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Friday, January 25, 2008

Managing Expectations

I am an Army veteran from my home country, India. I remodeled my resume to make it suitable for a career in HR and was granted a work visa as an HR Manager.

Since then I have been working for a small-to-medium family owned enterprise. They haven’t had a dedicated HR department all this while and looked upon me as someone to bring in the required changes in policies and procedures. They were even willing to accept the fact that I shall be learning mostly on the job. I put up a brave front and have been trying to cope ever since with myriad laws and regulations practiced in USA.

There is, however, a major point of irritation between us, bringing in discipline amongst the employees. I do not think that any of our 45 workers across four locations need any major overhaul. I fired all the trouble makers right in the beginning. But he keeps needling me on the fact that he had hired me because of my Army background and that I am not justifying his beliefs. Dealing with mostly disciplined combat soldiers from the other end of the gun is far different than dealing with corporate employees. I consider myself good at people to people communication and exercise this trait of my personality to the fullest extent but I can’t become an Army Colonel all over again, try as I might. I have led a disciplined life and I try to lead this bunch of young and talented people by personal example. That seems to be working, but somewhere there is a mismatch between my employers expectations and my way of working.

I shall appreciate any gems of wisdom on how not to become a menace/evil at work and have all my colleagues shun me. I don’t like eating my lunch alone. I would like to remain who I am and do the right thing.


My guess is this is a matter of mismatched expectations and visions of what successful looks like. To him, successful is military precision. I bet he’s not a big fan of telecommuting or an outcome based workforce, either.

So, while you see talented people creating results (and good job in firing all the troublemakers at the beginning), he sees chaos and rule violations.

Have you said to him, "Dealing with mostly disciplined combat soldiers from the other end of the gun is far different than dealing with corporate employees"? If so, how did he respond? Anybody that is remotely rational should realize that the environment in a military unit is different from an at will workforce.

So, you need to manage his expectations and work on developing him. Usually, we focus on developing people to become managers, but this time you've got to develop the manager. (This isn't uncommon in a family owned business, by the way. (Or any business, actually--parentheses inside of parentheses!))

Have a goal setting session with him--not where you talk about his personal development goals or your goals, but what his goals are for the company. Then help him (that is let him think he's doing it) figure out the best way to achieve those goals.

You are going to have to be able to show him results from these goals. So make sure they are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and have a time frame). Also make sure they are not trivial (I want everyone in their desk by 8:00! If they come in at 8:05 that is a failure!).

This is not going to be easy. (Is any thing easy in HR? Well, yes, creating new forms! Paperwork is where it is at!) In fact, he may completely reject you and say, "I hired you because of your military background. Now, get everyone in order!" You'll have to counter with WHY, specifically using business language and data, this is a bad idea.

Not that some companies don't run tighter ships than others. That's fine. Company culture varies from company to company. But, if his people that are already on board don't fit his vision you either need to change his or change the workforce. The latter will cost him an awful lot more.

6 comments:

apu said...

This has to be one of the more unusual letters you've got (And I'm not saying that its interesting just because its a letter from a fellow country man :)

But yeah - there seems to be a mismatch in expectations - specifically, what a military man will do (You! Report to Duty! Now!)

Perhaps one thing the veteran could do is also show the owner specifically what results have been accomplished after his coming on board? This may help him focus less on the small stuff...

Sameer Panchangam said...

Awesome post!

I see a lot of retired Army officers wanting to become not just HR Managers but also Project Leads and Proj Managers...but they "really really" need to understand that things aint the same out here in the corporate world!

Wally Bock said...

Wow. You say "I fired all the trouble makers right in the beginning." And you don't think your boss thinks that's "army" enough? Did he expect you to shoot them?

On a more serious note. How did you know who "all the troublemakers" were? Why did you decide to fire all of them?

And what, exactly, does it mean to re-model a resume? Is that like lying? What were the qualifications your boss thought he was getting, besides the rank?

In a world where highly qualified engineers have trouble getting work visas, how did you manage to get one to work in HR?

I wonder if the problem isn't mis-matched expectations as much as it is the fact that you don't know what you're doing and seem more interested in "putting on a brave face" than learning.

Evil HR Lady said...

Geesh, Wally, who spit in your cheerios this morning?

I presume that re-modeling a resume means emphasizing different things. For instance, I have a master's degree in political science. If I'm applying for a job that requires analytics I'll write: "MA, Political Science (emphasis: quantitative methodology)" This is a true statement, by the way. Just ask to see my chi squares.

But, if I'm applying for a job where lots of writing is required, I'll just write "MA, Political Science" for my master's degree but for my undergrad I'll go ahead and add my minor: Creative Writing. (Also true.)

Neither is a lie, but it's writing the resume to fit the job. If you want me to do complex statistical analysis, you don't care that I can write a short story or a play. If you want me to write a great deal of communications to employees, you probably don't care that I know what limdep is.

Chris Young said...

I think this post is a textbook example on the importance of setting clear expectations when onboarding a new hire and a result that I see all too often.

An "intervention" is needed immediately to clearly set expectations that everyone can agree to. After this is done your reader will need to make a hard decision if he is willing to put in the hard work to meet those expectations (however far off from what he was previously expecting) or if there is a better opportunity out there for him.

This is never a comfortable situation for either party and one that could have been avoided with better communication by both parties.

Chris Young
The Rainmaker Group

Anonymous said...

Just to back up the bit about re-modelling a resume: When applying for my current job my (now) employer rejected my first CV on the basis that it didn't appear to include enough customer-facing experience.

I explained that I'd concentrated on highlighting my technical experience and asked outright if I could change the emphasis & re-submit an updated CV. They were completely fine with this, neither CV contained any lies and I've been working here for 18 months now.

Neil.