7 Ways for HR To Go Faster
A CEO recently described his HR team to me as being like a set of speed bumps; “They don’t actually stop us doing anything, they just slow us down.” Once I had stopped weeping at this hideous indictment, it made me start to question – how can HR go faster? How can we ensure that we are going at the pace of the fastest? How do we ensure we that we are setting the pace instead of putting the brakes on? This blog explores 7 ways HR can pick up speed.
When was it decided that everything had to be done annually? Annual bonuses, annual appraisals, annual talent reviews, annual engagement surveys, and so on. We have taken the rhythm of the annual reporting cycle and applied it to our people. This has never made a huge amount of sense, but it is even more irrelevant given the pace of business today. Little and often is almost always better than big set annual pieces. So why not …?
Change to your annual appraisal to frequent check-ins (because better performance comes from regular coaching not once a year feedback.)
Change your annual bonus scheme to ad hoc, frequent rewards (because people feel so much valued when they are rewarded in a timely way rather than waiting to the end of year for the scheme to pay out.)
Change your annual talent review to monthly, hour-long discussions (no paperwork!) among groups of leaders (because leaders will get better at it if they do it more frequently and more cross-organisation movement will result.)
Change your annual engagement survey to frequent pulse surveys (because if you really want to know how your people are feeling, then a once a year survey just won’t cut it.)
Not only will the impact be greater but moving to more frequent, light-touch interventions will free up the organisation from the time-consuming annual process and our HR products will be more responsive to changing business needs.
If we treated our people as if they were consumers, then we could stop the time we waste applying all of our processes to everyone in the organisation. We are so concerned about appearing to be fair, that we end up pushing irrelevant and unwanted approaches onto employees. And we are so concerned with being efficient that we adopt the one-size-fits-all processes offered by our HRIS without questioning whether they make sense for all our people. If we thought like consumer organisations and instead, segmented our ‘markets’ based on different needs and wants, we would be able to provide a more tailored approach with greater impact. We’re seeing HR teams increasingly tailoring their products and services based on the end-user’s actual needs and preferences such as 3M’s customised approach to career development, based on their motivation for working there, or Regeneron’s four different options for performance management. We can save time by not applying bulky processes to everyone simultaneously.
We can also enhance increase customer responsiveness (and our credibility) if we are not always waiting for the slowest or biggest resistors to catch up. As an HRD, I wasted countless hours trying to persuade the more traditional teams who often needed the most cajoling or the biggest compromises to get them to participate. Meanwhile, the more progressive teams (eg: digital) were getting frustrated with me seeming to drag my heels when they fully prepared to be early adopters. Instead of providing services that worked for the lowest common denominator, we need to provide a range of options that can work for all.
HR can learn so much from our digital tech colleagues, many of whom are well down the road with agile design and delivery techniques. Those HR teams that I meet who have embraced agile as a way of working report that, with a little adaptation, these methods can really help us increase our pace of delivery. We are seeing HR teams planning in short bursts or ‘sprints’ instead of the Stalinist Five Year Plans of a bye-gone era. As one HRD told me, this approach has enabled her team to have a broad sense of the direction they are going in, but to identify short-term (6-12 week) priorities for delivery. The benefits to her organisation have been the ability to be responsive to changing needs and to deliver much more quickly as she will only have two or three products on the slate at any one time.
Whenever I was about to roll out a new initiative, I would have had to ensure everything was perfect; the full and detailed project plan, the full cascade comms plan with the obligatory FAQs sheet, PowerPoint decks and manager scripts prepared, the unions and the legal, employment policy and often the public relations teams all squared away. Agile teams are moving more quickly through ‘fail-fast’ pilots, delegated decision making and the use of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) techniques. The latter was used to great effect by IBM when they decided to launch a new approach to performance management. Instead of the typical benchmarking, isolated design group and roll out, they decided to create what they called a ‘concept car’ – videos showing what the new approach would look like, so that people could ‘kick the tyres’ and comment (18,000 responses in 24 hours!). They then kept iterating the prototypes based on the feedback until they felt they had something worth taking to a full launch. As their CHRO Diane Gherson put it, ‘The whole process took less time than most companies take to redesign their performance management programs, and we involved about 100,000 employees’.
Our fears that managers won’t ‘do it properly’ (or, do it all!), often results in us believing we must own the process ourselves. If we control it, our reasoning goes, we can be sure of its quality and that it will get done. So, we own the annual talent review, the performance management process, the induction, the engagement survey, the bonus process and so on. Aside from the fact that our ownership fails to increase leaders’ or employees’ capabilities, it can also slow things down considerably. If we change our focus from checking completion rates and instead explore how we can get it more quickly into the hands of managers and employees, then we can address both of these issues. Let’s look at the engagement survey as a case in point. We design it, distribute it, chase completion of it, collect and collate it, present it, explain it and finally, gather up the obligatory action plans. We determine the dates when it’s issued, closed, and when the results are announced – usually over a three-month time frame. We say, ‘these are the questions you must ask, and these are the issues you need to address’. Our survey, our process, our timeframe.
If we want managers to be thinking about how engaged their people are, to be measuring and using the resulting insights to make changes, then we need to give them the tools to do it for themselves – at a time that suits them. Ideally, we would offer them a range of insight tools and methods and help them think through what would work best for them – and then let them get on with it. No more waiting for the centralised survey, but empowering and enabling managers to get real-time insights about their team instead. Of course, there will be some rubbish line managers who will have no interest and will do nothing. But let’s face it, they would have paid lip service to the annual survey anyway. Let’s at least give those managers who might be a bit more interested something that is easy and quick to use.
Most of us in HR receive a daily stream of requests from line managers asking for our approval, our permission or the ‘right’ answer. It’s so tempting to give them what they are asking for. We feel good about being helpful. We feel needed. Our authority and our status that comes from being the ‘expert’ gets a well-needed stroke. But maybe we need to question whether the role of ‘approver’, ‘permission-giver’ or ‘expert’ is ultimately doing the right thing for our organisation or for them as leaders? If leaders and line managers remain reluctant to take decisions for themselves and have to involve HR in their choices or judgements, then aren’t we creating an unnecessary extra step? Aren’t we slowing the organisation down? If they felt confident and capable of making a decision to recruit someone, give that pay rise or respond to a flexible working request without recourse to HR, wouldn’t that be quicker and ultimately help them to grow and develop? Some of us in HR shudder at the thought of not being consulted. We consider the risks of the wrong choices and decisions (most of which we then have to sort out!). But maybe we should consider the risks of not enabling them? The consequences of having leaders who are incapable of using their judgement, or making good people decisions in a world that depends upon speed, agility and the ability to handle ambiguity are potentially far greater than an occasional employment tribunal? It is a lot harder to coach a leader to make the right choices than to just give them the answer and it takes time, but in the end, it can be hugely beneficial to them and the organisation. There’s another benefit too. It frees up HR from answering operational queries to focus on what we should be doing – ensuring our organisations, leaders and people can cope and thrive in the future.
As unpopular as it might be with leaders who often crave certainty, great HR is just ‘messy’. The HR leaders who are having the most impact, who are creating the conditions where people and organisations can thrive in our disrupted world are those who have the courage to avoid the neat solutions and instead offer messy solutions to the challenges we face. In this blog we explore what 'messy' HR looks like in practice.