Monday, December 27, 2004

Pressing “Up” When Going Down (and vice-versa)

I am sure many of us have experienced this.

We are in a rush. We need to get to the 24th floor. We step into an elevator (or lift), willing it to move fast to the 24th floor. Yes, there may be a few stops along the way for the others in the lift with you…. we can’t help that... We are fidgeting, looking up at the indicator wishing the lift would move faster, pressing the “close door” button as soon as someone steps out.

Lo and behold, the lift then stops at the 22nd floor but wait…, no one pressed the 22nd floor! The doors open and the chap outside says “…oh…its ok, I am going down”. In your heart you are thinking “its not #*%#ing ok!”. Why the dickens did you press the “up” button then!!? Of course, the lift eventually reaches the 24th floor and you go for your appointment slightly flustered as you consider another episode of inconsiderate behaviour.

Have you ever felt that? I certainly have. I have witnessed myself a fair number of times, people who routinely press both “up” & “down” buttons for the lift even if they know they are going in just the one direction. Why? It appears that there is this “belief” that the lift would arrive faster by doing this. Yes, perhaps they do believe that but such behaviour just shows that they could not be bothered about inconveniencing others in the lift which had to stop at their floor without reason.

Yes, yes, yes, I am aware that the 5 seconds this takes is not such a big deal in the larger scheme of things. But what really gets my knickers in a twist (yes, I do wear knickers sometimes) is that it just represents another case of inconsiderate behaviour. “I want the lift to get here faster.” “I couldn’t give a toss about the impact of what I do on those poor twits in the lift already.”

Well, all incidents that indicate a lack of consideration make me shake my head… but this is one that I encounter all too frequently so I thought I’d write about it…

Sigh, another instance where we consider the inconsiderate ….

Sunday, December 19, 2004

HR - What's Wrong With Job Ads These Days

There has recently been some discussion on the age for retirement and there have been comments that it really is not of much use if employers still discriminate based on age. Too true! Some job advertisements still specify an age range!

So what is with job ads these days? Well, by saying that, I am implying it was ok before. Actually, I am certain it was worse “in the good old days”. However, we certainly expect much more in this so called modern and enlightened age.

First, let me say that discrimination is essential in the recruitment process. In fact it is essential in all aspects of life! This simply means that we make decisions and choices all the time and in so doing, we discriminate one option over another. The key question is, what are our choices based on? When we choose food from a menu, we are discriminating based on taste (or what our wallet can afford). When we hand out increments, we are discriminating based on performance. I am quite certain that very few people would argue against discrimination based on performance. Of course, there will be those who question how we assess performance. Well, don’t get me started on that as that is a topic all in itself!

So, discrimination is essential. But is it ok to discriminate based on age, on race, on gender, on religion? Although many of us would shake our heads, I am also sure that many of us know it is happening. A lot of this may not happen overtly but in my opinion, it happens all the time, either inadvertently and subconsciously (at best) or consciously (at worst).

For example, if a company derives nearly all its customers from mainland China, it may well look for someone who speaks mandarin to run his customer service desk. The company may then specify being “Chinese” as a requirement when it actually means a person who speaks Chinese. Such employers are really not the ones we should be gunning for. The “serious offenders” are those that specify criteria that they “think” are important based on their own personal whims and fancies.

How about the level of information provided in today’s ads? Ads placed by the employer themselves tend to have information about the company overall and about the job function specifically. I believe this is good (and normal) practice so that potential applicants can then “self-select” and decide if that is the kind of company or role that they would be keen on taking up and hence decide on whether to apply. However, have you seen the number of ads placed these days where all you see are the job title and requirements? I personally find it arrogant and actually very insulting. The cheek! Employment is a two way contract where both parties contribute something to the equation. That’s why I think that companies that project the message “this is what we are looking for!” and could not give a damn about telling potential candidates about themselves or giving any info about the role, should simply be ignored!

Actually, I notice that many such ads are placed by recruitment agencies. Of course I am aware of the need to keep the identity of the employer confidential but not to the extent that candidates have not really got much clue what they are applying for. It really gives us in HR a bad name, not that we need to be kicked further down the hierarchy of importance!

C’mon, get with the programme! Give people some respect! Employers, do your job analyses and only specify requirements that you are confidently able to justify. Criteria that are essential for success in the company or the job. Agencies (and some employers), show us candidates some respect and treat us like educated adults (well most of us are anyway) and give us more info so we know what we are looking at and applying for. Potential applicants, make your voice heard! Speak up! (I do not think many employers are looking for timid mice… well, maybe some… which explains why many did not employ me… ha!) Ignore silly ads that do not give you enough info to make a wise choice. Unless of course you are desperate for a job and have many mouths to feed… I sympathise with you. Barring this, we should ignore inadequate ads. HR Managers, speak out against managers or line managers that wish to specify requirements that hold insufficient justification. Remember that you may be the last recourse standing between them and further hits to the integrity for the HR profession. Move us to next phase of development and enlightenment where we begin to treat people with respect and dignity and above all, professionalism!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

To Chope or Not To Chope

In food / hawker centres in Singapore, there is this practice of placing ones personal possessions, normally of nominal value, like a packet of tissue paper, on a seat or table to “reserve” that seat or table. The owner(s) then shop around for the type of food they feel like eating, queue up to purchase and finally, bring the food back to their “pre-reserved” seating.

In the various other countries I have been to in Asia, I have not seen this similar practice. Nevertheless, I think this “system” is actually highly inefficient. Think about it. In the time that it takes for these people to look around for what they want to eat, queue up and finally buy the food and return to the table, another customer could have gobbled up their food and be on their way. I for one have observed customers who have completed their entire meal and walked off while a lonely packet of tissue still awaits its owner to return with lunch. Therefore, at any particular time, there is a significant portion of seating places “empty” awaiting its “owners”. If one were to make a random survey of a crowded hawker centre during lunchtime on a weekday, I am confident you would spot about 30% of the places “unutilised” but actually reserved. Is this not inefficient?

If everyone were to refrain from “reserving” their places, utilisation rates of the seats in a hawker centre would approach 100% and people who purchase their food should be able to find a seat because there would be a fairly constant flow of people who would be completing their meal and leaving, especially since utilisation rates for seats were higher. This would of course only work in the larger centres that have a dynamic flow of crowds to ensure that at any one time, there will be people who are finishing their meals.

However, there are 2 major factors that will prevent this system from ever operating well here. Firstly, any system that tries to ensure a high level of efficiency is bound to be easily open to abuse. For example, let’s say we start adopting a culture prohibiting the “reservation” of tables. All it takes is one chap to start “reserving” a table to upset the entire system. The person who rebels against the norm would immediately gain an advantage, in the sense he need not worry about finding a suitable seating place and everyone else would also perceive he has gained an advantage and immediately start to emulate the rebel.

The second factor is of course, the “kiasu” syndrome where everyone would prefer to purchase their food with the confidence they have a place to sit. Especially since they are so used to the current system.

I despair when I see such inefficiencies which I really feel work against all of us. But what to do? In the absence of a new law which prohibits such “reservations”, I guess we will have to live with it. Or do we? What’s to stop me from rebelliously chucking aside that loathsome tissue paper and say with nonchalance “Is there a law saying you can reserve seating?” Of course, then again, I may get the crap beaten out of me… Anyway, I refuse to follow a system that I do not agree with and I have not had a problem so far… although I must say that I do tend to patronise less crowded areas and I do go alone… single seating is easier to obtain. Wonder if I will ever see a change in my lifetime… sigh!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

HR - This Staff is Not Good!

As a HR Manager, I was often approached by line Managers or Supervisors with the complaint that their staff were not performing up to expectations. Many times, there is justification for their complaints and the subordinate is truly having some performance issues. Nevertheless, I have often also found myself displeased with the exact same Supervisor who is complaining! This is mainly because, in many cases, the Supervisor has done little (or sometimes not a single thing) to try to address the problem.

Why is it so many of us do not ask ourselves, what we as supervisors have done (or not done) to contribute to the staff’s performance problem? As a supervisor, have I discussed my expectations with the staff from the beginning? Have I had one-to-one chats with the staff to advise what he/she was doing well, or not well. Have I discussed the relevant problem with the staff in a timely manner? If supervisors were honest with themselves, they will often notice that they have actually allowed many incidents to go “unnoticed” until the problem gets out of hand, at which point they will contact HR and ask for the staff to be “released” or transferred. We all need to find that happy medium between being too pedantic that you become the supervisor from hell, and having a laisser-faire or hands-off attitude until it is too late.

Many managers dislike handling the “people aspects” of their job. They focus on the technical stuff and leave the people issues alone, hoping it will sort itself out. Some hope that HR Dept will sort it out for them. (There is of course the other extreme where the manager thinks they know everything about people management and make a complete mess of everything. However, I prefer this extreme because, at least they get a chance to learn from their mistakes.) As a supervisor, we owe it to our staff to treat them with dignity and respect. As staff, we all want to know where we are doing well and where we are not. After all, we expect that from our own bosses / supervisors. Remember the Golden rule: “Do unto others….”

Unfortunately, in Singapore, the work environment is pro business and not pro labour (no, one does not necessarily follow the other). As such, employees are not offered much “protection” from unjustified dismissals. Employees who are unlucky enough to get a poor supervisor and a weak HR may well be shown the door even though they have no idea what they have done to offend the boss. Due process? What due process? It is not required here. Only the enlightened few, perhaps the MNCs which follow their world-wide corporate values will engage in due process prior to termination.

Having said the above, and having experienced labour issues in other countries, I must say that the Singapore way keeps business humming very nicely and helps increase productivity (since everyone is concerned about job security). Additionally, I also believe that many staff who are considered “poor performers” simply do not believe or are unable to understand why they are viewed as such. Yes, there are times where it is just a case of poor person-company fit or person-job fit. There are also times where the supervisor is not able to communicate clearly, the elements that constitute poor performance. But, having discounted all that, some (actually many) staff still cannot comprehend what they have done wrong. There is actually a study on this entitled “Unskilled and Unaware of It” (refer below*). I must admit that even I am at a loss sometimes when dealing with such individuals.
There was a time where, after much effort and discussion to show a staff where she had gone wrong, I simply had to conclude by stating that “…we appear to have a difference of opinion and perception and unfortunately, the Company’s position remains unchanged and your dismissal stands. I just hope you note our feedback for your future reference in case it is ever raised again. If the same sentiments are never raised in your career, perhaps you are just not a good fit with the environment here...”

Nevertheless, I do wish more companies would exercise due process in disciplinary cases (either misconduct or performance-related), even if it is not really required. Again, we need to treat people with dignity and respect and treat people as innocent till proven guilty.

I for one will seek to implement proper disciplinary processes within organisations that I consult for, in support of the principle of compassionate and responsible management. I have seen injustices committed for the sake of expediency and it really left a bitter taste in my mouth. I believe in a Responsible and Compassionate approach that preserves the dignity of the person whilst preserving commercial viability. I have full confidence that a viable (and indeed even thriving) business can be conducted in an ethical and responsible manner and I shall set out to prove it!

*Kruger J. & Dunning D. (1999) Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self Assessments, Journal Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 77, No. 6 Pg: 1121-1134.