Are You an Ambassador of Change?

Ambassador of ChangeThis year has been an amazing year of wondrous adventure and challenges that have provided me with opportunities and learning potential.

Over the last year I have successfully adjusted to a new role with my employer, successfully assisted in multiple committees with varying levels of accountability and provided guidance to some outstanding up and coming human resource professionals in both a formal and informal capacity.

Through this last year I have also engaged in personal and professional development through night classes and training opportunities afforded to me through my employer. This has provided me with new and renewed insight into topics that have assisted me in continuing to provide advice to people at all levels in the organizations I am involved with. It has also helped me to continue to mentor individuals in various ways. I also learned how to landscape my yard and insulate and drywall my garage which also afforded me some quality time with my father and friends.

Through this past year I have also continued to be a husband and father. Unfortunately we lost one of the family pets. Benny was our pet rabbit who was approximately 14 years old when he passed. Our other rabbit, Jerry is quite lonely these days with the passing of his good friend.

My family was blessed however this year with the birth of our third daughter. She was born in late November and since has not only provided us with many sleepless nights but also many hours of joy as we watch her eyes soak in everything around her and smile whenever she sees her sisters.

I certainly would consider this past year a great success, however that is not to say it didn’t have challenges. How did I overcome those challenges? How do I manage the time that is needed to accomplish all this? How do I stay positive under the weight of all the other things that need to be managed through my day, months and year? Well for one, I accept change.

While I believe it is foolish to go through life without planning anything, I also recognize there are many circumstances in life which I have no control over. So when something happens that poses a challenge to my plans, I change the plan. Adapt to the environment that is consistently changing around me and look for solutions while recognizing that sometimes the solutions available are not ones that everyone will appreciate. That’s life.

Change is inevitable in every aspect of our lives no matter how prepared we think we are and sometimes we don’t even notice it until it is upon us, but I am not afraid of it. Embracing changes as they occur has allowed me to succeed in ways I never thought possible.

Over the last year my life has changed in many ways and with each one I found myself not asking, “How can I stop this?” but instead I asked, “What must I learn from or about this for me to continue down a path of success?”

I don’t know how everyone defines their success. I don’t’ know what everyone’s goals should be. I don’t believe that the way I have lived my life is the most promising way to success. But I do know that when I consciously made the choice to embrace the changes that I had no control over and learn how to meet my goals regardless of the challenges presented by the many twists and turns that life affords us all, I found success.

So to all those who are hanging their heads over circumstances that played out over the last year or are perhaps finding themselves worried about the changes they fear may be in store for them this coming year, stop. Stop thinking about it all for a moment, consider what circumstances are beyond your control and stop stressing about them, just accept it. Take for a moment the opportunity to breathe and consider how you would define your own personal success while considering that only your behaviours can achieve it, which may include asking for help. Plan your goals and objectives with the understanding that circumstances might change and be ready to accept and adapt with it.

Some might say that I embrace change as it occurs, however I believe I don’t just embrace it, I act as an ambassador of change. I encourage it. I once wrote, “The Nemesis of Improvement is Complacency”, and to battle complacency and drive success you’ll find that change is inevitable.

I wish you all a fantastic new year full of change!

How do you act as an Ambassador of Change?

Posted in Culture, Employee Relations, Human Resources, Management, Wellness | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What do you do as an HR Professional to add value to your role?

IMG_8172When was the last time you retreated to a peaceful place in your mind and asked, “What do you do as an HR Professional to add value to your role?” Is this a question you have asked yourself recently? If not, it could be that you aren’t doing that anymore.

My peaceful place often reminds me of my many hikes through the Canadian Rockies. Every once in a while I stop and consider, “What is it that I am doing?” My personal goal is not to act as a conduit to relieve others of the means of filling out paperwork. I don’t intend on functioning as a specialized administrative personnel. My goal is to add value to the lives of most people I interact with in one way or another. In doing so, I also hope to add value to the organizations I serve as well as the environment I live in. So every once in a while I need to ask myself, “Is that what I am doing?” and “Am I going the right way?”

As an HR Professional this is something you truly need to consider in order to make sure you are providng the best possible service you can. It’s important that you take the time to truly understand an issue before reacting. Understand the path ahead of you before you trek out into the wilderness. You might be surprised how many people get trapped in the rut of daily routine without consideration of the direction they are going in. Consider this, when is the last time you read the strategic plan of your organization? Did you understand it? Did you understand how it applies to your role? What part do you play in its creation, or its implementation? Where are you on the map towards success?

In my opinion there are many ways we as HR Professionals are able to assist in furthering the goals of our organization, but that also means furthering the goals of its people. I’m not suggesting that we have to give in to the stereotype of the “bleeding heart” HR person who wants to help everyone no matter what the cost and certainly I am not suggesting that we give into the stereotype of the “cold hearted” HR person who is driven by process without regard for the human elements in life. I’m suggesting a balance between the two simply because with the incredible array of situations that presents themselves to us each day we need the flexibility to approach each one knowing we are doing what is right for our organization, the people we serve, and the environment we live in.

There are so many ways we have the opportunities to help shape the future, but it requires thought, not just action. It certainly works the other way around as well; it requires action and not just thought. We can’t walk around just staring at the map without taking in what’s going on around us or we will fall off a cliff somewhere!

With every hire we have the opportunity to ask if the right skill gaps are being addressed, and the right attitudes are being introduced. With every challenge we have the opportunity to illustrate what has been learned and what might be overcome. With every success we have the opportunity to celebrate in our success and then challenge ourselves with evaluating what we can do to make it even better. Sometimes these situations come naturally and with ease, and other times they require the courage to adhere to the values and principles of what you and those you serve stand for. Don’t be afraid of the mountain just because it’s a challenge, but make sure you are prepared for the challenges as best as you can be.

I for one am glad that I am not a “paper pushing pencil neck” as described in a previous blog of mine. I challenge you as HR Professionals to take stock of what you are doing. Ask yourself when the last time was you considered if you were truly doing what was in the best interest of all or are you just following tradition and routine because that’s how it has always been done? Are you doing anything that helps make things better, or are you just doing things to get them done? Are you heading in the right direction so you can meet with success, or are you just wandering around in the wilderness?

Ask yourselves, “What am I doing to provide value as an HR Professional?” and then share that with us in the comment section below.

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The Nemesis of Improvement is Complacency

Hiding from change

If my years of experience have taught me anything it is that the nemesis of improvement is complacency. It’s that acceptance that whatever could be potentially improved won’t be because “that’s the way it has always been” or “that’s just how that person is” or “traditionally this is how it’s done here.” My opinion is that this line of thought is just another way of saying, “Even if it could be better, I am too darn lazy to even give thought to how it might be improved” or “I am so scared of change if you keep talking about it I will hide under my desk and just pretend I didn’t hear or see anything, then maybe it’ll just pass by.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people use the phrase, “well that is just how that person is.” My response, “well, that doesn’t make it right, so what are you going to do about it?” Yet still I am left amazed at how often people respond to that with something like, “I’m just going to leave it for now, and deal with it if it gets worse.”

So here’s an example. A manager once came to me complaining that a particular administrative assistant was consistently rude to them and apparently would even yell at them about their high workload. Of course I asked if there was perhaps a personal conflict at play but the manager responded by letting me know that no, this person was like this with many people. It didn’t take long to confirm this was indeed the case.

What’s interesting however is when I asked anyone if they had brought this to the attention of the manager this person reports to, the response I heard most was, “no, that’s the way this person has always been, so I just left it.” No wonder there hasn’t been any improvement, every single one of these people were either too lazy or too scared to say anything about it, even to the person’s manager! Can you imagine the impact of this behavior?

So I brought this to the attention of the manager, a discussion took place with the employee, and the behaviour began to change.

Another example relates more to practices in the workplace. For instance let’s explore a workplace where it is common for staff to have the ability to work from home for bone-fide reasons, but over time staff started taking this for granted and started saying they are working from home only to be discovered elsewhere. Well, that is wrong enough as it is considering they are lying about going home to leave work but what happens if it comes to the attention of management and the first response is, “well that’s just the way it’s been for a while now.”

Some time ago when I experienced something similar to this I couldn’t believe my ears! Again, no wonder there were other issues in the workplace. In these circumstances management weren’t even paying attention to the potential liability issues that might be raised, never mind the productivity of the staff. Complacency had kicked in and productivity suffered. Customer satisfaction was suffering. The performance of the organization was suffering. The credibility of the organization and its management team were on the line. Why? Because a group of people accepted that it was just the way it had always been done.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not standing on a stool and declaring that you should never take into account the historical reasons for something to exist. To do so would be unwise, and frankly it would be a dis-service to gaining a true understanding of the challenge, which is needed before planning any sort of change. Remember Stephen Covey? – “Seek first to understand, before being understood.”

What I am suggesting however is this, if you catch yourself or anyone else ever telling you that something is the way it is because that’s the way it always has been, stop and think about it.

  • Think about if there is actually a reason for this, and does that reason still make sense today?
  • Stop and think about what else may have changed in the time since whatever it was started, and what effects may have implications to this.
  • Stop and think about what future direction this should go in and how to get there.  
  • Stop and really think hard about why it just might be important to put a stop to complacency and consider a plan that will help improve things for the organization, for society or for the environment.

My guess is, more often than not, you’ll find that something could be done better.

A final note and this is specifically to the HR Professionals out there. If we want to achieve better recognition for our profession, why are so many of us settling for the status quo? What can we do as professionals to increase our capacity in strategically aligning our work with the goals of the organization? What can we do as professionals to illustrate that success as well?

Please leave your comments, thoughts and suggestions. I look forward to reading them.

Posted in Culture, Employee Relations, Human Resources, Management | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Common Misconceptions Between CEOs and HR Professionals

This month I had the opportunity to write a guest blog for Kapta Systems, “Common Misconceptions Between CEOs and HR Professionals”.

Enjoy! http://www.kaptasystems.com/blog/entry/common-misconceptions-between-ceos-and-hr-professionals

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Dufresne Furniture – Customer Service or Customer Obstruction?

The following is an account of my current experience with Dufresne Furniture in Winnipeg, Manitoba through the Ellice store location and call centre staff. It is a representation of my opinion and perceptions based on my experience.

On September 09, 2012 my family and I began our relationship with a furniture retail company, Dufresne. After visiting 5 different retailers we were happy to do business with them.

Our experience began at the Ellice location with a young man named Jessy who in my opinion was a fantastic sales person. He was incredibly knowledgeable about the products he was showcasing to us and genuinely listened to what our needs were. He was able to work with us to ensure we were satisfied with our decisions and alleviated any of our concerns.

One of these concerns was when he went over the terms of sale. He mentioned there was a 10% restocking fee on items after 24 hours that we might decide we don’t want after all. When I asked him, “what if the furniture shows up and it is faulty does that mean I can’t return it without a penalty?” Jessy assured me that if faulty furniture was delivered it could be returned without the fee, the fee was enforced on those who simply just didn’t want the furniture anymore for no specific reason. At the time, that seemed to make sense to me and so I signed the paper agreeing to that. He then told me we should get our furniture in about 3 weeks and someone would call us. I never would have thought to consult a lawyer regarding this before I signed it, but given the remainder of my experience with Dufresne I think maybe I should have.

We didn’t hear from Dufresne until we called nearly a month later and inquired regarding the furniture order.  It was at this point we were able to agree on a date for delivery. One month later to the day our furniture was delivered on October 9, 2012.

The men who brought in our furniture were very polite and professional. They assembled some of the furniture and left us to attach the hardware to some. It was while the delivery drivers were assembling the bed however they let us know the wrong parts were sent. They offered us the option of them taking back the whole order of just the wrong pieces and leaving the rest. Of course after having slept on the couch for the last while my wife and I said they should take back the wrong pieces and we would sleep on the mattress on the floor, but we were not happy about it.

The drivers also delivered a chair which wobbled back and forth. It was not a rocking chair by design but certainly behaved like one. The driver took a look at it and said there wasn’t any way for him to fix it on the spot. He asked if we wanted to send it back and so we did. He happily took the chair back and advised us to speak with customer service the next day to make the arrangements needed for the corrections or to return it.

At this point my wife and I were disappointed. We had been waiting a month already and still we were not going to be able to enjoy our new bed. Because the workmanship was not faulty however we decided that we would not return the bed and wait to get the right parts delivered. The chair on the other hand left us more disappointed. After waiting a month and seeing the poor quality of workmanship that went into making it we decided to return the faulty piece of furniture. We were not willing to have it fixed and sent back to us because we were not convinced the workmanship would be of value and we were not going to wait another 21 days to find ourselves again in these same circumstances. We also thought that given the conversation we had with Jessy that a faulty piece of furniture could be returned without penalty.

On October 10, 2012 I went to the store and spoke to the sales agent (Jessy) that sold us the product. When Jessy first saw me he was happy and greeted me again with a smile while referring to me as “bud”. When I told Jessy about what happened he led me to the “customer service” desk where we then discussed the situation with them. This is where the “customer service” desk informed me that there wasn’t anything they could do in the store and that I would have to call the customer service line to talk to the people who could help me. When I asked if a manger would be able to assist me they said no and informed me again that I would have to call customer service by phone. Jessy then reiterated what they said and then presumed the issue was closed letting me know I could finish my conversation with the young lady that was speaking with us and that he was going to help some customers that just walked in the door.

At this point I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet. It became clear to me that although Jessy was a great sales person, he clearly did not understand how to manage conversations with people who were not happy with the service they received. I immediately realized that unless I was there to increase Jessy’s sales quotas and commission that he wasn’t really interested in helping me. Even when I said I wasn’t satisfied his response was that hopefully the young lady would be able to help me then because he had to go speak with these other people. I felt helpless and that relationship Jessy had gained via a sense of trust from the first experience with him was crushed. It was at this point that I left the desk that represented the illusion of “customer service” and moved forward by calling the people they suggested might help.

This same October 10th night I called the “customer service” line and my conversation began with a young man named Pat. I again explained how the delivery date unfolded and what my wife and I had decided. Pat’s response was that the chair was currently in service and they hoped to have it fixed and out to us within a few weeks. I was left wondering why that would be and let Pat know he must not have heard me properly, and then I explained again the decision to get the right parts for our bed and return the chair. It was at this point Pat had become defensive.

Pat informed me that the wrong parts were not sent to me. They were the parts on the bill of sale that I signed. Thus, I did in fact receive the right parts although the sales person may have ordered the wrong items. Pat also said that by signing the bill of sale I also agreed to a 10% restocking fee on the chair we were returning. I felt compelled to interrupt Pat at this moment.

My response to Pat informed him that Jessy had gone over the bill with me indicating what packages I was about to buy. I also informed Pat that I would not know if the individual items using the product codes were right or not. Nor did it really matter to me if it was entered wrong, or if they shipped the wrong pieces. What I couldn’t understand was why anyone would think an order for a bed with 2 foot boards would make any sense? Why wouldn’t anyone even question why there were 2 footboards? I was not willing to take accountability for an ordering system I didn’t understand or the delivery of items that clearly were out of place.

The other aspect that I brought to Pat’s attention was that I was under the impression if a piece of furniture was faulty I was able to return it. He did agree with me, adding “but there is a 10% restocking fee.” I then let him know that I don’t agree this situation warrants a restocking fee. The chair was in my home for a matter of a few minutes and was delivered in a condition that made it unusable and frankly left me not wanting the chair anymore do to the poor workmanship that was displayed. Pat then let me know that “there was nothing he could do about that because that was the policy.”

Understanding that in some businesses front line staffs are not empowered to make decisions regarding policy I simply responded by saying this, “fair enough, Pat if you are not able to make a sensible decision related to the policy then can you please give me the name and contact information of the person who can?” At this point Pat became more defensive and at one point rude as we spiralled into a circular conversation. I continued to repeat my request and he continued to tell me he would not give me any further contact information or allow me to speak with his team lead because they would just tell me the same thing. Finally I simply stated, “Pat I want to talk to your supervisor,” which is when after being put on hold he returned to let me know that Jeff C. would be contacting me in an hour and half. When I asked if there was any way I could wait on hold and speak to someone sooner he again got defensive and told me that Jeff would contact me in an hour and fifteen minutes. So I conceded to this point and waited patiently for the next call.

My call with Jeff C. was more productive. He was not defensive and more willing to provide explanations to what he was conveying to me, although it was the same information that Pat already indicated. He also made it very clear that he was not empowered to make a decision to waive the 10% restocking fee. One of the questions I asked Jeff C. was this, “We spent a significant amount of money with Dufresne. Why is it that the company is willing to through away a future customer relationship over $25 (the 10% restocking fee for the chair)? His response was that there are shipping costs to account for when faulty furniture is returned and should we choose not wait for it to be fixed then the cost of returning it is placed on the customer. I clarified that even if the furniture was faulty when it arrived that 10% restocking fee could not be overlooked? Jeff C. responded, “That’s right.” In the end, Jeff C. and I agreed that he would discount the cost of delivery due to the mishap with the bed parts and the chair would be returned for the full amount paid minus the 10% restocking fee for now. Jeff C. indicated that refunds are processed on Thursdays and so if I did not see the refund on October 12, I would certainly see the refund reflected on my account by October 19, 2012.  I asked Jeff C. if there was some way that I might contact the person he reports to regarding his performance and this situation. He said, “No, I am the last line of communication for customers,” but I could instead send a letter to an email address that goes to various people in the company custsatmgr@dufresne.ca. I let him know that I would be sure to do so and thanked him for his time.

On October 19, 2012 our account had not been refunded, so I called back to “customer service” at Dufresne and asked Ugo if I could speak with Jeff C. He responded letting me know that Jeff C. was gone for the day and that he would read the notes on the account and try to assist me. After enjoying a few songs being played as hold music Ugo returned to the phone to let me know that they were still waiting for the parts that were ordered. I asked, “Those parts are for the bed right?” After checking again Ugo returned to the phone to let me know the parts they were waiting for were for the chair.

Yes, they were still waiting for the parts for the chair that Jeff C. told me he would return more than a week ago. I also explained that Jeff C. had indicated to me that the correct bed parts would arrive within 21 days. I asked if that process had begun. Ugo let me know that Jeff C. would not be able to put through a refund on the returned chair until the service parts were cancelled and that it did not seem as though any further communication was made regarding my phone call with Jeff C. after we spoke. Ugo did find in the notes that Jeff C. was going to refund the delivery charge and the cost of the chair minus the 10% restocking fee, but short of typing in these notes it would seem Jeff C. (the Customer Service Manager) did nothing else over the week and a half that passed to further the process.

Again I explained my frustration to Ugo and asked if there was some way to contact Jeff C.’s boss in order to explain my frustration over the lack of action the customer service area was able to make. Ugo informed me just as Jeff C. had. Jeff C. was the last contact for any customer. Ugo also provided the same email address I received from Jeff C. and indicated it would also go to Jeff C. but wasn’t aware if it went to any leadership beyond Jeff C.’s level. Ugo did offer however to speak with Jeff C. the next day and then call me to update me on the progress or what further steps had been taken. I ended the call by letting Ugo know that I appreciated his non-defensive nature and the empathy he displayed via our phone call, but I did not hear from him the next day.

At this point I am unsure if there is a solution on the horizon to remedy a situation regarding products through Dufresne that I paid for in full. I am now left with products that are incomplete or without the product I returned and still have not been refunded the money that was promised. The staffs at Dufresne seem to believe it is ok to lead a customer to believe one thing and then take actions that contradict those impressions. In my opinion they provide the illusion of customer service up front only to deliver what I would describe as “customer obstruction”.

Dufresne also seems to be a company that is governed through policies driven by budgets and accounting principles rather than best practices in maintaining customer relationships. It’s through the actions of their staff regarding these policies that I have come to the opinion that the leadership of Dufresne is out of touch with the needs of its customers. In my opinion the leadership of Dufresne don’t seem to care about their customer service levels, and frankly it would seem they don’t even care to hear any concerns or ideas as they lock themselves away from the public through policies that prevent open communication and discussion. Dufresne currently has in place a customer service manager who in my opinion seems to have little accountability to anyone as it would seem feedback is not welcome beyond his ears.

So why is it then that I take the time to write this if I don’t believe the leadership of Dufresne welcome any feedback? The answer to that is simple; part of me believes that perhaps they are ignorant to the ramifications and perceptions these policies so closely guarded by their staff portray. The other reason I write this is as a challenge to any of those who may read this and find they are able to pass on my experience to the leadership of Dufresne through their networks of people. I would encourage you to do so. Another reason I write this is so others may take into account my experience thus far and hopefully learn from it what you might expect if you decide to do business with Dufresne. It is now October 21, 2012 and I am still waiting for a phone call that was not returned, a refund that was not applied, furniture that was not delivered in full and I am waiting to be treated like a customer that matters.

UPDATE:

Today is October 22, 2012, and I finally received a call back from Dufresne via Norman, a manager within the company. Norman explained that he read about my experience and felt the best way to begin our conversation was with an apology. He acknowledged that after looking over my file it certainly could have been handled better. He was also dismayed that our perception of Dufresne had obviously been tarnished and assured me that Dufresne believes very strongly in providing a positive experience for all its customers.

Norman was empathetic to the situation that took place, and his tone of voice depicted his sincerity while he explained how this entire situation began with an order that was entered incorrectly. He also explained that despite how I might be feeling about my experience with Dufresne he would appreciate the opportunity to make amends and provide options. My response was that this is what I was asking for to begin with. He responded by letting me know how embarrassed he was that the situation reached the point we were at and wanted the opportunity for Dufresne to do what was right.

Norman then explained what steps he had taken immediately upon learning of the situation. Dufresne refunded the total cost of the faulty chair without penalty for restocking fees and it seems he did not have to wait until Thursday to achieve this. He let me know they also refunded back to me the cost of the delivery fee and offered a transaction number for my satisfaction.

Norman then asked me if I was still interested in the bed my wife and I had chosen and explained that if we were he certainly would like the opportunity to prove that Dufresne can provide the furnishing needs of their customers. At this point I explained to Norman we certainly were still interested in the bed because we want a bed to sleep on. Unlike the chair we have not seen any faulty workmanship with the pieces we have received and would prefer to just get the rest of the bed so we can sleep in comfort.

Norman exceeded my expectations at this point letting me know he has been in touch with the manufacturer of the bed parts to see if they can be delivered under the 21 days it would normally take. He also let me know that in light of the situation at hand Dufresne would like to offer to refund the cost of the parts we are missing. Of course I accepted this, and certainly appreciated the effort Norman was taking to rectify the sour situation that was left behind through the previous staff.

The last item that Norman wanted to convey to me during our conversation was, “Thank you.” He went on to say that through the analysis of the situation and the notes related to my transactions with Dufresne he was able to identify 5-6 areas where Dufresne clearly could have performed better in handling themselves. He acknowledged the time I indeed spent outlining the situation and appreciated the detail I was able to provide. He said it was the type of feedback that clearly displayed how Dufresne could improve its processes and fulfill its goals to action items in order to make them right. He even added a comment recognizing that another major retailer is about to open shortly in Winnipeg and that situations like this are not going to assist Dufresne retain the client base they currently have.

My response was simple, I explained that providing feedback was part of what I was trying to accomplish from the onset however with everyone making it clear that Jeff C. was the last point of contact I was allowed to converse with it made it impossible. Norman again acknowledged that the situation was not handled properly and apologized again and then reassured me that he would make it right. He also offered to follow up with me in the next couple of days to provide an ETA from the manufacturer regarding the parts for the bed.

So now I wait in anticipation of the next phone call from Norman hoping that this time the phone call will come as promised. Fingers crossed.

UPDATE:

On October 25, 2012 Norman did contact us. He informed us that the pieces for the bed would not arrive until the week on November 20, 2012 because they had to be made. He offered us to be able to choose a new bed or have an “on loan” bed sent to us in the meantime if we prefer. My wife and I declined the new bed option as it too would likely require 3 weeks for delivery. After discussing the “on loan” option, we thought it would be more inconvient to require being available for extra delivery times and having people setting up and taking apart furniture in our home, thus we declined. Instead we have opted without satisfaction to continue sleeping on a matress on the floor. Hopefully the furniture arrives on time.

UPDATE:

Well, it’s November 16th today and at last we received the remaining pieces of our bed. The delivery guys again were polite and professional. They put together our furniture and left everything in good order.

Norman also contacted me again today to follow up and I let him know that we were happy to finally have the product that we expected. Again I had to add how disappointing it was to see the extent of what it took for their product to meet our expectations, but after sleeping on the floor for two months I am glad to finally have this situation resolved.

Norman added how appreciative he was of our willingness to work towards a resolution and informed me that the detail contained within this blog certainly assisted Dufresne in realizing where some changes needed to be made.

I suppose the only thing I can say to that is this; you’re welcome and the refunded product cost almost covers what I normally would have charged as a consulting fee. Thus, Mr. Dufresne, you are still the one who has been able to make good on this whole experience. Hopefully this experience has left yourself and your organization with some good ideas of how your organization can implement changes to improve your customer relations. Otherwise let us not forget the many other options available in Winnipeg.

Hopefully no more updates will be required.

Was my experience able to assist you in some way?

Posted in Culture, Customer Service, Management, Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 41 Comments

Checking References – Don’t be annoying, be organized!

Recently I was contacted by someone to provide a reference for someone else. I was surprised to receive the call because I had not been informed that I was on someone’s list of references to begin with. A helpful tip for those of you reading this that may be seeking a transition in your career; people don’t often like these surprises. I felt unprepared and wasn’t sure what I was speaking to until I asked some questions in order to gain some context into the circumstances at play.

Once this hurtle was cleared and I was ready to be questioned I said, “Ok what’s your first question?” The response I got in return made my stomach go into knots, “Umm… I don’t really have formal questions or anything, I just need to know if this is a good person or not?” My initial reaction was to respond with, “I don’t think I would consider this person to be innately evil and thus I suppose they project an image of a good person.” I refrained from that though and instead tailored a response in accordance to the information I had just learned from the caller. So for those of you reading who make the calls requesting a reference, my tip to you is this; be prepared. Not being prepared tarnishes your credibility, the professional image of your organization and annoys the heck out of those of us who normally have the courteousy to be prepared.

So here are some thoughts on getting prepared to check those references.

Checking references is NOT an opportunity to ask about information that was not previously discussed with the candidates. It is a process that is used to verify the information the candidate has offered us during the selection process. If however information is offered that is unrelated to the questions being asked it is ok to make note of it.

Use a Reference Check form that is standard for the role or your organization. Normally there are some very standard questions you will find yourself asking about each candidate. Make it easy on yourself and develop a form that can be used with little to no modification needed.

Questions should relate directly to the hiring criteria that was developed using the job description and were listed in the job posting. For assistance in the creation of questions or to have them reviewed to ensure the wording is appropriate contact a Human Resource Consultant.

When contacting a reference be sure to identify yourself clearly and let the person know why you are contacting them.

Example: “Hello John, my name is Colin Finlay and I am calling on behalf of ABC Corp. Jane Doe provided your name as a reference for the “Staff” position. Would you have 15 minutes you could spare to discuss their performance?”

It’s important to maintain consistency when speaking with references and recording information. Always be sure to ask the same questions, in the same way, and in the same order. This alleviates the possibility that a referrer might interpret the questions differently than others based on the actions of the person seeking the information.

While recording responses it is important to provide as much detail as possible and accurately transcribe what is being said. Paraphrasing a response may not be appropriate especially if the applicant is potentially going to be rejected based on that response.

It’s normal for some references to offer very little information and others to speak in great length. In circumstances where more information is required ask probing questions that relate directly to the information desired while maintaining alignment with the intent of the question. If the question has been answered and the referrer continues to speak at length without providing any relevant information it is appropriate in respect of their time to interrupt politely and move forward with the next question.

To conclude a reference check, thank the person for their assistance and taking the time to answer the questions. If people don’t feel their time was valued they may not continue to provide references for people which in turn might make future hiring decisions more difficult. This is especially the case in some industries where suitable candidates often have experience with one particular employer that specializes in that field.

Once the reference checks are complete they should be reviewed by a Human Resource Consultant in order for them to assist management in making a final decision regarding the successful candidate.

I hope this helps some of you organize your reference checks or at least reminds others of why it’s important to do so. Do you have any tips for checking references I may have left out? If so, drop a comment to share and have a great day!

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Interviewing a Candidate

Do some of the interviews in your organization remind you of a skit from the famed comedy group Monty Python?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjBfatgVlfI&feature=player_embedded

I hope not, but I have in my experience seen some interviews unfold that were obviously very disorganized. I can recall one particular interview where a hiring manager asked, “Do you prefer round or square manhole covers on the street?” I was shocked and wasn’t sure what to say other than, “don’t mind his sense of humor and please don’t answer that.” I later asked this hiring manager what that question had to do with the position that was being filled and the response I was given was, “nothing, I just like asking that question to see how they react!”

It seems like such a waste if you have gone through the trouble of analyzing the job, creating the job description, posting the job and creating great screening criteria to let the whole process fall apart at this point. So, I thought I would take a few minutes to jot down some ideas that might help others plan an interview in an organized fashion.

Use a Selection Committee

A panel of 2 or more people is used to evaluate applicants, one on one interviews are not uncommon but I find that having an SME or other stakeholders taking part in the interview is helpful. The number of members in the selection committee will depend on the position to be filled. What’s important to consider are, who are the stakeholders with respect to this position?

Stakeholders are people who have an active interest in who fills a vacant position. Determining this will assist in recognizing who would be appropriate to choose to fill the selection committee.  It’s fair to say that there could be many stakeholders who have an active interest in a number of positions especially as the positions gain higher levels of accountability in the organization. We do not however want to “stack” a selection committee with too many people otherwise it may be perceived as a form of intimidation by the candidates. This typically is not the first impression that an organization wants to give someone it is considering as a valued member of the team.

To avoid intimidating the candidate best practice would call for a selection committee to consist of only stakeholders that are able to provide a unique perspective to the responsibilities of the role. Typically a selection committee would consist of a Human Resource Consultant, the hiring manager and a subject matter expert. In some cases the manager and the subject matter expert may be the same person. In other cases it may be the candidate will be reporting to two managers each with a unique perspective on the role. Another important aspect to remember is that people who report to the position being filled should NOT normally be on the selection committee. It is not appropriate for staff to have full disclosure of the details involved during the hiring of their supervisor especially if internal staff may have applied for the same role.

Another challenge that is experienced with large selection committees is that of scheduling. The more people involved the more difficult it becomes to schedule dates and times to interview.

Choose a Date and Time for Interviews

It’s important that all selection committee members are present for every interview through the staffing process. This ensures that all relevant stakeholders are able to provide feedback regarding the qualifications of the applicant. It also maintains the integrity of the staffing process by ensuring that all applicants are subjected to the same evaluation process and conditions.  If a particular selection committee member is not able to attend then consider either a new date/time or a replacement member for the committee so long as the process has not already started.

Create/Review/Modify Interview Questions

The job description outlines the requirements for the position that is being hired for. This information is vital in the creation of our interview questions. Again it’s imperative that we only ask questions as they relate to the qualifications advertised on the job posting. If we did not advertise a particular qualification it would be unfair to expect a candidate to come prepared to speak to it.

Through the screening process we have already established that the candidate has the required training and experience. This is why interview questions will typically garner the information needed to discover if the candidate has the required level of knowledge, skills and abilities required for the role.

For Knowledge Criteria:

Candidates should be able to display their knowledge of theory, process or procedure that is required to solve a problem typically encountered while performing the position. Asking a candidate to openly discuss their knowledge in general or to list the steps in a procedure however should be avoided if possible. The desired response should provide insight into the conceptual knowledge the candidate has attained and not their ability to memorize steps in a procedure.

For Skills Criteria:

Skills based questions should evaluate a candidate based on 3 areas.

  • How was a challenge overcome?
  • Why a particular action was taken?
  • What is the potential impact of a particular action?

For Abilities Criteria:

The use of situational questions derived directly from the expected work functions of the position should assess the applicants on their potential to perform duties related to the role.

Skills and knowledge can also be assessed with the use of testing and portfolios of work. Tests however need to be developed in a fashion that ensures both validity and reliability of the results. There are many options that exist for testing; if this is something being considered it would be best to speak with a Human Resource Consultant.

Measuring the criteria set forth in the interview questions can be done using a standard point system. There is no one system that fits all organizations and so I would encourage you to come up with a point system that weighs the value of the qualifications fairly and consistently.

Interview the Candidates

On the date of the interview you should provide to all selection committee members some specific documents:

  • The interview schedule which outlines the names of the applicants and the times they will be interviewed. If there are any special instructions regarding their interview they should be noted here. For example a candidate may be receiving an interview via an internet based video conference.
  • A copy of the applicant’s resume
  • A copy of the interview questions for each applicant
  • A copy of the interview evaluation form which outlines the names of all candidates along with all the evaluation criteria.
  • A copy of the evaluation point system outlining the conditions to be met to award particular point levels in relation to established categories of competency.

These tools when used properly allow the interview to flow in a consistent manner for all applicants providing each with the same opportunity to answer each question.

Language and Body Language

Avoid ad-libbing any of the questions and instead read them from the questionnaire as stated for each candidate. Doing this ensures the questions are not being interpreted differently due to a change of wording that alters the context of the question. Be careful with tone of voice as well. Emphasizing particular words in a question is also another means of providing an unfair advantage to a candidate unless the same emphasis is used on the same words for all the applicants.

Body language is also important to consider while interviewing a candidate and is sometimes the most difficult for people to be self-aware of. For instance, rolling one’s eyes, facial expressions and habitual nuances such as biting one’s nails are all things that should be avoided. Examples of typical body language acceptable in Canada are smiling when greeting the candidate and shaking the person’s hand. Body language that would be considered acceptable typically makes the applicant feel welcome. Try also to keep in mind that some cultural differences can result in some body language being interpreted differently. Thus, for those people who interview on a global scale it would be appropriate to understand the customs of the people in the country where you are interviewing.

It’s important to begin the interview with language and body language that allow the candidate to feel welcome and safe. This feeling of security typically will encourage a candidate to be more forthcoming with their responses and provide a greater deal of insight into their competency levels.

During the Interview

Ensure there are no distractions. Cell phones should be turned off or put on silent. The room should also be clear of any distractions such as a radio, television or computer unless they are part of a presentation the candidate is going to perform. Avoid interviews in high traffic areas to ensure privacy and ensure the door is closed.

Open the interview and provide an overview to the candidate that explains how the process will take place. Once this is complete the interview questions which are normally divided between the selection panel members will be asked in turn allowing the candidate to answer between each question. There is no one way to divide the questions, and sometimes some people have a particular interest in asking a certain question. This should be predetermined before the interview begins.

While remaining conscious of the language and body language that is being portrayed be sure to write the candidate’s answers down. While the candidate is speaking the focus should be on listening and documenting the response. Allow the candidate to finish their response and then clarify any assumptions. If the candidate however seems to have misunderstood the question or is providing information that is not relevant to the question or position interrupt them politely in the interest of time and clarify the question. In a case where the question has been answered sufficiently and no more information is required again it is ok to interrupt the candidate in the interest of time and let them know they have provided sufficient information before moving on to the next question.

The following are some tips to keep in mind while questioning:

1)      Open the interview with low stress questions – this will provide the candidate with the opportunity to build rapport with the selection committee before having to answer questions that are more demanding. This technique typically will elicit a more genuine response from the applicant.

2)      Use complementary language – Avoid using jargon because not all organizations use the same terminology for everything. Its best practice to use simple words that are clear and concise in order to avoid confusion. This will also lend itself well to preventing the need to clarify the questions asked to the candidates.

3)      Ask one question at a time – Asking more than one question at a time can increase the difficulty of the question, cause stress to the applicant and potentially lead to an incomplete answer. If the need does arise to ask a question in multiple parts let the candidate know ahead of the question, speak slowly in a clear and concise fashion and allow them to take notes. If they miss a part of the question in the answer, be sure to ask again about the part that was overlooked.

4)      Provide clarification – Always provide clarification when asked but do so without providing the answer to the question. When providing clarification do not simply repeat the question. Instead reword the question in a way that makes it easier to understand without giving away the desired response. In an instance where the applicant seems to be having trouble understanding the question, make note of it and ask the candidate if they would like to come back to that question later. If they choose to return to the question later then do so at the end of the interview.

5)      Confirm the response – By recapping the candidate’s answer the candidate will know for certain that you have understood them. If a misunderstanding took place it will give the candidate the opportunity to clarify their response.

6)      Don’t make assumptions – It is not fair to assume that we understand the inner workings of an individual’s mind or the reasons for the decisions they make or circumstances that befall them without asking. Don’t assume anything and if it is important to the role then be sure to ask about it.

Close the interview and provide an overview to the candidate that explains how the selection process will unfold and that all candidates who receive an interview will be notified either way. This is a common courteousy that goes a long way in providing a good impression of the organization even if the candidate doesn’t get the job.

Evaluation

After the interviews the responses of each candidate should be evaluated and using a point based system scored. These scores are determined through the consensus of the selection committee. It’s important that all members agree on the results. The final results are then compared in order to determine who the most qualified candidate is.

Then check the candidate’s references once the selection committee has agreed who the most qualified candidate is while taking in all considerations.

Now it’s time to contact all the relevant references that were provided along with any additional references that are requested.

Can you think of anything I may have left out? Do you have any interview tips you would like to share? If so, please leave a comment!

 

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