Remove the Roadblocks to Engagement: The Case for Better People Processes

By Amelia Chan, CHRP

Studies show that higher levels of engagement are linked to greater productivity. How then, can HR professionals and other business leaders better define and make engagement actionable?

For starters, getting beyond the jargon is key to drawing the connection between engagement and productivity. Simply making engagement an actual business objective is often enough to reveal areas of opportunity for any organization—most often regarding internal roadblocks and impediments.

Process Key to Potential
Of key import to any organization is the smooth function of its business processes. Do your internal processes encourage effectiveness or serve as roadblocks to top performance?

Business processes that function well are both fixed and fluid systems with built-in feedback loops for trouble shooting and improvement. Above all, these processes are ultimately refined by proof in practice and clarity of communications; engagement thrives organically in such an environment because these systems recognize, reflect and reward the people who comprise the workplace.

Moreover, organizations that design their structures and processes with intention understand the role of vision, mission and values. These enterprises recognize the impact culture has on its workforce. By aligning HR strategy to business strategy, such leaders are natural champions for organization effectiveness.

For the Love of Money…And More
So, why do your people come to work? If it is purely for the money, this will not sustain engagement in the long term. At some point, the motivation runs out or a better offer comes in.

As per the research of author Dan Pink, money as a primary motivator may work well for some in the short run, its allure wanes; sustained results and ongoing innovation need to be rooted more intrinsically with employees. Having a workplace that supports and sustains employee interest as opposed to bureaucratically binding their efforts is essential—and the reason why a focus on fixing outdated processes is key.

Addressing processes with the aim of fostering productivity is a definitive step towards making engagement more tangible. To unlock the potential further though, instead of attempting to define the ‘what’ of engagement, a renewed focus on the ‘why’ is particularly useful at this point.

Understanding the drive and motivations of employees on an individual level is as invaluable as it is challenging for any organization. However, understanding these creates a pathway to sustainability. The challenge is the patience required to undertake the journey. This is one of the biggest impediments to engagement or sustainable success—too often organizations strive for short term gains over long term viability.

Empowerment or Control?
HR leaders must take a closer examination at the pain points existing in their companies to battle disengagement and rebuild trust within their organizations. When employees encounter red tape, lack of autonomy, and micro-management, it taints their perception of the organization’s trust.

What are the internal HR tools and processes associated with in your organization? Empowerment or control? Do they encourage excellence or ensure accountability? Are employees aware and supportive of the organization’s mission? Moreover, is everyone involved, from the most senior to most recently onboard, working towards the same strategic objectives?

The answers to these questions are more than a direct reflection of the engagement challenge; they show just how valuable and critical a role HR serves in driving business results moving forward.

Leadership Courage
Undoubtedly, creating an employee-centred organization requires the courage of all parties involved, with HR serving ideally as the linchpin of trust—and catalyst for change, as strongly supported by the research of HR visionary Dave Ulrich.

Here, HR leaders must really strive to go beyond the ordinary to champion the organization and its most valuable asset alike. Fortunately, with many of its prior processes automated, HR has been stretching its boundaries for decades. However, further evolution is required for leaders of all stripes because engagement and the innovation it fosters requires no small measure of guts.

While going out on a limb with crazy out of the box ideas is not the intent, the latitude must exist to do so. This is why it is essential that HR has the support of both executive and management alike; if they are not championing the same cause or misunderstands the impact of their support, there is a critical disconnect.Where leaders do not lead, others will not follow regardless of potential reward.

That clarity and courage of leadership must play through at all levels for engagement to create tangible results. What role does your brand of HR play in providing courageous leadership?

Does HR Have Grit?
Ultimately, HR professionals must understand and take ownership of their own roles within the leadership. Essentially, HR needs to make operative use of both ends of the proverbial telescope. If it is solely administrative and/or misaligned with long term people strategies, the HR function can not gain the leadership credibility needed. Similarly, if the processes underlying the HR function do not empower short term gains and overall flexibility, the long term becomes a moot point for organizations.

C-suite leaders should not have to ask for HR’s opinion; we as HR professionals should have enough grit to assert ourselves in the greater leadership picture. Confidence is key on all sides. When it comes to the policies, processes and potential of the people component of any business, HR’s strategic involvement can remove barriers and reveal possibilities at a creative versus reactive level.

This just makes business sense, but not all businesses are alike. This is where HR’s strategic alignment and involvement with the primary business strategy is crucial; knowing what works within the context of an existing culture is key to crafting its better —to the betterment of top performance and bottom line alike.

Designing a Better Future
Where is HR already making a difference? Take a look at what things are happening around you in the organization. If things aren’t working ‘right’, what is being done about it? The enemy of engagement is all too often to be found within antiquated business processes and poor job design that can chafe top performers and encourage under-performing cultures.

While filling a vacancy is key, better ‘fits’ and more enduring engagement scenarios are possible with greater attention to the spaces being filled. A dose of diligence in revisiting job descriptions can provide an invaluable tie to better futures for the employer and prospective employee alike.

  • Do the roles in the organization make sense?
  • Are tasks designed to contribute to company goals?
  • Are the best talents being engaged?
  • Are you building in more than your organizational needs?

The Execution of HR
As HR professionals, we are business leaders pursuing mastery of the most complex business component of all—people. As such, our learning is openly ongoing; it is this knowledge base and transparency that defines HR’s ability to resolve a great many of the impediments of engagement that yet exist.

Ultimately, aligning a business’ people processes with organizational drivers leads to success. However, in order to reach the ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ proposed by Jim Collins in Built to Last—in this case, an engaged, productive workplace—HR also needs to be granted the autonomy and authority to do so.

Amelia Chan, CHRP, RCIC, is the founder of Higher Options Consulting, a boutique HR and immigration firm in Vancouver. As an entrepreneur with a background from diverse industries, she is passionate about operational excellence and employee engagement. Amelia is a regular contributor to PeopleTalk.

(PeopleTalk Winter 2014)

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