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Today I had the opportunity to participate in the first Twitter discussion (hashtag #peoplechat) lead by PeopleClues, a global provider of assessment technology. The weekly chat sessions will be held every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. CST. PeopleClues and its moderators will pose questions and encourage discussions on topics relating to HR.

Today’s topic was Culture and HR, which is right up my alley, so I was sure to tune in. I’d never taken part in one of these rapid-fire discussions on Twitter before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It lasted for 30 minutes, but it felt like only 3 by the time everyone signed off and all that was left was the last bit of the high I was getting by just clicking the refresh button over and over again, hoping for yet another great question or answer put out by the many participants, and perhaps, if I was very lucky, another mention directed at me, hehe. (I know, but I don’t think anyone can disagree that it is infinitely more fun to participate when you’re getting positive feedback.)

PeopleClues does plan to post a recap of the #peoplechat discussion tomorrow on their blog, but I’d like to do a mini-recap of my own. Unfortunately it will mostly be from memory alone. Lesson learned: next time, take notes!

The first question that was posed was what you can do to improve culture when it’s less than impressive to begin with. While all suggestions were well thought-out and helpful, a few of the responses were re-tweeted by PeopleClues. Those answers centered around acknowledging that there is a problem, facing it head on, and making a change! My tweet, the idea to ask the employees what they think is the problem and how it can be improved, was also a common theme in the answers for question one. Overall, I guess we learned, if it doesn’t work, fix it until it does!

After ten minutes of discussing how to improve culture, the second question on how to foster an innovative and creative working environment was posted. This time PeopleClues also offered their own answer, suggesting “hire the right people, be the culture, employees will follow!” Another great answer reminded to minimize negativity by taking employee input and feedback seriously. Personally, my favorite theme in the answers for question two was investing in your employees by offering ways to develop themselves and their skills. If your employees are learning and happy, productivity and retention will increase. Can’t go wrong there, folks.

Finally it was time for the last question of the week: “What is one thing you do to develop your culture from the top down?” Suggestions ranged from setting good examples to making sure to be transparent about what’s going on at all times. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was done. And wait, I think someone also mentioned free yogurt for everyone?

Be sure to join the #peoplechat Twitter discussion next week on Tuesday at 12:30 CST. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

The more I think about it, the more I realize how many similarities there are between managing a classroom and managing a workplace. I would like to clarify that I am not equating an organization’s employees to a room full of students. However, I have noticed that many of the methods used in the classroom to increase participation and confidence of the students can be compared to how HR might try to boost performance and morale in the workplace, especially when money is not, or cannot, be a factor. (Since it should not be considered as a factor for students.)

During my time working as a teacher in South Korea, I had the opportunity to learn by experience and from my colleagues what techniques work as an effective motivator for students. I found that students respond most positively to different forms of recognition, appreciation, and praise. Here are a few examples of the methods I used to enforce and how they might relate to those used in the workplace:

Certificates for “Best/Most”

I used to teach themed summer and winter programs for the students during their school vacation. At the end of each week we would have a rewards ceremony, where each student would get a certificate and small prize for the work they had done, e.g. “Most Improved”, “Most Helpful”, “Best Speech”, etc. They loved it because I was recognizing and appreciating their individual strengths, and it made them look good in front of their friends.

Just like I took the time to know my students, I think it’s important to look for and recognize each employee’s strengths and what they are bringing to the table. When performance and morale are low, you might try to consider your own awards ceremony for your company. Let them know it’s coming up, what awards will be given, and what they can do to give them a leg up. Or don’t let them know and hand out certificates randomly for fun. Perhaps every time they get a certificate they can also receive a raffle ticket and your department can hold a raffle at the end of each month. And of course, never underestimate sincere praise.

Parties/Special Activity Days

Sometimes the students need a fun day to look forward to. Even the teacher does at times. When the students were working particularly hard for a few weeks, or when a holiday was coming up, I made sure to plan a fun activity or party to give them something to look forward to. If my students didn’t like the classes, their participation and effort was less than stellar, to say the least. A special day gave them a chance to relax, have fun, and get to know the teacher and their classmates in a more comfortable environment.

Just like the students, if employees never have anything to look forward to at work, their performance may suffer as a result. Even a small thing, like recognizing and celebrating a birthday or length of service could have a positive effect on morale. A team building field trip, a fun outing, or a holiday party could also reinforce a sense of belonging and friendship between co-workers, which in turn would boost morale and performance.

Level Up System

I noticed that students performance would increase if they thought they were going to acquire something. But when they kept acquiring the same prize, such as candy, again and again, they began to get bored and performance would drop. I decided to implement a “Level Up” system where if they collected ten stickers they got a chance to level up to a new title, such as “Captain, Colonel, Vice-President”, and get a prize. Not only that, but the higher the level, the better the prize would be. And some of the higher prizes were mysteries, which of course made them want them even more. This leveling up reward system was by far the most effective I’ve used to increase student performance and participation.

With some modification, I believe a level up system could also be used in the workplace. Maybe instead of the raffle I mentioned earlier, you could keep track of employees’ accomplishments or hand out tickets for a job well done or a “caught you having fun at work” idea. If they collect a certain amount, they could obtain a new “title” or small reward, such as a gift certificate. Or even both. In any event, it would give them a reason to perform well and would act as recognition not only from those organizing the system, but their co-workers and managers as well.

Personalized Rewards

Candy. Chocolate. Snacks. Many students responded very well to those kinds of rewards. But did all? Interestingly enough, some didn’t! In that case, in order to motivate everyone it’s important to know your students and know what kind of reward they will appreciate, because if they don’t want to the reward, why should they do the work to get it?

Just like the students, it’s important to reward your employees accordingly. Similar to how many organizations offer personalized benefits, rewards should be personalized as well. If you have no idea what they want, ask them for ideas. Maybe some would like a day off to spend time with their children. Maybe some would like to leave early on a Friday. Your workplace is made up of diverse people with different backgrounds from different generations. It would be presumptuous to assume the same reward would work for all.

Student/Teacher Outing

If there’s one thing students respond very well to, it’s positive attention from the teacher. One reward in my classroom was a teacher/student outing, where we would go to a movie together, or have a lunch together. I even did this during my elementary school days and absolutely loved it. It’s a good opportunity to build a better student/teacher relationship as well as give the student a chance to feel seen, rather than just another face in the crowd.

Why not try this at work, and organize a lunch with the boss for a small group of employees? Not only will it make the employees feel recognized and appreciated, but it would give the manager the chance to get to know his employees on a more personal level. The supervisor/employee relationship is one not to be taken for granted.

These are just my observations and ideas about the similarities between boosting participation and confidence in the classroom versus increasing performance and morale in the workplace. I hope to someday have the chance to transfer my skills acquired as a teacher to my future company as an HR professional.

What is your opinion about the correlations between the classroom and the workplace? What are your methods and techniques for boosting performance and morale?

Remember my post “Starting the Job Search is Half the Battle” about how just getting over that initial hill was the hard part? Well, I forgot to mention the first hill might just be one of many.

Unless you’re very lucky, the hills in our job search are inevitable. We run into them for various reasons: illness, vacations, personal issues, lack of motivation, etc. In my case, a weeklong trip to Thailand followed by a relocation to the States from South Korea slowed me down quite a bit more than I had anticipated. I found myself having to start the battle once again.

The good news is, you’re not really starting from square one. You’ve got all your basics down from the first round, e.g. your resume, cover letter ideas, job searching strategies, etc., so starting up will come more naturally this time around. But if you’re like me, you’ll want to decrease the chances of ending up at the bottom of a hill once again. That’s when I read an article written by Tim Tyrell-Smith titled “Structure: Is It Missing In Your Job Search?” which I think just might be the solution to this very common problem.

Most people need structure in their life. It gives you a sense of control and it motivates you to continue on with whatever you’re doing. When you are held accountable to adhere to a structure, it is even more effective, such as at work or school.

While many people comment that job searching is a full-time job in itself, it lacks the structure and accountability of most jobs. As the article points out, if you are coming from your typical 8-5 company position to a full-time job search, you may find yourself lacking the motivation and organization necessary to be as successful as you hoped.

The article suggests a few ways to give your job search some structure and, in turn, increase productivity. Personally, I like the tips to set weekly goals and to structure your days in advance. I’ve also heard many times that it is helpful to be as specific as possible in your job search objective, bug I think there should be a little leeway with this. Being specific will help you when searching for positions and while networking and researching, but I think it’s also helpful to remain open to all possibilities.

I’m going to leave you with a few job search goals of my own.

1. Always get an early start. If you want the job, you need to train your body like you already have it. Sleeping in only makes you feel sluggish and might be another excuse to “start fresh tomorrow.”

2. Set a plan for what you want to do each day. For example, the first half of the day might be dedicated to searching and applying, while the second half might be for research or networking. Breaking up your schedule will make your day less monotonous and hold your focus for longer.

3. Find ways to improve your skills. I plan to continue talking to HR professionals, reading HR books, attending classes and meetings, researching and writing, basically anything that will allow me to utilize this free time in a way that will benefit my career.

I’ll let you know how it all goes. In the meantime, what are your job search goals and how do you make sure you stay motivated?

If you haven’t already read Dr. Bob Tobin’s blog, you really should click on that link and subscribe right away because his posts are fantastic. After reading this post about two different people he would fire if they worked for him, the second man he mentions reminded me of a situation I found myself in a few years back when I was searching for a job in South Korea.

This second man Dr. Tobin wrote about was in charge of the compensation packages employees who were laid off would receive. His idea was to reduce the amount the employees were to be paid from eight months to five months, and then the man would receive one month of that money’s worth as a bonus for saving the company the other two months. While it is unknown whether that actually occurred or not, the man did receive a significant promotion thereafter.

If that did in fact happen, and the man got a promotion for his money-saving idea, it speaks volumes about that company and where its values lay, as it did about the man having the idea in the first place. But on to my story.

When I first was looking for jobs in South Korea, it turned out to be much more challenging than expected. Working with my first recruiter turned out to be a nightmare. I wasn’t prepared for the language barrier, or the way my requests and questions were simply ignored. There were times I just wanted to give up on the whole idea of moving to Asia. Just as I was reaching the end of my rope, my recruiter finally got me connected to what seemed like the perfect job. The location was good, the pay was great, and the employees I spoke with had nothing but nice things to say about the place. Just as we were about to get things finalized, the manager of the school requested that I tell the recruiter that the plans fell through and I was deciding to move on. Basically, he wanted me to lie so he could get out of paying her the finder’s fee she was owed.

After I got over the initial shock, I told him I didn’t think I could do that. He then turned the tables and tried to manipulate me in different ways. First it was, “I would rather not pay the fee and give you more money instead.” When I still seemed reluctant, his tone changed to, “If you’re not willing to do this, there are plenty of other people interested in this job.”

I felt terrible. First of all, even though I wasn’t satisfied with my recruiter, she did her job and found this position for me; she clearly deserved to be paid. How could I take that money right out from under her? Not to mention, I couldn’t even be sure that I would get that money if that’s the kind of company they were running. If they were willing to cheat one person out of their money, who’s to say they wouldn’t do it to me as well? In the end, I alerted the recruiter about the situation and ended up passing on the job. After I made that decision I realized it wasn’t a hard one to make at all. I never would have been happy at that company if I couldn’t trust them.

I didn’t gain anything out of that situation at that time. The recruiter didn’t even respond to my email. In fact, I felt very cheated out of a job that felt like the “perfect fit” even though now I know it was very far from that and I’m glad I handled it how I did.

I’m not naïve. I know businesses need to create a profit, and it’s basically why most of them exist. But in my opinion, they could be creating that profit in a more efficient and honorable way. Integrity is an important quality in both the employee and the employer in order to foster a positive and productive working environment.

What kind of person do you want to be working for/with?

A few days ago I stumbled upon a link to a great video posted by SHRM titled “How to get HIRED — tips for HR pros looking for jobs.” While it is short (just 1:57), the video is very inspiring and helpful for those looking to advance their HR career. I have found that getting advice and insight from successful HR professionals, whether it be in person or through the media, can make a huge difference in your job search if you use and apply it correctly. While this video contains the contributions of several different HR Professionals, I was able to pick out a few common themes.

The first speaker on the video is Karen Rieck, a VP of HR. Ms. Rieck talks about the importance of continuing your education and developing yourself through certifications (PHR, SPHR, GPHR) and advanced schooling. I couldn’t agree more on the topic. By not furthering your education you will be falling behind those who are. Never let your skills become stagnant, especially those related to your field of interest. Human Resources is such a diverse and ever-changing career field; you must stay on top of your game. Ms. Rieck also mentions she looks for someone with an interest in the whole business and who “takes on challenges outside of HR.” Your knowledge and your experiences will not only give you the chance to develop your skills, but show your character and what you may have to offer the organization. I touched on this in my last post about transferable skills from previous experiences.

Brian Cox, an HR Operations Director, is the second contributor to the video. Like Ms. Rieck, he also acknowledges that he looks for a candidate with interest in continuously advancing their education. Another quality Mr. Cox recognizes as important for HR professionals is global experience, e.g. working for an international company or working abroad. So once again, we realize how important it is for us to keep learning and take on unique challenges. I believe experience is a part of learning, too. To create a diverse workplace, an organization needs diverse employees. If you have a distinguishing experience, such as working on an international scale, you will be more qualified to add to that diversity, as well as adapt to a new environment.

Although Kellie Dunn-Doggeman, HR Manager, had the shortest contribution to the video, her message was quite clear. In the modern business, globalization is very real and happening for more companies every day. Since interaction with foreign countries, people, and businesses is rapidly increasing, an organization will not only look for HR professionals with international experience, but multi-lingual skills as well. Despite the fact that English is the most prevalent language used in business, we cannot (and should not) always expect that other countries to conform to us. By showing respect and knowledge in other cultures, we have a greater chance for success.

The last speaker on the video is Lisa Kluczinsky, HR Manager. I liked her contribution because she mentioned what we all have heard and acknowledge as important, but what very few people actually do: research the job you are applying for and show your passion for the position. There are many ways of educating yourself, and researching companies is one of those ways. Hiring managers want to see not only your interest in HR, but your interest in the organization as well. Be prepared to answer questions, such as why you want to work for that particular company, and even why you want to work in HR. That extra step could be what pushes you ahead of the rest.

Overall, I believe there’s a lot we can take away from this video, but as I mentioned before, there are some common themes we need to take note of. A successful HR Professional continues developing themselves through education, certifications, global experience, and research. They take on challenges and are passionate about what they do. After watching this video, I feel a renewed confidence in my future as a Human Resources Professional and excitement for the experiences and opportunities a career in HR has to offer.

We said our final good-byes today. My students’ graduation had come and went, and as I sat at my teacher’s desk for the very last time, looking around the classroom that contains so many memories from the past two years, I found myself reflecting on what this unique experience as a foreign teacher has given me.

I can honestly say I didn’t give teachers enough credit before I became one and realized first hand the dedication and diligence required of the position. Being a teacher is being a leader, a manager, a supervisor, a counselor, a mentor, and a representative all in one. 

Consistent Leadership

As a teacher, I quickly learned the importance leadership plays in the classroom. A good leader will take the time to understand those who look up to them, create positive moral, and value and appreciate others. Just like anyone in a leadership role, a teacher cannot expect or demand immediate respect; it needs to be earned and mutually nurtured. This also applies to relationships with fellow teachers and colleagues. If co-workers or students sense a lack of leadership, they will not trust you to lead them.  I’ve seen the classroom full of students who don’t respect the teacher as a leader and trust me, it’s not a place you want to be.

Flexible Management

Flexible management are essential skills a teacher must learn to maintain order and facilitate success in the classroom. I say “flexible” when referring to management because even though a teacher might have a particular way of managing the lesson, it is sometimes necessary to adapt to a situation if the “usual” way isn’t working out. What works for one person might not work for another, so we can’t expect to use the same tactics for everyone. If a teacher isn’t flexible in classroom management, the success of his/her students will not be consistent since some will be left behind. By changing and adapting to our environment, we can become better managers, prepared for all types of situations and people.

Perceptive Supervision

Perhaps perceptive supervision is even most important for teachers, since they are trusted with the care and safety of children, who many times cannot take care of themselves. A teacher must know what is going on in the classroom at all times, lest a child gets hurt or does something dangerous or inappropriate. This could be compared to how a supervisor or manager of a company must be constantly aware of the workplace environment, carefully monitoring the employees to maintain a safe, comfortable, and productive environment.

Objective Counseling and Mentoring

As the person who spends the most time with children other than the parents or guardians, a teacher must be prepared to provide support to the students if tough situations arise. The students should view the teacher as easily approachable and easy to confide in. This can be a challenge at times since the teacher should do their best to remain objective and fair, which the student might have a hard time understanding. I found the best way to handle this kind of situation is to explain to them very simply, in a way they also can agree is fair. This explanation is vital if the student will continue to look up to the teacher as a role model.

Respectful Representation

As I just mentioned, a teacher is a role model not only to the students, but possibly for other teachers or co-workers as well. During my time as a teacher, my role as a representative was very unique as I was also representing my country, my culture, and other foreign teachers for my students, my co-workers, my school, and my company. I quickly learned the best representative must first SHOW RESPECT to others’ cultures and traditions, and remain neutral in debates on the subject. I’ve seen too many teachers in my position abuse this role and talk down on the Korean culture while talking up theirs. I took this as a challenge to show my students and co-workers that not all stereotypes about foreigners are true. I made sure to listen to what others had to say, as well as ask appropriate questions to express my interest in the subject. By doing my best to learn about the Korean culture as much as I was sharing my own, I was able to portray myself as a credible representative not only at my school, but FOR my school as well.

I realized while writing this post that all of these experiences and skills I have been lucky enough to take away from my teaching experience can 100% be transferred into a successful career in any field. I can’t wait until I get the opportunity to learn and teach again as a Human Resources professional.

In this post, I talked about the beginning of my job search and some of the mistakes I realized I was making, particularly sending most of my resumes into a big black hole never to be seen or heard of again. Since I didn’t feel like delaying my HR career any longer, I decided to change my strategy. I went back to the basics.

In order to find and obtain your dream job, you have to learn as much as possible about it. I began by simply googling “What is Human Resources?” and went from there. It may seem simple, but sometimes even if you think you know the answer to a question, you might not. Besides, a little review never hurt anyone.

Other possible searches can be more specific. Search about different departments, concentrations, job titles, salaries, companies, etc. This will tell you what you should expect when applying or interviewing for a job, give you a clearer idea of what position is right for you, and it will prepare you when dealing with tough questions during an interview. If your search goes anything like mine, you’ll end up overwhelmed with information and sites needing to be bookmarked.  And it doesn’t stop there.

I recommend searching for ways to get involved with the professional community as much as you can. My researching and reviewing stage began leading me towards searching about HR volunteering opportunities, local HR businesses, and HR social communities and meetings, such as SHRM. Don’t be afraid to email people with your questions. Inquire about volunteering at their company, local meetings they attend, etc. I have found many professionals to be extremely open and helpful. Just remember not to be pushy about it and try to make it as mutually favorable as possible. You’re asking a favor of them; they don’t have to help you.

In addition, start to get super involved on social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Connect with professionals in your field of interest and ask them if it would be okay to email them with a couple of your questions. Follow companies you want to work for, read and comment on blogs, and stay on top of the latest and greatest news in the industry. This is a full-time job in itself, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall behind. It gets easier over time and you’ll develop your own strategies for dealing with the constant flow in information.

For me, the most helpful job search strategy has been networking through close family and friends. The people who know you on a more personal level are more likely to advocate for you and set you up with some great opportunities. If you are lucky enough to be closely connected to a professional in your field of interest, try to set up a phone call, meeting, or informational interview. Again, these people are busy and making time for you, so make sure you let them know how much you appreciate their help.

After revising my job search strategies, I am spending a large portion of my time researching and getting connected to the HR community. As a result, I don’t always have time to apply to many positions. But I don’t feel too bad about that. When I do search for positions now, I am pickier about what kind of job I am looking for and my search has become a lot more focused. If I apply for a job now, I know it’s something I want and am qualified to do — not just another shot in the dark.