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.

——————————————————————
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.

[email_link]