What Are They Taking With Them When They Go?

When I first considered human resources as a focus in college and as a career path, I always felt the intense desire to be that person that found the potential in others. I wanted to find that perfect person for a company’s needs. I wanted to find that connection and help companies discover a person’s hidden talents that may have been overlooked. I wanted to hone in on those aspects to a person, learn their passions, and help them foster it. I wanted to be the reason why a company had progressive employees. It wasn’t just about talent acquisition for me. It was about improving the internal team. These individuals weren’t going to be just another employee- they were going to be the people that made the difference.

As I got more involved with human resources, I started to realize that in order to succeed, you had to build a relationship. As I thought of my own personal relationships in the past, I thought about the best and worst aspects of them. I recall growing up and having those highly emotional, yet highly destructive relationships. You know, the ones that you feel like you’ve just sunk yourself into a black hole and it will take forever for to build yourself up again. When I matured a bit more, I realized that all relationships don’t last forever and that the best thing I could do is to try to be supportive to the other person in the relationship. Let them build themselves up as an individual so if things didn’t work out, they wouldn’t be left with nothing. They wouldn’t have to start over again.

I feel like these aspects are very similar to an employer/employee relationship. I’m sure we’ve all experienced some sort of negative situation: the employer didn’t care; you hit a glass ceiling; it was a hostile work environment; your employer was underutilizing you; and so on. I’m sure you’ve experienced the times when you were disengaged, dreading to go to work. I’m sure there have been times when you wanted to just give up because it didn’t seem like anyone noticed or recognized your efforts anyway, so why not put in the bare minimum. I’m sure there were also times when you had positive experiences. Maybe you still talk to your previous employers or coworkers. Maybe you also talk highly of them and would have stayed with them if they had the opportunities that matched your professional goals.

As an HR professional, I’m wondering what we’re doing to change these employees’ experiences into a positive one. With the way the world of work has changed, it’s becoming a common trend for employees to move on from an employer within a few years, whether it is voluntary or involuntary. What are we doing to make them feel like they’re a better person and employee by the time they move on? Are we developing those relationships? Are we giving them the resources and tools they need to build themselves up? Are we utilizing their untapped skills so they feel like they’re making the most of their time and effort?

I never wanted my experience in HR to be about “policing” employees. I didn’t want to be the warden of policies and disciplinary action. I didn’t want to be the one putting up so much red tape that employees felt stuck. HR has the ability to do something greater for their workforce. They have the ability to help with career progression. I want to know that my efforts impacted my employees’ lives so when and if they do leave the company, they are leaving with something more than what they came in with.

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Early Career Lesson: The Thing I Wish I Knew

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More often than not, my friends like to joke around saying that I have a tendency to interview everyone I meet (I guess it’s naturally in my blood). I suppose that could be true but it’s mainly because I’m generally intrigued by people. It’s a common occurrence for me to ask probing questions to someone I’ve just met. Where are they from? Why are they here? What do they do for a living? Is it something they love? How did they fall into that? A simple story of someone’s life, no matter how boring it might seem to them, is actually one of the most interesting things I can come across. After one of these conversations over the weekend, I finally had the chance for someone else to turn the tables and ask me some thought-provoking questions. The one that stuck out the most to me was: what do you wish you knew getting into your career?

I met a younger woman this weekend who was just starting out in the full time, professional working world. She was smart, hopeful, ambitious, and driven, which just impressed me. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when she asked me about a life lesson I wish I knew when I was first starting out. I know all those sayings: hindsight is 20-20; the lesson is in the journey; and so on and so forth. Yes, I agree that sometimes you need to stumble and fall in order to learn what you can do better. But if I had a chance to pass on some life lessons to someone that was eager to learn, I definitely wasn’t going to waste that opportunity.

I remember being extremely frustrated early on in my career. Just like the young woman I met, I was hopeful, ambitious, and driven. I wanted to do great things and I wanted to be given the opportunity to contribute something to the company that I worked for. I wanted to leave something behind if I ever felt the need to move on. Those feelings and dreams were soon crushed after a little while of working at my former employers. I waited…and waited…and waited. And finally, I was so disengaged and disheartened by my employers’ lack of opportunity, that I would find myself leaving places to see if I had better luck elsewhere.

After years of this, I quickly realized that I shouldn’t be so dependent on my employer. It wasn’t up to them to offer me projects, education, or promotions. I shouldn’t have believed that they were the only way I could progress in my career or expand my learnings. My lack of growth wasn’t their issue, it was mine. My employer isn’t my only resource for career development and knowledge building. If I truly cared about my progression, it was my job to make that happen.

If the opportunities to partake in conferences, take classes, or network with industry professionals weren’t an option at my company, I needed to make the effort to do that on my own. If there wasn’t a stretch project that I could do that would enhance my career, I needed to pitch it to my employer and make it happen. Sometimes, you need to go outside of your immediate circle (aka organization) to grow and then bring back that value. You need to take initiative to take control of your own future and position yourself within your company. You need to find your worth and not wait for someone to hand it to you. Define yourself.

When I finally realized this, I found that my confidence had skyrocketed. I found a voice, I began to offer opinions, and I felt like they mattered. I’ve learned so much that it makes my head hurt some days. It’s indescribable when my managers now come to me for suggestions or advice. I felt like I did myself a favor.

Some days I wonder what would have happened if I realized I was in control of my development sooner. Would I have progressed further than where I am now? Would I be an industry expert or consultant? I’m not really sure but I am glad that I figured this out early enough to make a decent impact throughout my professional career so far. So, if there was one thing I could teach early careerists (or really anyone), it would be that you need to take initiative to develop your own career. We live in a time where resources are infinite and possibilities to do this are endless. Do yourself a favor and make the effort as soon as possible. You’ll be happy that you did.

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Pairing Formal with Informal Learning

Let’s face it- everyone learns and retains things differently. We learned about this fact during our school years and it still holds true in our professional careers. Some people learn at a faster rate than others. Some gain more from classroom teaching than hands-on training. The point is, one size does not fit all when it comes to learning and development and it would be wise for organizations to recognize this fact to ensure their training initiatives are more effective.

First off, get your formal learning in check. With technology advancing our ability to have more options to be trained, it’s important to remember that formal learning doesn’t have to require people to be trapped in a four walled room. Break down those walls and incorporate new ways to do formal training that goes beyond traditional classroom training. Personally, sitting through 8 hours of classroom lectures did not always help my understanding or retention (not to mention, my attention span). Break up the lectures with some additional learning opportunities. Maybe have your training classes go out in the field or interact/collaborate with people who already do this role within the organization. Let them see formal learning be put into action.

Secondly, it is important to remember that informal learning is necessary, too. Like stated earlier, people all have different learning styles so forcing them to only learn in a handful of ways might limit what they gain out of the experience. Breaking up your formal learning can only go so far so it’s up to you to encourage and empower employees to take initiative for their development. Give them suggestions on what they can do for their independent learning efforts. Let them interact with people in the industry so they can see how to put these trainings to good use. Allow them to join webinars or go to professional social networking groups. The learning world is their oyster.

I will tell you that I personally gained a lot from my informal learning. I often feel like the social media HR groups I’ve participated in (such as the Twitter chat, #Tchat) or the networking calls I had with people I’ve connected with have helped me gain so much more than majority of the training I’ve formally had from employers or schooling. Even researching topics and information to write the posts on my blog have helped me learn an extraordinary amount. I made it a point to ensure I was still learning even when in between jobs so once an employer took a chance on me, I could bring something extra to the table. Even after being employed, I still make the effort to regularly include informal training to accent the formal training I get from my employer. Some of my informal training has even sparked new ideas that will help us offer more to our clients and prospects. It’s even helped our internal team work more effectively.

As an employer, what are you doing to add more to your teaching and training? Have you ever considered informal learning as being a valuable option?

More Links:

Igniting Social Learning #Tchat Preview

Digging Deep into Social Learning #TChat Recap

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Stretch Projects to Increase Development and Engagement

Recently, I came across something pretty inspiring. I learned that a department manager has taken the time to learn the individual needs and passions of each of her subordinates, regardless of how insanely busy she was in her own role. She regularly takes the time to speak to them one on one to learn what their career goals are, what skills they want to develop, and address any concerns. Although that is impressive in itself, she doesn’t stop there. She takes the time to find opportunities for her employees to develop the skills in order to work their way toward their personal and professional goals. Since she started doing this, the increase in engagement has been phenomenal.

If you are a manager that’s looking to increase engagement in your workplace, consider trying this:

  • Regularly schedule one-on-one talks with your employees in an open atmosphere.
  • Make sure you talk about your employees’ career goals so you can get a feel for what they’re looking to accomplish.
  • Discuss some of the tasks and skills they would like to develop.
  • Talk to other managers in your organization to learn of different tasks or projects they’d need assistance on.
  • Discuss these opportunities with your employee to see what they’d be interested in pursuing and what would be feasible for them to do on top of their current workload.

The extra work involved in this might seem overwhelming but the benefits are worth it:

  • Employees will feel more accountable and appreciative to have a chance to develop themselves.
  • Engagement and morale will increase.
  • Turnover may decrease because employees will feel like they have professional and career growth opportunities within the organization.
  • Employees will develop skills that can help them become more of an asset to your company.
  • Departments using the employees for their projects may be more efficient with the extra help.
  • Opportunities like this can allow departments to build a stronger bond and work better, cross-departmentally.
  • Employees can gradually work their way into a role or even determine if the role or career path fulfills their passions as much as their originally had assumed.
  • It can bring in new perspective and fresh ideas.

Sometimes extra training or promotion might not be feasible in your organization due to budget, financial, and hiring issues. But, in the interim, this could be a great way to keep your employees engaged and happy while working there. It promotes continuous learning and in a way they are truly passionate about. This can create a stronger and better workforce.

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Say Yes to Continuing Education

In grammar school and high school, we’re taught to get good grades and participate in extra-curricular activities so we can get into our dream colleges. In college, we are once again told to get good grades, encouraged to take on internships, and asked to join clubs- all to help our chances of landing a great job upon graduation. And once we land those jobs, gain experience, and slowly but surely move along in our career paths- then what? Does education and learning just end there because we achieved the “ultimate goal” of getting a job that offers financial security and benefits? Does it just end there?

It shouldn’t. People should be driven and encouraged to do whatever they can to continue to learn. So many people believe that once they receive that diploma or certificate that they’re done. They paid their dues and finally got their careers in check… and that’s that. When I’ve asked people why they aren’t continuing their education and learning, I often got answers such as this:

  • I’m too old to go back to school
  • I’m too busy with work and home-life to take on anything more
  • I don’t have the money
  • I don’t need it
  • I wouldn’t even know where to start
  • I’m too scared to start something new

All are valid reasons and concerns but the reality of it is, skills are becoming outdated, people are being automated out of jobs, and technology is upgrading/advancing so quickly that most of us can’t keep up. The world of work is evolving in some major ways. So, the “ultimate goal” isn’t about landing a job anymore, but more about keeping up.

Like I said earlier, all those reasons are valid but there are ways to work around it. For example:

  • Online school
  • Certificate classes
  • Work training
  • Informal social groups
  • Reading new industry books/blogs in your free time
  • Networking
  • Stretch projects
  • Work shadowing

Education shouldn’t just be a stepping stone or a distant memory- it should be ongoing. The world has so much to offer and we live in an amazing time where we can easily access this. So take advantage of the things that generations before us could not. Become the ultimate asset and more importantly, do it for yourself.

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Are you a Good Coach to Your Employees?

Recently, I had the pleasure to discuss some human resources, management, and leadership topics with Nick Sarillo, founder and CEO of Nick’s Pizza and Pub. He initially reached out to me regarding my passion for company culture and engagement and conversation took off from there. I absolutely loved his outlook on how he manages his employees and he even was kind enough to share some links to articles discussing this. Today’s blog post will discuss one of Nick’s qualities in terms of management: managers should be coaches.

I think many of us can remember back when we first entered the workforce and were simply trying to figure out how to gain the skills to be successful at our jobs. I’m sure we’ve all had the situations where a boss or manager were maybe a little too harsh, too impatient, or too judgmental when it came to a task we hadn’t quite mastered yet. I know that myself and many others would feel a bit deflated in these types of situations and maybe even had a sense of doubt of whether or not we’d ever get it down. Even if you aren’t a new employee and have been working for several years, these types of situations still can arise. But what can managers do to make it better?

Nick had told me about how he coaches his employees and manages them by “trusting and tracking.”  He decided that the best way to help engage his employees is by training them thoroughly and giving them all the necessary skills and knowledge they need to perform a job duty. From there, he stands back, let’s them take charge and be accountable for the results. He noticed that this method had helped employees take pride in their work and actually take more initiative when it comes to their growth and development.

Nick built on this method, taking the time to update his training and then allowing his employees the space to develop their roles. Although Nick trusted his employees to progress, he still made sure he monitored them to help them in areas that they were struggling in. Even if he needed to step in, he still made sure the feedback was positive to allow the learning and training experience be a good one for his employees. Some tips that Nick suggested in regard to this are:

  • Make sure you are not giving constant orders and criticism.
  • Offer training, coaching, support, and positive reinforcement.
  • Build training systems into your company and management.
  • Provide helpful feedback on a regular basis.
  • Make expectations clear, track progress, celebrate met goals, and give help when needed.

I was very inspired by this management style and was happy to hear that Nick stuck with it even though other business owners (including his own father) told him he was crazy. This style has helped Nick’s business become one of the top 10 independent pizza companies in the United States. Moreover, Nick has some of the lowest turnover found in this industry.

Nick Sarillo is the founder and CEO of Nick’s Pizza & Pub in Crystal Lake and Elgin, Ill., and the author of A Slice of the Pie: How to Build a Big Little Business (Portfolio; hardcover). www.nicksarillo.com.

More Links:

Bosses Should be Coaches not Cops

Nick Sarillo’s book, “A Slice of the Pie” on Amazon.com

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Investing in Your Employees’ Learning and Development

Throughout my career, I have taken notice of the efforts that my employers had attempted in order to train and hopefully develop new employees. I’ve also participated in continuous training and workshops as a refresher on the knowledge and skills I had gained throughout my employment at the company. Although I find all of this very important for your employees and your workforce as a whole, I can’t help to wonder if there are additional opportunities that employers are offering their employees. Are employers investing in the employees’ futures, as well?

One of the most inspiring things I have researched was the fact that some employers truly take notice to what their employees’ natural talents are or what their goals are for the future. Some employers also even help present opportunities that will allow employees to gain the skills they need to get where they want to be. But, these types of situations only really occur if an employer somehow takes the time to discover these additional talents or if the employees actually speak up to say what they really want to accomplish while employed there. But what if we tried to do things differently? What if we gave all employees the chance to be open and voice what they want as part of their learning and development? It seems as if though the training that the employees are involved in help them become experts at what they’re currently doing but doesn’t really offer them the ability to expand beyond that.

Call me crazy but I would love it if employers took the time to ask their employees what their career paths were and what type of training they would like to partake in. Give them the empowerment and options to pick what training they need and assist them in getting it. Investing in your employees this way can not only increase engagement, but could also increase loyalty and could even help your organization progress in ways it never could before. You are giving them the ability and the tools to help them be a super-asset for your company.

Too often, I hear employees leave companies because they feel like they have nowhere to go and no chances to grow as a professional and/or personally. So they venture elsewhere looking for the ability to learn and grow. I suppose that this post is more of me thinking out loud because I know that there is much more that is involved when it comes to L&D. Regardless,  I would be impressed to see that employers are giving their employees the options to pave the way to their future within the organization. I would also love to see employees take these chances and see how much it changes them.

Food for thought.

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