Where Organizations Need HR Most


By Nic Tsangarakis, Joanne Spalton, CHRP, and Russel Horwitz

BC HRMA’s 2012 survey of HR Trends showed a number of top priorities for organizations over the next 12 months.  The purpose of this article is to show some of the most important steps an organization can take to “move the needle” in each HR area.

Increasing Employee Engagement
Think about the time you were most engaged at work. What was present in your work environment?

Most likely you had a great manager who not only recognized you but also provided direction, showed you how to develop and ultimately allowed you to make decisions. Most likely you felt the leadership team was capable, that change was effectively communicated and managed, and that, at least most of the time, people were promoted for the right reasons.
The most simple way to engage staff is therefore to take care of the other five priorities which we explore below.

Increasing Leadership Capability

Two key ways that leadership capability can be built include:

1. Develop leaders as individuals.
The most impactful components of a leadership development process are:

  • Use 360 feedback – self-awareness is almost always a precursor to self-development.
  • Start at the top if at all possible – that’s where the leverage is for lasting change.
  • Provide enough tools and support (for example, one-to-one or peer coaching) over enough time to help people improve in their chosen developmental opportunities.
  • Measure the progress that each individual makes; what gets measured gets done. This can generally be done with smaller, targeted surveys versus full 360’s.

2. Develop the dynamics of the leadership team itself. People are messy creatures, and a group of brilliant individuals is unlikely to perform well if interpersonal tension reigns between them. Team dynamics can generally be improved through a 3-step process:

  1. Assessment of the current state.
  2. The structuring of a process to develop trust, conflict resolution, agreements on accountabilities, and an agreed list of guiding principles that each team member will subscribe to.
  3. Measurement over time of the degree to which members are adhering to the guiding principles and team dynamics are improving. Again – what gets measured gets done.

Managing Staff Performance
In order to engage employees, it is important to have a simple, effective performance management process that puts the motivation to give one’s best above all other objectives. Here are a few key things that make the difference between a “make-work” performance evaluation process and a meaningful one:

  • Make performance management an on-going coaching discussion. Get beyond the appraisal and set the expectation that performance management is something that happens continuously versus annually.
  • Provide manager training in goal-setting, giving recognition & constructive feedback, coaching and holding tough conversations.
  • Keep appraisal forms short and conversation-orientated. Long-winded forms are a sure way to disengage people from the appraisal process, particularly managers who need to do many appraisals.
  • Avoid rating people if possible. It leads to arguments and ill feelings instead of engagement. Ensure that any pay for performance systems are tied to objective measures that are aligned to strategy versus subjective terms such as “exceeds expectations”.
  • Ensure role-modeling by senior leadership.  Senior leaders who seldom give/invite feedback or pay lip-service to the performance management process will eventually create a culture that lacks feedback and ultimately lacks engagement.

Attracting and Retaining Talent 
Becoming an employer which attracts great talent and retains that talent has a lot to do with your people practices.  However, there are a handful of other things to consider which will really give you the edge:

  • Get a clear sense for the employee value proposition (EVP) you offer to current and potential employees.  Don’t assume that senior leadership knows this answer; you needs to ask employees. Then assess the gap between actual and desired and look for ways to improve it.
  • Communicate your EVP regularly both externally (i.e. job postings & social media) and internally (i.e. townhalls and company intranets/wikis).
  • When hiring, assess values. Values can’t be changed easily in people, so if you want alignment with organizational values you need to hire people who already have these.
  • Ensure you have effective leaders at the helm.  The adage “people don’t quit their organizations – they quit their managers” is largely true.

Managing Change
At some point every organization needs to initiate significant change. The decision to do so may be prompted by different factors: a new business opportunity that must be pursued, a decline in profitability, important customers and/or stakeholders demanding a change in the way a service is provided.

Countless surveys attest to the difficulty of success. Only 38 per cent of global executives responding to a 2006 McKinsey survey reported a “completely” or “mostly” successful impact on performance with recent initiatives. What then differentiates successful initiatives from less successful ones? We find that organizations (or business units with the organization) that implement change well tend to take thoughtful action in each of the following areas – we refer to them as the 5Ps:

  • Purpose. They find meaningful answers to the question of why the change is happening, and raise the feeling of urgency so that people are prepared to “let go” of old ways of thinking.
  • Part. The organization’s key leaders make a commitment to playing a proactive part in the change. They role model the change needed and clearly specify the roles or parts others will play.
  • Picture. A vivid vision is built of what will be accomplished once the change is done and this vision is used to guide action and decisions.
  • Plan. They create a specific plan that will help them achieve the vision and communicate it along with the vision. A good plan produces sufficient short-term wins to energize the change agents and defuse the cynics.
  • Persist. Successful organizations ensure the sense of urgency is maintained and they tenaciously push until the vision is a reality, eventually overcoming seemingly intractable problems.

Planning for Staff Succession
Succession planning is best achieved by implementing a rigorous and ongoing process that increases leadership bench-strength, develops successors for key positions and closes critical talent gaps. The single biggest thing you can do to add value in this practice is to create the time and space for senior leaders to review and discuss the people that they are leading. This is sometimes referred to as a “talent review”, which should be facilitated to achieve the following outcomes:

  • A rigorous assessment of each person under review.
  • Formulation of developmental suggestions for those assessed as “key performers”.
  • Analysis of key positions within the organization and determination of successors (usually 2-3 or a “pool” of successors) for these positions.

Then, the key is to ensure that leaders follow through on the decisions made during the talent review meeting: for example, assigning a succession candidate with a mentor.

Most of the steps to developing an engaged workforce are well-known and largely common sense. However, this does not mean that they are easy to accomplish under the pressures of time and the constant pull of the existing culture. Choose the area of greatest leverage for your organization to improve upon and follow the 5P’s of Managing Change. You will be rewarded in spades.

(PeopleTalk: Fall 2012)

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