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In the industry in which I grew up, the most tired sayings include: “Our people are our greatest assets” and “Our most important assets go up and down in the elevator every night.” And yet, here are some of the top HR mistakes I’ve seen:
Stack Rankings + Anonymous 360 Degree Reviews: I can almost understand stack rankings employees within divisions. And I can even stretch and almost understand stack rankings that are directly correlated with compensation and job security, in certain types of businesses….though there can certainly be an impact on teamwork. But stack rankings that impact compensation and job security, combined with anonymous 360 degree performance reviews? It’s a sure-fire recipe for work intrigue, passive-aggressive behaviour and back-stabbing.
(Put another way, would James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan, Jimmy Black and Matt Doherty have performed as well if Coach Smith had stack ranked them? Would being measured and rewarded against each other have impacted how unselfishly they played what is by its nature a team sport??)
Treat people disrespectfully when you fire them: This holds on both small and large scales. It can be everything from firing someone while he was on vacation with his family (yes, I’ve seen that), giving someone less than 30 minutes notice from telling them they’re fired to issuing the public announcement (seen that too), to minimising the impact of lay-offs. For example: “We are only laying off x people or y% of our workforce.” It may “only” be y% in number, but that is 100% of someone’s livelihood, and the impact to their family is significant. Employees don’t ever want themselves or their colleagues to be referred to as “only” anything.
Talk ill of people who leave the company: Some folks just can’t seem to help themselves on this one. As soon as a colleague – and particularly a direct report – jumps ship for a competitor, out comes the old “he’s not a real loss” and “we were just about to fire him anyway,” regardless of “how important to the team” he was the day before. While this message typically translates into “I’m really just trying to make myself look and / or feel better,” the disrespect comes through loud and clear. And it makes the employees left wonder if they are “just about to be fired” themselves.
Give slap-dash performance reviews: Amongst all the files I received on first promotion to manager was the write-up of my own performance review from the prior year. In reading it, I realised that I remembered many of the exact words that my boss had used. (One research report had been characterised as “fine.” I spent more than a few minutes trying to figure out what “fine” actually meant.)
As a result, I have tried to be very thoughtful about the performance reviews, going so far as to script many of them. This way the messages were crisp, rather than just the words that came to my mind at the moment.
Hire people just like yourself: This one is easy for managers to do, without ever realising it. And it’s particularly easy to do when one is under stress and feeling the pressure to deliver. I have heard numerous times, “We don’t have the luxury of hiring someone who’s different. Given ______________________ * , we need to hire the ‘sure thing.'”
Smart boards will push their managers to change their mindsets from the more typical standard of “hire the best person for the job” to “put together the best team.” Maybe the point is subtle, but the best team is often one that complements each other; it is not a set of clones of each other, no matter how brilliant or accomplished each individual is. (To extend my UNC basketball analogy, Phil Ford, Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall, Raymond Felton and Jimmy Black would probably never have won a national championship as a team, despite being five extraordinarily talented point guards….and despite the point guard being arguably the most important player on the team.)
*Fill in the blank with one of the following: the pressure from the Street for earnings; the severity of the downturn; the need to beat Goldman Sachs; the fact that we are behind on our five-year plan; the impatience of the Board; if we don’t give him the job, he may leave; the press loves him; we can’t afford to lose market share; our competitors are focusing on this space; I think he was talking to a headhunter the other day etc etc…..