How HR Needs to Improve Networking Skills

Caribbean HR professionals are no different from other professionals in the region in their need to expand their networks.

While the needs are similar, the results I have observed are quite different.  Executives and salespeople need no convincing that they need to always be improving their networking skills.  HR professionals, however, are often reluctant as they can’t clearly see how building a network is important to them in their jobs.

The argument I often hear is that salespeople have an external focus, which takes them outside the company, while HR professionals have a focus on the inside.

Yet, HR professionals across the region that don’t develop wide and deep networks often find themselves becoming stale, and increasingly irrelevant to their companies.  The fact is, many HR professionals fall behind on key issues in their companies, and don’t provide the kind of leadership that only they can.  They end up responding to problems and firefighting when they should be anticipating and creating awareness.

Given the importance of human capital to our companies in the region, the cost is tremendous to companies.  They end up floundering because their HR executives and managers aren’t using the latest information, don’t create ideas of value and employ tools that are more about limiting perceived damage, than they are about spurring on creativity and risk-taking at all levels.

They typically don’t have the time or inclination to return to school, and the paucity of practical  research in HR  means that the best ideas often don’t come from academics — instead, they come from fellow practitioners.  Without a deep and rich network, the best ideas that are available remain shared among a small group of people in Bridgetown, Montego Bay and Castries.

Reaching and learning from fellow professional in the region takes an investment.  Very few companies can even afford to send their professionals to more than a single conference per year, and rarely are they allowed to do more than attend something local. The response of too many professionals is, sadly, that they stop trying to expand their network beyond their current, comfortable set of friends and colleagues.

There is an answer, however, as most young professionals and IT-types will tell you.  Instead of getting on a plane, get on the internet, because new technology is providing amazing ways to connect, collaborate and co-create.

Unfortunately, too many HR professionals are not technically savvy enough to take advantage of the most recent tools.

The fact that most of these tools are either free or very cheap only heightens the urgency of the need to learn them from those who have some inkling of how to employ common tools such as VOIP and YouTube.

When HR professionals don’t use the internet and other technology enablers to network, their companies a disservice.  Other professionals in their companies simply don’t learn the key skills that are critical to their success.

To put it another way, the techies in the  IT department should never know more about the latest networking skills than HR professionals, because underneath the technology lies all the same issues with communication that are best understood by those with soft-skill training. While the techies know a lot about installing software, they know nothing about creating a software-driven culture change.

Email is a simple example.

It is an indisputable fact that the ubiquity of email in the professional workplace has changed the culture of every single company that uses it.  It altered communication, relationships, teamwork, conflict resolution and created new issues of trust, privacy and privilege.

As this culture change was underway, I fear that the HR professionals were caught unawares, and were probably among the last to attend the “Intro to Email” class offered in the company.  The poor email and time management skills shared by many HR executives stands testimony to this fact.

A culture change was undertaken without HR’s guidance, knowledge or leadership.

Today, in 2008, that’s just water under the bridge, but it’s not too late for Caribbean HR professionals to grasp the significance of technology and how it can be used to drive a culture change, to improve communication and to network.

P.S. Recently I wrote a book outlining the ways in which Caribbean professionals need to enhance their networking skills. It’s 37 pages long, contains several multimedia links, and it’s currently free to download. Click here to be taken to the download page — as of today, it’s been downloaded or referred at least 400 times.  It’s titled — The New Networking – Caribbean Professionals 2008.


Part Two: Can’t You See I’m Working!


At 10:00 a.m., Jennifer Williams, Account Manager, asked Jerry and Glenda to report to the conference room for a meeting.  The unit had a deadline to compile a report for the Managing Director the following day for the client account on which they were working.  Jerry and Glenda dash toward the conference room, complaining all the way.

“These people always put so much pressure on you with these deadlines, man,” grumbled Jerry.  “They don’t give you a chance to get in the door!”

“That’s the truth.  I barely got a chance to put my bag down and now there’s a meeting.  I didn’t even get a chance to finish my portion yet.  How can you finish anything when you’re in meetings all the time?”  Glenda commiserated.

As they entered the conference room, they each raised their defenses in preparation for the tongue lashing they were sure to get from Jennifer.  Sure enough, Jennifer was very annoyed that they had not made much progress in their work and said that she wanted to see each of them individually to assist them with meeting the required deadline.  Her conversation was quite the same for both.

“I know you are working toward the deadline, but I also notice that you spend a lot of time either on the phone, in idle conversations and on breaks.  While I don’t want the kind of work atmosphere that is always about work, it’s important that we recognize the importance of meeting these deadlines.  If I’ve set one, it means that someone has set one for me, and it’s because of a commitment made to our clients.  What can I do to help you meet the deadlines?  Are you having a challenge with your assignments?”  Jennifer queried.

“No,” is the abrupt response.

“Can I help you with anything?”  Jennifer persists.

“No,” is yet again the curt reply.

In short, both employees are angry about being confronted about their productivity issues and feel that they are being picked on and are unappreciated.  In Part One, we were introduced to Jerry and Glenda, who reported to work but clearly demonstrated that they were not working.  What follows is what many managers in The Bahamas experience:  the challenge of managing productivity.

The Challenges
1.    Anger and Resentment
Employees may feel angry or resentful about being confronted about productivity issues. Like Jerry and Glenda, employees feel if they are ‘at work’, then they are working and do not understand the difference.  They may express this anger in various ways:
•    Passive Aggressive Behavior
Defined as a learned behavior from childhood borne of controlling parents or authority figures, persons that exhibit passive aggressive behavior do not openly express dissatisfaction because they feel they will lose approval; however, they hide their negative emotions in behaviors that indicate that something is wrong.  Passive aggressive behavior is expressed through sarcasm, procrastination, poor performance, missing deadlines, losing documents, absenteeism and lateness at critical times or other forms of sabotage like damaging equipment, computer systems, and even the personal assets of managers.  Their attitude quietly says, “I’ll show you!”
•    Aggression, Abuse, and Violence
The other extreme of passive aggressive behavior is aggression.  This person is not afraid to push back with open, hostile confrontation, criticism, name calling, shouting, cursing, and even physical violence.  This behavior still indicates feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem and this learned behavior is a defense mechanism used to have people keep their distance and in essence, not inflict hurt or pain on the abuser.
•    Withdrawal and Low Morale
Another way of dealing with confrontation and constructive criticism is to withdraw completely, losing interest in their work and in the company on the whole.  They will withdraw their support and commitment to the manager and team, feeling unappreciated and targeted.
•    Decreased Productivity
The one result of challenging the lack of productivity can yield the same result: reduced productivity.  Again, a form of withdrawal and passive aggressive behavior, the worker may feel if the manager has a problem with his or her work, so by working even less, in his or her mind, means why do any more if what is done does not satisfy?
•    Feelings of Inadequacy
At the root of many of these feelings and behaviors can be inadequacy and low self esteem.  Criticism is taken as a personal attack, an expression of disapproval and lack of acceptance.  At the core, these feelings translate the manager-employee conversation about performance and productivity as, “You don’t appreciate what I do.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t please you so why do I even try?  You don’t understand me.  I can tell that you don’t care about me at all and what I’m going through.  I’m doing my best.”  You will note that this language is all inwardly focused, more about the self and the relationship with the manager rather than the work and the performance levels – the real issue at hand.

How can managers deal with these challenges effectively?
The Strategies
1.    Open Communication
Try as much as possible to cultivate a working relationship of open, honest communication that is based on a relationship of mutual trust.  Good communication on both parts will help both manager and employee to understand each other, share feelings, and clarify and confront issues.
2.    Clear Goals and Expectations
Knowing why the work and deadline are necessary and what the performance expectations are help employees to perform at required levels.  Making sure that there is real understanding about tasks and standards is critical and often both managers and employees have a different perspective of what is expected.
3.    Clearly Communicated Consequences
Discipline is almost as dirty a word as work, and one of the hardest things for some managers to enforce.  Consequences for lack of productivity need to be understood by all.  Not only does it mean not meeting targets, affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire team or department, but it can even mean lost time, customers, and profits.  What does all that loss translate to over time?  Lost benefits and lost jobs.  Persistent offenders must begin to feel the consequences of these impacts, even up to the point of termination.
4.    Training, Coaching, and Mentorship
Poor productivity can mean low skills or confidence in completing certain tasks.  If the employee does not feel comfortable enough to admit that he or she really isn’t sure about what to do, it will be hidden in a lack of productivity.  Probing conversations, observation, and analysis can determine if this is the case.  Watch for signs like excuses, blaming, getting others to complete the work, lots of errors, and waste.  Managers will then have to determine whether employees need to be trained, coached one on one or mentored by the manager or another high-performing employee to increase skill and confidence levels.
5.    Praise and Recognition
As simple as this may sound, some people stop performing when their efforts are not recognized, appreciated, or rewarded.  In this age of Generation Y or Millenials especially, they are motivated by the WIFM rule:  What’s In It For Me?  Many are motivated by money and recognition.  Others do not need public acclaim or monetary rewards, but just knowing that their work is noted and appreciated is enough.  Even though some managers feel that salary is reward enough, employees – even managers – want to know that what they do has added value and meaning not only to themselves as professionals, but also for the department and manager, and the organization as a whole.

How can HR help?  Two ways are by providing management development initiatives to help managers cope with these workplace challenges and create forums where both managers and employees can openly (and anonymously) express why they may not be performing optimally and address them appropriately.  And finally, one that I hear most often: support the efforts of the managers to discipline and correct negative behaviors while providing mechanisms to recognize and reward improvements and achieved targets.


Summer Madness

Does it seem as if all your employees go nuts during the summer? It’s almost as if the desire to work and common sense all go on vacation during the summer months. How can you maintain productivity during a period when no one really feels like working?

Revisit Performance Goals
What’s a better shake up than a mid-year check-up? This is a perfect time to discuss the performance goals that may have been set at the beginning at the year. The best of us can tend to get a bit lax unless we are reminded of the performance expectations. This is also a great opportunity to set new goals based on past successes and to train or coach through those areas that still require some focused effort.

Training exercises and short seminars can be great boosters for performance and motivation during sluggish periods. Well executed, relevant, and timely training programs can revitalize employee’s desire to perform well and help them to continue to develop skills, knowledge and attitudes prior to the end of year performance reviews.

Social Activities
And if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, as the saying goes. Sometimes none of us feels very productive. As Caribbean people, we need no real excuse to have a party; just invite a few folks, have a little food, drinks, and music, and it’s over! Social activities can promote unity, can reinforce concepts that have been trained, and can enhance the corporate culture.

The key to battling those times when your organization may not be meeting the required targets is not to address it by excessive discipline if that is not appropriate, but rather to identify performance trends, peak periods and critical needs of the employees and managers in order to effectively address them. Great HR means having your finger on the pulse of your organization while finding ways to pump life through its veins.


Harvard Executive HR Summit

Recently, an executive member of CISRHP attended a program that sounds quite interesting.  I am glad that someone from our region could attend, and maybe others should also.

Here is a clip from the newspaper clipping, followed by a link to the article.

Cayman Islands – Cay Compass News Online – Mr. Jackson attends Harvard seminar

Phil Jackson, vice–president of the Cayman Islands HR Society, recently attended an Executive HR Network Summit at Harvard Business School held 10–11 July, which was co–sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and Harvard Business School Publishing.The seminar was titled ‘Managing Human Capital in the High Performance Organization’ and was taught by Thomas Delong, professor of Management Practice in the Organizational Behaviour area at the Harvard Business School, and Boris Groysberg, assistant professor at Harvard Business School.

Acceptance into the programme was based on merit, explains Lillian McFadden, education analyst at SHRM. “Mr. Jackson, along with 39 other participants, was selected from among 75 applications to this specific programme.

The Executive HR Network Summit is an exclusive programme for senior HR professionals, developed to bring together forward–looking HR leaders from top organisations to address critical issues, exchange ideas and solutions, and interact with renowned experts in leadership, strategy, and management”.

The original article can be found by clicking here.


Women in the Caribbean Workplace

Globally, 76.3% of women age 25 to 34 worked in 1998 versus 34% in 1950[1]. This increase continues into 2008 and we as employers and HR Professionals in the Caribbean region need to address this gender skew in our employee population.

At Guardian Holdings we have 78% females and only 22% males. At Scotia Bank Trinidad[2], 73% of their workforce is females. These statistics provide the employer with key information to craft a variety of work options to accommodate the increasing number of women in the workplace. One may even look at the age demographic to determine how many women are at the child bearing age.

We all speak about a war for talent and how important it is to retain our human capital. Our work conditions, benefits and work options maybe tailored to this large group of women in our workforce and thus prove to be a significant retention strategy.

Child care is a major concern for mothers in the workplace especially with the increasing difficulty to find trustworthy care givers. The mother either depends on her extended family or a nursery to provide the care when she is at work and or the school depending on the age of the child. However, when these options are not available, the mother may have to miss work and stay home.

This is an opportunity for an employer, especially one with a two thirds women majority in the population, to provide the needed assistance. In Trinidad and Tobago, the 2007 budget clearly identified child care solutions as essential for the development of the domestic social sector and improved national productivity. The Income Tax Act (as amended by the Finance (No.2) Act of 2007) allows for deduction for expenditure actually incurred for the construction or setting up a child care / homework facility for the employees’ dependants (minors) up to a maximum of $500,000 TT for each facility, not exceeding 3 million TT in the aggregate in the year on income.

The employer may structure the arrangement in a variety of ways that may range from absorbing the full cost to partial subsidy to outsourcing to an already set up facility. This may depend on the cost of facility, availability of space, cost to maintain and operate the facility while considering the benefits, both tangible and intangible.

A tangible benefit maybe decreased absenteeism rates. This can calculated using the current absenteeism rate[3] for the women[4] in the organisation as a baseline with the proposed decrease in absenteeism post facility.

Usually a parent has to leave work to pick up their child/children from school or nursery and drop off somewhere else then return to work. This delay in time may also be avoided with the provision of this facility. Even if the facility is not on-site but off site, because the facility is operated by the employer, the time to pick up the children may coincide with the end of a workday. The employee may continue to be productive without the interruption after lunch. This can also be monetised[5].

Retention rates may increase especially among the specific group of employees this benefit will assist.

The intangible benefit of a parent feeling at ease knowing that his / her children are close by and or well taken care of. This will allow for improved productivity per employee[6].

The increase of single parent homes is also significant in Trinidad and Tobago, where the mother must function in many roles to raise their children to become productive young adults. As a result, there are competing demands for her time.

An employer may consider offering the options of flexitime, telework for specific jobs or re-locating the employee to a location closer to home[7]. For example, a job like an Underwriter may be able to work from home. We have been doing a pilot with this work option and it has been working well for us thus far. The candidates who are involved in the pilot are so appreciative and very thankful. They have increased their output because they are no longer bogged down to answer operational queries and are able to work when they want at home. It is important to have definite parameters for this work arrangement with clear guidelines on reporting with periodic visits to the office.

Mothers of young babies are encouraged to breast feed their babies. However, after three months, the mother has to return to work, which makes breastfeeding challenging. The mother has the option of expressing milk and storing it, however, at the workplace, there may not be a dedicated private space to facilitate this activity or a refrigerator to store the milk or even the employee may not be permitted the time needed ( 20 minutes) to express the milk.

An employer may take the opportunity to provide a space, time, and a place to store the milk to assist the mother and the child to continue reaping the benefits of breast milk.

Breast fed children are less ill and as such the mothers will take less time off to care for their infants. The improved health of the children also decreases the claims made against the company’s health insurance resulting is lower health care costs. The employee maybe more productive, have greater loyalty and increased morale.

The employer may boast about all the family friendly policies to gain brand equity and be positioned as a employer of choice. Thereby, improving the organisation’s ability to attract and retain the shrinking talent pool.

[1] According to the U.S Department of Labour: Changes in Women’s Work Participation

[2] Revealed by Martin De Gannes at AFETT Child Care Symposium on 14th July 2008

[3] Absenteeism can be monetized by using an average salary for target group multiplied by the number of days plus cost of any replacements for the periods of absence.

[4] Mothers with minor dependants

[5] One can find the average hourly rate of pay multiplied by the number of times this occurs for the month

[6] This is challenging to track but not impossible. One can look at the number of objectives, deliverables or targets achieved before and after this service. If the organization uses the balanced scorecard, it will be easier to track.

[7] This will be applicable to employers with branches spread geographically through out the island


Why Did We Ever Go Into HR?

I just read an interesting article in the July-August Harvard Business Review.

The article entitled “Why Did We Ever Go Into HR” is an interview with two recent Harvard Business MBA’s who chose human resources as a career.  Essentially, they make the case that the field of HR is the “next big thing.”

They argue that with the baby boomers nearing retirement and the Millenials bring new expectations to the workplace, the management of talent is going to become increasingly important.  They felt puzzled that CEO’s that came to the business school to speak shared that they spend 10-20% of their time on this part of their job, but shared little about how to actually do it in practice.

It was interesting to hear their observation that there is a shift away from the monetary levels of HR (compensation, benefits, etc) and a move to measuring the “asset value of human capital” as measured by intangibles such as employee engagement.

They also said that they see an undervalued and under-priced asset in the HR function itself, and that they believe that the value of the function is “poised to appreciate significantly.”

This article is worth reading — in my years of reading the Harvard Business Review, it’s the first article that has explicitly mentioned the HR profession as a whole.

Click here to be taken to the article.