Archive for October, 2011
My first blog was the typical “I’m gonna try this blogging thing”, but my first substantive content blog came a few days later with “What HR Can Learn From Good Pet Ownership”. It was about my dog Freckles (far left in the picture), who had just died. Thinking about that first post made me realize that this blog has become a big part of my life, just as my dogs are.
If Just Joan were a dog, it would be leaving the clumsy-uncontrolled-spontaneous-lots of accidents phase, and settling into a more adult behavioral pattern. Energetic, but not spastic. Curious, but not destructive.
I think I have made it past the puppy stage and into the big girl pants. Part of the reason for this is that I have had some great trainers along the way. They are HR pros, bloggers, friends and others who I admire, and who have encouraged me with comments, fellowship, and advice. If you have ever left a comment on my blog or Facebook, or tweeted, re-tweeted, liked, or +1′d me, then you are a person who has helped me come this far, and I am deeply grateful to you.
(I am also posting today for the Human Resource Association of Greater Detroit – www.hragdblog.org – “Do You Have A Paul Revere Or A William Dawes Network?” It would be great to hear from you there, too!)
HR people love to write about customer service. I’ve blogged about it before, and so have many others. TLNT blogged just last week about the importance of customer service to the business bottom line, and why ensuring that employees have the proper customer service skills is ultimately the responsibility of HR.
But while HR is quick to discuss how important customer satisfaction is to employee satisfaction, someone else is telling a lot of companies that good customer service means continually and meaninglessly apologizing to the customer.
A couple of weekends ago the power in my house went out for 5 hours during a wind storm in the metro Detroit area. Maybe not exactly a wind storm, because winds were about 16 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph. Call that “medium windy”, at best. It’s not unusual for me to lose electric power when the weather is windy. Or snowy. Or rainy. Or just about anything, because I lose power all the time.
The next day I received a pre-recorded call from DTE energy. The recorded voice said she “hoped my power was back on”, and apologized for any inconvenience that was caused. Does that mean their company doesn’t even know if they’ve fixed the power, but it’s okay since they apologized?
I don’t even care if they apologize (especially with a pre-recording) for causing me inconvenience, I just want them to fix whatever is causing my power to go out so frequently.
Other companies have the same “tell them you’re sorry and they won’t be unhappy” attitude.
About a month ago I began experiencing difficulties with AT&T U-Verse, after a couple of years of pretty exemplary service. It took several phone calls and 4 different technician visits to finally fix the problem. One of those phone calls took almost an hour, during which time I was placed on hold several times. Each time the customer service rep apologized profusely to me for placing me on hold. Each technician that visited my home was apologetic for the one who came before and for the multiple mistakes that were made. The AT&T employees were exceptionally c0urteous.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think that the multiple apologies from those employees were helpful at all, given the inability of this company to fix a service problem over a month’s time, several phone calls, and several visits to my home. In fact, those apologies are annoying when you have heard them 4, 5, or 6 times without results.
HR, tell your employees to apologize to customers once, and then spend the bulk of their time cheerfully fixing the problem.
Unless your employee sings like Brenda Lee.
Of all the HR conference sessions and workshops I attended this fall (I wrote about couple of them here and here), the one that spoke to me the most loudly was the Talent Anarchy HackLab at HRevolution. As facilitated by Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt (the team that is Talent Anarchy), session participants were asked to hack an existing HR system.
Wait . . . what?
If you are anything like me, you think that hacking into a system means sneaking and subterfuge in order to create some type of chaos or perform an illegality. On a computer. Not so, explained Jason. He briefly discussed the evolution of the hack, which in its basic form means to take an existing system and stretch it beyond its original bonds to create a better system. As succinctly explained by The Recruiting Animal while I was live tweeting the session:
So TA offered the group an opportunity to choose and hack one of a pre-approved list of HR systems, accepting the presumption that they were all broken. The group was informed that they would discover some hacks or tweaks that they could take back to their jobs and implement immediately. No asking for approval, no developing a budget.
Despite an impassioned plea (which I fully endorsed) by China Gorman to choose exit interviews (the whole group had to work on the same system), the class voted – by a narrow margin – to tackle performance evaluations.
So 4 groups of 5 people started discussing performance evaluations – what they should be, what they could be. Groups were instructed to break up and reform 3 times, so everyone could hear and use the ideas from all of the previous discussion. I can’t recreate those discussions here, but I can restate what I found amazing about the process and the end result.
At the end of our time, the whole gathering had essentially agreed on what performance evaluations should and could be. In summary, we found that performance evaluations should
- be a conversation, not a check mark
- be in the moment or in real time, not on an annual or semi-annual basis
- involve managers, customers, co-workers, not just an immediate supervisor or manager
- be owned by the employee, not HR or their boss
On Monday I walked into my nearby United States Post Office to mail a package. Yes, it was a federal holiday (Columbus Day), and yes, I knew the post office was closed. I went there because they have a cool little self-service center that is open 24/7, so one can always mail smaller packages and buy stamps.
This self serve center is located directly in front of the door of this particular post office. But because I was a police officer for many years, I don’t like to sit or stand with my back to the door in public places. So while I was touching the screen and entering all of the information necessary to mail my package and buy stamps, I was actually standing sideways so I could simultaneously keep an eye on the entry door.
Sure enough, during the few minutes it took me to complete my transactions, three different people walked into the building, then abruptly stopped right behind me. Then their jaws dropped, because this was what they saw:
Yes, the post office was CLOSED.
Now, I’m not faulting these people for forgetting (or maybe not even knowing) that it was a federal holiday and that government offices and banks were closed. I’m pretty sure I have done that myself. What surprised, and ultimately irritated, me was that after I smiled and told each one that the post office was closed for Columbus Day, each of those three people complained about these workers having the day off.
Really, people? Whatever you are holding in your hand that needs postal attention is far smaller than the package I’m mailing – so why don’t you just wait for me to finish and do it yourself?
Given the independent status of the USPS, I’m not sure if their employees are technically government workers or not, but why do people think that they have a right to complain about the worker benefit package? When I was a working police officer, people who didn’t like my service would say, “I pay your salary.” No, you don’t pay my salary. It’s paid by the City of Garden City. You, citizen, elect officials who hire administrators who determine my salary after negotiations with my union. If you have a grievance, it’s with your elected official, not with the government worker. Otherwise, I would ask you for a raise.
Also , if the government believes so strongly in the importance of an event that it creates a holiday to commemorate it, why not give its employees the day off? If it doesn’t, is the creation of a “holiday” just a meaningless gesture?
At the end of the recently concluded HRevolution
conference unconference event, Steve Boese asked the audience for their thoughts and insights. Two different people made comments that essentially said that they wished there had been less HR content. One person asked for other disciplines (such as marketing) to be represented, and one asked for more tech-related content.
Those comments peeved me a little bit, perhaps because these comments came not long after I read this tweet from an attendee:
The thing that bothered me the most about this tweet is the assertion that the term “engage” is somehow an HR word that no one else uses. Apparently the tweeter has never read The Unmarketing Blog (“Stop Marketing. Start Engaging”), or the Brian Solis book Engage!, or heard of the digital technology event “Engage!”
The verb engage has several different definitions, but HR pros, marketers, and others use to word to mean an emotional, interactive experience between people. Thesaurus.com lists the terms “involve” and “engross” as synonyms for this particular meaning, but nowhere does thesaurus.com list the word “participate” as a synonym for engage.
This is obviously because HR pros know that there is a vast difference between an employee who “participates” and one who is “engaged”. While I understand that buzzwords (or buzz-phrases, like “seat at the table”) are overused, and have myself written against using jargon, sometimes the reason a particular word achieves buzzword status is because it is the only word that definitionally fits the situation.
She may be right about people/talent, although it seems to me that both are used pretty frequently by HR pros, making “talent” less of a buzzword and more an alternative.
Right after I left HRevolution I attended a workshop in Phoenix, where I spoke on using social media to communicate employee benefits. The terms SPD, SBC, wellness, and compliance were thrown around the room with aplomb. No one complained that the people in the workshop should use words that people outside of HR (or benefits administration) do. No one tweeted that attendees should say, “can’t understand this paper, not SPD”, or “don’t get sued, not compliance”.
If you don’t want to hear about HR at an HR event, perhaps a marketing, finance, or technology event will better fit your needs. You may hear some buzzwords, though.