Is there a single other management tool that has as poor a reputation or that is executed as shoddily as the hapless position description?  I don't think so.

So I am starting a campaign.  It's time to move the position description out from the depths of your work desk’s bottom drawer.  

You know what I am talking about. Most position descriptions are buried beneath a pile of files and papers and your surplus mouse pads, rarely to see daylight.  If you even have one.

For some, feedback may seem a lot like going to the dentist.  It happens once a year and we dread it or avoid it as long as possible (despite espousing its benefits to others!).  

But then, there's others who embrace feedback, seek it out and seemingly thrive on it.  

The big difference between these two types of attitudes to feedback is in their mindset. Let's look at some prevalent mindsets around feedback that are holding people back from being the best they can be in the workplace (and beyond).

If you’re part of a People and Culture (or HR, for the traditionalists!) team that is about to embark down the road of implementing a suite of HR technology and can’t answer that question, then now is the time to quickly revisit it. Before it all goes horribly wrong.

How often do organisations start with the solution first, and then never really work their way back to why the solution is needed in the first place? Or if they have done so, the message has never really permeated beyond the confines of the People and Culture (P&C) team? And then we wonder why the project never really got any traction in the business.

Despite so much talk about how ineffective and counter-productive performance management is in its current form, there's few organisations who seem to have nailed getting it right.  But why?

Organisations are tinkering around the edges of performance management (e.g. changing the forms, modifying a rating scale etc.) without really addressing the root cause of its lack of impact on performance and productivity.  But as we all know, doing the same thing over and over again will generally yield exactly the same results.  

Or, companies are abolishing their performance review process but without a clear plan on what or how they will do differently in its absence.

So what can you do now to make your performance management approach awesome?  

Onboarding is a hot topic in HR circles, and rightly so.  Clearly it's important to bring new employees into the organisation in a way that sets them up for success in their job and has them excited about the company that they work for.

There's many articles about how to get it right or how to not mess it up, much of which contains good advice.  

But ... the most obvious critical thing to get right in onboarding seems to be missing from this advice ...

The word ‘agility’ is used frequently in discussions these days to describe desired characteristics of leaders, team members and organisations.  And that’s appropriate, as the environment in which organisations and their people now operate is increasingly dynamic, complex and volatile. 

Yet despite this acknowledged imperative for individual and organisational agility, so many HR processes are the antithesis of agile.

 Let’s focus on employee performance management.

Is there a more maligned piece of paperwork in the workplace than the performance management/appraisal form?

"The forms are too long and too complicated".  

"It takes too much time to complete the forms".

"The rating scale has too many/too few options". 

The list goes on and on.

According to an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report released today there are now almost one million Australians who work as independent contractors in their main job. 

 The Forms of Employment report provides a comprehensive insight into the shift in Australia’s labour market from the traditional employer-employee relationship built around full-time employment to branching out into other less traditional working arrangements. 

 It shows that as well as one million contractors in Australia’s labour market there are also around 367,000 employees engaged on a fixed term contract (one-third of whom are in the Education and training industry) and almost 610,000 ‘other business operators’ (people managing their own business).

Anecdotal evidence about the current state of performance management in Australia suggests that there is a significant proportion of employees without the fundamentals of good performance in place.  

So why then is it that managers in organisations don't treat the expenditure on salaries of employees with the same level of scrutiny that they do contractor or consultant fees?

From the moment I took my seat at my first ever HR lecture as a uni student some (gulp) twenty years ago, it hit me that my new profession was one much more likely to be chosen by women than men. In more recent times I have attended or heard of HR events with very little attendance by men and have observed that in HR teams men are often very under-represented.

This piqued my curiosity, so I set about finding out the facts regarding the gender composition of today's HR profession.

I tapped into data from the 2011 Census and found that just fewer than two-thirds of employees (65.6%) who work in Human Resources in Australia are female. This includes recruitment, HR, L&D, employee relations etc.

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AuthorMichael Sleap
CategoriesHuman Resources
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As HR practitioners we frequently recommend, develop, implement and monitor policies, programs and procedures and provide advice that has a potentially large impact (positive or negative) on an organisation's people and performance. As professionals going about our work how much of what we do comes from a sound evidence base? If challenged, could you provide defensible evidence as to why a current or proposed HR or L&D program or practice will be of benefit to your organisation and its people and why that approach was chosen over other possibilities?

I see that many HR Teams and practitioners are conscious of evidence-based HR and espouse the need to underpin their HR practices with it. And I doubt that many people (although there's a few out there) would dispute that basing HR practices on sound evidence generally leads to more efficient and effective HR practices, which in turn positively impact the organisation's performance.

 

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AuthorMichael Sleap
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Almost every company's Learning and Development team is grappling with reduced or tight training budgets on the one hand, and increasing demand for training on the other. In attempting to deal with this challenge, L&D teams should be asking "How effectively are we using our current training budget?", or more pointedly, "how much of our training spend is being burned?".

Outlined below are the main areas in which organisations' training investment is being wasted:

1. Misdiagnosis of development need The most obvious way to burn the training budget is to train a person in an area that isn't a development need.

This could happen by simply putting everyone in a team or department through a training program without any assessment of individual competency (the sheep dip) and therefore training need.

It can also come about due to a misdiagnosis of an apparent development need. For example, an employee is not completing their assigned work in a timely manner so their manager enlists them in a time management training course. However, if the main reason for not completing the work on time is something else such as a lack of understanding of the work itself, then they are being trained in the wrong area. This both burns the training budget and leaves the development need unaddressed.

HR needs to be at the forefront of driving productivity in organisations. Anyone disagree with that? Not likely, especially in this post global financial crisis era where HR more than ever needs to demonstrate its bottom line contribution to business performance. Yet despite general acknowledgement of the importance of increasing organisational productivity, I wonder how many HR professionals can articulate what it means and how HR can help? And if we don't really understand productivity how can we truly influence organisational performance?

Most people in HR haven't studied much in the way of economics and accounting and the concept of productivity, and its practical application in the workplace can be complex and nebulous.

In fact the vast majority of HR related articles about productivity focus almost exclusively on individual efficiency at work - better time management, how to manage your email more effectively, saying no to pointless meetings etc.

Is there anything more uninspiring in large companies than their ‘vision’? Almost every major organisation has one. Do you even know what your employer’s vision is, let alone use it a means of motivation and to guide the decisions that you make on a daily basis? Here are a couple of examples that can be found on the website of large Australian businesses, and which are fairly typical of the ubiquitous company vision.

One large bank's vision is “To be one of the world’s great companies, helping our customers, communities and people to prosper and grow”.

A major oil and gas company's website states “Vision - Our aim is to be a global leader in upstream oil and gas”.

Do you find them inspiring? I am not trying to single out those two companies; the point is that most organisations’ visions are similar. They are typically written as a one sentence statement and are very generic, intangible and formal. It is difficult to see how this is benefiting the company or anyone associated with it.

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AuthorMichael Sleap
Tagsvision

One of the most satisfying jobs in my career was as a student when I stacked shelves in the dairy section of the local supermarket. No, seriously. I worked there for 7 years and I often felt a sense of achievement after a day of work having unpacked pallets of stock and seeing the fruits of my labour as I looked around at the full shelves. The work was highly tangible, fairly simple and repetitive, but enjoyable. But the work of a knowledge worker is quite different to that - it is often intangible, complex, ambiguous and varied, and carries pluses and minuses by way of comparison.

Do you ever hear yourself say or think that you feel like you have achieved little in a work day and would like to just get some real work done? Perhaps what we are lamenting when we say that is the lack of a tangible output that day and therefore we feel like we are not contributing to the team in a meaningful way or earning our keep.

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AuthorMichael Sleap

I had an epiphany of sorts a couple of years ago, courtesy of a good friend of mine.  I caught up with him after he had taken several weeks of holiday/vacation time, most of which was spent in a coastal town a few hours’ drive away. I asked how his break was and he replied “It was fantastic. I switched off my phone and left it at home and just enjoyed the time with my wife and kids”.

I was initially taken aback by what my friend told me. 

“You mean you had your mobile phone switched off for the whole two weeks?” I gasped.

“Yep” he replied in a very self satisfied manner.

“You didn’t even check your work emails just once or twice?”

“No, and it was the best decision I could have made.  I feel like I had a really good mental break”.

After pondering my friend’s approach for a few weeks, I vowed to do the same for my midyear break that year.  For some time I had been aware of some of the negative impact of being connected to work 24/7 and every day of the year – the intermittent distraction of my presence, focus and attention towards my wife and two young children when at home or on holiday. 

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AuthorMichael Sleap

Over the years there is one aspect of organisations that I have come to view as having the greatest positive or negative impact on company performance – executive team alignment. A little while ago, someone I was talking with described their organisation as like a big family.  Not as in one big happy family; the implication was that people behave in some of the worst ways that sometimes only families do. The workplace was neither productive nor a pleasant place to be.

So to continue with the analogy, there are some basic elements which most well-functioning families* seem to have in common:

  • A sense of purpose and priorities;
  • A clear and shared set of values;
  • Good will towards each other;
  • Clear and direct communication; and
  • A good mix of focus on the present and the future.

I often hear or read about how difficult it is for companies to attract, recruit and retain high quality HR professionals.  The cause of this is often attributed to a hot market for HR professionals and insufficient size and depth of the talent pool. Yet it is the HR profession itself which often limits the talent pool from which it will consider recruiting an external HR professional into an organisation.  Look at a sample of job advertisements for HR vacancies and it is astonishing how frequently industry specific experience is listed as a mandatory criterion for a role, often with a minimum number of years working in that industry also specified (e.g. at least 7 years experience in an operational Mining role).

By defining the selection criteria so tightly for HR roles the potential talent pool from which a candidate may be sourced is dramatically reduced.  No wonder it is hard to attract high quality HR professionals to roles in your company – you are battling all your other industry competitors for a share of a small and relatively finite talent pool.  The result is upward pressure on salaries for HR professionals within that industry and employers lamenting the quality and quantity of HR talent in their ranks.

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AuthorMichael Sleap
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I read an article a few days ago which picked up on the recurring debate as to whether or not women can “have it all” – a career, family, friends, own interests and activities etc.  As I read the article I wondered why this discussion almost never pertains to men. At the heart of this issue, in my opinion, is that men are still not perceived by society and perhaps themselves as primary or equal partner carers for their children. It is still relatively uncommon for a man with young children to be a primary carer and fathers are typically in full-time employment in their childrens' pre-school years.

Several years ago as a fledgling Dad I was bemused to have several people seem surprised that I was out alone with my baby, without his Mum. “Babysitting this morning are you?” was a question I was asked on several occasions. "Parenting", I would reply.  I would also receive praise from well intentioned strangers for performing the most basic of parenting tasks - feedback which a mother would never receive as it is considered by society to be her role.

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AuthorMichael Sleap
CategoriesHuman Resources
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