How Can We Avoid “Cart before the Horse” HR?

30 Nov

When I am asked about something I have done in HR this year that I am particularly proud of, I think first of all of my writing. It was very difficult to maintain at times with many unusual pressures, but on most subjects, I was very happy how the topics I had tackled over the past six years in my blogs and in online HR discussion, had evolved, in successive posts, into what I generally think of as reality HR. This year I was also very happy to put a number of the evolved holistic approaches into practice working with client organizations.

This year I worked with a number of smaller organizations, which was very interesting as it allowed a broader business perspective and crossover in addressing issues. I had to find ways to help them implement some key HR principles, but with very limited resources and, in most cases, with no fully dedicated HR function.   Although my blog posts are dominantly based on large organization experience, the principles are similar in any size organization. I focus on “Reality HR” but it could also be called “Prerequisites First HR” or avoiding “Putting the Cart before the Horse” HR. Two topics that most employers are very interested in and may not always approach in logical sequence are:

  • PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT (efficient work practices come first)
  • EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT (management competence/commitment comes first)

Performance Management

It seems logical that it is more important to plan and review the way work may best be performed by employees than to place all the focus on reviewing, after the fact, the performance of employees who are just following whatever is in place. Focus of the manager is often on output rather than on input and may reflect work practices that the manager is not even aware of.

Effective work distribution and effective interactivity of functions is clearly more important than simply implementing a formal performance management program assuming (often incorrectly) that managers are competent and work is correctly assigned and appropriate training has been given to employees. HR people may be tempted to focus only on performance management as it is an “HR responsibility” and somewhat ignore the way work is performed as that is a departmental responsibility. Diligently tracking performance, the HR way, in an inefficient operation is paying attention after the fact rather than ensuring that effective processes are in place. In an efficient operation where time has been invested up front, performance tracking can be a very efficient ongoing conversation between the supervisor and employee. The “meeting of the minds” must revolve around the work itself and relevant expectations (mutual) and performance management will then be quite a routing tracking process.

Employee Engagement

Most employers like the concept of employee engagement and many see it as a reasonable expectation. Senior management may express dismay that employees seem so ungrateful and unresponsive, as though having a job should be enough. HR people may devise initiatives and programs to promote engagement, but, in my experience, the prerequisites to any hope of engagement are fairly clear. The prerequisites should apply across the organization, but in the right circumstances (with the right managers) outposts of engagement may still occur. Some examples of prerequisites to employee engagement are:

  • Corporate values that are taken seriously and are consistent with employee engagement
  • Competent management who are appropriately trained, committed to employee engagement and know how to achieve it
  • Supportive executive management including actions between them and employees and preferably between them and their direct reports

Another subject I have frequently addressed is HIRING FOR ATTITUDE RATHER THAN JOB REQUIREMENTS.   In that case the premise may be questionable, but the prerequisites are even more difficult to meet including recruiters capable of accurately assessing attitude, organizations with a culture that “good attitude” people would enjoy working for, confidence that the attitude detected at an interview would transfer intact into a less than perfect work environment. What do you think?

These are just some thoughts. Do you believe that there are many business prerequisites that we need to address before tackling traditional HR subjects? How thoroughly do we usually address such requirements or do we feel obliged to proceed nevertheless with the specific aspects that HR is traditionally empowered with?  Performance management programs and engagement initiatives have had a low record of success for many years. Could we (those who are not already) be more successful by taking a holistic HR/business approach?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

 

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