Line Managers and Documentation

Human Resource Professionals have a responsibility to advise our clients (Line Managers) on the practices of good industrial relations.

This role has many challenges. There are times one may come across a Line Manager that really grasps the importance of managing people and does not shy away from difficult or character building conversations with employees.

Then there are times, when one may come across the Line Manager who complains about how they are doing the job of the HR department and refuses to accept responsibility for their own hiring decisions.

I recall one manager who opted to hire an employee from a sister company, after being warned about peculiar behaviour by this said employee. The manager experienced many challenges with the employee. However, nothing was well documented or even properly discussed with the employee according to the rules of good industrial relations. When the manager had enough of the alleged poor behaviour, the manager wanted the employee out of the department. At the late stage, the manager sought to involve HR to dismiss the said employee.

Does the above incident sound familiar to any of our readers? Too often, our line managers are hasty, they don’t document any critical incidents and they want to terminate at will.

Training the line on the value of HR is a critical component to the line manager’s success. The important of documentation, how to have performance related discussions and how progressive discipline works are crucial elements of such training. Usually, the line is more receptive to such training when they are the reason the organisation must pay an ex-employee hundreds of thousands of dollars for a wrongful dismissal. Sometimes, the consequences have to become a reality first before we can truly appreciate the value of HR.

Denise Ali
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CaribHRForum’s 2008 Survey

This year’s survey of HR Professionals in the region is focused on the topic of Regional Human Resource Conferences.

It’s a much larger survey than the one we conducted last year, as it’s going out to over 3000 professionals, in as many as 10 countries.  Hopefully, we’ll get a good understanding of what drives a decision to attend a conference, and what might be done to boost attendance, quality and profitability.

If you’d like to participate, simply join CaribHRForum’s email discussion list (click on the see the Join tab above or click here) and listen out for the survey which will be sent out to the group within a few days, until October 10th when it closes.

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Back to School Blues

“Sorry to be late, the traffic was crazy!” This was the employee’s greeting as she hustled through the door ten minutes late, sweating and complaining about the bad drivers, breakfast in one hand and Blackberry in the other.

This will be a familiar scenario at workplaces throughout the Caribbean as the school term has re-opened. Employers are faced with increasing challenges in managing employee punctuality and productivity, in the face of increasing gridlock at all times of the day. The problem is not peculiar to us, in a 2007 study by Career Builder and USA Today, 31% of late employees cited traffic as the cause of their tardiness. I am certain that that percentage would be much higher in our region.

The punctuality issues definitely impact productivity and the bottom line. If an employee arrived ten minutes late each day, another paid vacation week would have accumulated by the end of the year. Multiply this by the number of employees in your organization and then in the industry and then across all industries in the country and the region. Millions!!! No wonder in a recent International Labour Organisation study it was found that value added per person employed in the Caribbean is nearly three times less than in developed economies.

Productivity is impacted not only by the time lost each day by late arrivals, but by time taken to settle in and focus, time for breakfast that was missed because employees left home at 4 am to beat the traffic. Then this is repeated during the day by employees leaving to pick up the children from school and drop them off.

Solutions! Solutions!

1. Develop a culture of being on time – begin meetings on time, discuss the important issues first, do not repeat information for late comers
2. Reward employees for perfect attendance and punctuality;
3. Discipline employees for tardiness and absenteeism (we can debate about the pros and cons of solutions 1 vs 2);
4. Have a clearly documented attendance and punctuality policy;
5. Introduce flexible work arrangements, telecommuting, compressed work weeks (9-80), job sharing – these help with recruitment, retention and morale;
6. Discuss the importance of being on time at the offer stage; during Orientation Sessions
7. Train managers in dealing with these issues and encourage them to coach employees
8. Remind employees of the existence of the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to help them cope with work life issues;
9. Organise sessions through the EAP on Stress Management, Work Life Balance;
10. Provide on-site catering of breakfast;
11. Introduce a shuttle service for employees and their children
12. Encourage car pooling (some people even ride bicycles around now)
13. Offer on-site child care or benefits towards child care arrangements

1 Key Indicators of the Labour Market, Fifth Edition, International Labour Office, Geneva 2007

Bianca Attong
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Front Line Managers as People Managers

According to a CIPD  report in 2003, one of the keys to managing performance through people is triggering discretionary behaviour in employees so that employees go the “extra mile” for the organisation.

People are more likely to engage in positive discretionary behaviour when they feel motivated, are satisfied with their jobs and are committed to their employer. These outcomes are usually a result of many factors. One factor relates to the Front Line Manager and if they embrace their people management role and how well they execute this function.

The People Management function is often thought to be the sole responsibility of Human Resources and any people problem a manager experienced, the employee would be quickly referred to Human Resources. This view is quickly changing to one that holds the Line Manager responsible for people management as well.

People Management comprises activities like employee relations, performance appraisals, coaching, mentoring, developing, training, recruitment, absence management, work life balance, career management, problem solving, listening, communicating, enforcing policies and the list can go on and on.

Promotion from within is an excellent motivational tool (career mobility) and organisations sought and still seek today to ensure a proper balance of internal promotion (consistency) with external recruitment (creativity). However, when an employee is promoted to a manager role because of the great job they did in the old position, hoping they will perform equally well in the new position regardless of the fact that the new position requires a different set of knowledge, skills and abilities, this leads to a misfit and the results are disastrous to all concerned. You gain a bad manager and lose a great technical expert.

In the past, the Line commented that the people management activities made up the Human Resource function and “why Human Resources wanted to pass on their work to them, they have enough work as it is, no time to manage people”.

How do we move from the Line expressing the above sentiment to a complete turnaround of embracing the people management function with complete ownership and accountability?

One of the first things, I would recommend, is to refine the role of the manager with a specific emphasis on people management and decreasing their transactional role as a normal worker.  Traditionally the job details for a manager include processing duties like that of his /her employees plus the management duties. Hence, a re-definition of the job, the expectations and the requirements to fill the role with an emphasis on the behavioural competencies are needed. Keep in mind, this must be consistent with the company’s core values and people philosophy. Anything we do in Human Resource, organisational alignment is critical.

We don’t have the luxury of starting from a clean slate, what do we do with the candidates in manager’s roles who are not best suited for those jobs? Well, we systematically compare their performance and their tool kit of skills, abilities, behavioural competencies and knowledge to what is listed in the re-defined job. We may also want to solicit some feedback on the people management aspects from their staff. This can be anonymously done and it would serve as a great source of data on the actual people management skills of the manager. The results will help identify varying degrees of job fit or gaps. A decision will have to be made on which candidates can be trained to perform or maybe from the onset, a candidate maybe seen to be a clear square peg in a round hole and may perform better in a highly technical role. It is important to note that the manager who does not perform well in the people management role but was great in the technical role may be suffering great internal chaos and may welcome reverting to one’s comfort zone.

By now, we would have identified candidates that need to be trained on how to perform their people management role. In my company, we developed a “Management Development Programme” which is aimed at training our managers according to our re-defined manager profile (emphasis on people management). Our programme is staffed by an internal faculty, that means our own Executives and selected managers are intended to deliver the training. This allows for increased networking among the staff and Executives. It gives the Executives an opportunity to showcase their knowledge of the respective discipline or area of expertise and also provides a sense of satisfaction knowing that they are helping the staff develop.  The key about the training is not only about the “what” but more importantly about the “how”. The “how” speaks to the soft skills training of handling performance challenges, grievances, discipline problems, communication and the like.

Measures of success may range from turnover rates with reasons, absenteeism rates, employee feedback scores, number of employee relation issues escalated for resolution at a higher level, percentage of training gap among team, percentage of new employees confirmed on time among others that can be aligned to one’s won situation.  In my company, we have a 180 degree feedback form completed by a manager’s direct reports on the manager and we also include people measures and targets on the people perspective of their respective balanced scorecards.

Line managers should specifically pay attention to conducting frequent quality performance appraisals where performance feedback is exchanged periodically. Training, coaching, guidance, involvement and communication are key areas for the manager to invest time in. One’s direct reports must feel a sense of openness to discuss matters easily. Work life balance is becoming increasingly important and as such should be respected by the manager and finally recognition is critical, a simple “thank you, great job” does not cost much. It will be wonderful if the organisation has a reward and recognition programme that is easy to use without any bureaucracy and too many authorisations to slow down the process. Rewards should immediately or as close to the action being rewarded.

Managers are people too  and as much as they have a huge responsibility of managing their staff, the organisation must recognise that the managers also have needs. Too often, the organisation may take the middle level managers for granted, where they are expected to turn stone into cheese with little or minimal resources. Lack of resources, unrealistic deadlines, with conflicting tasks and deliverables only serve to manifest itself negatively in the way the employees are treated by the same manager is stressed.  Organisations are well-advised to listen to their managers and treat them in much the same way they would like them to treat the general staff.

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HR and Hurricane Preparedness

For many of us in the Caribbean, we dread the months of June through November that represent hurricane season.  We watch the tropical activity with bated breath, feeling guiltily relieved when the storm does not pass our way.  Unfortunately, it usually means it will directly impact one of our island neighbours.  While some seasons are thankfully uneventful, others can devastate lives, families, workplaces, and nations.

What is HR’s role in preparing for and recovering from the disaster of a hurricane?

1.    Assist with the preparation of a hurricane preparedness manual that should include what-to-do checklists, securing company facilities, property and information, damage assessments, emergency contact persons, addresses and phone numbers, and evacuation plans.
2.    Form a safety committee that would lead the preparation activities as outlined in the manual.  The committee should facilitate drills and evaluation of the safety and preparedness processes, create implementation teams and execute a communication strategy to the organization.
3.    Ensure that there are current phone records and emergency contact information for all employees so that they may be contacted after the emergency.
4.    Create emergency leave and assistance policies to help employees and their families who may have been injured or suffered material loss as a result of the hurricane.
5.    Provide counseling and support for employees and managers who may have been adversely affected by the hurricane.
6.    Recognize and celebrate the efforts of all to secure the workplace and celebrate the strength and commitment of the team.

Hurricanes are not the only disasters our Caribbean nations experience and HR should have contingency plans for all eventualities, especially as they relate to leave, pay, and support to the employees and managers of their organizations.  As the heart of any organization, HR must be ready, available and proactive in the event of any emergency.

Simmone Bowe

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Olympic Lessons for Caribbean HR

Well, the Beijing Olympics have come and gone.  The lessons and stories, however will last for a long time.  From the mind-boggling opening ceremony, to the pride Caribbean people felt and continue to feel at the tremendous success of our athletes.  Congratulations to all!!!! Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis – everyone.  The world was forced to take notice of this beautiful region for reasons other than sun, sea and sand.

Of course we the people of the Caribbean have always known that we excel in all spheres of endeavour.  I think the time has come and the opportunity is ripe for us in the Human Resource profession to really harness this excitement and sustain the momentum for positive results.  We have been talking for a long time; the time has come to act.

The games of the 29th Olympiad have really provided a plethora of analogies for us to draw from and move forward.  A few things that stood out for me in terms of relevance to Human Resources included, the limitless potential that collectivism can achieve, the ability of good coaches to recognize and develop raw talent, the use of benchmarks and performance measures in a systematic way to manage performance, awareness of the competition and best practices, the attributes of successful athletes, the importance of teamwork and proper technique and the value of recognition and reward.

Much has been written and discussed about the individual versus the team and collective.  I think it has been proven time and time again, that there is strength in unity.  The politicians of the region seem to be shaking things up again in terms of integration, so why not us as Human Resource Professionals.  This forum is a start and the challenge is for us all to do our part, so that we can chart a way forward in earnest.

Richard Thompson, Trinidad and Tobago’s double silver medalist at the games, credits his secondary school coach, as identifying his raw potential and putting him on the path to success.  Every organization is full of “high potentials”, it is our job as HR to work with management to identify these employees and put programmes in place for them to achieve their full potential while meeting the organisational vision.

These programmes can include training, stretch targets, assignment to challenging projects and often international exposure.  HR needs to be careful however; to ensure that there is a sound plan in place for these employees future in the workplace.  A great deal of time and money is spent and sometimes employees leave organizations as the great opportunities and positions promised to them to utilize this development does not materialize.

The athletes’ performances were all incredible, but certainly the performance was relative to all past performances in the history of these and other games.  Usian Bolt’s record-breaking times are awe inspiring because we are able to compare them to times of other athletes.  This emphasizes the need for performance targets and measures in relation to benchmarks.  Human Resource professionals need to embrace the use of metrics and targets and encourage the organizations for which they work to do the same.  Employee and organizational performance should be measured continuously.  While most appraisal processes capture employee and organizational performance in terms of standards and metrics, HR can do better for itself.

How many HR professionals can say that they track organizational metrics on a regular basis and use the results to inform decision making or influence strategy?  I recently started capturing some simple information, absenteeism in terms of time and cost as well as time to fill key vacancies.  This has enabled the organization to take notice of how absenteeism affects the bottom line.  This has also meant support for initiatives that HR needs to put in place to reduce these figures.  The time to fill metric has assisted me in streamlining the recruitment and selection process.

Put another way, the absence of metrics and measures does not optimize the efficiency of operations.  There is no way to hide from the figures, so capturing them forces me to be more resourceful.  Several HR professionals I have encountered have never tracked metrics and some admit they do not know where to start.  SHRM’s website is a starting point, there is a list of several metrics and their related formulae.  Also contacting a colleague who already does this is extremely useful.  You can recommend this as a topic at your local HR Association.

Awareness of the competition and best practices were also a lesson to be learnt.  Know your competition and what makes them successful.  Who are the industry leaders?  Who is known for innovation, training and development or other things?  As HR practitioners, we need to be in community with each other, through any means.  Be active, network.  Libby Sartain and Martha Finney make this point in their book HR from the Heart.  We can learn from one another and therefore strengthen the collective HR function and organizations as a whole.  The Harvard Business Review of June 2008, has an interesting case study, that addresses losing staff and in particular to the competition.  The need for HR to take an active role in managing these situations is highlighted and knowing the competition is a start.

Successful athletes share certain traits in common.  These include talent, discipline, desire, good support system and motivation.  HR can play a part in enhancing similar attributes in employees.  The systems and processes in the organization must support these.  Whether identifying talent, effective leadership, counseling and coaching, motivation through intrinsic and intangible compensation philosophy.  Peter Senge, in his book, the Fifth Discipline, The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation, speaks about building a shared vision.  The employees and organisations’ vision must be in congruence, so that employees as he puts it can continually enhance their capacity to realize their highest aspirations.

Teamwork and proper technique were quite evident in the relays especially.  The Americans were devastated when their women’s and men’s 4×100 were disqualified after dropping the baton.  The point is that you can be talented or have great employees, team work is necessary on some occasions and ensuring that employees approach their work in a systematic manner is critical.  Often times, there is no Orientation and Induction in place and employees complain of having to figure things out as they go along.  No job description is provided or if it is, no targets and standards are outlined.  This is not the ideal situation.  Proper documentation of procedures, where applicable can lessen the time taken for employees to reach their optimal performance levels.  Consistency in approaching tasks can also assist with the internal branding of operations.  The intangible results displayed following teambuilding activities, whether structured or unstructured as in social activities go a long way in improving morale and strengthening the team.

Lastly, the recognition and reward of individual and collective achievements, is imperative to sustaining success.  The expressions on the faces of those athletes, as they received their medals, the tears of joy and pride seeing their flags being raised, and the anthems of their countries played were touching.

Organisations must ensure that they have Recognition and Reward Policies in place.  Again, this does not always have to be monetary, an e-mail, a thank you note, public recognition at a staff meeting, a picture on the notice board are all simple but effective ways to send out a positive message.  Of course monetary rewards are great, but do not let a budget dampen your efforts.  The Corporate Leadership Council in a four year survey of more than 100 000 employees around the world found that employees join organizations for rational motives such as better career opportunities or benefits, but stay and give their all for emotional reasons.  These emotional reasons include connection to the mission and how they perceive their contribution is valued or recognized.

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P.S.
Congratulations to the Empolyers’ Consultative Association of Trinidad and Tobago for implementing the Champion Employer of the Year Award.  Congratulations to all the winners.  This public recognition of organizations with good HR practices will motivate all organizations to be the best they can be, perhaps a Champion Regional Employer might be a useful idea to assist with integration.

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