(Tales from the front lines of HR consulting)
As Human Resources consultants, we work on the ‘front lines’ of HR management. We are engaged on a regular basis with a variety of organizations; large and small, and from every sector. We have had the privilege of observing (and learning from) the very best HR practices – and their successful outcomes. At the other end of the spectrum, we have been exposed to situations where we shake our heads in disbelief.
As a result, we have learned a lot. In this article we share with you a summary of our observations and findings over the years, and a checklist of the major pitfalls to avoid in your organization. No names are included, to protect the innocent, and the guilty.
1. Not Having a Plan
If we asked the first five employees who walk by your office door to tell us “what business are you in?” would they all give us the same answer? If your business was a Roman galley, would all the ‘oars people’ be rowing in the same direction? Or would your ship be going around in circles?
We have seen organizations where employees do not know the core corporate objectives – because management never told them. We have seen places where the organization charts are confidential and not shared with staff.
Our advice: You need a business plan (as any banker will tell you). You need a corporate strategy. You need an organizational model which depicts your work structure and is aligned to your business plan. All of these need to be regularly updated and communicated to all levels of staff.
2. No Job Descriptions
We once heard a company CEO, in a business where there were no job descriptions, glibly state that ‘if my staff don’t know what their job is, they have a problem’. Our (tactfully unstated) response was “No, if your employees don’t know what they are supposed to be doing, YOU have a problem”. This is not bureaucracy, this is good business.
Job Descriptions are the bedrock of any HR program. They spell out how the business and programs of the organization will be accomplished. They are invaluable tools in recruiting (job ads), new employee orientation, training, compensation and performance management.
Our advice: Write them. They don’t have to be long. Spell out the job title, reporting relationship, summary overview of the role, a list of tasks and responsibilities, and the required skills and qualifications.
3. Hiring the Wrong People
An old adage has it that manager’s make up their mind about a candidate within the first 30 seconds of the interview. This may have some truth to it, but ‘hiring by feel” is plain wrong. Subjective impressions do not work. Many managers ‘wing it’, sans a plan or any training. The majority of hiring managers we talk to in well-known organizations (with HR departments) have never had a briefing on Human Rights and Interviewing.
Our advice: Know the job you are hiring for. Know the organization’s requirements. Create an Employee Referral Program. Hire for attitude, not just aptitude. Learn behavioural interviewing techniques. Know your human rights obligations. Use semi-structured interviewing guides. Be honest about the work environment and expectations. Involve others in the process. Conduct effective reference checks. Watch out for infatuation. Don’t hire out of laziness or desperation.
4. Not Getting Rid of the Wrong People
Managers hate to fire people. They debate, ponder, worry, procrastinate and agonize over it. Their angst is palpable. They hire consultants to tell them what to do – and then ignore the obvious advice. They put up with extraordinarily poor performance because (as I was once told), they don’t have the ‘chutzpah’ to make the required decision.
The rest of the organization watches in bewilderment as the poor performer drags everyone else down, waiting for management to ‘do something’. The most relieved person in the world is a manager the day after they’ve fired someone. The weight is off their shoulders.
Our advice: Flag poor performance early on. Advise the employee what they are doing wrong, and how to correct it. Provide support and training. Follow up. Document it. Advise the employee of the consequences if the behaviour continues. Introduce progressive discipline. Get some advice. Obtain input and guidance from others. If the problem persists, make the decision. Design an appropriate termination package and exit the employee.
5. Failing to Engage
Does your work environment enable a sufficient and sustainable workforce in support of corporate objectives? To put that in plain English; are your staff happy campers? If morale is low, productivity suffers. If your organization is not productive, then your clients and stakeholders (in turn) will also not be happy campers.
Similar to real estate, where location reigns; the three most important words in employee relations are “Communicate, communicate and communicate”. “I don’t know what’s going on around here” is a major employee concern. Yet, “I don’t have time” is the number one refrain we hear from managers about why they don’t engage their staff.
Our advice: Treat you staff as you would like to be treated. Tell them what is going on (and not going on), regularly. Ask for their input. Conduct Employee Satisfaction surveys. Carefully measure your retention and turnover rates. Conduct exit interviews; when staff leave you should know why.
Tim McConnell, MPA, SPHR, CMC
Senior HR Strategist
McConnell HR Consulting Inc.
260 Hearst Way, Suite 603
Ottawa, Ontario K2L 3H1