Tag Archives: Learning and Development

Should We Blame Employees, Managers or HR for Poor Performance?

3 Aug

It really is confusing.  In recent discussions, there has been considerable emphasis placed on managers not being effective in reviewing the performance of their employees.  They are not diligent in following the steps of HR performance management programs and particularly ongoing communication with employees between formal reviews.

HR is often distrustful of managers, but once the managers complete their employee evaluations, we become their best supporters.  If an employee complains about an evaluation, most of the time we support the manager, unless the unfairness is too blatant.

It is logical that we should focus on managers and supervisors, as their effectiveness directly affects large numbers of employees reporting to them. In some respects, however, they can only be as effective as the tools we (HR) provide them with. If our HR performance management program is so excellent, we should take every action to ensure it is followed, but generally, we don’t.  Very often, we focus on employees as though they are the ones at fault and inherently lazy unless prodded. We constantly devise new initiatives to stimulate employees to do their best and become “engaged” but do managers/supervisors (and HR) really support employee success by setting the best example? Is our performance theory too often based on what we say rather than what we do?

Does the manager’s boss care whether the manager follows the HR performance management program diligently?  It is unlikely, as “big” bosses are not likely to be any better or any more committed to HR programs and principles. They are unlikely, in assessing performance of their first line managers/supervisors, to place much emphasis on how well they are following HR programs.  Is that the problem – or a major part of it?

We have developed a compelling argument that managers, by not following HR, are responsible for poor performance in their areas.  However, as we know, managers are always accountable for performance in their department, so what is the role of HR?  Is it possible that HR is indirectly responsible for some of the poor performance?

Unfortunately, HR is in a very vulnerable position.  If the same HR programs, particularly performance management, have been in place for 30 years or more and they are still not being seriously followed, there must be a problem.   Most HR programs have become increasingly sophisticated and are aligned to current theory and technical expertise, but that does not seem, in the case of performance management, to have helped.  Could it be that although the set-up and adaption of the program is technologically impressive, the program content and style remains seriously outdated and geared to another point in time?

Perhaps managers are better at managing performance than we think.  It seems that at the same time we have been developing and building on our conventional HR program, functional managers/supervisors have become increasingly sophisticated in tracking performance within their own areas.  They have their own metrics and tracking systems and are generally able to view current performance at any critical point.  The manager can see employee results/effectiveness in real time, and his/her boss and executives can similarly be tracking the manager performance. They are all obsessed by aspects that feed directly into objectives set by the organizations rather than historical HR criteria.  The manager’s boss cares about these numbers, the manager must also and HR must provide them with the best support in achieving what they need to achieve rather than what HR thinks they should be focusing on. If our HR performance management program has become redundant, maybe it is time for us to get together with the managers and develop something more appropriate for today and looking into the future.

For the company to be successful, the managers must be tracking relevant performance consistently and very effectively.  Probably better than trying to integrate their functional goals into our HR program (and retain control) it would be better to use some aspects of our HR program to train and expand the manager’s effectiveness in building their own performance management program.  Not forcing managers to follow a prescribed program, but to help the managers to customize their programs in the most effective way – programs that will be theirs and they will be fully accountable for.

Consistent with supporting the development of functional performance management programs, HR would take a proactive stand.  HR would support managers by providing coaching and training and collaborating as trouble-shooters should there be specific problems.  If, for example, there is a need for specific employee training, HR could develop a program and if it is available on line, all employees can benefit. In reality, I would see the HR role becoming more important rather than less important, particularly in addressing skills development needs as they occur rather than belatedly based on questionable historical analysis of employee performance after the fact.

I believe the change in focus, referred to above, would ensure that managers are fully committed to and embrace their own formally recognized program.  HR would be accepted and valued more as partners dealing with issues in real time and helping prevent poor performance during the current business cycle – rather than looking back in anger at the end of a business cycle and telling people what went wrong – when it is too late!  The technology is available to have an individual program for every employee (if desired) and we must embrace the potential application of available technology.

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




How Can We Be Prepared? The Smart Way!

24 Jun

I think most people would agree that we have to be prepared for whatever may happen, but that is easier said than done! The way we balance our preparedness makes a major difference in balancing between day-to-day life quality and future consideration. At work it is similar. We prepare by following appropriate studies of our subject, e.g. Human Resources, and ensuring that we understand key principles and how various aspects should be handled and why. We have prepared by learning the theory of our subject, but how ready are we to convince others to follow what we are able to do and be impressed by our interactive demeanor? We have to understand the environment we are working within and people we are working with to be truly effective.

One example of attempting to be prepared, that I remember very well, is when I set-off on my first extended travel journey many years ago. When I look back it is unbelievable how much stuff I decided to take with me. I bought a very large backpack and filled it and had items attached to it including the following:

  • A small tent I bought at the railway lost-property office
  • A suit (Burton’s) in case I found a job in Paris (the official purpose of the trip was to take CII Insurance exams at the Paris centre – more an excuse than true objective!)
  • Foreign language dictionaries, some “Teach Yourself” language books and writing materials
  • A plastic bowl and cleaner in case I had to wash clothes
  • More routine travel stuff and shoes etc.

As you can see, I was well prepared for some specific things, but not really for travel. For example:

  • Apart from some Youth Hostel information I had no travel guides and although there were cities I wanted to visit, I had no idea what I would do when I got there (anywhere!)
  • I had a shortage of day-to-day comfortable clothes, particularly for walking
  • My backpack was so heavy I was bowed over as I walked – I had not considered (sensibly) that I may have to carry my luggage with me while sightseeing

Travel was so different in those days (pre-EU) with no cell phones, electronic devices or internet. Most information I obtained from information booths at train stations or from other travelers. There were also currency restrictions and a maximum of £40 could be taken out of the UK at that time – not that I had much more available!

So, I was very well prepared for things that were unlikely – finding (or wanting) an office job so early in my travels and imagining I would have time to spend learning languages. In contrast, a key pastime became visiting breweries and enjoying free beer and just enjoying the company of other hitchhikers!

My “portability” issue was quickly resolved. I stayed at a Youth Hostel in Suresne (Paris) for a week or so and left most of my luggage there as I set-off towards Yugoslavia. I was certainly more trusting in those days, but when I returned a few months later everything was still there – and I hadn’t needed any of it! On subsequent similar trips I took only a small bag and that was perfect. I had flexibility and comfort and was able to concentrate on what was most important – becoming familiar with other countries and other people some of whom I am still in contact with and influenced my ultimate (so far) move to Canada.

How important do you think it is to plan and thoroughly prepare? Looking back and considering the twists and turns in life – and changed interests – I think it may be more important to became very skilled at recognizing and knowing how to respond to opportunity and sometimes enjoying going in totally different and unanticipated directions. What do you think?

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


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.


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.







Do Employees or Managers Have to Change the Most?

14 Oct

It is normal for bosses to try to think of ways to make the operations they are responsible for more efficient. Often they express frustration about the lack of interest or negative attitudes of employees. They may consider how they can get employees more engaged, but in many cases engagement is a few steps away and the first goal is simply to get employees to do what they are supposed to do in a reasonably proficient and concerned way.

Who is to blame? Has HR done a poor job hiring or finding new employees? The manager may make the final choice between candidates, but count on HR to do their part and provide the best advice – particularly when things go wrong! It is easy to blame HR. HR is never perfect, but the way employees behave – do their job – is more dependent on the direction and leadership given by their direct supervisor after they start work. How they performed in their previous job is only an accurate indicator if the environment was similar. Do you agree?

Most employees start a new job enthusiastic and determined to do well and recognize that they have to adapt to the way a particular organization operates. Employees react to their environment and generally are quite flexible because they want things to work out.   It is when employees became disillusioned and consider they are working in a hostile environment that things go wrong. If it reaches the stage that employees hate coming to work every day, it can go really wrong.

If employees have the appropriate skills and are reasonably flexible, they should do well. If things are not going well, do employees have to follow better or must their bosses be better leaders/managers? There may be odd cases when the employee is to blame, but in most cases, it is necessary for the manager to change to reasonably expect an improvement in employee commitment and performance in general.

It is more complicated, of course, because managers are also employees and equally reactive to their senior management bosses and the environment (culture) in general. If managers are to be more successful in motivating employees to work well and as a team, is it necessary, sometimes, for the manager to promote a local environment that may differ somewhat from the organization in general? This, I believe, is the way strong leaders can succeed, set an example and achieve recognition from their bosses. This can be particularly relevant for HR functions and HR management.

One of the greatest and most satisfying challenges for HR, is to try to turn around an organization that is failing (to some extent) due to poor management, poor employee relations practices and, probably, unfair treatment of employees.   HR can gradually succeed by adopting different approaches, but at the same time not alienating itself from the organization in general. HR would not operate as a breakaway unit, but in a way that is integral to the business and implementing improvements on behalf of and to the credit of the total organization. The same principles would apply to a smart manager who may need to lead employees in a better way than his bosses (and possibly peers) but would still be focusing on business success goals shared by all.

If things are not going well between a manager and employees supervised, the manager (with reasonable skills) can turn the situation around, but only if he/she is receptive to self-change and acknowledges that much of the blame for the current problem must rest on his/her shoulders. Here are some thoughts:

  • Most employees will work well if given appropriate direction
  • Thinking of strategies and motivators to encourage employee change is not enough if simply tacked on to what currently exists
  • The manager must be able to think through, believe in, and be committed to personal change. In many cases it can be very helpful for the manager to receive some coaching and possibly a professional assessment of his/her current style
  • Generic management training can be helpful, but only if the manager is able (and sufficiently honest) to reflect on differences between his/her current style and able to identify critical aspects that he/she needs to change
  • Feedback of various types can be helpful, but the manager should be cautious in seeking feedback from people (e.g. certain senior management) he/she does not respect – asking for advice and then not following it can be a problem

To achieve greater productivity and business success, I believe the greatest change must be by managers and supervisors and positive employee change will naturally evolve as a result. For our business to be what we want it to be, we must understand what we currently are and be brave enough to make the necessary changes, including our own behaviours and trust in others. What do you think?

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


How Best to Avoid Toxic Workplaces!

6 Sep

I have never worked in an organization that is dominantly toxic, but my experience includes handling many toxic “pockets” within large organizations. Many times, trying to resolve has involved sitting down with a group of employees and their supervisor (accused of being abusive) and letting employees have their say. Before the meeting, I would spend considerable time with the supervisor trying to reach agreement on the best way he/she should handle the meeting. Usually, when the discord reaches this level, the situation is so serious that employees set aside some of their fear as continuing to work in such an abusive environment is not acceptable.

The employees usually make their concerns known collectively, often by reporting them to HR and sometimes in a jointly signed complaint or petition. Some hesitant “meeting of the minds” may be achieved at a meeting (if reconciliation seems possible) but in most cases, it would not last and the supervisor would ultimately be removed from the job. The whole process can be protracted and when the supervisor is at fault, significantly affect the lives of the employees and workplace efficiency.

How can we avoid festering of these toxic pockets? Why does it usually take so long to resolve – if ever? These are some of the main reasons I am familiar with:

  • The supervisor’s boss does not recognize there is a problem and refuses to get involved
  • The supervisor’s boss backs up the supervisor, even without knowing what is going on
  • The supervisor and his/her boss blame the employees and may focus on disciplining and terminating “bad attitude” employees. “Bad attitude” can include employees with medical problems or disability – anything that gets in the way of the work!
  • HR does not get involved early enough – probably should have been aware earlier and taken a stand, assuming an appropriate level of HR expertise and empowerment
  • There is no effective dispute resolution process, with teeth, in place
  • The supervisor is not competent to supervise employees and, probably, his/her boss also

Could the problem be because we are hiring the wrong type of employees? Have we been hiring troublemakers who conjure up complaints and stir up ill will against the supervisor? I think that is unlikely. The players (supervisor and employees) are generally good people. Often the supervisor was an excellent employee in a non-supervisory role, but totally unsuited to be a supervisor.

We can hire the greatest new employees, enthusiastic and with great skills, but once they enter the “zoo”, they quickly become demoralized and either leave or play along, keeping out of trouble the best they can. We may seek great employees outside, but it may mean little if we do not have an environment that supports having the best and meeting their expectations

Another major problem, common in many companies, is that supervisors and managers do not receive appropriate training, their bosses are similarly lacking in leadership and management skills and in the absence of role models the players resort to being “tough guys”, often overreacting and being more notable as bullies than benevolent bosses.

What is the Solution?

The real life toxic management situations I have described above are the ones that have deteriorated the most. At the same time, there may be many more developing problems and examples of management ineffectiveness throughout the organization. They are all affecting business results and need to be addressed.   In so many organizations, ineffective managers are empowered with hiring decisions, required to conduct performance appraisals and directed (often by HR) to implement employee engagement strategies. To ensure basic organizational effectiveness, I believe the following requirements must be met:

  • Effective dispute resolution processes are in place and experienced HR specialists empowered with overall responsibility
  • All managers/supervisors should receive appropriate management training and be assessed as competent to fulfill basic job requirements e.g. employee relations, dispute resolution, performance evaluation of reports and making hiring decisions
  • HR would have overall responsibility for management training and for follow up to ensure continuing HR related effectiveness of new managers
  • Managers/supervisors who do not achieve an acceptable level of competence would not be allowed to continue in their management position

What do you think? If more emphasis is placed on the competence of management, toxic situations should be minimized, employees will be more motivated and the best are more likely to stay and be committed. Do you think management competence is a major problem in many organizations? Do you agree that unless managers are competent, particularly in people management, we cannot hope to move towards achieving employee engagement and true employee development? Can we realistically hope to be productively working together rather than constantly dealing with various levels of conflict and the related inefficiency?

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



The Biggest New Age Challenge for Learning and Development!

24 Aug

We are looking at a new world, so they say, where there will be increasingly less permanent, full time jobs and the extensive use, in most organizations, of freelance workers and temporary and contract assignments.   It may not seem to make sense in organizations that “talk the good talk”. They may say that they value employee engagement and may talk about employees as the company’s best asset, but they will increasingly welcome strangers with whom they will have no long-term relationship. Nevertheless, that is what they say. There may be some pretence involved, arguing that underemployed people in the future may be even happier hustling for contract assignments and having more spare time, even though less money to enjoy it as fully as possible.

If that is the way it is going, then “Learning and Development”, in conjunction with other HR specialties are facing a major challenge. How can we ensure that our business operations continue to operate smoothly with so many changing faces, many with no long-term vested interest?

Our learning and orientation processes will be critical, together with a pre-screened pool of available workers – to the extent possible. L & D (Learning and Development) will need to coordinate, source or develop, the selection assessment tools (involved in recruiting) and initial training for temporary/contract workers as they enter our workforce. The new person may already have completed an initial familiarization (L & D in conjunction with recruiting) and the self-learning, after starting with the organization, could cover the following areas:

  • Familiarity with the business, working conditions, applicable policies and reporting requirements and pay for work processes
  • Compliance and legally required “training” online e.g. health and safety, diversity and harassment related, company values
  • Generic job training (by work classification) including its link with business goals
  • Specific job function training at which point the new employee’s supervisor will become involved and formally welcome the person and cover all the specific details

I anticipate that L & D will maintain the master records for all the freelance, temporary and assignment workers. This is necessary for legal and communications reasons and to ensure that performance records (rehire status) are consolidated centrally as the person could be assigned to or have worked for various departments within the company. There would be considerable overlap with the HR hiring function, but requisitions would be passed to L & D to initiate contact with a desired individual. The main benefits are:

  • A pre-qualified pool of temporary/contract employees would be ready to call at any time and with centralized control (L & D) assignment of candidates would be handled in a fair manner based on departmental demands
  • Validation of the suitability of a candidate may be based on centralized performance reports from previous assignments, kept centrally
  • To keep the best coming back, there may even be incentives based on total cumulative time worked for the organization, including consideration for permanent jobs when they become available

What do you think? The challenge is major and based on the need for temporary/contract employees to be as productive as possible as quickly as possible, it seems an appropriate challenge for L & D to spearhead the program in conjunction with recruiting. This would not replace other L & D responsibilities, particularly management/supervisor training, but should enable the many aspects of contract hiring to be efficiently centralized and temporary staffing needs to be met with the minimum delay and with the best available people.

If the way we are to staff our organizations will change as predicted, is it an appropriate and major challenge for L & D, for recruiting, for HR in general? I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have on this subject. Is it the way we should go? Is the way I described one way it could be handled?

Thank you for your interest.




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