Author Archives: Gareth Cartman

How to Welcome Negative Attitudes in the Workplace

This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How do you manage negative attitudes in the workplace?”

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

Imagine a world without negativity. Smiles everywhere, acquiescence everywhere. You’ve got an idea? It’s a great one! Let’s do it!

In a world free of negativity, we’d do everything. We’d never question anything, we’d just get on with things, and do them. Yay! Positivity! Hurrah for positivity.

But after a while, things start to go wrong. That idea that nobody questioned, that project that everyone thought was going to go brilliantly – well it all went badly awry. But hey, we’re all positive and we bumble on, smiling happily, until the whole company falls around us and we smile on into our next jobs.

Without negative attitudes, all of this will happen – you have been warned.

Of course, this is a small exaggeration. Without positivity, nothing would ever get done. Positive attitudes are good. However, the negativity is what makes us question what we’re doing, and if we can’t make good of this negativity within our workplaces, we’ll never see the potential pitfalls in what we’re doing.

Few businesses realise the potential in negativity. They attempt to manage negative attitudes out of the workplace, or beat some positivity into them. Hey, wear a smile! Not happening.

I believe there’s a better way of handling negativity, of turning it around for the greater good. Let’s break it down into the different types of negativity, and see how we can get more out of negative attitudes in the workplace:

I hate my job but I’m not leaving it

 Now, we’ve started at the extreme, but let’s not dismiss it. A quit-stay has the potential to spread dissatisfaction around the business, and a quit-stay has to be turfed out at the very first possible opportunity. I can say that. I’m not in HR.

Nevertheless, you can at the very least glean some vital information about the way your business is run. What is the reason for dissatisfaction? Is it that person’s eternally negative personality? In which case, you have questions about your recruitment processes to answer. Is it line management or colleagues? Is it something stemming from the employee’s personal life?

There’s nothing that you can’t manage, one way or another. Problems at home can’t be resolved at work, but work can go some way to helping address those issues. No company can’t afford an employee assistance programme of some form or another – they’re cheaper than a Chinese takeaway at their most basic. It’s a no-brainer.

This project will never work

 I always like to surround myself with people who question, people who doubt. Those who say “this will never work”, even when it appears to be working.

They might be wrong – but at least they question the workings of a system. They question the processes, they question the results, they question how the results were obtained. There is never a right answer for them, and these negative attitudes may be construed as unhelpful by many businesses. I view them as the most helpful views of all.

You don’t have to take them at their word, but you should listen to them carefully. Their opinions are very often considered, thought through, and worthwhile – they’ve explored every angle, and they see the problems that you might not have seen.

I’m not doing this

 You might get frustrated by employees who act like three-year-olds, but like every three-year-old, there’s a reason behind their negativity. Here’s an opportunity, therefore, to sharpen up your act.

Why are they refusing to participate? Why are they not doing as you asked? There’s a chance that they haven’t fully understood why you’re asking them to do things, or that maybe, they just don’t agree with it. We’re not kids, we can have grown-up discussions and air our views, we don’t have to continually do everything we’re told to do in exchange for our monthly salary, do we?

Blindly believing that everyone will continually follow every order is naive, at best. A negative attitude may reflect on the way you’re managing that person, and can be managed better.

So – negative attitudes in the workplace. Perhaps it’s time to be more positive about them?

Is There a Right Way to Quit your Job?

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “Is there a right way to quit your job?”

“It’s not you, it’s me”… is what you’re meant to say.

There’s no easy way to quit your job, even when it’s pleasurable. You feel that you’re going to upset someone. You feel that someone’s going to be put out by your decision to move on and “fly the nest”.

Think again, though. If your business is put out at the thought of you leaving, then perhaps it’s not “fit for business”. If they’re going to be upset at your departure, that implies that you’re more important than you thought you were, and they’re not as prepared as they should be for the inevitable departure of their employees. If they value you so highly, they don’t deserve you.

You should only be worried if they roll out the bunting.

So is there any good way of quitting your job? How can you leave an organisation with a cheery goodbye and a pat on the back – and crucially, avoid being the one who gets blamed for everything that goes wrong for the next 6 months?

You have to do it right, for a multitude of reasons – you might meet these people a few years from now. You might even need a reference.

It’s all about timing

If you’re just starting a major project, or you’re halfway through it, handing in your notice is not going to be received well. It shows you don’t care – and as a result, you won’t be cared about too much during your notice period, or after it.

And quite right, too. You’re acting like a toddler. At least they have developing brains as an excuse (or so they claim). Stick around to see the job out, and then you can hand in your notice – you’ll be all the more appreciated for doing so, and won’t be seen as burning your bridges.

It’s not all about you

Remember, everyone leaves their job at some point. Otherwise, you become a “lifer” – one of those ghosts that walk around the same company they’ve been at since they were 14, having received twelve watches, three plaques and a massive leg of ham. Nobody works for legs of ham. You always have to move on, for sanity’s sake as much as progress.

But it’s not all about you. If your departure is going to disrupt the work of colleagues, then ensure that a smooth transition is in place. Promise to see out your full notice, and train someone else up to carry on your work. Promise to complete a certain workload, and work your notice period as you would any other. Perhaps you could even offer to support the interview process for your replacement.

Again, keep that goodwill. You never know, you might be working with these people in another organisation later down the line.

Remember, some people like their jobs

If you’ve just handed in your notice, and you’re thinking of trashing the company every day, putting your feet up and tripling your coffee breaks, have a little respect. There are people all around you who are trying to get ahead in their lives and their jobs – people who may – whisper it – still like their jobs.

There may be newbies around you who haven’t developed your level of cynicism yet. Give them time to grow into it. Don’t bang on about how brilliant your new job is, and don’t bang on about how crap your current job might be.

Again, you’re being a toddler. The business hasn’t changed – you have – and it’s time for you to move on. So do it quietly, and have some respect for those who aren’t yet ready to move on, or who view the business through a different lens.

Some things you should definitely avoid

Above all, please try to avoid doing the following:

· Handing in your notice by text message
· Being overly joyous about your imminent departure
· Calling your boss names and thinking you can get away with it
· Hiding dead fish inside computer towers on your last day
· Updating your Linkedin status to “Released from prison”
· Changing your screensaver to a countdown to your last day
· Whistling the tune to “I’m free to do whatever I want” as you walk around the office

Is micromanagement such a bad thing?

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

This blog post was written in response to the July 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “Should micromanagement be viewed as a negative management style?”

We’ve all had a micro-manager – and by that, I don’t mean a really, really small one. Someone who stands over your shoulder and gets involved in the fine detail of everything you’re doing. Someone who can’t let go from the minutiae of your day-to-day job – which you were supposedly hired to do.

And yes, it’s a pain. Yes, it’s bad. And yes, micro-management is an awful, awful way to manage your people. Managers shouldn’t have to micro-manage. They should be able to stand back and see the bigger picture, and draw on the skills of their team to reach their objectives.

That’s a given. But it would be no fun it I wasn’t playing devil’s advocate.

Let’s consider some advantages of micro-management…

1) Under-performing people
Micro-management is a skill. It’s tiring. And it can be highly effective, if done correctly. For instance, if you’ve got a team member who isn’t performing as well as they could be – you have to micro-manage. You can’t let them float away and do everything they want to do… they need constant monitoring.

Your managers have to know when to use it, how to use it, and most importantly, they have to know when to withdraw.

2) Dreamers
There are people out there who need a framework, and need to be brought down to earth. An old Director of mine called them “creative types” – and every business needs them. Micro-management might annoy them, to a degree, but if you’re going to get the best out of them, you have to know when to let them float off into the clouds, and you have to know when to pull them back onto the ground, and hit every single detail with them.

3) Up-skilling and knowledge transfer
If you’re moving someone through an up-skilling or knowledge transfer process, you can’t let them float off into unknown territory – they’ll get lost and retreat to what they know best. You need to micro-manage this process thoroughly, with benchmarks and milestones to ensure that the employee reaches the desired level of skills.

4) On-boarding someone who is new to the workplace
On-boarding is one of the most micro-managed processes in any organisation, and is indeed appreciated by any new employee who walks into a new office. Graduates need it, and those whose language skills may not be up to scratch will need it while they learn the language. If you can’t micro-manage these instances, people will end up leaving before they’ve settled in.

5) Those you want to chase out of the business
Oh, you’re not allowed to say it, but you really, really would like to see the back of a certain person. She’s replaceable, from a day-to-day work point of view… and she’s a stirrer. A negative influence. How can you make things a little less tolerable? Micro-management.

Chase every detail, chase every e-mail, hold regular 1-to-1 sessions to comb over old ground… it’s not 100% ethical, but neither is making someone redundant. You’re just making work a little less easy.

Perhaps, from my vantage point outside of HR, I can afford to make blithe statements like “micro-manage someone out of the business”, but I do believe that micro-management is a skill, and is best used sparingly – in the right situations. A good micro-manager should know when to let go, and should have a process in place to ensure that the micro-management itself has goals and milestones.

So HR’s not very sexy? Go figure…

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

A recent survey by the CIPD in the UK pondered on the results of a survey (of its own membership) that revealed HR wasn’t very “sexy”. The majority of CIPD members hadn’t thought of a career in HR when they were young.

Instead, they were thinking of more glamorous careers, such as being pop stars or train drivers. Why, oh why, are the kids of today not clamouring for a career in Human Resources? Where’s HR’s Lady Gaga when you need her?

Of course, the serious question underlying this report is: “how can HR attract young graduates into the profession”, and it’s a question worth asking. The current entry point into the profession appears to be through service centres, and it’s doubtful whether this is the best apprenticeship for a career in strategic HR.

The main problem HR faces is exemplified by the CIPD itself. It’s a chartered institute, and the image it presents is fusty, old-fashioned, and internal, with debates about maternity pay, TUPE transfer, and the maximum number of hours’ work in a day front and centre of its website. If HR is trying to destroy its image as the department with a rulebook, then this is no way to go about it.

The CIPD “champions better work and working lives”, which is great. Someone has to do it, and it’s a very noble thing to do. But it’s not going to get graduates very excited, is it?

If anything, the CIPD is a reflection of the HR community – as talented and as earnest a bunch of people as you could ever wish to meet. However, these are internal discussions. This is the minutia of day-to-day work in HR. When you find other departments discussing the minutia of what they do, it’s aligned to business goals.

If marketers are discussing how to improve clickthrough rates of e-mails (yawn), they’re actually discussing how to grow the business. If salespeople are discussing how a CRM can improve their productivity (yawn), they’re actually discussing how to grow the business.

HR needs to do more of the same. Instead of talking about how to handle internal disputes which only serve to emphasise the rulebook image, HR needs to talk about the bigger issues in the world of work, and demonstrate how it affects them. WE know that HR can add to the bottom line. WE know that our engagement strategies and our talent management programmes add to productivity, and WE know that our data can provide invaluable insight into how the business is faring.

So if we’re going to make HR a more attractive career proposition to talented graduates, these are the things we should be talking about. You can make a difference in HR, and while you might have a rulebook, you’ll also be a business leader.

The CIPD isn’t saying this. Instead, it’s down to the outsourcers like Ceridian, ADP et al to talk about the value HR adds.

The CIPD isn’t providing the voice that HR requires. We need a new institution that isn’t afraid to tackle the big subjects, and speak its mind.

The alternative is that HR continues to retreat into a world of internal debates and minutiae, and we leave the big stuff to everyone else.

Nudge, Guide & Encourage Healthy Practices in the Workplace

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

This blog post was written in response to the June 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How can we maintain healthier lifestyles at work?”

Here are two extremes. Ted eats junk food all day, never exercises, and goes to bed at 3am after playing computer games all night. He turns up at 9:30 every morning looking bleary-eyed, and needs several coffees just to get started.

Ed, however, gets a proper night’s sleep, is in at 8:00 every morning after a session in the gym, and eats healthily.

Which of your two employees is the more productive? Well, there is a chance that Ed spends his day on Facebook, and there is a chance that Ted is a genius who only needs a few hours’ sleep and a gallon of coffee… but if you had a hundred Teds, the chances are that you’re not getting the best work out of them. Chances are that you’re getting better work out of your one hundred Eds – so why leave it to chance?

After all, it’s simple maths – you invest x amount in a health initiative, and you get y amount in return. Y will be a multiple of x.

The value of a nudge

Most large organisations have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place, but many see it as a tick in the box. A phone number, or a web portal. Promote it, if you’ve got it. Insist on running promotions that hit peoples’ inboxes, get in their faces next to the coffee machine, or through your intranet. Communicate and nudge people towards the solutions you’re providing.

But it doesn’t have to be an EAP. There are simple things that smaller businesses can try. For instance, get rid of the chocolate machine and buy in a fruit box at the start of every week. Offer reduced-price gym subscriptions. Offer breakfast (so long as it’s a healthy option), and insist that people use their breaks. A corporate culture of working through lunch breaks does not result in greater productivity or ‘more work done’ – it results in the same amount of work being stretched over a longer period.

The value of a guiding hand

Sometimes, a nudge is not enough. There may be instances when an employee’s work is being hindered by simple problems that you have caused. Yes, you. Your computer screens, your workstations, your chairs – you could be causing headaches, causing backache, musculoskeletal problems…

A guiding hand would seek to pre-empt any potential issues by providing proactive and reactive services to employees – as simple as, say, giving access to a physiotherapist as and when needed, or ensuring that workstation assessments are carried out, at least on an annual basis. Simple solutions that can be paid for on-the-go, and nip a problem in the bud.

The value of encouragement

I’ve always hated the word gamification, but the principle behind it is solid. The idea is that by creating a little healthy competition, you can change behaviour. I’ve heard of digital agencies giving out wristbands which measure the number of steps you take – as well as the quality of your sleep.

The data is uploaded to employees’ smartphones, and shared in a league table. Who moved the most in the last week? Who slept the best? It’s a harmless little competition that encourages healthy activity. Some of these devices even let you scan barcodes of food you’ve eaten, to measure calorie intake. I think that’s a great idea, and it may be one of the more forward-thinking initiatives businesses have to take in order to get that little bit more productivity out of their people.

If we’re going to prove ourselves as HR professionals, and deliver measurable change to the business, we have to nudge, guide, and encourage our people to make healthy choices not just in the workplace, but at home. Healthy people are (generally speaking) productive people, and we have the data to correlate our initiatives with business results.

What to do with the office peacock and the dress-down dude

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

A recent post by Kris Dunn reminded me of a common, unspoken problem in the workplace – the way people dress. I’ve seen HR departments visibly twitch at the low-cut tops and short skirts worn by ambitious members of otherwise anonymous departments. Equally, I’ve seen them not bat an eyelid at the suddenly sharp-suited marketer who, just last week, was practically wearing pyjamas to work.

We have two main problems: the office peacock, and the dress-down dude. We have Victoria Beckham and The Big Lebowski in our workplaces, side by side, and we need a plan.

The office peacock

There’s a dress code, and there’s a dress code. One is written, the other is unspoken. One is a simple, gender-neutral statement of policy. The other is an unconscious reflection of the culture you’ve built (or are trying to destroy, you choose).

It often comes from the top. If the MD doesn’t wear a tie, the lack of neckwear filters down through the board, to line managers and beyond. An unspoken dress code relies on those little glances in an employee’s first week, which say “the suit is too much”, or “I need to iron my trousers”. Whichever.

An unspoken dress code relies on an employee’s need to fit in.

The office peacock, however, is trying not to fit in. There may be various reasons for this. He or she may be calling out for your attention, silently screaming “look at me, I could do with a promotion” or “I judge myself more important than everyone else”. It may be a conscious effort to underline his or her leadership credentials, but if it’s out of line – what can you do?

Well, not much. If it’s within the confines of the official dress code, then it’s no reason to haul someone into an office and give them a ticking off. A shiny suit does not a quarrel make. Equally, if someone turns up to work in a suit on a dress-down day, what can you do? You’re not the fun police. You do not exist solely to ensure that everyone wears jeans on a Friday. But note that behaviour, it’s not against policy but it’s kinda weird.

It is worthwhile, however, to ascertain the reasons behind the change in behaviour. Flag this up to the potentially unaware line manager, and attempt to find out whether there has been any conflict within the team, or any performance issues that may have influenced the snazzy dressing. Underlying issues within the team may have influenced this employee’s decision to break out from the constraints of the unspoken dress code and change peoples’ perceptions.

The dress-down dude

While the peacock may just have bought a new suit, the dress-down dude has ditched the suit for more casual attire. He may not have shaved, if it is a he… She may not have bothered with the usual lipstick. Very often, these are subtle signs… indications that the usual grooming has fallen by the wayside.

The signs are there, but what do they mean?

Firstly, there may be issues at home. After all, getting ready is a lengthy enough process, so new parents can be excused for dressing down a little. There may be other issues, such as financial or bereavement, and it’s down to the sensitivities of the line manager to discern whether there are external pressures on the employee. If you’ve not trained your line managers to pick up on these signs, then it’s all your fault. Sorry.

Secondly, and more importantly there may be work issues. The dress-down dude has often given up, and it’s important to distinguish between someone who has given up and someone who is under pressure. Someone who has given up is effectively working the longest notice period possible. They’re potentially searching for jobs, or they’ve just resigned themselves to the fact that they’re going nowhere in your organisation, in which case, you’re the one to make that call, not them. Can you get them back? Or do you do what they’ve done – and give up?

You have a couple of options – number 1, you make that call. You decide they’re not going anywhere, and you performance manage them, potentially performance managing them out. Number 2, you take a more holistic approach and tackle the underlying issues first. If the dress code is being broken then yes, tackle that, but by resolving those underlying issues, you could resolve the dress-down issue as a consequence.

Imagine that. HR gets sartorial.

What will it take to retain the best talent over the next 5 years?

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

This blog post was written in response to the May 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “What will it take to retain the best talent over the next 5 years?”

I might not work in HR, but I do have the constant challenge of retaining talented employees, so I feel it’s my responsibility, not that of HR. I also have to accept that any aim to retain an employee will (almost) always end in failure. At some point, an employee will leave. It could be today, it could be tomorrow, and it could be in five years’ time. I can’t hold on forever.

So really, the question is – what can I do to keep my best employees for as long as possible? Or, how can I maximize their potential for however long I’ve got them?

The foundation, or the basics

I lump contractuals and engagement ‘tactics’ into one package – the very foundation of your retention efforts. Whether it’s the contract your people want, or fresh coffee and more pot plants, it’s the environment you create.

There are external pressures coming from everywhere these days – financial, childcare, relationships, legal, even dealing with builders! You don’t want to add to the pressures, so a workplace should be, at its very least, a haven from everything else.

If you’re going to lose a talented employee, don’t let it be due to something stupid like forgetting to pay on time. The basics.

Nobody likes your company values

I liked this statistic – 77% of people in the UK admit they’re ‘not engaged’ with the company’s brand values. Get over it.

Nobody likes your company values, and nobody cares about them. Yeah, sure, they might tell you they really care, but they’re mostly lying.

They care about their own careers, and where you, as a business, fit into that schema is the one thing that counts. Company values are not going to help you retain or engage anyone… after all, most businesses have the same values, they just use different words. No company’s brand values state “rip people off and lie to them”, do they.

What they do is help you craft the right message and behaviour in front of clients. They’re nothing whatever to do with retention or engagement, and if people aren’t engaged with them, move on. Nothing to see here.

Work makes people stay

When people leave their jobs, it’s often because of their line managers. It’s often because their work isn’t challenging enough, or because there’s a greater chance of career progression somewhere else.

You could be paying everyone on time, and you could be handing out free coffee, gym sessions, EAPs and you might even have a pool table. Whoopee-doo. But anyone can do that, and your competitors might well be doing more. Unless you’re offering way more than everyone else, the grass might always be just as green next door.

If you’re going to retain really talented employees, you’re going to have to give them a reason to stay, and here’s your bullet points:

– a job they love
– a hope (and a vision) of career progression
– a challenge

HR’s responsibility in this mix is twofold: number 1, get the basics right. If that’s finding an outsourcing partner and a shared service centre, then do it. It’s cheap and scalable and it removes the stuff that doesn’t add value.

Number 2, look after those line managers. If you’ve got bad line managers, you should be the first to know, and you should be working with them on people management skills. Transfer your hard-earned knowledge and give them a little love. Pin-point the future managers, develop a succession programme and don’t keep it close to your chest – let them in on it.

Talk to people, find out what motivates them, and find out how you can keep them just that little bit longer. They might ask say something like “I want to earn $100k, run my own business by the time I’m 40 and grow a beard”, but you could harness some of that ambition and say “you know what, let’s work together. We can help you become more entrepreneurial, but we can’t help with the beard.”

Related Pages:

The Magic Bullet by Nicole Davidson

How to Keep The BEST Ones by Carolyn Courage, CHRP

It Takes More than Money to Retain Your Best Talent by Jessica Lau