Tag Archives: corporate culture

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

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EMPLOYEE RELATIONS – Key to HR Success!

11 Jun

I am proud to be an EMPLOYEE RELATIONS professional – the key to trust, working together effectively and achieving mutually beneficial results!

I have had various impressive HR titles and been associated with more high fallutin aspects of Human Resources, but the magic ingredient, I believe, that holds everything together, is Employee Relations. I should make it clear that although the employees we need to relate to are often quite junior, the same principles apply to relationships at all levels, including senior management.

HR people behind the scenes can work on impressive Human Capital Management programs and initiatives, but it is Employee Relations aspects that will often determine their success.  The same program can be seen as inspiring or can be seen as more HR foolishness depending on the thought, strategy and sensitivity that goes into implementation.  The way it is communicated to management and employees will determine its credibility – whether it is seen more as HRspeak or management  gibberish or whether it is seen as something of value to be thought through and objectively considered.

Employee Relations is not a simple selling process, but more the establishment of an environment where there is trust and confidence about the motives of management when they talk about subjects and initiatives – an environment within which employees feel valued for their contribution and intelligence.

Employee Relations does not have the same acceptance as other HR functions because it is not held together by tangible facts, universally applied strategy or precise methodology and program evaluation techniques.   It is less defined than other aspects of Human Resources and as a result is more challenging for Human Resources people wishing to become Employee Relations proficient.

Employee Relations is key to the success of engagement initiatives.  Employee Relations is critical in Labor Relations – in keeping the relationship between management and bargaining unit employees strongly in place – can make a decisive difference when employees are voting to accept a negotiated package or go on strike.  Employee Relations will determine the effectiveness of our business partnership with peers – our acceptance is not based simply on how smart we are, but how smart we are in projecting our smartness and the way in which we are committed to their (functional peers) interests and working with them.

Employee Relations is the icing on the cake for almost every HR initiative – the add-on to open many doors – ultimately the key to HR acceptance – regardless of whether or not the organization style is employee friendly.

If Employee Relations is so important, how can we become more proficient?  What do you think? There are books and courses, but a very practical approach could be to spend a day, away from the normal hustle and bustle and just think, reflect and try to understand who you are dealing with and communicating with on a day-to-day basis – try to see their needs from their perspective:

  • What is most important to the average employee?  What makes them feel good?  What turns them off?  As an employee, what kinds of things encourage MY buy-in?  To what extent, when I present things to employees, do I present them in a way that would influence me to accept (and be enthusiastic) if I was the person being sold to?
  • As a business partner, how do I want other business partners to communicate with me?  What is most important?  Is the way I approach business partners the way I would want them to approach me?  Am I projecting as an equal partner or a partner providing specific services?  If I present advice about THEIR business, is it the way I would like them to offer me advice about HR?
  • When I address issues with union employees am I communicating to gain their trust and confidence in the company?  Alternatively, am I addressing them as though they are the union and tainting dialogue with negativism and possibly some contempt?
  • When we are handling situation of extreme sensitivity do we ensure that our approach is professional and sensitive while still assuming a leadership role? This could apply to sickness, death, terminations and many different types of conflict and uncertainty that could seriously affect employees if handled badly.

If you have a problem thinking through the concepts outlined above and if they do not make much sense to you, then another approach could be to explore further, possibly with a coach or mentor, someone you respect on Employee Relations matters.  Earning your Employee Relations “badge” could make all the difference between remaining a backroom HR support person (although nothing wrong with that) or, becoming a great HR leader if that is your career goal.

How important do you consider Employee Relations?  What advice do you have for HR people seeking to become more effective Employee Relations practitioners?  Do you believe it is something that can be learned?  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.

Thanks,

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

I Must Admit HR is Getting Better, Better all the Time!

3 May

It does not seem so long ago, maybe two or three years when HR seemed to be going through a period of great uncertainty. A lot of discussion was about why people disliked HR, why HR was not respected and why HR was not at the table. At the same time (and earlier) HR seemed troubled about HR identity and was seeking to align more closely with business partners which, in many cases, seemed to include less emphasis on people and less emphasis on the HR problem solving role and ability to respond to challenges.

HR people have been frequently criticized for being too reactive, but today, it seems, it is becoming not only respectable but critical in our constantly changing environments. New style HR people (similar to many in the past) are able to react promptly to deal with issues and in many cases convert reactive into transformative to further interests of the organization.

The improvement in HR that I have noticed, from sentiments expressed by many HR people, is a significant increase in professional confidence and renewed pride that we have distinct skills to benefit an organization. Our skills complement other functions but our skill pattern may be significantly different and being a business partner does not mean agreeing with everything presented to us. We must take a stand when necessary to support achievement of organizational goals that may sometimes differ from the direction pursued by some functional executives.

With this new, more practical thinking, we also seem to have greater confidence in looking within our function and taking steps to revitalize HR including critical evaluation of programs that may have been key to HR for many years. For example:

  • Less emphasis on large somewhat fixed HR programs (e.g. performance management) and more emphasis on a more modular approach using the integration of mainstream data rather than stand alone HR programs
  • Being fully part of the business and with high credibility HR people close to the action (ear to the ground) and at any time ready to respond to support organizational interests and deal effectively with any organizational challenges and       threats
  • Not being obsessed by being at the big table, but making sure we are at the right small tables (e.g. functional) where the action takes place and we may be involved early enough to be part of the strategic thinking and contribute positively rather than challenge after the fact when people already feel committed to the planned action. With such a strategic and business focused role, HR would automatically have a very legitimate place at the big table and the new confidence and practical support of HR would be welcomed
  • HR confidence that our specialist expertise on people issues translates into present and sustained business advantage and we are able to sell concepts in the most practical and acceptable way.  Not only employee issues, but significant focus on our community, our customer/sales focus and external resources of various kinds that may be critical and needed at any point
  • The evolving more pragmatic HR seems more ready to take a strong stand on critical matters (e.g. ethics and corporate values) and to achieve this recognizes the need to develop the appropriate negotiating and diplomacy skills. We cannot just be stubborn people in an HR world of our own (sometimes the problem with old style HR) but be straight-talking business-sensitive leaders able to gain the respect of those we deal with
  • HR is coming of age by the way we seem ready now to question all our HR beliefs. 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 based on the technological capability now available. We must grasp the opportunities and be leaders in redesigning how we do many things and how we may train and impart user confidence during a period of organizational transition.
  • 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. I would have liked to say that HR has simplified and made the process more practical, but there still seem to be major philosophic differences between different HR people. There are HR people who make the selection process very complicated and try to match such things as attitude. There are others who support a simpler and more objective process. The key to success would be HR’s contribution to effective organizational design to ensure that the culture of the organization is able to assimilate most employees, regardless of different styles. I believe trending, particularly, by HR generalists, is moving more towards a simpler recruiting process, but at this point, opinions continue to be very divided

I must admit HR is getting better – it’s getting better all the time! I offer some thoughts on this subject which I believe are supported by many modern day HR realists and seem consistent with the beliefs of many HR students who, of course, will soon be setting the HR trends for tomorrow. HR improvement is dependent on realistically acknowledging evolving business and people differences and expectations and balancing them in the most appropriate way. Success of HR depends on us knowing who we are, what we can do and to updating and adapting much of what is already in place to reflect the present as it is and move confidently into the future. I believe an increasing number of HR people are committed to change and that gives reason to feel confidence about the future of our profession.

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

 

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