Saturday, January 29, 2005

HR - It’s Unfair!!

Ah… the common refrain I hear oh so often from people whenever they feel they are hard done by. But what is fairness? To me it is like beauty,… it lies in the eyes (or mind in this case) of the beholder. Allow me to illustrate with an example from the commercial world.

Let us say you have two staff. One, Ms X, is a bright and fast worker and the other, Mr Y, not so quick on the uptake and a rather slow worker. They both have similar roles and you give them the same type and amount of work which should occupy them for 1 full working day. Ms X obviously finishes the work quicker than Mr Y. The question then is, which is the fairest approach:

i) To request that Ms X help Mr Y (after Ms X has finished her work) so that they both go home at the same time?
ii) To “reward” Ms X by allowing her to leave for home earlier, as soon as she finishes her share of the work, thereby leaving Mr Y to work “over-time” to complete his share?
iii) To give some of Mr Y’s work to Ms X such that they both have a “full days” worth of work to do, but to give Ms Y a better appraisal rating at the end of the year.

Ask any number of people and they will each have their own view of which of the above is the “fairest”. Indeed, some would even offer their own solution which they think is the fairer approach.

Managers who have worked in different countries on different continents have told me that people in Singapore and Malaysia tend to be preoccupied with the notion of “fairness” as if it is something universal that everyone understands. Granted that it is natural for people to seek some kind of “equity” or “justice” in everyday life but it appears that the issue of “fairness” seems to be raised much more often by those in Asia than in the west (this is a generalisation of course).

I tend to support the sentiments contained in the (rather curt) response that “life is unfair, so take it or leave it!” I really do believe we will not be able to agree on what is equitable or fair in any given situation and that we should all just strive (or fight) for the best deal possible and try to live with what we can get. The alternative (as is the case today) is that we will simply be miserable sods because we will just continue to complain and try to attain a concept which we think everyone else is trying to achieve but which really exists only in our own minds! A true exercise in futility… It’s so unfair!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

You Talk So Much What About You?

Why is it people are so fond of asking the above question when we choose to give some critique or give an opinion that is considered negative? For example, I could say to a friend who is busy looking for something he has misplaced in his messy office; “If you were more organized, you would probably encounter less difficulty locating your stuff…”, to which he will reply, “You talk so much (or, you think you are so smart) what about you?” referring to my equally messy office.

The question is, what in the world has this got to do with me??? I was merely stating an opinion or making an observation. If you think it is not valid, then the opinion or observation should be challenged on its own merits or otherwise. To throw my statement or opinion back at me smacks of defensiveness at best and petty revenge at worst. In the example above, so what if I am even more messy and disorganized? It still does not reduce the accuracy of my observations of my friend’s predicament.

There is the old saying that one should be able to take what one dishes out. Well, to me that statement arises out of ones emotions and frustrations. I believe that if one really makes an effort to remove the emotion from such situations, we would be better placed to develop and learn from others as a general rule.

To illustrate further, if a football coach were to criticize (constructively) a particular footballer’s ability, it is unlikely that the footballer concerned would pass aspersions on the coach’s own footballing ability. A good coach may not be a very good footballer but that does not detract from his ability to make observations of footballers. In the same way, if I am not an organised person, that does not mean I am unable to make observations of others who lack organizational skills. My powers of observation and assessment and my powers of organisation are separate issues. They are distinct qualities!

I think the main problem is, people usually have difficulty accepting criticism. Their pride dictates that they should defend themselves when under attack and they do this by attacking the perceived attacker. It is also natural that people tend to respond better when led by example. If people could only learn to respond to criticism by considering the possibility that the observer is correct… Naah, that would be too much to ask…

I am indeed losing faith in people’s ability to think logically and objectively. People’s emotions cloud so many issues… indeed, it could be argued that my own deteriorating faith in people is an emotional response to the very issue I have raised! Oh crap, I have just become a victim of my own diatribe…! That’s enough for today then.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

HR - Alternative Methods for Effective Recruitment

The interview is probably the most common tool used in the recruitment process. It is, of course, not the only tool available and in fact, studies have shown that there are other methods which are probably more effective.

For example, the use of psychometric tools is gaining in acceptance and is now used by many companies as part of their graduate selection process. Most psychometric tools from reputable companies (e.g. Saville & Holdsworth or SHL) have been rigorously tested and have been shown to be good predictors of future job performance. The most commonly used among them are the reasoning tests (sometimes called aptitude tests) and the personality questionnaire.

Reasoning or Aptitude tests provide users with a numerical score at the end of the test that indicate how the candidate performed compared to his/her peer group. This assists an employer to sift through a large number of candidates in a short space of time with a good degree of objectivity. The employer also has the advantage of lowering or increasing the “cut-off” score to suit their own requirements.

A personality questionnaire is different in that it is not a test. Such questionnaires are also not normally used in isolation during a recruitment process. Generally speaking, they normally give an indication of a candidate’s typical style, inclination or likes / dislikes. It essentially helps us focus on how a candidate may approach a job rather than their ability to perform that job. That is why personality questionnaires are best used in conjunction with other tools like an interview so that the areas of concern highlighted by the questionnaire may be adequately probed.

There are many other methods which can be used like Group Exercises, the In-Tray or In-basket tests, Analysis Presentations and even Role Plays or Interactive Exercises. Which method we choose to use depends on the competencies or behaviours we wish to assess. Alternatively, we could use a number of methods in one intensive assessment session usually called an Assessment Centre. Such methods are gaining in popularity amongst MNCs.

Logically speaking, the more methods we use, the more information on a candidate we obtain, the more robust our process and the more effective our recruitment overall. However, practically speaking, we are all short on time and budgets. We should therefore select those methods which provide information on the most important of the criteria / skills that the ideal candidate ought to have for the role that we need to fill.

In terms of interviews, it is a tool that is so commonly used that everyone thinks they have the skills to conduct an interview. Sometimes, this view is simply based on having been through a few interviews themselves! The problem is, research has shown that a poorly executed interview, that is, without proper planning, objectives and structure, is a very poor predictor of future job performance. It is actually not that easy to conduct a structured, well planned interview.

One effective way of structuring an interview is termed the competency or behavioural based interview method. In this approach, we first need to ascertain the behaviours that need to be assessed. We then develop our questions based on the philosophy that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. As such, we spend most of the interview trying to gather “evidence” on past actions and activities relating to the competency being assessed.

Because of the enormous time and effort required to manage the recruitment effort effectively, it is now fairly popular for many companies to “outsource” most of the recruitment process to recruitment agencies or “head-hunters”. For very senior positions or for specialist positions where talent is scarce, such agencies conduct a thorough search of the market to obtain the most suitable candidate. However, for positions which are commonly found in most commercial organisations such as Marketing, HR or Finance Manager, agencies will search their database and sift through the numerous resumes that arrive through advertisements to identify the best matched candidate.

Since most recruitment agencies charge based on a percentage of the salary of the successful candidate, many companies think nothing of setting aside a princely sum for the luxury of outsourcing the identification of their most precious asset. In an era where competition and budgets are getting tighter, HR Managers need to put more thought to how they can extract more value from their partnership with external agencies. Companies should consider assessing their agencies on issues like how thorough are their assessments (considering the various tools available as shown above), what are their findings on the candidates being recommended, is there a need for a real search and if so, how will the search be conducted.

The recruitment process is one of the ways in which companies identify its future leaders (or perhaps even their present one). As such, it stands to reason that the process needs to be as rigorous and as robust as possible. As HR Managers, there is a need to thoroughly review the available options. Or else using head-hunters will not only cost you an arm and a leg, it could cost you your own head as well!

(This is a summary of a talk I gave at the Singapore HR Institute on 16 December 2004)

Sunday, January 09, 2005

We Get What We Pay For – Or Do We??

All of us are consumers of products and services. I think all of us also try to pay as little as possible for a product or service. However, there are times when we may feel a little generous or feel that we deserve a treat and we splurge good money on a little luxury. Be it a pair of Bally shoes or an LV Handbag.

I believe that if we were to really analyse the situation and keep our emotions in check, we will be aware that we are sometimes buying into the hype and paying simply to keep up with the Joneses. Granted that some luxury products that cost double of the “normal” ones really do provide “twice” the satisfaction, either because it has twice the amount of quality ingredients or it lasts twice as long etc. However, do all so called luxury products fall into such hallowed territory? I seriously doubt it! Hence, my contention that YOU may not get what you pay for. If not, who does? I mean, who really benefits from our hard earned cash used to buy into the hype and the brand? Well, it’s the owner or shareholders of the company that was responsible for the product or service and all the other people along the line responsible for providing you with that product or service.

I do not have a problem with products or services costing twice as much but providing twice the satisfaction. However, the world works on the principle of Caveat Emptor or “let the buyer beware”. That’s the thrust of my argument. We need to think and be more aware of what we are paying for. The reader may be wondering “…why the hell does he care how individuals spend their hard earned cash!”. You are, of course, correct.

If people are willing to spend good money to assuage some ill-conceived desire for certain products or services, why should I care? It is just that I cannot help feeling a sense of injustice that such actions enrich the very people who do not “deserve” to be enriched. If we, as consumers, become collectively more discerning and begin to ask tougher questions of the products and services we consume, market forces will then do the rest and manufacturers and service providers will begin to act more responsibly and all consumers will benefit.

Moving on to corporations, despite the increasing sophistication of procurement systems, large corporations are also sometimes guilty of unnecessary expenditure and “buying” into image and branding. For example, as a manager looking to outsource some service, we may be more impressed and therefore more comfortable with a service provider ensconced in sophisticated premises or in a penthouse somewhere overlooking the sea. Did we spare a thought for how they were able to afford it in the first place? Well, with “generous” companies agreeing to “subsidise” their luxurious lifestyles, why not? I think we should not be deceived by pretty premises. Nevertheless I would also be the first to acknowledge that the fly-by-night operators give all of us that try to minimise our overheads a bad name.

With improvements in technology, many service providers today do not need fancy premises in which to work. In fact, some service providers only rent nice looking premises because they think that that is what YOU, their potential clients, expect.

Think about this for a minute. As a client, YOU are paying extra so that your suppliers look respectable and credible. YOU are paying for their upholstery and city view. How preposterous!? Not to mention that it is probably the height of folly to pay for a suppliers beautiful office and life of luxury. Of course, as mentioned above, there are some products and services that are value for money even at top dollar! The question is, which ones are they? I just wish everyone, from consumer to corporations, could be more discerning in their purchases.

Think about it the next time your supplier picks you up in his chauffeur driven car, takes you to his penthouse office overlooking the sea, before taking you to a sumptuous seafood dinner at his private club!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

HR – Blame it on the Boss…

As a HR Manager, how often have I heard the following refrain, “Tell my boss that…!”, “This course is more suited for my boss!”, “My boss is not helpful/ encouraging/ inspiring etc etc (circle whichever that applies)”. These statements come from all levels of staff.

When I talk to the officers, they frequently blame their bosses, the executives. When I talk to the execs, they will in turn blame their managers and when I talk to managers, they blame the senior managers. Amazingly, when I have talked to senior management, you would think it would stop there … but no… they blame their CEO!

It is sad that such behaviour is so endemic that it can be seen from the corporate executive to the man in the street. Where the executive blames the boss, the man in the street blames the government, the culture, their upbringing and what-have-you. When will people begin to take responsibility for their actions and begin to ask themselves what they have done (or not done) to contribute to prevailing circumstances or their own predicament?

In the corporate world, our bosses do have authority over us but in many of the “blame it on the boss” cases I have experienced, part (if not much) of the fault lies with the individual themselves. We should all be aware of the tremendous power which exists within ourselves to take charge of our destinies and change things for the better (do not mean to sound like Anthony Robbins!).

It is therefore no coincidence that many of the people who have shown a capacity for change, are adaptable and who have succeeded in their lives have also shown an ability to question how their actions have impacted outcomes.

Next time you attend a training course, seminar or workshop, listen carefully to your fellow participants. I am confident you will get someone who will point “upwards”. You may then like to point to them and ask them what they have you done about it... and look and the bewilderment in their eyes…