The 15 things that HR should do (but doesn’t always)

Working as I do with small organisations, I’ll often read an article about some great new HR initiative or theory and wonder why we make things so complex. It seems to me that we frequently get so caught up in the processes, jargon and big picture stuff that we neglect what we are really all about. Employment is a relationship and we need to be clear about what it is that we are committing to, as our side of the ‘deal’. After giving it some thought, I’ve distilled it down to 15 points that define what HR should be doing to create a successful relationship (and where there is no HR, what senior managers should make sure they have in place) 

1.       We’ll pay you correctly, on time, and at a rate that is ‘felt fair’ by both sides.

2.       We’ll make sure that you have a safe place to work, with the right equipment and any required protective clothing

3.       We’ll make sure we comply with the law around employment

4.       If you apply for a job with us, we’ll make sure the process is clear and easy to follow, and keep you informed about your application.

5.       If you need training or other support during work, we’ll make sure that it is organised for you in a timely way.

6.       We’ll keep you informed about what’s going on in the organisation and how it affects you, and we’ll listen to your views

7.       If you do something that’s not right, we’ll make you aware of what it is and why – and do what we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

8.       If you think we’ve done something wrong, we want you tell us (and feel comfortable about doing so)

9.       If we do get something wrong, we’ll make sure it is put right (for the future, if we can’t correct it now).

10.   We recognise that there may be times when what individuals or groups of employees want may not be the same as what the organisation wants. We’ll always discuss the best way forward and try to reach a consensus if we can

11.   We won’t tolerate a culture where individuals are abused, belittled, harassed or insulted – whoever this is by.

12.   If we need to end your employment, we’ll make sure this is done with respect, professionalism and understanding.

13.   We can’t promise that every day you work here will be enjoyable. But we’ll try to make sure that the unpleasant ones are the exception, not the rule

14.   We understand that you may have things going on in your life outside work.  We’ll do our best to support you and, if we can, accommodate them.

15.   Above all, we recognise that you are a person too.

I’m conscious that I might be accused of coming up with a ‘best practice’ list – anathema to many modern-day HR practitioners. But I prefer to see it as a core set of principles – which can be adapted to virtually any business size, structure or sector. One thing’s for sure – could you say your organisation is doing all 15 currently?

The failure of HR

Well, after much speculation, and a weekend of leaks, yesterday saw the publication of the Taylor Review into employment, entitled “Good Work”. Much of the focus has understandably been on the Employment Law implications (excellently summarised by Darren Newman) and there has been a mixed reaction to the proposals.

But one of the key things that struck me from the report was the implicit failure of HR Management over the last 20-30 years, in allowing this situation to develop. Taylor’s concept of ‘good work’ would not look out of place in any CIPD document (and isn’t radically different to the ideas of a Victorian-era Pope). But the fact that Taylor feels it necessary to state that:

·         Flexible working is currently one-sided, in favour of the employer

·         A culture has grown up of insecure work and unpaid overtime

·         Employees and other workers are not listened to and often have no way to put forward their views

·         Not enough time or money is invested in training and development

·         The over-control of workers leads to problems with individual wellbeing

Suggests the reality – of what HR are doing – doesn’t match the theory.

So why is this? There seem to me to be five main reasons for HR’s failure.

·         Clinging on to outdated ideas – like “Best Practice” – a set of theories that derive from a discredited 1980s management study

·         A mistaken perspective, that sees businesses as some kind of corporate North Korea where dissidents (anyone disagreeing with the management viewpoint) are trouble makers to be removed, or re-educated via ‘employee engagement’ programmes.

·         Alternating between scaredy-cat approaches where we hide behind “policy says no” and “we might set a precedent”, and macho ‘business partnering’ where we try to act like the corporate equivalent of mafia hitmen.

·         Dehumanising people by referring to them as “human capital” (an oxymoronic term that reduces people to data on spreadsheets)

·         Becoming obsessed with the process rather than the outcome. I don’t care which “Applicant Tracker System” is best or about the relative merits of an ‘e-learning portal’ v ‘online facilitation’.  

I’m glad to see that the CIPD are having a review and consultation around our professional standards. But it’s how HRM is put into practice that worries me, and it seems we are way off the game in a lot of areas.

 

Thinking Outside the Payroll

What exactly are the “Human Resources” of an organisation? 

The easy answer is that they are the people who work for a business, charity or public body. But while in the past, for the overwhelming majority of organisations, this term was synonymous with “employee”, these days that’s frequently not the case. And I’m not just talking about trendy hi-tech firms either – the chances are that if you’ve ordered anything for delivery recently, whether online or from a store, it will have been delivered by a self-employed contractor, not an employee of the company. Nor is it uncommon in many organisations to have sub-contracted out ‘ancillary’ services to others (indeed, that’s how I make my living!!)

So why is that an issue for those of us who work in HR? Well, there are lots of reasons:

·         It won’t be enough to know about “employment law” – HR professionals will need to understand the full range of legal relationships that people can have with organisations, and be able to advise on them. The excuse that “x is a freelance, nothing to do with us” won’t wash in future

·         How will we hire and fire in the future? Some of the time-consuming processes that we use to recruit, or dismiss, are not only not necessary but don’t fit with those who are working in a non-traditional way. And given that recruiting consultants or freelancers has been a traditional responsibility of procurement departments or line managers, how do we get involved without creating a turf war?

·         If we have to recruit people differently, do we also need to start rethinking how we develop them? And indeed, exactly who do we need to consider developing?

·         We talk a lot in HR about behaving “ethically”. If we start to use labour as a resource to be taken up and dropped when necessary for our business, how does that square with behaving in an ethical manner?

·         Even if you don’t accept the ethical arguments, there are several clear business reasons why HR will need to change. The whole “psychological contract” between businesses and their workforces will change and our practices will need to as a consequence

·         Things that we devote a lot of time to currently – like the nebulous concept of “employee engagement” – may become pointless; if workers aren’t all employees then chasing after engagement becomes a meaningless exercise.

That’s not to say we need to throw out everything we do in HR. Nor am I suggesting traditional employees will disappear – they will still form the majority of the workforce for the foreseeable future (at least for the remainder of my working life anyway!). But what I am suggesting is that we need to rethink exactly how – and why – we do a lot of things if the profession is to remain relevant in 21st century organisations.

Weather man says fine today

Radio 4’s ever interesting Thinking Allowed programme recently featured a report of a study into weather forecasters- and specifically what it referred to a “science rooted in unpredictability”. The research was based on a long-term study and its key findings were:

  • The core of the profession was based on evidence and data – whether this was an analysis of historic trends, mapping variable data in to the future, or using latest research to inform and update their modelling and prediction techniques
  • At the same time results needed to be interpreted and presented in a meaningful way to the recipient. While it might be scientifically accurate to say that there is a 65% chance of rain, what the end user wants to know is “do I need to take my umbrella out with me?”. So a key skill is clear and effective communication
  • Personal experience and “intuition” are still a vital part of managing the unpredictability – the research revealed that forecasters might spend significant time observing the sky and sharing stories and anecdotes as well as poring over computer models and satellite images. Being able on occasions to use this accumulated knowledge is essential to develop appropriate solutions. In fact the report gave an excellent example of this. The computer model predicted that Kansas City would not receive its first snowfall of the winter one night. Experienced forecasters believed it would. The decision was to go with the computer model, and the result was chaos as the city ground to a halt, unprepared for heavy snow.

Very interesting you may be thinking, but why are you writing an HR blog about it? It seems to me that this research also describes HR management pretty well. We’re dealing with unpredictable elements all the time (we call them “human resources”, though I prefer “people”). We should be using evidence and data wherever possible to support our activities (sadly, we don’t on too many occasions) but we also need to rely on our own experience to inform the judgments and decisions we make. And we need to communicate our advice and decisions in a way that is understandable and useful to managers and employees.

You can listen to the full Thinking Allowed report here

 

 

5 great ways to manage people better

Today is #SmallBizSaturday – a worldwide day for celebrating and supporting small businesses. Here at Ariadne Associates we support small businesses throughout the year, of course, but today seems a good day to remind small business owners and managers of some of the simple things they can do to get the best from their staff.

  1. Say Thank You (and please). Basic good manners don’t disappear once you start work. If someone does something you have asked them to, say thanks. And particularly acknowledge if they’ve done it well – a great piece of customer service, solving a problem, or identifying a new way to increase sales.
  2. Remember you are dealing with people. You don’t have to be best friends with your staff (in fact you probably shouldn’t) but you should appreciate that they aren’t just automatons. Be aware, and take an interest in, the fact that Betty in accounts is worrying about her son’s A Levels; that Rajesh likes to travel to away matches so doesn’t like doing overtime at the weekend; that Paulina who works behind the counter is doing night classes because she really wants to be an engineer.
  3. Be professional. No-one wants to work for an employer who is slipshod about their pay, doesn’t bother to issue them with a contract or who ignores basic employment law. Pay the same attention to this as you do to sales, marketing, accounts etc. And get specialist advice if you’re not an expert.
  4. Be fair and consistent. This doesn’t necessarily mean do the same thing on every occasion, but it does mean that you should consider everything before making a decision. Don’t allow Phil to take extra holidays just because he’s your star salesperson and then not allow Deidre, who may have an equally good reason, but who isn’t doing so well.
  5. Don’t forget that if someone doesn’t appear to fit into your business, you were the one who recruited them. Learn from what went wrong in a bad hire before you start recruiting again.

Small businesses often can’t beat their bigger rivals in the pay and benefits they can offer. So you have to compete in other ways to attract and retain good people. Making your business a good place to work is a great (and low-cost) way to start. And if you’d like to know more about how you can do this, why not read this next?