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You call THAT a retention strategy!?

There are no right or wrong retention strategies. Everything depends on so much on company size, industry, budget, location, customer/product base, whether or not the company is in high growth mode or hanging on for survival, etc. Having said that, I can tell that you that there are most definitely wrong ways to execute on retention strategies.

Let me be clear, I am not commenting on any genuine, well-intended attempt that a company puts forth to try and retain its people. It’s a competitive landscape out there and all is fair in talent acquisition and talent management. I applaud companies for trying innovative ways to keep people, especially when it simply isn’t possible to keep doling out chunks of cash year over year.

Businessman in chainsHowever, as an organization and as a (HR) leader, you have to stay true to the intent of the retention strategy. I believe that retention initiatives are first and foremost intended to keep your good people (duh!) but just as important they formulate part of your employment brand. You become known to current and potential candidates for the types of things you do to keep people. When done right, these can serve as great differentiators or enhancers to your brand and when applied the wrong way, they can severely damage it.

Let me give you an example. I recently came across an organization which invests heavily in the professional development of its technical staff. For anything beyond a conference or seminar, they would pay for the employee to take the course (typically post-secondary or certification based) with a 2-3 year payback period. Meaning, if they paid $3000 for you to become certified in something, if you left before the three mark, you would owe back $1000 for every year of service not completed after that. I.e. you take the course, 1 year later you leave; you owe $2000 – pretty straight forward and pretty fair.

Recently, the company started losing a lot of good talent to a competitor for a multitude of reasons. Some were based on pay, some were based on work culture and some were based on leadership. So what did the company do in response to this? Well, first off, they changed their professional development policy. If you left within 3 years you now owed 100% of the money back…no sliding scale! (Way to address the cultural issue you have!) Talk about using a good retention program for evil…or at the very least, with the wrong application!

A more specific example that occurred with this company is when one of their rising stars accepted a role with a competing company. She went to her manager to give him her two weeks’ notice. This employee had been there approx. 7 years and was a solid performer. So, what was the manager’s response when she resigned you ask? First thing he did was check to see if she “owed” the company anything. Sure enough, 3 years ago they had paid a few thousand bucks for her to take a certification. They told her she would owe the full amount back as she was a week short of the three year commitment. What made this truly slimy was that that this course was taken before their most recent policy change! (i.e. she was still on the sliding scale plan.)

So what did this employee do? She changed her notice period to three week’s (because the company she was going to was more than happy to wait one more week for her) and then she didn’t owe them anything. This was an employee who previously didn’t have anything bad to say about her current employer and was leaving on good terms, albeit for a new opportunity she couldn’t get there. However, this completely soured her on her previous company. She felt like her time there didn’t mean anything and that all they cared about was getting the last nickel out of her.

Now, instead of leaving and speaking highly of her time there, and possibly returning in the future, she left angry, upset and would not refer anyone there. Talk about using your retention program for the wrong reasons! The amount of damage done to this company’s brand in a short period of time is immeasurable. Word quickly got around (the industry and skill set this person works in is very niche) about how her previous company used their retention program as a hammer. Now there are even more employees there looking to move on!

The bottom line is this – HR Professionals, you have to be the stewards of your organizations and make sure this type of crap doesn’t happen. If you have retention issues, the answer isn’t to make your retention program(s) punitive and restricting and create an environment of indentured servitude. You need to dig deeper and get to some root cause analysis about why people are leaving your company. For the company referred to in this post, my guess, based on how this employee was treated, was that they may some short sighted leadership. But that’s just a guess. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of patrisyu/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

“HR – what are they good for?”

Unfortunately this was a quote I heard recently while shopping at my local grocery store. This was a large store which is part of an even larger chain of national stores. I overhead this conversation that two employees were having while working the fresh meal counter – the one that serves fresh, on the go lunch meals and basically competes with fast food outlets for business.

The conversation, from what I can tell, centered on the frustration that one employee was having about getting some issue resolved with their shift and subsequent pay – presumably as it pertained to company policy. They were looking for some guidance and support from HR in getting it resolved. I could tell from the conversation that their past experiences in going to HR for help were less than positive so they didn’t anticipate that this experience would be any different, hence the reason (I assumed) that they made that comment.

Stop Bad Habits

So, me, being the nosy HR person that I am and wanting to know the reason for this anti-HR sentiment quipped up with a, “why won’t you talk to HR and how come you feel this way about them?” Because I asked this in my usual (cough, ahem) charming way, the employees decided to actually answer me! In fact, they were only too happy to share their views on HR! Let’s see, I would summarize their feelings as follows:

  • HR is a faceless/nameless entity
  • HR doesn’t care about the employees, they feel they are only a nuisance
  • HR isn’t there to help them
  • It takes too long to get an answer out of HR and most things aren’t worth the fight
  • Half of the time HR doesn’t even know the answer to their question!
  • HR is basically incompetent

WOW! Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the profession is it? In the spirit of full disclosure, I told them that I work in HR for another company and was curious about their take on HR as, unfortunately, I hear this sentiment more often than I would like. They indicated that their feeling is simply more of a frustration of dealing with a faceless, nameless entity that simply doesn’t seem to be there to support them or answer their questions…nothing more, nothing less. They, along with many of their co-workers, were yet to have a “positive” experience with their HR department.

What a shame that our profession still has that, sometimes earned, reputation. How would you feel if employees in your organization described your HR department as being “useless?” If you were to anonymously poll employees at your company, what percent would say that HR doesn’t care about the employees, or isn’t there to help them? I worry it may be more then you/we realize.

I think that as a profession we need to take a serious look at these questions. Present company included, we all need to make sure we aren’t too comfortable in any ivory towers we have built and truly make sure we are positioning our HR departments in the proper way. It would kill me to hear employees in any company I worked for describe the HR department in any negative way, but the thing is you don’t know what you don’t know. So, I think we need to make sure we are always asking employees these questions and that we are prepared to hear the answer and improve accordingly. Let’s make sure that we are there to listen, advise and act when appropriate. Let’s help ENABLE our employees to be successful in their jobs – that is OUR job.

As is part of my HR stump speech, we are all in this together. HR Pros, let’s make sure we continue to unite as a profession and stamp out these negative perceptions that employees have of our profession. Better yet, let’s make sure we are not perpetuating the perceptions by engaging in the type of activity that causes employees’ to feel negatively about HR! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pay for Skill – Danger Alert!

There are many different organizational philosophies around compensation and how employees should be paid and/or rewarded. I am not necessarily convinced that any one pay philosophy or pay practice is universally better than another; however, I do believe you need to strive to find an approach that will work for your organization. I firmly believe that if you have invested in conducting proper job evaluations and market pay studies, you will have, at the very least, established a solid foundation on which to build. That is, you will have a pretty good handle on how you will bring new hires into your company based on what the market is paying for their knowledge, skills and abilities. People that bring the desired level of KSA’s should be paid around the midpoint (market) of your pay band, less experienced are paid closer to the minimum and those with more experience and expertise perhaps come in closer to the maximum of your band.

DangerBut what about once they have been with your organization for some time? What criteria do you use to determine if they receive a pay increase or not? Do you provide pay increases every year based on changes in cost of living? While that might seem “fair” to you and your employees at first, you aren’t exactly incentivizing for better performance and rewarding accordingly! Another approach, which I am a bigger believer in, is merit pay or pay for performance. The basic tenant of this approach is that those employees that perform better (i.e. make you more money) get the highest pay increases and rewards. Now, in order for this to work, you need to have established a pretty decent performance management system or culture whereby goals are set and measured objectively and people are held accountable for their results. That can be a big “IF” for a lot of companies.

Another approach I have seen in companies, especially those in the professional services industries, is to pay or reward for skills. Typically, in most professional services companies, they invest quite heavily in the training and development of their people. The more you know about C# programming or Oracle databases, in theory, the more valuable you are to the company. The company can then “sell” your knowledge and capabilities to its clients and thus increase its own revenues. So, what happens in these situations is that employees receive pay bumps or “market” increases based on their enhanced skills portfolio. Warning – this can be a slippery slope!

This approach, a pay for skills model, can wreak havoc on your companies’ compensation scheme. What I have seen happen is that employees’ go on training courses, obtain certificates, certifications, etc. and then expect an immediate raise. They often come back from writing the certification exam with all kinds of salary surveys that show how employees that get a certification in XYZ earn 1/3 more than their peers who don’t have the certification. What they don’t tell you is that if you dig into the numbers, these surveys are pretty much manipulated by the vendor to justify the cost of the certification…but I digress.

This then becomes a perpetual cycle of being held hostage every time your employees go on training. By paying for “skill,” you end up NOT paying for the value derived from the skill. Meaning, just because Joe is now a Certified Widget Designer (CWD), it doesn’t necessarily mean that Joe is a GOOD widget designer. Sure he has demonstrated some level of knowledge required in order to obtain the certification; but that doesn’t mean Joe is applying it on the job or creating new/more value in his current role. You need to recognize and reward him for that based on his performance.

Now, if Joe leverages his new CWD certification and designs a new cutting edge widget, or mentors/trains others to become better widget designers, then that is a different story and that my friends, is an increase in performance! As well, if Joe goes on to be so good at making widgets he now has his eyes on leading a team and he gets promoted – well that is a promotional increase – all valid reasons for a pay bump!

So a word of caution if you are paying for skills right now – at some point in time you are going to be held hostage by this approach. Your staff will quickly figure out that the only way to get an increase is go on training and get some sort of certification. Are you willing to approve and pay for any and all training requests now so that all staff has an opportunity for pay increases? If not, why not? What message does that send? What are you telling your employees about the importance of their performance? Is that even important to you? I simply caution on the pay for skill approach and doling out buckets of cash for certifications. That is a short term “solution” that will only end up in longer term pain for you. You are basically encouraging a mercenary type of approach and not demonstrating the causal compensation link between your company and its employees. You want to recognize and reward employees for doing great work – there are better ways to do it then pay for skill. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Employee (Engagement) Surveys – There really is only 1 issue!

Having communicated, administered, analyzed, hypothesized and capitulated about many employee surveys during my career, I feel well qualified to comment on the topic!  Whether you call them employee surveys or the newer, sexier, “Engagement Surveys” they are all basically the same thing.  The main difference is that if it is an engagement survey, you get charged a lot more for some 3rd party to give you your “engagement score” that you can then work on improving over the next year.

Talk to each otherFor the most part, getting managers together to analyze results and develop action plans in response to the survey is a very time-consuming and exhausting process.  I often compare it to the exercise of having to herd cats. You have a bunch of different people with different agendas and different departmental challenges all being asked to come up with action plans against an organizational wide survey.  At the end of the day, most companies don’t even hold managers accountable for the results, so why bother with action plans anyway! (But I digress…)

I have also heard about and seen firsthand the level of detail, information and “issues” that come out of these surveys.  Quite often, at first blush, in order to fix all that ails your organization, you would need a team of 8 HR professionals focused on just survey action items for the next 2.5 years to make any headway in improving your “score.”  The reality is that we tend to spread ourselves thin on a bunch of issues we (HR/Management) think are important when the reality is, what we think is important could be completely incongruent with what is important to our employees! (But that is a post for another day.)

Ok, so now for the secret sauce.  For most companies/surveys, once you have combed through your plethora of questions and issues, there really is only one true issue you need to focus on. So I will save you and your company thousands of dollars and tell you that your problem is communication.  There you go, that is all you really need to focus on.  I am talking about communication at all levels and in all forms.  Now, I didn’t say solving this issue would be easy but at least now you have a focus.

Focus on improving communication from your Sr. Leadership group down to your line managers and employees.  Work at improving 1:1 communication between managers and staff – i.e. as it pertains to their goals, career development, recognition for achievements, etc.  Focus on improving communication between departments and other offices.  Hell, just focus on talking to your people!

It is actually ridiculous the amount of managers that don’t talk to their people on a regular basis.  The only time their employees hear from them is when they did something wrong.  So, how about this for your survey action plan – be a human being!  Talk to your staff, get to know them, find out about their work challenges, what makes them tick and what gets in their way of doing good work.  This will be the easiest survey action plan you have ever done – just call it “Talking to Our People.”  Then, make sure you do it.  Your results will follow/improve…seriously.  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Smash those Silos!

One of the biggest impediments to workplace success is poor communication. This can manifest itself in many different forms and mediums; however, the worst of this lot is when organizations end up creating workplace silos that function as their own (seemingly) independent work units. Silos can take the form of departments that try to operate on their own, independent from all other work groups, or they take the form of specific geographies that try to operate on their own. Silos can be particularly problematic for organizations that require an integrated, end to end approach to achieve customer satisfaction – whether through the creation of a product or the delivery of a service.

HammerSilos are typically created based on some combination of poor leadership, subject matter expertise or rapid organizational growth. This post is going to focus on the impact of the first two – poor leadership and real or perceived subject matter expertise. “Leaders” who are often not confident in their abilities and who feel the need to micromanage, manipulate and control information and communication are typically guilty of creating silos. For example, I am sure we have all seen or heard of leaders/managers that try to control communications, policies, procedures, etc. to fit their own needs. They segregate and alienate other departments or geographies so that they can control everything. By doing this, they try to ensure that all communication, etc. runs through them and therefore they control the message and the medium. Office and departments are “not allowed” to talk to each other and the “leader” in question brokers all communication between the parties.

Silos also get built when particular groups are “allowed” to position themselves as subject matter experts and are allowed to not be accountable to anyone. Again, this behaviour is enabled by poor leadership, but it starts out with an approach from an organization’s management team that a particular group is indispensable and therefore, nothing applies to them. Quite often, but not always, this occurs with highly technical groups (software developers for instance), R&D types and those that control financial information. Leadership teams allow these niche groups to develop their own working silos for fear that they become unhappy and leave or negatively impact the company in some other way. Basically, they are allowed to operate in their own silo based on FEAR. In essence, they have created a caste system where the upper caste is not accountable to anyone or anything. Please note – you will notice that nowhere have I referenced performance. I am not talking about treating your star performers differently; I am merely referencing groups as a collective here – this is an important distinction.

These types of destructive behaviors have a profound effect on organizations. Decision making is often crippled, innovation becomes stagnant and overall morale and engagement dies. In essence, silo building cripples your organizational culture and brand. If your organization hopes to grow and attract/retain talent, you have to get rid of the silos and the managers that have created them.

This is where the true leaders (including HR leaders) come in to play. Do not allow silos to be built. Don’t stand on the sidelines while this type of destructive behaviour occurs in your companies. You have a responsibility to smash those silos. Address the unacceptable behaviours that are occurring. Hold people accountable for building effective teams and reward those that embrace your organizational values and champion teamwork. Find the communication and change champions in your companies and make sure that they are front and centre. Do NOT reward subversive behaviours from your managers. Anything that is done that is not for the benefit of the organization should be addressed immediately. If you have folks that don’t want to get onboard with this, it may be time to part ways with them as they are holding you and your company back. So let’s pick up our hammers and take this call to action to start smashing those silos. In the words of one of my favourite bloggers, Jay Kuhns, “Who’s with me?”

Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You can’t always win on pure talent

One of the things in my personal life that I am very passionate about is the coaching of my daughter’s basketball team. I truly enjoy working with her and the rest of the team as they enhance their fundamental basketball skills and come together as a team. One of the things that we, as coaches, did very well at the start of the season was set the expectations as it pertained to the type of team culture we wanted to have. We were very clear with the girls (and their parents) that we expected them to show up for practices and games on time, be prepared to give 100% at practice/games, listen to what the coaches were trying to teach them and to treat each other and their opponents with respect.  We indicated to them back in October that if they bought into these expectations we would establish a supportive culture of performance that would lead to success (not quite in those “HR” words but you get my drift!)

People concept imageAs the season commenced, we lost more games than we won; however, the girls bought into what we were teaching, they gave 100%, they treated each other with respect and supported their teammates for the betterment of the team.  At the last game of the regular season, we ended up playing the top team in our division (who hadn’t lost a game all year) and we defeated them. Two weeks after that, we played that same team in the league final and beat them again. So what are the lessons learned here as it pertains to HR and business?

Let me be clear, on talent alone, the other team was/is superior to our girls. Generally speaking, their girls are more athletic and are better overall ball handlers and shooters. So on talent alone, they are superior. So what is/was the difference? It was the sum of the parts playing as a team. Our girls came together as a team and played a better team game. They bought into the culture, the expectations and were all very coachable. They bought into the team concept and how equal ball distribution translated into more points for everyone. They understood that it wasn’t about individual success but team success and at the end of the day, they enjoyed winning more than being the person on a losing team with more points.

So what does this all have to do with HR and business? Well, based on my experience, I think the same can be said about our organizations. Often in the war for talent (I still despise that expression) companies (i.e. Talent Acquisition folks) get so caught up in hiring the best talent that they can assemble (skill and experience-wise) that they lose sight of the fact that they should be building teams not collecting talent. With organizations, much like a basketball team, if you have too much “top talent”, there aren’t enough balls to go around to make everyone happy. If you simply have a collection of talented individuals working for you, but there are no expectations set for them, no culture established and no reason to come together as a team, then you will have talented people working in the best interests of themselves and not your company.

Much like the previously mentioned team we defeated, a collection of talented individuals is not going to be a competitive advantage if you can’t harness the power of the group to focus on the team outcomes. One of my favourite bloggers, Tim Sackett, wrote a post last year on his blog – “It’s Not a Talent Contest” that I think really hammers things home. Tim writes, “It’s not a ‘talent’ contest. It’s a ‘winning’ contest!” He further brings home his point by indicating that:

“…it doesn’t matter how talented the other team is, it all comes down to winning the game. Great, you have the best talent, but if you’re losing the game your high level of talent means nothing! …….in reality, the best talent might not help your organization ‘win’….business isn’t a talent game. It’s a winning and losing game…you don’t always need the most talented individuals to win. What you need is people who are willing to give that little bit of extra effort, over those who won’t. This discretionary effort gets you the win, over talented individuals who aren’t willing to give such effort. You need individuals that put the goal, the vision, first. They believe in what you are doing as an organization, and do what it takes to make those goals reality. You need individuals who want to see those around them succeed and are willing to sacrifice themselves, from time to time, to see their peers and coworkers succeed. This sacrifice has nothing to do with talent…..it’s about hiring the talent that will make our organizations successful.”

My apologies to Tim if he feels I edited this incorrectly (I can only hope that he is reading my blog!); however, I feel he is 100% bang on with this assessment. Your team has to have people that put the organization’s/teams goals first. We need to focus on hiring and retaining the right mix of talent that will make our organizations successful. As HR Pros, let’s agree that we should be advising and acting based on that principle. Let’s stop focusing on collecting talent as if we were trying to assemble a complete set of baseball cards. A collection of (top) talent is nothing if collectively they can’t make your organization better/successful. Much like the complete collection of baseball cards, once you assemble them, they typically stay in a box on a shelf collecting dust – they are of no use to you. We need to bring together that optimal mix of individuals that buys into your team concept – they are the ones that will help you to win…whether in business, or basketball. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You want better employee engagement? Try this….

As an HR professional, I spend a lot of time reading HR articles and blogs, attending conferences and networking with other professionals.  It doesn’t matter where you go, what you read or who you talk to, you can’t get away from the discussions around employee engagement and retention.  Worse yet, we are constantly reminded about the “war for talent” and how all our challenges are driven by generational diversity.  Depending on what you read and who you talk to, they would have you believe that if you can simply just understand those darn “Millenials” and now “Generation Z” then you would have this whole talent acquisition and talent management thing suitcased.

TalkingHere is the thing, while there is lots to be learned from trying to understand the differences among the generations, you have to keep in mind all of these statements are very broad-based generalities.  Not everyone in each of the generations fits the “profile.”  Much the same, there are many HR and Management “gurus” out there that preach about all the secrets to increase engagement, including how they have the latest and greatest survey that will help provide you with “big data” or perhaps they have the most up to date recognition tools known to mankind and if you simply bought their products you would see an uptick in your employee engagement levels.  There is so much rhetoric in this area it is enough to make your head explode!

Here is the thing, while I personally believe that some combination of these things does in fact help organizations improve engagement/retention, my feeling is that a lot of them should be viewed as supporting best practices.  That is, while having a recognition program, company newsletters, flexible work hours, cutting edge survey tools, etc. do in fact help you become a better employer, they are by no means the ‘answer.’  Truth be told, in my experience, if you want more engaged employees, including ones that will stay with your company (engaged and retained) then there really is only one thing you need to either be doing (or start doing) if you want to improve in this area.  The beauty of it all, is that the most effective engagement tool is FREE. That’s right…gratis.  So what is this mystery item behind door #1?  It is simple – communication.  Yup, that’s right.  If you want to improve engagement then talk to your people.  I know it sounds and seems simple, but if it is, then how come so many companies fall short in this area?

I have led/done numerous employee surveys in my career, launched focus groups and developed programs ,all in response to survey feedback, with the ultimate goal of enhancing engagement and retention levels.  The thing is, it has been my experience that the majority of the feedback you get from your employees focuses on communication anyway.  News flash – they want to hear from you!  They want to know (and hear) from the senior leaders in the organization about the health of the organization.  They want to know about the future of ACME industries, what its plans for growth are and what big things are planned for 2015.  Employees want to hear from their managers.  They actually don’t mind department meetings that are focused on communicating things that are happening organization and department-wide.  Staff want to be kept in the loop on things.  This build trust and you guessed it, engagement!

Better yet, if you want to improve engagement, focus on having managers talk to their people one on one.  Have regular coaching conversations.  Better yet, as a manager, say Hi to people in the morning.  Ask them how they are doing.  Get to know your staff.  Provide recognition when you can.  Talk to them like they are people. Make an effort to know and understand your employees.  At the end of the day, it is these individual touch points between employees and managers that make all the difference.

Bottom line, if you want to improve engagement, you have to talk to your employees.  Remember, its free, but it has to be regular and genuine.  This will all be easier to do if you focusing on making regular communication part of your managerial and organizational DNA.  If you don’t want to talk to your people and/or your organization doesn’t view that as being important, then there is no survey tool or program in the world that can help you.  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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