Conflict index

01 Oct 2012


Then they usually agree it's a great idea that they start measuring it. So I thought I'd share this and encourage other HRDs to think about how useful it would be for their own organisations.

Quite simply the bottom line, the same as for staff turnover, is the average number of staff employed over, say, a 12 month period. For the top line you count up the total number of staff who have been the subject of any of the following formal procedures: grievance, disciplinary, poor performance, or probationary dismissal. We exclude formal sickness meetings (because first stage meetings under any robustly applied attendance policy are likely to be more routine and frequent). If you work in the kind of environment where it is customary to pay people to go away at the first sign of trouble, the top line of your equation may consist of 'pay offs' as well as or instead of formal procedures. If you've gone down the route of favouring alternative dispute resolution methods to formal procedures where possible, you'd need to include the number of staff who have been referred to mediation or similar.

The percentage thus arrived at provides information that is invaluable in prompting further investigation and action, and enabling you to track trends. It's important to interpret the information within context. A very high index may be a positive thing if it comes in a year that follows managers being trained for the first time to tackle problems. Or if it is high year after year it may mean your staff selection processes need tightening up. If it goes up in the year after you have TUPEd across lots of staff on new contracts, it tells you something about additional contingency costs you may need to factor in when taking on new transfers in future. If you are able to benchmark with peer organisations and your index is much higher than average, what is it that they are doing differently to you? An exceptionally low index may indicate your outstanding practices in recruitment and people management; on the other hand, it may be a danger sign of over-tolerance of underperformance and bad behaviour.

I would like to see reporting of conflict index, total number and amount of pay off settlements and sickness absence rates as compulsory for all public and publicly-funded services. Taxpayers should have the right to see which authorities and agencies are well-managed and which not. These indicators will go a very long way to answering that question.


Building a performance advantage

20 Sep 2012

Jeff Benviniste

Earlier this year, we carried out our annual Performance Management Survey, asking over 300 organisations to take part and share their specific challenges in driving and managing performance. Nearly a quarter of those we surveyed felt that their organisation was "oor" when it came to driving and managing performance, whilst only 5% considered it to be "Very Good."

For many businesses, the performance management culture still centers around the performance appraisal system and is regarded by many as nothing more than a formal, box ticking activity.

At Global Edge, we believe that open and constructive Conversations around performance should be an on-going process, one that is interwoven within the cultural fabric of your business, rather than an annual burden. Through our research and experience, we have identified a further nine ingredients which we believe are critical for an organisation to become world-class at driving and managing performance. These include Feedback, Ownership, Engagement and Clarity.

We based our survey, on these ten ingredients, asking participants to select one of two statements on each that most fitted how performance is managed within their own organisation. .

For many of the ingredients, it seems that a big gap exists between current practice and and what we believe makes for strong performance management. Particularly striking was the response with regards to Feedback. Of those surveyed, 71% agreed with the statement that "People lack the skills and confidence to give and receive open and honest feedback," with comments reflecting the widespread view that feedback is often considered time consuming and difficult to express honestly and constructively.

This is an interesting statistic, considering a recent XpertHR Survey on performance management found that almost half of employees see the lack of feedback as a "major obstacle," and yet 51% cite it as the best way of tackling underperformance. It seems that managers do recognise the need for feedback, but that they also need to feel more confident and capable when it comes to having those performance conversations.

The same XpertHR Survey also found that only 8% of employers feel that they have succeeded in tackling underperformance. Our results concerning another ingredient - Ownership - may point to one of the main reasons why, with only 33% of those questioned agreeing that managers take full responsibility in managing performance as an integral part of their role. People's comments again suggested that managing performance can be arduous and time consuming, with managers rarely taking full ownership for poor performance; one participant went so far as to write, "our managers often cannot describe what good or poor performance looks like!"

With the lack of feedback, ownership from managers and the fact that less than half of participants feel engaged or motivated by their leaders (Engagement), it is therefore unsurprising that 65% of participants feel that they often do not know what is expected of them and how their performance will be monitored (Clarity). Many of the comments suggested that these are all challenges businesses are trying to tackle; however, it is clear that more needs to be done, especially in environments where one participant admitted, "change is fast."




Employee engagement invariably leads to higher performance – true or false?

02 Jul 2012

Helen Giles

When we do exercises around what makes for engaging leadership behaviours, assessing their own self-awareness and emotional intelligence, or practising feedback skills, most participants work on these very happily indeed. Also, after a little more extensive elaboration around the notion of core competencies, most participants get this and take to the idea of using these for recruitment, performance management and development like ducks to water. Those that don't already set 'balanced scorecard' type measures of success for company performance at least 'get' the idea and generally think it a very good one.

But invariably when we get on to the vexed topic of setting SMART performance objectives for individuals, or breaking down routine aspects of jobs into clearly measurable output and quality standards, a pea souper of a fog descends upon the room. Despite being given concrete examples and an assurance that they can adapt these to be as long or short as they like for the context of their enterprise, they struggle. When asked to experiment by drafting a couple of objectives and standards for somebody they manage, it's like watching a room full of five-year olds labouring to write their first full sentence.

It's at this point, when it dawns on them that a key element of any effective performance management scheme means having to describe in objective terms what the good performance that they have a right to expect actually looks like, so that it can be properly evidenced, pockets of rebellion break out in the room. "We won't have time to do all this management stuff in the way you describe. You don't understand the special circumstances of our type of business/ /charity/hospital or local authority department. The day to day work pressures are too much".

Intellectually, they accept that there's at least a degree of plausibility in the proposition that if you are investing in the expensive piece of kit that is an employee who might be costing you, let's say, £25,000 a year, it's wise to ensure your return on investment by setting a crystal clear specification of what you want them to deliver in terms of speed and quality of outputs and outcomes. But they simply find it devilishly difficult to do in practice.

I believe that it's the ability and discipline of doing this, and properly evidencing that expectations have been achieved, that sets consistently great organisations apart from the patchy or poor performers. Yes, employee engagement is important, but I also believe that rigour in the performance management process lies at the very heart of any organisation that is both highly engaged and high performing. From my exposure to data from not-for-profit organisations, I know that it is perfectly possible to command a very respectable employee engagement measure in a poorly performing organisation where the mission of that organisation is about making a difference to people's lives.

So I'd like to be hearing a little less about employee engagement in HR debates and guidance and more about good old fashioned performance management.

And can anyone point me to any written guide to '1001 ways to draw up objectives without even trying', with easy to crib examples?

Helen Giles (pictured) is HR director at Broadway Homelessness and Support



TUPE Regulations – Who wins?

06 Feb 2012


I work for an organisation that tenders for service contracts from Local Authorities and the negative impact on us of the regulations as they stand has been enormous.

There is not a level playing field for competition for contracts since the most likely winners are always those that are prepared to take a gamble. The lack of clarity in the law means that they have a more than even chance of getting away with consulting to reduce the terms of TUPE staff from the date of transfer, and they enter their bid prices on this basis.

We are unable to commence redundancy consultation before the date of the transfer even though the services have been won on the basis of agreeing in advance with the Authorities that they must be re-shaped and slimmed down. The result is that we carry staff additional to complement for weeks after the transfer so the costs of running the contracts start to exceed the delivery price.

Most of the staff we have transferred in are great, but where there hasn't been a good match the costs and disruption of dealing with the issues and managing exits have been eye-watering.

And the worst thing about it is that TUPE really isn't any good even for the staff it's supposed to protect. They have to live with weeks of uncertainty before having the upheaval of transferring to a new employer, only to find out that they are going into a selection pot for redundancy with people from a range of other organisations that they don't know so they have no idea what they are up against.

The logistics in terms of job-matching and making selections are a nightmare for us and unsettling in the extreme for the staff. Particularly when existing staff who have been doing a great job and are told that as a result of someone transferring across who may have a claim to having done something similar in their old organisation, they have to go in a selection pool and are suddenly at risk of redundancy.

How much better it would be for everyone if staff could be consulted on redundancy and redeployment options before their outwards transfer, and be given the choice of either redeployment with their current employer or accepting a new job on the new terms that go with that in the transferee organisation.

There is little hope that the government, even if it does hear the reality of what is happening on the ground, will be able to do anything about it since a European directive is involved. But what a shame for us all that we are tied by the yoke of legislation that was dreamt up in the late 1970s aimed primarily at factory workers in a still predominantly industrial context. It simply isn't working for the infinitely more complex services-based economy of the 2010s.


I'm not sure if I agree with the opponents of employment law reform

19 Jan 2012

Helen Giles

I'm not so sure about this, since I fear there may be a causal link between the application of disciplinary and capability procedures and the latest well-publicised concern that stress-related absence is now the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK.

I say this because in my experience of working with voluntary and public sector organisations as an advisor, something like seven out of 10 employees told they will be subject to these procedures become ill with stress and get signed off by their GPs, often for several months.

It's a real worry that procedures designed to protect individuals' rights and interests could in fact be making them ill...


Do HR readers have top 20 truly useful HR books of the year

03 Jan 2012

Helen Giles

I wonder what HR magazine readers’ best leadership and management books of the year would be? For me it would have to be Scott Keller and Colin Price’s Beyond Performance.

The authors have carried out an extensive empirical research project over the space of a decade with hundreds of companies. Their evidence shows that only a third of organisations that achieve excellence are able to maintain it over decades and that the successful companies are those that focus not solely on performance, but on organisational health.

They identified 37 practices against nine dimensions that separate organisations that both achieve and sustain excellence and those that don’t. And guess what? Around two thirds of those practices relate directly or indirectly to the way people are managed. Canny HR practitioners can extrapolate the grid as a template for a persuasive approach to organisational development within their companies.

Do other HR readers have Top 20 truly useful HR Books of the Year nominations?

CEOs unlikely to come from HR profession: could there be a gender issue here?

14 Nov 2011

Helen Giles

One obvious correlation, it seems to me, is that most HR professionals are women and most CEOs are men. There must be a relationship here somewhere to that current high profile debate about why there are not more women on boards.

One thing I've noticed time and time again is the vicious circle that prevents HR professionals being more strategic within their organisations. HR has not traditionally been seen as a strategic function which adds measurable value, so CEOs are reluctant to invest in it properly.

It's too much of an article of faith to spend a decent amount of money on it since they've never seen with their own eyes the return on investment that comes from a properly resourced team, with truly competent individuals, operating at the right levels.

The HR staff they employ are then often operating at too low a level with too few staff in their departments to handle even the basics of the job well.

I have seen many a bright and able HR 'head' or 'manager', reporting to the top tier through a finance director, with a tiny team of juniors to support him or her (most often a her). They desperately want to get out there, understand the business and focus on long-term strategic planning, but are bogged down handling the complex and time-consuming work of dealing with regulation and employee relations.

They are seen as pretty useful and reasonably competent within the business for fire-fighting reactive purposes. But, their potential to do the more strategic work of influencing the business to operate in a way that minimises the potential for such problems to arise in the first place remains unseen. This means the top decision-makers lack the evidence to invest more to have the right people in the right places within the function to make it a leading contributor to the success of the business.

In short, I believe that it is this vicious circle that serves as the main barrier to progression of HR people to the top, rather than anything intrinsic about the HR function or the mindset or capabilities of the people who go into it. Then again, as the article pointed out, there are a number of HRDs who have broken through this vicious cycle to become high impact contributors to successful businesses and public bodies but haven't become CEOs because they don't want to, being more inclined to venture into setting up successful HR businesses of their own.

Helen Giles is HR director at Broadway Housing


The HR profession: one of the worst perpetrators of unnecessary complexity

15 Sep 2011

Helen Giles

I'm sure many of us have witnessed groups of senior people who should be focused on pragmatic implementation of long-term strategy and product or service quality getting themselves into a twist over unnecessary process and protocols.

I was also quite amused by the article since in my view, the HR profession as a whole is one of the worst perpetrators of unnecessary complexity. And I don't mean - referring to an example in the article - because an HR officer might spend time chasing managers for completed appraisal forms. In fact, from the lamentable degree of voluntarism around conducting performance reviews that I've encountered in many organisations, I think HR staff might need to do more and not less of that particular activity.

What I mean is the general cant and obfuscation that surrounds the world of HR generally. I often train or speak to groups of HR practitioners who, led astray by HR guru writings and presentations or direct mail from consultants, have tortured themselves over the question how they can be more 'strategic'. Their exposure to all of this leaves them perplexed about what all this 'adding value to the business' means. What they really want to get to the bottom of is, the day to day practical things they might do to make themselves an indispensable pillar of the business rather than a necessary evil clearing up the mess made by managers who find managing people difficult.

I find that the mist soon lifts for them - with visible relief - when it's pointed out that whatever the business, whatever the climate, what managers want from HR invariably boils down to six things:

  • Identifying what attributes people actually need to be able to the jobs, and then find ways to recruit them.
  • Working out what and how to pay them.
  • Support with motivating, performance managing and developing those staff while they're with you.
  • Making sure they turn up.
  • Support with moving them onwards or outwards when things don't work out.
  • Handling change such as mergers and redundancies in a way that meets regulatory requirements and doesn't cheese employees off.

The only complexity involved is the need to work out how best to do these things within your particular environment for the foreseeable future. All the rest is just noise.

Helen Giles is director of human resources and consultancy, Broadway Homelessness & Support

How do you manage HR on an international level?

12 Sep 2011

Jeff Benviniste

On a domestic level, the management and nurturing of talent is the driving force for most industries and therefore the primary driver of HRM policies is its human resource needs. However on a global level, there are more complex drivers at play.

The internationalisation of operations involves locating, sourcing, managing and developing talent in different parts of the world. This is a tough job, considering the different needs of the organisation in often very diverse cultural settings or business environments. Indeed, many international organisations still struggle to effectively globalise HRM and thus develop effective capabilities to find, select and manage people across diverse teams, business unit and territories. Despite the benefits of internationalising, some global businesses still retain the concentration of workforce and assets in their home countries or region.

Effectively internationalising HRM policies involves understanding and investigating of the drivers of international HRM before integrating and implementing them as part of our everyday HR activities.

So what are the key drivers of HRM policy within this international context?

There's the obvious challenge of balancing the standardisation of HR policies across the entire organisation with the customisation of HR functions in different business units located across different countries. Schuler and Tarique (2007) describe the factors that drive international HRM under two key headings - functional realignment and global capabilities.

In terms of functional realignment there are five specific factors that drive the HRM strategy of multinational companies - 1) efficiency; 2) information exchange or organisational learning; 3) international provisions; 4) convergence of key business processes; and 5) localisation of HRM policies.

With regard to the progressive development of global capabilities, there are factors to consider such as: 1) focusing on collective service structures; 2) enabling of different HR processes on both a regional and global scale; and 3) pursuing global venues of excellence.

Organisations need to have a better understanding of these drivers and how they influence HRM policy. This would ensure that HRM policy is able to offer standard functions and practices whilst allowing enough room for the customised alignment of these policies between HR functions across the world.

Jeff Benveniste is a partner at sourcing and recruitment company Global Edge


In this issue: July 2015
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Puzzle it out: The UK's productivity conundrum – and what HR can do to solve it

Best thing since sliced bread: HR at Warburtons

Shining stars: Celebrating 20 years of HR Excellence

Learn a thing or two: Areas of interest for L&D

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