During his 18-year professional career, Rodney Vinegar has been responsible for recruitment, training, professional development, human resources leadership, and labor relations with such global companies as UBS Investment Bank, Colgate-Palmolive, Sanofi-Aventis, Pepsi Cola Incorporated, and Scripps Network Interactive. He has returned from New York to his home state of Kentucky and sat down with Tom Martin to discuss human resources issues.
Q: Let’s begin with the primary concerns of the human resources professional.
A: I’ll give you a little bit of evolution. The 1970s the human resources department basically did investigations. They may have processed your benefits and gotten all the paperwork done to bring you on board. In the `80s, they became more focused on organizational designs and how to make organizations more effective, and that continued on through the `90s. And as human resources evolved, it’s gone from an administrative task-oriented function to more of a strategic function where you’re actually trying to put the right talent in the right place in order to maximize your profits as a company — if you’re in a company. If you’re a private entity or a nonprofit, it’s having the right people at the right time in order to maximize whatever mission that you’re actually trying to fulfill.
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Q: Is the HR staff kind of sequestered in the corporate environment? Can you have friends at work?
A: There are people I’ve had friendships with at work. I think the question you have to ask yourself as an HR professional is, if your buddy has to be fired tomorrow or has to be laid off tomorrow, are you able to do that in a professional manner and to take the impact of that? I’ve had to demote a friend in a previous role that I had and that person was mad at me for a whole year. They felt that I should have done something different. Unfortunately, you’ve got to separate the business from the friendship.
Q: Should the manager of a prospective new hire be included in the hiring process?
A: Definitely. As a leader myself, I want to be in touch all the people that actually work for me because I want to make sure that there’s a fit, but also that we have a chemistry that’s necessary to move the organization forward.
Q: What’s the best way to turn down a job applicant?
A: The problem that we have today is there’s such a huge Internet-based hiring process. Candidates apply on the Internet and then get no response and they don’t have anyone to talk to. I think the best thing for you to do for a candidate is to actually give them feedback on why you’re not moving forward with them, whether it’s qualifications, fit, or an experience that they actually need in order for them to be successful in the role. That allows the candidate to be more reflective.
Q: In some cases, a company’s standing is held close to the vest by senior management. So, the employee may not be aware that the company is, for whatever reason, stressed. Is it important for management to somehow communicate to the workforce that times are tight so that expectations are not out of alignment with the company’s fiscal reality?
A: In all the organizations I’ve worked for, I think from a best practice perspective and I think also from a transparency perspective there should be a quarterly update for employees in terms of the financial status of the company. Whether it’s good, bad, okay, whatever it may be, that communication has to happen. Really important in today’s society are engagement and ownership. If employees don’t know that you have a negative financial trend or it’s not meeting expectations, then they can’t respond to it. So when you start responding to it, they’re responding at a different level of understanding than you as a senior leader because you’ve probably seen it for months or maybe a year and have not communicated it.
Q: Is it wise to seek other job offers just to use as leverage for a pay raise at your current company?
A: I’ve seen it work positively for people. And I’ve seen it work negatively for people. I’ve seen it work positive in terms of them receiving retention bonuses or additional dollars. I’ve seen it work negative as when, hey, yes, they may have gotten what they wanted. But when the first layoff or the first downturn came, they’re one of the first people on that list because they’ve priced themselves out of what their value is from a market perspective. What I would typically advise most people to do which they typically have not done is to have a conversation with their manager about what it takes to be promoted. It’s not bad for you to look out in the marketplace because it keeps not only your employer honest in terms of how they’re treating you and how they compensate you, but it also keeps you honest in terms of what your value is in the marketplace.
Q: Leaving the company and the resignation letter: be sincere about your reasons or not?
A: I will say be sincere about your reasons for leaving in a very professional way. And I would really encourage companies and organizations to have some kind of exit interview process to learn why people are leaving.
Q: Should an employee who has been identified by colleagues as having a poisonous attitude and who is creating a toxic atmosphere be fired?
A: Not without first having the conversation about the challenges of that individual and why those challenges are actually occurring. One of the challenges that we have in our work environment now is we’re social media driven. So, we’re on chat all day long. We’re on email all day long. And we don’t take the time just to sit down with employees and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? I’m hearing X, Y, and Z. You know, how can I help you?’ That’s what real leaders do. They ask people how they can help and they ask people to change behaviors. If I can’t help change the behavior, then I’ll ask you personally, ‘Hey, is this the right place for you?’ And then if it’s not, we’ll go through a performance management process to actually exit the person out of the organization. Sometimes helping people understand that it’s not the right organization for them because they’re miserable really helps them, and helping them transition to another company is probably the best thing that a human resource professional can learn how to do because it allows them to leave in a way which keeps their dignity and their respect in place, but allows you to manage them out without having to cause a ton of legalities or have an employee feel that they’re being forced out.
Q: What can be done about bullying that doesn’t rise to the legal definition of hostile but still causes that uncomfortable atmosphere?
A: On my website, Vpgexcel.com, I have an article about creating a culture of courage. People rise to the manager’s expectations. So, as a leader, if I have expectations that you treat people with respect and I actually demonstrate that, it’s a lot easier for that to permeate throughout the rest of the organization. But if as a leader I’m degrading people, calling them out, calling them names, cursing at them — which is some things I’ve seen some leaders do — then obviously that’s going to permeate through the rest of the organization, which causes the bullying. Typically what happens with these organizations is they end up in a lawsuit or they end up with having a reputation as a place not to work for.
Q: Do managers listen to HR?
A: I’ve worked for organizations where I’ve given managers advice and they’ve ignored it. And typically, it comes back and bites them. It’s really important I think for leaders to have someone that they can confide in and who is also willing to give them true feedback in terms of how they’re impacting the organization.
Tom Martin’s Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader’s Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.