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.


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