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How Do I Coach an HR Superior?

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

Dear Workforce:

We have an HR director who appears to be ushering our people out the door. One employee recently notified her that he was beginning a job search. Not knowing how many interviews the employee might be attending, the HR director called a meeting and the two sides agreed to a voluntary separation, with a specific end date.

Now, a similar situation has surfaced with another employee who is having personality clashes with a supervisor. Our HR director wants to tell the employee to start looking, and also give her an end-of-employment date.

I'm concerned about the long-range effects on our retention, as well as our ability to recruit. What could you recommend to help us best handle this situation?

—Driving Them Away, HR manager, advertising, Long Beach, California

Dear Driving Them Away:

Have you considered speaking candidly to your HR director about your concerns? By raising your questions tactfully and in good faith, you might learn more about your company's approach to employee retention and your feedback might make a positive difference.

Don't be surprised if the HR director tells you there are reasons behind her actions that she is not free to discuss with you. If the employees involved were already subject to disciplinary action—such as for excessive absenteeism or tardiness—that might explain why she is encouraging their departure. For example, did you know that company policies generally prohibit employees from taking sick days to attend job interviews? In most cases, doing so is considered a serious breach warranting corrective action on the part of a company. So although voluntary separation might seem harsh, it could in fact be an effective and considerate company strategy that allows an employee to leave before being terminated.

Similarly, when an employee is having personality clashes with a manager, there is an expectation that both the manager and the employee will strive to establish positive communications. If, for example, the employee is not responding effectively to coaching, your HR director may be serving both the employee and the company well by encouraging the employee to move on in search of a better match.

Most HR professionals try to give employees every chance to be successful. While your HR director could be among the relative few who might be described as mean-hearted and shortsighted, I would guard against such a presumption. Rather than challenging her, consider sharing some HR best practices about retaining talent and coaching employees. If need be, demonstrate your courage by respectfully stating that you are not comfortable with her approach to a specific situation.

To safely open such a discussion, you could bring along a couple of current books on the subject. Here are just a few of my favorites for your consideration:

Manager's Pocket Guide to Dealing with Conflict, by Lois B. Hart, Ed. D. A concise guide focused on the idea that there's a lot we can learn from conflict; presents a seven-stage model that can be used in resolving conflict.Employee Relations, by Terry L. Fitzwater. A concise guide for HR managers. Focuses on how they can provide managers with the tools necessary to motivate employees and resolve disputes in the workplace before they become serious. In particular, it offers suggestions on programs and philosophies that help to increase an employee's satisfaction and desire to stay with an organization.HR from the Heart: Inspiring Stories and Strategies for Building the People Side of Great Business, by Libby Sartain. A very popular book by Libby Sartain, who wrote it while leading HR for Southwest Airlines. Focuses on building the value of HR by playing a key role in creating the company’s employment brand.Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer. Provides tools to handle some of life’s most difficult and important conversations, say what’s on your mind and achieve positive outcomes.Essential Manager’s Manual, by Robert Heller and Tim Hindle. A treasure trove of tips on how to manage effectively. Covers topics ranging from motivating people, teams, and meetings to managing change, time, stress, and conflict.First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Outlines four “keys” to becoming an excellent manager: finding the right fit for employees; focusing on the strengths of employees, defining the right results; and selecting staff for talent--not just knowledge and skills. Offers specific techniques for helping managers improve results by focusing on employee strength.

Tags: #DearWorkforce #EmployeeRetention #Coaching #Performance #HumanResources

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