Why Are We Closing HR and Training Departments?

With more frequency than I like to admit, I am witnessing companies close down their training function to save money.  And yet what is more frightening is that some of these companies are reducing the HR function down to a simple clerical job to save even more money.  Both of these actions will guarantee a negative impact to the organization, so why is it happening?

The stated answers range from the basic cost savings benefit to the lack of value for the price of the service.  Both of these reasons are sadly and probably true!  The HR and the Training functions does cost money, and if they did not demonstrate enough value to retain their jobs, let alone exceed the value expected, why should they remain open?

Now from a business standpoint, it is very possible that management is planning to sell the company and they are looking to show a balance sheet value without these functions.  It is very possible they are merging with another company and the other guy has a superior operation that will take over soon.  It is also possible that management is short-sighted as to the issues they will need to deal with absent these functions and without a compelling argument by another on the team, the ax will fall.

One fact often absent is that without the HR and Training functions, the employee issues fall to the management team, and there is not enough space here to go on about how unskilled most managers are these days to handle those issues.

But when the HR and the Training functions are not providing value, and arrogantly strut around believing they will never be out of a job, I’m in management’s corner.  My only disagreement is that the functions are still vital, but in eliminating the employees leading the functions they shoot themselves in the foot by closing the whole department.  Management needs to learn how to manage the poor performance, eliminate the employee if necessary, and replace them with a better qualified person, but keep the department open.

I’m very impressed with a company right now that lost their training manager and are not immediately replacing him.  I don’t have all the details of why this person left, but from previous conversations it was far from a match made in heaven and probably a joint decision to part ways.  Anyhow, the company has decided to step back and evaluate the needs of the role now and in the future.  They are deciding what they should do now with the function before they begin interviewing again.

This pause is surely frustrating to applicants that would like to apply for this job, but it is a very smart move on the company’s part to really understand what they want to do with training before they start looking for someone who can make it happen.  Yet the best part is that their HR leader is very strong and strategic, so training will not be eliminated.

I can only imagine how this would be different without this strong HR leader in place.  It could easily be their manager calling the shots and time dragging on for months before they move forward.  The person that the HR leader reports to can make or break the organization.  They need to understand the value and purpose of HR and Training, or they will cause more harm than good to the entire organization.

Performance Management Begins with the Manager

Someone asked me the other day what I do.  I responded that I work to improve employee performance and use a variety of methods to achieve those results.  To look at my resume or LinkedIn profile, you will see 22+ years in training development, which leads many to believe that training is the primary tool I use to improve performance, but the secret is that performance always begins with the manager.

I have a hard time not observing employee interactions when I am out shopping or dining.  How employees interact with each other and customers is all telling about the competency level of the local management team.

In most organizations there are probably formal job training programs that teach people how to perform their jobs, but they rarely include training the manager how to provide feedback and coach.  So like in most training workshops, the learning begins to slip away as soon as the training ends.

I was in a restaurant this week and overheard a supervisor interacting with a staff member who was ending his shift and saying goodbye.  The supervisor said, “why are you leaving now, I thought you were staying until closing?”  The employee said that the manager had asked him to stay later than his original shift and he agreed to stay the past two extra hours.  The supervisor said, “no she told me you were staying to close, so you lied to her!”  That is when she had my full attention.

The employee said, “there must have been a miscommunication as I’ve been here for eight hours already and she doesn’t want to pay overtime, so I assumed this was all the longer I should be working.”  Once again the supervisor said, “so you lied to her!”  At this point I wanted to walk up to this lady and ask her what she was not hearing.  The manager was at fault for clarifying what time, and having the employee repeat it back.  She then communicated her assumptions to the supervisor, who out of thin air saw this all as a lie to the manager instead of a complete failure of communication.

My guess is that this company invests nothing in supervisory and management communications training.  Managers are not being evaluated on their ability to manage performance, and so the employee takes the brunt of rude and unacceptable communications.  NOT TO MENTION, this was all done in the lobby of the restaurant in plain view of customers.  Hello?

Given that this is a new restaurant, and all new employees, I’m betting all of this will go without any corrective feedback.  One of the reasons I like TV shows like “Undercover Boss” is that this kind of behavior is never hidden from the peer group, and I love when senior management confronts these people at the end of the show.

I sent an email off to the owner of the restaurant the other day and I am waiting for a response.  If I get one I will be impressed, because most of the time senior managers don’t want to acknowledge this is going on unless they are personally involved.  We shall see.

When is it time to change careers?

My first real career was in retail banking and for 11 years I climbed the corporate ladder faster than most.  It helped that I was working in banking during a time when mergers and acquisitions happened frequently which not only made me embrace change, it afforded me the ability to demonstrate my skills, learn new skills and advance quickly.

22 years ago a bank I was working for was acquired by a huge bank that didn’t need many of us to stay on past the conversion date, and yet I was asked where I might want to work for them.  I said training, and I soon began my next career.  Even though I worked for this bank another 6 years, the training manager I worked for told me early on that I was no longer a banker, but that I was a learning professional.  She was out to prove to me that I was now in a different industry that just happened to support a bank.

I’ve had a few less employers since working in the learning field, but just as many opportunities to grow.  From a trainer, designer, manager and Chief Learning Officer I branched out into my own consulting practice for the past 8 years.  And recently a well-respected friend asked me “what are you going to do next Jim?”

I didn’t know what to say.  I had not thought there was going to ever be a next, but this person knows me well and assumed I would have changed careers even before now.  I get bored easily, and often go looking for a challenge which in the past has meant a harder job or something brand new to learn.

So now I am left to wonder if I dropped the ball a few years back and should have already embarked on my third career.  I’m now exploring my options and wondering out loud what kind of career change from here makes sense or if it is even necessary.  I know many of you have friends and relatives that you know have been in training development, and I am open to ideas on what sounds like a good transition.

I love working with people, and I love solving problems.  For me this still sounds like training, but maybe for you it says something else.

Please share your thoughts and ideas…………………

Working For A Paycheck

When I’ve been an employee, I’ve also expected my employer to pay for my services.  Oddly enough, I have also had the expectation that I should provide a day’s work for a day’s pay.  When I started working some 30+ years ago that was the norm, but it is not something that every employer can count on from their employees automatically anymore.

It is common place for managers all up and down the chain of command to not only set performance expectations but to check to see if work is getting done.  Good coaching and the ability to provide constructive feedback will motivate many employees to work hard, but somewhere along the line it is becoming more the manager’s responsibility to get employees to perform.  If left to their own, too many employees are receiving rather than earning their paycheck each week.

And yet with this change, companies have significantly pulled back on management development.  With untrained managers managing people and processes more chaos is created, and stress creates even more problems in the workplace.  Those that work for their paycheck get hostile with those that don’t work.  Resentment builds and often spills out into over the top behaviors.

One very large corporation learned this lesson the hard way when they had an employee that was just fed up with the work environment and management’s inability to fix things.  This employee came into the workplace one day and shot two of the managers.  This awful event got the attention of senior management who are now spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to create better communications between the worker and the manager.  While there is now hope for the future, it saddens me to think two people had to lose their lives, another is on trial for murder and could have been probably avoided if the company had spent the time and money to train better.

Times have changed, and management needs to wake up and smell the coffee.  The employee workforce of 30 years ago is not as prevalent as it once was, but neither are the skills of managers.  With the right focus on organizational development, tragedies like the one mentioned above can be avoided.