Category: Strategic HR
Here’s a podcast I listened to on HBR regarding HR.
Harvard Business IdeaCast 190: How to Make HR Relevant
Featured Guest: Susan Cantrell, fellow at the Accenture Institute for High Performance and coauthor of Workforce of One: Revolutionizing Talent Management Through Customization. Copyright 2010 Harvard Business School Publishing
Here is a great HBR article that is a follow up to one that caused much stirring among HR folks a few years back. http://blogs.hbr.org/taylor/2010/06/why_we_shouldnt_hate_hr.html. Take a look at the comments I added to the article below it.
Over the years the Human Resources Department has transitioned through any number of “latest thinking” management concepts and corresponding “buzz phrases” – from “matrix management” to “broadbanding” to “onboarding” and “headwinds”. Each new approach seemed the brainchild of management consultants seeking to encourage what they called creative thinking and the latest strategies to improve the human factor.
Lately though a persistent theme has settled in that HR should become a “Business Partner” of the organization, in order to be taken seriously by senior management and enhance the value-added contribution of its programs. This encouragement suggests that HR is not currently a player on the Senior Executive team – but needs to be.
So what exactly is an HR business partner? Several key criteria have been tagged as descriptors:
- Diagnose business needs
- Develop management’s capability to address HR issues
- Provide advice and a point of view
- The primary focus is driving the business forward
- To educate, motivate and influence others
Does the above describe the HR function at your company? Is HR considered a business partner?
Your Father’s Personnel Department
Today most would chuckle at memories of the “old” Personnel department, whose primary responsibilities seem to have been tasks like recruiting, record keeping, arranging the blood drives, the safety shoe program and running the annual picnic / Christmas party. The head of Personnel was rarely considered a “player” at management meetings. Some in management claimed that the department was only a necessary evil.
That Personnel was viewed as the department focused on the interests of the employees. Its management was staffed by employee relations generalists, was sensitized by the needs of employees and left the running of the business to the “businessmen”. Personnel dealt with people.
Today, companies expect more. Leadership expects less transactional administration and more strategic thinking. Being labeled a “people person” is now considered a negative, a source of humor among recruiters.
What are the signs that HR is a true business partner at your company?
- Direct report to the President / CEO and listed as a member of the Senior Team
- Able to speak with credibility and respect at the management table
- Able to advance the value of HR to those holding negative biases
- Consulted by senior management on human factor issues
- Company decisions affecting employees are initiated by the head of HR
As a newly designated business partner-wannabe, Human Resources in many companies has transitioned away from the traditional role of caring for / representing the employees. It has focused instead on utilizing the human capital to assist management in achieving objectives and driving business success. However, the more successful HR has become as a business partner the greater the danger that employees will lose trust and confidence in HR, exactly because the focus has moved away from employees.
As HR has developed a new stratagem, some might say a new identity, what has been the cost to the original mission? What part of itself has been lost while chasing the role of business partner?
Have a care that you don’t lose the heart and soul of HR – its caring connection about employees. Don’t start looking at them as merely numbers on a spreadsheet or boxes on an organization chart. There are other departments who already do that very well.
Is the HR function served or harmed by leadership that is “counting the chairs” on their way up the hierarchy? These are typically fast-trackers who are not HR-trained, but only temporary visitors to the department for a “broadening” of their management experience. Why is that acceptable for the HR function, but wouldn’t be tolerated in IT, Finance, Marketing, Engineering or Manufacturing? Is the head of any of these other functions anything less than a seasoned expert in that profession?
Why is HR viewed as different? Why are other functions already presumed to be business partners? Only HR is being challenged, remaining a newbie, on probation at best, at worst one step away from getting the coffee.
Lip service to the people department? Even while sitting at the Senior Management table negative biases from the old days often remain:
- Remember the safety shoe program? It’s hard to be taken seriously after so many years focusing on administration. Does HR deal with important issues today?
- If the head of HR has only been appointed to gain experience toward their ultimate loftier goal, how serious can we take a temporary worker who is only passing through?
- HR is still perceived of as offering restrictive advice, what can’t be done; they remain the gatekeeper of corporate policies. Being an advocate of policy doesn’t win friends.
From the employee’s perspective it is important to consider HR as the source and advocate of fair and equitable treatment, compliance with all regulations affecting employees, and their representative among senior management.
What if senior management doesn’t feel that way? What if they want HR to become just another “business partner” concerned more about the bottom line – to the exclusion of the human factor?
Have a care that we get what we want – Business Partner – and then our employees choke on it as we lose our way.
Article courtesy of Chuck Csizmar, CCP, CMC Compensation Group.
Retired GE president Jack Welch has been a long-time supporter of the HR function. His columns and blogs are widely published. Here are a few of Welch’s pointers:
- CEOs need to get the importance of HR. Most importantly, they need to understand that they probably aren’t very good at HR and need to find somebody who is.
- If you’re an HR executive, ask yourself: Just how good are you? How well are you performing? Do you really want to do more? If you’re not having an impact, why would you want to be the HR person?
- Great HR people are both pastors and parents. They have to listen like a pastor and maintain confidentiality, but they have to tell it straight like a parent.
- Finally, HR executives need to pound the table to get a voice in their organizations. Riding along, being a bureaucrat, or playing less than a critical role in the organization should be unacceptable to anyone worth their salt.
To learn more about Jack’s excellent HR philosophies, go to his Web site at www.welchway.com.
Ranking and rating often come into play during downsizing programs. For many companies, it’s the first time that they’ve used these tools. As a rule, they’ve done a poor job of developing benchmarks and they often act in a rushed, subjective, or ad hoc basis. For example, if you tried to identify the top five performers in your department (or the five most dispensable), without data to back up these assessments, you’re leaving yourself wide open to accusations of discrimination based on age, race, gender, or other criteria. That’s why it’s a good idea for employers to consult with legal and personnel experts during the downsizing process.
Once you have your rankings, focus on nurturing the top 20% of performers. Your company wouldn’t be around without them, so give them the support that they deserve. However, make sure that their performance is a balanced one. If their success is due to a 60, 70, or 80-hour workweek, it’s simply not sustainable. Under most circumstances, employees should get their jobs done in 40 hours, and managers within 50. Anything beyond that can destroy a culture, career, and company.
Put the bottom 20% of employees on a performance plan that’s so well designed that if they don’t live up to it, in a sense, they fire themselves.
Find out what’s going on when people move up or down in the rankings. What’s the reason for their sudden success or failure? How can you reward success and turn around failure?
There’s no good reason to avoid rating and ranking your employees. It’s your responsibility as a manager to put people in a position that gives them the opportunity to succeed. Get them involved in defining the process — and you’ll find that ranking and rating can work for your business.
Malcolm Gladwell’s third book, Outliers, focuses on the origins of success. Gladwell brings home lessons that should be remembered. Think about how these factors might apply to you or your company:
- There’s no substitute for hard work. Although much of the book teaches how circumstance and nurturing have a big impact on success, the one common denominator is willingness to put in the hard work. No athlete, business person, musician, or anyone else succeeds without hard work. One of my favorite sayings in the book is an ancient Chinese one, “No man who rises before dawn 365 days a year fails to make his family rich.” (I can honestly say that I do this at least 300 days per year, so I’m getting close!).
- The 10,000 Hour Rule. If you want to be great at something, or at least be known as an expert, you need to study this subject for at least 10,000 hours. This holds true whether in business, law, medicine, technology, sports, music, etc. One of the downsides associated with letting more experienced employees go is losing their store of wisdom and expertise. If you’re in a “no choice” situation, at least try to have the departing employees provide you as much of their stored wisdom in writing as possible
- The importance of cultural norms. For example, many Asians are accomplished in math not because of their IQ — but due to their work ethic: how their numbering system works, the precision required to grow rice, and of course, willingness to attend school an extra 50 days a year. What is the work norm at your company? Punching the clock or making sure things get done?
- The need for opportunity and encouragement. Many successful people have been in the right place at the right time. Perhaps they were just born at the right time. Perhaps others saw their innate talents and helped to nurture them. The bottom line: no one succeeds alone. We all need encouragement and nurturing. This becomes a real challenge when companies are shutting down on communications and training.
- Once you’re smart enough — you’re smart enough. As Daniel Goleman wrote in his book about emotional intelligence, “It’s just not IQ that matters.” An individual’s ability to deal with emotions and have practical insight is just as, if not more, important than IQ. After a certain point (roughly 130 IQ), the additional IQ points don’t make folks any more successful. Same would hold true for skill testing. If they are a top 20% user, chances are that’s good enough to make a difference. The rest depends on personal drive, emotional skills, etc
- Pedigree matters — to a degree. As with IQ, going to good schools matters. Going to top ten schools doesn’t matter nearly as much. Just as opportunity, encouragement, support, and other “external” factors impact on the propensity for success, we should not overlook these factors when assessing someone’s potential. Perhaps there is great potential right under your nose; they just haven’t had the right circumstances to show their true mettle. This is one reason that I stress the importance of character assessment, skill testing, and other tools to get past your initial “impressions” about someone’s potential.
- The importance of expressing yourself. This discussion first came up in a risk management context in which Korean airline pilots were causing crashes because subordinates were intimidated about contradicting their superiors — even in the face of a disaster. Based on my litigation experience, CEOs are the last ones to know the truth until they’re in the middle of a trial. Here’s the point: we must “invite” subordinates to bring us their ideas, to break past the Culture of Silence. At the same time, subordinates must have the courage to speak up when appropriate.
- Meaningful work. One of my favorite quotes from the Gladwell book is, “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it doesn’t have meaning.” I work hard, but I love the work that I do. It provides me the three factors that Gladwell says are to essential to our work: autonomy, complexity, and meaning.
- Autonomy gives us a sense of responsibility for the work that we do.
- Complexity allows us to grow and learn.
- Meaning lets us realize the impact of our work.
- Collective learning.
The lack of opportunity for autonomy, complexity, and meaning will continue to deprive employers of excellent workers who find it more meaningful to work for themselves. To what degree are you allowing your employees autonomy, complexity, and meaning in their day-to-day activities? How can they get that from you greater than by working on their own or for someone else?
In conclusion, there’s no substitute for discovering the formula for success at your company!
GE super executive Jack Welch was a firm believer in ranking employees and annually eliminating the bottom 10%. We agree with Welch that there should be no hiding from performance. Ranking and rating workers makes sense, provided that you meet these conditions:
- Get the data needed to identify good performance. This is easy in sales, but more difficult in administration.
- Make the data available in a format that allows managers to understand and use it.
- Have a dialogue with employees, setting forth expected performance benchmarks. Ask yourself, “How would an employee know if they were doing well or poorly without having to ask me or without my having to tell them?” If they can answer that question, you’ve defined your performance benchmarks clearly.
- Prepare draft guidelines for ranking and rating and then hold a townhouse meeting where employees can express their concerns about it. Consider answering some of their fears in advance with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that might answer such inquiries as:
- How does our performance affect the ranking?
- How do we know if the rankings are accurate?
- What do the rankings mean for our pay?
- What if we disagree with a ranking?
- What if we feel that our contributions to the company aren’t presented accurately in the ranking guidelines?
- What will you do with good performers — and poor ones?
- Who gets to see the list? The answer should be only those in the company with a need to know. It might not be a good idea to share the rankings and ratings from different departments; the more open your environment, the more sharing that can go on.
Acknowledge that there will be some fears on all sides. Identify and address them up front. If you’re acting with integrity, the only fear that should remain is that of non-performance.
Here’s what I’m doing with my employees to manage more effectively in this economy.
These ideas make sense for your organization, no matter its size or industry:
- Be very clear with workers about how the business makes and keeps money. Although I’ve always had open-book management, to help employees understand the numbers that much better, I had them watch the HR That Works The Accounting Game Webinar. You might want to have at least your management team do the same thing.
- Refocus your objectives. This is a good time to reestablish your core values. In our recent webinar, The Integrity Dividend, Cornell University professor Tony Simons advised members to focus on no more than three to five core values. Make these points memorable and brand them as often as possible. Then ask a simple question: How does this activity help or hinder moving toward these values?
- Increase your productivity. Eliminate any time wasters. Whether it’s a MySpace chat or shopping online, there’s simply no time for it in today’s workplace. We’re tightening up our standard operating procedures, job descriptions, benchmarks, and 90-day game plans. If you’re an HR That Works member and haven’t yet done so, please watch my Training Module on Performance Improvement.
- Work on your business. In my business, the summer months are generally slow. Every year, we use it to work “on” the business. Right now, we’re all having an early summer and I believe that smart companies will use the slowdown to strengthen their operations. As the economy recovers, your company will be better positioned for growth and prosperity.
- Live up to your commitments. Tony Simons reminded us about the risks associated with making “casual commitments.” In my workshops I talk about the trap of heroes being over committed. When we over-commit, we produce a lie and then the drama begins. So, be clear about what you’re committed to, don’t over commit — and then walk the talk.
- Create some positive dramas. Lord knows we’ve had enough of the negative ones! Don’t allow your business to wallow in some collective pity party. Create a fun committee. Have a creativity day. Let your employees’ kids do artwork that can be displayed in one of your hallways. Create some “positive energies” and you’ll get some positive results!
The recent SHRM Workforce Diversity Conference identified nine distinct themes. Here are our insights into each of them:
- Communication. Are your communications “inclusive”? Do they reach out to the widest range of employees, or do they focus only on the narrow few? Don’t forget such informal communication venues as the executive lunchroom.
- Measurement. Are your diversity numbers consistent with the local population and your industry norms? Do you have the same percentage of managers as rank and file employees in the various “suspect” classifications? Remember, Coke, Wal-Mart, and many other companies faced discrimination lawsuits largely due to numerical imbalances in hiring and promotion.
- Leadership. Are you helping women and minorities break through the “glass ceiling”? What’s the composition of your leadership team? Are minorities given a career path to follow should they wish to reach the top? Do you post management trainee positions?
- Conflict Resolution. When conflict arises, does your company ignore, bury, or deny it? Or, do you provide a safe place for parties to communicate? Is there an ombudsperson or some other “neutral” party for employees to go to who will listen and help to iron out their differences?
- Disabilities. How proactive is your organization in hiring the disabled? Statistics indicate that disabled employees are quite loyal and have lower rates of absenteeism and turnover. Also, many governmental agencies will provide financial assistance for hiring them. If you’re facing disability challenges, are you taking advantage of such organizations as the Job Accommodation Network (http://www.jan.wvu.edu/)?
- Cultural Competency. “Culture” can be defined as how we collectively deal with our “stuff.” To build a powerful culture, you need to hire people who are trustworthy, get them working in a shared direction, create safe places for communication, and be very clear about your commitments. An empowering culture gives employees something “larger” to focus on than the minor differences between them.
- Team Building. One of the greatest challenges in this area is assuming that everyone has the same concept of “playing team.” The chances are that they don’t! Don’t assume anything. Gather your team commitments through consensus, put them in writing, have people put their signature to it; and then blow it up and put it on bulletin board sized posters so that everybody can walk past it every day.
- Sexual Orientation. With more workers “coming out of the closet” and with liberalized laws in this area, how tolerant, or even accepting, is your organization? What is management doing to help people move past their fears in this area?
- Aging Workforce. Last but not least is the “boomerang” challenge. Are you allowing your older workers to become dinosaurs or are you keeping them invigorated? Are you taking advantage of their wisdom and placing them in mentoring roles or are you allowing newer technologies to push them aside?
These issues apply to any organization or business. Each is important, even where a diverse workforce does not exist. To learn more about the October conference, go to www.shrm.org/conferences/diversity.
These are challenging times for companies. The good news for the HR executive is they are more valuable now than ever. When the money stops coming in the front door, companies become more concerned about what goes out the back door. For the first time in some time, risk management and employee productivity are real concerns. What follows are some suggestions to help HR make an impact on the bottom line:
- Eliminate the waste – Dr. Deming stated that every company does three things: add value, engage in administrative activities (accounting, etc.), and produce waste. One way to reduce waste is to get rid of the poor performers—now. Don’t wait until you’re forced into a layoff. Help the company engage in rating and ranking of the workforce and put forth a plan to set aside ten percent of it. The idea is not to replace that ten percent of employees, but to “cascade” down responsibility to the lowest common denominator. For example, an employee making $50,000 a year is paid roughly $25 an hour. It is your job to make sure they’re not doing any $10 or $15 an hour work.
- Force employees to contribute – There’s a reason why most employee suggestion systems don’t work. It’s because most employees are more concerned about any judgment attached to any suggestion they make then the contribution it may afford the company. The only available solution is to force people to provide suggestions. It is now part of their job requirements. Hold monthly suggestion meetings where every suggestion is rewarded with a dollar, raffle ticket, or lottery ticket. Make them fun. Then begin to implement the ideas. Once the employees realize the process is “safe,” be prepared to handle all the suggestions you will get.
- Cut out the time distracters – In today’s environment, there’s no time for 10 minute smoke breaks or fooling around on MySpace, Amazon, or texting your best friend. Make clear your prohibitions against these activities. If necessary, create a separate area where employees can engage in these activities during lunch and break times. In our new economy there will be no for wasting time.
- Don’t let your bread winners walk out the door – One of the biggest mistake a company makes is to ignore their star employees. “Bob makes the company $250,000 a year and causes me no headaches.” And, in the process, Bob gets ignored. Big mistake. Feed the ego of your top performers before they look to get it fed elsewhere!
- Make sure you don’t get sued – Litigation goes up when unemployment does. Make sure you have proper documentation to support any termination or RIF decisions. If you are an HR That Works user and you are not using the compliance training tools and Employee Compliance Survey, now would be a good time to begin.
Help the company with these critical objectives and watch your value soar.