HR Advisors Conference Blog

Further thoughts from the conference or about the challenges of being in an HR Advisory role.

HR magic tricks

A couple of weeks ago I got sick with a cold. I HATE being sick. I have too much to do. But from years of experience I know that if I soldier on, I just stay sick for longer – so I took a day off. Returning to work I found my email inbox bulging, my to do list going off the bottom of the page and I felt overwhelmed.

Now in HR we’re in a one to many relationship with our managers. To them, the query they sent through is the only thing they’ve asked us – so surely we can get back to them straight away? But to us, their query is one of many. And if you’re supporting too many managers – you’ll have many, many queries. In my role at Elephant some of the emails I get are from clients, but also many HR people out there contact me for various reasons, not to mention emails from my team and articles and newsletters that I want to read. Then there’s actually the other work that you’ve got to do too.

So looking at bulging, overwhelming inbox, and still not feeling 100% better – I realised that I was going to have to use some HR magic tricks to get it under control and still provide the brilliant HR service that I wanted to. How? Here’s what I did.

  1. Chunk and blitz

It sounds like an advert for a blender but chunking and blitzing is a great time management tool. Block out some chunks in your day. These chunks are for two things – the first for dealing with emails and reactive stuff, the second for some for spending time on the bigger projects that you’re working on.

My ‘reactive’ chunks I diary for 7.30 – 8.30am, 11 – 12pm and a couple of in the afternoon. In those chunks of time I blitz through my emails. I find this is so much more effective than trying to do emails while you’re doing other things. I also went through and dumped the emails that weren’t urgent into folders (e.g. articles that I wanted to read), delegated the things that one of my team could deal with and then that actually just leaves you with the things you need to deal with!

In the ‘project’ chunks, I might go and write up what I’m doing on a whiteboard, or go and work in another office or meeting room for 45 minutes to get head space. That way you progress both the urgent stuff but also your important pieces of work.

  1. Pick up the phone

Think about how much time you spend communicating by email. I realised that my % had crept up and almost all my responses were now by email. Yet in HR one of the aspects many of us enjoy is building relationships. Over email you have no tone of voice or body language, so it’s not as effective. Some of the queries you’ll have are complicated, so instead of email – pick up the phone. Once I’d chunked and blitzed, I got on the phone and rang people. In a conversation you can solve far more than an email response, and you actually get to connect with your customers. It was far more invigorated and inspiring than just emailing and solved more!

  1. Feed the monkey

Many queries that you get put the monkey on your back – they transfer the problem to you. If you try and transfer it back you disengage your managers, but if you ask them to feed your monkey, they are more likely to respond. What on earth am I talking about?

A manager emails and asks what they need to do to start a recruitment process, or to start working through a performance discussion with one of their team. If you keep the monkey on your back, you’ll go back and advise them of what they need to do. If you ask them to feed the monkey, you’ll go back and refer them to the policy or information on the intranet, ask them to have a read through and let you know if they have any questions. You’ve given them a task to do, but not put the whole monkey back on their back.

Often I’ll get emails asking about employment law issues – so I’ll send a link to some further information and ask the person to let me know if they still have questions about it, rather than answer completely. It’s feeding the monkey!

  1. Share the load

Lastly you don’t have to try and do it all yourself (this is something I struggle with!!).

Delegate – when you blitz, see if there are things that you could delegate to your team. Or there may be another manager in the business that could help (e.g. a manager you know who has been through a performance issue could mentor another manager, rather than you having to get involved).

Share – Have a 10 minute stand up meeting with your team and each of you raise the urgent things you’re trying to deal with and see who’s best to answer. Or have a shared inbox that you can put queries in that anyone in the team could answer when they have some time.

Deal with the many – if you have lots of managers who are asking queries about similar things, have a session where you can deal with many questions at once .This might be a weekly 30 minute managers clinic that you run, or you could do an online session, or even have a section on your intranet where you post questions asked, and the answers. We’ve tried all of these and it means that managers who were thinking of asking, now have the answers and you don’t have to go back to 10 different managers on the same issues! We’re also going to launch this approach shortly for HR as we know there are many similar issues that we’re all dealing with. Watch this space for more soon.

Being sick was good for me

So funnily enough, I realised that being sick had been good for me rethinking how I was working and how I was delivering. In HR we do sometimes seem to be expected to work miracles, so we have to be innovative and manage the one to many in different ways.  And when we do it well? In the words of the brilliant Mr Freddie Mercury …… it’s a kind of magic.


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This entry was posted on August 16, 2014 by in Operational HR work and tagged , .

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