HR Practitioner’s Diary: Feeling the heat

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HR consultant, Sue Kingston shares her latest HR antics including dress-code battles during the heatwave, ways to navigate the Investors in People assessment and coaching for the over-50s; read on to catch-up with all her news plus more of those vital boyfriend and diet revelations.

Month: July 2006

Wow, what a heatwave we’ve had and that has brought its own set of problems into the workplace. Tempers are frayed, staff are suffering and dress codes are coming under fire!

Tied up:
It was forecast to be the hottest day of the year, expected to reach one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Various media bodies were giving out warnings and advice on how best to cope with the heat in the workplace.

Unfortunately I encountered a dinosaur in the shape of a very grumpy Managing Director (Tyrannosaurus – “Tyran” for short) who was absolutely insistent that his male workers continued to wear long sleeve shirts and ties.

Whilst visiting their site on this particularly hot day, I approached Tyran to ask what his policy was regarding dress codes for men during the abnormal weather conditions. He told me that they would continue to wear shirts and ties as he would do so himself. He asked if anyone had complained, to which I advised him the chaps were obviously very uncomfortable in an office facing the sun with no air conditioning and only two fans to circulate the warm air. His final comment was: “If the tarmac in the car park is not melting then I’m not wasting my time worrying about it!” Ouch, what a grouch! The upshot is that his staff feel he is so unapproachable, they wouldn’t even dare complain. Unfortunately, as a result, they just sit and suffer, their view of Tyran is somewhat disrespectful as a result – is it any wonder!

I suggested that Tyran reconsider his stance as a point of duty to his staff to consider their welfare. The Sales Director also supported this. As a result he reluctantly agreed to relax his view, but the irony was that the male staff still kept their ties on (although they did roll up their sleeves), as they were fearful that Tyran would view them as being weak. It’s a shame that in the 21st century, a company owner would still attempt to wield such a big stick and repress staff in this way. The level of intimidation is so dated and only proves that Tyran has little to no people skills.

I’m sure that there are many bosses who’d benefit from reading the following books:

  • Maverick by Ricardo Semler.
  • The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker (ISBN: 0071392319) and Inside the Mind of Toyota by Satoshi Hino (ISBN: 1563273004).

When you consider the success stories of both of these guys – Semler and ‘Old Man Toyota’ – it’s a true inspiration to any would be entrepreneur or simply someone who wants to be a better boss. If you want to be inspired take time to read up on these and pass on the titles to someone you think, may benefit. Some bosses need a real jolt to join the 21st century management style, otherwise they run a very real risk of appearing to be a real jerk!

On the other end of the scale, I know of one boss who engages his staff in office games such as “chair races” around the office and corridors (health and safety is considered!), he’s also been known to have water pistol fights (away from electrical equipment!) Great fun in the hot weather and I know his staff love working with him. The standard and rate of work is excellent and the turnover is negligible as the staff have such fun working there.

All change:
I’ve had a request from one of my clients that has resulted in me being able to explore yet another new angle of HR and a very exciting one to boot – coaching!

Dick (as in Turpin – note the coaching connection!) has realised that he needs to improve himself as not only a boss, but also as an individual. It’s quite a brave realisation and decision, he has my full admiration for arriving at this point.

Bearing in mind that Dick is 54 years old, this is quite a bold move in an effort to bring about some positive changes in his behaviour and attitude. He recognises his style is very ‘directive’ and whilst for him to become a ‘consensual’ manager would be impractical, it’s a case of finding a compromise whereby he is more comfortable empowering his staff, thus enabling him to step back a little. This would have the effect of reducing his stress levels and at his request, he wants to be able to enjoy his role as a manager instead of being aware that his staff view him as formidable and intimidating.

We have started out by discussing the Douglas McGregor Theory X and Y and also William Ouchi’s Theory Z. This is giving Dick some clarity as to exactly where he falls in the scale of things. Dick is also reading the books about Semler and Toyota, as these focus on empowerment – it’s a whole new way of thinking, but very refreshing for those willing to explore it.

Depending on the benefit Dick gains from our coaching sessions, he then wants me to extend the coaching to his team of Directors and Managers. This will hopefully produce an environment where they are all singing from the same hymn sheet (to a large extent).

I’m really excited by this development and will keep you updated on our progress.

IIP action plan update:
I’ve submitted the action plan for my client to clearly outline how they intend to meet the three standards out of the ten that they fell short on.

The assessor will put this plan to the IIP recognition panel for their approval and then we can start working in earnest to achieve the Standard.

One handy hint for anyone facing this process, the action plan needs to be presented in such a way that you indicate who will be responsible for the actions (that is initial and job title) and as well as specifying a clear target date. They need to see something like December 2006 or July 2007 for instance, rather than just saying three or six month’s time. It helps them if the actions are displayed as bullet points with explanatory paragraphs regarding the purpose and benefits.

The Panel also need a letter from the Chief Executive or Managing Director which clearly states their commitment to achieve the required Standard as per the action plan.

It’s wait and see time now as to whether the Panel accept my proposed plan. If they do then it’s full steam ahead with my client for the next 12 months to get everything in place.

I’m starting to prepare another client for a similar process, their re-assessment is due in July 2007 (every three years for those of you not sure). The Standard is definitely more specific and harder to achieve now, so prepare yourselves well ahead.

Smoking the peace pipe
An interesting challenge this week was to mediate between a Director (Liz) and two of her Manager’s (Mary and Walter) who have clashed for 11 and seven years respectively.

Mary and Walter approached me as they could see no end to it and were simply not enjoying work anymore. Goodness knows how the situation had been tolerated for so many years anyway! The main clash is between Liz and Mary, so poor old Walter gets caught in the middle.

The mediation session lasted a full two hours with frank and open dialogue. If either party digressed I simply brought them back on track and at the end of the session we agreed positive actions to attempt to improve things slowly.

The primary area, as always, is better communication all around. Liz needed Mary and Walter to manage her expectations more thoroughly, but also to come up with solutions rather than problems. Liz has agreed to give them both more autonomy to achieve this.

Walter, historically, has jumped whenever Liz has ‘barked’, but they have agreed that will now change. The process will happen by Walter asking Liz for specific deadlines when she makes a request of him. If he is not able to meet her requests then he will make it clear with good reason and they will attempt to compromise more. This should then allow Walter to manage his time better and not feel so panicky.

Liz and Mary have more work to do as Liz speaks to Mary in a very dismissive way to the point of being totally rude and disrespectful. Mary on the other hand, harbours her bad feelings instead of expressing these to Liz. We have agreed that, in the future, Liz will make allowances and try to be more aware of how she speaks to Mary so as not to offend. Mary in reciprocation will express herself more openly if she feels Liz has spoken out of turn or been dismissive. It’s going to be interesting as these bad habits have been formed over eleven years!

Accepted, things are probably unlikely to drastically improve, but we have agreed that even a gradual improvement will be positive. I suggested they even try smiling at one another more – something they rarely do at the moment! It’s the simple things, like a smile, that can make such a big difference.

If their hearts are really in it, to make a positive change that is, that’s great. If not, then I pity them and what the next 11 years may bring!

Vital Stats:

  • Weight: – 9 st 0 lbs (maintenance is easy now I have re-educated my eating habits!)
  • Chocolate: – Now replaced by fruit ice lollies, yummy in this heat.
  • Wine: – spritzers with soda and a couple of glasses of bubbly are now an occasional treat.
  • Cider: half pint topped up with a load of ice in a pint glass! Managed to win a round by one point against two players playing off their handicaps of 18 and 22 – not bad for a girl on 34!
  • Boyfriends: – Glenn and I have agreed to move on, but it was delightful while it lasted. Think he’s gone on to try internet dating to find himself a young lady – he wants children eventually, so I wish him well – he’s lovely.

    I also shared champagne and salmon with a good friend against the sound of rain on the conservatory roof. We had a lovely evening discussing similar interests, films and books etc it was just so nice to relax and be ourselves – no trying to impress one another. I’ve also enjoyed a couple of dates with another fellow golfer, but it was like turning the pages of a book - when you get a little deeper into it you realise it’s not going to be as good as you thought! That one’s back on the shelf! He was also trying to impress me with his materialism – not a good move!

    I turned down a dinner date with a prominent professional golfer (Scott) – Why? I hear you ask? Scott’s still on the rebound from an expensive divorce earlier this year, plus he’s enjoying the papers reporting the string of blondes on his arm – I didn’t particularly want to be regarded as just another one in the line up! He has my number, so if he gets his head and heart straight he knows where I am. My friends were shocked I turned him down with comments like, “He’s loaded, go for it!”, but what someone has financially doesn’t really matter to me – it doesn’t mean to say they’re a good person or ‘right’ for me. You can’t place a price on that!

Deep thoughts - Believe in yourself and your standards and, most importantly, stick to them.

Keep it simple!

Sue

*Sue Kingston is a self-employed HR Consultant with 24 years HR experience. Sue can be contacted on T: 07966 216561 or at [email protected]

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