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The Time is Now—Reenergising People Practices

By Mark Busine

Mark Busine

Over the last twelve months performance management has been put in the spotlight. While there remains a level of support, many more have questioned the relevance and value of traditional processes and practices in the context of today’s workplace. Those in favour of change have drawn on many sources to build their case, including neuroscience, shifting workplace demographics and objectivity of existing systems e.g. forced ranking.

The Time is Now—Reenergising People PracticesWhile the debate on performance management is important, the discussion highlights a much broader and deeper concern with current talent management and leadership practices. That is, a serious and debilitating lack of energy and engagement. In our attempts to bring structure, order and discipline to talent management, we have effectively drained the energy out of many HR and talent management systems. As a result, the users of our systems have passively—or actively—rejected them.

The impact of this was highlighted in DDI and The Conference Board’s Global Leadership Forecast 2014|2015 which compared the amount of time leaders spent on managing vs. interacting. Managing is time spent planning, organising, doing administrative tasks and scheduling. Interacting is time spent in conversations with peers, team members, supervisors and customers. The research found that leaders currently spend on average 41 percent of their time managing. Given a preference, leaders would double the time spent on interacting and cut in half the time spent on managing. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review by Buckingham and Goodall reviewed the approach to performance management at Deloitte. They found that completing the forms, holding the calibration meetings and creating the ratings consumed close to 2 million hours a year.

There is a high cost to organisations that neglect striving for a better balance in how leaders spend their time. A heavier focus on managing leads to less job satisfaction, higher turnover, and lower engagement among leaders.

It’s too easy to blame leaders and associates; "why don’t managers follow the process," "why don’t executives invest the time." It’s time to question ourselves and look for ways to reinvigorate HR, talent management and leadership practices. This is what the debate on performance management is really about. It’s not that the elements of performance management are bad (clarity, accountability, development), it’s just that we need to find new ways to deliver the outcome. (For a great discussion on the role of performance management, refer to my colleague Tom Schott’s blog Why Performance Management Should Come with a Warning Label).

I for one am guilty of supporting this focus on process. For some time, I have been a strong advocate of the view that HR and talent management processes must be instituted with the same rigour and discipline as other business processes. In principle this makes sense but in practice, particularly in today’s environment, it often drives away the people we rely on to make things happen.

A bit of context is important here. One of the most fundamental shifts over the last twenty years has been the transition from an economy based on tangible assets (i.e. bricks and mortar) to one based on intangible assets (i.e. knowledge, innovation, brand). The key driver of intangible assets is people—people create the ideas and generate quality service. A company’s brand and reputation in the market is defined by the actions of its people. Against this backdrop of change, our approach to many talent management processes remains locked in the past.

In DDI’s upcoming publication, Leaders Ready Now: Accelerating Growth in a Faster World my colleagues consider the role of energy in succession management. Despite significant investment in leadership and succession management over the last 10 years, 75 percent of leaders say their succession management systems aren’t functioning as intended. 85 percent say they lack the leadership bench strength to address emerging business challenges. They conclude that instead of creating energy necessary for accelerated leadership growth, many existing approaches and processes drain it.

Energy in an organisation is a tricky thing. It’s often hard to define, but we know when it exists and more importantly, when it doesn’t. So how do we start to generate energy?

There has been some movement. In recent times a number of organisations have started to develop the concept of the "employee experience." In the same way sales and marketing organisations focus on enhancing the customer experience, these organisations are looking to challenge traditional approaches and mindsets with respect to how we mobilise and leverage people across the organisation. It embraces concepts from many disciplines such as design thinking, sales, marketing and service and draws on skills such as empathy, analytics and curiosity. But it needs to go further and in particular focus on ways to also enhance the leader experience. Leaders play a fundamental role driving many HR and talent processes and without their commitment and engagement—outcomes are at risk.

The role of technology in HR and talent also needs to be addressed. Technology offers enormous potential, but to date it has tended to focus on automating existing processes rather than dramatically enhancing the experience. While driving efficiency is a credible pursuit, talent management software does not equal effective talent management.

In the end, will we dismantle all systems and process? No; but it is time to unpack a lot of existing HR systems and process and rebuild them with people and leaders at the centre. This is no longer a nice-to-have. With 80 percent of an organisation’s value tied up in intangible assets (McKinsey & Co), more engaging people and leadership practices are a commercial imperative.

Have you got energy in your succession management system? Complete this quick self-assessment and find out.

Mark Busine is managing director for DDI Australia.
Posted: 03 Jun, 2016,
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