causes. It’s about employees feeling that what they do every day contributes to the organization’s success. For many organizations, this has little to do with supporting specific causes—although it might for some.

The problem with equating meaningful work with causes is that everyone has their own causes they care about. If an organization defines helping the homeless as its cause, that’s great! But now, they need to find employees who also care about this cause to make work meaningful for everyone.

In HR, we sometimes make the concept of meaningful work too complicated. Instead, we should help leaders communicate better with their teams about how individual efforts impact the organization’s success. Meaningful work is about using your skills to contribute to your organization’s prosperity.

Sorry, we’re not saving puppies or planting trees here – but I promise it’s still going to be meaningful to us!

What it Really Means to Be a Partner

In our little world, being a “partner” carries weight, right? But, serious question. Does anyone really know what it means?

I operate a staffing firm, where I end up working for free quite a bit. Staffing involves providing services up front, hoping to get paid when the right candidate is found. To succeed, you have to minimize the unpaid work as much as possible. I also speak and write in the TA and HR space, I do free work there too. A lot actually.

Often, I’m asked for “favors” – which translates to free work. Despite being called a “partnership,” it’s usually one-sided—I give, they take. I get it, though. Sometimes, giving something for free can lead to future benefits. It’s like a “loss-leader” strategy.

In my experience, this strategy succeeds about 20% of the time. People generally like helping when asked.

In real business partnerships, it’s similar. While you don’t want to work for free, you should always get something in return. Always.

For example, if you partner with a hiring manager, they should provide valuable feedback or help with networking. If they give nothing, it’s not a partnership—it’s a one-way street.

Genuine partnerships involve support, respect, and mutual benefit. Just calling yourself a partner isn’t enough—you have to act like one too.

Staying True to Your Game

The saying “Stay true to the game” pops up all the time. It’s been around in sports and pop culture for ages. Basketball especially! (Side note: who do you have winning tonight?) Anyway, I feel like I keep hearing it more and more.

“The game” stands for your thing, whether it’s sales, accounting, basketball, you name it. For me, it’s recruiting. Whether third-party, corporate, or RPO, we’re all in the same boat.

Being true to recruiting is kind of subjective. What does it even mean?

If you zoom out from recruiting and think about staying true to something you’re passionate about, how do you do it? How do you make sure it’s a priority? What do you do to show you’re committed?

This way of thinking sets the stage for understanding what it means to stay true to recruiting.

Recruiting is my thing. To keep it real, I stick to a few key things:

  1. I soak up as much recruitment info as I can.
  2. I connect with top-notch recruiters.
  3. I swap stories and tips with fellow recruiters.
  4. I’m always looking for ways to improve my skills.
  5. I know that staying loyal to recruiting is a choice I make.

Staying true to recruiting means always aiming higher, personally and professionally.

Sure, it’s not always easy, but it’s about staying true to the game.

So, here’s the deal this Monday. Share what your thing is in the comments below. Then, let us know how you’re staying true to it this week. Go for it.