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.

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 ...

It is well documented that there is a significant positive relationship between leadership and a range of organisational and employee performance measures.

Therefore it is not surprising that the majority of medium to large size organisations are focusing on and investing significantly in developing their leaders. 

But is the investment delivering bang for the buck?  Well, not always.  Let’s take a look at five common fatal flaws of the design and delivery of Leadership Development Programs – and most importantly, how to avoid them.

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AuthorMichael Sleap

Last week I published a list of critical decisions to make when commencing as an independent consultant or freelancer – see here if you missed itThis is a big topic, so here is part two.

As mentioned in the previous post, starting out as a freelancer involves a mix of both boring and important things to consider, as well as the fun and cool aspects which led you to this way of working in the first place - this post covers both.

So let’s jump right into part two.

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AuthorMichael Sleap
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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?

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
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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.

Businesses across the world are experiencing some of the toughest operating conditions for many decades.  Currently it is difficult for many companies to maintain let alone grow their profits.  What might be overlooked in some organisations is the critical role that HR can play in boosting profitability.  In its simplest form: profit = revenue – expenses

The two main ways to grow profits are to increase revenue and/or decrease expenses.  Focusing on profit growth is often seen to be the sole domain of accountants and operational business leaders. However this should be an aspect of a business in which HR provides leadership and makes a tangible contribution.

Think about it.  Labour costs are usually the largest (or near largest) expense item for a business – and this is a cost that can be planned for and managed.  Every dollar of expense that is saved goes straight to the bottom line (profits).  On the revenue side of the ledger, the performance of people is a major determinant of business revenue generated.  So HR, often considered to be focusing on the ‘softer’ side of business, is critical to hard business outcomes.

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AuthorMichael Sleap
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Selecting and implementing the right Talent Management System (TMS) to meet your company’s needs can be a daunting and challenging task.   So for those non-techie HR people (like this blogger!), here are seven things you need to know before implementing a TMS.

 1. Understand what a TMS is and the associated jargon This emerging field can be confusing for a typical HR professional with little IT background.  Learn as much as you can as early as possible about what a TMS* is and what the jargon means (SaaS, UAT, SSO anyone?).  This knowledge will ensure that you are better positioned to articulate your company’s TMS requirements, assess vendors’ products and ask pertinent questions to ultimately select the TMS of best fit for your organisation.

 2. First ensure a clear and shared a vision for Talent Management in your company Forget about the software initially – what is your company’s talent management vision?  What processes, tools and behaviours will support achievement of the vision?  Once you have helped create a talent management vision that your company’s key stakeholders (especially senior management) buy in to, you then have the foundations and mandate to find a TMS vendor that will partner with you to help enable achievement of the vision. 

Last Saturday the Geelong Cats crushed reigning AFL premiers Collingwood to win their third premiership in the past six years and stake their claim as one of the best sides in AFL/VFL history.  Geelong’s dominance in recent years is remarkable of itself given that the AFL is designed to share success around through mechanisms of equalisation such as the player draft and salary cap.  Yet it must be remembered that Geelong is no ordinary football club - their 2007 premiership win came on the back of finishing tenth in 2006, broke a 44 season premiership drought, and as recently as the late 1990s the club was on the brink of bankruptcy.  By the club’s own admission, Geelong was very good at being average.

The turnaround at the Geelong Football Club was led by Chief Executive Officer Brian Cook and President Frank Costa.  Costa and Cook applied organisational development (OD) models and techniques, many of which had rarely been seen in the football industry, in a bid to improve the flagging fortunes of the club.

Thinking about your organisation for a moment, which of these phenomena are prevalent? ‘Personality clashes’. Employees being micromanaged by their bosses. Slow and bureaucratic decision-making processes. Poor communication.

If these issues are part of the daily fabric of your organisation it simply highlights how hard it is to find ‘good’ employees, right? Well, probably not. There is every chance that the culprit is a low profile and oft neglected aspect of the company – the organisational structure.

It’s not a popular thing to say out loud but the majority of organisations out there have too many reporting layers. Way too many, in fact.

Why does this occur? It is partly simply because of the lack of thought and planning that goes into organisational structures. Organisational structure is a critical enabler or blocker with respect to achievement of a company’s strategic objectives. Therefore it is perplexing to see how often structure is overlooked by senior leadership teams as an area requiring their focus, and then evolves haphazardly, and ultimately hinders organisational performance.

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AuthorMichael Sleap