R-E-S-P-E-C-T: What it means for me

There is a great line in this Aretha Franklin classic which is “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me”.

A lot of the work that we do at Ridgeline HR has to do with developing and maintaining the right behaviours in workplaces built on respect for people regardless of their station and their personal characteristics.

In 2011, I was privileged to present on the subject of respectful workplaces at Melbourne Law School in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Employment Rights and the Centre for Employment and Labour Relations Law.

The focus of my presentation was on the characteristics of an effective respectful workplace program and, in this context, here is what R-E-S-P-E-C-T means for me:

Responsibility:

Everyone is responsible for their own behaviour and for influencing the behaviour of those with whom they come into contact. Values should be clear and people at all levels from board down to the shopfloor should be held accountable for practising them consistently at all times and performance against values should be measured and used in performance management processes.

Empowerment:

People are educated and trained in why the values are important, how they are applied in practice and what that means in terms of how they and everyone else are expected to behave. People are encouraged and congratulated for doing the right things in the right way and are encouraged and thanked for identifying contradictions and taking appropriate action to stop the wrong behaviours.

Socialisation:

Every workplace is unique and values and behaviours need to be socialised to the nature, culture and structure of the organisation. Due regard must be had to the people demographic (employees and other stakeholders) and the prevailing paradigms of organisational behaviour (the good things to be preserved and celebrated and the contradictions that need to be addressed to ensure a respectful workplace).

Performance:

This is about doing it every day in every way – in the way that board and management make decisions, in the decisions themselves, in policies and procedures and in the way that everyone at every level interacts with each other, in not tolerating contradictions but fixing them and in maintaining the message day in day out, saying “thanks” and saying “sorry” as and when appropriate – really living the values.

Evolution:

This is a journey where we continuously learn about new challenges and opportunities, where business circumstances change, where people come and go (employees, customers, suppliers, etc) and so the respectful workplace is something which continues to evolve and adapt to different needs. There is a need to conduct periodic healthchecks to look for contradictions and opportunities for improvement as well as to recognise and celebrate the successes. Like most things in life, it is about continuous improvement.

Community:

A truly respectful workplace is one where all of the stakeholders are partners in the values and required to demonstrate them – board members, managers and staff but also customers, suppliers, contractors, associations or unions and any others who have an interest and involvement in the workplace, Community also means recognising people as individuals and having respect for the people, relationships, beliefs and activities that are important in each one’s life. Diversity is valued and celebrated.

Trust:

The foundation upon which any respectful workplace is based. For it to work, we must trust in the values of the organisation, the commitment of board and managers to lead by example, the willingness of all stakeholders to engage in the journey and the ability to rely on everyone to do the right thing and to be supported in doing that, Only then, can people genuinely believe they have a respectful workplace.

So that is what R-E-S-P-E-C-T means to me – what does it mean for you?

7 steps to effective policies

One of the most common requests we get at Ridgeline HR is for assistance in developing HRM policies and procedures for our clients.

Many businesses think that simply having a policy is enough to demonstrate compliance but there is actually a lot more to it than that as businesses too often find out the hard way.

It is not much good having a policy if it is not practised in fact and the fact is that, if a business doesn’t follow it’s own policies, it automatically has a compliance problem.

And there is quite a bit of work involved in ensuring that policies are both appropriate and managed in the right way to achieve their objectives.

There are 7 steps to effectively implementing policies:

  1. Be clear about why the policy is necessary(and, if it isn’t, don’t do it).
  2. Ensure that the policy aligns in content and presentation with your vision, values and strategy (don’t create contradictions).
  3. Communicate the policy appropriately to everyone to whom it has application (on launch and progressively through inductions, refreshers etc as necessary).
  4. Train people who have roles to play in application of the policy in how to perform those roles in the right way.
  5. Assess risks (eg people who might have potential to breach the policy or need additional support to comply with it) and implement appropriate risk management strategies.
  6. Consult people and review practice regarding the policy to ensure that it is working as intended.
  7. Review the policy annually to take account of any legislative or best practice developments as well as organisational experiences to continuously improve it and ensure ongoing compliance – return to Step 1.

Perhaps the thing that I find most remarkable about most organisations which focus on risk management is that they don’t actually assess risks that exist in their organisations when they implement a policy. See Step 5 above.

There is too often a mentality that, if the rules are communicated and an individual then doesn’t follow those rules, the risk is transferred from the business to that individual.

For organisations that might be in that space, I suggest that you consider why the policy is needed in the first place – ie what purpose (other than complying with a legal obligation) does it serve in the management of people?

Or, to put it another way, why did it become a legal obligation in the first place?

Do your policies exist for policies’ sake or do they have a positive impact on your people and culture?

Why would I want to work for you?

When advising clients on how to go about recruiting a new employee, I emphasise the importance of writing good position advertisements.

Why is this important? Because you are trying to find the best person that you can for your business in a very competitive labour market and you need to quickly get their attention – like lots of things in business and life, first impressions count.

To do this effectively, you need to be clear about your Employee Value Proposition and communicate that simply and clearly in your ads so that you answer the question:

“Why would I want to work for you?”

If you look at any of the major job boards online, you will undoubtedly find that most job advertisements don’t answer that question – they say little or nothing about what distinguishes the business/employer and the role advertised from the rest.

In a discussion with a CEO of a significant business recently, one that has a lot to offer in the way of an Employee Value Proposition, I showed him one of their job advertisements and asked him why they said nothing about that EVP.

I said: “It is a competitive marketplace – everyone says that it is hard to attract and retain good people so why aren’t you selling your EVP out there.”

His response: “When you say it like that, it just makes business sense and we are obviously missing an opportunity that we need to fix”.

So what is your EVP – is it your culture, your products or services, your brand, your customers, your development opportunities, your location, your swish offices, your life balance, your variety of work or ……..?

Next time you are advertising a job (or looking for one), ask the simple question: “Why would I want to work for you?”

Why does HR struggle to impact organisational performance?

This is a question often asked and, from my perspective, one not often answered well.

That’s because there are a number of factors at play here and here are some that come to mind.

You get what you ask for

The first hypothesis that I want to put to you is that the HR function (it’s focus, responsibilities, purpose, activities, relationships etc) is the product of the business owners and/or board and/or senior executive – their philosophies, priorities and perspectives on what HR is and is there for in the context of the particular business setting.

For example, on my first day as HR Manager in one business, my boss, the Manufacturing Manager, said to me “It is great to have you on board, we have missed having someone to get us out of trouble!” “Ouch!” but clearly the focus for the business and the bulk of my activities were going to be on risk management and conflict resolution. That proved to be the case.

What that means is that the business gets exactly what it asks for in HR and, most of the time, that is not what (or not all of what) the business really needs.

The HR hierarchy

Having worked with hundreds of organisations over many years, I have identified 4 tiers of HR (the 4Cs which underpin our consulting model at Ridgeline HR) and these are:

C1:  Commitment – we do what we need to provide direction and meet legal obligations

C2:  Capability – we have implemented systems to assist in HRM

C3:  Competency – we have trained our managers to manage their people appropriately

C4:  Culture – we have strategies which engage and develop our people to deliver results

This leads me to my second hypothesis – 80% of Australian businesses have not progressed beyond C1/C2. Their focus is on compliance and risk management, on record keeping and avoidance of complaints, unfair dismissal claims etc, rather than on organisational development and employee engagement.

What that means for most HR Departments is that compliance is the focus and HR is therefore seen by the business as a compliance cost and not a value adding performance enabler. It is hard to get excited about cost!

I am a human being!

Now to my third hypothesis – we are human beings (not just human resources) and we want to do a good job. We want to have a sense of purpose, we want to feel that we are contributing to and are part of something worthwhile, we want to have dignity and pride in our work regardless of our station and we want to feel valued and recognized for our contributions.

Bearing this in mind, let’s revisit the 4Cs looking at them from an employee’s perspective:

C1: Commitment – I know what is expected of me.

C2: Capability – I am provided with the tools, equipment and systems I need to do my job.

C3: Competency – I receive the training and support that I need to do my job well.

C4: Culture – I understand how I contribute to our success and I am empowered to do it.

Again, I believe that most Australian employees would see themselves as being at C1-C2 because that is where their employers position them and these are the key HR messages being sent to people – comply, do what is expected and we won’t have any problems with you. Not really inspiring stuff, is it?

What this means is that organisations’ expectations and HR messages to its human resources are far too often at odds with our needs and values as human beings – and that is why we don’t get good employee engagement.

And we are not learning

There is a huge body of research which tells us emphatically that the key to productivity improvement, in generating that discretionary effort on the part of our people, in encouraging innovation and discovering new and better ways to work in all sorts of fields is employee engagement.

Yet our current national debate on productivity is centered firmly on employment laws and costs rather than contemporary thinking on what makes a productive business and a great workplace and the importance of good leadership and employee engagement in this regard.

If our national industry leaders don’t get it, it is no wonder that HR Departments struggle to engage with it, let alone deliver it!

Do we have the will?

It is much safer to stay in the compliance space – after all:

  • It is the law or the customer or the government or someone else who makes the rules, isn’t it, and therefore they (not us) are responsible for the rules, right? and
  • If we have told everyone what the rules are and they haven’t complied with them, that is their fault (not ours), right?

Or are we prepared to take on the realities of what our people really think about our organization and do something constructive about it?

Are we prepared to consult with people to inform them, to obtain their input into decision-making and to get them engaged in conversations as part of the culture or will we continue to just consult them as and when required to under employment and workplace health and safety laws?

Are we prepared to invest in their development and wellbeing in a meaningful way as opposed to just doing what we have to in training and workplace health and safety?

I could go on but you get the picture, I’m sure.

So are you in the 80% who need to change and, if so, do you have the will to make it happen?

Things won’t turn around overnight but they will turnaround if you have the will to persist.

There are plenty of good tools and resources around to help and a couple of my favourites are https://www.investorsinpeople.com/https://www.investorsinpeople.com/ and www.engageforsuccess.org. All free stuff – enjoy.

Engage through the CORE

Why is it that some businesses have people who stay with them and consistently perform well?

How do they keep them motivated?

Here are a few essential elements at the CORE of successful employment relationships:

Clarity

To get the right results, you need to be clear about:

  1. The plan – business goals and values provide the foundation for alignment of people with business needs
  2. Competencies – the skills and behaviours which drive your recruitment, selection and training activities
  3. Roles – the tasks that people are to perform and the results that are expected
  4. Resources – the systems, tools, information and relationships needed to succeed
  5. Communication – ongoing and open dialogue to ensure continuing alignment of people with business needs.

Opportunity

People want to do a good job and generally welcome opportunities to:

  1. Be involved – to be asked for their opinion and to have the opportunity to make a contribution
  2. Grow – to develop skills and experience new opportunities for expanding and applying their knowledge and expertise
  3. Comply – to understand what is expected of them in results and behaviour and do it and
  4. Succeed – to deliver the results expected

Recognition

Recognition of people’s value to the business is critical for ongoing motivation and delivery of results as well as in meeting legal obligations in managing people. These include:

  1. Remuneration and benefits – ensuring that people receive pay, benefits and conditions of employment appropriate to the role that they perform, the contribution that they make and its worth in the marketplace and having regard to obligations under legislation and awards.
  2. Ongoing feedback – investing the time to have regular reviews against personal goals, recognition of achievements and areas for improvement
  3. Rewards – personal incentives (ensuring that statutory obligations re minimum rates and conditions are still met) or other forms (public recognition, gifts or gift vouchers, development opportunities, etc)
  4. Correction – despite best efforts, sometimes a relationship doesn’t work and underperformance needs to be addressed promptly, sensitively and legally.

Equilibrium

People like equilibrium – a sense of balance and assurance in:

  1. Life – balancing our family and personal needs and our working life is as a key driver in attracting and retaining good people
  2. Respect -mutual respect between the employer and the employee and the capacity for open and honest communication
  3. Team – people want to belong and to have a sense of being part of a collective in which they are respected for who they are and what they contribute
  4. Security – the knowledge that the business is successful, my job is safe and I will be able to provide for my needs and those of my family.
  5. Sustainability – people’s confidence in the business commitment to continuous improvement and good corporate citizenship.

Focus on these core elements and you will optimize your prospect of having motivated people in your business and a great return on your investment in people.

When do I hire a HR Manager?

This is a question that I am commonly asked by SMB owners, often when the business is a little out of control because it has grown to the point where the owner cannot personally supervise everything that is going on anymore.

My initial response is that you are asking the wrong question up front and you should first ask: “What is the best way to manage the growing number of people in my business?”

Firstly let’s break that down into component parts which I call the 4Cs of people management:

C1: Commitment

This is the base level of people management and is fundamentally about ensuring that the business  has a plan providing clear direction and understands and is compliant with its legal obligations as an employer in relation to such things as:

  • Wages and conditions of employment
  • Workplace health and safety
  • Equal opportunity, discrimination and harassment
  • Privacy

C2: Capability

This is about building the processes for managing people which include or add to what you have done in compliance but also facilitate:

  • Effective conversations about team and individual performance and development
  • Skills analysis and learning and development activities that are aligned with business needs
  • Reward and recognition that has meaning, is properly aligned and is affordable, providing the right return on investment
  • Targeted recruitment and retention of the right employees and fair and effective management of the exceptions.

C3: Competency

Having put the systems in place, you need to develop the abilities of your people to apply them and comply with them in a consistent and competent manner by:

  • Training your leaders and managers in the application of the processes with their teams and individual team members
  • Educating all of your people about the processes and their roles and obligations
  • Ensuring that you practice what you preach and both require and allow your managers to do their jobs and
  • Incorporating the leadership qualities you need in your criteria for selecting your managers

C4: Culture

This is when it all comes together – you know that you are compliant with your legal obligations, you have people management systems that work and your leaders and managers are really driving improvements because you:

  • Have a clear vision and business strategy with measurable goals for improving business performance and “your people get it”
  • Understand the competencies that you need and your investment in training and development delivers improvements in performance
  • Engage your people in improving business performance and recognize and reward them for their contributions and
  • Have leaders and managers who ensure that your people are on board, contributing and continuously improving their capabilities and performance.

The truth is that your specialist HR resource needs (ie the skill set required) will differ depending on where your business is in the above hierarchy.

At levels C1 – C2, there is a greater emphasis on administration, compliance and risk management whereas at C3 – C4, there is a much more strategic focus on organizational development, engagement and leadership.

What will not change is that you need your managers and leaders to be on board every step of the way because they are the real people managers every day.

That leaves us with a different but much better question: “How do I best support my managers to do their jobs better?”