(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 Part 2 of 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.
- Paying Too Much / Or Too Little
Paying your employees too much is a waste of money. Paying them too little is also a waste of money; since it can lead to turnover and increased recruiting, hiring and training costs. Paying new employees whatever they ask for – which we occasionally see – has been called “Wild West management”, with a similar body count.
How do you know what the ‘going rate’ is for every position in your organization? How can you ensure fairness among employees, between different job levels, and with the external labour market? If you fail to do any of these – it will cost you money.
Our advice: Write job descriptions. Use a job evaluation method to classify your jobs into levels or grades. Obtain wage and salary survey information (from the government, free web sites like Salary Wizard, or compensation survey firms). Determine where you wish to pay relative to the market averages. Establish pay bands (salary ranges). Pay your staff within the ranges. Communicate your Pay Policy.
- Failing to Recognize
In our arduous path through grade school, high school and university there is always one constant – feedback. We always know how we are doing (even when we don’t want to know). Everything we do is observed and graded. Then we enter the workforce and (often) there is silence. The feedback ends.
People need to feel appreciated for their work. Neglecting to recognize and reward good performance can lead to morale issues and future attrition.
Our advice: Pay attention. Tell your staff how they are doing. As Ken Blanchard said in the One Minute Manager, “catch your employees doing something right” and praise them. It can be as simple as saying thank you. Explore other reward and recognition options.
- Mismanaging Performance Appraisals
The annual performance appraisal is an event dreaded by most managers. In many organizations appraisals are a bureaucratic exercise in advanced ‘form filling-outing’. HR is the police department driving this phenomenon, only satiated once all the papers are completed and appropriately filed away. This may sound like “old HR”, but we still see it regularly. In an effort to minimize workload and avoid conflict, managers often inflate the ratings of average or poor workers, or simply check the middle box in every scale.
Faced with this situation, a new Director of HR in one large public institution blew up the process. He declared a moratorium and cancelled all appraisals for two years. He used this interregnum to rebuild the concept from the ground up. While this may have been overkill, the key point is that it is not about the form. It is about the employee and their supervisor having a conversation on how the employee is performing relative to expectations.
Our advice: Conduct the appraisals – regularly. Keep them simple. Never forget that the primary goal is to provide feedback. Educate your managers on this.
- Not Having ‘Rules of Engagement’
The inconsistent application of policies drives employees crazy.
You’re a busy and harried manager. Susan asks you if she can have next Friday off to help a friend prepare for a wedding. She will make up the time. You say ok. You then immediately forget about that decision. Your staff do not. Three weeks later, Jane asks you the same question. You say no, ‘sorry we’re too busy’. The end result is predictable.
Our advice: Create an Employee Handbook (if you don’t have one already). Write down all of your HR policies, practices and rules in a straightforward reader-friendly manner. Introduce the Handbook to all employees. Provide a copy to all new employees and guide them through it. The answer to Susan / Jane’s question is on page 17 under Leave policies.
- Ignoring the Importance of Training
We regularly come across three common training issues;
- Employees are too busy to take training (or so their managers say). Staff are too invaluable in their roles and can’t take ‘down time’ for training. There is no one available to back fill employees.
- Lack of a training strategy or plan. Identification of training needs is informal. Training is provided on an ad hoc basis.
- When times are tough, and programs are being cut, the training budget is (still) the first casualty. It’s an easy target; lots of funding sitting there, and no immediate impact.
Your business is not static, and neither are your staff. Your employees’ skills need to be continually updated and refreshed in order to remain effective.
Our advice: Learning, training and development systems and practices should be in place and aligned with your strategic goals and objectives. Create a training budget that is within your means. Identify training needs – for both groups and individuals. Create Employee Learning Plans. Link them to Career Maps. Deliver and track learning and training in a methodological manner.
Tim McConnell, MPA, SPHR, CMC
Senior HR Strategist
McConnell HR Consulting Inc.
260 Hearst Way, Suite 603
Ottawa, Ontario K2L 3H1