Amplify HR Department Service Levels – Go “Boundaryless”!

“HR leaders, I am encouraging you to open the gates and tear down the walls.”

By Rod Lacey, Sunstone HR

On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech in Berlin at the Brandenberg Gate and issued a challenge to the Soviets:

“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

I want to introduce “one sign the” HR leader in an organization “can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the” service level of the HR department in the organization. HR leaders, I am encouraging you to open the gates and tear down the walls.

What I am referring to is what I call Boundaryless Service. If a human resource team can embrace operating in a boundaryless way, service levels will reach a new high and organizational support and confidence in the HR team will greatly increase.

WHAT IS BOUNDARYLESS SERVICE?

Simply stated, Boundaryless is a commitment within the HR team that they will serve immediately, and at any level in the organization. Boundarless doesn’t change accountabilities, but it does dismantle territorialism.

There are three key commitments that must be in place for Boundaryless Service to work within an organization.

  • First, is a commitment to developing the HR team.
  • Second, is an understanding that there is an open door and even encouragement to serve wherever possible.
  • Third, there is a solid commitment to provide timely updates to individuals who have related accountabilities. 

Develop. Serve. Inform.

A simple example I use to teach this is the following scenario:
Develop

The HR team has been educated on accountabilities, not just within the department, but around the organization.

Serve

An employee comes to the HR department and says “I would like Cherry Coke in the soda machine downstairs.” The Boundaryless response from any member of the HR team would be something like, “I think that’s a great suggestion. I will see what I can do.” (This boundaryless HR team member then owns this assignment until it is appropriately handed-off or resolved)

Inform

The HR team member would then follow-up with the team responsible for the soda machine (say the cafeteria) and see if this is a viable option. Upon learning the answer, the HR person could either relay the information back to the employee directly, or get the cafeteria manager to commit to relay this information to the employee.

Bingo! The employee was immediately served, his request considered, and accountabilities were respected!

Tear Down The Walls

Human resource professionals committed to Boundaryless service will check their egos at the door and recognize that the whole HR team is working towards the same objectives, and that multiple resources are always greater than just one. Territorialism, internal competitiveness and department segmentation mentalities have got to take a back seat to the customer service commitment.

For example, a good HR leader will celebrate when a business partner is seen meeting with the CEO or one of her peers. A good HR team member will react only positively when one of their assigned internal customers is seen meeting with another member of the HR team.

Gone are the days of “Don’t speak with my boss without coming to me first.”
Let’s be done with “Why is she always meeting with members of ‘my’ department?”

How does this improve service levels? With everyone in the department committed to immediately satisfying organizational needs, developed cross-functionally, and throwing all available resources at any need, chances are that issues will be resolved quicker, in a less bureaucratic way.

Say goodbye to statements like “Judy is over benefits. I will let her know you stopped by.”

Instead, every employee in the department is prepared and trained to handle these basic questions. Thus, service is expedited, the employee experience is improved and the organization is better served.

Development Is Key

Ongoing HR team development is an important component of Boundaryless Service.

I made it a practice, for example, for each member of my HR teams, regardless of their area of speciality, to present at one of the benefit Open Enrollment meetings annually. Accountability for benefit responsibilities didn’t change, but this enabled and empowered the entire HR team to answer basic benefit questions that would regularly come to the department. Technical questions could still be routed to the benefits person, but most questions could be adequately answered immediately. The loop would then be closed with the individual offering the service to inform the benefits person who had the question and what was shared. (Develop. Serve. Inform.)

Staff meetings are a perfect opportunity for the team to share insights about their specific assignments and answers to common employee questions. Team members are also taught that if they don’t know the answer, they shouldn’t guess. It is still okay to refer people directly to the expert!

Exceptions to this standard do exist, however. If someone approaches a member of the HR team to seek support in a more sensitive area, such as compensation or a potential harassment or discrimination complaint, those should be immediately referred to the individual both trained and accountable for those issues.

To bring the service levels of your HR team to the next level, let’s tear down some walls! Let’s open doors and truly work together as a team. Let our commitments be to promptly resolving concerns and solving problems with all of our resources. Let’s be clear and respect accountabilities, but embrace each other’s help in achieving our organization’s goals and raising the service level (and reputation) of our HR department.

Let’s serve the organization better than ever before. Let’s serve Boundaryless!


For more information on Rod Lacey or Sunstone HR, click here!

Don’t Let Your Compassion Start a Zombie Outbreak at Your Company

By Rod Lacey, Sunstone HR

Yes, you heard me right, too much compassion in an organization can create a zombie outbreak. Curious?! Please let me explain.

Let’s assume that Roger has been identified for termination, due to work performance. You could also swap-out ‘work performance’ for a simple layoff and the story remains basically the same.

As you sit with the CEO and COO to review how to orchestrate Roger’s departure, the COO identifies that he lives near Roger, and that he knows Roger and his family are going through some hard times. He doesn’t ask to reverse the decision (because it’s a good business decision), but does ask if there is some sort of compassion that could be showed to Roger.

What is decided is that Roger should receive what I refer to as a ‘work-out’ period. Roger will be told that he’s being let go, but given 45 days to remain employed and look for work. The compassionate manager felt that it would be easier for Roger to gain employment if there weren’t any gaps on his resume. They also considered how the extended dates would positively impact Roger’s benefits and hopefully ease him breaking the news to his spouse.

THE KIND (SOFT) MANAGER

You know this type of manager! There are ultra-compassionate managers who simply can’t make these hard decisions, and when they must, they try to create as much padding as possible to soften the messaging.

ZOMBIE OUTBREAK

Allowing an employee to continue working, after he has been notified of his termination, creates a period of time where I call him ‘the walking dead.’

Whether it’s the popular TV show on AMC, or the line from The Green Mile “Dead Man Walking” – we know what that means. We have someone of short-term, or no value walking our halls.

What can you expect from the walking dead in your building? After your compassion, only a small percentage will give their role full effort and energy. If the reason for termination was performance, that means you’re getting even less of the sub-par performance than ever before. How would this be a win for the employer?

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

Here are just a few of the risks associated with giving notice, then allowing the walking dead to roam your halls:

  • Roger could get another job and start to recruit your employees to follow him.
  • Roger could suffer a work-related injury that won’t go away as fast as his termination date.
  • Roger and his entire family could undergo surgeries that would run-up the company’s medical cost.
  • If Roger understands Medical Flexible Spending Accounts, he would likely spend all of the account, even if it’s early in the year and the account isn’t fully funded.
  • Roger could harass coworkers, creating a hostile work environment that could expose the employer.

What does Roger have to lose? Why would he be expected to remain committed to the organization?

I believe it’s clear that I am not an advocate for work-out periods because each of the above “risks” have happened to organizations I’ve been with.

In one situation, an individual that was terminated and allowed to pack his desk, and quietly left the building within 30 minutes of termination. In that brief, but unsupervised 30 minutes, he advised an active, high performing employee that she should get an attorney. Even a 30 minute work-out period failed!

ALTERNATIVES

Now before we commit to be fully heartless or cruel, let’s discuss a couple of different approaches

that simply work better.

First, if performance is the issue, please address it. Allowing an under-performing employee to remain employed makes little sense (if we’re to the point of termination), so simply let him go. Don’t delay, and don’t allow the walking dead to roam the halls for weeks.

Second, if you feel a need to be compassionate, don’t pay for 30-45 days of non-productive work that creates significant risk. If you insist on compensation, pay the individual something AFTER he’s left the building. If you’re just going to create risk with a work-out period, don’t do it! Offer the employee a lump-sum or schedule of payments, but probably in exchange for signing a waiver and release.

CONCLUSION

In my career I have had countless requests for work-out periods and have pushed-back on them all, but allowed several. I can honestly say that a couple of them turned-out okay. The vast majority, however, were a dismal failure. Most of those managers learned the hard way that their compassion came back to bite them, or the company.

When considering terminating an employee, work-out periods may seem compassionate, but they actually significantly increase the risks the employer may face related to that termination decision. If the decision is to terminate, get the employee out the door and avoid the zombie outbreak!

For more information on Rod Lacey or Sunstone HR, click here!

If You Can Read This, You’re In Trouble!

There are many measurements of time, one of the shortest being the nano-second. There is a new time metric that has been defined as the “ohno-second”, or the time between when you click “Send” and you realize that you’ve just made a huge mistake. Maybe you’ve ‘replied to all’ by accident, or sent confidential information to the wrong “John.”

By Rod Lacey, Sunstone HR

Carved In Stone

One of my favorite activities on a vacation is to look for ancient petroglyphs. These carvings in rocks have lasted hundreds or even thousands of years. What was written long ago still exists today. We may not understand the meaning or original intent, but those images and once-important stories are on track to last forever.

With the current, heavy reliance on written communications in business, and the ease that has been created by text, email, social media and instant messaging, the face-to-face conversations are slowly losing their valuable place in our communication style. “Why should I walk over to see you when I can IM and get a quick reply?” “Why should I call you when an email allows me to click “send” and quickly move on to my next task?”

Here’s some statistics related to how our electronic communications are growing:

  • In 2013 over 100 billion business emails were sent and received per day.*

Even more alarming are the poor practices that occur in business:

  • 50% of employees have sent or received emails that include jokes, stories or pictures of a “questionable” nature.**
  • 6% of employees have emailed confidential company information that they should not have.
  • Although 92% of employees said they had never sent an email that put their company at risk, however 68% in fact had.**
  • More than 25% of companies in a recent survey have fired an employee for email misuse; most of the terminations were for inappropriate or offensive language and violation of company rules.**

Elliot Spitzer, former NY Governor and lawyer said “Never talk when you can nod and never nod when you can wink and never write an email because it’s death. You’re giving prosecutors all the evidence we need.”

Have you ever worked for a company when the discovery-hold notice from Legal is circulated? If your communications related to that topic were written, they may as well have been carved on stone – they’re on track to last forever.

Back to some statistics:

  • 24% of employers have had email subpoenaed by courts and regulators and another 15% have battled workplace lawsuits triggered by employee email.***

The same rule applies to social media posts. Unless you have completely misrepresented your identity, there is no imaginary shield that protects your online activity from discovery. There is also a fuzzy line that defines when you are acting independently, or acting as a company representative. Be careful what you carve in stone in any forum.

As a seasoned human resources professional I have had meetings with employees at all levels of the organization about their online activities. Most of these individuals were just coached but some were fired.

A good communications policy can protect the company to some degree, but if you consider that the average employee sends or receives over 100 emails per day*, even the best of policies still leaves the company exposed.

Understanding and respecting that written communications are a necessary and productive work forum, here are some helpful tips to consider before any written communication is sent (aka: carved in stone):

Consider the Weight

As a general practice, and assuming you aren’t corresponding under attorney-client privileges, the weightier the topic, the more verbal communication should occur. When the email chatter gets more serious, a simple “I’ll be right over” or “Call me” would be more appropriate than continuing to circulate sensitive information.

Be wary of the unintended consequences of e-discovery. Ask if you would want your email read out-loud to a jury in front of your CEO and General Counsel.

Consider All Potential Audiences

Never send anything that could be offensive to anyone. I was once involved in the firing of an employee at another company. Back-in-the-day when everyone mass-forwarded the ‘joke of the day’, a racially insensitive joke began to circulate in my company, which was brought to my attention by an employee, in a protected class, who was offended. As I worked to clean-up the mess in my own company I was able to identify the chain of emails and exactly who had first sent it to an employee at my company. I contacted the HR department at that company (as the individual sending the email used his/her work email) and informed them of the email and its impact on one of my employees. I left the discipline up to that HR team, but learned days later that the employee had been fired.

Never E-Fight

You know what I’m talking about. Whenever I’ve encountered the ‘rage email’ in my inbox, I never reply. Instead, I immediately walk down to that person’s office, close the door and say “Sounds like we need to talk.” Without exception, the issue has never been as big as was expressed in the email.

If you’re typing is in ALL CAPS, or your tone feels that way, don’t send it!

Avoid E-Threats

Never threaten harm or undue consequences to another employee, especially in writing. Performance expectations are a good practice to communicate in writing, but let’s limit consequences to subjects related to performance management.

Pause Before You Send

There are many measurements of time, one of the shortest being the nano-second. There is a new time metric that has been defined as the “ohno-second”, or the time between when you click “Send” and you realize that you’ve just made a huge mistake. Maybe you’ve ‘replied to all’ by accident, or sent confidential information to the wrong “John.”

Even in our busy lives, it is well worth the time to pause, take a deep breath, proofread one more time and triple-check our work before “send” is clicked.

Avoid Names Where Possible

Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if you named an employee with performance challenges in an email and in a whirlwind of forwards through management, that employee eventually was copied on your note? Or, what if you expressed exasperation with an employee, by name in an email to the manager, for her use of FMLA, and your email was subpoenaed for her later EEOC claim?

If the receiver knows who you are referencing, you could refer to the ‘current situation’ or something generic (although please not derogatory) rather than naming the employee. If the material is super sensitive, it should be reserved for a face-to-face conversation anyway.

Be Careful with Sarcasm

Meaning is difficult to convey in writing, so sarcasm may or may not be fully understood. Even if that’s your go-to communication style, business emails should be written professionally and your sarcasm should be saved for a forum where you get the pleasure of the real-life ‘laugh-out-loud.’

Never Vent in Writing

If you need to vent, walk to your friend’s workstation and ask if they have a few minutes to talk. Negatively communicating via any medium with names, roles, titles and functions attached could have negative consequences.

Conclusion

In high school I was on the wrestling team. On the walls of that sweaty wrestling room were dozens of motivational posters. The one that stands out to me the most is the one that I hoped never to read. The only poster on the ceiling of that room read “If You Can Read This, You’re in Trouble.” A wrestler reading that would have to be on his back, looking up at the ceiling, struggling for his existence, and very much in trouble.

Considering that written business communications today are essentially carved in stone, I keep a mental image of that wrestling poster in my mind before I click Send or Submit.

I do my very best to never to send anything that would cause me to fear “If you read this, I’m in trouble.

For more information on Rod Lacey or Sunstone HR, click here!

References:

*Email Statistics Report, 2013-2017 The Radicati Group, Inc.

**Lisa Guerin, “Smart Policies for Workplace Technologies”

***American Management Association, “2007 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey.”