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Put-in Peggy.

Put-in Peggy

Put-in Peggy

When a group of people set off on a river raft expedition, the initial launch site is called the “put in.”   Recently, my husband brought together a group of 16 people, a year’s worth of planning, hundreds of travel miles and countless logistics to begin an epic raft trip through the Grand Canyon.   At the put-in, he was met by the assigned park ranger named Peggy.   Our friend Peggy carried a clipboard and an overzealous want of authority.   Peggy’s mantra was: “No…   What is the question?”

Park Ranger Peggy was doing her job.   She needed to check all of the boxes on the sheets on her clip board to make sure this group of people met the requirements of setting off through the national Grand Canyon treasure.    Peggy knew she had authority to make or break this trip, and made sure the group knew that too. She held the investment of money, time and coordination of 16 people in her hands.

How often in the workplace, or in life, have you encountered a Peggy?   I’ve experienced this many times with vendors, at the DMV and with the cable companies.   The scenario is this:   I need to get something done and the person (gatekeeper) can only operate according to script, follow every rule to the “t”, cannot see the forest through the trees and is not the least bit interested in solving any hiccups…and a little drunk with authority.     For me, this scenario is maddening.   Instantly I can feel my blood pressure rise and find it easy to move to a defensive posture.   And I consider myself a professional that deals with people and behaviors regularly.   Imagine how difficult this can be for our kids at home that do not yet have the tools to successfully manage situations with “box checkers” in authority?

Thinking about the experience with Put-in Peggy gives an opportunity to cover some tips when a situation arises with someone who holds authority over the situation, refuses to communicate logically and cannot see beyond the boxes they need to check.   It is critical to future success to have these tools to guide through such situations.   They are inevitable.

  • Breathe: Take a deep breath and even tune out a little if you have to.   Sometimes the opening statements given by the person are required and the person saying the words just needs to get them out.   Listen patiently and tell yourself that you can take on this challenge and win by winning-over.
  • Read the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”: This is the handbook to dealing with people in the workplace and in life. I think it should be required reading in high school. People can be the best part of a job…and the worst.   Arm yourself with education.   This human interaction blueprint is timeless; first published in 1936.
    • Lessons:
      • You can only get someone to do something if they want to do it.
      • You can’t win an argument.
      • And how to get cooperation.
  • Ask questions: By engaging the person to offer their own expertise, the conversation can switch from a dictative one to an interactive one.   A better outcome will result.
  • Admit fault: Be willing to throw yourself under the bus a little.   This can ease any power struggles and allow the person continued authority but without any threat.

Learning to handle these situations calmly and smoothly can be a challenge but the long-term payoff is worth the extra efforts.   Ultimately the winner is you.

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You’re fired.

There is a dark side of choosing a career in human resources and it is the task of telling another person they are no longer employed.   There are many reasons that a company may decide to end employment.   These reasons could be  downsizing, reorganizing or the person could not do the essential functions of the job or were the wrong fit.   It is not fun, for either side.   The reality is, it is part of adult working life and unless you are a part of a very small percentage of workers, it is likely to happen at some point during a career.

As discussions take place with your children about their careers, and all the excitement of educational choices and job searches, it might be worth reinforcing that sometimes the choice is out of their control and they could be fired.   And, it isn’t the end of the world and they will be ok.

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For this conversation, I would consider expressing the following pieces of information:

  • It’s not fun:   Please share that it shouldn’t be fun.   If it was easy or without emotion for either party, then the situation was not ideal to begin with.   If a manager seems to enjoy getting rid of people, it is not a company that your child should work for.   And, if getting fired didn’t sting at all, it’s probably time to reevaluate career choices.
  • The reason may not be clear:   Employers have a whole host of legal aspects to consider when firing an employee.   Sometimes the reason given is nebulous and vague, and it is done to protect the employer.   The employee may not be able to get any further information, but I would recommend asking anyway.   A question like: “Can you please give me the reasons of my termination so I may improve as an employee in my future endeavors?”   This is non-threatening way to gather feedback.
  • At will:   This is a term the employees will read and hear about.   It is written on most applications, in handbooks and may verbally be delivered during the termination.   “At will”  means the employee has no contract with the employer and either party can end employment with or without notice.
  • It’s ok to be upset:   Tell your kids that if they ever get fired they can call you and cry, complain or vent all they want.   As they get older they can use their spouse, partner, friend or a counselor as a resource to process the event.   After that, they are done.   Advise that interviewing for a new job does not include complaints on the one they were fired from.   At some point, stop talking about it and move on because future employers don’t want to hear it.
  • You’re still employable:   There are a couple of things to consider here:
    • If you were given reasons for the inability to do a job, work on them.   There are resources out there that can help on everything from technical skills to workplace behavioral skills.
    • Don’t lie in your next interviews about being fired.   Interviewers will most often explore the reasons of a term before they automatically eliminate a candidate.   But they will eliminate a candidate immediately if they lie.   Be honest, succinct and neutral when explaining the termination.
    • A termination is not necessarily a reflection on you.   Don’t be ashamed if you are laid off or part of a downsizing/rightsizing.   Life happens and companies sometimes have to make decisions that are based solely on financial data, not the person in the position.   It’s ok.
  • Breathe:   Take a breath and recalibrate.   Sometimes a decision that is forced upon you can lead to something better in life.   Many people get stuck in jobs because they don’t want to try something else.   Once the initial shock wears off, look at it as an opportunity.   The good news is the job market is good at this time and there are jobs.   And it is never too late to change career paths too.
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