Introducing the Steps on How to Develop an HR Strategic Plan

AdobeStock_103199139The HR function in any organization has a great opportunity to connect to and add measurable value to the bottom line of the business. Developing an HR Strategic Plan is a difficult and complex undertaking but one that will be well worth the effort in establishing HR as an important and valuable function of the organization.

Since the ability of an organization to establish and maintain a competitive edge depends almost entirely on the quality of their workforce and the people management processes, being able to develop an effective HR Strategic Plan is crucial to the financial success of the organization.

There are six steps involved in developing an HR Strategic Plan that I’m listing below and will review much more in-depth in the following several weeks/months.

The six steps are:

  1. Determine and communicate a Vision, Mission Statement, and Value Statement for the HR function. These three things will assist the HR function in identifying and distinguishing itself to the organization’s leadership and employees.
  2. Conduct an external and internal environmental scan of the organization in order to identify opportunities and threats that might affect the organization in the future. Understanding how these opportunities and threats might affect the organization in the future is critical to creating an effective strategic plan.
  3. Establish and align HR strategies and goals in order to provide the direction that will guide the organization towards achieving its long term objectives.
  4. Develop action plans and assign accountabilities designed towards moving the planning process from the long term to the shorter term goals necessary to achieve the strategic goals.
  5. Execute the plan and monitor its progress in order to ensure that the plan stays on track. HR is responsible for developing, communicating and supporting the HR strategy implementation with the responsibility of actually implementing it residing with the line managers. Changes may be necessary with shifts in the business environment.
  6. Evaluate the plan’s results by measuring the success of the HR initiatives and identify things that worked or didn’t work. The evaluation establishes the foundation for additional HR strategic and business plans.

An organization’s HR strategy should never be separate from its overall business strategy. It should always be an integral part of all the organization’s strategies that require people to implement them, obviously. It requires HR’s thorough understanding of the organization’s business. With that understanding, HR programs and practices can be identified that will help the organization successfully execute its strategy.

The HR strategy must be externally aligned with the business plan in addition to being internally aligned for the HR programs and practices to support and complement one another. And in order for any HR strategy to be successful, HR must build relationships with, and gain the support of, the line managers who will ultimately be responsible for carrying out the HR practices and ensuring the success of the HR strategy.

That’s this week’s brief introduction of the steps on how to develop an HR strategic plan. In the coming weeks, I am excited to explore each of these steps much more in depth.

What is a Strategic Plan?

This week I’m going to talk about what exactly a strategic plan is.

A strategic plan is a written statement about the future direction and goals of an organization or HR department based on an analysis of the organization’s current status, strategy, strengths, limitations, threats, and opportunities in the current and future business environment.  

An effective strategic plan helps the organization understand where it is now, where it would like to be in the future, and how it’s going to close the gap between its current reality and the desired future status in order to get to where it wants to be.

All good strategic plans support the organization’s vision, mission, and values as well as identify its strategic goals and needed resources.

Since I brought it up, let’s take a minute to define vision, mission and values even though most readers probably already know but it never hurts to revisit the definitions.

An organization’s vision statement provides a clear perspective of what it wants to have happen in the future. It includes a description of its operations as well as a compelling explanation of how the organization will look and function once the strategic plan has been implemented.

The organization’s mission statement is a clear description of it’s overall purpose. It identifies the essential reasons the organization exists and the principal products and services it provides to the marketplace.

Finally, the values of an organization represent the key core priorities of it’s culture. It’s what drives the organization’s priorities and how employees honestly behave.  An organization’s values typically remain the same over time.

A complete business strategy is made up of three parts – an operations strategy, a financial strategy, and most importantly IMO a people strategy.  I’m focusing on the people strategy, or HR Strategic Plan, as it provides the foundation of all the other strategies with the ability to identify, build, and reinforce the organization’s capabilities.  

The justifications for creating an HR Strategic Plan are that it provides a solid framework for value-added action, helps establish priorities, allows for the all important measurement of results, and creates a way for reallocating resources from the organization’s low producing activities to its high producing activities.

In addition, it helps increase and improve HR’s credibility within the organization by showing its positive impact on the organization’s bottom line. Which is always a good thing especially since, as I recently mentioned in a previous post, HR is still thought by many business leaders as pretty much an administrative function that operates separately from the rest of the other functions in the organization

In order for HR to take on a strategic role and be a strong strategic business partner, it must be represented in the leadership of an organization and be involved in defining the organizational issues before the strategic decision are made.  HR must be involved in turning those decisions into a set of organizational actions.  

According to my favorite HR thought leader, Dave Ulrich, there are several things an HR professional must do in order to be an effective Strategic HR Business Partner:

  • Understand and communicate that improvements are typically very difficult and complex and will take time to accomplish so watch out for quick fixes as they are typically very seductive but rarely work.
  • Align the HR Strategic Plan with the Business Strategic Plan which will ensure HR being seen as adding value to the organization.
  • Keep the strategic plan top of mind instead of shelving it and forgetting it.  The plan must be executed and managed in order to be effective.
  • Create a Capabilities Focus within the organization.

I want to focus a little more on that last bullet, Capabilities Focus, since the first three bullets are fairly self explanatory.

Capabilities are an organization’s ability to effectively manage its resources in order to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. They are anything the organization does well that improves business and creates a competitive advantage in the organization’s marketplace.  

Strategic HR Professionals are able to effectively identify and improve an organization’s capabilities that will help execute the organization’s strategy and leverage new products and services.

Some examples of organizational capabilities include knowledge, innovative designs, adaptability, cost competitiveness, and strong leadership.

Defining deliverables and showing how they can be measured and what actions need to be taken is critical in the strategic planning process. The Strategic HR Professional must focus on the deliverables which are, in other words, value added results.

The HR strategic plan is developed from looking, listening, questioning, clarifying and knowing what needs to be done.

The plan must include ways that HR can help the organization add value to its key stakeholders (employees, customers, and investors), improve organizational capabilities, improve employee competence, fulfill regulatory compliance, determine processes and activities that can be retained or outsourced, and align HR programs with organizational goals.

My next post in this series will discuss how the strategic HR Professional must be able to speak the language of business and define a few important strategic business terms that will need to be understood. Then after that, I’ll get into the steps of how to actually develop an HR Strategic Plan.

The Problem with Performance Appraisals

Oh yeah, another article about it...

Nearly everybody hates performance appraisals. It’s a topic that has been written about and discussed ad nauseum by just about everyone in the industry.  It seems like everybody is trying to come up with a fancy and shiny new system.

I’ve written about how to do them and how to make them better several times.

And this week I’m going to add one more article into the mix based on a podcast I listened to the other day.

The podcast is Manager Tools (Mark and Mike) and this week’s episode is titled “Don’t Get Rid of Your Performance Review”.  I was fascinated by their take and ended up really studying what they had to say by listening to it several times and studying the show notes (available only to licensees).

Now they are big believers of performance appraisals, but only if done effectively, of course. They think organizations getting rid of them is ridiculous.  And I agree.  

They, like most, think that the system is broken and place a large part of the blame on HR, the owners/managers of the system, because we “regularly talk them (the appraisals) down” in our organizations. I certainly agree with this statement as I hear it at every SHRM meeting I attend.

HR also likes to change the form every couple of years so that they can show a big project initiative accomplished for their annual appraisal. But, unfortunately, changing the system seriously damages the ability for the organization to collect the all important trend data we need to to make important personnel and succession decisions.  

They give a nice bit of history about performance appraisals. Some version of performance appraisals have been around for thousands of years, according to my research, but Corporate America started borrowing heavily from the Army’s system shortly after WWII, according to Mark. The rapid growth of these organizations necessitated a system to help them grow so they looked to the US Army as the model.

In the Army, appraisals were never intended to be seen by the person being evaluated. They were only seen by the evaluator and his superiors. The purpose of the appraisal was for succession planning should the ranking officer be killed in battle. The Army, of course, would need to know who would be the next up to take command, a pretty important thing, right?

There was, frankly, no need for the appraisals to be shared because the Army had the system in place where soldiers received ongoing and constant feedback about their performance and conduct. There was never a question and soldiers always knew where they stood.  

Organizations who adopted the system soon realized, however, that their managers did a very poor job of giving their direct reports regular ongoing feedback so the “obvious” answer was to start sharing the performance appraisal with them. It was felt that they should at least get some sort of feedback at least once a year.

Rather than organizations training and following up with their managers to provide ongoing regular feedback and building relationships with their direct reports, they took the easy path of just requiring the annual performance appraisal.

Now while Mark and Mike put most of the blame of why the system is broken onto HR and only a little on managers, I would say it’s evenly split between the two. I’ve been in both shoes and, honestly, HR can only do so much especially when managers don’t fully support the system. (Maybe because HR has screwed it up so bad? I don’t know)

I would love to have the managers I support give ongoing regular feedback to our direct reports and the performance appraisal simply be an end-of-year summary that won’t be a surprise.

It is my experience that most managers don’t want to do the difficult and time consuming work of building effective professional relationships with their direct reports in order to establish trust and credibility. I wrote about a similar topic with HR having to build a foundation to establish trust and credibility.  Managers need to do this with their direct reports.

Remember the purpose of the performance appraisal is Talent Management and Succession Planning.

While it’s now very trendy these days for HR departments and companies to dump the performance appraisal, ironically, they are replacing them with regular ongoing feedback. They are, hopefully, training their managers to effectively deliver this feedback and building relationships  in addition to monitoring it. This goes back full circle to the Army officers who were trained to give regular ongoing feedback to their soldiers.

The only way to fix performance appraisals is to train your managers to build effective relationships and give effective regular and ongoing feedback to their direct reports. Senior leadership and HR must also monitor and measure that it is happening ( remember – what gets measured gets done). Then conduct the annual performance appraisal as an additional measurement of your talent management and succession planning strategy.   

This was part one of the Manager Tools podcast series on Performance Reviews and after reading the show notes there is a lot of other good stuff I will review and comment on in the coming weeks.

My HR Journey

How I ended up in HR

I was at a tech industry HR event in Boulder a few months ago and we were all asked to talk about our “HR Journey” – what was it that led us to choose HR as a career. Or what was it that led HR to choose us?

The exercise required that we had to get up in front of everybody and tell our story. We didn’t have much, if any, time to prepare as we didn’t even know we were going to do this exercise. The first “drafts” of our stories were a little rough but then we were allowed to get up again and tell our stories again, and this time they were more polished.

I enjoyed the exercise because it forced me to really think quickly of a story that led me to choose HR as a career. My mind was blank but it came to me as I was walking up to the front of the room to tell my story. Funny how the mind works.

So here’s my story…

I started my career right out of college working for a Pacific Northwest based retail department store called The Bon Marche’ (which is now part of Macy’s). I worked my way up the ladder until I reached my desired goal of being a Store Manager. I loved being a Store Manager and in my 13 years as one, I earned the Store/Store Manager of the Year award twice along with a record number of performance awards during my tenure.

I learned that I loved building consistent high-performing cultures filled with employees who loved doing what they did in a tough, low-paying work environment. In retail, HR is a very important and vital element. It was what I enjoyed the most and I was very good at it and thought I’d do it for the rest of my career.

But there was a particular incident that occurred that led me to seriously consider leaving and focusing on HR as my next career direction.

It was Sept or Oct and a young pregnant woman came in for an interview for the Holiday season. As a Store Manager I always enjoyed participating in the interviewing and hiring process. She interviewed well, I saw that she had potential, and I decided to hire her. I didn’t care that she was pregnant. I only cared that she was smart, enthusiastic, and cared for customers. She would be a great addition to the store team.

Years later, she reached out to me via Facebook and told me how much she appreciated me hiring her that day. I had changed the direction of her life. Nobody else in town would hire her because she was pregnant. To make matters worse, she was single and pregnant and her life was a mess. I had no idea at the time but my believing in her and hiring her gave her new hope.

My team at the store was just that, a team that cared about each other and helped each other. The team took her in and she became part of the store family. She was surrounded by people who cared and she responded by giving us everything she had and became fantastic sales associate.

I’m very proud of the teams I build and how they always cared for and loved each other. That is what I enjoyed most about my job. Building strong high performing cultures of people that loved (or at least liked) their work.  That is why I went into HR so I can help leadership build strong, high-performing teams.

Today, this woman owns her own retail business, has her life together, and is doing very well.  She is also is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter.

Bottom line, the main reason I moved into HR was to use my talent and skills to help organizations create positive, high-performing cultures where people really enjoy coming to work. We spend huge amounts of our time at work and I believe our workplaces should be happy and supportive places where we enjoy being every day.

The ability to create and provide a high-performing culture where people want to be, directly helps accomplish the importance of business goals in any organization. The overall company performance improves, productivity increases, and financial performance improves – all of which produces greater shareholder value.

I want to be able to be a positive influence on employees and, by extension, their families by creating a positive work culture where the employee is happy and feels like they are accomplishing meaningful work.

Frankly, it’s the right thing to do.  And I’m glad I’m able to do it.

Dealing with National Politics in the Workplace

You can’t get away from it these days. It’s all the media is talking about, it’s all over our social media feeds, it’s on all the award shows and entertainment programs we’re watching, it’s overheard in the stores and coffee shops we are visiting, and it’s in our workplace. Political discussions are everywhere and we are more politically polarized than I’ve ever seen in my life.

With today’s massive megaphone of social media and the 24 hour news cycle, many people have expressed their passion about the political issues and their candidates. And there’s something to offend just about anybody with the current hot-button issues such as race, class, gender, abortion, LGBT rights, immigration, terrorism, religion, etc.

I would venture to guess that we have all witnessed some very heated exchanges between family, friends, and coworkers regarding today’s political climate. I’ve seen people I respect and care about say or write some pretty horrible things about others based simply on their political beliefs.

People are more polarized in their positions like I’ve never seen before and those positions are making their way into the workplace and affecting morale and productivity.

In addition, many of today’s issues swerve into employment law. Political discussions about issues that affect working conditions such as minimum wage, equal pay, and paid leave might be protected by federal law.  While, on the other hand, political discussions about race, gender, and religion may lead to harassment or discrimination claims. And it only takes one person to pop off during a heated discussion and alienate another employee and/or cause a hostile work environment or a potential harassment claim.

I make it a practice not to discuss politics at work – especially these days. I hear enough of it on my Sirius radio when I commute to and from work and when I’m home trying to catch up on the news. Frankly, I’m exhausted of it all and don’t want to have to deal with it when I’m at work.

But, I’m HR, so I have to deal with it at work.

As such, I’ve come up with a couple of proven recommendations to help keep things under control.

First and foremost, HR must remain neutral. This is my number one recommendation. Whatever your beliefs, HR must be neutral and not take a side in a disputed conversation about politics. HR absolutely should not engage in a conversation with other employees expressing their political opinions and joining in with them bashing a side. I guarantee that you have employees on the other side who will hear or overhear what you said which will erode your credibility with them.

The purpose of your neutrality allows all of your employees to feel safe coming to you with their concerns about potentially uncomfortable or hostile political conversations they overheard or were part of. It’s HR’s job to make sure employees feel safe to surface any concerns they have from conversations they’ve had or overheard that make them feel uncomfortable or offended.

Second, Establish and communicate ground rules. Meet with your senior leaders to determine what political discussions your organization is willing to tolerate/accept at work. Will you ban it entirely or will you allow some as long as their respectful, appropriate, and inclusive of all beliefs?

Once you have that established,  conduct an all hands meeting and follow up with an email reminding your employees to be professional, respectful, and tolerant of other employee’s political beliefs. Remind them of the process for airing their complaints and how they will be dealt with and what the consequences will be for violating these ground rules. You must, as HR, clearly communicate to your employee population where you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You can’t be ambiguous.

It’s also important to understand that you can’t ignore the issue at work. Ignoring it will only make the situation worse because these conversations may escalate into profanity and direct threats. Other employees who want to stay out of these discussions may also be unwillingly dragged in.

When you overhear a controversial political discussion happening at your workplace, and you’ve established the accepted ground rules, you simply remind the employees engaged in the conversation that they are not behaving in an acceptable manner (professional, respectful, or tolerant). If they continue after your reminder, you simply begin your organization’s disciplinary process.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you keep your workplace professional, respectful, civil and ultimately productive!

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An Interesting Alternative to the Traditional Annual Performance Appraisal

Adobe's Check-in Performance Approach

It’s a new year and now that the holidays are over, it’s time to start thinking about everybody’s favorite topic – THE PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL!

Yay.

I’ve written extensively about the traditional annual performance appraisal and believe there is a place for it in certain organizations but I also think it’s time to explore something new and innovative that will be more effective in today’s modern workplace.

There’s a lot of talk about scrapping the performance appraisal altogether. I’m starting to believe that the traditional annual PA is becoming obsolete in today’s modern workplace. There still needs to be some sort of tool, however, to set employee objectives and expectations and then to measure how the employee did against those expectations.

Today, I’m going to explore an alternative to the annual performance appraisal that, in my opinion, is one of the better systems. I did some research and landed on one that seems to be the best, Adobe’s Check-in Performance Approach.

There are three components that make up the Check-in Framework. It’s important to note that the Framework emphasizes that it is the employee’s responsibility to take ownership of their career. I love this approach because it aligns very closely to a similar feedback system I’ve been using and refining in the field for years called Responsibility Based Performance, something I will write about in the future.

1. Expectations, which is driven by the manager. This is where the manager works closely with the employee to establish the employee’s expectations and goals. The manager also helps the employee clarify their role, responsibilities, and success criteria throughout the year.

The first step in any sort of performance appraisal discussion is the need to establish clear expectations and objectives. The Check-in Framework is no different. Employees want to know exactly what’s expected of them and how their performance aligns with the organization’s objectives.

Employees and managers need to meet annually to establish and outline the employee’s objectives in writing. The objectives should be clear to both the manager and employee on what needs to be accomplished and how it should be accomplished. Once the objectives have been agreed upon, they will need to be reviewed and refined throughout the year. The frequency of this periodic review will depend on the department or business unit.

In order to hold everybody accountable to this Framework, employees will need to be surveyed several times throughout the year to make sure they have set expectations with their managers and are having regular follow-up meetings to review and refine their objectives. It is also critical that senior leaders show their support for the program and are following up to make sure this is happening.

2. Feedback, which is driven by both the manager and the employee. Feedback is the key to the entire Framework and will require the most amount of training. This is where both the manager and the employee give and receive ongoing feedback. The manager also provides ongoing and timely feedback that recognizes good performance and works to improve and address performance issues.

Again, feedback is the key to the entire Framework and is the most difficult component to get right. It will require quite a bit of training of the organization’s managers and follow-up by HR in order to get it right. The goal with the feedback component is to have employees at all levels of the organization give and receive feedback.

Feedback needs to be timely and relevant to the needs of the business and the employee. It needs to be given with the honest intention of helping the employee understand that they are doing a good job or that they need to improve. Remember also that feedback should be both positive and constructive.

If employees are not meeting their objectives or performing up to their expectations, they will need to enter into the organization’s corrective action process.

Adobe uses the Specifics, Ask, Impact, Do (SAID) model of giving feedback.

Specifics – State what the person has or has not done by using concrete examples.
Ask – Ask open ended questions to understand their perspective. (How do you see the situation? Did I contribute to the problem in some way?)
Impact – Express the impact on the business, team, or you. When framed as a means to reach a specific business goal, it becomes an opportunity to solve a problem or understand how their actions impacted the business directly.
Do – State what needs to continue or change.

I also strongly recommend taking a look at the Manager Tools Feedback Model for advice on how to give effective feedback. It’s similar to SAID but leaves out the Ask element.

Its also worth taking a look at my friend Morag Barret’s recent article on delivering tough feedback.

Again, to hold everybody accountable, employees will need to be surveyed throughout the year to make sure they are receiving regular feedback from their manager. Senior leadership will also need to support and follow up to make sure this is happening.

3. Growth & Development, which is driven by the employee, supported by the manager, and enabled by the organization. Here, the organization and manager must provide opportunities to the employee to develop and increase their skills, knowledge, and experience in their current role. These opportunities, of course, must be aligned with the business needs of the organization and the employee’s individual ambitions.

The organization must provide a work environment that encourages and helps employees grow and develop their skills and knowledge as it relates to the organization’s business. Giving them different job experiences, providing training and opportunities are ways to help employees expand their skills in their current roles and to develop them for future roles within the organization.

The skills and knowledge that are being developed must, of course, align with the needs and objectives of the organization in order for the employee’s growth and development to be relevant and actionable.

The organization should create a form that will help employees communicate their interests, career goals, and professional aspirations. The employee and manager should discuss these so that the appropriate opportunities can be provided by the organization and supported by the manager.

Once again, to hold everybody accountable, employee surveys will need to be taken to measure the effectiveness of the Growth & Development component as it relates to employee engagement.

I really like this Framework and would love to help an organization implement a version of it. It’s an innovative system that would be very effective measuring employee performance and developing employees in today’s modern workplace.

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Week Seven of the PA Cycle: Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives

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Image courtesy of mapichai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here we are at the final week of the PA cycle. Whew! It’s been a lot of hard work but also very rewarding because you’re almost done with this very important project for the company.

Although this is the final week, there is still a lot of work to be done. Dangit!

This final week is when your managers are finishing up delivering the PAs to their direct reports and finalizing their Objectives. Frankly, they should be done but in reality, there will be some managers that haven’t even started delivering their PAs.

Again, I make Wednesday the deadline day. You’ll get approx 85% of the final PAs and Objectives back in by Wednesday and you’ll need to send out a gentle reminder reminding everybody that the deadline was Wednesday. This will spur several managers to get theirs in but your chronic procrastinators, more than likely the same procrastinators from the earlier deadline week will need to be reminded several times.

Here’s a copy of the email I send out on Thursday, the day after the deadline:

Subject Line: Missing PAs and Objectives

Hi Managers,

Thank you to all who got their final PAs and Objectives turned in by the deadline of February 24! I appreciate your efforts getting them in on time.

I still have a number of missing PAs and Objectives and would appreciate getting those completed by the end of the week.

Thanks,
Rich

This is the first post-deadline reminder email and it thanks those who got their final PAs and Objectives turned in on time and subtly reminds the procrastinators that the deadline has passed and you need their completed forms turned in.

This week is also when it’s particularly critical for you to be organized and keeping the PA and Objective Checklist updated as soon as the final forms are turned in to you. If you don’t stay organized as they are turned in, you’ll lose track and misplace documents and emails making you look bad to everybody in the company. You’ve put in a lot of work throughout the cycle so don’t let it fall apart in the end.

Forms will be turned in to you during the week as you are doing other work and you’ll have the tendency to put them aside until later when you have time. Instead of doing that, schedule several times a day where you stop doing what your doing  and get your filing done so that you don’t fall behind or you’ll end up with a huge stack to go through later in the month. You will need to know who’s turned their forms in and who hasn’t so  you can remind those who haven’t, and remind them, and remind them until they get them turned in. The only way to know is to have the Checklist updated and current and the forms properly filed.

This, of course, is the second Deadline Week in the cycle and it’s much more work intensive than the previous Deadline Week (week three) because you have a lot more moving parts.  You are having hard copies of the PA and Objectives turned in to you which need to be scanned and saved to the appropriate electronic files we set up during week three.  Remember that in week three, we established electronic files for each manager. Under each manager’s file, file the final PAs in folder named Final and the final objectives in the folder named Objectives.

Once you are done with the scanning and electronic filing, the paper copies need to be filed into the employees personnel file, if you use paper files.  If your personnel files are electronic, you’ll file them electronically.

It’s also very important to formally thank everybody for all the work they did during the cycle. Your managers dislike this process and if your organization is typical, people are never thanked enough and a sincere thank you will go a long way.

I usually send out the thank you email sometime the week after the deadline week and thank the entire management team for their work and efforts on the cycle. The email I sent out and described earlier in this post thanked them for making the deadline and reminded those that didn’t to get their forms turned in by the end of the week. This one is thanking them for their work and efforts and provides another opportunity to remind the procrastinators they are late.

Here is a copy of the email I send out:

Subject Line: Thank you and closing out the 2015 PA and Objective Setting Cycle

Managers,

I want to thank everybody for their excellent efforts in successfully delivering the 20XX PA and Objective Setting Cycle! I know it’s a lot of hard work and something very few people look forward to doing. But it’s an important part of our jobs as we take the time to formally discuss and evaluate the asset that makes everything else work in our organization, our human capital.

Thank you to all those who completed and turned in your PAs and Objectives by the due date of 2/24 (or shortly thereafter!).

I will be sending out emails this morning to those managers who’s PAs and/or objectives I’m still missing. I would appreciate getting those completed and turned in to me ASAP so I can close out this year’s cycle.

Thanks again,
Rich

This email gives you a chance to remind everybody that you understand that nobody likes doing PAs and Objectives but that it’s a very important part of their jobs. It also reminds senior management of the importance of their Human Capital and that without the people in the organization, there is no organization. And, finally, the last sentence  reminds the super procrastinators to get their completed forms turned in and that I’ll be sending them a personal email with what they have missing.

I recommend that you email the procrastinators so you have documentation that you’ve communicated their tardiness. Although I prefer face to face or phone conversations, I’ve found the emails are more effective and provide cover if you are ever questioned why there are missing forms in the future – you will occasionally have those who never get this done no matter how hard you try.

Well crew, we are finished with the PA Cycle series. There are seven weeks to the cycle and I hope I did a decent job of explaining the mechanics of each week.

In future posts, I will go into detail of how to write an effective PA and how to establish employee objectives. I touched on some of this in the Training Week post and when I explained  the PA and Objective Setting forms but I need to go into more detail to properly tie out the PA cycle.

Week Six of the PA Cycle: Delivery Week

ID-10040852We’re getting near the end, Crew! This week is when the managers actually deliver the Performance Appraisals to their direct reports and finalize the upcoming year’s Objectives. This is the reason we did all the work the past five weeks! This is where it all comes together.

Let’s start off by explaining what employees expect from their PA. Every employee who works for a manager and organization wants the answer to three basic questions and during the Delivery Week, all three of these questions are answered as described below.

  1. The first is what do you expect of me? This is answered by establishing and finalizing the upcoming year’s objectives.
  2. The second is how am I doing at meeting your expectations? This is answered by delivering the PA based on the previous year’s performance.
  3. Finally, what do I need to do to meet expectations? This is answered when giving feedback during the objective setting and delivery of the PA on what the manager expects from the employee to meet the expectations of the manager and the organization.

In the HHHR PA Cycle, these three questions are answered at the beginning of each year, when managers sit down with their direct reports and discuss their objectives, expected behaviors, and key job responsibilities. This is done through establishing the employee’s Objectives during the PA cycle. During Week Two, Writing Week of the cycle, managers meet with their direct reports and start the discussion of setting objectives for the upcoming year. I will discuss the specifics of how to establish objectives in a later post.

An effective performance appraisal system is an important tool that gives the senior leaders of an organization the information they need to allow them to make some very important human capital decisions such as:

  • Which employees deserve a raise based on their performance over the previous year? Which employees shouldn’t?
  • Which employees should the organization promote? Can the organization promote them? Is there a position in the organization now or will there be one in the near future? If not, how can the organization retain these employees until there is a position?
  • What’s the depth of the organization’s internal talent? Are there people with the skills, experience, and/or potential the organization needs for the future? If not, what are the organization’s plans to hire or develop these people?
  • Who are the organization’s best performers and what are the plans to retain them? If no plans, it needs to be seriously discussed.
  • Who are the organization’s weakest performers and why are they still employed? Are any of them salvageable? Has their poor performance and conduct been documented? If not, why not?
  • And most importantly, in my opinion, an effective performance appraisal system requires managers to inform their employees of exactly what is expected of them and how they are doing at meeting those expectations.

It’s a moral obligation.

Employees who don’t know what’s expected of them and how they are doing at meeting those expectations are not engaged and not nearly as effective as they could be. Unfortunately, this may be the one time in an entire year when an employee gets feedback on their performance from their manager.

In small organizations, there typically is not much of a training budget for “silly” things such as management training so this leaves a lot of your managers without the tools to provide effective feedback throughout the year. HHHR will provide some of those tools in the future but for now, the best tool we have is the annual Performance Appraisal where providing feedback at least once a year is better than nothing.

Since we are talking about the week where your managers are delivering the PA to their direct reports, here are some important steps to remind your managers to take in order to make the process worthwhile and effective for them, their direct report, and the organization.

  • Schedule and clearly communicate the time and place of the meeting with the employee. Do not call them into your office without warning and deliver the PA. Give them time to think about and prepare themselves. This should be an interactive two-way discussion. It’s not fair to ambush them with their PA. You’re doing all this work so that the employees perceive the process is fair, so don’t ruin it by not giving them a heads up.
  • Schedule at least a half hour for each PA. This should give you plenty of time to review the PA with your direct report without being rushed. You owe them that time so give it to them. Some of your PAs might take an hour and you probably will know which so schedule appropriately.
  • Sit on the same side of the desk or table as the employee, if possible. Don’t play the power game during this meeting where you are behind your desk in an elevated chair looking down at them while you deliver the PA. Get out from behind your desk and sit next to them. It shows respect which they will remember.
  • Do it in an office with the door closed, if possible. I understand that this may be difficult in some office environments but do everything you can to deliver the PA in a private room with the door closed. Nobody wants to have other employees overhear their PA being delivered to them.
  • Hibernate your computer, mute your phones, and dedicate 100% of your attention to the employee. Eliminate all distractions for this period of time and focus on your employee. The PA is very personal, show them the respect.
  • At the meeting, have two copies of the PA, one for you and one for employee. They need to be able to read the PA while you are going through it with them.
  • Establish some ground rules and before starting the meeting and review them with your direct report. Below are a few examples:
    • Promise to start and end the meeting on time but your willing to extend the meeting if needed.
    • There will be no comparisons to other employees.
    • Both of you promise to remain professional throughout the meeting.
    • Either of you can end the meeting or take a break at any time
    • Both of you promise to listen actively to each other when speaking.
    • Encourage your employee to ask questions if they don’t understand anything.
  • Review the message you want the employee to take from the meeting and make sure they clearly understand it by the end of the meeting. (More on this in a future post)
  • Show your employee the respect they deserve during the meeting.

Well, we have now completed Delivery Week and we have one more week to go in the PA cycle – Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives.

Week Five of the PA Cycle: Talent Review Meeting Week

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Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here we are. Finally, its time to dive into the most important aspect of the PA cycle, the Talent Review Meeting!

So, with that, let’s go for it.

The TRM accomplishes the following things:

  • Ensures the fairness of the process by calibrating the scores of every employee in the organization.
  • Removes the pressure managers feel to inflate or deflate the ratings of direct reports.
  • Ensures the end results reflect a shared expectation of performance since managers often have different expectations for their people and interpret standards differently.
  • Reduces evaluation biases by forcing managers to justify and defend their decisions to their peers.
  • Increases employee perception that the process is fair.
  • Allows the organization to develop a succession plan with more complete performance information and data on each employee.
  • Assists managers by providing suggestions and guidance to the reviewing manager on how to present the PA to the employee or how to deal with any other issues or concerns.

Talent Review Meetings (TRMs) are where a Talent Review Board (TRB)consisting of a group of managers meet to review each direct report’s Performance Appraisal in order ensure fairness. Each manager must review and defend, to their peers, the scores they gave their direct reports. Particularly the 1s and 5s.

Now that the purpose of the TRM is understood, it’s time discuss the actual mechanics of it all.

Everything for the meeting was prepared last week – the ranking sheet has been filled out, the schedule has been communicated to the managers, and the notebooks have been built. So the focus this week is 100% on the TRMs.

Obviously, a private conference room will be needed because it’s important that the managers are comfortable having a free flowing and frank discussion about their and their peer’s employee’s performance and conduct. It’s also kinda important that employees can’t hear what is being said behind those doors!

At the start of each TRM, the following materials need to be handed out to each manager and discussed:

  1. The Purpose of the TRM listing the seven reasons why the TRM is an important part of the cycle (see the points above) along with a list of evaluation biases to look out for. Click here for the Purpose of the TRM document: Talent Review Meeting Purpose
  2. The PA Ranking Sheet for their specific TRM session which helps the TRB with their review and calibration. I provided the Ranking Sheet last week bit will do so again here: 20XX HHHR PA Ranking Sheet (Example Organization)
  3. The Talent Review Notebook containing all the PAs for the TRB’s particular session.

HR is in charge of the meeting and is there to keep the proceedings professional, focused on the task, and on schedule.

Once the managers are seated and have been given the documents and notebook, they need to take a few minutes to study the PA Ranking Sheet and highlight the scores that, in their opinion and experience, seem out of place.

The process starts by HR and the members of the TRB opening up the TRM notebook and going to the PA of the first employee on the schedule. It’s best to schedule the strongest and/or most ‘HR supportive manager’ first. Meet with that manager beforehand to review what’s expected so they can be a model to the other managers.

HR should then say “Manager #1, Let’s start off by hearing about Employee #1 and why you scored them the way you did”. The manager will then go through, point by point, the Core Competencies and Objectives defending and giving the reasons behind each of the scores.

During their defense, HR and the managers making up the TRB should be asking questions and challenging the scores and comments that seem unusual, out of place, or those they don’t agree with.

At first, there probably won’t be much interaction as the managers will be afraid of stepping on each other’s toes. So it will be up to HR to model how the members of the TRB should behave. HR should question and probe for reasons why a manager scored their direct report taking special note of the 1s and 5s. Ask for specific reasons and examples from throughout the evaluation year of why they scored them the way they did.

Eventually, a couple managers will start getting it and will take over for you and start the heavy questioning and probing. And soon they will all start participating.

Also, refer to the Ranking Sheet and question the managers who score their direct reports lower than the average and those who score higher. The tough manager might have some of the organization’s best employees but will give them low scores compared to the others and visa versa, the generous manager might have some of the organization’s worst employees but give the very good scores compared to the others. This is where the manager and TRB make the appropriate adjustments to the scores in the PA as they work through it. This situation is very common at first but will correct itself as you continue with the TRMs in the future.

There will be times the manager won’t have a good reason why they scored the way they did. As they discuss, answer questions, and hear comments from other managers about their direct report’s performance and conduct, they will usually agree that the score should be changed. It can go both ways, up and down.

There will also be times when the manager feels strongly about the score despite what HR and the TRB thinks. This doesn’t happen often but when it does, it can get awkward and difficult. This is where HR needs to use their crucial conversational skills and help the TRB and manager make a final decision together. HR may have to accept the score or they may insist on changing it, it will depend on the situation and HR’s knowledge of the people involved. Remember, HR is in charge of this whole thing so don’t be afraid to flex your muscles if needed.

Once the TRB gets going, there will be comparisons between employees and how they’re scored.  Similar performing employees with similar results should have similar scores. This is good and should be discussed and explored. And the scores should be adjusted if appropriate.

It’s important to understand that this isn’t an exact science. This is about people evaluating other people so there will be a lot of intangibles and biases. But the TRB will do their best to even out the scores by exploring the intangibles and reducing the biases.

As a great solo HR leader, you should have a great professional relationship with most of the employees in your organization. You should have a good idea of how everybody is doing since you are constantly talking to and building relationships with them. And, since you have a good idea about the employees in your organization, does the manager’s score jive with your perception of the employee? Have there been forgotten discipline issues or performance/conduct awards the the manager has forgotten and isn’t taking into consideration? Dig, probe,and question. It’s up to you to drive the success, fairness, and accuracy of the TRM.

After each section of the PA – Core Competencies and each Objective – HR should ask if there are any further questions or comments and if everybody is OK with the scores and or revised scores, if any. If there is, continue the discussion, keeping the schedule in mind, and if there isn’t, move on to the next PA.

Keep good notes during the TRM. Record the revised scores and make notes of when you ask managers to expand on or clarify their comments in the PA. Once the TRMs are finished, HR will go back and make the changes to the scores and send the updated PA to the managers for them to deliver, reminding them to update the comments, if needed.

At the end of each meeting sincerely thank the participating managers by telling them the following:

Thank you very much for your participating in today’s TRM. It’s a lot of hard work but important work spending the time discussing the performance and conduct of our organizations most important asset, our people.

We were able to sit down as a team and learn more about our own people and the people of our peers today, and from what I saw, gained a lot of appreciation and value from it. I have a couple more days with other TRBs this week and once I’m done, I’ll get the final PAs sent to you next week so you can deliver them to your people.

Thanks again!

Whew, this was a long post but like I said, the TRMs are the most important aspect of the entire cycle. I could go into more detail but I think this is appropriate for a blog post and I’ll save the greater detail for a book in the future.

This post, hopefully will give you a good sense of the mechanics of how to run a TRM. Please don’t hesitate to comment below if you have any questions. I’d appreciate knowing what I need to clarify and expand on.

Next week, I’ll discuss week six, Delivery Week.

Week Four of the PA Cycle: Prep week for Talent Review Meetings

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Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week is the preparation week for the most important aspect of the entire cycle, the Talent Review Meetings (TRMs). I’m not going to discuss the details of the the TRMs this week, that will be for next week. Instead, I’m just going to go over the preparation for the TRMs.

The preparation of the TRMs consists of the following four steps – making a ranking sheet, making the TRM schedule, printing PAs and building the TRM notebooks, and communicating the TRM’s to the managers.

But before we go any further, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the TRM in order to understand why it takes an entire week preparing for them. Talent Review Meetings are where a Talent Review Board (TRB) of managers meet to review each direct report’s Performance Appraisal in order to insure fairness. Each manager must review and defend, to their peers, the scores they gave their direct reports. Again, I will go into more detail in next week’s post.

I’ve put together a set of example documents for this stage of the cycle. In it I created an organization with 43 non-exempt employees, nine Managers, seven exempt non-managers, three Directors, and five Sr. Managers. All of the example documents will be based on this organizational structure.

So now that you have a basic understanding of the TRM and understand the example organization I established, let’s go over the four steps of preparation.

Create a ranking sheet of all the Performance Appraisal scores:

The first thing that should be done this week is take all the scores from the preliminary PAs and enter them into the Preliminary Score column on the ranking sheet. The ranking sheet is a very important tool for the TRMs as the rankings clearly show how each manager scored their direct reports. It gives the TRB a quick snapshot of the score distribution in the organization and shows which managers are tough scorers and which are generous scorers. It makes it much easier to calibrate the scores.

The ranking sheet consists of four columns:
1. Manager Name
2. Employee Name
3. Preliminary Score
4. Final Score

At the bottom of the sheet is a box that calculates the mean, median, and mode for both the Preliminary Score and the Final Score.

I’m including the Excel template of the ranking sheet I use. There are tabs on the bottom of the worksheet consisting of a ranking sheet for each TRB in my example organization. In the example ranking sheet, I have just filled in the Prelim Scores. The Final Scores will need to be filled in during or after Week Seven, Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives.

Click here for the example HHHR PA Ranking Sheet: 20XX HHHR PA Ranking Sheet (Example Organization)

Scheduling the TRM:

Depending on the size of the organization, the TRB can be very simple for organizations ~35 or less employees or complicated for organizations ~36 or more employees.

The TRBs for smaller organizations are easy to schedule because they are typically just senior management and HR. Only one version of the TRM notebook needs to be built for each member of the senior management team containing the PA of every employee in the organization separated by manager. It should take approx 20 minutes to discuss each PA so the schedule is only a day or two depending on how many employees are being reviewed. Multiply the number of employees by 20 minutes then divide that result by 60 which results in the total number of hours that are needed to schedule the TRM.

The TRBs for larger organizations are more complicated to schedule. The senior management team will typically not want to or have the time to do four to five days of TRMs. The schedule needs to be broke down by hierarchy because larger organizations have more layers of management. For example, non-exempt level employees will be reviewed by a TRB consisting of the Managers, the Managers will then be reviewed by a TRB consisting of the Directors and Senior Managers, and the Directors will be reviewed by a TRB consisting of the Senior Managers. Of course, senior management should be invited to sit in on the non-exempt TRBs. Again, it should take approx 20 minutes to discuss each PA so use the same calculations as above for making the schedule.

In my example organization, the non-exempt population schedule takes two full days while the exempt level population is scheduled for two half(ish) days. Also in the example you will note that I don’t have specific times scheduled for the non-exempt employees as this allows for more flexibility since some will be quicker than 20 minutes and some will be longer. With the exempt employees, however, I schedule times because this allows the busy Directors and Senior Mangers two things: to know when they are defending their scores to their peers and to make sure they are present when they want input on a particular employee. The management team in any organization is busy and it can’t be expected that every manager will be present throughout the discussion of every PA. It’s OK to allow them to come and go throughout the meetings just as long as you have some continuity in the TRMs. By scheduling the times at the exempt level, you are helping them with their time management, which is always a good thing!

Click here for the example HHHR PA TRM Schedule: 20XX HHHR PA Talent Review Meeting Schedule (Example Organization)

Printing PAs and building the TRM Notebook:

Once the schedule is complete, the notebooks can be built by referring to the names listed for each TRB. A notebook is made for each person who will be serving on a TRB. The notebook will contain tabs for each Manager/Director/Senior Manager who has direct reports and behind each tab will be the PAs for that manager.

So for the example organization I created, using the TRM schedule, for the Non-exempt Day 1 and 2, nine notebooks need to be built (one for each Manager) with nine tabs containing each Manager’s direct reports which is nine copies of 42 employees! That’s a lotta time standing at the copy machine.

When each employee’s PA is printed for for each notebook, enter that date on the checklist so it reflects the completed date.

Keep the notebooks in a secured and locked location until they are given to the managers in the TRB. Its best to hand out the notebooks just before each TRM but sometimes the Senior Management group likes getting them early in order to review them beforehand. Remember that the notebooks contain a tremendous amount of confidential performance information so remind all the managers to keep them secure once they have them.

This is one of the busiest weeks for HR in the cycle and it’s important to remember to stay organized in the ways I’ve suggested in the last two posts. Things can rapidly fall apart if you don’t stay organized!

Communicate the TRM schedule to the managers:

You’ve done all that work so don’t forget to let all the managers know when the meetings are!  Here is a sample email to send out to the managers in the TRBs.

Managers,

Attached is the Talent Review Meeting schedule with Talent Review Board assignments.

I broke the meetings down into the following four sessions:

  1. Nonexempt Day 1: Wednesday, February 3, 8:00AM – 5:00PM
  2. Nonexempt Day 2: Thursday, February 4, 8:00AM – 5:00PM
  3. Exempt Level Day 1: Monday, February 8, 12:00PM-3:30PM
  4. Exempt Level Day 2: Tuesday, February 9, 1:00PM – 4:30PM

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Thanks,
Rich

Occasionally changes will have to be made to the schedule as things come up particularly with the Senior Management team.  Stay flexible to the needs of the company and make the revisions as needed.  It’s not going to be the end of the world if you don’t get the TRMs done on schedule!

Well that’s it for Prep Week for the Talent Review Meetings. Next week I’ll finally get to discuss the actual details of the best and most important aspect of the entire cycle, the Talent Review Meetings!