Any good business needs customer feedback. HR is a business, and the leaders and employees are our customers—but as I've highlighted in previous posts, we usually don't think of them as such.
As a result, HR rarely gets the feedback we need to thrive. Leaders and employees are users of our products and services, and they're the ones who can tell us whether products are easy to use and whether services are adding value. Their feedback is how we know whether the cost of products and services measure up to the buyer's satisfaction.
Facing the Lack of Feedback in HR
But as HR practitioners, we get complacent about understanding our customers' needs. We hide behind the litigious regulatory environment with a false sense of security that we can and should mandate work to our organizations to avoid putting the organization at risk. We assign tasks: "Hold meaningful conversations with your employees," "Measure employee performance to make sure they're accountable," and "Develop their skills for growth."
While our customers generally can't fire us, they can grown and complain—and do a mediocre job with tasks that, in reality, are critically important to the success of the business. No organization can afford to simply pay lip service to such important work.
We have to think of the employees and leaders of our organization as our customers if we want them to take this important work seriously.
Alleviating the "Busy-Work" of Leadership
There is another reason to focus on our customers: Today's leaders could easily begin to buckle under the weight of all of the work required of anyone in a management position. When a leader is too busy to lead, we have lost our ability to be competitive as an organization. Anything a leader does should have a clear and defined positive business impact, or else it will seem like busy-work (and fall to the bottom of their to-do list).
Let me give you an example. Because we're HR leaders, we know the organization needs a performance management program, so we source a vendor to build a program that is both cutting edge and affordable. We design it, train it, wrestle with leaders who don't want to do it and then spend our time chasing down completed evaluations.
Let's switch it up.
Start with the business premise: Improved performance will improve the bottom line. We engage leadership in a dialogue about what improvements in performance could/would have the biggest impact on the bottom line. We then agree on 2-3 outcomes, and design a simple process to meet that specific need. We help leaders decide the consequences they would impose for not completing the simple process, and we partner with the Finance department to measure results.
At the end of the first phase, we ask for customer feedback, and share quantitative results and qualitative ideas about how well the jointly designed process worked, and make adjustments based on the results.
Stepping Up to the Proverbial Table
This approach takes courage; it is not for the faint hearted. It means stepping up and saying "HR can make a difference, but this is what we need from you." It means letting go of "best practice," in favor of mutually designing something that works.
Your leaders may not want to participate, but remind them that it's an opportunity to discuss the time and resources they are willing to commit to improve human performance in the organization.
If we, in HR, shift our thinking to act like a business selling services that needs customer feedback, our business processes will dramatically improve. We will:
- Have clearly defined products and services, and know the cost of each to produce;
- Work hard to understand the customers' stated needs, but also listen for needs that might not be easily expressed;
- Develop a sales and marketing proposal to educate the customer on how our product/service could impact their business results;
- Listen carefully to the customer feedback and adjust accordingly and;
- Build trusting relationships based on mutual benefits.
Take a step in this direction. Ask some trusted operational leaders about your HR processes and programs. If they LOVE 'em, great. If they don't, you now have a tremendous opportunity to step in, step up and really make a difference.
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One of the basic premises of being an effective leader is to have regular one-on-one meetings with your staff. Yet often, these meetings feel like torture to the employee, lacking forethought and focus. In such cases, leaders need to recognise that the value of these interactions extends beyond mere formality. To make these one-on-ones effective, leaders should prepare for each meeting, set clear agendas and actively listen to their employees' concerns and feedback.