Not My Father’s HR Department

When I turned sixteen, I was eligible to work and went to work summers in the factory my dad and his brothers owned. I packed finished product, I swept floors, and I got to do minor maintenance on equipment. By law, I wasn’t allowed to operate the equipment until I was 18, so there were some restrictions on what I could and could not do. When I turned eighteen, I could operate equipment and I continued to work there part time in college, most often filling in for second-shift operators who didn’t show up.

My dad and his twin brother managed the equipment and all maintenance. And they were the HR department.

Before I was old enough to work there, I remember hearing him complain about employees, about the union, and about how lazy some people were. When I went to work there, I got to see first hand what problems he had. Most evenings when I got there, I went right to work filling a vacancy. I learned all the equipment in the place, because some people just didn’t come to work regularly.

I asked my dad why some of the employees routinely worked 4 days a week. Without hesitation, he said “Because they can’t make enough money working only 3 days a week.”

In a family business that employed about 60 people, there was no money to hire anyone to manage HR, so they had to do it all themselves. They tried various disciplinary processes. They gave people second chances. But the big thing I learned while I worked there was this: Exception management is for exceptional employees, not exceptionally poor employees. It was a true case of the most energy spent on the lowest percentage of employees.

Managing the poor performers is necessary at times, but for every hour or two you spend on those issues, I suggest you commit an equal amount of time (or more) on recognition and reinforcement of your day-in day-out performers. Those are the exceptions you want to encourage.

What do you think – do you offset time spent on the negative with an equal or greater amount of time on the real talent?

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