At some point in the life cycle of all systems whether they be biological, philosophical or business practical, there comes a time when the old guard must step aside and make way for new blood: ideas and practices that ensure the evolution of that particular system stays current and does not dissolve into obsolete extinction.
Half way into the second decade of this new century, leaders are finding themselves at just such a tipping point. A new salient, if you will that is attempting to point leadership thought and actions in a new direction – both positive and contemporary.
Leadership has gone through many incarnations since the days of guilds (masters and apprentices) ruling the business world. A significant advancement was forced upon the leadership community with the advent of unions towards the end of the Nineteenth Century. With employees operating in solidarity to secure better working conditions, shorter hours and more realistic pay, supervisors came to realise that happy workers not only ensured the continuation of product flow through avoiding strikes, satisfied workers actually produced a higher quality product.
The next step forward in leadership attitude came circa mid-Twentieth Century, when leaders began to look for and identify ways to optimise employee effectiveness and attempt to ensure that the right people were actually in the optimal job slots most suited to their talents. Enter the age of Human Resources.
Although a significant paradigm shift has not yet occurred that would replace Human Resources with something even more effective and leadership driven, there have been several tidal shifts within the discipline of Human Resources that has changed how they think and operate over the last seventy years. The most recent of these shifts, is just now becoming apparent to the new generation of leaders and even to some of the Old Guard.
In order to stay abreast of new leadership theory and practice, supervisors need to understand where and how new changes are taking place. Although H.R. is still the operational standard, many of its older tenants are being replaced by a new practice – that of personal employee accountability and workgroup alignment.
Although accountability and alignment may at first glance appear to be simply extensions of such H.R. stalwart practices such as Performance Appraisal and MBO (management by objectives), Upon closer scrutiny, accountability and alignment can be recognized as an entirely new animal.
Although we as leaders like to think that the business practices we have been trained to operate with and believe in are still on the cutting edge of supervisory tactics, it must be recognized – in order to purposefully move forward – that many of our H.R. leadership ideals are actually still firmly rooted in the Industrial Age and much older production – based models of management.
If leaders wish to stay ahead of the competition, they must recognize the progressive nature of the supervisory role in today’s Post – Industrial, knowledge based workforce and not only be able to acknowledge such a shift, but be willing to lead the way into heretofore unexplored areas of productivity and excellence. This means that leaders also must be willing to admit that many of the tenants that they have operated under for so long, are in need of modernization and updates.
In order to assist leaders with this somewhat daunting task, we intend to smooth out the rough road of change by offering some insight into certain Human Resource practice that are in need of contemporization. By doing this, we hope to offer leaders with a short guide that helps them avoid falling back upon outdated supervisory practices.
According to Klatt and Murphy, authors of Aligned Like a Laser, There are six supervisory areas traditionally championed by H.R. that are all under some pressure or another to adapt in order to remain relevant in our contemporary work environment.
- Job Descriptions
- Behavioral Competencies
- Management By Objectives (MBO)
- Performance Appraisal
- Performance Contracting / Service Level Agreements
- Performance Management
Let us take a few moments and examine each of these points in a little more detail.
These of course are somewhat self explanatory.They document job title, rate of pay, tasks one is responsible for within their job, employment conditions (bonuses, time off etc.), designated supervisors and reporting agenda. Although they do describe specifics regarding the job and “defensible compensation”, Job Descriptions fail to address the individual employee’s unique and dynamic business bargain and the extra skill that they may be able to bring to the table in order to offer the company performance above and beyond required duties. Furthermore, the notion of having an employee “force fitted to a specific job is exceedingly out of date.
These are the “skills, knowledge and behaviors that are considered significant to individual performance and career development,” according to Klatt and Murphy. These might include such areas as technical I.Q., Communication skills or problem solving ability. The notion is that success within an organization is in effect, derived from a pre-ordained list of beneficial behaviors does have a certain validity especially when it addresses such functions as evaluation and recruiting.
However, behavioral competencies lack the ability to describe the perspective that a skilled employee will adopt toward their position – which of course determines attitude – and the subsequent skill set of experience and knowledge that the individual will apply to challenges related to their position. Furthermore, behavioral competencies lack the important notion of support – what an employee requires from others in order to fulfill their responsibilities.
Management By Objectives
MBO is an ongoing effort to identify and achieve business goals The primary disadvantage lies in the phenomenon known as “Goal Inflation” where employees request something like a two month delivery time on an actual two week goal knowing that leadership has pushed for lofty goals and in actuality, will accept something in the realm of a one month target date. Is a form of time management barter that does little for the overall good of anyone.
MBO is a useful, although limited leadership tool in that it lacks the context of a complete business bargain. Accountability and alignment on the other hand, successfully provides this context in knowledge based work environments where responsibility and workgroup support are critical to success.
This serves as a basis for determining pay raises, promotions and and possible job termination. It provides a seemingly rational template upon which leadership can base their decisions. “Legally Defensible” is the key supervisory phrase here. Appraisal founders in the realm of feedback. It often only provides the individual with a modicum of knowledge pertaining to their strengths and weaknesses and often leaves them in the dark about what they can do to improve areas that leadership may see as underperforming. Generalities such as “faster production required” or “greater quality in product needed” are offered with no concurrent support or suggestions that may actually guide an individual towards greater success.
Performance improvement through accountability and alignment is on the other hand, performed in an open manner, employing effective communication in a supportive and challenging work environment. Responsibilities are clear, and potential solutions to particular deficiencies are congruently illustrated in a positive feedback cycle that allow for employee input and provision of resources an individual might need to improve their performance.
Also known as Service Level Agreements (SLAs), performance contracting involves agreeing on piecemeal work or a contract and using it as a basis for performance assessment. According to Klatt and Murphy:
“SLAs are a lot like insurance policies. They don’t guarantee service, but do provide a framework… for reparation should something go wrong.”
Their weakness lies in the fact that they are quasi-legally based. Employee motivation comes from the thought of negative consequence, rather than being encouraged through an aspirational nature, as is practiced with accountability and alignment.
This combines employee appraisal with people actually involved in project planning and goal setting. In theory, performance management is beneficial when reviewed regularly by the individual and their supervisor. In practice however, these plans tend only to be referred to occasionally – in many cases only annually – and are therefore frequently obsolete by the time people actually get around to using them.
Additionally, when accompanied by rating or ranking systems (which sme companies employ in the mistaken notion that it drives productivity), performance management can actually damage group cohesion by encouraging competition rather than cooperation within workgroups. This is exceedingly injurious to the development of teamwork.
Any benefits than can possibly emerge from performance management are thoroughly cancelled out by one ofits most negative consequences: Attribution Theory. This theory states that when supervisors relate well with an employee, they are far more likely to evaluate that individual’s performance in a positive light. However if an employee “rubs their supervisor the wrong way,” leadership is more inclined to evaluate that individual’s performance in a negative manner. This is of course also extremely detrimental to group harmony and the concept of positive moral developing from fair and equal treatment.
Leaders are fortunate to be on the cusp of time that is heralding new developments in supervisory theory and practice. Grounded in a knowledge – based, post – industrial frame of mind, leaders are being placed in a position to get a head start on the competition and nurture these original tactics to their employees benefit. Showing progressive foresight also puts their organization on the cutting edge of people management, and reflects positively on themselves as well.