hr… it’s lonely at the top

In reading the latest post from Alison Chisnell, I realised and I guess recalled, what I remember feeling, at a time when I was deep in middle earth HR. That this is a lonely job. It is a tough job, and one you don’t seem to make friends in (it’s just easier that way!)

I mean that in the best possible way. If you think about what we, as HR Professionals get charged with; what we are told, what we do – a lot of that is surrounded by confidentiality, integrity and privacy. If you hear something, or if you are the official holder of information, you are usually where the buck stops. If the CEO has decided to outsource the business, you get told but you can’t tell anyone else. If there is a performance issue with a staff member, same deal. I have even been entrusted with relationships that have needed to be kept secret!

Alison’s post reminded me what it was like, being in a position of managing change within an organisation. It isn’t just HR Professionals who can be isolated, senior management are in the same boat. The saying of it being lonely at the top didn’t just magic it’s way into our phrase books. I’m not talking about HR being the “top” of the business world (although, we all know it should!), or making a point about it being a better role in any organisation (again…..!), but usually, when the heads at the top want some change in the business, we are either the first to know about it from them (preferable), or the first to hear it on the grapevine, possibly because something has been done in a “unique” way. It makes us the top of the tree sometimes, when it would be far easier not to be.

Either way, the idea of HR Professionals talking to each other, supporting each other and sharing our experiences is a healthy one. In the world of Social Media, or in fact most online business, everyone shares everything – results, what to do, how to do it, how not to do it especially! In HR, we tend to want to be the keepers of information. Shared knowledge is a powerful thing. To be the one sharing your own knowledge, helping people out and perhaps lending an ear or a shoulder of support needs to be encouraged. Thanks for the reminder Alison!

…because I’m the customer…

I was inspired recently by someone I met, via his great post at TRecs to talk about customer service, again. For those of you who know me, it is something I go on about and one of my passions.

I have always failed to understand why one of the most basic abilities as people; human interaction, is so difficult for some people. I am fully aware that we’re all different, some are extrovert, some are introverts, some are wild nutters like me – and some are very shy and retiring. I get that. It is what makes the world such an entertaining and interesting place. But a little tip for the retailers and service providers of the world; don’t hire the ones who are introverted and shy, regardless of their skill set.

You see most humans, like me (although some would argue I am not quite like most!) like to walk into a shop and be recognised. Or go anywhere and be recognised. I actually don’t care if it is a raised eyebrow, a grin, smirk or a wink. Just do something. Acknowledge that your door has been opened or someone walked past you on the retail floor. Yesterday I had some time to kill on the way to an appointment so I cruised around a few shops. Sales are on, things are cheaper. Doesn’t that mean that more people can afford to buy things? Ergo – more people go shopping? I know consumers buy more things in the sales, but things aren’t always about the money. No I don’t have loads of it, but I have strong principals and I also want an experience when I shop.

Most of the stores I walked into yesterday afternoon didn’t quite see it my way.

You know, I get that it is the end of the day; it’s dark cold and miserable outside (but usually not inside, so what the…?), and it is close to the end of the week or the start of another week and or whatever other thousand reasons you want to create. But when I walk into your shop – you know the one you created to make money? I expect a little recognition. Obviously I also realise that the owner mostly doesn’t sit behind the counter. Maybe that is the problem!

I do know that of the three shops I walked into yesterday, two of the owners were there. I know I have to resign myself to the fact that I will never get understand the why of this. It is probably like reading fantasy science fiction, or playing golf or wrestling or changing your name when you get married – I don’t get those things either!

The most amazing thing to me about customer service is that is free! Yep, that’s right, one of the very few things that you get for free in this world. There aren’t too many! One of my favourite quotes is “there are no traffic jams in the extra mile” (the customer service guru Zig Ziglar). It is one of the truisms of my life. It costs me no more to smile or nod or ask someone if they need help. And I don’t work on the high street!

It is true, and as most of my readers will know, I am Australian. By definition that makes us think we can talk to and smile at anyone on the street. I am also aware that it has the uncanny and unpleasant affect of making me seem simple. That is OK too. Yes, I am the nutter who smiles at people and makes eye contact on the road. Why? Because I get a massive intrinsic kick out of the feeling that that little smile or nod or wink could have just made someone feel special. I know, it could also make them think that I am a stalker…your choice!

My HR training and people management experiences has taught me that the best person for the job is not always the one with the most qualifications, nor the one who can put that book on the shelf in eight different ways or make the gold sequined dress go really well with those pink tights. Recruiting people for jobs where they are responsible for the promotion of your business needs to be based on personality, the ability to interact, a feeling for intuition and a strong sense of understanding customers – empathy.

You wouldn’t read about it, but, customers also have bad days, hate the weather and have just lost their jobs broken up with their partner or had a bad haircut. We all have stuff going on, deal with it and get on with your job. It’s right up there with one of the things I wish I could change in the world, along with the correct distribution of food between the obese and the starving, the ignorance about climate change and the economy, and the treatment of less fortunate souls in our world, but don’t get me started. I do truly believe that one little action or reaction from a shop assistant might just change the way a person’s day goes. I just don’t get why it is so hard. I also don’t get why a good feeling is so undersold.

As Mervyn says – do we have the guts to find out what our customers really think and want? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to be treated like a long lost friend; I don’t even expect to be remembered (my ego isn’t that big!) but I do expect to be treated with respect and a bit of happiness.  I am the customer; the one who is buying something to attribute to the success of the store and the money you earn. This is a very simple equation. Be grateful, let your face know if you’re happy about it – better still, let other people know. It’s quite contagious.

Funny isn’t it, that films like Falling Down is seen as one man losing his mind, rather than an understandable build up of the kind of frustrations we get in everyday life. Yes, there are different ways to provide feedback. One of them is to vote with your feet and never return. But in a city like London, do retailers and service providers really care? I am one of a potential twelve million people (at least) who will come into the store. Move aside love, there are more people trying to get in!

For the record, the real service providers are not the ones who talk to clients on social media and say “we’re sorry to hear about your experience, here try this number”. They are the ones who resolve your issues for you. Who make an effort. I know there are millions of stories of people who do go that extra mile and they are to be rewarded.

I know the use of social media as a communications tool is now de rigueur in business now. But let’s not make it like the media and report only the bad stuff. We can start to make an effort by reporting great customer service, not moaning in the hope that someone listens (guilty I know!). Business who have a significant edge over their competitors are the ones who go back to the source of the original bad customer experience and resolve the issue; not merely tweet about it.

Is this awful customer service experience also the reason we shop online? So I don’t have to put up with the whining from the shop assistants about their date last night, or the unfairness of having a job where they make you work or wear a uniform or talk to customers heaven forbid (or is that just Top Shop?). Be grateful for a few things:

  • You have the ABILITY to work
  • You have a job
  • You have the ABILITY to smile and improve someone’s day
  • You will live longer (there’s research on this!)

Any retail experience is not just about what things cost. I am saddened that in a world of over consumerism more people don’t vote with their feet. That we mostly still search for the bargain of a lifetime and then moan about the service we get whilst doing it. Are those two things related? Maybe. Or maybe it is just putting out there what we want to get back, either way we have a long way to go!

Incremental Change, in life, HR and Social Media

When I arrived in London in November last year, I walked into the coldest winter and the hardest recession to hit the world in 20 years. Not quite the welcome I was expecting. It took me some time, months in fact to adapt to not only the weather and the media hype about the recession, but to the changes that had occurred to me physiologically and psychologically.

I come from a country that doesn’t take things too seriously, except getting an early morning surf in before work, over-indulging our children and eating too much. Most Australians are pretty laid back and although they will always give you a piece of their mind, they won’t act on much at all, not even a worldwide recession!

In spite of this environment, I still thought I was prepared for whatever this country could throw at me, the winter being the biggest issue or so I thought. Having lived in London 20 years earlier, I thought I would cope perfectly well. I refused to believe the media “beat-up” about the recession. I certainly enjoyed the change in climate it, it was a novelty all this cold weather business. Where I’m from, the coldest it gets is either inside the 5-below-zero Vodka bar, or occasionally at The Valley pool when you’re swimming in the middle of winter. No need to worry there though, a warm shower, trip to Merlo for coffee and walk to work will get you well sorted.

Change is one of those things that you sometimes don’t notice until it has happened – and sometimes even then, not until someone has pointed it out to you! An interesting thought for me, given I have spent the past 10 years managing and instigating change as my job, career and life.

Funny then, how change can just sneak up on you, tap you on the shoulder and shout obscenities in your face.

When I decided to emigrate to the UK, I thought myself very fortunate and blessed and still do. Not once did I imagine it would be a tough gig! They speak English there…, I’m employable – it can’t be that different!  Well, yes as true as all of those things are, there are some variations. Yes, they do speak English here. It may take a while to determine, but once you get your ear in, you can almost make out, that it is in fact English. Certainly a few words like “wot-eva” and innit”, repeated at 30 second intervals helped clear up my doubts. Teenage speak is similar the world over.

We all know language is interesting wherever you go. Having heard the type of English here and trying to get my ear in, I found even when I thought I was speaking English, I was asked to repeat myself. Not only the impact of my Australian twang (which of course I thought I didn’t have!) but my constant mistaken use of words and phrases. For example when walking in the summer I tended to take my “thongs” in my bag with me as my feet always tended to get too hot and too sore in heels. I gathered quite a few strange looks and offended more than one person when I felt the need to share my strange underwear fetish with them (thong here is used in the same way the Americans do, not what I wear on my feet to the beach).

I still can’t bring myself to call them flip flops……

I learned whole new names for vegetables – courgettes, peppers and aubergines instead of zucchini, capsicum and eggplant. That an Oyster was not necessarily found in rivers and Nectar not necessarily something derived from flowers! I became very intimate with a whole bunch of people I would not normally meet, usually on the tube or bus but sometimes the Tesco delivery guys and the people who came to read the electric and gas meter, inside your house, at 7am on a Saturday, (meters are only ever outside in Oz).

I missed not being able to order a long black or a flat white, with soy (not soya) and no, thank you I don’t want milk with my Americano (Does that not defeat the purpose of a black coffee??).

I have learned to avoid the post office at any time; Tesco on a Friday night, the tube in rush hour, riding anywhere on the route to Heathrow, wearing stiletto heels, and ever leaving home without my portable “Do Not Disturb” sign (iPod).

Even after my years of experience instigating and implementing change, it took me a while to understand that this incremental change was having an impact on me.

Incremental change can affect people as much as if the change happened all at once. I went from driving everywhere to catching public transport whilst reading a map. From a place where 35 degrees on Christmas day can be a little bit too uncomfortable, to a place where 4 degrees is the best it will ever get for Christmas lunch.

I have coped by realising that I have been undergoing incremental change (not without help I will admit!) and by learning to respect and appreciate that these changes abound and are sometimes sent to challenge us. We grow from them, learn from them and understand that one is not better than the other – just different.

I know I am not unique in this experience nor even in sharing it.  I have done my share of major change as well, changing careers, homes and family situations. What I learned is that change of any nature, can be challenging to say the least, even when you instigate it. I sincerely feel for those who never seek out change and then when it happens to them, are grossly affected by it, to the point where they no longer feel able to cope with life.

The two links I want to make about incremental change are around two of my passions, HR and Social Media. Change in HR is inevitable and is usually driven by us, the HR team! We enforce it as part of our strategic business plans in line with what is best for the business. We then try and steer the people in the right direction with as many tools for learning how to cope as possible. Sometimes we fail miserably, sometimes we succeed astonishingly.

Change in the form of new technology, including Social Media can be even more threatening. Something else we don’t understand, another thing we don’t have time for, something we don’t know how to use, something that we aren’t even sure is going to be of any benefit at all to staff and the business as a whole.

If you approach the use of Social Media in your life, be it for business or pleasure, then think about how it will change you and your routine, incrementally. It has the potential to change the way you do things, change the way you receive information, change the way you react to information, change your business processes and procedures and change the way your staff listen and react to you. It can be welcoming or it can be destructive, and like all change, it is how you react to it that determines how powerful it will be in either being part of another tool that you use to help you, or a distracting nuisance.

Whatever the impact, I hope you learn as I have, that it isn’t all bad, just different.

Productivity and Social Media

You know, the amount of times I hear organisational managers say that they have banned Social Media in the workplace still astounds me. I know there are various reasons for it; the main argument usually is about productivity and how badly it is affected if managers and organisations let their staff use Facebook or Twitter during the course of their business day.

I think productivity is one of those innate blessings. Either you are or you aren’t – and any number of “tools” or applications available will make no difference to the most productive of your staff. Of course it will have an impact on the least productive of your staff, but they don’t need Social Media to distract them from their work, any old thing will do!

It’s important that we debunk the myth that Social Media in the workplace reduces productivity. As a HR and Business Manager, I have seen productivity in all its forms. I have had many staff who would use any opportunity or any excuse to be unproductive. I once had a staff member try and take the company car to the shop to buy everyone coffee because it was “smoko” – the 15 minute morning tea break. The fact that it took him 30 minutes to drive there, buy the things, bring them back and socialise was lost on him!

It is our jobs as people managers to “manage” this behaviour; recognise it and call it for what it is. Preventing access to Social Media sites in the workplace can send a message that you may not be keen to listen to your staff, or keen to hear what conversations are going on around your business. It can also indicate that you don’t trust them to be productive, and probably means that you, as manager and leader don’t understand Social Media (which of course may very well be true!)

It is far too easy to assume the worst of someone and punish everyone for the sins of a few lazy team members, but most people want to do a good job; most people want to be responsible and make a good impression.

The introduction of a Social Media platform into your business could increase productivity, increase revenue and certainly retain customers. Like anything, the introduction of Social Media into the business could be done by a trial, and could be done with some fun, so that everyone can learn at the same pace, or at least at the same time.

Great research has been done on the positive effect of fun in the workplace, you only need look as far as Google to see how they are revered as an appealing place to work. Why not make the introduction of Social Media a fun project and assign tasks to people to create the accounts, write content, take photos and generally allow their creativity to influence the way you do business.

I am sure as a manager of people, you know who the un-productive members of your staff are already, why not use them as leaders in a project to devise the guidelines of how you manage your Social Media policy in the workplace? Like any policy, without guidelines or standards it will be pushed to the limits very quickly!

So, are your staff un-productive already? If they are, then take the opportunity to have a conversation with them about that, set some standards on what you expect if you haven’t already and start measuring them. Once you decide that the organisation would like to be part of this irresistible Social Media wave, then the unproductive ones will already have a clear message that what they are doing is being watched. It isn’t Social Media that you need to pay attention to, it is your people; how they contribute, how they are measured and then how they can positively influence the communication within your organisation. People really are creative and when given the opportunity, will give you all the answers and ideas you want.