Starting a new year is always exciting. It becomes a line in the sand where people can say, “I’m making a change.”
Of course, it really is often just more of the same since circumstances most likely have not altered appreciably. However, in western culture we think and operate very much by time, whether it is the clock or the calendar, so a new year positions us mentally to restart the clock. An effective restart, however, requires some thought as to what we will do differently or what we want to achieve.
For some people it is comfortable to “drift along.” They perceive a life less stressful. Perhaps it is, but it also subjects them to everyone else’s actions and objectives and may put them into a reactive mode when things get difficult. As idyllic as it sounds, it does not suit businesses or organizations. However, it is quite surprising how many organizations do “drift along.” They are very casual about goal setting, accountability and conscientious actions to make something happen. The key in business is always setting a target — something that is measurable — and then execution.
Success also requires aligning the measurable goal with organizational or personal objectives in order to focus on the right matters. It is also important to consider the circumstances and the environment in which a person works. Human resource departments can be found to fit into all of the circumstances mentioned above; some never draw a line in the sand to make changes, some drift and wait for others to point the direction, while others are more focused on goals and measurements.
Unfortunately, even those in the last group who are perceived to be on top of things often don’t take the time or effort to reassess their operating circumstances. They need to review the internal changes of the organization, but perhaps even more importantly, the external changes in the labor markets.
There are lots of changes in the works that have notable implications for most HR functions. On a macro perspective, the change from economic recession to growth brings all sorts of issues into play. Macro trends in demographics fuel change. Then there is the matter of technology. People look like electronic particles that move faster and faster in more erratic and random patterns as more energy is applied. From an HR perspective, a large portion of our job is to control the flow of those people and get them moving in the right direction. To do this we need ways to capture and understand what is happening. Then we can take the next steps to put viable programs and practices in place to align with organization goals.
So how do we capture this information? The simple answer is metrics: Collect and organize meaningful information. Once organized for collection and analysis, we can move forward. The one key aspect is collecting the right information; then we need to establish a base line so we know where we are starting from — the line in the sand mentioned above.
One of the most common metrics utilized by HR is employment turnover data. Collecting this by itself requires a lot of supplemental interpretation to make any use of it. This is also one of those practices stuck in the past to some extent. With the current economic changes going on, it may be more important to know who is involved with the turnover. What skills are they taking with them? If they are obsolete skills, it may not matter or may actually be a positive change. You may also need to know if the turnover is initiated by the organization or the individual. Perhaps giving some thought to the duration of employment can be very useful.
Another aspect to consider is an examination of remaining employees. This can be done from a couple of perspectives: skills profile and engagement profile. Do you have and are you retaining the right people and skills, and are these people engaged? You may be able to capture the specifics in terms of skills, but knowing if they are the right people and skills requires a perspective that can only come from a defined understanding of where the organization is going. This requires a strategic and succession plan.
As for “engagement,” this is a bit of recent HR jargon but is something most of us have known intuitively for a long time. However, a number of recent studies have quantified the difference that “engaged” employees make in a business and that makes this topic so important. Many organizations shoot for being an “employer of choice.” These labels often come when they engage an organization to do a special survey, often a black-box process. It can be more simple and directed, and needs to be ongoing, not a one-time process.
Figuring out what is changing and what you need to know is essential to keep your organization on track. Since change never stops, this analysis should also be constant. To understand change you have to have a good frame of reference. This gets us back to the issue of time and the new year being a good point to use for setting up those measures to guide program and practices development. The right metrics are a critical link for aligning resources necessary to reach the organization goals in an operating environment of continual change.
We received a number of responses to our survey request in December. Although it was a non-scientific sample, it did indicate some interesting results. The idea that received the most support was a single-payer health care system. That was followed by a change for insurance companies (which may be related) and upgrading health education. Least important for change is the elimination of group health care plans. Next time we’ll look at what a single-payer system is about. Thanks to all who participated in the survey.
Ardon Schambers is principal of P3HR Consulting & Services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.