Working as an HR Interim and running my own HR consultancy company, I have spent a lot of time in all sorts of different businesses. It’s fantastic: I get to see all sorts of companies, different industries and get to meet and work with great people. People who are all excited about delivering in their chosen field and making the way they do business better.
Working in HR you often get called when it’s already gone wrong. The accident has already happened and the need is now pressing to clear up the mess and make sure it never happens again. There may be finger pointing, recriminations, guilt and even unpleasant consequences for certain individuals. If you’re very unlucky you get all of these all at once; the proverbial “omni-shambles.”
Sometimes it’s needed, even cathartic for a company to see that it can and needs to make change. Often new and great ways of working can be traced back to a point in time when it all went spectacularly wrong. I’m not suggesting driving your company into the ground, in the hope of finding some innovative technique or new cost saving business practice is the way to go, but I am saying, when it does go wrong treat the problem, but also look behind that issue and address the underlying causes affecting your business.
There are lots of reasons for problems in business and there is probably even an equation for it. If you multiply Production by the Resources available, measure over time equals a million opportunities for it to go bang! Add people into that equation and your opportunities for explosions increase in magnitude. It’s one of the reason I still love HR, people change every day. They are infinitely complex and their reactions to even the same situation are also infinitely variable. The things that made it go bang yesterday, won’t necessarily make it go bang tomorrow.
But there is hope. People are wonderful. They are creative, tenacious and good humoured. Even when things are at their most black someone will always crack a joke. Brilliant. With such a resource companies can achieve great things. So if you create the right environment and you point people in the right direction you will have succeeded in enabling the best resource your company has. I firmly believe that nobody comes to work to do a bad job. Sure there are those with issues of motivation or focus, but those individuals are in the minority and even they can be helped. Or at the very least helped out.
So how do you get your people to deliver for you? To become the power in your company. For me there are three consistent things that all companies must explore to give their employees the chance of performing to their potential.
1. The tools to do their job
All employees need the tools do their tasks. On a fundamental level this may be the essential kit to get the job done. This may be as straightforward as a mop and a bucket, or a phone, laptop and car or even the latest training in office productivity software. The question is; if it’s essential to get the job done do your staff have access to it?
This is not just about kit it’s also about the business providing systems and ways of working that are effective and motivate the employee. To give you an example. I know a company I have been in, that had an IT helpdesk that shut for an hour every day during lunchtime. So if your email went down, had a printer issue or your folders on your desktop disappeared you could pick up the phone to solve the problem and be greeted with an answerphone message. This was not a small organisation with one technician taking a break to eat some sandwiches. This was a big organisation with hundreds of staff all with IT needs but without a helpdesk lunch rota. Not surprisingly this one small inadequate process caused regular and monumental issues for this business on a daily basis. You could almost see people crumble as they heard that answerphone message.
So look at kit, systems and your business. How do your employees get though the day and what can you do to make it easier. Is there anything that is stopping them, slowing them down or frustrating them? Sometimes there are processes that can’t easily be changed or have become complex because of other issues. If this is the case, at the very least make sure your employees know why and that they know you understand the frustration of their day.
2. The limits of their responsibility
Employees need to understand what is expected of them. Again this is a multi-layered point. So, on one level make sure the roles are well defined, achievable and properly resourced. This way employees will know where their influence extends to, what they should be doing on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Who reports into them and who they should report to?
Secondly and perhaps more importantly the company needs to define the level of their responsibility and how to respond to challenges and events. Some roles require employees to ‘do’, others role to supervise others ‘doing’ others employees managing the ‘doing’ or finally leaders need to frame the ‘doing’ or create the right environment for the ‘doing’. The guidance, irrespective of whether that is coming from a job description or process document should define their workload and where those limits end.
Not only is it extremely effective to have employees focused on their work and what’s expected of them but it also changes how they tackle their work. Focused staff who know what’s expected of them and when they should seek further approval are more able to commit to their work and deliver for the business. Employees who either don’t know what they have to do or find their responsibility end in a grey vagueness will be as hesitant and timid as the business they serve.
3. Control over their day
A team is not just a group who all know what they are doing. A team is a group who all trust each other. Employees who are trusted and have the freedom to deliver in their role will engage in their work. Inspiring an atmosphere of trust will pay dividends.
If a company goes to the trouble of recruiting for a job and then hiring staff to do that role, it follows that it’s good to let them use the skills that got them the role they were hired to do. Employees that are trusted will determine which tasks to do first, will support their colleagues, find new ways of working, follow through on actions and in general be awesome.
The reverse is also true. Employees that lack the tools to deliver, are unsure of their responsibilities and lack any sense of control will be disengaged. They may still do the work, even admirably given the obstacles in the way! However they will not operate to their full potential. They may also be too busy looking over their shoulder to check they are doing it right or seeking approval before acting to think about colleagues, collaboration or new ways of working. Just get it done. Do, don’t think! Admirable but still a waste.
Such things are difficult, but then nothing worth doing is easy. There are roles that lack flexibility and maintain a structured outline. But if you can explore each of these and make improvements, great. You will make a difference to your employees. If you can only make changes in one, that will still be significant and you will have changed the nature of the company for the better.