An Urgent Call to Action

As a Human Resources (HR) professional who was born in the Caribbean, I have taken a keen interest in the evolution of the profession in the region.  Over the years there have been some very positive changes, but there is still much to be done in making the profession’s impact felt not only in the corporate settings, but also on a regional scale.

As you might have discerned from reading my previous blogs, I strongly believe that in the Caribbean HR professionals can’t afford to only use their skills to improve their respective corporations. Due to the region’s small geographic size and population, HR professionals must utilize their skills to benefit and elevate their various societies. The two sectors are intricately tied together and success in one area can’t be achieved without success in the other.

I usually begin each day by reading (online) a variety of newspapers from throughout the region. This gives me a perspective (biased perhaps) of some of the major events taking place in the region. From my review I am struck by how many of the problems taking place on the national levels can be attributed to an inadequate knowledge and/or implementation of HR practices. This is the case whether we are addressing, the selection of top public officials such as a Commissioner of Police, a less than adequate work ethic, failing educational and social systems, poor customer service, and a variety of other issues.

Political realities and considerations aside, these are essentially all human problems that can and should be addressed by HR professionals. Though there are times when special “foreign” know-how is needed to help solve some problems, we must be careful of becoming overly dependent on “outside” expertise in resolving all of our problems.

We must realize that some problems that occur in the region, regardless of how perplexing they might appear, can only be resolved by professionals in the region. This is the case because there are times when the “most appropriate” solution(s) can only be derived by those who are most familiar with the problems, and who understand the full context in which they occur. A sole reliance on outside help can lead to the region’s HR professionals doing the following:

•    Shifting the blame for problems and their solutions. This can lead to the relinquishing of ownership of the problem(s) and therefore the responsibility for the results.
•    Fostering a “dependency” model and thus failing to develop adequate skills for solving future problems.
•    Perpetuating the foreign is better than local mentality and relying on foreign “technologies” rather than developing and implementing their own solutions.

This brings us back to the subject of this blog. In the space remaining I would like to discuss a few ways in which HR professionals in the region can begin to meet some of the challenges that face them. What I am about to present will not be easy, but will take some degree of our time, our persistence and, of course, our commitment.

We have had the discussions, read the numerous blogs and articles, attended the seminars and workshops and now it is time for us to do something. We need to begin to act on what we already know. Discussions are useful, even necessary, but without the appropriate actions, they are useless. I believe it is time for HR professionals in the Caribbean to take action.

Where do we begin? What problem(s) should we work on? What are our priorities? What will be the vehicle(s) used to get us to our destination? What’s our final destination? These are some of the many important questions that need to be addressed. I believe that the HR profession in the region is mature and sufficiently knowledgeable to sort these issues out.  One thing is certain; no single person or entity among us has the wherewithal to resolve all of the various problems singlehandedly. Our problems and solutions require a united approach. Through such an approach we can learn from each other and compliment each other’s knowledge, strengths and practices.

To arrive at the point where we can come and work together for the greater good of all, we must overcome the following barriers:

•    The tendency to think that we know it all. Taken to the extreme this tendency can lead to an unwillingness to learn from others, which can result in isolated thinking and action. You might be doing well on your own, but think about how much better you can be doing with the help of others.

•    Thinking that we don’t have the time for such “extras”. We usually tend to make time for what we consider important and valuable. Making the time to improve the performance of our corporate entities and the well-being of our communities should already be high on our list. If they are not, we need to seriously reexamine our priorities.

•    We are too small to make a valuable contribution. The value and impact of our contribution should be the determining factors rather than the size.

•    Sharing of our ‘successes’ with others will allow them to become as successful as us. Fortunately, this belief is absolutely correct. A good reminder is that the universe is big enough to have more than one excellent entity at the same time.

•    Revealing our “weaknesses” to others will give them an advantage over us. Since we don’t live in a perfect or fair world some might choose to do this very thing. However, by discussing and coming to grips with our weaker areas will give us a better understanding of them and help us to correct them.

What vehicle should we use to foster our collaboration and sharing of ideas? This is an easy question to answer because of the labor of love undertaken some time ago by our colleague and friend Francis Wade. He had the vision and foresight to create the CaribHRForum, CaribHRNews and soon to be CaribHR.Radio, which are excellent platforms for us to use. Through these media and a monthly one (1) hour long teleconference (which is currently in the works and will be announced) we can begin to meet and exchange ideas that can be of value to the profession as well as the region.

My challenge to my Caribbean HR colleagues is to give these ideas a fair chance. We need each other to make this amazing project work. There will be lots of opportunities for your contributions as well as participation. I believe that together we can develop and enhance HR models that will be of tremendous benefit to the region and the world as a whole.

H. Nathan Charles, Ph.D.
[email_link]

10 Ways to Deliver Exceptional Customer Dis-Service

To determine the level of customer disservice provided by you and/or your organization, honestly evaluate how many of the following apply to your situation.

1. View customers as the enemy. Since they are the enemy approach and treat them in an adversarial manner. The goal is to get them before they get you. Remember that customers exist solely to make your life miserable. Life would be more peaceful and definitely less complicated if you did not have to deal with customers on a regular basis.

2. Ignore customer complaints. Customers love to complain and will do so at every opportunity. To deal with this “irritation” simply ignore them, and their complaining will quickly go away. Listening to continual complaining can give us a skewed perspective of your customers. If ignoring complaints does not eradicate them, try the following strategy. Blame the customers for the predicaments that they are currently experiencing and place the responsibility of solving their “issues” squarely on their shoulders. This will show them where the problems really reside and get you off the hook.

3. Quit treating customers as though they are always right. Everyone knows that it is not humanly possible to always be right. Customers are no exception to this rule. In fact, the kindest thing you can do is show customers when they are wrong so they can learn from their mistakes.

4. Arrange your staff schedules to suit your needs rather than those of your customers. Making shift changes during peak service times and allowing most of your staff to be away during the regular lunch hour only create minor inconveniences to customers. Why should you be bothered by customers who are insensitive to the needs of your organization? Customers would be better off planning their schedules around yours rather than around themselves. They should quit being so selfish and inconsiderate.

5. Design and install phone systems that drive customers crazy. Having fewer lines is always better and more cost efficient than having more lines. In the event of an upsurge in calls customers can at times be placed on hold (with the appropriate music, of course) to await their turn for service. If customers can’t wait, they can always call back during regular business hours. For those customers who have the tenacity to hold and get through, in the interest of your time efficiency, pass them electronically around various entities until they find the correct one to address their concern.

6. Don’t take any nonsense from customers. Put and keep them in their “place” and if they really get annoying, remind them that they have the choice of going elsewhere with their business. This will teach them not to mess with you.

7. Don’t waste time and other precious resources on trying to get customer feedback on the quality of your service. Such input is not really beneficial because customers do not really know what they need. You are in a better position to determine customer needs, hence the reason they came to you in the first place. In fact, you have your own quality experts who take care of such matters. Attempting to get customer feedback can undermine customers’ trust and confidence in your ability to best serve them.

8. Forget about developing “customer loyalty”. We all know that most customers are only loyal to themselves. They will do whatever is in their own best interest and there is nothing that we can do about that fact. If we lose a few customers it is not a big deal, we can always replace them with some of the many who we know are out there. As long as there is a need for the products or services that we provide, there will always be an abundance of customers at our doorsteps.

9. Stop trying to exceed customers’ expectations. This is a pipe dream and sets us up for failure. Why would you ever want to take someone to a place that they don’t even know exists? It is more respectful to give customers exactly what they requested and they will be forever grateful to us. Doing anything more could be viewed as our not trusting their judgment, or them not knowing what they needed.
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10. Service after the initial sale is not our problem. Customers should remember that we are the agents/distributors and not the manufacturer of the products. Therefore, it is unfair for customers to hold us responsible in any way for any defective or malfunctioning products. The best that we can do in the event of problems is to refer customers to the manufacturer and allow them to deal with the problem. We must get customers to understand that it’s not our problem!

Score yourself and see how you did:

6 -10 – You are definitely delivering exceptional customer disservice.
3 – 5 – You are delivering good customer disservice.
< 2 – You are probably not delivering customer disservice.

H. Nathan Charles, Ph.D.
[email_link]

Hiring Right!

The longer I practice HR the clearer a few things appear to me. Over the years, one of the things that has become patently clear to me is that many (to say all might sound a bit too presumptuous) of the problems currently experienced in companies can be traced to poor or inadequate hiring practices. Failure to address and correct hiring issues is not only creating countless problems for companies, but is also seriously preventing them and their various staffs from achieving their fullest potential.

The matter then becomes one of identifying the problems associated with hiring and seeking appropriate measures to rectify them. The good news in all of this for HR is that improving the hiring process is an area in which HR can undoubtedly take the lead and create substantial value for a corporate entity. HR has found itself in this enviable position because in many instances HR is the initiator and/or driver of the hiring process. In many instances, if HR is not in complete control of the hiring process, it is in at least a strategic position to exert a significant degree of influence on it.

This article will review a few processes that can lead to “poor hiring” decisions and suggest ways in which they can be rectified. All things being equal, I believe it is safe to say that “it takes excellent people to create excellent companies”. If this is the case, why are we finding it so difficult to find “excellent” people to fill positions within our various companies?  The answer I believe resides in the way we conduct our selection process. Here are some measures that HR can undertake to correct some of the deficiencies in the hiring process.

Understand the Corporate Culture

It is impossible to hire correctly without fully understanding the corporate cultural milieu in which one operates. Those of us who have experienced or lived in a different culture can well remember the often awkward, even embarrassing episodes we perhaps faced when we first encountered the new culture. Our “unfamiliarity” with the new culture negatively impacted our “normal” performance. In many ways we felt like ducks out of water. The more familiar we were with the new culture before encountering it, the easier or even quicker was our adjustment to it. The same is true in corporate settings. A person’s “cultural fit” with an organization can have a profound impact on that person’s performance.

In hiring, HR needs to ensure that there is a better “cultural fit” between people being considered for employment and the corporate culture that they are entering. The closer one gets to the “ideal” match the quicker and easier will be the person’s adjustment. An excellent case in point of this principle is demonstrated by Southwest Airlines (one of the world’s most profitable and successful airlines), where they understand the unique nature of their corporate culture. They understand that it takes a certain type of employee to be successful in their fun-loving, even irreverent corporate environment. Therefore Southwest’s hiring mantra has been “hire for attitude, train for skills”.

Southwest is in no way disregarding skills, but they are acknowledging that in the larger scheme of things, having the correct attitude trumps skills.  Not having the right attitude makes it difficult for a potential employee to adjust or even survive in their corporate environment. Failure to adjust to one’s environment can affect an employee’s present and future job performance.

Understand the Nature of the Position

Another major pitfall that HR can easily succumb to is trying to fill an open employment position while not fully understanding all of the requirements that go along with that position. Having an in-depth knowledge of a position before attempting to fill it should be a no-brainer, but more often than not this step is done rather shoddily, or not at all. To fill a position adequately, one must know all the details and requirements of that position. What characteristics a person would need to be successful or, for that matter unsuccessful, should be understood and addressed. The ultimate goal of HR should be to “fill positions” and not simply to “place people”. The emphasis first and foremost should be on the position. Focusing on the position will ensure that it will be filled with the most suitable candidate.

Another distraction can arise by the way HR chooses to review an applicant’s qualifications for a position. Many critical and important questions can crop up as HR seeks to address this issue. What constitutes an applicant meeting the requirements for a particular position? Are there minimum and maximum requirements for the position? Do the requirements need to be achieved formally (e.g. through some type of schooling), or informally (e.g. gained through practical experience)? What tools should be used to assess whether or not an applicant has the necessary requirements? These questions all need to be adequately addressed by HR to make certain that hiring decisions make an impact on the organization.

Minimum Vs Maximum Requirements:

In reviewing the list of job-related requirements HR is often faced with several choices. Should HR choose applicants with some, most or all of the identified job requirements in order to make a good hire? In my opinion, simply having to choose between low, medium or high skill levels is not the appropriate route or method to pursue.  A more appropriate route is deciding what skills are absolutely needed by anyone to be adequately functional in the targeted position. In other words, we are establishing a minimum or threshold level, below which we are not prepared or willing to accept any applicant.

By taking this position we are doing two things, (1) making a clear statement that to be considered seriously for an available position all applicants must have a basic level of skills and (2) recognizing that if applicants don’t have the basic skills they will not be able to immediately function adequately in the position.

What do we do with those applicants who have skill levels above the designated threshold? This is an excellent question and a wonderful position for any corporate body to find itself in.  If this is the case, there are several decisions HR can make depending on financial resources.

HR might want to go with the applicant with the basic skills set and compensate that individual at the lower end of the position’s pay range. This scenario is plausible if the position in question is changing at a slow enough pace to allow the incumbent sufficient time to acquire additional skills and grow with the job.

However, if the position exists in a more dynamic environment and requires any new hire to hit the ground running and always be a bit ahead of the skills curve, then HR might want to go initially with an applicant with more advanced skills. In this case HR will have to compensate the applicant at the mid section or higher end of the position’s pay range.

The skills level HR chooses to fill a position will also have an impact on HR’s training budget. There is usually an inverse relationship between the level of skills that one has and the level and degree of training needed.

Credentials Vs Experience:

There is often the issue of whether to fill a position with someone who has undergone formal training (e.g. a degree or equivalent) or with someone without a degree but who has amassed a great deal of experience on the job. HR must appreciate the fact that learning occurs in places other than the classroom. Learning takes place in all aspects of life and the results are just as valid as the classroom.  The question, then, should not be focused on where the learning took place, but rather on whether or not an individual can demonstrate the competencies that exhibit that learning did in fact take place. This is not to deny or ignore the fact that there are some positions (due to government or other regulatory concerns) that do require some type of formalized training.

The question then becomes is the applicant capable of demonstrating the competencies required by the position. If an applicant can do this, then the applicant should be given a shot at the position, regardless of where or how he/she got his/her training. I am afraid that if we continue to ignore people who “came up through the ranks” we might be overlooking a valuable source of excellent talent.

interviewMany of us can recall at least one situation where someone successfully “acted” in a position, but was denied an appointment to that position because they did not have the right “formal” credentials. This not only borders on the ridiculous, but it makes a mockery of any performance evaluation process that is in place. Think about it, we are removing someone who is satisfactorily performing in a position (they are not credentialed), to replace them with someone (who is credentialed) whose track record might be unknown and we are hoping, no betting, that they will perform satisfactorily in the position.

Understand the Selection Process

A process is often only as good as the tools it uses. Using the appropriate tools will increase the probability of a successful outcome. It is no different with the hiring process. The use of appropriate hiring tools will increase the probability of selecting excellent hires. A couple of tools I would like to briefly discuss include HR planning and the interview process.
HR Planning:

Actively looking for people only when you need them is a big mistake. The closest analogy I can use to describe such a process is one where we eat only when we were hungry. If we were to do this we would more than likely do ourselves nutritional harm by only choosing the foods that are readily available and not what’s healthy for us. We are all aware of and perhaps have practiced at some point panic or “warm body” hiring. When we engaged in these practices we are less likely to go after and select quality applicants.

Proper HR planning should remove some of the personnel surprises and eliminate or at least reduce the need for “panic hiring”.  Personnel needs should not come as a surprise to HR if past, current and future corporate trends are monitored closely. To support this effort, adequate replacement and succession plans ought to be in place to take care of any unexpected or short term vacancies.  A good gauge of how well HR is doing in the area of planning is to ask a few simple questions. What is our corporate turnover rate? Where is our most employment churn coming from? What events during the year place the greatest demands on the use of our human capital? What would HR do if there were an unexpected (increase/decrease) demand for our products/services? The answers to these questions will reveal HR readiness to account for and adequately manage personnel movements.

Interviewing:

There is not a tool that is as frequently used and equally abused as the interview. The interview should be more than a casual chat with an applicant. A good interview should give the interviewer the necessary information about an applicant in order to make a good hiring decision.  Anything less is irrelevant and quite frankly a waste of the interviewee’s and/or interviewer’s time.

One way HR can improve on this process is to use a behavioral approach when interviewing. This particular approach seeks to do two things (1) identify the job competencies required for performance in the current position and (2) determine whether or not the applicant has demonstrated the use of these competencies in the past. The purpose of the interview should be to determine whether or not the applicant has the required skills needed to do the job. If HR is not using some type of behavioral interview to select employees, it remains questionable whether or not that they are selecting the best candidates.

Conclusion

The hiring process is still more of an art than a science.  Therefore, to expect perfection in the hiring process is unrealistic.  However, we do know that there is much that can be done to improve the existing system in order to increase the quality of hires. This increase in quality should lead to higher productivity that will benefit both the corporation and its employees.

H. Nathan Charles, Ph.D.
[email_link]

Getting the Most Out of Training

istock_000001565941xsmallIn tough economic times, one of the first casualties in many organizations is often their training budgets. This is often the case because training is often seen as an expensive frill that can be tolerated in good economic times, and a tremendous financial burden that needs to be reduced or eliminated in more challenging times. Such an approach evaluates training solely based on its cost to the organization rather than on the value it generates. Though cost should not be completely ignored in any organization, it must not be the only basis on which training decisions should be made.

The question that ought to be asked of any program, and training is no exception, is whether or not it creates value in amounts that are significant and measurable to justify its existence. If the benefits do not exceed the cost, such programs should be considered for possible reduction and/or elimination.

The training department can and must play an integral role in helping the organization accurately assess the importance and benefits to be derived from a well designed and implemented training program. To do this, the training department must ensure that its existing and future programs incorporate the following ingredients in their design and implementation phases.

A Well Developed Strategy:

In my years of consulting I have had the opportunity to study the training programs of various organizations of all sizes in several industries. The one thing that I found consistent is that those organizations, regardless of size and industry, that had a clearly defined training strategy that was aligned with its organizational strategic objectives, had the most effective and successful training results. A clearly defined strategy does several things:

1.    It gives meaning and direction to what is being done. It prevents us from going astray or being distracted. Strategy serves as a guide that we can consistently consult to make sure that we are on the right path.
2.    It clearly communicates to others that there is a process in place and things are not being left to chance. Knowing that there is a process in place can serve as a confidence booster.

Identifying the Source of the Problem:

To make sure that our training efforts are successful we must accurately identify the source(s) of the problem(s).

There is often the tendency to allow training to become the organization’s scapegoat for all of its various woes. Not all problems in an organization can be successfully resolved through training. To believe so and act accordingly would be a mistake and result in dismal failure. To ascertain if training could be helpful in resolving a problem, the following assessment needs to be made.

Is the problem in question due to a lack of some skill or knowledge (“I don’t know and I am not doing”)? If this is the case then training can be helpful in providing the deficient skill or knowledge that can improve performance. However, if the lack of some skill or knowledge is not the issue (“I do know and I am not doing”), then training is not the issue and will not be helpful. In such cases we need to look for the answer(s) in other areas of the organization.

The Assurance of Learning:

The strength of any training program is the learning that takes place when it is taken.

If learning does not take place, regardless of how good a time was had, we have just wasted our employees’ time and other corporate resources. I happen to live in two worlds by being both an academician and a practitioner in my profession. I am often appalled when I compare the rigorous methods taken in the academic training world to ensure that learning occurs to those taken in the corporate training world to ensure the same.

Unfortunately, corporate training often pales in comparison to the academic world. I do see a difference between academic and corporate training and I am not recommending that we follow the exact procedures for both of them. Such an approach might not be appropriate or even beneficial.

I am, however, suggesting that we apply a greater degree of rigor in our corporate training methodology to ensure that learning does in fact take place. I am tired of seeing corporate training where no substantial mechanisms are in place to determine whether or not learning has occurred or that participants have acquired the identified competencies.

I have witnessed corporate training sessions where some participants arrive late, leave frequently to answer or make calls, don’t engage in note taking, and seem otherwise disengaged, because they know full well that they will not be held accountable in any measurable manner for the material presented. I am advocating that more stringent methods be adopted to ensure that all participants leave the training session on the same page.

If the assurance of learning is a desired objective we need to carefully examine the manner in which the material is presented to the learner. All too often in corporate training a pedagogical (the teaching of children) rather than an andragogical (the teaching of adults) approach is taken. A fact that should not be lost in corporate training is that we are dealing exclusively with adult learners. This being the case, it must be noted that adults learn differently and they bring more things to the table than younger learners. Therefore the method used to present material to adult learners must be age appropriate if it is to be viewed as meaningful and successfully assimilated by adults.

The Transfer of Learning:

This is the flip side of the assurance of learning.  If assurance of learning is focused on the learning that occurs during the training session, then the transfer of learning is focused on how this learning is effectively utilized in the workplace. Both aspects are important and are dependent on each other. If the learning derived during the training program does not positively impact performance in the workplace, then such training was a failure. Demonstrating a difference in workplace performance is the gold standard for the efficacy of training. There are several measures that can be added to a training program to ensure that a transfer of learning takes place.

1.    Involvement of other management staff – The training department should make every effort to involve the management staff of the function for which it is designing the training. The functional areas are the customers and they should be involved at every level of the design and implementation processes. The respective function should own the processes from beginning to end, with the training department serving as the facilitators of the processes. This way we can be assured that a program will be designed that meets the needs of the customers.

If the management teams from other departments are actively involved in the process, they are more likely to be supportive of the training that participants received and are trying to implement in their respective workplaces. This support can include giving encouragement and opportunities to trainees to use their newly acquired learning in ways that will benefit them, their departments and eventually their organizations. We can all recount with frustration, the times when we or others had received training and were not given the opportunity to use such training back on the job.

2.    Use of appropriate methodology – Again, we must remember that we are dealing with adult learners. Adult participants need to be involved in their own learning.  I will strongly suggest the use of relevant simulations, role play and other methods that will draw upon the adult’s life and work experiences. The best approach is to get participants actively involved and working on problems that are similar to those that they will encounter back in their work areas. If the training environment does not mirror/reflect the work environment then we should probably rethink our training approach.

3.    Use of feedback from previous participants – The training department needs to keep in touch with alumni of training programs to get their feedback on the value of the training they received. This feedback can be used to improve future editions of the training to ensure that they are meeting their objectives.

Evaluation of Impact of Training:

The training department job is not done when the required training has been delivered. There is always the question of the impact that the training is having on the organization. Without this information we will not be able to identify whether or not the training undertaken was a worthwhile exercise. To evaluate impact we must conduct carefully designed experiments with the appropriate controls to rule out random error.

For example, if we put in place a sales training program to increase the effectiveness of our sales team, we might want to evaluate the program’s impact in terms of a few key financial metrics. The results of this evaluation will help us in calculating the ROI (return on investment) for this program. Undisputedly proving the effectiveness of any program will not only enhance the credibility of the training department, but it will also demonstrate that training can affect the bottom line and enhance the profitability of a company.

Conclusion:

Training will continue, especially in tough economic times, to have its challenges. Perhaps the training department will have to adjust what it does, or the way it conducts it business in order to meet these daunting challenges. One thing is certain, the training department has to continually demonstrate its effectiveness and make a case for its existence. If training is not seen as a value adder to the organizational process or bottom line, it will be easily dismissed and made the target of future cuts. But if it can demonstrate that it can positively influence the profitability of a company, it will be embraced as a key strategic player.

H. Nathan Charles, Ph.D.
[email_link]

Does HR Deserve a Place at the Table?

Businessman TextingAfter being in the HR profession for the last 25 years I am still amazed at a question that is still asked about the profession. Does HR deserve a place at the corporate decision- making table?

Sometimes to really comprehend the full magnitude of a question one must somehow decipher the real question that is behind the question that is before you. The question we are examining in our discussion is no different.  I believe that the real question is whether or not HR adds real value to the enterprise. Think about it, if something adds real and significant value to what is being done, it becomes moot (even nonsensical) to even discuss if it should be included.

I will resist the temptation at this time to take one side or the other in this discussion. Rather I would like to pose a few “pertinent” questions to the reader and allow him/her to draw his/her own conclusions.

Does HR understand the mission of their organization?

Put another way, does HR understand the “business” that their respective enterprises are pursuing. Notice that this is not a question of “what” you do, or even “how” you do it. It’s rather a question concerned with the “why” behind what you do.

A story I heard years ago (and one I have used quite a few times) will perhaps throw a bit more light on the point being made. I have been unable to independently verify the veracity of this story, but it still makes a powerful point. It goes like this…. A consultant meeting with a group of executives at a drill manufacturing company asked them what business were they in. They responded that they made drills. He asked them a second time and they responded with the same answer. He asked them a third time and they responded, this time with a noticeable frustration, with the same answer. We make drills (dummy!).  What happened next really seemed to confirm to them that they would have been better off keeping their dental appointment than coming to this seminar. The consultant went on to suggest to them that the real nature of their business was not the manufacturing of drills. I am sure that at this time some might have even had a good chuckle, perhaps reminding the consultant of the company he was visiting. The consultant continued and stated that their real business was the making of holes. The making of holes! In other words, the drills they manufactured, the “what”, was really to accomplish the “why” (the holes). As long as we remember the “why” of the business we will never veer away from our mission. The “what” can and will change with time and technological advancements (we can now make holes with laser) but focusing on the “why” will always keep us on track in accomplishing our true mission.

The question then is, does HR really understand the “business” that they are in. We may think that we do and the danger is for us to focus only on the “what” and the “how’’, but do we really understand the “why”, the reason we are in business. Neglecting the “why” can be a fatal error to any business and can even lead to its demise. An excellent example is Kodak, which at one point was the #1 film maker in its industry. Kodak might have retained that position if they had sufficiently differentiated the “what” from the “why” in their business. Kodak made a late entry into digital technology because it primarily saw itself as being in the “film making” business rather than in the “image capturing” business. It is very difficult for HR (or for that matter, any other corporate function) to adequately support an enterprise if they do not understand why they are there.

Does HR understand their role in the business?

If understanding the organization’s mission is the first step. Then considering the role that HR plays in accomplishing that mission should be the next step. HR has many roles to play in an enterprise. Some are legitimate and others, to be quite frank, are somewhat questionable. HR often finds itself in the position of having its various roles defined and shaped by others. HR is frequently what others say it is. This is often compounded by the fact that HR professionals themselves are often confused in their own minds as to the organizational roles they should adopt in order to be effective.

HR roles must go beyond that of being the employees’ ombudsman, the company’s cheerleaders, the morale builders, the conflict resolvers, and the party and picnic planners. These processes, though important, should not be the sole responsibility of HR. These processes should be embedded in the organization and shared equally by all departments. Becoming too closely identified with these areas can result in HR not being regarded as a serious player

HR has an important and strategic role to play within an organization. This role involves the proper management of the company’s talent in order to gain a competitive advantage.

Activities in this role will include the following:
•    Recruiting and selecting the right people.
•    Developing and implementing the necessary training processes to ensure that employees have the appropriate skills to be successful in a global economy.
•    Ensuring that the company has a competitive, cost effective benefits package.
•    Designing and implementing the necessary systems to accurately assess the performance of the employees.
•    Developing innovative compensation packages that will attract, retain, and motivate employees.
•    Creating and maintaining an organizational culture that encourages employees to maximize their potential.
•    Helping the organization and its employees adjust to changes taking place around them.

The above role is important and adds value to the organization. Pursuing such will give a great deal of credibility and respect to HR.

Does HR have the necessary skills to effectively do their jobs?

To adequately function in its strategic role, HR must have the necessary skills at its disposal. I hope that we are well beyond the days when it was incorrectly assumed that anyone, as long as they had a breath, was capable of functioning in the HR role. HR has evolved into a profession in its own right with its own set of skills. A review of some of these skills might prove helpful.

•    People skills – building trust, influencing others, sharing and communicating with others. High degree of emotional intelligence.

•    Organizational skills – information processing, delegating effectively, project management, decision-making.

•    Business skills – understanding and being comfortable with various business metrics. Business is about numbers and HR has to get use to this fact. HR has to be fluent in numbers and use them whenever necessary to support their various outcomes.

•    Political skills – appreciating the place and use of power in organizational settings. Leveraging what you have in order to get what you want.

•    Technological skills – being comfortable around and effectively utilizing the various technologies that are available.

•    Learning skills – being able to keep oneself and other abreast of what’s new and successfully integrating the information into the workplace.

•    Global skills – being aware of what’s taking place on a global basis and using the information to gain a competitive advantage.

•    Change Management skills – helping the organization and employees to embrace, adjust and become comfortable with the changes that are taking place.

•    Visioning skills – being able to anticipate future trends and challenges and preparing the organization to meet them.

These skills are very different and a far cry from those required of HR in the past. However, they are needed and very necessary for HR’s success in the present and in the future. Unless HR acquires these skills, HR will not be in a position to make any meaningful contribution at the corporate table, when present.

Nathan Charles
[email_link]

Rethinking Seniority in the Promotion Process

As a consultant I am frequently asked about my views concerning the role that seniority should play in the promotion process. Though a seemingly innocuous or even straight forward question, I have found it to be neither.

As a matter of fact it can be somewhat of a loaded (political and emotional) question depending on who is doing the asking. The complexity of the issue is not so much in the question itself, but rather in the response to the question.

Different stakeholders expect and often actively seek responses that will support their various interests or positions. The varied responses depend on whether the question is being posed by an employee (either those with more seniority or those with less seniority), the employer, or the union. These various constituents can have diametrically opposed answers to this singular question.

Whenever I am asked if seniority should be the “centerpiece” of the promotion process, I usually respond with “it all depends”. Such a response can be viewed as a non-committal position, but from my perspective it accomplishes several important things:
• It gives me time to think, gather more information and make a better assessment of the present situation.
• It avoids the appearance of choosing a position before discussing the issue.
• It conveys to the questioner that the answer is not necessarily simple and gives him/her an opportunity to ask further questions.
• It gives the questioner time to think and enough “mental” room to at least entertain the idea that there might be alternatives to his/her point of view.

A clarification of the concept of “seniority” is critical before any constructive discussion can take place. How do we define this concept? If one defines the concept in a way that only applies to the length of time spent in a job or at a particular organization and nothing else, then it raises some serious issues when it is related to organizational settings.

A definition that is purely tenure-based can be problematic to an organization in several respects:
• It can promote an “entitlement” organizational mentality rather than an “achievement/performance” based mentality. Promotions in such environments become a right that is embraced, rather than something to be earned or achieved.
• It can serve as a disincentive for employee development. If one only “sits” and waits until it is his/her turn to move up, what are the incentives for that person to do more or even get better?
• It can rob the company of valuable talent. Talented individuals will not stay in an environment where they believe that their talents are not being recognized or rewarded, or which they regard to be unfair. Talented employees will always have employment options. Such employees are usually quite employable due to their enhanced skills, superior knowledge, and exceptional performance. They are usually the employees most likely to leave an organization when they are dissatisfied.
• It can sap the company of its vibrancy and competitiveness. If the “best” people are not occupying the critical positions, this will eventually affect the organization’s overall level of performance and consequently its level of productivity and competitiveness.

However, if by “seniority” one is referring to an employee who not only has the necessary tenure, but has managed to accumulate over the years a variety of skills, a string of accomplishments, and an enviable performance track record, then I am all for using it as “the” promotional criteria. A seniority system that is both tenure-based and performance-based works best for any organization. It ensures the long-term viability and sustainability of that organization. Such a system promotes the following:
• A “performance-based” organizational environment.
• An organization that values training and development for its employees.
• An organization that appreciates and rewards employees’ loyalty to the company.
• An organization where employees’ skills are aligned with its strategic objectives.
• An organization that is productive and competitive.

All promotional systems should have as their sole purpose the filling of identified positions with the most qualified persons. Anything less than this will not be in the best interest of those chosen or of the organization as a whole. The promotional decisions of an organization send messages to employees that are far more comprehensible than just filling job slots. Such decisions often convey to employees how much they are valued and appreciated by the organization as well as any possible future roles they will be allowed to play in the entity. Therefore, any promotional system, seniority included, used by an organization should be carefully thought through, always linked to performance, and perceived by all employees as being equitable and fair.

Nathan Charles
[email_link]

Moving HR Beyond the Corporation

istock_000004482672xsmallOne of the many pleasures I experience when teaching, consulting, or conducting seminars in the Caribbean is meeting the large number of very knowledgeable, talented and dedicated human resources people in the region. These people are passionate professionals who love what they do and use their skills to effectively utilize the region’s human capital within their various organizational settings. The results of their efforts can easily be seen by the many well managed and successful world-class corporations that exist in the region.

However, as I move around in the broader communities of the countries I am visiting, I often experience what I consider to be a major HR disconnect. At some points it seems as though I am in a totally different time and place. The HR efficiency I witnessed in the corporate “enclaves” did not seem to get translated into the “greater” communities.

On returning to the other “side” I often share my experiences with the group I am working with to get a reality check of my observations.  Whenever my observations are confirmed I usually asked the group two questions.  What is creating this situation? What can you do about resolving this situation?

The first question usually elicits a lively debate that clearly demonstrates that the participants have a good grasp of the issues involved in creating the situation. The second question (which I view as the easier of the two) usually transforms a group of highly energetic, skilled and successful people into a more subdued group who admits that there is little they can do to change the situation in question.

Being from the region myself, I fully understand that there are political and other realities that fuel some of this sense of hopelessness. Those things aside, I believe that the HR profession in the Caribbean must play a larger role in the transformation of our various societies and countries. To do this, HR professionals must think beyond their respective organizations and search for ways to transfer and utilize their skills to impact their communities and by extension their countries.

Why do I think that HR professionals rather than some other group should take the lead in this transformation that should take place in our various societies?  This leap I believe is easier for HR to make than for any other group, some of the reasons being that:

1.    HR currently has the necessary skills set and expertise to do so.

2.    Many of the problems that currently plague our communities and countries are human-based problems.

3.    HR is already working on and successfully resolving many of these problems at a micro level in their respective organizations.

4.    The investments that HR make in their communities will eventually benefit and have a positive impact on their various organizations.

I am in no way suggesting that the HR profession acting alone can solve all of the problems in a given community or country. That’s too much of a burden or responsibility to place on any one discipline or group. What I am suggesting is that with HR’s unique set of skills it can effectively take the lead in this transformational initiative. To be successful in this process HR professional must be aware that the following is often required.

1.    Courage – Change often takes courage. Courage to do the right things when there is a great deal of opposition or lack of support.

2.    Communication – Lessons learnt (good or bad) that can assist other groups in the regions. Communicating our ideas to others can minimize or even eliminate the need for other groups to always “reinvent the wheel” and thereby waste precious time and resources.

3.    Collaboration – There is still strength to be found in numbers. When possible find like minded people with whom to associate and share your ideas. Ideally the transformational process should be a high priority of the local HR association. The visibility at this level can lend the necessary credibility and the required resources to the process. Collaboration rather than competition should become the norm. Can I suggest that a good place for you to begin or continue your collaboration is on the excellent platform provided by the CaribHRForum.

Nathan Charles
[email_link]