Organizationally Speaking

Keeping pace with shifts in HR world: Infographic Resume

This is the first in series of articles presenting my views on the gap between what can be and what is in the HR or Talent world.

I am looking out for work opportunities actively at this point. I have sent my resume to several HR folks and to several head hunters in the process. Let me begin by explaining my resume. I have a single page resume divided into two parts – infographic timeline of my education and experience. This includes where I have worked or studied, when and what. The other side provides glimpse of range of my skills and key projects in core areas of work. This has tools and techniques I have used in my work, projects categorized by HR function, my social and industry contributions and my interests (beyond work and I mention my blog on this).

I know that the resume catches attention. I was asked to send a two page text resume because some recruiters found my current resume too confusing. The first page has all of the above except the timeline. That is because I refused to cave in to recruiters’ ask to share detailed description of my work on each job I have held in the last 12 years. I refused to be judged by conventional standards of role definitions and have highlighted what I have done. I have converted the timeline into text talking about my work history and education with what my role in each organization was.

As HR professional, I see merit in knowing how applicant’s career has progressed over time. However, the offer is still based on last designation and salary held. That is quite conflicted. This decision is not not based on other experiences the person brings to the new role or the right compensation for work involved in new role. Its always about progression according to industry standards. Even as HR professional the term industry standards has me often confused. I will leave that topic to another day.

The readiness of our traditional HR recruiters to pace with creativity in resume writing requires mindset shift. I list three things we as HR professionals need to do to become progressive.

1. Manage the disruptive. Disruptive ideas bring innovation to organizations. We talk about breaking biases and avoid hiring similar people in a team. We need to consider disruptive folks who bring a fresh perspective. A wise person said – “If you continue doing things the same way and expect different results, you must be stupid”. Organizations need diversity and not just for statistics but for the value it brings. I remember one of my work colleague and a good friend confide in me about diversity in his team. He said he was all for more women on team and he managed to have the highest diversity of 70% of women on his team. He told me that 80% of these women were either on maternity leave or were getting married. His team’s productivity was at lowest, those still working were overloaded and were demotivated. There were new fathers on the team who did not have similar luxury to spend time at home with the child or be with their wives. Instead they were working more than ever when they should have at least taken it easy at work. Teams require diversity in life stage, in mindset and thought process.

2. Get over the conservative considerations. If we continue to look at the resumes the same way and put tick mark on – years on required skillset, team size managed, no gaps in education or work etc. I have had someone ask me that my first three jobs, I switched in a span of 1.5 year each. In the last 9 years, I have only been with 2 companies. I still don’t understand how my reasons at the start of my career will influence my decisions now. Is there an assumption that we never grow up? Also, we live in an age where many people have two careers. We have enough techies venturing into music and forming their local bands. We have enough bankers who love photography. We have enough retailers who are shaping social media via detailed or microblogging. This world has changed. We need to change too. A resume needs to convey applicant’s ability to work. Willingness is assessed during the interview process. It is important to understand applicant’s motivation to work but finding out why they took a break in their studies 15 years back or why they quit a company within 6 months, 10 years ago does not define their current motivations. They are not in same stage of life, economic environment, maturity levels or even their aspirations.

3. Embrace and advocate the new. We as HR professionals not only need to embrace and adopt new practices, we need to advocate them. We need to drive culture change and pace up with the growth in industry and with generations.

I want to also talk about why I am advocating infographic resume.

Visual judgement: All of us have a huge visual component in our decision making. We make judgements on looks, dressing, expressions, body language, presentation etc. Infographic resume simplifies the scanning process via visual representation of skills and experiences.

Resume is summary and interview is details: When we look at resumes, we typically look for key words in skillset we want for a job and a role. Infographic showcases the same effectively. We don’t need to scan the entire resume to pick and highlight the keywords.

As mentioned earlier, we also need to create this shift in organization with our business professionals who interview specially on technical ability of the prospective hire to do the job.

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Time to split or redesign HR?

This blog is my reflection on discussion that has dominated webspace about HR, sparked by Ram Charan’s inflammatory article on splitting HR. I have provided links to his blog and two other blogs refuting his view.

Ram Charan – http://hbr.org/2014/07/its-time-to-split-hr

Josh Bersin – http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2014/08/01/why-does-hr-get-so-much-grief/

Gurprriet – http://joyandlife.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/hrexcellence/?utm_content=bufferbbded&utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkedin.com&utm_campaign=buffer

I want to share few of my stories as HR professional.

Story 1: I joined this new organization, big shiny one. After two weeks of observing, I walked up to my boss to clarify my core deliverable. He mentioned two big things – maximize learning hour completion in my business units and maximize budget spent. I asked him why do we have learning hours and he laughed at me that after working for 12 years in learning space and having led few business units, I was still asking this question. To give him credit he asked me to do more if I wanted to, as long as I get these two right and as long as my business leaders were happy. I could not and cannot fathom why the focus was not on relevance of learning and people skill development. I could not and cannot agree that purpose of big budget is to spend it and not optimize it.  I remember asking for half the budget next year and still getting as much budget knowing my business will never need it.

Story 2: We were a group of hard working fun loving girls at work. All from HR but with starkly different functions within HR. We loved working late hours most weekdays and then making sure we finish our work by 5 on Friday and go for happy hours to start a well earned weekend. One Friday, this girl said she will get delayed and join us by 7 which we were okay with. She stopped responding to calls or messages after 6 and reappeared only at 9.30 to tell us what happened. As she was preparing to close reports and activities at 4, she got an email asking her to process exit of 4 junior level employees. The business head who had asked for this had already left for home by 4.30 and all these 4 employees were waiting for her right at her seat. Business head decided to have his retention discussions with these 4 and decided to waive off the notice period. Without comprehending the effort and time it takes for smooth exit, he had sent this request and left for the day. His expectation was for HR to work as executioners of the process. I later asked my friend on whether they work towards retaining top talent. She mentioned that even when top talent left because of their manager, the manager would have had the retention conversation without involving or informing HR.

There are several stories to demonstrate business leader’s expectation that role of HR is hygiene and execution and salary distribution. I do have another story where a leader put his trust on our team.

Story 3: I was working on leadership development program for a business unit with a leader who had been industry for over 20 years. In one of my conversation with him he opened up with a major conflict with his second line of command who again were quite senior to me. He lay huge trust on me and I could not have disappointed him. We both worked through the conflict and challenges within the team so that they do not reflect in public or influence work. It was a coaching relationship which helped us both. I was more in tune with his team and he helped me with business nuances.

What are HR professionals today struggling with? Is it what business expects of us? Is it getting dumped with work that no one else would do? Is it incompetence? It is likely to be parts of above and more.

I remember talking with this leader who was my client in business and moved into HR head role. When I asked him what motivated this decision, he said that it looked like a good role with expanding organization, few acquisitions lined up and because HR was intuitive and anyone could do it. I could not believe that he moved into a role he had just sort of demeaned. I remember another HR head saying that if someone in the organization needs alternate work, s/he could move into HR and we will find a suitable role for them within HR. Another HR person was venting when she had to work on reports because she took up HR to not do maths or anything analytical anymore and thought HR was all about talking to people. At one point I was told that I would not fit HR because I was full of life and not motherly and here I am 12 years and counting in probably the function considered warm fuzzy even within HR.

There are stories and more stories of how HR is treated unfairly or how HR adds no value. Its a struggle for this function and I am sure it will eventually shape up, find its own place in organizations, find its seat at the table. For so called incompetent professionals there is a professional who is shaping the function to keep up with shifting times. For business heads who think HR is equivalent to admin, there is a business leader who is inclusive.

On the suggestion that HR should be split. I am confused by this because isn’t HR already split into several functions within. HR has continuously restructured itself and has been looking for terminology that justifies its role. There have been debates on label – Human Resources, Human Capital and now Talent. The function is now split into advisory roles and operational roles in most organizations. HR leaders are talking on several forums on how they are finding time and space from the overwhelming demands of operational work they have had for decades.

The recommendation seems to suggest on dissolving HR and that HR function is not needed. We can debate that HR function may not be required in its archaic form. Although I do personally feel even the archaic role of HR still holds value in organizations.

HR professionals should do three things on priority.

1. HR professionals need to upskill.  If there is no good course available on people strategy, there is no harm in attending course on business strategy. It will help us establish better connect with business leaders. HR professionals should engage in peer learning and collaborative learning so that the profession benefits from collective ideation.

2. HR profession needs reverse mentoring. This will bridge the divide between generations. Older generations will benefit from ideas and creativity youngsters will bring in. Also, the profession has undergone transformation significantly with newer structures and technologies. At the same time professionals themselves have not had much skill enhancement. Reverse mentoring will align expectations and shifts.

3. HR professionals should respect the profession, have an opinion, express it and continue to learn about business. Treat this as client service work which requires understanding of client’s work and challenges.

I remember a cheeky conversation with business leader who looked down on my work as just a warm fuzzy function. I told him that business has other things to worry about and should learn to trust HR with our work. Leave what they think is warm fuzzy to us because its a skill to do it consistently and effectively and we love doing that.

Receiving feedback

My first year of work taught me a very important life and career lesson – on feedback.
This story has stayed with me for the last 14 years and has shaped my willingness to listen to others. Feedback is important in life, as children we get it unasked by our parents by our teachers by elders and by well wishers who want to ‘fix’ us. We often grow tired of the constant volunteered information about ourselves. Over the years, I have explored this idea personally and in works of personal development to shape up my beliefs around it. This blog post is summary of what receiving feedback is all about and what to do with it.
Why listen to feedback?
We all know why it is important. It is for self improvement and development. It actually is more than just self development. Feedback tells you what people perceive of you. Yes, you knew that too. But there is more to it. For example, one of colleague was given feedback that she was not organized. Her feedback from the conversation was not a reflection of her abilities so much as how her work relationship needed to be with her boss. I remember seeing difference in the way she documented things for her boss while she continued her work with same random fashion as she always did.
Lesson 1: Approach feedback with open mind and listen to their feelings. Reflect with detailed context of your relationship with the person, their motivations, their personality and values.
How and what to listen?
Stay calm and remember the conversation is about what people (or a single person) think of you. It may not be correct reflection of you. At the same time, you have to get the message right because perceptions are reality. If they are wrong then you may want to fix what people think of you.
Listening to feedback makes more sense with follow up questions. These questions should be exploratory in nature and not sound confrontational or challenging. Going back to earlier example of my colleague who was told she is not organized. She started with clarifying exploratory questions. Few of her follow up questions were – “Could you elaborate on that?”, “I would like to know instances where this was visible to clients and team members”, “What steps you recommend for me to be more organized?”, “What is the impact on people’s perception of me due to this?”. At the end of the conversation she reflected on the conversation and this is how she summarized the conversation to me. Her boss was meticulous and had a plan even for how to plan work. She on the other hand was ‘cross the bridge when we get there’ person. There was no challenge in timeliness or quality of her work. Her team members were fine with her style of work and she ensured appropriate communication with them.  It was her boss who could not relate to her approach towards work. She went on to tell me that she figured that she needs to provide her boss with sense of comfort with approaching her interactions with him differently.
Lesson 2: Ask questions to explore the details, ask for specific instances, facts, behind your back conversations etc to know more.
How to manage your emotions?
There is no straight answer to this except than to remind yourself constantly that this time is dedicated only to listening. At the same time, don’t allow for it to become ‘thrash you’ or ‘strip you’ session. If you don’t understand the above phrases, these are sessions to rip you and your work apart in a derogatory manner. In such sessions boss/ colleagues often resort to personal remarks about your ability or question you to demeaning levels.
One of my bosses once got really personal accusing me of being insensitive and arrogant. I was tempted to ask if my arrogance hindered my work, but I suspected him to tell me it hindered my relationships. Considering he was the kind of boss who thinks he is always right, I did not want to argue and turned the course of discussion instead. I provided him with instances of my good relationships with team and clients. When he tried to challenge me, I challenged him to go take my feedback from just about anyone I had work relationship with. I did add that I was confident that I will get more than 80% positive feedback and was sure that this feedback would also provide me with concrete areas of improvement. Further in this session when he got personal, I asked him to share instances for me to understand my shortcomings better. By the end of conversation he was compelled to be objective when sharing feedback with me. At the same time I had realized that my boss had negative perceptions which I needed to fix. I did take this as a setback, it is never good for your boss to not like you! I dedicated some time to mourn over the fact that my promotion will be delayed and I will get less bonus. After a week, I knew I had to keep my emotions aside and had only two options – to change my boss’ perception or to move on to different team or job altogether.
Lesson 3: Don’t react but respond calmly and remember its people’s perception of you. They may not always be right.
How to not defend yourself?
It is natural to want to justify your actions or decisions. Specially when its your boss and you know that they are completely off track. Hold the urge and explore alternates. Ask the person to be specific on what could have been done differently.
Confession: I do often end up saying one or two statements in self-defense. On why I am who I am or about my style of work or influences on my decision. The sad realization at the end of every conversation is that I should not have said that one statement.
This urge is also elevated when feedback provider is your team member. As a manager, we seem to have a bigger say. Our team members are more likely to listen to us. There are multiple reasons for this. Managers are the decision maker for employee’s salary and promotions, in short team member’s career; managers are often more experienced than the team member; managers act as mentor or coach to their team members and role reversals are not as common. There are always exceptions; some managers are able to create environment conducive to open communication making some of my recommendations irrelevant to them. Back to the discussion on how to not defend yourself.
Try not to explain yourself right at the moment. Set a follow up conversation, it gives you time to reflect on the conversation. You also tend to be more calm after the initial emotions have passed. It allows you time to frame your response more factually.
I was once accused of not communicating enough to my boss on one of the projects I was working on. He was visibly upset and called me out on a team meeting. After the meeting I took half hour break to calm myself and requested for 10 minutes time to discuss this at length. I shared all the emails and conversations I had had with him. At the end of the conversation, he still accused me of not setting up special time to update him on project progress. It was wrong of me to assume that he would read the emails or pay attention to updates when I spoke on team calls or ask me for special update time for this project. Sometimes you can never win! It is very contextual and depends on who you are interacting with. Take a break for some time to calm yourself before you decide whether it worth the effort.
There are exceptions where you should take the conversation head on but this should be only when feedback is biased and non-factual. For example, my head of department during my catch up meeting with him asked me to take full blame of an escalation. This was one of those moments to not hold back and discuss facts to put things in perspective.
Lesson 4: Justifying your actions often goes against you. Timing of your response is very important and sometimes your actions suffice.
What to do with the feedback?
I have partly covered this above. Listen, reflect, clarify and make amends as required. You should at times look at getting second opinion where you can so that the feedback has less person bias. This can be done directly or indirectly. And yes this is applicable when someone says positive about you too. Ask your colleagues for your strengths and areas of improvement. Do so with earnestness without holding them onto their perception of you. This is where all rules of seeking feedback and the above lessons apply.
Identify patterns in your past feedback and see whether there is a need to overcome them and how. Work on your feedback and in next discussion, review with the feedback provider if they see a difference. Acting on feedback is the culmination of receiving feedback.
There will always be few things you discount and discard. Be cautious with what you discard, you may just want to park it for later. Sometimes its good to be aware of what people perceive of you and your action may just be to work this awareness to your benefit. For example, if you are recognized for your attention to detail, you may ask for projects and work that require your acumen. If your feedback is that you are over confident, you may use it your advantage while making a presentation where your confidence will work to your benefit.
Lesson 5: Acting on feedback is the result of receiving feedback. Act judiciously and leverage your new found self awareness.
For further reading here is an HBR article on how to receive feedback – http://hbr.org/2014/01/find-the-coaching-in-criticism

Energy vs Maturity

A few years back when I was on threshold of turning 30, a friend and I were talking about age and how it changes us. He and I are the kind of friends who talk about changing the world. And this was another one of those conversations. I am representing his thought and reflecting on how it fits to organizations.
We grow from being energetic and enthusiastic about everything in life and work to a place where we are mature, have better understanding of systems. Energy drives action and maturity brings more thought out strong decisions, wider perspective and better cognizance of context. Everyone shifts from energy to maturity and there is a period in life where these coincide. That is the period of growth to maximize on.
We start work and are very enthusiastic at any opportunity that comes our way. We grow into a mature person more aware of the world, systems and ways of the world. This maturity brings in a more refined thought process resulting from experience and exposure. And we sort of take more calculated risks at work and otherwise. There is also the pressure of responsibility and how a single mistake can have huge impacts.
There is an overlap stage where the shift from more energy to maturity happens. This is the potential to tab on. At workplace we need to lengthen this overlap stage. Enable our people to stay energized as they mature.
These are preliminary thoughts and I still need to build up on this theory that was shared with me.

Out of sight out of mind

A common workplace challenge is when most leaders are based out of one location – corporate or head office. This is further complicated when there is a global corporate office and then there is a country head-office. Teams located elsewhere often feel left out of action and decision making. Many times they even suffer delayed promotions, less exciting work and in extreme cases they end up being executioners even when at senior and supposedly strategic levels. There are things organizations are already doing to manage this challenge and there is a lot that can be done.
The organizations need to restructure to capitalize effectively on all the capabilities and not ignore teams they don’t see on daily basis.

Some of the things organizations are doing to overcome this challenge.  

1.      Leaders travel often – This has lots of benefits. Collect air-miles, have lavish dinners and on more serious note, spend time with team and network with clients or potential clients. Also keeps leaders updated on local market and trends. The biggest drawback is they get a skewed view of the team because they have to depend on what people say and can’t observe things themselves.

 

2.      Regular team calls – This is such a eyewash in most cases, it is disappointing. There are effective team calls but they are rare. The challenge is when most of the team is co-located and others are away. Everyone is in a room and a few people on phone are completely left out. In one of my research, a leader pointed out that leaders need to create common platform. For example, get everyone on conference from their desk and not have some people in a room and others on call.

 

3.      Distributed responsibility and empowerment – This is what makes distances work. The challenge here is incorrect understanding of empowerment. Distributing responsibility should include encouraging distant teams to take lead on some projects/ activities and not just tell them what to do from a distance.

 

What more can be done  

The short answer is to have strong leaders. There is a lot that organizations and leaders can do to create a truly inclusive culture.
 

1.      Decentralize and distribute leaders: This is around restructuring organization and I strongly feel is the way to go ahead. Get rid of the concept of corporate office or head office. This also means evenly distribute leaders across locations. The challenge then will be that teams in business units with their leader co-located might get benefited. This can be countered through effective communication leaders can establish with their teams, by efficient performance evaluation system and by ensuring strong advocates at local level within the team or with the talent/HR team. This will at the least get rid of a particular office feeling silo-d. It is normal to have a mix of happy and unhappy teams. In distanced office, people influence each other fairly easily into being unhappy with lack of leader availability.

 

2.      Revert to old structure of co-located teams: Many organizations I have seen (including the large supposed to be awesome places to work) have great policies and practices on paper but are not able to implement them. They may have regular team meetings but what happens in the meeting may be a disaster. If you can’t deal with it, it is better to stick to old structures of maintaining a single office and small sales offices to manage clients. It is worse to have internal conflicts and an office full of dissatisfied teams or worse still high attrition rates.

 

3.      Distributed decision making: The concept of distributed responsibility needs to go a step ahead to distributed decision making. Distributed decision making requires empowerment and trust. I will define empowerment in my next post because it is another misinterpreted concept requiring dedicated post. Distributed decision making can be achieved by providing a framework and allowing teams to use their discretion for decision making and execution. This should be enhanced by providing a forum to share success stories.

 

4.      Optimal utilization of performance management systems: There is a reason many people do not have faith in performance management systems. The system is manipulated by leaders so often that teams don’t know what to trust. Performance systems need to be strongly supported by talent/HR teams for them to be truly effective and fairly unbiased.

 

5.      Knowledge sharing: This is required even when the teams are co-located. Knowledge sharing opportunities enable learning from others and showcase what people are doing. This should be taken seriously. When leaders involve themselves in these activities, they bring in seriousness to it. They also need to be an observer and allow teams to interact with each other. This provides them with a good understanding of strengths of their team members and keeps them updated on how the team members are evolving their capabilities.