Employees, valued yet ignored?

C. Mahalingam | Updated on January 09, 2014


Ram Charan observed in one of his many best-selling titles, Talent Masters, “If only organisations managed money the way they manage people, they would have become bankrupt.” This observation is not to be taken lightly for we come across any number of organisations where nothing more than lip service is offered in the name of managing talent.

Many of these organisations have been around for a long time, some of them are even known for being market leaders for their products and services. But a closer look at the culture at a deeper level and conversations at the surface level will reveal something very disturbing. McGregor’s Theory X mindset is still widely practised by several hundred managers in our organisations. Net result is sub-optimal productivity and talent engagement. The productivity gains coming out of highly-engaged employees that is left untapped on the table runs into billions of dollars, according to many surveys by human capital consulting firms like Gallup, Hay and others. This leaves us to wonder why there is so much disconnect between what we know (effective people management makes very good business sense and business cents) and what we do (ignore people management) in our organisations.

Value people first

Clearly, people deliver their best when they feel valued, respected and heard. If managers believe that their primary job is to inspire, motivate and get the very best out of their people, they should be thinking in terms of valuing people, listening and addressing their concerns. Employee engagement surveys, done as routinely as once a year, provide clear data points to the leaders in HR and business with regards to the degree and quality of people management in their organisations. The gap, then, lies in putting in place rigorous processes and measurements to ensure that people are valued by their managers. Behaviour modification theories speak of both extinction and reinforcement. While rewarding good behaviour on the part of managers reinforces such behaviour, it does so only for those who are already doing a good job at it. Therefore, managers who seem to care little about managing their people well, require strong and powerful extinction strategies. Even seasoned HR managers in progressive companies will admit to the fact that this is an area where not enough is being done by companies.

Managers and leaders who show the least capability for managing people will need to be taken out of people management roles. It saves a highly-talented team of employees from disengagement and eventual departure from the companies. There seems to be an irrational fear amongst the senior leadership that stripping these inadequate managers of their people management roles will make them unhappy and prompt them to quit. It is important to distinguish between being a tough and demanding people manager and being a rude and nasty one. It is important to remove the latter kind of managers than the former. Organisations need stretch goals, reviews and consequence management. However, rude and nasty managers indulge in actions that are completely unacceptable. Some of their actions and behaviours include, being discriminatory; denying people their rights like vacations and benefits; playing politics to create a vicious atmosphere and insecurity for the team; holding back well-earned recognition; calling people to work on holidays without any necessity; yelling at people routinely; delaying salary hikes and promotions; holding grudge against specific team members for speaking their minds; deliberately playing with appraisals and reviews; denying opportunities on false pretexts; and harassing colleagues sexually or otherwise.

Either such managers get away with these misdemeanours or persist with such behaviours even after being put through attitude improvement or counselling trainings. The key is to recognise and isolate such managers early on and keep them under watch, clearly warning them of consequences and delivering on those warnings if they do not show any signs of improvement. It is important to remove such managers from people management responsibilities and save the teams they are damaging. This is where many organisations vacillate and pay a price.

Organisations must step in

Organisations can do quite a lot to ensure that they are great places to work in by focusing on and building a culture of effective people management. Some of the best practices are:

Clearly articulating and sharing a people management philosophy: IBM globally has a very clearly-crafted, widely-communicated and well-understood people management philosophy. People managers are categorically told that managing people is not an entitlement, but an honour and any manager not living up to it will stop being people managers.

A well thought out approach to selecting and inducting people managers: While it may be a challenge to dive into this when hiring an external candidate as a people manager, it is easy to do this check while promoting someone from within into such a role. We have many examples of organisations that have promoted people only on the basis of technical capability and often with clear evidence of incompetence for managing people! While hiring from outside the company, reference checks should focus on different aspects of people management. Since references are normally given by the candidates themselves, back-door referencing should be supplemented to understand the people management competence of the candidate

Extensive orientation to prepare people managers: Exposure to areas, such as managing differences and conflicts, celebrating diversity, being transparent and straight in communication, being clear and objective in performance goal-setting and reviews and many other related areas, would be useful.

A clearly articulated “people management scorecard” should be built and shared with people managers with a clear message that scoring well on this metric is mandatory. Those who score low should be removed from their roles as talented people are hard to hire but easy to lose.

360 degree feedback processes must be implemented to understand the people management capability. Again, as HR gurus have emphasised, effective implementation and not the lack of an HR system is the core problem.

Google’s people analytics team worked on a project called, “project Oxygen” which helped them identify effective as well as ineffective people management behaviours so as to make their development investments wisely to deliver highly engaging people management behaviours on the part of their managers.

In some organisations, the problem is often not the first line or middle managers. Peter Drucker once said, “The bottle-neck is always at the top of the bottle.” Simply translated, poor people management is a chronic organisational culture simply because the CEO and senior managers demonstrate such behaviours day in and day out. Trying to cure the middle managers of the problem is like treating the symptoms leaving the root cause intact. This is where HR leaders must step in. Culture change is difficult and time-consuming. But even if a handful of senior managers begin to show change in attitude and behaviour, this can have a positive spiralling effect on the organisations.

(The author is an Executive Coach and HR Advisor to corporate houses.)

Published on January 09, 2014

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