Hiring, Employee Engagement, and Other Epic Failures
Some days you just wonder. I will soon be “celebrating” almost my fourth decade as a human resources practitioner, executive and management consultant and when I watch what is happening I continue to be a bit frustrated and disappointed.
Employers still whine about candidates and employees. The current target seems to be the Millennial generation. They are selfish, lazy, demanding, blah, blah, blah.
Truth is I haven’t found that to be any truer of them than any other generation.
They are more distrusting based on what they observed and are more willing to be explicit about their expectations, but I find that when their purpose is aligned with your purpose they will work their asses off.
Edward Deming back in the Forties as part of the Total Quality Movement suggested treating employees more like partners and less like human capital (we just called them labor back then) and we are still at a place where around 30% of the workforce rates themselves as highly engaged. It has been 70 years!
I know that there are those who say employee engagement isn’t real, but those are the people who approach it as a program or event rather than as a culture. I remember when quality was treated the same way- we inspected it in at the end of the process rather than building it in.
When I look at a lot of hiring and selection processes I give us a D-. We have lots of automated tracking systems and other technologies that have dumbed down our candidate sourcing process, but we still focus very much on two dimensional hiring. Look at the average job description.
In 1935 Congress passed the Wagner Act, better known as the National Labor Relations Act, legalizing employees right to join a union and collectively bargain with their employer because employees and employers don’t trust each other or perceive they share a common purpose and interests.
A very recent survey concluded that almost 50% of employees across the board generationally don’t trust leadership, their supervisor, or their team mates.
The NLRA and Civil Rights Act of 1964 were the most important things to happen to human resources professionals in the history of employer-employee relations because they imposed laws and sanctions for not doing it right. They also made HR relevant to management for the first time.
If you ask human resources practitioners today what the most important role they play in their organization, a significant majority will tell you it is ensuring compliance with State and Federal laws and regulations.
The others spend their time addressing what Michelle Berg refers to as “shitty leadership”.
No surprise there. Sixty percent of leadership candidates seek those roles to make more money, not better the organization or help develop staff.
Just as disappointing is when I hear that the attributes that make someone a good leader like emotional intelligence, emotional balance, and self- awareness are inherently feminine, that women are genetically programmed to be better leaders.
I find that as offensive as suggesting that African Americans genetically have more rhythm than white people or people of Latin-Hispanic descent are genetically more volatile and emotional.
I have not given up hope, there are just some things we need to do differently.
· We need to acknowledge that trust is the foundation of every solid relationship.
· We need to acknowledge that Commitment is far superior to compliance. People want to buy into your purpose.
· We need better leaders and we need to recognize technical competence is the minimum not the standard and that effective leadership can be taught and must be reinforced.
· We need to recognize that the best way to create highly engaged organizations is to build it in rather than try to bolt it on. That true engagement is about alignment. It is a culture not a program.
There is a great opportunity for Human Resources professionals to lead this charge. Compliance is a baseline.
I propose a new role for HR-
• HR helps the organization answer the Why question posed in Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.
• HR helps identify the values and attributes that are fundamental to and congruent with the Why. As I have said before creating alignment for people who already share your values is much easier than trying to “fix” people.
• HR helps identify and deploy the competencies that reinforce the performance that we desire and ensures that those are practiced consistently across the organization. Those include setting expectations, giving feedback, course correcting, and coaching among others. Those competencies belong to managers, not HR.
I would like to see human resources professional demonstrate the following:
• Technical Skills- The proliferation of rules and regulations has indeed made the profession more complex as has the application of technology, phenomenon like social media, outsourcing and global workforces, and related challenges. I needed to be technically proficient, not only in our craft, but to understand the businesses and organizations I served.
• Project Management Skills- Similar to the Total Quality Management movement I believe human resource competency in core areas needs to be deployed broadly and deeply rather than be seen as a departmental competency. It is fundamental to the management/leadership role, not just human resources departments!
• Facilitation Skills- We need to help our client organizations recognize that by building relationships with individuals as people first and resources second we can create enormous gains in sustainability, productivity, and profitability through alignment of organizational and individual goals.
Based on my experience I would also challenge leaders to take some additional steps:
• Ask your internal and external customers how you can help them and make them more successful. If you don’t think you have any internal customers give me a call. We have work to do.
• Ask your staff what obstacles you can remove to make their job more efficient or easier.
• Ask the people on the front line how your products and services can be enhanced or modified to make them easier to address their needs.
• Ask your peers how they think you and your group are doing. You are an internal service provider.
• Ask your boss how you can help them. This may seem a little obvious, but you will be surprised from how you communicate to taking a task off their list can make a difference.
I would also challenge you to become a champion of commitment over compliance and helping create an environment that encourages true engagement.
How do you do that?
• Hire the right people
• Incorporate the elements of commitment rather than compliance.
• Be flexible about process and ruthless about principle.
• Build on a foundation of trust.
• Remember it is all about relationships.
My experience has taught me that overcoming inertia is one of the most difficult things to overcome in creating meaningful change in an organization is inertia or complacency. If you go back and look at some of the opportunity costs I identified there really is a role to play for human resources to become a catalyst and change agent.
Most HR practitioners want respect and opportunity. This is the path I followed from HR to the C suite and to a role as a successful management consulting career. I am not a rocket scientist. If I could manage it, you can as well.