Saturday, September 01, 2007

What Role Does Training Play in Overcoming Employee Discontent With Supervisors?

Q We have come to the conclusion that our supervisors do not have the required skills to properly manage their people. We think our current supervisors' tool kit (it is in the form of a folder of useful information, links to self-help modules, etc.) is not giving them the information they need (or at least maybe not in a format or layout that delivers the message). Our survey shows that 65 percent of our employees are unhappy with how they are supervised. How could we enhance the tool kit to make managers more engaging and effective? What might they need to perform their roles well?

--Out of Touch, HR business partner, oil/mining/gas, Lagos, Nigeria

A Your first step here is to back up a bit. Numerous pieces of research show how getting promoted to supervisory roles is a highly stressful move for people. Also, many of today's supervisors feel unprepared for (and unsupported in) their new roles. This can contribute directly to the discontent you're seeing.

Instead of focusing solely on the tool kit, start preparing supervisors up to six months before they take on the added responsibilities of the promotion. More often than not, employees are promoted because of technical ability rather than management skill. Supervisory candidates need to be developed, coached and possibly mentored so that they are fully equipped to start achieving results through others.

It's also important to pay attention to what's going on at the senior manager level. If senior managers aren't communicating corporate strategies, goals and expectations, then that disconnect will affect the way supervisors manage their employees. "Transition talks"--one-on-one meetings between supervisors and managers--can resolve this issue. Topics could include strategies, goals, priorities, how to work within the system and who the resource people will be.
As for a tool kit specifically, a variety of information and activities should be available that support real skills development. Ideally this will follow initial leadership training. These skills are necessary for success in any leadership role, such as planning and organization, time management, communication (including listening skills), delegation, building effective teams and motivating others.

For example, let's assume a deficiency in giving feedback is identified. While having the supervisor read a few articles may help, it alone won't achieve lasting behavior change. People need key behavior steps that help them apply skills to real-world situations. With this in mind, the tool kit could include a comprehensive online tool with a number of interactive sessions. The supervisor could select information about feedback, then listen to a scenario and respond to questions about it. This type of integrated approach provides the kind of support needed to apply the skills back on the job.

Once the right development and reinforcement structures are in place--from initial guidance and support to a supplementary tool kit--your supervisors will be better positioned to provide the kind of leadership that engages employees and contributes to higher productivity.

Forget Dave Ulrich: HR Doesn't Drive Organizational Change

Let's face it: By their very nature, the fundamental HR processes are aimed at safeguarding stability. But when you ask HR managers about the core competencies of their departments, they will tell you that the management of organizational change is at the forefront. They are wrong.

Forget what Dave Ulrich Says!

In his 1997 book, Human Resource Champions: the Next Agenda for Adding Value & Delivering Results, Ulrich challenges human resource professionals to define the value they create for the business. By doing so, he distills these roles for HR careers: strategic partner, administrative expert, and employee champion and change agent.

When it comes to that last one, we have to forget what Dave Ulrich says.
Whenever the human side is involved, organizational change projects tend either to ignore it or to completely outsource it to the HR department. Hopes, dreams wishes, and expectations are never taken into account, and training, communication and coaching are restricted to the minimum. The attitude in most projects is exemplified by this statement: "We'll take care of the process re-engineering and the technical stuff; HR will do the soft stuff."

However, there are two fundamental reasons why you should not count on HR to drive a change:

1. HR is not a change agent
HR safeguards continuity in the organization. Let's face it: By their very nature, the fundamental HR processes are aimed at safeguarding stability. But when you ask HR managers about the core competencies of their departments, they will tell you that the management of organizational change is at the forefront. They are wrong. The basic processes of HR and their accompanying goals are the following:
· Recruiting and selection's goal: employment continuity.
· Training and development's goal: knowledge and skills continuity.
· Performance management and appraisal's goal: performance continuity.
· Compensation and benefits' goal: stability in personnel costs.
· Work organization and communication systems' goal: social stability.
Therefore, HR should be approached as you would any other function in the organization, and HR should be the first target of your change-management efforts. But there is more.

2. HR is an agent of continuity
As a support function, HR will be affected indirectly by a re-engineering effort and will most likely resist at firsthand. Does that disqualify HR from having any stake in the organizational change? Not at all.

Change always happens in three phases: unfreezing, changing and refreezing. As the key strength of HR is to stabilize the human side of an organization during and after a transition, it is its role to lead the refreezing stage. In order for the change to stick onto the organization, you are going to use the HR department's tools and methods.

Therefore, HR is one of the first targets to work with. The faster you can enlist HR into becoming a continuity agent, the better. Just don't expect them to be on the same page from Day One, as they—like everybody else—will resist the change in the beginning.

HR as a co-pilot in long-term planning

From my experience, the only HR actions that have a positive impact take place at the beginning and at the end of a change program life cycle. This leads me to conclude that continuity, not change, is HR's core business. Even when the organization is affected during the transition, HR should help you out in minimizing the disruption of continuity.

As an example, program staffing of key people is a task that needs to be conducted in close alignment with HR as it should involve career perspectives and long-term accountability. Gradually, as the program comes to a close, HR needs to become the owner of the deliverables regarding learning, performance, organization, and communication.

The role of HR in this case is one of sustaining the change and integrating it into its standards and procedures. In other words: safeguarding stability and continuity of the new organization.