Gulfs between HR departments and the cultural realities of the firms they work in have been widening for a while now, and the same problems seem to recur with depressing regularity. To show exactly what I mean, we will need to go on a short trip through recent history:
In November 2012… a survey of 1,000 office workers by recruitment firm Badenoch & Clarke found that a third of the respondents considered annual appraisals a timewasting “tick-box” exercise that was too starchily formal and infrequent to glean revealing insights into how well they were performing. The recruiter’s MD Nicola Linkleter said: “Dedicating time to appraisals is only beneficial for organisations and individuals if they are effective in identifying and developing talent in return.”
In April 2014… former BBC HR chief Lucy Adams – who once oversaw one of the biggest staff rosters in the UK – made the bold move of raising a spectre of doubt over her own profession. Calling herself “a recovering Human Resources director”, she said that staff who were being pushed by their bosses to complete appraisal forms should tell them, “Why should I? They don’t work.” She added: “The words ‘Can I give you some feedback?’ have the same effect on you as someone running up behind you in a dark alley.”
Four months ago… Ian Lee-Ermey, founder and chief executive of talent-management software provider Head Light, told Personnel Today: “If you talk to managers, a lot of them feel that HR only engages from a compliance perspective. So they set goals and ask for forms to be filled in, but they’re not particularly supportive or outcome-focused – it’s more about getting it done by a certain point.”
Skipping the details
Crucially, Lee-Ermey added, “If you drive better conversations, improved ratings will flow.” And that, really, is the crux of the matter. There are all sorts of ways of monitoring and evaluating your staff in interesting, insightful and three-dimensional ways, and the rote use of annual appraisals won’t get you anywhere near them. The problem with the “tick-box” approach that has left most HR data and practices stuck firmly in the Dark Ages is that it’s like a stone skipping over the surface of a pond: it’s picking up a bit of moisture here and there, but it’s not really immersing itself in the water.
In that sense, appraisals are highly dubious. They are i) one-time events on the calendar, ii) not rigorously analytical enough, iii) run the risk of being cursory or superficial, and iv) don’t happen often enough to establish any kind of continuity, or marry up with dynamic changes playing out within the business. Within weeks of an employee agreeing a progress plan on the basis of an appraisal, the company’s direction could change drastically, making the whole thing irrelevant.
Based on Lucy Adams’ contention that the HR process triggers people’s fight-or-flight reflex, there is every indication that managers are setting themselves up for a fall by asking the same set of standardised questions every year – whether that’s in the form of appraisals or staff surveys. This is for the simple reason that employees are more likely than not to tell their bosses only what they want to hear.
Taking the plunge
It all begs the question: how deep do managers have to dive before they find out the truth about the hopes and sentiments at large within their organisations? And do they even want to take that plunge? Well, according to the recent Spring Employee Outlook from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Human Resources software provider Halogen, they are going to need to dive very deeply, very quickly – because all the signs point to a UK workforce mired in escalating levels of frustration.
In a poll of more than 2,000 workers, the organisations found:
- Almost as many employees disagree as agree that their organisations inspire them to deliver their best performance
- More than a third believe they are unlikely, or very unlikely, to fulfil their career aspirations at their current organisation
- Almost a third disagree that their organisation provides them with opportunities to learn, grown and develop
- More than a quarter are dissatisfied with the opportunities they have been offered to develop their skills
- A third feel that they are overqualified for their roles
They are not the sorts of results that bosses would like to see cropping up in annual appraisals. But the fact is, those findings must be absorbed so that organisations can start to create solutions. The leaders who will be ahead of the pack are those who learn how to use a harmonious blend of the “better conversations” that Lee-Ermey spoke of, and more intuitive HR analytics tools.
In fact, those two elements will – if successfully implemented – drive each other on.
The good news is that HR technology is starting to get more sophisticated. This is because managers who are really striving to understand more about their staff are growing fonder of a word that has taken over the great majority of other business processes – but has (until recently) eluded the HR function: analytics.
Analytics can be applied to the input and output of a factory, the complexity of a large firm’s accounts, the construction of a major architectural build and, of course, the number of visits to different parts of a website. Why not use them to learn more about what your employees do – and how they perceive the environment in which they work?
The CIPD / Halogen report proves that it is no longer useful to look at just one figure per subject when making HR evaluations, and that is exactly the trap that appraisals and surveys tend to fall into. By adopting more of a ‘Big Data’ approach to their assessments of staff sentiment and performance, leaders can think more clearly about how employees’ aspirations can be meshed with those of the organisation as a whole. I mean, just look at this table of responses from the CIPD / Halogen report…
That is the level of detail that managers are going to have to get used to exploring, if they want to reach the answers that matter. As the report says, its findings “underline the importance of redefining our approaches to job design and career management to better suit modern organisations … We need to think about career growth in the round rather than traditional hierarchical progression – giving employees opportunities for a breadth of diverse experiences and opportunities that maximise their skills and employability”.
With so many benefits to be had, why stick with the same-old-same-old?
Analytical pic courtesy of Pixabay