IN the spirit of new beginnings and change that typically blows past us every once a year, I’ve decided to propose a list of seven resolutions that organisations should adopt.
1. Take the selection process more seriously
For goodness sake, stop hiring staff that will create more problems than they solve. We’re killing our organisations by rushing to fill vacancies with staff who are either incompetent or unsuitable for the demands of the organisation.
Managers need to work closely with the human resources department (HRD) to ensure that the recruitment process is rigorous. We need a well-balanced process that will both recognise unfulfilled potential and talent while being honest and clear about the capabilities of our organisation to tap and realise this potential.
Too many interviews are conducted with rose-tinted glasses by bosses who are so desperate to fill immediate vacancies that they are willing to overlook even the most glaring flaws and gaps.
The HRD needs to be more aggressive in identifying and hunting down top talent proactively rather than reactively when a vacancy arises.
All good organisations have already lined up five or six potential replacements for every key position in the organisation, at any one time. This way, they don’t need to scamper for crumbs, and settle for mediocrity.
2. Develop an on-site development programme for your staff team
Most experts in talent management will tell you that less than 20% of “true development” can be attributed to offsite training programmes, which will include most of the seminars, conferences, workshops and team-building camps we usually send our staff to in order to use up our training budgets.
About 80% of real staff development happens on-site, meaning at the workplace itself.
For example, you want your staff to develop project management skills, then start giving them projects to manage. You want them to learn negotiation skills, then take them along the next time your are negotiating a deal with your partners.
You want your staff to improve customer service, then spend one hour every week observing how they deal with customers, and spend 30 minutes giving them in depth, detailed feedback about what they’re doing wrong and how they can do better.
The workplace is the ultimate training setting. It may take a lot of our time, but it is still cheaper and more cost effective than the dozen of off-site training programmes we spend our money on anyway.
The basic process is very simple:
Step 1: Assign a project/task.
Step 2: Observe.
Step 3: Provide feedback and facilitate a process of reflection so that they learn from the experience.
3. Be honest with your staff evaluations
Do you want your staff to start growing up and take responsibility for their work and their potential? Then stop treating them like children.
Tell them the honest truth about what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. Tell them what you admire about their performance and what you’re concerned about. Let them defend themselves, let them disagree. That’s fine, they’re entitled to their own opinion, as long as they know you are entitled as their boss to share your honest and frank observations.
Place the entire conversation in the context of their own career development, so that it’s clear that this is not about your personal agenda, but about their own future success.
When employers and employees can have mature and open conversations about work performance, then things look promising for the organisation.
4. Identify the ambitions of your staff
Do you want to motivate your staff? Then find out what they really, really want in their careers. Everyone is ambitious. They may have different ambitions, but everyone in the workplace has ideas about where they want to be in the future.
It’s important as their boss that you know exactly what it is they want. Spend 30 minutes with each of your staff and get them to share this with you.
And after listening to them, tell them that your role is to help them achieve this ambition. Give them your commitment to doing whatever is within your power to help them make this a reality.
Now, of course, you will need to remind them that the climb is tough. No pain, no gain.
To succeed, they will need to be stretched, they will need to take on new tasks and new roles, beyond their normal work scope, and you will need to be honest and sometimes critical in your evaluations of them; but all of these will help them make it to where they want to be.
5. Start an employee-assistance programme
Make no mistake about it, stress affects your bottomline. Organisations are losing some of their top talents to stress-induced burnout.
I was just talking to a senior partner of a top law firm in Kuala Lumpur who had just lost three of his partners due to work-related stress; two had bypasses and one quit because the work was affecting his family adversely.
As a result, top organisations are realising that it’s a lot cheaper to pay RM4,800 (RM200 x 24 sessions) to send a senior staff to see a psychologist or counsellor, than to lose this staff and have to find a replacement.
Employee-assistance programmes (EAPs) are becoming popular among many international and local firms, as they realise that mental health is just as important as physical health.
6. Encourage people to disagree with you
If you want your organisation to be sharp in its decision making, then once and for all kill off the culture of “yes men”. Stop surrounding yourself with people who just agree with you.
Surround yourself with the smartest, sharpest thinkers, who know what they’re talking about, and who are not scared to disagree with you. These are people who are loyal to the organisation, not the boss, and will not hesitate to tell you the truth as they see it.
A strong leader does not feel threatened by dissenting opinions.
7. Bring psychology graduates into your team
I can’t resist finishing with a short pitch for my graduates. For the last 12 years, I’ve been in the business of training psychology graduates, and preparing them to add value to any organisation they join.
Unbeknownst to most people, about 45% of our psychology graduates actually end up in the corporate sector, many of them joining HR and marketing departments; training companies; head-hunting, advertising and public relations firms; and other people-related positions.
At last count, I have over 2,000 psychology graduates in the business sector all over Malaysia. From time to time, I meet up with some of them and have been very pleased at how they have applied their knowledge of psychology to helping their organisations grow and develop, particularly in the areas of talent and people management.
Some of them have, in the last 10 years, risen high up in some of the largest multinational and government-linked companies in the region, a testimony to their quality and skills.
Market leaders like GE, Shell, Petronas, HSBC, Sime Darby, Leo Burnett, Accenture, Hewitt Consulting and many others have been hiring psychology graduates for years and with great success.
So what unique qualities does a psychology graduate add to your organisation? Let me list the main two:
l No one understands people better than a psychology graduate. That’s what psychology is – the science of understanding how people think, feel and behave in all settings. This knowledge can be used to powerful effect in general as well as HR management.
l No one does research better than a psychology graduate. This is one of their core competencies. Be it designing a survey or a naturalistic observation, or a controlled experiment, a psychology graduate will figure out a way to answer almost any question on human nature that you can conceive of.
With that, I bid you a Happy New Year. I hope it will bring the fresh new energy and impetus you seek in your organisation and I wish you a bright 2010!
·Dr Goh Chee Leong is vice-president of HELP University College and a psychologist.