5 Ways to Improve Your Productivity

Do you ever leave work wondering what the hell you just accomplished in the last 8 hours? Between non-stop emails, phone calls, drive-by interruptions and meetings, our days feel wasted. And that’s a problem, since most of us want to walk away from work with the feeling we have actually completed something or at least made some mere progress from the day before.

Here are some things that I have found that improve my productivity and ultimately reduce my stress level at work. The trick for me, though, is that I have to mindfully and consistently practice them.

  1. At the beginning of each workday, I print my day’s calendar from Outlook. Most of my day is paperless, but printing this and keeping it within eyesight all day keeps me on track. As things are completed, I highlight them or put a checkmark next to them. At the end of the day, this becomes my visual reminder that I have accomplished something(s).
  2. As voicemails come in, or small requests are made from my customers, I jot these down on my printed day calendar so that I don’t forget about them. Periodically, i review these items for priority and time-commitment and ultimately decide if I can squeeze them into my day or if they have to move to another day’s schedule or task list. A lot of my stress comes from the fear of forgetting something, so having one place and one place only that my “reminders” are written reduces both the chance that I will forget something and eases the mental effort of constantly trying to remember all of the little things.
  3. I actually schedule email review and projects on my Outlook calendar. For example, from 9-10am and 3-4pm daily I open Outlook, review email, prioritize it, get the easy ones out of the way and figure out what to do with the big ones. By carving out time to review email, I’m setting a limit to how much time I dedicate to it and am giving myself permission to shut it down so that I can begin work on something more meaningful to my job. By scheduling time to work on projects, I’m also giving myself permission to tell others that I can’t meet or do not have time for their impromptu sit-down sessions.
  4. Setting boundaries and expectations for my time and efforts- this may be the hardest to do but pays off in dividends. When I receive a meeting request, before I accept, I require an agenda or a reason why the meeting is necessary from the meeting organizer. If the agenda is something that seems like it can be accomplished in a phone call or email, I decline the meeting with a reason why. I decline meetings that conflict with my task or project schedule or do not require my attendance. Since HR should be accessible, I do not like shutting my door. If an employee has a important matter to talk about, I will, of course, invite them in to talk. However, sometimes an open door policy works against you. In those moments, set boundaries with those people by asking if their question, or visit, requires an immediate response and if not, ask if you can schedule 10-15 minutes another time that is mutually convenient.
  5. Get up and walk around. This accomplishes a couple of things. One, it gets you away from your computer, gets you up and walking, gets the blood flowing, the brain can take a break and you can reset your eyes. Two,  if your peers see you up around the office, they can take these moments to ask you the little questions that they would have otherwise clogged up your email with yet another message.

What HR Won’t Tell You

You’re right in your assumption that HR knows things. Sometimes HR folks know all of the things. Because they support the business, they are likely to be communicating with all departments, all managers and Senior Leadership and they know what’s up.

While I personally take the position of being as transparent and honest as possible with all of my managers and employees, there are just somethings I’m not going to tell you. Sometimes it’s because I can’t, sometimes it’s because I don’t want to lean into that shitty conversation, sometimes it’s because I don’t like you and sometimes it’s because I’m lazy.

  1. We won’t tell you if and when you are getting fired. But we do know when the dark mark has been put upon you.
  2. We won’t tell you if the company has plans to eliminate positions or is planning a downsizing. We may tell you the company has hit some hard times, and tough decisions are being made to turn the ship around. That’s code for reductions in force.
  3. We won’t tell you that you are the office douche-bag or the office narc and no one likes you. Though sometimes I really want to tell you. So you’ll just stop already.
  4. We won’t tell you about certain policies of the company because we really don’t want to advertise them. Usually it’s because we know the policy is stupid and we don’t want to answer the hundreds of questions we will get if we remind you. (See: inclement weather policy/office closures and dress code policies)
  5. We won’t tell you if your manager is monitoring your email. But if you are on a performance improvement plan or had a disciplinary warning, you should be hyper-aware that someone in the company is probably watching your email, network and web activity.
  6. We aren’t going to necessarily spell our your rights as workers. That’s what labor law posters are for. Read them and ask your HR person sometime about the FMLA or the FLSA . Know your own rights.
  7. We won’t tell you your manager dislikes you. Though we may want to warn you, we just won’t tell you.
  8. We won’t tell you your candidate referral bombed his or her interview and the interview team resoundingly gave a thumbs down to hiring him or her. We will simply say that another candidate was more qualified.
  9. We won’t tell you when your manager is about to be terminated.
  10. We may not tell you, that you may have the right to review your employee personnel file, depending on your State’s laws and/or company policies. We may not necessarily suggest that you ask your HR team to review your own file periodically (wink, wink).

Why We Can’t Disconnect.

France recently passed a Right to Disconnect bill providing employees the right to ignore work emails after hours without repercussions. Some have applauded the bill saying that it gives workers their personal lives back. Still others are skeptical that the law will really abolish a behavior that has become so conditioned in workers across the world.

Though benevolent in its motivation, the law won’t be successful. And even if it’s somehow successful in France, its D.O.A. in the United States. That’s because this law doesn’t address the real causes that lead to our inability to disconnect.

Only super humans set healthy boundaries. By many accounts, the current U.S. populace is one of the most debt-ridden, addicted, medicated and obese in history. This says a lot about our ability to say “no” and set healthy limits and boundaries for ourselves. That same underlying inability to set boundaries in our relationships with food, money, drugs and alcohol also prevents us from setting healthy boundaries with our work life.  If we can access work from our mobile device or laptop, we will answer that work email or take that work call.

The normal 8-5 factory of office job is no longer as the world has transitioned from the Traditional Economy to the Knowledge-Based economy. The boundaries that were once defined for us- punching a time clock  and using our hands to make a widget on a factory line- are the way of the dinosaur, extinct. Because most work can be done anytime and anywhere, individuals must rely on themselves to set their own boundaries. Which, as mentioned above, we aren’t good at.

We have been conditioned to be connected. Humans fear disconnection. In Daring Greatly, How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brené Brown writes “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.” Constant connection to work means knowing the latest and greatest, it means coming to work on Monday with no surprises, it means being one step ahead of your colleagues and in many workplaces being connected all of the time is recognized as an admirable trait worthy of public praise and maybe even some additional compensation. Why, with all of this positive reinforcement, would we not want to be connected?

 

 

2017 HR Trends

‘Tis the time of year when you read all of the lists, the Top 10 of this, the Worst of that, the Best of whatever. You have probably also seen more than your fair share of trends for 2017; tech trends, political trends, etc… Following suit, here are my thoughts on the 2017 trends for the HR profession.

  1. HR Practitioners particularly of the Business Partner or Generalist variety must strive to demonstrate both their business acumen and also their HR and employment law knowledge. In 2017, HR Practitioners should stop asking whether certification is required to practice HR (it is not, but) and start getting certified. The profession as a whole needs to own our sphere of knowledge. If any professional thinks they also can be HR-savvy and we in no way differentiate ourselves, the farther our occupation fall towards obsolescence. Further, certified HR practitioners needs to broaden their business acumen by pursuing an MBA or pursuing industry-designations.
  2. HR Professionals should begin to learn the basics of programming, data analytics and become social media experts. These skills are no longer the future of the job, they are are the present and current needs of HR practitioners. As more and more of our profession can be automated combined with the rise of artificial intelligence and augmented reality, bots will be able to do  the tactical stuff we do now as well as interface with employees directly. Additionally, HR should stay abreast of all technology trends and how they may apply to disrupt the HR profession.
  3. Heightened emphasis on the Employee Experience. For several year now, we have been in an employee-driven marketplace. As I do not see this changing in 2017, companies will be challenged to compete for talent based on the employee experience and HR has to take the lead on this. From the time a candidate enters our company vortex to the time they terminate and even beyond, HR needs to review all of its processes, policies, physical space and operations and ask themselves how it positively contributes to the employee experience at their company.
  4. HR will have to take the lead or involve themselves closely as we continue to see the rise of and evolution of the Digital Workplace. HR has to step up and consider how the Digital Workplace challenges traditional notions of management, organizational structure, communication and how we understand the basic concept of work. These ideas should be generating out of HR, we have to become the innovators of the workplace.
  5. Federal deregulation is likely under the Trump Administration so HR will see a lot of change (as usual), and will have to respond accordingly to the repeal and possible replacement of the ACA and how that impacts benefits offerings and health insurance plans. While the Federal government is deregulating business, be prepared to see a lot of activity impacting the business world and workplace at the State-level particularly with respect to the minimum wage, requirements around eligibility for overtime, parental leave laws, deregulation and/or legalization of recreational marijuana, sick leave laws, and more activity around protected classes specifically sexual identity, national original, criminal history and compensation history.
  6. Strategic talent acquisition. Each new role within a company deserves a very specific and strategic recruiting plan, not a one-size-fits-all post and wait for them to come strategy. Employee referral programs and social media recruiting should be maximized to find the right candidates.
  7. Personal Time as a right and not a privilege. The right of the employee to disconnect without adverse employment actions. Recently France passed a Right to Disconnect law, giving employees the legal right to ignore work email when they are off the clock. As wellbeing research shifts to understanding the negative impact to employees of being “on” all of the time, there will be more and more social pressure on companies to enact policies setting boundaries around work time and non-work time.

 

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

On behalf of all of us HR professionals that have been nice,  and not naughty this year, here are a few things, in no particular order, that we are wishing for:

  1. An HRIS system that actually does what it purports to do. Has a user-friendly interface. Doesn’t require a 45 minute hold to get a customer service rep on the line. And reps that are actually knowledgeable of both the platforms they represent and HR stuff.
  2. CEO’s and other company leadership that are less narcissistic, less bottom-line obsessed and actually DO value the contributions of his or her employees by showing them not just saying it.
  3. Fellow HR professionals who are less rule and policy oriented and more strategic and progressive thinking.
  4. Some clarity from the U.S. Federal Government on the ACA, and the FLSA, that balances both the best interests of the citizens and corporations.
  5. To stop giving companies the same rights and privileges as human beings. And if we can’t do that for some dumb reason than start holding companies accountable for their fraudulent and unethical actions, just as we would any individual person.
  6. Employees who require less hand-holding and are more self-sufficient.
  7. That HR stops being assigned non-HR things like coordinating company potlucks and buying office supplies.
  8. Some attention. A seat at the table. Some realization that if HR is done right, it can be a hell of a factor in the success of the business.
  9. For other non-HR professionals to stop thinking they know HR stuff. Cause you don’t.
  10. Our bosses to get the hell out of our way so we can actually lead some positive change within our organizations.
  11. More compensation, nice benefits and some recognition for our contributions to the company.
  12. A workforce free from toxic employees and dumb managers.

We are all very excited for your visit this holiday and will leave out some company branded pens and coffee mugs for you and your reindeer.

Love,

HR

The Pulse of Performance

If you’ve read my blog before, you might get the sense that I am ready to scrap the traditional performance review. Your sense is correct.

My problem is not the “annual” part, it’s the entire foundation of the performance review. The traditional performance review process simply doesn’t fit our current work world, which lives in days, weeks and months, not years and where the traditional management hierarchy doesn’t exist and where teams get a hell of lot more done that a department, where employees work flex schedules and don’t meet face-to-face sometimes ever, and where our companies span time zones, countries and cultures.

Also, why are we doing performance reviews? Are we doing them because that’s what we’ve always done? Are we doing them because we believe people want feedback on their performance? Are we doing them to reward high performers? Are we doing them to tie compensation with merit?

I would argue that companies should still have some mechanism to provide feedback to employees; however, the whole traditional review process should be thrown in the garbage and replaced with something that actually aligns to the work world of the 21st century.

If I worked with an unlimited HR budget and a leadership team willing to give it a try, I would initiate a performance pulse check. This pulse check would be much like the pop-up you get on a website after you make a purchase or engage in a customer service exchange that asks you to rate your experience with emoticons and asks for comments. Something like this:

customer-satisfaction-ratings-for-desk-email-replies

Both Employees and Managers would have the ability to request feedback by sending a quick pulse check. Employees could request feedback from anyone including their manager, project manager, team lead, peers or customers at any time and get on-demand feedback. Managers could schedule routine pulse checks, for example, monthly, quarterly or at the conclusion of a major project. Further, the manager could submit requests for feedback from anyone that interacts with his or her employee from peers, to other managers to external clients.

The application could include required or optional prompts to provide commentary and not just a rating if someone chose a poor or exceptional rating. Or, lay a roadmap to provide further ratings on other specific criteria or core competencies such as results deliverability, communication, negotiation skills, responsiveness, etc…

With the ability to give feedback in a wink of an eye, the assumption here is that more people would be willing to do so. The instantaneous feedback also provides more relevant data to the employee to act upon- the employee will know almost immediately whether a course correction is needed or to keep up the great work.

Over time, this data paints a picture of the employee’s performance trends which his or her manager can take specific action on. From the collection of feedback from multiple sources, the managers can determine key talent ripe for succession plans and also where training needs are essential for improved performance.

This should be the current and  the future of performance evaluations.

 

 

Common Mistakes Managers Make on Performance Reviews

It is a rare phenomenon in HR to see a performance evaluation from a manager that even meets our expectations let alone exceeds them. Here are a sampling of a few common mistakes I see on the regular:

  1. The manager uses the annual performance review to rake an employee over the coals for his or her entire prior year’s performance. It is NOT okay to use the annual performance review to tell the employee they’ve sucked all year. As a manager, why would you endure that? Think of all of the lost productivity and pissed off coworkers. If you wait a year to tell someone they’ve not performed to your expectations, guess what, it’s not their fault, its yours for not having the spine to confront it sooner.
  2. Failure to clearly communicate expectations and objectives of the position. Granted, this discussion should be happening within the first week of a new hire’s onboarding with the company and should also be reiterated during ongoing performance discussions. This exact thing is the reason you see employee’s rating themselves as exceeds expectations, while the manager is left scratching his head wondering how the hell his employee could lack such self-awareness. In the absence of this information, an employee will always default to what they believe are the expectations and objectives and perform accordingly. Duh.
  3. Failure to keep any documentation from the review period to look back to. And thus rely on memory. An HR professional can always tell by a manager’s vague and sweeping statements in a performance review that he or she has no fucking clue what his or her employee accomplished all year. You know what also gets forgotten when only memory is relied upon? An employees’ weaknesses, fails,  and areas of opportunity. Fast forward to 3 months later when Mr. Manager is in HR’s office  complaining about his employee’s performance issues. HR pulls the performance review and lo and behold nothing has been indicated on the evaluation, but Mr. Manager insists this has been happening for months or years. Sorry, Mr. Manager, your documentation does not back up your accusation. Discipline and termination are going to be pretty difficult to justify.
  4. Never awarding an employee anything other than a “Meets Expectations” although his of her performance clearly goes above and beyond. This is a great way to actively disengage your employee, reduce his or her productivity and send your employee to the next job offer that is extended. If your employee is killin’ it at work- give them the props they deserve. An “Exceeds Expectations” should never be elusive but it should be reserved for the rare but deserving “A”-game employees.

But to the HR folk who see the above on a routine basis, I would ask what they are doing in their respective organizations to fix it. Rampant crap reviews are more indicative of poor training and unclear managerial expectations than they are any single manager’s fault. HR- get your shit together, and start whipping those managers into performance review ninjas.