HR tends to be one of the last areas considered by start-ups in my experience, but this can be something of an oversight. Most start-ups by their very nature are founded by entrepreneurial individuals, who quite rightly may invest most of their energies in selling, meeting customer demands and cash flow. However, start-ups reach a point where they need to “employ a stranger” for the first time, when they can no longer fill a vacancy with family, friends or ex-colleagues. It’s at this stage that start-ups need to enlist services of an HR Professional who can help them build an employer brand, develop HR policies, recruit best talent and setup a competitive compensation structure.
Smaller employers, which naturally include start-ups, lose out to more established organizations on securing the best talent. Perhaps their website is not particularly professional, their Google ranking is pretty low, their address is not a fancy downtown location or simply job seekers with relevant skills/experience have never even heard of them. Effective employer branding drives a greater quantity and quality of applicants to adverts on the likes of Monster and Workopolis, and proves crucial in maximizing the likelihood of candidates showing up for interview and accepting job offers when offered.
Robust policies around topics such as bullying & harassment, dismissals and termination, misconduct, performance and working hours reduce the chance of costly and time-consuming tribunals. Experienced HR Professionals, Consultants and HR Outsourcing Firms can develop all necessary policies, contracts and offer letters. Law firms can also be used to compliment your existing HR resource ensuring all documentation and policies comply with all relevant Employment Standard Acts and legislation.
Interviewing and Recruitment
Trained interviewers tend to hire the best person and also possess the skills to sell the job and organization to interviewees who may be somewhat reluctant to join a start-up. Start-ups do not normally have the benefit of speculative approaches from applicants and have to go out and find the best, possibly using the benefit of starting a job that no-one else has previously undertaken which undoubtedly appeals to some people.
Pay and Benefits
Without the latest data on compensation trends in Ontario, start-ups can struggle to offer a competitive package, compounded by the scenario of limited benchmarking data. Entrepreneurs often believe they have their finger on the pulse of their marketplace, but these numbers change rapidly and employers with a limited track record may need to pay more to ensure high-achievers join them rather than more established organizations.
In a highly competitive business environment, the active management of employee engagement is a critical aspect of sustaining competitive advantage and driving organizational effectiveness. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), 84% of senior leaders say that disengaged employees are one of the top three biggest challenges facing their business. This fear is founded with studies suggesting that only 29% of the workforce can be classified as being engaged with 71% of employees falling into the category of not-engaged or actively-disengaged. Even with the breadth of this issue, only 12% of organizational leaders identify themselves as having plans in place to actively address employee engagement problems.
Employee engagement has started to become of increased focus to organizations with recent studies identifying engaged employees as 43% more productive and outperforming their peers by 47% to 202%. The productivity gains achieved through engaged employees carry forward directly affecting organizational success. When comparing median differences between top-quartile and bottom-quartile businesses the following variances were observed:
- 12% higher customer ratings
- 16% increased profitability
- 25% lower turnover (high-turnover organizations), 49% lower turnover (low-turnover organizations),
- 49% fewer safety incidents
- 27% less shrinkage
- 37% less absenteeism; and
- 60% fewer quality defects.[i]
These successes resulted in organizations scoring in the top quartile on employee engagement surveys double their odds of success in comparison to those in the bottom quartile. When looking at the extremes, organizations falling into the 99th percentile have nearly five times the success rate as those at the 1st percentile.
Some strategies that can be utilized to drive employee engagement include:
Employees need to know the “big picture” – and how their tasks fit in the greater scheme of things.
Align and play to employee strengths
Ensure daily priorities fit with company objectives, mission and vision, and that the right players are on the field.
Educate and empower frontline managers
They need to know what engagement looks like and be able to model it themselves.
Weed out bad managers
Remove managers who are not willing to learn to carry out the above
Build a strong foundation
Managers need to get to know their people, align personal and organizational goals, provide coaching, recognition and feedback and match mission critical projects with employee skill sets and aspirations.
Cascade an engaged organization from the top
Ensure senior managers are inspired and actively engaged with organizational goals and outcomes. This will be syndicated throughout the organization.
Hold managers accountable for results and development
[i] Harter, J., Schmidt, F., Killham, E., & Sangeeta, A. (2009). The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes. Gallup .
In the current turbulent economic environment, organizations that do not change are likely to be left behind. So from a seasonal perspective, what lessons can be learned from how to embed change effectively in 2012?
C is for COMPETENCIES
Employers today operate in uncharted waters and the status quo is gone, possibly forever. High-performing organizations that want to succeed need to constantly be seeking ways to tweak, to enhance, and in some cases revolutionize the way they operate. Leaders must learn how to lead change and individuals must become change agents. In short change is THE core competency for any organization that wants to thrive in the chaotic world we now inhabit.
H is for HUMAN DYNAMICS
Embrace the human dynamics by recognizing people change from the inside out (when they choose to change) not by outside-in force. They must accept change, respond, then commit to take action. Outside-in practices such as top-down communications or imposing new practices cause resistance and anxiety.
R is for REACTION
The ideal scenario is to generate a string of interactions, each creating a by-product that starts another reaction. When the number of reactions grows exponentially, you get a cascade: one reaction leads to another. Interactions that generate other interactions can produce a dramatic effect. As one person talks to others, and they talk to more, the number of conversations grows exponentially, creating powerful increases in the speed and spread of change.
I is for INDICATORS
Only when the culture has been evaluated in detail can change be effective, and our approach (as HR Professionals) is to assess the following indicators:
- Leadership and management effectiveness
- Organization behaviours
- Receptiveness to change
S is for SPONSORSHIP
Sponsorship must come from the CEO. Without it, the effort will fail. CEO sponsorship will ensure open communications, trust and objectivity.
T is for TALENT
In Canada’s multicultural and multi-generational workforce, many people possess different, but hidden talents. Uncover the hidden talents of your people and use them to your team’s advantage. Employees who are seen as unique contributors become more engaged and passionate about their work—they become enthusiastic and ooze creativity.
M is for MEASURES
A before and after review is needed with precise metrics, in order to gauge the impact. We normally conduct a survey or series of interviews on the basis of:
- Readiness to change
A is for ACCOUNTABILITY
Follow up the decisions you reach with action whilst creating a picture of what personal accountability looks like. Delegate specific assignments to specific people, set a date for a follow-up meeting in which everyone reports progress and don’t tolerate lame excuses.
S is for STEPS OF CHANGE
In summary, we propose the following:
- Instill a sense of urgency
- Form a powerful coalition
- Create then communicate the vision
- Empower others
- Plan for some short-term wins
- Consolidate improvements and sustain the momentum
- Institutionalize the new approaches
Brian Kreissl’s recent article “When non-HR professionals do HR work“ published on HRReporter.com is an insightful and timely look at a very old, but not widely-known, organizational truth: there’s no such thing as a company without HR.
HR is not the output of a department called HR, nor is it the product of people who have job titles that say HR in them. Rather, HR is at the foundation of an organization. It doesn’t disappear because it lacks a label. In other words: while organizations can have “no HR people,” and “no HR department,” they cannot have “no HR.”
Kreissl and I agree: cutting costs by bleeding HR budgets is simply bad strategy. Why? Because, again, HR isn’t a department or a person. It’s built into the organization itself. And so the tasks and responsibilities of HR don’t go away when HR budgets are cut. They’re merely shoveled off to people who almost without exception don’t know how to do it, don’t want to do it, and do a bad job of it when the finally forced to face it.
And the consequence? Unproductive, disengaged employees who end up costing an organization instead of moving it ahead. And we’re not just talking about one bad apple here. We’re talking the entire organizational workforce. So it’s more like a bad apple orchard.
Krissel’s bottom line is one that I echo as well: if non-HR professional are going to be tasked with performing HR functions, then it’s essential that they get the support and training they need from outside the organization. Not just for their sake or their employees’. But for the success of the organization as a whole.
Top executives still see their utmost people priority as having “the right people in the right place, at the right time, doing their job well”. In a Workforce.com article, “What the CEO wants from HR”, Eric Wiseman, CEO of VF Corporation (Lee, Nautica, The North Face and other lifestyle brands) confirms this focus on talent by saying:
“I need a strong financial lever, and that’s never been more important than it is now. I need brands that are winning against the competition. And I need talent. Money and brands don’t do me any good if I don’t have the talent.”
Even for the average business, a talent-ready internal team is fundamental to fulfilling business operations and ensuring employees are actively engaged and retained within the business. A low cost way of knowing what your internal employee talent pool looks like is through “talent pipeline reviews”. These reviews will also decrease the reliance on external hiring and provide a target for meagre development budgets.
What is a Talent Pipeline review?
A Talent Pipeline review consists of the following sets of activities:
a) A leadership group meets to discuss the performance and capability potential for each member of a defined employee or manager group within the organization.
b) Action steps for in-job development, special assignments, mentoring or training are agreed upon. Following the meeting, development opportunities are discussed with team members and actively supported by their manager.
c) Vacant positions or special project work are filled wherever possible by the “reviewed” employees to facilitate internal skills growth.
d) Significant organizational skill gaps are resolved through targeted recruitment or training.
e) Details of meeting discussions, development actions and progress are tracked and reviewed at a later meeting. The cycle is completed annually or semi-annually.
The value of the talent pipeline review approach is realized when the employee group is more robust with capabilities to take on new roles when required. Two central parts of the talent review discussions are the coaching discussions (held with the employees after the “review meeting”) and their manager’s support to help them develop. In addition to identifying succession candidates for roles, tracking of employee moves demonstrates business impact with the reduction of “time to fill vacant positions” and an increase in internally-filled jobs.
When is the right timing to initiate Talent Pipeline reviews?
A key question for many business leaders is: what is the right timing for this kind of assessment and planning program to truly add value to the organization? Any time might be right within larger organizations (2000+) where more time and resources may exist to develop pools of potential leaders or critically-skilled candidates. Within smaller organizations (< 100) it may be too early to think about development when most people are working portions of 2-3 jobs and doubling down to get work done. Employee development in these smaller organizations often arises by “doing the job”. However, as an organization grows beyond 100 people, so do its leadership numbers and streamlining of roles. Managers and employees need to be more sophisticated in operating across the organization and typically have less visibility to development opportunities and career paths.
The following is a list of questions to consider whether the timing is right to implement a Talent Pipeline review program for your organization:
- Do you expect and need to plan for significant staff growth over the next 12-36 months?
- Are there formal succession plan requirements from the Board or regulators?
- Are leaders frustrated with not having skilled candidates to fill roles with internal company knowledge?
- Is there discontentment amongst employees about either too much external hiring or leaders’ lack of focus on career development?
- Is your organization considering an enhanced investment in learning but needs a baseline assessment of the team’s capability gaps?
- Is there a business product/service or strategic initiative being launched which will require new skills and a careful assessment of development needs for execution?
Talent pipeline planning can be integrated into part of the annual business strategy cycle by providing “current state analysis” and/or provide a foundation for business cases for other people-program investments. Talent Pipeline reviews can also be tacked on to any existing team performance alignment discussion held by a leadership group.
Make Talent Pipeline reviews priority over other development investments
Recently, during the implementation of a new talent review program a leader turned to me to say… “this feels like another HR tracking process”. Needless to say, the value became clearer to that leader after several semi-annual discussion cycles, employee development and job transfers. His team members realized that leaders were now focusing on them by providing work development opportunities. The employees were being challenged and started to see potential career paths for themselves. The talent within the organization was activated and we were delivering better prepared leaders for vacant positions.
On average, most business leaders resist adding people processes whenever possible (particularly in young, growing businesses). Human resources won’t often recommend talent pipeline reviews until after pushing for commitments to other learning programs. Perhaps it is time to re-think that prioritization. Talent pipeline reviews require less budget investment and can be more directly linked to strategy planning and execution.
A Talent Pipeline review is a highly actionable program. Leaders usually take direct development action after the review meetings without waiting for training budget. More than 90% of the time, employee development actions identified are “in-job” work, mentoring or within-department projects or committees. Talent discussions help a leadership group to focus on “who needs what type of development” and come to an agreement on employee work assignments for quick action.
Most importantly, Talent Pipeline programs support and execute upon the organization’s overall business plan, as well as help the organization meet Board and regulatory requirements. They keep a leadership group actively focused on their peoples’ development for high employee engagement, reduce productivity loss from job vacancies and enhance overall productivity for business results.