Human Resources Strategy for the Rest of Us

February 22nd, 2011 by

A practical approach to becoming a key strategic player in your organization.

In part one of this post, I encouraged HR professionals to avoid the red herrings that distract you from maximizing your organizational impact.  So what should HR professionals be focusing on?

I believe it’s improving the most important asset the company invests in – its people.  The adminstrivia around HR can be like kudzu taking over and killing any strategic inclination many HR professionals have.  Believe me, I’ve been there.  But by focusing too much on administrative tasks, whether by choice or force, we lose sight of what my dad knew 30 years ago as an HR professional and what Gallup and others now proclaim (and charge big bucks for).  And that is the simple fact that companies that practice positive HR and people management have more engaged employees.  More engaged employees result in more engaged customers.  More engaged customers mean higher sales.  Higher sales mean higher profits (usually).

“Positive HR and people management” put simply is a strict focus on recruiting and retaining top talent leading to an engaged workplace.  Gallup has found that almost 20 percent of employees are actively disengaged, costing companies $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary in lost productivity.  A recent Cornell University study found that companies practicing positive HR and people management had 22 percent higher sales growth, 23 percent higher profits, and a 67 percent drop in employee turnover.  Bottom line, it’s in your best interests and your company’s best interest to focus more on engaging employees and less on the administrivia.

I doubt few HR professionals would disagree with the benefits of employee engagement.  Understanding is the easy part; however implementation is tricky, particularly if you work in a company that doesn’t yet subscribe to the benefits of positive HR and people management.  I will concede that some companies will never buy into positive HR, so how can the average HR professional in the average company really impact employee engagement?  Well, two primary ways – first, only hire people that match the critical success factors for your positions.  Quit focusing so much on how applicants meet the “job description” and focus more on their past success and how that matches the success you need in the job.  I’ll discuss this topic in an upcoming blog.  Stay tuned.

If you can find top talent but can’t keep them, you’ve got a bigger problem.  That’s why I feel the most important thing you can do right now to impact engagement is to become what I call the “Chief Supervisor in Charge.”  Focus on improving every aspect of the performance of your supervisors and managers.  There have been countless research studies showing how important people’s supervisors are  on their decision to stay, their productivity, their morale, how they view the company, how they treat customers, etc. —in short their engagement (and the company’s profits).

So how do you measure up?  Ask yourself a few simple questions.

1.      Are you focusing on improving the effectiveness of your supervisors and managers or rather on constantly telling them what they can and especially what they cannot do?  Put differently, are you primarily a coach or a cop?

2.      Do you conduct more supervisory and management training on harassment, workplace laws, permissible interview questions, etc. or more on helping your supervisors and managers become more effective communicators, motivators, counselors, performance coaches, etc.?  It’s all important, but you choose where to focus more attention, the culture you create and the results you’ll see.

3.      Are you modeling the effective behaviors you want from them as employee situations arise or are you beating them over the head for the mistakes they make?

4.      Do they see you as a partner, a valued confidant or as an irritant?  Don’t know?  Ask them.

5.      Are you weeding out those supervisors and managers who don’t share the company’s values, or do you just continue tolerating them while they poison everyone else?

6.      Are you measuring the impact of your supervisor and manager behaviors with regular employee surveys, exit interviews, focus groups, etc.?

I could go on, but I think you see the point.  If you don’t know where or how to start, consider conducting an employee survey.  When done correctly, employee surveys can give you a quick read on supervisory and management effectiveness and also how you measure up on employee engagement.  You can also look at your turnover – many times that results from poor supervision.  Find out why people are really leaving and the costs to your organization.  These tools are good ways to help you make the case to management that you should be spending more time improving supervision.

To wrap up, when I talk to HR professionals that are in fact “at the table,” they spend the bulk of their time either finding top talent or, as I’ve discussed, keeping and motivating top talent.  They try to outsource the administrivia.  Surprisingly, you don’t need a lot of extra money or perks to retain key talent, but you do need a great work environment, and that starts and ends with very good supervisors and managers.  They are the key.  In fact, Gallup maintains they are the company for most of your employees.  Spend more of your time coaching them and you’ll quickly find yourself in the middle of the game, at the table, and helping your company grow and succeed.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

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