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Mon 18 May 2020
I recently wrote an article about the importance of mentorship for executives, and I wanted to write another article specifically about why HR executives should have mentors.


If anybody has ever seen the American version of The Office, they may associate HR with Toby. If you haven’t seen The Office, Toby is a well-intentioned HR professional but is hated by Michael Scott, the branch manager. Their acrimonious relationship is because Michael perceives Toby as the “killer of fun” or put another way, the killer of innovation and new ideas.


We watch the show from Michael’s perspective because he is the boss and the main character, but let’s take a second to put ourselves in Toby’s shoes.


Toby is an HR team of 1 where he has to manage all of the HR functions of the entire branch. If Michael comes up with an inappropriate, or even illegal, idea and Toby doesn’t step in to stop it, the company could get sued and Toby is at fault. For comedic relief, we laugh at the antics and the angst between Michael and Toby. 


But if we put ourselves in Toby’s shoes, I think the dilemma becomes clear. How do we handle novel HR scenarios and issues without having the experience and information necessary to be sure we are choosing the right action? 


After interviewing over 50 HR executives in the past 3 months, I have learned that most companies have more HR projects that their HR team can possibly handle. Their work turns into a process of constantly taking care of what is most pressing right now while deferring an ever-growing list of lower-priority tasks for a later date “when things calm down”.


HR executives must understand what’s going on within their own company while also monitoring other companies to assess how they are doing to see if they are falling behind in any way. 


HR teams can end up isolated from other the broader HR professional network, save for the occasional SHRM conference or HR networking event. This lack of professional connection can be an obstacle to handling all of the work thrown at HR executives. An experienced network of like-minded colleagues can greatly improve your work and can help you avoid the emotional toll of not having somebody you relate and connect that can console you on how to balance the load of everything being thrown at HR executives.


So, why should HR executives have mentors?


1. Learn about what other HR executives are doing


If you are getting your guidance on what innovations you should consider pursuing at your annual SHRM conference or planning organizational changes and innovations years in advance, you are probably reacting to old advice. For example, let’s say you find a promising new Learning Management System at a conference in August. It seems valuable so you bring it up to your HR team in September, and you focus on ironing out all of the kinks in the plan before presenting the idea to the other company leaders. Now it’s December. But, budgets are approved for January in November/December meaning that now you are waiting until the following January for implementation. Now, your innovative idea from 18 months ago is finally being implemented and it’s already a bit out of date. 


With a strong network, a fellow HR executive mentor could have informed you about the Learning Management System back in March. You could have brought the idea up to your team and ironed out the kinks in preparation for the conference in August and been ready to implement it by the initial January. You’ve just cut your time-to-implementation time by half from 18 months to 9. 


2. Expand your network to other HR executives who can relate


When people don’t know each other that well, they have a tendency to only share the good things in their world – e.g. “My company was listed in the top 100 places to work”, or “we have made 30 new hires in the past month and are growing exponentially.” These conversations are pervasive at conferences or networking events. Brag fests and casual banter are fun pleasantries, but no one should mistake these for the deep, meaningful conversations that drive innovation and professional development. 


A fellow HR executive mentor from outside of one’s own company allows you to open up, share, and relate to another executive that shares your mindset, but has their own experiences. These connections, and the vulnerable conversations that occur in these mentorships, make HR executives not only better at their jobs, but most importantly, happier at work. 


3. Get advice on how to handle unfamiliar scenarios


The world changes all of the time. People are not antique toys that can be put in plastic boxes and held in place until they retire. There are actions and reactions that HR executives cannot control, and when uncertain situations strike, you have decisions to make. Here’s the most important decision: do you keep it to yourself and try to handle it alone for fear that asking for advice will make you seem ineffective at your job? 


A fellow HR executive mentor might have faced that type of situation before. At a minimum, they can ask relevant questions and share their thoughts based on what they have experienced before. And at best, they can share their wisdom and help you find the key to solving the problem. 


As an HR executive, you are whom your company turns to when they have an HR question, regardless of whether you know the answer. Mentorship provides HR executives with their own team of informal advisors, and a fellow HR executive mentor makes life easier because they provide balance, insight, and perspective that you cannot find from your current network. 

Mon 13 June 2022
A good office is diverse in many ways, and a good manager has picked his staff with a sense of diversity in mind (or if the team was inherited, ideally diversity was considered when picking the team members). Race, Sex, Creed, Religion, and Work Orientation are all important aspects to keep in mind. However, one aspect of employees that is often understated is age.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics department, 34.9% of the working population is below the age of 30. With this age comes equally diverse amounts of experience. An effective workplace will have employees of vastly differing ages, from high-school-age interns, all the way to individuals contemplating retirement.   

Therefore, the key question that you may ask is, “how can I as a manager foster growth for entry-level employees and help them contribute regardless of their lack of experience?” The answers to this question are far simpler than you think.

Why are Younger employees so useful?

Younger and entry-level employees bring a lot to any company they work for. Firstly, entry-level positions pay less than more senior positions. Please recognize that less pay typically equates to fewer responsibilities. It is perfectly acceptable to expect a certain amount of work from your younger employees, but you should expect more work from your senior employees. 

Entry-level workers are also a clean slate for the most part. A very frequent issue while hiring is encountering certain philosophies or ingrained ideas. For example, if I had to hire for a data management job between John, who has 1 year of experience, but uses cloud-based storage, and Dave, who has over 20 years of experience and uses physical hard drives, I’d probably pick John. Industries are always adapting and evolving, and stagnancy can be harmful.

Finally, what entry-level workers lack in experience, they can make it up in enthusiasm and engagement. They are often willing to put in extra time to ensure the quality of their work and will be in constant communication with you and their coworkers to be the best they can be.

What should a manager teach newer direct reports?

Skills that a manager can best impart to a new direct report are primarily soft skills. Direct reports are often very knowledgeable about the topic or tasks that they have been assigned but may lack office etiquette or may also have trouble understanding workplace dynamics.

                 When you were an entry-level worker, what did you struggle with? According to Glassdoor, many entry-level positions are client-facing, and often also require intra-office communication. What tools of the trade do you use to pacify angry clients? How do you coordinate a meeting with your entire team? How did you learn to delegate all of the tasks your bosses gave you?

                Teach them about how to properly communicate with your coworkers. Should they email someone directly, or would it be better for them to call a secretary? How do they need to request time off? Does it have to go through Human Resources? Through a direct manager? Does their team need to know? All of these answers just went through your head in the blink of an eye. Entry-level workers don’t have those answers yet. 

                In addition to this, there are often tricks that you use in your daily work that not everyone has the knowledge to be able to utilize. Imagine the following scenario. Microsoft Excel has a feature where users can fill a cell and its contents down a column or in a row. This is especially useful in relation to formulas and expressions utilizing other cells since it can allow you to finish an entire table in minutes. 

                However, if a user were to manually enter data into every cell, it could take drastically longer. Simply teaching a worker this small trick could make their work more efficient and could allow them to work on other tasks. 

                Remember that your experience is a privilege that not everyone has been afforded yet. Use it to help the person who may one day help others down the line as well. 

Why should you help foster these younger workers?

1.       It’s the right thing to do. When you entered the workplace, I’m sure you had troubles at some point and had some form of mentorship. Without that initial leg up, how else do you think you succeeded in the workplace?
2.       Younger workers may often have a few ideas that in spite of their experience can be extremely valuable. Have you ever heard the saying “The way to solve an impossible task is to give it to someone that doesn’t know its impossible?” 

                The same concept can apply to these entry-level workers.  Due to the fact that they haven’t been with your company for a long time, they may approach problems in a different way than your coworkers that you may have been with longer. As a result, you then have a different perspective that can be very helpful.

3.       You need to realize that you and your coworkers will not be around forever. New opportunities arise, retirement beckons, and situations occur. Entry-level employees can be developed into senior positions, and the improvement in their skills can only help the company. 

                All in all, younger workers can be a tremendous boon to your company, but only if you can properly nurture them. Set them up almost like a sapling. Continue to help them, and eventually, they will grow into an asset that will change the way your company thrives. 

Even if they don’t stick around, be a reference for them. Let them use the experience that you have given them to help more and more people, and keep the training chain going. It will only help.

Building Mentor Connections Through Work Orientation

Kickstarting Mentorships For Fulfilling Careers

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