· 4 min read · News

Create HR policies that get the best out of staff


A number of recent articles caught my attention because they dealt with counter-intuitive or offbeat ways creating a company culture were innovation and creativity can flourish – creating a workplace where people really want to work. So here’s the big thing – work is an activity, not a place, so hire good people and let them get on with it.

Netflix is a very successful company. During 2013 alone its stock more than tripled, it won three Emmy awards, and its US subscriber base grew to nearly 29 million. But what’s really clever about them is that the people management policies are based on common sense. They aim to hire only “A” players – the best people possible.

If you are a tier-two player and need to tempt staff from seemingly more attractive options you’ll need to be savvy, identify the people you want and then seduce them. If you make a habit of hiring the best then when it comes to interview you are fielding managers who other people will kill to work for. And that’s a two-way street because the best thing you can do for your workforce is hire good colleagues to work with them.

Take on only people who are fully formed adults, who can shoulder responsibility and take ownership of their roles, producing creative and innovative solutions – those who want to be star performers, who will put the company’s interests first. These are employees who can be managed with honest communication, logic and common sense rather than formal policies.

Focus on high performance

If you have good people, who want to do the right thing, it takes a load off you. Star performers put the company’s interests first. These people can be managed with honest communication, logic and common sense rather than formal policies. They self-manage so you don’t have to worry too much about performance management but can concentrate on creating an environment where staff can excel. I think HR spends too much time on the under-performing 10% of employees, whereas we should focus on what the business does well and doing more of it.

Honest communication means you have to be honest with staff when things change. You don’t want chained to the corporate kennel people who would rather be elsewhere or who are no longer a good fit, so don’t be afraid to let someone go if they are not right for the job or the organisation. Your corporate HR policies and practices need to be grounded in common sense and practical manpower management. Deal with staff honestly and fairly and give them a generous package when you have to let them go.

Ditch performance management bureacracy

Abolish the annual appraisal round, everyone hates it anyway. Real performance management is better facilitated by holding meaningful career conversations with employees. Listen to their aspirations, help them to understand what the future looks like and what their part in it will be. Show how you can help them achieve their goals. They will stay longer if you can harness their active engagement and commitment. Provide clarity around targets and priorities, let them know what you expect and why, what the rewards will be, give honest feedback with the emphasis on what is working well and where to make changes, and give recognition for a job well done.

Don’t build a bureaucracy around performance management, for “A” players the real motivators are likely to be found in achievement, recognition, the inherent value of the work to the individual, responsibility, opportunities for development and advancement. I advocate an informal 360 process, focus on strengths and what can be built on them, help employees identify where they can add value and grow in their roles.

Opportunities for development – we know this is key in employee engagement, smart companies nurture a culture and environment where talent can flourish and fulfil their potential. Set up learning accounts, offer staff £500 to spend on learning interventions that suit them, give them flexibility and choice, education is never wasted. Build a social learning and networking platform with direct access to CEO and senior management team. Set up a Dragons Den style competition for ideas to improve the business and guarantee to fund the best ideas.

Be trusting

I’ve always championed the notion that the holiday allowance as a policy is past its sell by date. Good people want to do what is best for the company, they won’t take advantage, they’ll appreciate that you trust them to use their sense and discretion around things like leave and travel expenses, they can manage this stuff themselves. Managers should be concentrating on team-building not admin.

Allow choice and discretion around employee driven remuneration packages and working practices – let people work when and where they want. Pay competitive salaries and encourage people to benchmark their worth in the wider marketplace. Treat staff like adults. Offer stock options as a trade off against salary, with options that vest immediately so employees can make their own decisions about what they hold and for how long. Netflix doesn’t have a bonus scheme: "If your employees are fully formed adults who put the company first, an annual bonus won't make them work harder or smarter”.

Set up CEO and senior management ‘pop-ups’, what you need to do is build alignment around success and motivation by showing your people how they fit into the bigger strategy of the organisation. Focus on what the company needs and how to communicate that to the employees in meaningful terms that talk to them about how the company is doing and what behaviours drive success.

I’ve long maintained that HR professionals need to think like business people. Ask yourself: “What’s good for the company? How do we communicate that to employees? How can we help every worker understand what we mean by high performance?”

Success depends on having a genuine feeling for culture, employer branding, learning motivation, reward and all the things that make an organisation tick. HR policies and practices should facilitate corporate growth, minimise “rules” and cultivate flexibility to encourage solid loyalty and engagement, thus creating long-term talent retention.

Michael Moran is the chief executive and Founder 10Eighty and an HR magazine blogger.