I once got a call from a client who wanted some advice about a tricky situation she found herself in. She told me that her boss (the HRD), the CEO, the management team and the HR team were all vehemently against doing anything differently. Moreover, she explained that the business was profitable and they had no problem recruiting and retaining great talent. So she was finding it difficult to get any traction for her ideas. She asked me what she could do about it and sadly, my rather unhelpful response was ‘why don’t you leave?’ Whilst this is an extreme case, it did get me thinking about why we often stay in roles that have passed their sell-by date and where we aren’t getting the job satisfaction we desire. When should we know that we’re beating our heads against a brick wall, and start looking for another company where our talents and energy can be put to better use?
A couple of months ago I posted the question on LinkedIn; ‘How do you know it’s time to leave your HR job?’ The response was amazing, with around 300 HR people telling me about their personal red flags that tell them it’s time to move on. I’ve tried to summarise these responses – and added a few of my own – and it seems to come down to four key signals (and one key word) that both individually and collectively mean it’s time we dust off our CV and start looking for new HR pastures.
The first indicator that it’s time to go is when you feel that your values are being compromised. This was mentioned a lot with so many of you feeling frustrated that bad behaviour is ignored, like Laura’s comment ‘It’s time to go when you’re told to turn a blind eye to harassment / discrimination etc due to favouritism to an individual because they’re a high performer’. Or the comment by Stephen about a bullying culture being ignored because it’s ‘just the way they are’! My own personal light bulb moment around values came when my CEO told me that my role was to be the ‘conscience’ of the business – as if his conscience could be delegated! Of course, a big part of being in HR is to challenge, but if you feel that your values are being trampled on regularly, it might be good to move on.
Not adding value
The second reason to change jobs is when you believe you are just not adding value. This was mentioned several times, with you sharing your frustrations about your HR Director’s obsession with process, or your parent company making you adhere to overly prescriptive policies. I liked how David phrased it – he said that it’s time to go when ‘you are made to enforce company rules and regulations which you know are total and utter nonsense’! Then there was Jennifer’s annoyance that ‘you have to refer everything to a written policy rather than just having a sensible, pragmatic conversation’. But Simone won the prize for best example of not adding value when she said it’s time to go when ‘you’re having your 1000th meeting on agile transformation’! We all have that sinking feeling that we’re not adding value from time to time, but when it’s constant – it’s time to go!
When you don’t feel valued
Probably the most common frustration was a sense that we aren’t valued; that our professional expertise, our advice or the fact that we represent the people just doesn’t matter to our leaders. Angela recalled being told to ‘keep focussing on the fluffy stuff’ and Nathan said his red flag was working in an organisation where “HR is here just for advice and we can ignore that advice if we want to” only for it all to go wrong and for the business to then say “this is a mess, fix it”. And finally, and one low point I’ve experienced personally, from Chris, ‘When you are told you have to report to Finance!’ We don’t expect cards and flowers every day, but many of us clearly don’t feel valued very often, if at all. Let’s find a place that recognises the value of people – and, if we do things differently – where they value HR.
You don’t value them
And finally, the last reason we should recognise it’s time to leave our HR job is when we have stopped valuing THEM! If you feel continually irritated by your leaders, managers or employees, or if you find yourself saying things like ‘They won’t do it properly’, then maybe it’s time to look for something different. Or as Agnes put it so brilliantly, it’s time to go when ‘you’ve got no professionalism left in you to control the eye-rolls anymore’. Despite our valid frustrations with the people we work with, when we stop valuing them, respecting them or trusting that they can do better, then we’re best off finding somewhere new.
I realise that this could be a fairly negative blog, so maybe, in closing, it’s worth seeing things through a different lens – and view these comments as the basis for your next job search. Before you sign that new contract, and commit your energy and talents to that new role – are you as sure as you can be that:
- You share their values
- You’ll have the space and encouragement to add value
- They instinctively get the fact that people matter and that
- You can respect and be proud of the work that they do
If the answer’s yes, then chances are you’ve got a great new role!
To mark the start of 2023, here are some New Year’s resolutions you might want to think about!
- I’m going to get rid of our ‘probation period’ to prevent loads of new hires worrying themselves sick for three months just to ‘get’ the one person who didn’t work out.
- I’m going to abolish performance ratings so that no-one has to suffer the indignity of getting ‘meets expectations’ for yet another year.
- I will rip up our 9 box grids and resign myself to the fact that no-one has understood how to fill them in – EVER!
- I will replace our 3,782 employment policies with a funky welcome guide.
- I will stop telling everyone they have to be in the office three days a week and try to remember how we found we could actually trust people to work how they wanted during Covid.
- I will not sit in on any more interviews. Taking the notes and supervising managers is not a great use of my time…
- I will push back on any manager who thinks ‘it’s better if HR has a chat with them’. It’s not ‘better’, it’s avoidance.
- I am going to remind myself every day that I came into HR because I was interested in people – not process!
Happy New Year from Disruptive HR!!
In accordance with the company’s Yuletide Festivity policy, no paper chains, tinsel, bunting, streamers, banners or balloons are to be used within the office environment at any time without a completed risk assessment.
All ‘Christmas Cakes’, ‘Yule Logs’ and ‘Mince Pies’ and must be tested for allergens and a CC (Certified Cake) notice issued. N.B. Any cake without a CC notice will be removed from the premises and destroyed in a controlled explosion.
The workplace dress code does not permit wearing a padded red suit at any time. Should any visitor get stuck in a chimney please inform facilities management. Sleighs should only park in visitor car park D otherwise they will be clamped. All elf activity must be reported under our modern slavery policy.
Music licensing law does not permit the singing of ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’ (or other carols on the black list) on the premises.
Any Christmas gifts must be registered with the anti-bribery department and be opened by security beforehand. Wrapping paper may be used but, due to the risk of paper cuts when unwrapping, safety gloves must be worn.
Phrases used in seasonal printed materials (Christmas cards) e.g. ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’ must be accompanied by an enclosed printed caveat that these statements are purely those of the individual and do not represent the views of HR/the company.
Thank you for your cooperation. HR wishes you a Merry Christmas*.
*Please note these ‘wishes’ are not legally binding and HR in no way guarantees any employee a ‘Merry Christmas’.
Think of the best reward you were ever given at work. Actually, think of the best reward you were given anywhere. I was recently hosting a panel of seven business leaders and posed that question to them. This is what they said:
- Time off.
- The chance to learn something that was not directly linked to my job.
- A hand-written note from my busy boss.
- The opportunity to give something back through working with a charity.
- A life changing bonus.
- A personalised gift.
- A peer-nominated award recognising me for the work I’d done.
What struck me from their responses, apart from the variety, is that most of their rewards shared three things, namely; they were:
- Unexpected – creating a sense of surprise and delight
- Thoughtful and personalised – based on what they needed, wanted or valued
- From someone whose good opinion mattered to them
And yet, when you consider the approach that most companies take to reward, we typically choose a bonus scheme linked to dubious performance ratings. Our bonus schemes have none of these features. They are expected – often leading to a sense of entitlement (“I got xx last year so I expect the same in this”). They are depersonalised and lack any recognition of what they need, want or value, the assumption underpinning them being that money is the great motivator. And whilst they may be accompanied by a letter from their boss, the scheme itself is managed across the company and lacks the sense of intimacy that great gifts have.
Like many HR professionals, I have spent countless hours trying to perfect the bonus scheme. Trying to strike the right balance between base pay and discretionary reward. Trying to find ways of rewarding the right behaviours through a combination of group, department and personal elements. Trying to make it achievable and stretching at the same time, etc. Despite all this effort, I can honestly say that I have never introduced a bonus scheme that made people feel good about working there. Often quite the opposite. So why do we spend millions on creating a reward that has the same impact as the annual Amazon voucher from your Gran?
Well, usually for good and valid reasons. These are the typical explanations:
“We don’t trust managers to do reward properly so we have to have a scheme”
“Bonuses enable us to pay for performance”
“We are a large complex organisation so we have to have one size fits all”
Whilst there may be some truth behind these, I suspect that in the end, it’s just easier. It’s easier to give out a bonus than to do something thoughtful and personalised and outside of a structured scheme. Moreover, we’ve seen money as the great motivator for so long, we have stopped looking for better ways to reward our people – ways that are based on a real understanding of their different needs and desires.
Excitingly, there are companies who are doing it differently. These companies are rejecting the traditional bonus scheme in favour of reward practices that are based on a different set of assumptions, namely:
- They want to surprise and delight their people – to make them feel great about getting a reward
- They want their rewards to be timely – at the point where it’s truly deserved – and is unexpected
- They want to focus on what their people really value and want
- They want to make it personal and for the recipient to feel special
- They recognise that money, whilst important, is not the great motivator we have believed for so long and find alternatives instead.
Here are my top tips for designing an approach to reward that makes your people feel – well, rewarded.
Get the issue of money off the table.
Companies such as Netflix and Atlassian have been doing this for a while. Echoing the messages from Dan Pink’s book on motivation they aim to get the issue of money off the table by not paying bonuses and instead putting all of the expense into bigger salaries to “give people freedom to spend their salaries as they think best.” The inadequacies of using money to motivate is a huge topic in its own right and not the focus of this blog but there’s more about that subject here.
Reward the team not the individual
In Margaret Heffernan’s brilliant book “Wilful Blindness” she dedicates the whole of Chapter 10 to the problems with bonuses and their negative effects. One of the key issues she raises and backs up with extensive research is the role that individual bonuses play in destroying a culture of collaboration and teamwork. Given that most companies I meet cite collaboration and breaking down silos amongst their main priorities, maintaining a reward structure that encourages selfishness and individual over team effort seems counterintuitive. One example of a different approach comes from TINT a US social-media company who got rid of individual sales commission. They recognised that the sale process is a complex one, involving several different employees in the customer lifecycle (including marketing lead-generation, account managers, developers solving bugs, ongoing customer support) and that paying sales people differently to the rest of the organisation is divisive. They wanted to weed out selfish behaviour and encourage true collaboration and their solution was to replace individual commissions with a monthly team bonus to reward everyone who touches the customer, with a transparent (if complicated) calculation to ensure that pay is distributed fairly.
Reward each other
Most reward schemes follow a traditional parent/child philosophy where the company/boss (the “parent”) rewards the employee (“the child”). Where the reward is given from one human being to another this can still have a positive impact but too often the reward or bonus seems to come from some anonymous company source or HR. Companies are beginning to experiment with encouraging and trusting employees to reward each other – adult to adult. I like what Next Jump have done with their reward structure. They run monthly “Top 10” awards. What makes the awards powerful is that they are peer-nominated and voted for by employees (not decided top-down by management). For the monthly Top-10 award, only one question is asked: “who most helped you to succeed this month?” It has nothing to do with how much revenue or profit you made – its sole focus is how you helped others. Asking “who helped you to succeed” dramatically changed the type of nominations received. It became all about people and recognising the right behaviours. The stories of all nominees are visible on a live-feed to make people feel good and to encourage similar nominations.
Go big on spot rewards
You’ve just worked your butt off on a project or you’ve just done something brilliant – but typically you have to wait ages till bonus pay-out date to have this recognised, by which time the reward feels disconnected from the effort and a bit stale. We’re seeing an increasing focus on spot rewards – given at the time the effort or brilliance is actually shown. Whether this a cash reward, time-off or a gift – the impact is so much more positive than the net amount after tax up to 6-9 months later.
Just say “thank you”
It’s no secret that being praised often makes people feel good. Pride, pleasure and increased feelings of self-esteem are all common reactions to being paid a compliment or receiving positive feedback. This is because being praised triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the reward and pleasure centres of the brain. As well as making us feel good, dopamine can also contribute to innovative thinking and creative problem-solving at work.
Incorporating this understanding of the value of praise into your reward approach is fundamental to achieving positive results. One company who really gets this and is doing something about it is the US data management and storage company NetApp. Vice Chairman Tom Mendoza wanted to make sure people knew how much he appreciated their efforts and decided to start something that he calls “Catch Someone Doing Something Right.” Every day, Tom calls between 10 and 20 employees across the company to congratulate them on a job well done – as nominated by peers or managers. Calls can be a short as 30 seconds but have a powerful effect.
Rewards should be something that every employee enjoys and yet we persist with expensive, complex and onerous bonus schemes that often have a negative or neutral effect. In the desire to avoid the negative impact of thoughtless managers, we create a scheme they can’t wriggle out of. Whilst this may tick the HR box, it isn’t doing what we need and what our employees want – to feel valued, to feel special and to feel rewarded.
What can we do about poor managers?
If I could sum up THE key issue that every HR person seems to have, it would be these three words; ‘poor people managers’.
Almost everything we do stems from this. Such as:
- Answering countless questions because they aren’t sure how to handle people issues
- Taking responsibility for the conversations they should really be having
- Designing rules, policies and processes to help them – or make them – get better at the people stuff
- Providing expensive training
- Creating competency frameworks and other measurement tools to hire or promote better ones
- Implementing tech systems to enable them to self-serve – but having to still do it for them anyway!
- And of course, managing the fall out from poor line management – hiring new people to replace the ones they’ve lost, grievances and sometimes, tribunals
We have created an industry that is designed to compensate for poor people managers. I don’t believe that we chose the HR profession to play nursemaid or compliance officer. But that’s where most of us tend to end up! And whilst we’re trying desperately to prop up our managers, we’re not focusing our efforts and talents on the things that would actually make the difference. Instead of compensating, we should be creating the conditions where our people can be more agile, more innovative and more productive. We want to spend our time creating an amazing and differentiated employee experience – not collecting in appraisal forms or writing a policy for home working because our managers can’t cope with having a grown-up conversation with their team!
So, what’s the answer? Well, the simple and unhelpful one would be – don’t hire managers who don’t want to manage people! But we know that for years we have been promoting people into line manager roles who really only wanted the increase in pay or status, or who were the best technically or who saw line management as the only progression route available. So, whether we like it or not, we’re stuck with them! So, here are some options that you might want to consider.
Find out why they are bad at it
Not every poor manager has the same barrier to being better. So, we need a mix of tactics to cater for these differences. Our typical approach of designing around the lowest common denominator risks missing what makes individual managers tick and what might help them get better. Yes, there will be those who just aren’t interested – more about them later. But there will also be those who are unclear about what they need to do, or those who lack confidence or those who want to do the right thing but who are highly introverted and struggle with the idea of conversations. Try using the ‘persona’ tactic that we can borrow from Marketing where you analyse your line manager population and identify a small number of line manager persona – or types – based on their motivations and challenges around people management. Then work out your approaches and support packages.
Focus on the outcomes you want from them – not the process
We are so keen to have them do the right thing by their people that we tend to provide them with detailed processes to follow – performance reviews, bonus allocation, 9 box grid completion and so on. But we end up providing one size fits all approaches and often overlook the actual quality of the outcomes. Consider identifying the outcomes you want from them instead. What would good people management look like for you? SAP identified three very simple outputs for their managers:
- Coach your team
- Show appreciation and
- Lead with trust
They didn’t say HOW they were to deliver these outcomes. They allowed managers to do it in ways that worked for them and their personality. But they also measured it through regular pulse surveys. Holding people managers accountable is often missing. We measure and publish their financial and operational results don’t we? So, why not their people results?
Support with stuff that works
I’m not saying we should eliminate our leadership development programmes entirely, but given the amount we spend on them, we really ought to have seen better results by now! Consider alternative support resources that work with their busy schedules but that are also proven to have a bigger impact – such as using nudges or peer to peer support, or short and sweet interventions such as O2’s learning shots – 3 minute videos that give managers something practical to try. You might want to check out our Conversations Toolkit which gives managers a simple set of tips and conversation starters to use.
Finally – and this can be really hard for us – make a decision to stop compensating for poor people managers. I know that this might feel like giving up our life’s work – but, trust me, once you make this shift, it can free you up to be much more impactful.
In practice, this looks like:
- Focusing our energies on the ones that are a bit more curious and open to doing things better. Like at Standard Chartered where they have reinvested their development budget into ’emerging’ rather than senior leaders. They’ve recognised that working with the ones who are open to doing things differently has a much bigger impact than trying to get leaders of 20-30 years to change.
- Dropping processes that try and force managers to do things that they end up doing badly – like the end of year review. We can’t feel proud that we’ve got 95% completion rate when the quality is so poor. Better that we focus on the smaller changes they might introduce – like at Atlassian where managers are asked to cover a couple of questions with their team such as ‘what are you working on and how can I help?’
- And finally, let’s stop diluting, delaying and compromising on our plans to change HR to keep our poorest and often our noisiest people managers on board. Try telling them that ‘they’re not ready for this new approach’ and that ‘we’re going to work with the ones who are’. This at least reduces their objections and enables us to make change happen – and often, this actually makes them WANT to take part.
I’m not sure who first thought of the idea of an HR function. But whoever it was, I’m sure they never imagined us spending our valuable talents and energies on propping up poor managers. If we focus instead on targeted strategies, holding them accountable for clear outcomes and a creative mix of support, we will create far more value for our organisations.
If you want to help your people managers do it better, then check out Disruptive Leaders. Disruptive Leaders is a live platform that gives your people managers the tips, tools and insights they need to manage people brilliantly!
We’ve read the research, we’ve got the feedback from our people, or we’ve reflected on our own experiences. So, we all now know that rating people doesn’t help improve performance or motivation. And yet, we really worry about what will happen if we get rid of them! In this blog we look at the consequences of getting rid ratings – both real and imagined!
How will we know who’s the best/worst performing? How will we differentiate performance?
This is a common worry, that if we can’t give our people a number out of five, we won’t have a clear picture of performance in the organisation.
It’s important to look at the assumptions behind this concern to be able to recognise it’s not valid.
- It assumes that line managers are brilliant at being objective and consistent when it comes to deciding ratings. Any follower of the researcher and writer Marcus Buckingham will tell you that they aren’t. We all suffer from rater bias – not because we’re bad managers – but because we’re human. The ratings we give out are subjective and flawed data and fail to provide a complete picture of someone’s performance over a year. It’s much more complex and nuanced than a single number.
- It also assumes that employees won’t know how they’re performing unless we give them a rating at the end of the year. They will. Getting rid of ratings is not the only step in your reform. It also involves moving to frequent check-ins where we have much more relevant and impactful discussions about contribution and performance than the once-a-year set piece. People will have more of an understanding of how they’re performing, not less.
- Finally, this concern assumes that performance can only be differentiated via a rating. It isn’t. We differentiate performance by giving more opportunities and greater recognition to better performers.
How will we give out bonuses fairly?
This is another common concern. We have this view that if the bonus is determined by a number out of five – then it’s more objective, less arbitrary. It isn’t. If a manager is determining a rating, then the bonus pay out is determined by his or her judgement. This is just as subjective as a line manager having discretion over the amount of money they should get. The majority of companies who have got rid of ratings have given line managers the autonomy to make decisions about pay and bonuses. And this is the right course in my view. We should treat them as grown-ups who are capable of managing the staff budget as well as the other budgets they have. If we are really worried, then we can use calibration sessions to sense check their decisions. These sessions can be much more helpful when discussing additional factors such as market rate and what matters to the individual, than the ratings calibration sessions we’ve held in the past when we fight over who should be a 3 or 2.
How will we know if managers are doing it properly?
Like many of our bureaucratic processes, the cumbersome appraisal system was typically designed to compensate for managers who can’t or won’t manage their people effectively. HR has felt good because at least our people are getting one feedback conversation a year, for example. Ratings sometimes provide some kind of reassurance to HR that managers are having ‘proper’ performance conversations. Sadly, this is not the case. Great performance conversations shouldn’t end in a number out of five or a ‘meets expectations’ statement. When you exclude the top percentage, we’re managing to demotivate the majority of the people who work with us – even if the pre-rating conversation wasn’t bad! The way we get to know whether our managers are helping their people to improve their performance is to ask the people themselves. Instead of looking at our appraisal completion rates or, God forbid, our ratings distribution curves – we can be reassured or worried by asking people via surveys, focus groups or through conversations.
What will we do about poor performers if we don’t have ratings?
And finally, the question that will sometimes come up – although, thankfully, it’s asked less often than it used to be – What will we do about poor performers if we don’t have ratings?
Behind this concern is the (honestly) absurd reasoning that we should apply something that doesn’t work, that often de-motivates our people and frustrates our managers across the whole organisation – simply so we can get to the 2-3% of people who perform badly. Seriously?! If you have a poor performer, then document the hell out of that situation. But let’s not design around the lowest common denominator and make everyone document an annual conversation, that doesn’t drive better performance, just to have the paperwork for the tiny percentage that might get nasty and legal.
There are consequences to giving up ratings, sure. For example, we have to be able to explain and get support for an approach that isn’t as clear cut or clinical as an annual appraisal. We also have to re-focus our efforts away from ensuring compliance with a system and onto coaching for better conversations. But dropping them will help build better performance and higher motivation. Which is kind of why we introduced ratings in the first place isn’t it?!
PS: If you want to help line managers have better conversations with their team, why not check out The Conversations Toolkit. It gives them tips, techniques and conversation starters to help them with the key one-to-one’s they’ll have with their team.
Many of you will be enjoying a return to pre-pandemic normality. I am just loving the revival of freedoms that we took for granted two years ago – seeing family and friends, having the option to travel, not having my glasses steam up when I’m wearing a mask. All the usual stuff.
Returning to normal can be wonderful. For HR, it can be a mixed blessing. Yes, we don’t have to deal with constant crises. We can now offer flexible, hybrid working as the norm. We have made virtual hiring, onboarding and L&D happen.
But on the other hand, we are seeing an unwelcome return of too many of the old ways of thinking. For every company offering fantastic hybrid benefits, there are an equal number of managers who want everyone back in where they can see them. From having to trust people during lockdown to deliver outputs without micro-management, there are numerous sighs of relief as managers feel they can go back to micro-managing their staff.
I think it’s important for us in HR to take a step back and reflect – what did we learn during Covid? What did we learn about managers’ capabilities, the ability of our people to change and adapt, and what did we learn about ourselves? If we can consolidate on what we’ve learned, maybe we can avoid the slippery slope back to old ways of thinking and leading?
We learned that people can change really fast
Imagine having an HR project where the end result would be the majority of our employees working in new locations, with new technologies and in new ways. You can just picture the scale of the project plan, the amount of stakeholder engagement, training programmes and communications. And yet it just happened.
What’s the learning here for us? I think it’s about looking at people and change through a new lens. Instead of our mantra being ‘people don’t like change’ – we need to see change as something we do really fast – if the circumstances are right. ‘Right’ meaning that we make it easy for people to use, give them the space to find their own way of doing it, and have leaders role model the same new behaviours.
Personal choice matters
We all experienced the pandemic in different ways. For people like me, who are lucky enough to have the space, working from home felt like a wonderful relief after incessant travelling. I got to spend time with husband and my Mum (who was in our bubble). Yes, it got a bit tedious at times – not seeing friends, (not the spending time with my husband!) – but on the whole 2020 wasn’t too bad. For others, cramped living arrangements, home schooling and isolation made it all extremely challenging. The return to normal has been equally personal. Some can’t wait to get back to the office, whilst others can’t think of anything worse.
The learning for us in HR is that personal choice matters. One size fits all hybrid working policies are always going to be inadequate. The more that we can enable managers and their teams to have grown up conversations about what works for the individual, the team and the company – the more likely it is that we’ll meet the different needs of our people.
Moments that matter
Even the most introverted homebody will acknowledge that some things are better done in person. Whether it’s brainstorming ideas, celebrating as a team or connecting with someone new, there are times when virtual just isn’t as fulfilling.
We learned however, that it’s important to know which are the ‘moments that matter’? Rather than old-school thinking of 3 days in/2 days out – if we can discuss and agree the moments that matter – when we should be face to face – then we can really get the benefits of hybrid.
The processes that weren’t missed
Quite a lot of our HR processes weren’t missed during the pandemic. Suddenly, our annual talent reviews, performance rating exercises and annual engagement surveys seemed unnecessary or too difficult to do. We turned our long training programmes into bite-sized Teams sessions that worked really well and were so much easier to schedule. Virtual hiring or onboarding meant we had to get creative. We changed our overly complicated mentoring schemes into pop-up sessions. Leadership comms became less formal and corporate. Short and sweet pulse surveys gave us much greater insights at the right time. We got rid of the processes we had been loyally defending as ‘best practice’ since the 1980’s and the world didn’t fall apart. In fact our new approaches gave us credibility and showed HR can adapt at pace. The good news is that many of us are not going back.
We can trust our people
Finally, if we only learned one thing from the pandemic, it should be that our people can be trusted. Turns out they didn’t need the myriad of detailed and prescriptive policies to know how to show up, serve customers and do right by their colleagues.
We should be taking this new atmosphere of feeling we can trust our people and use it to recharge our employee experience. It’s time to take away the rigid policies and replace them with light tough principles that start from the premise of ‘we trust you to use your judgement and do the right thing’. If we take this learning of trusting our people, we can create an environment that is not just passive and compliant but agile and ready to thrive when and if the next crisis hits.
Why do businesses have an obsession with big being better? We tend to favour large transformation programmes when we want to change behaviour. These huge projects are always difficult and scary for everyone and encourage our chimp brains to kick in with fearful thoughts. If we want people to change willingly, we have to shrink the size of the challenge they face.
If we can find a way to make something seem small or even temporary, we’ll find it easier to persuade people to do it. This is the thinking behind the technique called the ‘Five Minute Room Rescue’ by home-organising guru Marla Cilley. When cleaning the entire house seems like such a mountainous task we decide not to bother, so she suggests setting a kitchen timer for five minutes and just tackle the worst room. When the buzzer goes, you stop. This taps into the notion that getting going is often the hardest part of change because it feels so daunting, but that anyone can accomplish something useful in five minutes and try it again the next day. Our confidence grows as we discover it’s not so difficult after all, and we want to do more of it.
We can use this in HR when we want people to change their habits. Instead of asking leaders to have ongoing conversations with their staff each day, we could suggest they have one weekly five-minute conversation with a couple of their people by their desk or over Teams, and to comment on one good thing that week. Just one five-minute conversation, and one comment — give it a go.
Instead of the standard nine box grid accompanied by endless calibration discussions, Western Union asked clusters of managers to come together for an hour a month to talk about the talent in their teams. It shrunk an industrial-scale task into a human-sized one.
This technique of bite-size being more impactful is being seen more and more in L&D too. Instead of a full day’s training of which our brains will forget 80 percent in a month – we’re seeing short videos or mini-sessions – Telefonica call them ‘learning shots’!
Or in Diversity and Inclusion where, instead of the big training programme or campaign, we’re seeing a greater focus on great conversations – like at Go Daddy where they talk about micro exclusions and micro inclusions. Leaders have conversations with their teams where they ask questions like ‘what’s the one thing I could do to help you to feel more included and valued?’ One small habit that they might change – much less intimidating than a big D&I initiative with tons of activities.
Another way of minimising a challenge is to break it down into staged tasks. The educational technique of ‘scaffolding’ takes this approach. It states that, instead of assuming teachers need to teach something sizeable such as how to do algebra in one go, they take the end point and break it down into chunks. Each chunk involves learning something new but messing up one of them won’t put the learner off doing the rest of it. For instance, if you were to try to hold line managers responsible for making pay and bonus decisions rather than it being controlled centrally in HR, this would be a terrifying prospect for most leaders because they’d assume managers would bust the salary budget in no time. However, your starting point in HR could be that instead of not implementing this change for fear of its causing problems, you could do it in stages like this:
- Ask the managers to carry out a theoretical exercise on how they would go about the task. Give feedback to help them.
- Feed in some example tricky situations and discuss how they’d respond.
- Let them try it with the lowest risk elements of their team, and to reflect with you afterwards on how it went.
- Keep doing this until you have them off their water wings and swimming independently.
This might sound time consuming, but how many hours do you spend carrying out the annual pay review at the moment? With scaffolding, you protect people from making huge mistakes and losing their confidence, creating ways for them to practise and improve.
So, why not take a look at the way you deliver HR – and swap big campaigns, initiatives or the dreaded HR transformation programmes for small, bite-sized activities that appeal to busy managers and can help build their confidence in trying something new?