HR Continuous Improvement

Lisa Hunter's thoughts and learnings from being a HR Professional who is passionate about Continuous Improvement and how it can make HR rock – even more than it does now!

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The “low down” on what happened at the APP HR Download event in Wellington

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As many of you will know I am one of the Trustees at the Association of People ProfessionalsWe held our very first HR Download in Wellington on 23 September. Over a drink and some nibbles we discussed HR Hot Topics – Engagement, Performance Reviews, Health & Safety and Diversity.  In a short space of time there was lively discussion and many great ideas shared amongst the participants.  Richard Westney & I  facilitated the discussions and I’ve put together some of the ideas discussed.  I hope they spark some ideas, create some discussion and perhaps help you identify some actions you might want to take around these topics.

To engage or not engage – do engagement survey’s work?

There are a number of alternatives to the traditional annual or bi-annual engagement survey. The discussions focussed around if you are going to do something more along the lines of a traditional survey, what do you need to do to make it work. Here are some of the ideas discussed:

  • Benchmarking data:  If the company wants to compare itself externally you need to find a survey that will give you relevant benchmarks for similar types, location and size of your business.  You need to ask how many and what companies make up the benchmarking data. You also need to be careful not to have too many benchmarks.
  • Engagement focused on too few a questions with the danger that you can translate this incorrectly: The construction of your questions is really important. How does the survey define engagement, and what questions contribute to the score?  Does this definition fit with your culture and strategy?  Do the questions also allow some customisation to focus on hot topics within your business?
  • Can be misleading:  Surveys are a point in time, and if you run an anonymous survey you don’t know who has responded.  You are also not sure if there is a good representation across the company.  To assist with this you can ask people to select their work area, and get reports during the survey to check on response rates.  Make sure though that when you report results the work areas are big enough to protect confidentiality.
  • Need to test/improve/re-test and be proactive:  If you are going to measure engagement it needs to be considered as a journey, not a one off survey.  The first survey creates a benchmark.  Once you have shared results and done action planning you need to re-survey.  Has the action planning led to improved perceptions around engagement?
  • Analysis paralysis with too much data: The group suggested focussing on the top 2 – 3 things to change. At the end of the day, it is what you do with the data that is important.  The most successful surveys prioritise and focus on a few critical area rather than a scattergun approach.
  • Takes too long to get results and turn into rich actionable insights: This is a very real issue and the timeframes will depend on what survey you use.  To help with this you can book in forums/meetings to share results once the survey is closed to assure staff that next steps will happen. You can also keep staff updated on progress and next steps while results are being analysed.
  • Focus on the numbers not the comments:  There was discussion that surveys can lose the context of comments so it can be easier to focus on the numbers.  A number of businesses use focus groups to discuss the results and understand the context of what people were thinking as they completed the survey.
  • Using engagement as the only metric: The group discussed that there is value in looking at a number of metrics used in a complementary way, including sick leave, turnover and management metrics.

Blowing up Performance Reviews

This is such a hot topic at the moment and it was an interesting discussion. So interesting that they didn’t really take any notes! However, overall the groups felt that there was too much focus still on process and that it was time to get creative! Here are a few ideas from chatting with Richard and participants individually.

  • Online on-boarding: An example was shared of a digital company creating a roadmap for the relationship for the first 12 months, linking it more into managing performance than just induction.
  • Individual roadmaps: In the #nzlead tweet chat on 15 October there was discussion around performance reviews and ideas around creating individual road maps for each person that focus on how they contribute to team objectives/achievements, their role, development, how often they’d like feedback.
  • Capability: if you throw out the one size fits all what skills do managers and leaders need to facilitate rather than manage performance?  Understanding and adapting to different styles? Different career stages? Coaching and mentoring skills? Good networks across and outside the company to facilitate relevant development opportunities? Delegation and trust? Vanessa Pye talks a lot about servant leadership in her work, this is an interesting area to look into.
  • Who really is changing performance reviews?  A number of the articles you read relate to professional or “white collar work” and only specific areas within a business has “thrown out’ performance reviews. What about the rest of the workforce? It was agreed that we need to finding out the examples of what is working and being done in NZ.
  • How do you manage rem?  If you move away from some annual rating how do you then manage remuneration and salary reviews?  Great question, we didn’t come up with any answers!

Creating a Health & Safety Mind-set: moving away from just compliance

The groups were surprised by the lively discussions we had around health and safety. We approached it from a culture perspective and talked about the role we have as HR professionals to change mind-sets from “compliance to how we do things around here”. 

  • The groups discussed that it has to be built into all HR practices, not seen as a specialist area.  HR needs to work with H&S teams or specialists to make this happen – HR can’t feel that it’s not their responsibility.
  • The thinking was that health and safety needs be broadly defined to also include well-being, and that was the way for the future. This includes incorporating H&S into all job descriptions, KPI’s, objectives and the code of conduct.  One example, was adding the hazards for the job into the job description, then part of the induction was reviewing the hazard register and discussing the hazards with supervisors to make them real. It also includes having well-being initiatives that support good health and safety practice.  The root causes of incidents and hazards would need to be understood, so that well-being initiatives are helping manage these.
  • One participant described it as “tapestry approach” where you weave the threads of H&S into everything you do throughout the organisation.
  • Groups talked about some examples where companies had simplified their policies into lists of dos and don’ts, or created a summary of the key things “on a page” needed to keep safe.  One company talks about making sure that everyone goes home safe every day and this message is across all the HR policies and practices.  Other examples are using pictures to explain how to do things safely, and health and safety being part of the on-the-job training, not something separate.  It was agreed the days of getting someone to read the policy and sign it are well over!
  • The groups also discussed the concept of health and safety de-brief, on the ground with the team when incidents occur.  This would be from a problem solving “how do we stop this happening again” perspective, not about assigning blame.  This lead into discussing the concept of Just Culture which a number of organisations use, to create a culture where incidents are talked about and training, development, feedback and process improvement are the first solutions rather than disciplinary processes.
  • Finally, it was agreed that you need to recognise and celebrate good health and safety practice and share stories, to build a health and safety mind-set.

Diversity – how do we create more diversity in HR and how do we lead this in our organisations?

Lots of ideas were discussed here with a few different perspectives which was fantastic!  Here’s a summary and some links that I promised my groups I’d look up!

  • About a year ago the Green Party decided to focus on diversity, and each MP was given the responsibility for identifying someone from a different background to the current MP’s who was interested in becoming a MP, and mentoring them up to the next election.  Is this something each of us should be doing to help create a more diverse HR profession?
  • Other ideas were to role model what we want to see and make opportunities for yourself to stand in other people’s shoes
  • McDonalds in the US understood the need for franchise owners to reflect the communities they operated in many years ago. Pat Harris is their Global Diversity Officer, and has written a book about their experiences.  Here’s a link to an article that outlines their approach:
  • A number of organisations are also looking at the concept of unconscious bias in recruitment, promotion and things such as decision making.  Some organisations provide training in understanding that everyone has these unconscious bias, and how you can be aware of these when making decisions. Here’s a link to an overview.
  • We discussed the Rainbow Tick which is doing a lot of work in the LGBTTI, and providing an accreditation process for organisations.  At the HR Game Changer conference awards we heard from the HR Manager at Simpson Grierson (law firms are usually very traditional and you cannot be openly gay) who led a successful initiative to make their culture and environment safe and inclusive for their LGBTTI staff.  This is a great example of HR taking the lead in diversity.
  • There are also organisations like Workbridge who assist those with disabilities get work. Organisations can partner with them to provide appropriate jobs and support.
  • We also discussed that a move towards recruiting on values first could be helpful in creating a more diverse workforce. Weirdly has a tool that lets you recruit on values first and then assess CV’s.
  • Migrants to NZ often struggle to get jobs as either they do not have NZ experience or we do not value the connections and experience they do have.  The Office of Ethnic Affairs has a lot of information about people new to Zealand. The other idea discussed was the need to identify and focus on the business needs not the person.  And to provide some education around differences. This can range from having diversity lunches where everyone brings in a national dish, to providing training about different cultures.

The next HR Download event is in Auckland on 26 November, and it will be interesting to see what ideas the discussion sparks!



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Improving HR Investigation Meetings

Years ago when I learnt how to do investigation meetings I was taught that you needed to prepare your list of questions and interviewees in advance, and that you more or less stuck to your structured questions, particularly if an union representative or lawyer was involved.

Over the years I became uneasy with this approach as it felt that we were trying to prove or disprove what we thought had happened (more like a trial then investigation) rather than fully investigating what really happened.

Then my colleague Fraser Atkins introduced me to the work he was doing around investigative interviewing. He had done extensive research and adapted (using PEACE and SE3R methodologies) what he had found to the HR investigation meeting.

The fundamental difference is that the investigation does not start with a pre-set assumptions, including no list of questions in advance. Rather, it teaches interviewers critical skills in questioning and listening to uncover what has happened.

Some of the key principles of the approach are:

  • The interview itself has a set structure which includes a structured opening and close
  • The interviewer is trained to build rapport before starting the interview
  • The interviewer uses free recall techniques to gather information
  • The interviewer uses advanced listening skills and verbal statement analysis (VSA) to analyse the information during the interview and identify areas for follow up
  • Follow up questions are only used once the interviewee has finished their free recall of the situation and are targeted at areas “of concern” to gather full information
  • Interviewee lists build during the investigation as information is gathered
  • Interviewee’s may be interviewed several times to cross-check understanding and facts
  • There are key tools to assist gathering and analysing the information including “timelines” and “knowledge bins” for each interviewee

Using this approach you end up with a thoroughly investigated situation which gives HR more confidence in determining the likely sequence of events, mitigating factors and root causes, which I have found leads to well-founded recommendations around the right course of action to take.

When using this approach I’ve been able to uncover things such as a systematic but unintentional breach of health and safety rules (which we could then address and make the workplace safer); a seemingly credible complainant that was lying and root causes of a personality conflict, as well as gathering the required information needed to confidently proceed to a disciplinary process if appropriate.

I’ve also used the principles in recruitment. A couple of years ago we were helping a client recruit a new General Manager who would have responsibility for managing the business day to day and the first interview was based on free recall rather than behavioural based questions. During free recalling his career one candidate, who looked outstanding from his CV, told us that the thing he disliked the most in his previous roles was managing people, and that his approach was to “give them enough rope until they hung themselves and then cut them off” (illustrating with a karate chop!). We would have never got that information if we had used a set of structured questions.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this approach Fraser is running a workshop at Elephant’s HR Advisor Conference in Wellington in March or feel free to comment or get in touch to have a chat.


You’ve got the technical HR skills – do you need anything else?

I believe that YES, you need more than just expert HR technical skills to be a HR game changer.

Recently I’ve written about HR leadership & Resilience and Financial Acumen as key skills and competencies for HR peeps. I believe that having skills in these areas gives you an edge as a HR practitioner. This week I’ve been thinking about what other skills I’ve developed over my career and which ones have been useful.  I have a lot of technical HR skills around employment law, processes, performance, organisational development and learning and development. These are the core foundation of who I am as a practitioner, and what my CEO’s, Boards and managers need from me first and foremost.

But that’s not the whole picture is it? As HR practitioners we can bring much more to the table and add far more value. So what are some of the other skills and knowledge that have helped me in my career and helped me to deliver expert HR and CI to my managers and clients?

Learning how to present: Learning how to adapt to the audience, keep it engaging and stick to the key points has been really valuable when working with Senior Managers, CEO’s and Boards. When I think about the HR people I know that can really influence their organisations, they all have one thing in common – they are great presenters. I was petrified of presenting years ago but made myself learn. I was so nervous that I couldn’t hold paper (shaking hands) when I was presenting so had to learn to do it without notes! I also use to have a quivering voice for the first 3-4 minutes so I had to rehearse my first 3-4 minutes over and over until I could start confidently.

Understanding customer satisfaction measures: Most organisations that develop products or services measure customer satisfaction. I’ve found understanding measures such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) or other customer satisfaction measures helps you understand what is important in your business. This helps you integrate this into performance processes, learning and development and KPI’s.

Writing communication plans for projects: The project management skills I’ve learnt have been valuable but by far the ability to come up with a 30 second elevator speech, 4-5 key messages and a plan for how you are going to communicate these messages has been the key to successfully rolling out initiatives and projects. I learnt this approach from a communications colleague years ago and have used it ever since making sure the communications plan is one of the first things I do in a project.

Writing a creative brief: When working on initiatives there’s usually a time when you need to work with graphics or marketing. Being able to write a brief that explains the background, who the audience is, why it’s important, your key messages and what you deliverables need when, makes sure you get the graphics or marketing support you need. Just this week I had to write one for a new start up initiative and having the skills to write it in a way that the agency understood has meant we can get onto the deliverables really quickly (which is great as our timeframes are tight).

Sales: Understanding the sales process (now I’m not saying I can sell but I understand it) and different types of sales roles e.g. hunter vs farmer, has helped me enormously when putting together new sales based roles, incentive schemes and looking at continuous improvement initiatives. It’s also help me diagnose structure problems when I’ve worked with clients. The really smart HR operators I know who work in this area really understand sales, the process and sales people and this gives the companies they work for a real competitive edge.

Kaizen: I always had a “leaning” (pun intended) towards Lean/Kaizen however when I got the chance to be an Implementation Partner at BNZ I discovered one of my passions. It’s not only the tools and ways of approaching continuous improvement, the real power lies in combining HR and CI so that it becomes part of the culture – that’s when your staff engagement and overall productivity improves. This area is always changing and my current interest is in how Agile and Kaizen/Lean work together. There is a lot of really cool stuff happening out there.

Marketing and Branding: Being able to understand some of the basic concepts around these helps you when you are putting together your recruitment and talent strategy. It also helps you when you are rolling out big HR projects. In one company I worked with, they were rolling out a brand new performance review system to over 1000 people across Australia/NZ and the Marketing and Communications people were part of the team and our project plan not only included the technology, process, policy and training but also a new brand for the system and marketing collateral (posters, post cards, communications) for the roll out.

Technology: I include all technology including social technology here. Being able to understand things such as the different options around where technology is hosted, how social technology can feed into your communication and engagement strategies, how mobile recruiting can help you and how technology can help streamline and reduce HR administration is really, really important. For me this is on-going learning – I ask people what’s happening, I talk with vendors when I get a chance, and I find out information online about what’s happening in this space.

What non-HR skills and knowledge have you found valuable in your career?  What do we need to work on to stay ahead of the game in the changing future of work?

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Six Ways to build your Continuous Improvement Skills

I’ve found that before you can start coaching others to find ways to improve processes and how they work it’s really helpful to work on your continuous improvement skills first.  Here are some simple ways to build up your own skill set.

Everyday ask yourself “is there a better way to do this?” and mean it! Learn how to challenge yourself and the way you work before you challenge others. This is actually really hard to do in practice. Even if you are open to change, it is still hard to actually find the energy to make change. Often it’s easier to use a workaround rather than “open the can of worms” that making change can bring. Start with small things and build up your skills. Aim to ask yourself the question at least once every day, or if that doesn’t work for you review how something went at the end of each day. What worked and what could be improved? 5 minutes is all this takes.

Set yourself a goal to make one small improvement in how you work each and every week. On Monday write this goal down and think about the things you’ll need to do to nail it. For example, your goal may be to keep your inbox down to 20 items by the end of each day. How are you going to achieve this? Are you going to allocate certain times a day to deal with email; use the 4D’s, use folders, use follow ups? On Friday afternoon review how you’ve gone – what worked and what didn’t? What tweaks do you need to make?

Become a time management expert. This is actually about learning how to work as efficiently as possible 80% (not 100% because that is just plain unrealistic) of the time so that you can role model this when talking to people about improvement. If you are known to be an organised and effective operator people will take more notice of what you are saying.  Focus on being organised; having simple systems in place to manage email, calls and your calendar (including time in between your meetings); organising your workspace (physical and electronic) so that you find things quickly (I don’t mean clean desk here either – for many people that just doesn’t work); make sure you’re running on time; if you can, organise your work to suit your body clock and prioritise your tasks so you are doing the things that matter most first.

Use the Stop/Start/Continue framework to identify improvements. Ask yourself, what should we stop doing that isn’t adding anything to this process or the outcome?   What should we start doing as there are glaring gaps (based on customer feedback) in how we are delivering? What is working well and we need to make sure we continue when we make change.

Eliminate the waste. Think about your work week – what are the things that actually gets stuff done or helps other people get stuff done? That’s your value add. The rest of it, is often waste (various studies estimate that around 25 – 35% of what people do at work is actually waste). Things that cause waste are repeated mistakes (mistakes are learnings but not if they are on a continuous mistake loop); re-doing work because you didn’t understand the brief or did it too soon and things have changed; procrastination, meetings without a clear purpose, too many approvals in a process that cause delays, missing or incorrect information – try to get it once and directly from the person, and working on things that just are not important right now (even if you really like them).

Understand your customers. Continuous improvement approaches always have the customer at the heart of them. Who are your customers? What’s important for them? What’s the easiest way for them to communicate and interact with you? How can you solve their pain points and add value? How often are you talking to them and asking them how things are going? If you start to really understand the people you are providing services, information and processes to, you’ll naturally start to find ways to improve that experience for them.

So taking my own advice, my goal for this week is to reduce my procrastination (this is by far my most favourite form of waste) by creating 5 top things I need to achieve each day, writing them on a post it and sticking it on my monitor then reviewing how I went on the way home each night.  What are you going to do right now to start to build your CI skills?

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Financial Acumen – what do we need now? What do we need to change the game?

Last week I wrote about HR Leadership skills.  This week I’ve been thinking about the HR skills we need now and for the future.  Some financial nous is definitely one them – but what exactly do we need to know?

There will be far more commercially astute HR peeps out there than me, so I’d love to hear your take on it, and your ideas on how we grow these skills and what you think we will need in the future..  To start the ball rolling here are a few practical ideas from my career and from working with hundreds of different businesses – I’ve loosely grouped them into levels based on when I had to use them (or wished I had them!).

HR Administrator/Advisor Level

  • Calculating the full cost of an employee – so that you can speak authoritatively about the full cost (wages, ACC, leave, benefits, FBT) for existing employees and also how much it costs to recruit and induct a new employee.
  • Building your knowledge around benefits and what they cost.  What is subject to FBT?   How do company provided vehicles work?
  • Reading widely about HR and understanding the financial implications.  For example, the Sentencing Act change in December. This has liability insurance implications so HR needs to check with Finance to make sure that the company has this covered.
  • Understanding that annual leave balances are a liability on the balance sheet and that the value just keeps on increasing.  If you are finding it hard to get managers to deal with excessive annual leave, I’ve found that providing the dollar amount rather than the number of days, along with the impact of any upcoming salary increases, can be an effective push.
  • And finally, you can’t do your HR job without some excel skills.  You don’t have to be a whizz kid but you need to be able to bang out some graphs and pie charts when needed so make sure you have at least immediate skills.

Senior HR Advisor/HR Manager Level

  • Reading monthly budget reports – what was budgeted, what the actuals were and be able to explain why there were any variances. As part of your regular catch ups with your managers checking in on lines such as salaries, leave and recruitment. Also understanding whether each area is a revenue or cost centre and what their key finance drivers are.
  • Preparing a budget. What is the process and the deadlines in your company?  What information will managers want from HR about the people costs? It’s useful to work closely with Finance and make sure HR (not Finance) is providing information about recruitment, salary, training and other people costs that go into budgets.
  • Understanding how political budgeting can be and improving your negotiating skills so that you get a HR budget that means you can actually do things that made a difference.  For me, I learnt to make sure I had things I could “cut” as the Finance manager wouldn’t sign off a budget unless he cut 2 or 3 things from my budget.
  • Understanding return on Investment.  You need to understand this and be able to do a cost/benefit analysis for HR projects and initiatives to provide a return on investment.  Whether this is going to be an increase in productivity, increase in sales or increase in staff engagement, you need to be able to talk about this confidently.  A trick I learnt is to put a value on time. For example, if you are recommending something that will reduce manager’s time spent on a HR process by an hour a week, then calculate how much money that time is worth over a year using their hourly rate.

HR Executive Level

  • Developing your finance vocab to the point where you can easily have conversations around financial strategy and company level budgets with your peers and also the Board.
  • Understanding the overall company budget/financial strategy and the HR implications for this. For example, is the focus on revenue generation (so developing sales capability and retention is important) or is it on cost containment (then streamlining and making sure organisational and role structures are cost effective may be more of a focus).
  • Understanding how the cost of goods is calculated so that you can provide accurate and relevant salary and hours’ information about who works where and on what products.  Finance often asks for these types of figures. HR needs to ask why and what they are going to be used for to make sure that the information provided is relevant and accurate. It can also be a real eye opener around staffing costs to understand what it actually costs to provide your customers with a product or service.
  • Understanding the difference between revenue/income and profit and why it matters.
  • Understanding what makes money in your company and what are costs.  Are these costs variable or fixed and what are the HR implications of these? How do you need to align your workforce?
  • Understanding cash flow.  You need to be able to understand cash flow projections – is it smooth across the year or lumpy as there is seasonal effect on sales? There is no point recommending that you pay out a week’s annual leave for everyone to reduce annual leave liability or recommending spending money on a new HR system if you don’t have the cash on hand.
  • Understanding the capital projects programme and looking for any HR implications.  Does a new piece of machinery mean there is a forecast reduction in FTE? If so, what are the restructuring or re-training costs? HR needs to be able to have these conversations when the programme is being developed, not once the new machine is bought and suddenly a restructure needs to occur.

So how do you learn these skills?

My financial acumen learning has occurred in a lot of different ways.  The most effective learning has been on the job and through networks – no surprises there!  Here are some of the things I’ve done (in no particular order):

    • A smattering of theory when I did a couple of accounting papers through distance learning about 5 years ago. This gave me some understanding of accounting language and principles
    • Learning from a couple of very astute General Managers – listening to what they discuss, how they frame it and asking them questions so that I understood the issues. I found that showing an interest in the numbers consistently meant they just naturally started sharing them with me and discussing them.
    • Reading the management/executive team finance papers and then listening in meetings and asking questions – I took baby steps at first, until I understood what was happening and could start to see how things linked in with HR.
    • Involving the Finance Manager early on when considering HR initiatives and getting them to assist with preparing business cases.  Understanding how to write a cost/benefit analysis by “doing” was invaluable.
    • It also helped that I worked as the HR Business Partner for a large Finance Division in one role, so got to really understand all the roles and what they did from writing job descriptions, sitting in recruitment interviews and going through performance reviews
    • Working with CEO’s in SME’s and making sure I understood where the revenue and costs lie, how sales work and the cash flow, so that when I recommend HR initiatives I can speak to the financial impact.
    • Learning from some great Finance Managers and colleagues along the way – seeing how they explain things, the questions they ask and how they make decisions.   Good accountants are excellent fact finders and usually have a well-developed set of questions they use to understand the numbers – tap into these they are really useful.
    • I went to excel courses however the best learning has always been from a colleague who is a whizz at excel and will show you how to do the particular thing you need to do, when you need to do it.
    • Being on an Advisory Board for a medium sized business and learning from some smart finance peeps (and I did have to “fake it until I made it” for the first couple of meetings).
    • And of course being involved in running a small business here at Elephant has definitely been a crash course in all things commercial!

A lot of this is financial nous I’ve needed now which has helped the businesses I work with really understand the value that HR can add – what do you think we’ll need for the future as we change the game in HR?  I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas around how we build this capability. 


HR Leadership and Resilience

I was recently reminded that challenging the status quo and suggesting real change can be painful and have some very negative consequences including emptying your resilience reserves. In my case, suggesting change got me (and Angela and Fraser Atkins) personally sued by HRINZ*.

Being sued by HRINZ is not the only experience that has taught me this lesson. In HR we are often leading change. Whether it’s building skills and capabilities, challenging process to improve them, restructuring or re-designing roles and structures or implementing new initiatives – we are often the ones leading the charge for our organisations. To do this you need to build your HR leadership skills and your resilience – no matter what stage you are in your career.

I remember when I took on my first HR Manager role I walked in and was faced with re-deploying 40 administrative staff in a complex process that I hadn’t set up, that didn’t make sense and had impossible deadlines. I just come out of a restructuring process myself and landed a job I wasn’t really experienced enough for. It was a nightmare. I couldn’t connect and communicate with everyone as I wanted. I couldn’t keep to the crazy deadline that had been imposed by the management consultants. I did keep my cool though! It was just before Easter and I spent Good Friday in tears wondering what on earth I had taken on.   Welcome to HR leadership! I quickly realised I needed to build some skills and learn how to be more resilient. (The story has a good ending. I got everyone re-deployed on the Tuesday into the roles they wanted, and in hindsight it was a great way to meet all the key managers and staff, who actually also realised that the process was impossible).

At last week’s HR Advisor’s conference (click here to check out what happened) we had a panel discussion where myself, Rosa Armstrong (Greenpeace), Laura Nation (Southerncross) and Kate Batkin (NZSki) shared our thoughts on this very topic. I’ve put together the lessons that I learnt from the panel’s collective wisdom.

Building your HR Leadership Skills

  • Network inside your organisation so that you know people across the business and can tap into them when you need to get their input and perspective. You’ll also start to get a heads up on things that are happening across the business.
  • Work outside of HR for a while.  Take opportunities for secondments.  I went into a Kaizen Implementation role a few years back and learnt all about CI and Kaizen. The blend of my new knowledge and my OD knowledge about culture change was a brilliant combination.
  • If you can’t work outside of HR for a while, work on non-HR projects to develop your business understanding (and your business’ understanding of your skills!).   I worked on a new approach to the fit out of bank branches which helped me understand a lot of the operational, design and security issues. I could then give much better HR advice when it came to communicating the changes with our staff as well as champion the new design.
  • Back yourself to step up to new challenges. You don’t need to know 100% of something to take it on as long as you back yourself and are willing to learn and work hard. This includes stepping up to a new role too. Even if there are areas where you don’t have 100% of the skills and experience – two of the speakers had done this and been incredibly successful.
  • Be honest when you don’t know the answer – but go and find out and get back to people as soon as you can.
  • Have a good network of HR people outside that you can learn from and discuss issues where confidentiality allows. A colleague and I use to have a “whine over a wine” on Friday nights – helped us de-stress for the weekend and we also solved a lot of issues!
  • Have non-HR people in your professional network as well so that you can tap into their knowledge, perspective and advice when you need it.  I’ve done this when I’ve worked on HR technology projects.  My networks have helped me with the right questions to ask or explaining something really technical, which has then helped me lead the project effectively.
  • Think of the potential consequences of the work you do – even if it’s very operational you need to understand how what you do fits into the bigger picture. Is there a potential future consequence that you need to flag now?
  • Deliver something to your managers that really helps them. Find out what their pain points are and see if you can help them.  This will really help you develop credibility and leadership with your managers.
  • Use recruitment interviews as a way to really understand other parts of the business. In my career I’ve looked after the finance division a few times and always helped them with recruitment. I’m really confident now describing different functions, approaches, processes and regulations from what I’ve learnt in interviews and chatted about with the CFO while we’ve waited for the next interviewee to arrive.
  • Talk to your friends and family that do different jobs and work in different industries and really get to understand what they do and the key challenges in their industry. This is really easy as people love to talk about themselves! I have a friend in the produce industry and over the years we have chatted lots about her industry which meant that last year when I took on a HR manager role in company that grew herbs I understood a lot of what they did and the regulations they had to work under.  This helped my credibility and meant they took my advice from Day 1.

Building your resilience:

Leadership can be hard so you need to look after yourself and make sure your resilience is regularly topped up. It goes without saying that eating well, doing some exercise and getting enough sleep are critical. The panel’s consensus was that wine and chocolate also helped however there were also a few other tips if that’s not your thing:

  • Look after yourself and work to keep some balance in your life making sure you have time with your friends and family – no excuses.
  • Focus on the things that you can control and influence rather than everything.  And put your effort into those things – you’ll be less frustrated and achieve more.
  • Prioritise work and focus on the things that actually matter. It is amazing how many small issues will resolve themselves given a couple of days. If you are struggling with this talk through your workload with a colleague, they can often provide an outside perspective and help you work through what’s really important.
  • Use your network to help you clarify and think about how to approach things – explaining to someone else can help you sort out your thoughts.
  • Look at situations as a learning opportunity – re-frame tough times as “what have I learnt from this?”

Overall the HR Leaders Panel was a great discussion with lots of tips shared with the conference goers.

My favourite one of course came from me. When I was 17 and straight out of school, I learnt that it wasn’t appropriate to wear a Garfield t-shirt to my job at Westpac! In typical NZ fashion it took the bank manager several weeks to raise this with me and I think he was more uncomfortable than me during the conversation. I was completely naïve and this taught me empathy for new to the workplace employees and helped me coach managers around providing these employees with the right guidance rather than disciplining them about dress code or lateness. It also made me passionate about helping my managers with giving feedback – both constructive and praise.

What have been the things that have worked for you in building your HR Leadership skills and the resilience you need when you work in HR?

*(HRINZ are continuing with the case – we’ve started a ‘give a little’ campaign for our escalating personal legal costs – if you would like to contribute click here , any help is very much appreciated).

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Tuesday Challenge Update

I’ve just spent a couple of weeks ago experiencing the sound of silence at Uluru and then the bustling of good food and shopping in Melbourne. Although I un-plugged to a large extent I did see that there were updates from people about the Tuesday Challenge, and it was really motivating to read what people are doing.

So I figured after a couple of weeks off, time to step up to the Tuesday challenge.  Luckily I was running a session for business owners this morning on business planning and more specifically their 2015 people plans. These are all small businesses in a predominantly manufacturing area. Rather than do what I did last year, I thought about how I could help them think about changing the game – in a context and way that was relevant for them.  I’ll be honest –  I did this at 10pm last night, but at least I did it!

It went really well, we had some fantastic conversations about change and different styles and developing people’s strengths rather than working on their weaknesses as well as the whole debate about inputs versus outputs. And yes we did draft their people plans for next year as well.

Now that last topic on inputs and outputs was where things got a bit challenging. I’m talking to them about people needing to know the why of work and focussing on achievement rather than clock watching and quite rightly one of them said “that sounds great Lisa but what about when you are running a production line?”

Yikes, bloody good question I thought, quickly followed by, I have no idea! I’ve never worked on a production line, in fact I have never worked in manufacturing! Followed by a slight feeling of panic as I was the one up the front of the room.

As my colleague Nikki Peck once famously said at our HR Advisors conference – time to put my big girl pants on and be prepared to not actually know the answer!

So we had a bit of a debate and stumbled onto the idea that the conversation was about what freedom can you give people if they actually have to stand at a machine?

We started out that there was really nothing you could do so I had to really challenge them to think about what was really important here and keep pushing them by saying things such as what if you don’t have a choice? What if in 5 years’ time no-one wants to work on your 7.30 -4.00pm production line? And you can’t outsource overseas? What would you do?

I had to trust that I would know the questions to ask and push in the right direction for the group to come up with some ideas. And they did! Here’s what the group of awesome business owners came up with:

  • Have a stand-up meeting each morning and the team leader and team members agree who is going to work where on the production line – taking into account what needs to be achieved, who is there on the day and who has what skills.  Often it is more a case of the team being told by management who is doing what.  One of the businesses had used this and after a week or so of people getting comfortable with having some input they found they reduced their error rates as people were more engaged.
  • When overtime needs to be done, let the team know what needs to be achieved and get them to organise who is going to work and what time – the work has to be done but they get some input into who does it and within reason when.  The business that used this found that the team always made responsible decisions and usually came up with an overtime roster that was the most cost effective.
  • Have a suggestion box for ideas on improving the processes and read all suggestions and report back once a month or quarter on the ideas and what has been done with them and why.  Involve team members in implementing the changes so they can see what a difference their input makes.

They are small things and if it’s not sexy stuff like holocracy or using the latest piece of technology, however this morning’s conversation has the potential to affect people in 11 businesses and make their work life more enjoyable, managers more engaged and the businesses more productive. Small baby steps in changing the game!

And a great real life reminder for me that I really do not need to know all the answers!

How did everyone else go this fine Tuesday – what did you do, or what  will you do to change the game this week?