HR Challenges and How to Beat them, An Interview with Bob Benwick

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Written Transcript/Summary – HR Challenges and How to Beat them An Interview with Bob Benwick

AYL Podcast # 4 Summary

An Interview with Bob Benwick

HR Challenges and How to Beat Them

Introduction : Welcome to the Advance Your Leadership podcast with Leadership Coach Bev Benwick… A dialogue meant to enhance the leadership of our listeners…. a contribution to greater business success …. All podcasts along with additional information are available on Bev’s website at

Bev Benwick here from Advance Your Leadership. I have a guest with me in today’s podcast. That would be Bob Benwick, an expert in the field of Human Resources and Organizational Development. You may be wondering about the last name of Benwick being a commonality here. So to end the mystery- yes – Bob is my better half! Bob has decades of HR experience with an OD (organizational development) flavor. In our Executive coaching office, R. W. Benwick Associates, he is the ‘sage” of HR solutions. Bob also imparts his wisdom and experience to the learning audience in one of our local universities. So……. I have asked him to join me today to help bring some thoughts and possible ideas and solutions to my audience which supports small and medium size business owners, key leaders and managers with regard to their leadership of people.

1. Bev: As an organization/ company grows the people challenges grow with it. You tend to look at this through the eyes of an HR professional…But….From your experience of working as an Executive Coach with this sort of company what do you see as their top 3 people challenges for leaders?

Bob: A number of things come to mind – 1. Many leaders really don’t listen when they communicate. They talk….and they have a lot on their minds and they tend to shut down when others talk. Effective leaders really need to learn to listen. The leader needs to pay attention to the non verbals too. The need to listen between the lines. 2. Leaders tend to not be very clear about terms of their expectations for their employees. What do we need to accomplish, by when do we need to accomplish this, and how will we know this is accomplished, what are the metrics for success. 3. Leaders often focus on themselves. It’s about them….not their people. They need to change this paradigm and start focusing on others. What can I start doing, stop doing or continuing doing to help you help yourself be successful in your job?

Bev: You know, you brought up some really good points there. One I want to elaborate on…we see so much going on in this regard in our coaching practise. Put what is going on in your head aside. Acutely listen…seek to understand what others are saying. This is just so critical to get the results that you as a leader want.

Bob: Absolutely key…in order to understand you need to ask questions. Most leaders don’t know how to do this….I mean asking powerful questions. Listen to what the individual is saying back. What is it that they need? What are they thinking? Have a powerful conversation. You don’t always need to approach with the solution. If this is your approach….you had better be 100% right…..and no one is that right.

Bev: No they aren’t. We are actually tapping into the area of Emotional Intelligence here. We so often believe we understand what is going on for the other individual…which is a big, big mistake. This is an assumption, we need to sit back and seek to understand…never should we overlay our assumption on what is going on for someone else because of our own prior experiences. Would you agree Bob?

Bob: Absolutely, I couldn’t have said it better.

Bev: I see so many mistakes in this area.

2. Bev: How does the young or smaller company deal with these HR type of challenges where it just isn’t possible to think of the resources for an internal HR person?

Bob: Well, as you know I like to keep things as simple as possible. First of all, you mentioned smaller firms, most firms out there are smaller firms. Either individually owned or family owned. They are usually well under 100 people. They would not typically pick up an HR person until they have over 100 employees. As a result, you the leader need to get on top of this yourself. I mean get on top of the labour standards act/requirements for your area, take a course on HR management at a tech college or university. You need to get after this…you cannot give it a shrug of the shoulders should you be in a situation where the human rights people come after you for an issue. You need to be familiar with this. If you have a discomfort with this, or feel inadequate, what you need to do is go out and find an HR contractor. Find someone who is a HR consultant with about 15 – 20 years experience in a complex firm. They can help you go from A – Z without you having to go through every letter of the alphabet.

Bev: Good advice. There are some really talented people out there in this field as contractors these days. A tremendous tip to those who are listening today. It’s impossible to put the resources needed to put an HR person on staff. Often we see small and medium size business leaders just hope for the best with HR issues that arise, or at best we see leaders align HR functions with Accounting departments. I don’t really see HR and Accounting as a good fit to get the best results for the people or the company. Where do HR and Accounting come into play, maybe for budgeting, but not much else.

Bob: Absolutely

Bev: I only see that not being a good solution. I really like your thoughts about going out there to find the right HR consultant for your needs.

3. When we are looking at that HR professional to support us…what type of HR professional is the best fit for a small company?

Bob: As I mentioned before, my recommendation is to look for someone who is very very knowledgable, who has depth of skill in what your needs are. Someone who worked in complex organizations who has experience in the many functions of HR – training, recruiting, performance review systems, benefits, org development, labor relations. Eceterra.

Some who has been there, who has done that. People who have a complimentary style to your style. Do not go out and hire someone, I repeat do not go out and hire someone. Bring in someone who you can trust no matter what HR issue comes up. They can shadow consult with you. It’s all about being strategic to be successful.

Bev: What are the questions we can ask to get someone who is a fit? We can get someone to deal with the ugly HR problems that we don’t want to deal with, the dehiring, the layoffs, the labor relations issues. But….how do we find someone who steps beyond the transactional issues, who can support leaders with the transformational pieces of leadership? Is that possible with a contractor?

Bob: It’s hard to do so! What I recommend you – don’t have to get someone who does it all. For example: If you have some labor relations issues bring in an LR specialist, if you have recruiting issues bring in an excellent recruiter. If you are wanting to redesign your company bring in an organizational development consultant. If you need training and development, bring in a training and development consultant. Bring in these people, typically by word of mouth – I know if people called you Bev – you could give them suggestions as to who to call for many specialities. You could provide some great names. Business owners/leaders need to get the experts those that can help you do what you need in efficient and effective ways. Helping you keep your costs down, and get that biggest return on your investment.

Bev: Thanks….some good pieces here for consideration and keeping the budget in mind!

Bob: Yes…don’t add to your overhead!

4. At what point of growth do you see it viable for a company to put together an internal HR Dept? You said that one shouldn’t be adding to overhead, and that 100 employees is that magic number. Is that really the breaking point?

Bob: Yes…by that point you are struggling with many HR challenges. You need to be on top of the state/province legislation, labour law, recruiting, human rights. Your organization is probably sophisticated enough at this point that you probably need to bring in an internal expert, but do not create an HR empire. Keep it down to a minimum, bring in someone who is really capable and empower them to bring in the experts, so that you don’t need in house experts. Few firms can afford that, only very large firms/organizations can afford that….keep this to a minimum.

Bev: We refer to the small business here, we also have in our audience medium size business owners and key leaders. Firms running up to 600 people here. We are coaching ourselves in some similar size firms recently, and watching HR development in such. They too had very transactional people in HR for some time and then brought in very capable people who could support the transformational needs of leadership. Can you speak to this a little?

Bob: Yes, there has been a trend of late where firms are off loading a lot to those transactional HR firms, both large and small consulting firms that are out there. They can provide payroll, recruiting, and other items. The HR professionals you keep on board, the head HR person, should be at the executive table, so that the organization is constantly advancing its HR strategy. You need powerful strategy to plan for the future, making sure that the right people for the right spots are there at the right time for that organization to turn on a dime competitively. So that means, the HR person has to be there with a core group of experts, or bring in externals when they need to. Keep that group lean and mean and strategically focused.

Bev: Thanks for that. I hear you about HR being at the executive table, they need their voice. Someone has to look after the people here.

Bob: Can I intrude for a minute here?

Bev: Yes you can.

Bob: Listen, what do you think organizations are made up of? They are made up of people, it’s not plants and equipment, processes and systems. Those are all important, however, an organization/company is all about people. If you don’t have that honed you will struggle to be successful in business.

Bev: I agree with you. And you know who I am. I used to be all about bottom line results as a leader. I have to say…and I will admit to our audience…Bob changed my life in terms of how I thought about people and leadership. I had to do some big changes. I changed my whole recruiting process to tell people about who I was as a leader because – I could land with my style and turn people quite off and I just didn’t give it consideration. I don’t think I ever would have thought about putting HR at the board room table until I met you. I have had a lot of growth in my own leadership outlook in the past number of years. Please listen to Bob and what he has said in this regard, it’s vital.

5. Bev: With Advance Your Leadership it’s all about leading the people and looking at how costly our mistakes can be when we don’t really lean into our leadership role. Are we measuring the right things? As leaders in small and medium sized business we are doing a lot of recruiting, particularly as divisional leaders and managers, it is so difficult to get the right people in the right seats on bus so that we march in the right direction to grasp that vision and bring it to reality, productively and efficiently. Do you have any pearls of wisdom to share with us in this regard….in terms of getting the right folks on the bus?

Bob: Organization/companies are all about people. The organization is a reflection of the people in the organization. What you want to do, whether you can afford to or not, and that will be the discriminator here – You want to go out and recruit and select the best of the best, not the best of the worst. When you hire the best of the best, it’s like getting thoroughbreds into your organization. You want to onboard new hires effectively and get very clear once they are on board, that they understand expectations – what are the deliverables. You will be paying top dollar and benefits (which is on average 40% of total compensation), and bonuses/incentives on top of that. You need to support them well, you want to get the best out of the best that you have. You want to avoid hiring plough horses and having thoroughbred expectations. It does not work! If you spend the time up front doing that, then what you need to do is remember when dealing with thoroughbreds, you get the hell out of their way. They are clear on their expectations and you get out of their way, you are a resource to them. Saying….you let me know what I can start doing, stop doing, or continue doing to help you help yourself be successful. That is your role as a leader. This is how you get high quality results through people. Now there is a little bit more to it ….finesse what I have just shared with you. If you want to Advance Your Leadership, this needs to be your focus.

Bev: This is the piece where I have said, we need to lean into our leadership. We need to hire great people as Bob has said. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of those competitive salaries. We may have to have a more junior workforce that we develop if that is the case.

Bob: But….high potential junior workforce. If you don’t have the salary to work with, go out there and hire Hi Pos. You want to invest in them as much as possible to grow them in the role. But…you have to be very patient with these people…very patient.

Bev: But…this is the true test of your leadership skills. Absolutely the true test. You know what comes to mind here – is the quote from one of Kouzes and Posners books – if you want to test your leadership – start thinking of your employees/workforce as volunteers. This comes from such a different perspective. You are stepping into your transformational leadership skills here, this is far beyond transactional skills.

Bob: I am glad you said that, there is something that is really key here between leadership and management. Leadership is about creating an environment where people want to get in there each morning to work with you, their peers and team members. Why – because you have created a vision that is compelling and you have engaged their hearts and their heads. Management, which is very important once you are clear on what you want to achieve, is around planning, controlling, and organizing what you want to achieve. You cannot manage people, it is like herding cats. You have to LEAD people. You need to tap into people’s hearts and minds, you can’t manage people, you can only motivate people – that is leadership.

Bev: That is what Kouzes and Posner speak to with that question. You don’t have that paycheck working for you if you are leading volunteers; imagine what and who you need to be to get the results to move that organization forward.

Bob: Quite frankly, I hear things from leaders like what is going on here with the morale, we are losing money like crazy, and we are not achieving the things we want to achieve – right – because your people don’t like working there.

Bev: Exactly, you want people to get up out of bed each morning looking forward to going into work to start their day….with a smile on their face.

Bob: The most difficult job you will ever have is being a leader, a manager, and a coach to your people. There is nothing more difficult.

6. People challenges are costly for a company – how do you think this impacts the bottom line to a business?

Bob: Well, if you are making very poor leadership decisions, eventually people either quit physical or quit mentally. Now, in terms of physical quitting, voluntary turnover is an enormous cost to a company. If they quit mentally that means that people may not be showing up at work on Monday or Friday, they are not engaged fully in their work, the biggest expense you can have in a company is paying your people not to work.

Bev: We as leaders can get so focused on our results, pushing product out the door, responding to customer needs, raising money……and NOT paying attention to the people problems and not measuring these problems effectively. You as a leader have a vital role to lead the people….if you are not doing this… you have bigger issues than you probably even know. And…there is great expense attached to this that you likely haven’t even considered or yet uncovered. I have a message on my website to small and medium size business leaders – it says – are you losing 4,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000,100,000 plus a month …conceivably these are very real figures for not paying attention to such issues.

7. So, in closing here – What 3 practical tips can you give to the listeners that can start them down a positive path of getting the right people on board in this regard?

Bob: Well, with the objective of having simplicity here, firstly, get really clear as to where your organization/company is today. What structure do you have in your company currently? Where do you want your company/organization to be in 3 year, 4 years, and 5 years. Do so in strategic planning sessions. What does the structure look like in the future, what will the roles look like at that time, who would be best fit for those roles. Do a one pager on this. Let’s call it a Position Guide. List the overall responsibilities for each role, list the kinds of areas that there needs to be delivery on. Then look at the job specs – what is the minimum education required, what is the minimum experience required, what skills set are required technically, and the non technical skill sets such as high level of communication, key problem solving etc. What special skills might be required, such as certifications etc. Take your time to recruit, and be clear on what we have mentioned here. The Japanese have an expression – you have to go slow to go fast. When you go out to recruit, be in a position to take your time so you are not rushed – that is when you get into trouble. Then what happens is you move from recruiting to selection mode. When interviewing be very clear as to what you have already determined your needs are. This is when a HR professional can be very helpful to you. Make sure that you assure the success for a new person moving into your organization. You want to set people up for success by accelerating their transition into your company effectively. I know Bev that you have a number of systems to support such activity. These are the fundamentals. Get that professional to help you do this. Again…don’t hire someone to add to your overhead.

Bev: There is one piece that I want to bring forth when we talk about recruitment – that is – are they ”a fit” for the organization/company.

Bob: I am glad you brought that up. There are 3 things you look for when you are interviewing and making hiring decisions. There are a lot of professionals that don’t know this.

First is can they do the job. Well, you wouldn’t in all likelihood have brought them in for an interview if they couldn’t do so. Secondly, Will they do the job. Are they self motivated? Are they driven? Or do they need to be told what to do? Are they a person to keep you, the leader, in the loop? Thirdly, is what you brought up Bev – are they are fit for the culture – the team? A culture is – this is the way we do things around here. Is this person’s way of wanting to do things a fit for this company’s culture? Many people will quit if they are not congruent with the new organizations/company’s culture. The friction is usually with the boss or owner, and at such times, people will self – select out of the organization. Or the organization may create an opportunity to re deploy elsewhere in a larger organization or an opportunity for the person to move on.

Bev: You know I do so much research in this area. These figures are no surprise to you Bob, but perhaps are to our audience. A minimum of 9% and as much as 32% of voluntary turnover in a company can be avoided with improved leadership skills.

Bob: And…the related cost of turnover to a company is through the roof.

Bev: Another point that I was jotting down as you were speaking is – and I will mention we have seen this often in the work that we do. We have watched bad hires in key positions repeat themselves with nothing but great damage to the division, company. Bob: Often it is because smaller firms have leaders who are running at frantic paces trying to keep up – they are making less than optimal decisions – with direct costs impacting the company – not to mention the indirect costs. Other people who surround that position are trying to pick up and carry far more that is theirs to own to keep things moving forward. That can’t possibly be effective or efficient. Those kind of costs are astronomically high – that’s why most businesses are out of business in 7 years. These are non-learning organizations. Learning organizations take the time to look at these challenges and take the time to leverage their findings and resources to and make the best decisions.

Bev : These bad decisions that you have mentioned greatly impact those around a failing or failed leader. It goes beyond this. The new leader then comes in and takes a considerable amount of time before they are a net contributor to the company. If this process keeps going on because of a new leader – and another new leader – and another new leader – imagine the demotivation that goes on for the team members. How do you keep those team members inspired and motivated to carry on with leadership that is a mis-hire, a misfit, and we see this happen repetitively in the role. We have seen this go on in companies…we have seen people leave for exactly these reasons…they start to look at this as craziness. This keeps everyone who is in that reporting structure in transition, every time this happens.

Bob: this drives anxiety levels up in organizations. There is an inverse relationship between anxiety and performance. With high anxiety in an organization, performance plummets. The idea is to bring that anxiety down to a level of anxiety that is healthy. There is a level of anxiety that really is healthy and keeps everyone sharp. But…if you drive anxiety up to a dysfunctional level, it will always hit your bottom line. Look to the customer satisfaction level surveys, when anxiety is up and it impacts customers negatively in whichever way that is – you will drive customers away….and that gets to your bottom line. Leaders may say – what’s going on here – people have lousy attitudes. Non leaders operate here. Leaders understand this and drive the company/organization through the people.

Bev: Exactly – Leadership is about people. It is about prospering through the contribution, effectiveness and productivity of your people.
You alluded to chatting further about onboarding today Bob. But…we have put a lot of information out there today. I think that subject should be forwarded to another podcast in the near future.

To better leadership….always!

Take care

HR Challenges and How to Beat Them

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