Bring Out the Scalpel Not the Hatchet

Let us not be hasty, panic stricken and anxious to cut salaries and retrench staff across the board using a non-discriminate hatchet approach as a knee-jerk reaction to deal with the economic storm.

Instead, let us review all expenditures to determine where we can reduce or eliminate unnecessary costs in a very systematic way where the fall out is acceptable and or manageable. We must guard against and be quite wary of cutting expenditures that may negatively impact the growth of the business.  An aggressive growth strategy maybe now replaced with a conservative growth expectation which may satisfy the now risk-averse appetite.

As HR professionals, we must demonstrate creativity and innovation in how we reward staff since any salary increases and or bonuses may be  minimal or even non-existent.

One idea is to explore non-cash rewards as a key component in an employee’s compensation package during this uncertain economy. We need to counter the modest “cash box” with innovative meaningful and customised non-cash rewards.

Non-cash rewards connect with employees in a way that cash cannot. They help shape and reinforce positive company culture and core values that may manifest itself in sustainable productivity, high talent retention rates, and minimal absenteeism with dedicated, committed and loyal team members.

Non-cash rewards can be designed to be agile and very flexible to reward any desirable behaviour or outcome. There rewards are mostly instantaneous and this instant gratification is quite attractive to many employees, especially those in the millennial generation.

Non-cash rewards should be aligned and integrated to the larger total rewards philosophy to drive short term behaviours at first followed by long term performance improvements.

An advantage of non-cash rewards is that it can be customised to the recipient and to the behaviour being rewarded. A personal hand written note from the Chief Executive Officer or recognition on the company’s website or a customised certificate developed from publishing software and printed internally. The ideas are endless. An employee once asked for plant seeds to help start a kitchen garden. The variety of non-cash rewards makes it a very powerful tool that really speaks to the recipient in a personal way that cannot be monetised.  The employee must have choice.

The expectations must be clear, the desired behaviours or outcomes must be clearly understood. Real time visibility into rewards attainment is critical. The employees must be able to track their own progress along the reward attainment continuum in a transparent manner that is fair and equitable.

It is expected that the administration, accuracy and efficiency of the non-cash reward system must be spot on. This impacts the credibility and brand of the programme. It is critical that there must be no mistakes. Roles and responsibilities must be clear among all stakeholders. It must not be seen or perceived by the recipients to be onerous or time consuming but rather a pleasant enriching experience.

We need to reap the rewards of all the engagement work we would have been doing in the past. This is a turbulent time and we want our talent to stay with us. All the work we would have done in the past will come now have an opportunity to be clearly manifest itself.

More than ever, we need to hold on to our core values, as this reinforces our culture and guides us in making tough decisions especially when we need to prioritise among all “equally” important things. Our culture is the tie that binds us in an extricable way that creates our behavioural bedrock on which we must rely to see us through this storm.

Denise Ali

Core HR Competencies

picIn a 2007 Human Resource Competency Study (HRCS) undertaken by University of Michigan Professor Dave Ulrich and his colleague Wayne Brockbank, six core competencies were identified for high performing Human Resource professionals.

They are as follows:

1. The Credible Activist – is respected, admired, listened to and offers a point of view, takes a position and challenges assumptions by:
•    Delivering results with integrity
•    Sharing information
•    Building relationships of trust
•    Doing HR with an attitude (taking appropriate risks, providing candid observations, influencing others)
2. The Cultural Steward recognizes, articulates and helps shape a company’s culture by:
•    Facilitating change
•    Crafting culture
•    Valuing culture
•    Personalizing culture (helping employees find meaning in their work, managing work/life balance, encouraging innovation)
3. The Talent Manager/Organizational Designer masters theory, research and practice in both talent management and organizational design by:
•    Ensuring today’s and tomorrow’s talent
•    Developing talent
•    Shaping the organization
•    Fostering communication
•    Designing reward systems
4. The Strategy Architect knows how to make the right change happen by:
•    Sustaining strategic agility
•    Engaging customers
5. The Business Ally contributes to the success of the business by:
•    Serving the value chain
•    Interpreting social context
•    Articulating the value proposition
•    Leveraging business technology
6. The Operational Executor administers the day-to-day work of managing people inside an organization by:
•    Implementing workplace policies
•    Advancing HR technology
A good way to start the New Year would be to speak with your leaders and if you do not already know, find out what traits are most important to them.  Review these against the six competencies, think about your strengths and the competencies that require more focus from you, then discuss with the team to get their ideas. Cheers to a positive 2009!

Bianca Attong

Human Resource Auditing

As the year draws to a close, we should take some time to review our achievements against plans for our organizations. We all know that we worked hard dealing with issues of productivity and leadership, but have our policies and procedures contributed to the successes or failures of the organizations for which we work so diligently. A comprehensive Human Resource Audit can assist in answering this question. You do not have time for this, then what are you really working so hard for each day?

An HR Audit is precisely that, a review of policies, systems and procedures and their implementation to determine if they met the needs effectively and if they were in compliance with labour laws and in keeping with good industrial relations practice. It will highlight areas that need enhancing, introduction or removal.

Can compliance be increased? Did the line effectively and consistently utilize the systems in place? Did the strategies focused on meet organizational needs? Are there areas where cost savings can be derived? Can risk be reduced? Are there opportunities for training and development? Did the organization perform in keeping with best practice? I am sure that you can add to this list of questions that can be answered by undertaking an audit.

In-house Human Resource practitioners can undertake the audit, or assistance can be sought from Consultants if time or capability does not permit. A series of in-depth questions can be developed as a first step. The scope of the audit also has to be determined. It can focus on specific functions that may have been of concern during the year or will be going forward, such as Recruitment and Selection. It can focus on areas that were highlighted in the organisation’s strategic plan. A general focus of all aspects of HR can also be undertaken, touching on Recruitment, Retention, Performance, Compensation, Recognition and Reward, Training and Termination to name a few. The Employee files should also be a priority as we know the importance of the mantra “documentation, documentation, documentation”. This is where many organizations expose themselves to the greatest risk.

Policies can be reviewed, but metrics must also be used to review what actually occurred during the year. The use of metrics can lead to direct strategies that can be employed to address issues revealed. For instance, the time to fill metric for key positions may show a less than adequate recruitment system. The number of grievances reaching past the second stage may suggest the implementation or revamping of non-crisis meetings with the union.

The results from the audit can be used to reward departments that had acceptable levels of compliance and to organize refresher training for those that did not. Feedback together with an action plan to address findings should be presented to management for discussion and buy-in.

Dedicated use of the auditing process will assist HR professionals with concretizing their impact on the bottom line and will provide avenues for continuous improvement.

* Adapted from a SHRM White Paper by Theresa Daniel entitled HR Compliance Audits: “Just Nice” or Really Necessary.

Bianca Attong

HR Opportunities During the Global Financial Crisis

“Around the world stock markets have fallen, large financial institutions have collapsed or been bought out, and governments in even the wealthiest nations have had to come up with rescue packages to bail out their financial systems” by Anup Shah on 9th December 2008 from

The global financial crisis has impacted and continues to impact many lives.  Companies are forced to retrench staff, freeze or reduce salaries, place a hold on incentive and bonus payments, postpone and or invoke a benefit holiday. Companies are challenged on deciding which formula is the most appropriate for them. The Human Resource team is a key contributor to those decisions and the Communications department is critical in crafting and engineering the delivery of the messages to the stakeholders.

How do we see this current situation of lay offs around the world as an opportunity? In Trinidad, we have experienced great difficulty in recruiting talent. We have seen numerous articles on the “War for Talent”, but now the landscape is changing. Should we, depending on our own business situation, do the expected thing and freeze hiring across the board? Or do we freeze hiring only for the positions that are easy to source candidates for?

An idea is to adopt a non-conventional approach to the sudden availability of talent in the market. We can use the sudden flood of retrenched talent to bargain and negotiate cost efficient employment contracts with an emphasis on lifestyle benefits.

In Trinidad, the construction sector is in the decline, this means that the construction companies that evolved to satisfy and support the Government during the construction boom are now closing shop or drastically scaling down. This means that their support staff (Information Technology, Accounts, Human Resource, Marketing), will be looking for jobs early next year. We can tap into this resource to supplement our pool of talent from which to recruit. Now is the ideal time to hire supreme talent.

In Trinidad, I have observed a number of Trinidadian families returning home from living abroad, and this is also serving to soften the job market.

We need to take the initiative to fill our critical roles and or start developing our pipeline of quality candidates in preparation for the economic recovery. Talent pooling is an emergent opportunity that we must take advantage of during this turbulent time. We can network and use this time to build relationships with targeted talent aimed at filling our talent pool.

We can use this time to negotiate cost effective training agreements with third party vendors. We can use any operational downtime for internal training to ensure survival team members are cross trained on multiple portfolios. If we have to retrench staff, we should attempt to retrench using strong performance criteria, where the poor performers are weeded out first. The company’s performance management system must be strong, transparent, fair and rigorous to stand up to scrutiny if the retrenchment process is challenged in the Industrial Court.

We have had times of peace, followed by times of war. Famine and depression have followed booms and bull markets. We should start preparing or planning for the impending boom that is going to follow this time of financial crisis. As a Human Resource Professional, we should be alerting our businesses to the human capital opportunities for selective recruitment, development, performance filtering, retention with reasonable and manageable compensation and benefits.

Denise Ali

Is HR Recession-Proof?

In this time of cutbacks and layoffs occurring globally, any HR professional worth their salt must have asked this question:  Am I recession-proof?  An online search may reveal that HR is not included in lists of recession proof jobs and careers.

If an organization reviewing its labor pool and determines that the human resource department is one that it doesn’t need, we as a profession are in big trouble.  Since we are the ones who are involved in decisions like these, we know what executives and managers look for when laying off persons.  Two words come immediately to mind – dead weight.  How is ‘dead weight’ defined?

•    Has a negative, complaining attitude
•    Is a non-performer
•    Watches the clock
•    Lacks company loyalty
•    Has low skill
•    Adds no value/replaceable

Let it not be said of the human resource professional that these are the characteristics that describe us.  Instead, we must show that we are adding value to the organization by making efficient, creative use of resources and budgets, planning relevant programs, preparing employees for change and transitions, and presenting balanced, objective strategies to support the business.  No job is safe in times like these, but we can safeguard our careers in HR by being exceptional, committed, and irreplaceable.

Simmone Bowe


Engaging Staff at Year-End

Managing productivity is a challenge on a good day, through in the Christmas season and employees can spend more time planning their outfits for the season’s parties than on the work at hand.  Absenteeism may also increase.

Don’t get me wrong, there are also several positives that can be derived from the festivities.  So the challenge for Human Resources is to balance these against the relaxed attitude that may pervade the atmosphere.

Some ideas include involving staff in planning the festivities.  This can be achieved in a structured way to minimize disruption to operations.  Volunteers can be solicited for decorating the office, planning the end of year function, organizing activities such as the popular “Earthlings and Angels” or assisting the less fortunate in society.  Staff feels that their creative skills are utilized and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when things turn out successfully.

Our firm closes on Christmas Eve and half-day on New Year’s Eve as it is felt that employees deserve the time off for their families and the productivity levels are really quite low anyway.  This impacts morale positively.

Staff meetings are still important to prepare for the coming year, especially in these times, planning, budgeting and other related activities should be in focus.  End of year appraisals also come on stream, though these continue into the New Year.  Payment of bonuses in some companies occurs around this time.

Attention should also be given to considering the feelings of those employees whose religion dictates that they do not celebrate the season.  Other types of recognition should be planned, if possible, to ensure that they know their efforts over the past year were appreciated.

Bianca Attong