Dear HR professional, are you ready to take the lead?

This COVID period could be the perfect timing to change for good

Millions of parents and children have been forced to start homeschooling in just a few days. Retired nurses & volunteers are re-trained into flexible medical staff to support hospitals and retirement homes. Alcohol-factories become producers of hand disinfectant. These are a few of the beautiful innovations we've seen in the previous challenging weeks.

Human beings can change if necessary. The same goes for organisations. Many are rising to the challenge, looking after their employees by offering free therapy lessons (Starbucks), extra funds for employees in financial distress (Amazon), and many organisation are run with the workforce working from home.

The Corona Crisis and Change for Good

Staying safe and healthy is priority number 1. We’re in a global experiment right now.This is a time when most people are in a (forced) change-modus anyway. This means it will be a bit easier to embrace new ways of working when life eventually goes back to the ‘post-corona’-normal. When patterns are interrupted, people are more willing to adopt certain new behaviours. Wouldn’t it be great to use this momentum to stimulate new ways of working & develop a more agile culture in your organisation?

This is the ideal moment for HR to grab the chance to remove some old, inefficient working patterns and replace them with more productive, human-centered procedures & systems. It all starts with the motivation to change. We can’t change people if they don’t want to change, but we can create an atmosphere where the ‘change’ mindset is stimulated.

Post lockdown, many businesses will be forced to up productivity in order to compensate for the loss of revenue during this period. One successful strategy is to remove inefficiencies in processes and systems. Once a system is in place, it’s difficult to put everything on hold and make adjustments. However, at this moment, a lot of those systems are already ‘on hold’. A golden opportunity to change for the better. What would happen if we switch our attention from:

+ Command & control, to support & trust?
+ A focus on controlling input to rewarding output?
+ Plan & predict to experiment & adapt?

Get Rid of Ladders- The Time is Now!

Cartoon ladder & bananapeel

Placing a ladder over a banana peel to avoid people slipping is not the most efficient solution. Strangely, many organisations (certainly the bigger ones) have built a plethora of ladders into their structures and systems.

A ‘ladder’ in this context is an inefficient procedure or system.

It’s a pattern that we keep repeating because it has proven successful in the past. We persist, despite its inefficiency and lacklustre results. Maybe we installed a procedure 10 years ago to solve a certain problem, and although that situation doesn't occur anymore, the procedure is still in place. This is an example of how ladders can be detrimental for a company’s progress.

HR professionals, are you ready to take the lead?

I believe HR should take the lead because HR professionals are equipped with the best tools to combat these problems- thanks to a deeper understanding of human behavior. They’re also aware of the various procedures & protocols that may come into play. You can use this opportunity to influence other leaders within your company to have a deeper reach.
During the COVID pandemic, a lot of companies were forced to make a switch when their workforce needed to be productive from home. So, what did they do?
‘Yes, let’s do exactly what we did before. But via digital tools.’

We still have our inefficient Monday morning meeting at 9 AM, but now we use Zoom, Skype or MS Teams. But keep in mind, this is an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the meeting, and maybe replace it with a different, more efficient solution. Can you come up with a more energizing alternative?

Move from 'Managing the 3% to Leading the 97%'

When you hire people who put the company’s interests first, 97% of your employees will do the right thing. Most companies spend endless time and money writing and enforcing HR policies to deal with problems the 3% caused. This leads to micro-management and it’s devastating for engagement and trust in the long run.
Cartoon managing for the 3%

Some overly engage themselves in micro-management, using all kinds of surveillance software like Time Doctor, ActivTrak and InterGuard. They want to control their employees by tracking the number of emails sent; continuous screenshots; firewall unproductive apps or websites, etc.

Let’s go from People Analytics to Analytics for the People. Using analytics is all well and good, but we need to analyse the output (results) instead of the number of emails sent, or hours that somebody spends in the office. I’m sure people would love insight in some output related data, which will motivate them to show the right behavior.

I don’t believe that the micro-analytics are directly related to productivity. But I do believe there’s a direct relationship between micro-management and the disengagement of employees. A nice example came from a surgeon working in ICU who was happy that, during this crisis, he could finally be the professional he was trained to be. He could take decisions, collaborate quickly with other doctors and nurses without filling out reams of paperwork, following exhaustive protocols, and other useless bureaucratic exercises.

How does this manifest in your organisation? Take an honest look at 10 of your own HR procedures and you will notice that most of them are built around mistrust. Somewhere along the line, someone did something wrong. Now, we can't trust our people- so we install a plethora of protocols to make sure that it never happens again.

Does your organisation have one of the following policies?​

A policy to check expenditure management to ensure employees are spending effectively; dress codes; codes of conduct, or holiday policies? An annual performance review to check if our people reached their goals?

I'm not saying that we don't need any of those, but the majority of those policies could be replaced by regular, transparent conversations between employer and employee combined with a dose of common sense from both.

Some Alternative Routes

Let's take travel & expenses policies. These procedures are a small nightmare for most companies. Employees have to request permission from their bosses to buy something; they need to sign a document; then need to keep track of the receipts; somebody has to administer the expenses; a controller will check if everything is correct; … It all costs a lot of time, energy and money.
The travel & expenses policy of Nextflix is five words long: “Act in Netflix’s best interests.” Done. Yes, team leaders may have occasions where they need to have a conversation with an employee who ate at an expensive restaurant (a meal that would have been fine for sales or recruiting purposes). With their rules made clear , 97% of the employees would comply with and understand the 5 words. You may want to get rid of the 3% who don't (want to) understand the reasoning behind the concept and the company’s values.
Cartoon travel expenses netflix

Another domain where we can free up a lot of resources are annual performance reviews. Maybe you might be busy planning those reviews in the upcoming months. Ask yourself if those annual routines are still the best way to evaluate your people. Or would it be beneficial to explore examples of GE, Adobe, Netflix, and many others who switched to regular, informal 360-degree reviews?

Ask three simple questions on what a person should stop, start or continue, and from there you have a trust base to build on. Again, it requires that your leaders dare to have open and honest conversations. That's where HR can support their leaders and employees. These troubled times are a golden opportunity to experiment with new ways of evaluating.

How about an expiration date for rules and procedures? You can install a new procedure, but after 5 years, require reevaluation to see if it’s still the most efficient way to realise the goal. If yes, then the procedure stays put for another 5 years. Otherwise, we replace it with a more efficient measure. HR can take the lead in stimulating the leaders in the organisation to implement those expiration dates.

A practical tip to spot inefficient procedures quickly:

Ask 5 of your employees (maybe start with your HR colleagues) to make a list of 5 procedures in their work that they find extremely inefficient. Collect those answers and cluster them. I’m quite sure there will be 1 or 2 procedures that are ‘on hold’ right now, which means that you can spend some time exploring alternatives.