Refocussing HR…..on employees

I’m constantly reminded about the need for HR to “refocus”. I get it. I hear it at conferences, in journals, on social media. We need to refocus. That’s great. Normally the schtick is based one of two things,

We need to be externally focussed.

We need to be commercially focussed.

Both are true and yet both are incomplete assessments of the state of HR.  The missing piece for me, the area that we should not speak, the real truth is,

We need to be more employee focussed.

If you speak to anyone in a consumer facing marketing function, they will wax lyrical about the need to focus on that consumer, to understand their behaviour, to open the channels of communication with them, to have a dialogue and to serve (yes, I said serve) them better.

But when we come to the world of people management, it appears we feel that employees are somewhat of an inconvenience that get in the way of good HR practice. If only it wasn’t for these pesky folk, we’d be doing great things.

Yes we need to be commercially minded and we need to understand the context in which our organisations operate. Yes we need to be confident with the financial aspects of our business and the economic conditions. But we also need to remember that our primary purpose as a function is to understand our employees’ needs better than anyone else. And to serve those needs.

I have a simple test, a simple analytic that I’ve built up over a few years when assessing what we’re doing and whether it is worthwhile. Ask yourself three questions,

Does it make life better for employees?

Does it make things simpler for managers?

Does it add tangible value to the business?

And if you can’t say yes to one of these three questions, then you should simply stop doing it. 

Here is my challenge to you, give it a go, ask yourself those questions. You’ll be surprised what you find.

Raw belief, raw talent

Bloggers have a habit of seeing something in life and trying to draw parallels with the world of work, or whatever topic they choose to blog about. I know, I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt, bought the t-shirt company. I’m going to try to avoid that. But being half cut on Night Nurse and paracetamol, who knows….anything could happen.

Last year, after final school reports, I was walking with my daughter in the Ardeche. She had done really well that year, but maths remained an issue for her. Half confidence, half ability. She struggled to perform to the level of her natural intellectual ability. We were hiking a particularly arduous 12 mile route and to keep her mind off the hills, we talked about school and subjects and basically anything to prevent the “are we there yet” syndrome kicking in.

When we got to maths, she was, as usual, self-effacing, honest and humble. “I just don’t understand it” she told me.  “You can understand anything”, I replied rather tritely. “I bet by this time next year, if you really want to, you can be on the top table”. She looked at me and said, “I can’t. I’m not good enough”.

“I can’t do it for you” I replied, “but if you really want it, if you think you can, if you tried hard and if I help you, you will.”

The conversation continued and fast forward 7 months and I am sat in the classroom with her teacher. We start talking about maths and she tells me how she has seen an incredible improvement in my daughter. From being in the bottom group, she is now in the second to top. She explains that she is out performing her ability, because of her desire to learn, to do well and to succeed. “It is truly incredible” she tells me.

So what happened? Well, some of it is about the right moment. Some of it is about the right support. Some of it is about maturity. But as my daughter said to me this evening, “well we said that was what was going to happen”. Some of it was about having a vision of success and the sense of belief that comes from other people sharing that vision.  There was no intellectual or physical reason why she could not achieve this, but there was a psychological block.

Would I have spent the same amount of time and effort with one of my team? With an employee? Probably not and this is a salutary lesson that I need to reflect on a little more. If we are set on getting people to perform to their potential, sometimes that goes beyond training, sometimes it goes beyond structures and job profiles. And it definitely goes beyond the nonsense that is talked about the war for talent, talent communities, talent pipelining etc. etc.

Most of the time, the raw talent is sat just in front of you. With a little bit of personal investment, a bit of belief and, of course, with the right support and instruction. Well, most things are possible. You just need to approach it with the passion and dedication that you would with someone you love.

Time consuming? Yes. A waste of time? No.

And I’ll leave the last word to my daughter, “Well, I’m pleased…….but I’m not on the top table yet. But I have another four months to go…..and I will be there. Because I can.”

UPDATE: The results are in and she has gained four levels this year, from being one behind target to three above. Now that, my friends, is DATA.

Disappointment and performance

As a proud Welshman, I was hooked to the television on Saturday morning to watch the Welsh rugby team play France in the semi final of the Rugby World Cup. The Welsh were favourites after a series of strong performances in earlier games and it seemed that it was almost a matter of time until I was watching them in the final for the first time.

But with less than 20 minutes gone, their captain was controversially sent off and reduced to 14 men for over an hour, the effort was too much and they lost by a single point. Unsurprisingly, the post match analysis and the media focus was all on the sending off, the rights and the wrongs, the ins and the outs. In the words of the Coach Warren Gatland,

 “the destiny of having the opportunity was taken away from us”

In business I have seen so many people who feel the same way. Passed over for a promotion, working for someone who they don’t respect, not paid the amount they think they are worth, on the project that is going to the wall because it is being led by “that idiot”.

And that is the thing, it is always someone else’s fault. And often the one at fault is the guy in charge.

I’m not going to say that the world is without injustice. Sometimes bad things happen. But my point is that obsessing on these things just isn’t healthy. It doesn’t make you a better person, it doesn’t improve your performance it ultimately will not bring you success.

There are certain factors that you can control in your life, in your work, and there are others that you can’t. Focussing on and trying to control the things that are out of reach of your influence is a sure-fire way for a life of resentment and frustration.

The Welsh players can’t go back and change the decision that was made. But they can prepare for the third place play off and show the world why they are the team that everyone would wish to be in the final. And then they can go on to the Six Nations on a high and with a chance to show the world once again their abilities.  They need to accept that they didn’t lose because a player was sent off, they lost because they scored less points than the other team.

Likewise, you can’t go back and get that promotion, change your manager, increase your own pay or run that project. But you can focus on the next opportunity, the next chance to shine and you can prepare yourself to make the most of it.

Disappointment is natural, we all want to do well. But most of the time it is your fault when things go wrong. Accept that, work out what you’d differently and focus on improvement. It takes a bigger person to do and sure it will hurt at times, but I guarantee it will be ten times more effective than focusing on past failures and looking for someone to blame.