Tag Archives: Business

Is Short Term Executive Thinking a Problem?

7 Aug

All executives, and most other employees, are judged on a daily basis by what they are producing and particularly results measured against goals contributing to achievement of the business plan.  In a fairly large organization, metrics may be tracked on a daily basis within an operating division and at head offices far away.  Everyone is watching to see whether the numbers will be met today, this month, this quarter, this year.

Sustainability and working towards the future is critical, in principle, but results today, for most individuals, are what matters for survival and personal advantage.

Many executives, particularly CEOs and those responsible for Sales, may turn over frequently.  No matter who is the leader of the pack today, it is inevitable that for most, their days are numbered. New stars will be welcomed to take their place and yesterday’s heroes will be out the door and poised to be the hope of tomorrow at another organization, as the cycle repeats.

The executive knows he/she has to get results today and knows that the opportunity to dazzle an organization and, possibly, within an industry is limited.  Because of that, the focus is on results NOW, and at all costs and within his/her business lifetime.  These high profile executives are generally very smart people who understand long term planning and long term opportunity very well.  They can talk about it, prepare long term plans and projections, but if they are unlikely to be around to see it happen, all the focus has to be on results today and within the time frame of the current plan.

Of course, the executives all have their separate goals based on their specialty areas (e.g. Sales, Manufacturing) and the CEO counts on them all being achieved in order to meet business plan goals for the total organization. It is probably well understood that optimum results of one executive can often be at the expense of another.

Are they – the executive team – all pulling together in the same direction?  Does overall corporate success by superb teamwork take precedence over their individual successes in their own functional area?  That is extremely unlikely.  Their individual goals (functional and personal) come first and determine their success. They must take every action necessary to achieve them.  The VPs are working together, but not always marching under the same flag.

They may respect one-another but most likely spend significant time fighting, complaining about one another and each one doing whatever is necessary to meet his/her goals regardless of the impact on other goals and even the impact on future results.  Today is what counts, for the CEO also, who acts as referee!

How Does Human Resources Fit In?

It is not so easy.  HR is constantly told that it has to align with business goals and talk the talk of business colleagues.  If the executive relationships are somewhat dysfunctional, as I suggest, how does the VP HR determine what to align to?  HR has the vision and programs to contribute to the future, to sustainability and to contribute to productivity in many ways but do the executives really care? What do you think? Are they more interested in what HR can do for them today – to get problems and roadblocks out of the way, not the promise of great things in the future? Is it more important for HR to determine the true values and operating style of the organization and focus on responding within the real rather than pretend environment?

Should the success of most organizations be acknowledged as based primarily on the smart, day to day, and often reactive decisions of executives rather than a long term somewhat safe plan? Elements of both are essential, but how would they balance in real life? The question of executives to HR is likely to be “what can you do for me today?” rather than soliciting HR’s vision of the future.

My belief is that executives will want HR to address very practical things to help them achieve what each of them has to achieve today.  For example:

  • Hiring the right people without delay and firing people cleanly and quickly when they are no longer needed
  • Keeping the union under control (getting rid of it is generally preferred) and finding ways around limitations – similarly finding a way around restrictive and annoying legislation
  • Looking after employee problems and preferably without involving executives any more than absolutely necessary
  • Doing all the nice things to make the company look good and seem like a great employer and giving executives as much credit as possible e.g.  including them in photos and announcements and inviting them to participate in or lead high profile presentations
  • Keeping the employee records in order and making HR programs as easy as possible to comply with e.g.  performance management which should be more focused on results in real time rather than historically

If real business is often more immediate than imagined, are the standard HR approaches listed below really important to the CEO and VPs except as compliance rhetoric or in meeting formal planning requirements? For example:

  • Acting as an equal business partner and giving input to VPs about their operations and how best to achieve results
  • Being too proactive, with HR initiatives that may theoretically bring great results, but not helping achieve goals today or within the foreseeable future
  • Reminding executives that negative actions today can possibly help immediate results, but are likely to have a backlash in a year or so.

Do you think that executives are looking for that type of support? Are they seeking HR words of wisdom or a dynamic HR able to respond to issues and make things happen quickly to support the organization in real time? Do you believe that the executive short term thinking I describe is reality (for survival) and if so should it be more openly acknowledged? Do executives need HR help consistent with their business challenges today, largely leaving the future to take care of itself? 

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

Ian

Considering Goodwin Sands and Critical HR Change!

13 Jun

Not so long ago (maybe 5000 years) there was no sea separating Britain and France and people (presumably) could walk from Dover to Calais and stop for a meal on Goodwin Sands without  the risk of being stranded and drowning.  Today, the Goodwin Sands are a reminder as land, in the middle of the channel, that surfaces only at low tide and allows curious tourists to fleetingly tread where few people choose to tread.

There are no records from that time, but you can imagine the HR challenge when mid-channel people realized their lands were being flooded and had to choose whether to resettle in France or England. Similarly, Personnel had to choose between becoming Human Resources or ressources humaines and enjoying bland or spicy food!

How fast do people respond to major impending change? I understand the water rose gradually so the risk was not of immediate drowning. People did not have to swim to the closest shore, but noticed their lands becoming increasingly submerged and non habitable.

We can imagine that some people of the mid-channel lands, as soon as they recognized that the flooding was unstoppable, sold their belongings for whatever price, studied English or French and left as soon as possible for solid land where they could start again.  Was that smart or was that giving up? It is amazing how many of us will remain until the last moment in adverse circumstances as we are nervous about leaving what we have become accustomed to.

Many people, however, were fighters and would not accept inevitable change.  They built sea-walls, elevated their dwellings to as high as possible and resolved to fight.  Maybe they out-survived their neighbours by a hundred years or so, but having a home increasingly surrounded by water was not really preserving quality of life, but refusing to accept the need for change. We are unlikely to look back with surprise, as humankind still choose to reject reality, e.g. global warming, and cater only to short-term selfish needs with little regard for the future.

Some people refused to accept the changes that were happening and fought on, ignoring until too late the rising water. Maybe they ultimately drowned – maybe they invaded and replaced folks living on higher ground who had prepared better.

How does all this relate to Human Resources – to every aspect of our life?  It is not water that threatens most of us, but in a business environment the unstoppable flow of online information and technological know-how that can make anyone somewhat of an expert on most subjects. It can be as simple as acquiring appropriate technology with the right algorithms to explain what it all means and reach certain conclusions.

We cannot pretend change is not happening and expect our traditional HR way of doing things to endure regardless of the environment. Consider the following:

  • Many traditional HR approaches were based on the limited technological capability that existed at the time and were, of necessity, somewhat simplistic and untimely including, in particular, traditional performance management. Now we have the ability to factor in everything and develop systems, if we desire, customized for each employee and interactive in real time
  • Much HR strategy was based on our expertise on HR subjects (exclusive knowledge) that was not shared by others who were expected to defer to our “expert” HR opinions. Such humility no longer dominates and other function peers can elect to become experts in whatever interests them, based on all the online research materials available
  • Respect for “superiors” can no longer be assumed. This can reflect in family life and at work when different thinking (technologically influenced) of new generations may result in viewing earlier-age bosses and influencers as somewhat out of date, and strict hierarchical organizations (suppressing employees) similarly belonging in the past

We are being flooded by information delivered through the internet, by data collected, sorted and transmitted online and by intelligent programmed machines that can make decisions and interact, train and provide help, better than us, on multiple subjects. Is that the flood we have to be prepared for that threatens to submerge or swallow HR? If so, how can we be prepared and remain as essential to business support as in earlier days? For example:

  • We must expand HR skills consistent with today. We program the machines and make them work for us, but how well do we use them? How well do we instruct them? To what extent do they reflect the culture and needs of our organization or are they largely off-the-shelf purchased items that sound good?
  • Do we tend to try to use new technology, not to develop new approaches but to keep all the concepts, programs and processes we are comfortable with alive, but using a more efficient platform? 
  • On a day-to-day basis do we demonstrate that we can resolve problems (regardless of any technology) using our interactive/analytical HR skills and clearing the way for our business partners to proceed with their priorities without serious impediment?

Like the mid-channel fighter/survivor, we can use all the wonderful modern technology to move forward to achieve better things, rather than simply sustain what is currently in place. What we liked in the past was often the way it was because it was the best we could do, at that time, with the resources available.  We celebrated our progress and glossed over the limitations because there was little else we could do at the time. We were very happy with what we had and can continue to be happy (fulfilled) as we, with open minds, bravely move into the future as an integral part of the new world!

What do you think?  With all our enthusiasm for new technology, have we sufficiently adapted our minds to utilize it to the full potential?  Are we clinging too much to the past?  In the case of the new generations, are we clinging too much to what we are comfortable with in providing leadership although the context may be significantly different? How can we change our thinking?

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

Ian

How Can HR Empower Employees to Reach Full Potential?

16 May

This is a very interesting question as reaching full potential can mean many different things depending on the context. When a parent wants a child to meet his/her full potential, it probably reflects the values of the parent and traditionally may mean doing well at school, getting a good job, raising a nice family and other similar things. We want to be proud of the achievements of our children.

When an organization wants employees to meet their full potential, it is usually more for the benefit of the organization. Theoretically if the employee is working at a higher level, work output should be at a higher level, but that may not be the case. In striving to meet full potential, an individual may actually lose interest in his/her job. As long as the person (ignorance is bliss) thought of the job as his/her reasonable “lot in life” there would be acceptance and some engagement, but if the “I could/should be doing better” is too strong, the current job may be handled in a cursory way waiting for rightful destiny.

Expanding the concept of “full potential” further, why should HR attempt to empower employees to reach full potential and what would that mean? Here are some thoughts:

  • It could mean that the employee develops stronger values and work standards that result in more thoughtful application of the employee to the job and some continuous improvement combined with great results
  • It could mean that the employee gains a fuller understanding of life totality and starts to see employment as a very small part of life – a necessity to earn money – but in general a diminishing aspect of enlightenment. The employee could easily lose interest and transfer interest to more meaningful (his/her opinion) things

There are risks (as throughout history) in making people too aware of reality, but if the objective for HR is truly to empower employees to reach full potential, there can, I believe, be mutual benefit in a mature organization, but greatly influenced by a number of things and particularly employee expectations, including :

  • If the employee’s self-worth is increased (encouraged by HR) the person would expect to be promoted or be paid more
  • If the employee is moving towards achieving full potential, he/she would question information more and the company could not just pretend to be great communicators. There would have to be a forum for employees to intelligently and positively discuss and question company information that more commonly may be given one way in less enlightened organizations
  • If the employee is encouraged to reach full potential, there must be reasons, in an organizational context, to justify why the employee should make the additional effort
  • HR people, the teachers, are equally employees and should be equally committed to their own progression and able to give testimony why and how fulfilling full potential benefits people and should be able to give personal business examples. This may be difficult if the HR person is very young and clearly still evolving

Achieving full potential is also complicated because it is a more holistic concept than just being loyal to one function or one manager. Traditional career advancement would in many cases not give sufficient incentive and the way the company operates would have to be adapted to focus on a workforce encouraged to attain full potential. For example:

  • Company values that emphasize the commitment to employees reaching full potential. Not just words, but realistically thought through (before being a stated value) with applicable strategies
  • More open internal job postings with the good of the total organization being most important and individual managers not able to prevent employees in their function from transferring elsewhere within the organization
  • More emphasis on developmental transfers to allow progression of employees through expanded experience and understanding
  • Less emphasis on hierarchical relationship and programs (e.g. HR programs) where managers are required to judge employees. A parent/child type environment is not really conducive to an employee developing full potential as it is not logical to tell an individual how he/she must evolve
  • An environment within which TRUST is a key value and should be reflected through policies including accepting the employee’s self opinion on various subjects including performance management, attendance and acknowledgement of improvement needs on matters that may often result in discipline

What do you think? Is promoting employees to meet their full potential realistic in most organizations or does it conflict with the way most organizations operate? If it is practical, what benefit is it likely to bring? Can HR hope to succeed in promoting employee potential if other managers and particularly senior executives are not similarly committed or significantly developing their own potential?

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

Ian

Leadership Insights from my Hospital Bed

1 May

After spending many years in a leadership role within business and specifically Human Resources it is such a role reversal to become a hospital patient and totally dependent on the skills, leadership and caring of medical staff. In industry I was a leader based on my function and because I made and recommended decisions and provided leadership and direction to staff. In hospital I was a dependent client trusting the competence of those I relied on to handle my medical problems.  In my vulnerable position I had to trust professional staff to set me in the right direction and instruct me in what has to be done to cure, to the extent possible, my medical condition.

The comparison between dependent staff and management in an industrial setting is not in all respects the same, but being confined in a hospital for a few weeks, considering relationship similarities and contrasts was an interesting diversion.

One aspect which relates to developing employee engagement, is considering the degree to which understanding the business is likely to motivate employees. In industry the following are a few observations:

  • Employees appreciate being updated on company progress, plans etc., but are not always very interested, particularly when the information is remote from their own understanding and direct function.   Employees may appreciate the social function associated with company updates (e.g. general meeting and reception with senior management) more than the information received
  • Employees respond more positively when management feedback is from management directly involved in their function and seen as able to influence progress of an individual. Conversely, if feedback is negative (dissatisfaction with the work team) it is unlikely to motivate improved performance in most cases

As a hospital patient, what motivated my confidence and engagement with medical and hospital staff? In a survey I recently completed about my hospital stay, one key question seemed to be whether Doctors and Nurses spoke about patients in front of them as though they were not present. This suggests that although equally unacceptable in industry, it is probably more common in hospital where there is a greater knowledge and role distinction between patients and medical staff. I do not consider myself particularly well informed on medical matters and in general was interested in information directly related to my condition rather than too technical, theoretical or generic. For example:

  • “Performance” improvement, for example how well responding to medication and test results of significance
  • Treatment plans and options. This was particularly interesting when addressed by the senior medical team (on their daily rounds) when there may be questions or comments from various people present

From a patient perspective I was also very interested in observing the professional relationship between senior medical staff and nursing and support staff. From my bed, there was not too much else to watch and I was consistently impressed by the professional and respectful relationship that seemed to exist between all staff and seemed to extend also to patients.

My comments relate specifically to the two occasions in 2015 I have been a patient at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada. I was impressed in every way by the promptness and excellence of treatment received and the courtesy and respect extended in every way including their very liberal visitor policy.

Thank you very much for your interest. Do you believe that the Health Sector operates consistent with industry and following similar principles? I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Ian

How Can We Make HR Better for 2015 and Beyond?

11 Jan

What can I do – what can we do – to make HR better as we move into the future and face challenges distinct to this point in history? Depending on how we see life, everything may seem about the same, but in reality, the way we acknowledge and with an open mind handle the differences will define HR and its relevance as we move ahead. Here are a few thoughts:

  • HR must have a distinct identity. We cannot just be followers trying to keep everyone happy. We must be clear in setting our allegiances. We must be integral in meeting the goals and needs of the organization, but at the same time be clear about HR, business and society principles that govern our actions and also the actions of the organization – often legally. We cannot simply compromise (or cave-in) to keep people happy. If our actions are questionable, in making one person (e.g. the big boss) happy, the “equal and opposite reaction” is likely to be making a number of other people very unhappy while our HR reputation (and business) may be tarnished.
  • If HR is prepared to take a strong stand on certain matters (e.g. ethics and corporate values), we must also develop our negotiating and diplomatic skills. To be effective in the future (as in the past) we must be able to present our positions while taking into account the sensitivities and specific interests of those we are addressing. Whenever possible, we would not just say what we believe is right, but why it is right (giving context) for our specific business and our diverse colleagues and employee population. We cannot just be stubborn people in an HR world of our own, but straight-talking business-sensitive leaders able to gain the respect of those we deal with.
  • We must question all our HR beliefs, particular those of us who have been in HR for a significant time. It is very difficult not to develop a bias and our bias may have matched perfectly the conventional way of doing things in the past, but be outdated with the technological capability now available. Staking our reputation on standard, generic HR programs based on a specific point in time (e.g. performance management) no longer makes sense when customized ongoing programs (individual specific) are the way of the future. We must grasp the capabilities and be leaders in redesigning how we do many things.
  • We must recognize the strengths of others. Older very experienced employees and younger employees with a “new age” skill set can complement one another in a superb way. We must learn how best to share strengths within our diverse workplace community rather than stand apart and criticize. The young should not count the days until the old people are gone, and the “mature” people should not discount the young and expect them to come around to the old way of thinking – the wisdom of the past! The reality is that the young are developing into the future leaders and we must support them and any style differences more appropriate to our changing world.
  • The success of HR in the future may depend very much on the ability of HR to attract the right talent and be able to meet staffing needs with the minimum of delay. HR can be big winners if the process (including for contingent workers) is simplified and streamlined as much as possible, possibly using central registries for most regular positions. The key to success would be HR’s contribution to effective organizational design (supported by environmental technology) to ensure that the culture of the organization will assimilate most employees, regardless of different styles, rather than seeking to hire a specific type of person. HR future success will also depend on recognizing our limitations e.g. in defining the psychological make-up of a candidate through a conventional recruiting process.

These are just a few thoughts on this very complicated subject. We have to be realistic and recognize that we can make HR better by being very honest in acknowledging evolving business and people differences/expectations and balancing them in the most appropriate way. Success of HR depends on us knowing who we are, what we are and developing a confident and holistically balanced approach in meeting the needs of the business and our internal clients. Many of the differences are already in place and a major challenge, to make HR better, is to update and adapt much of what is already in place to reflect the present as it is and move confidently into the future.

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

Ian

 

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

 

How Important is MANAGER Engagement to Business Success?

26 Nov

Employee engagement is that elusive state of mind that inspires employees to really care about their work and be motivated to contribute at the highest level. Employees can be inspired because they are truly interested in the work and have genuine professional commitment. The more consistent path to employee engagement, however, is inspired by great managers and leaders who care and show, by their example, the way to genuine engagement. They inspire others to care and want to be part of their work environment and share the excitement and success.

We talk a lot about employee engagement. We talk a lot about what managers need to do to promote the engagement of others, but the personal engagement of managers is not frequently discussed. Managers are employees too and can equally be engaged or disengaged. How important, how necessary, is genuine MANAGER engagement to achieving the engagement of regular employees?

There are many types of managers and first line supervisors and their style and commitment can be expressed in many ways. Assuming the managers have excellent functional work management skills, some examples of leadership skills are:

Professional managers

  • Well trained in leadership skills and understanding the “tricks of the trade” and the needs of employees, they are in the best position, by doing the right things, to inspire employee engagement.  
  • Can a professional manager who is not personally engaged (possibly not detectable by others) still inspire the engagement of others?   They should be able to, I believe, but would the level of achieved engagement be affected?
  • If a manager has excellent skills, but is not the type of person people generally warm to (seems distant, superficial, not so friendly) can he/she still hope to achieve a high level of employee engagement?

Enthusiastic managers

  • A truly committed and engaged manager, who cares about employees and would like to see employees sharing the same level of enthusiasm and commitment. A manager who will do his/her best for the employees, including encouragement, communication and recognition.
  • The enthusiastic manager may have high potential to achieve employee engagement, but if he/she has not received significant management/leadership training, to what extent would that affect the effectiveness of employee engagement? Is there a risk that engagement achieved may be more personal (team solidarity) than focused on progressive work practices and continuous improvement?

Follow the boss manager

  • A manager who is not seen as an empowered manager or someone ready   to take a stand for employees or encouraging original thinking. He/she may frequently refer to what the “big boss” wants and if rules change would usually attribute the changes to what the boss (or HR) says has to be done.
  • If the “follower” manager has good skills and a reasonable level of personal engagement, is it likely that he/she can inspire the engagement of staff reporting to him/her?   Because engagement of the manager is primarily to the boss, would the follower manager, similarly have to sell engagement of employees to the big boss rather than to himself/herself?
  • Although employee engagement will be influenced by the practices of an organization and other external aspects, to what extent can an individual manager sell engagement based on the organization and its senior management rather than based on his/her own management style or likeability? What do you think?

Employee engagement is not essential but desirable for the effective operation of an organization. Based on surveys worldwide, the level of employee engagement seems generally quite low. How achievable is it? Are there certain requirements an organization should meet before making additional investment in employee engagement? Should the first requirement be that managers are properly trained in leadership skills and basic employee relations? How important is it for managers to be engaged before requiring the engagement of others? What do you consider most important?

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

Ian

 

 

 

 

 

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