Why I chose the Title of Chief People Officer.

The title Chief People Officer has been around for a while. Still, many people ask me why I chose that title. Here’s my answer.
Chief People Officer

FFKAPM

I am convinced that “people” is a better word to use. The term HR comes from a period that the function formerly known as personnel management (FFKAPM) was looking for street credibility. In contrast to capital resources, human resources were the focus of a function that wanted to escape the hell of employee administration. The personnel people wanted to conquer a place at the board table. HR was to be more strategic, more linked to the business and more focused on processes that create added value for the company. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
For many people working in this line of business, the quest for recognition and impact still goes on. Indeed, in many organisations the FFKAPM is still struggling with the question on how to position itself. But to me that question is irrelevant for various reasons. The most important reason is that the FFKAPM is not a function. It’s a process, distributed across the entire organization. It’s executed by distributed leaders. HR people who think they are actually doing HR should rethink.

People versus Human Resources

The term People covers the essence of the debate better. Here is why:

  • HR could suggest that there is a certain sense of ownership. However, attracting and retaining people is an intensive process without any guarantee on return. The discretionary power lies with the so-called resources, not with the investor. Investing in capital resources is relative predictable. The investment in people is a very uncertain one. You might send people to a training, after which they might leave. So you need to accept a high degree of uncertainty or risk. You can limit this risk through a proactive people strategy.
  • The term HR may refer to the existence of active components like productivity and competencies. But you cannot separate the useful human traits from the ones that are less useful. A person is indivisible. People come with the diversity that is so characteristic to people. Organisations have to take everything that comes along with that person, the aspirations the talent, the worries, the weaknesses, … The answer to this issue is probably selection. However, we tend to overdefine hiring profiles and miss out on a lot of potential. Companies that look beyond narrow people profiles have access to much more diversity and people potential.
  • The term HR may hint at depletion. A person is only a resource as far as the person has the necessary competencies, engagement, health, availability. The sustainability of employability is not the responsibility of the user of the resources but of the carrier. In an age where people are increasingly suffering from stress and burnout we can no longer use the word HR to refer to people. People who experience ups and downs in the course of their lives are less employable and therefore disposable? Sustainable employability is a joint responsibility of people and organisations. As we know that a high proportion of the population will suffer an impairing disease, we must make sure that we take the necessary measures to avoid, limit or solve the risks and their consequences. This has both a moral and an economic part. And even when organisations and individuals work on this, chances are still high that impairment will occur at a given moment.
  • The term HR might refer to the interchangeable nature of the resources. Indeed. Capital resources are usually interchangeable. People are not. Yes, not every person that leaves the company has critical and rare skills. Yes, through succession planning and training you can limit possible negative consequences of exits. But a person that exits are enters a team, changes that team. Therefore the interchangeability is limited.
  • The term HR sounds very rational. But people are not only rational. (cfr. Blog on emotions). The irrational side of human behavior has been demonstrated on many occasions. Scientific management wanted to eradicate irrational behavior and focused on efficiency and effectiveness. But the logical approach to management has dehumanized work.

On the importance of People in Business

The importance of people in business is high. That’s at least a euphemism.

  • Leadership (also a human behavior) creates a context, including the strategy, that defines business and personal success.
  • Strategy execution depends on the commitment of people. We cannot limit strategy execution to top-down alignment. Execution depends on people doing what they said they would do. It requires people to adapt to changing circumstances, to take initiative, to think, …
  • Customers experience the brand through the behaviour of people. If you go into a shop you can literally feel the brand. And if you don’t something is wrong.
  • In many areas due to the demographic shift people practices will need to change, either by hiring atypical profiles or by keeping people in the work process at a higher age. Having people of different ages at the same time on the work floor might need a change of coöperation (to be honest, I do not buy into the generational debate. Age is a source of diversity like gender, ethnic origin, cultural heritage, ideas and opinions).
  • Intangible organisational traits such as trust, culture, sense of meaning, … make or break any strategy. Like someone has put it: culture eats strategy for breakfast. We cannot see culture, but we can feel it. It’s around us. It’s like the water in the fish bowl.
  • Many mergers fail because of culture. Culture is a result of the behaviour and interactions of people. The destruction of value due to the incompatibility of organizational cultures is phenomenal.
  • Business success depends on coöperation, creativity, engagement. Business leaders should create environments that foster these human behaviours. For that they need to understand their dynamics.
  • In times of speed it’s the people that will determine your company’s time to market, its agility.

Soft?

Is this a soft approach? I do not think so. Companies need to create value. People create value. And the creation of value is needed to attract and keep the right people. Both go hand in hand. As Chief People Officer I focus on that value creation and the development of a strong people capability. More than any other capability, the capability to make people thrive and excel determines a company’s competitive advantage. And that’s not soft. It’s pure business logic. It’s like putting the “salary mass” into a source of progress and prosperity.
And that’s why I chose the title. It expresses the strategic intent of the FFKAPM better than CHRO.
This video illustrates it:

 
 
 
 

Entrepreneur vs Employee

entrepeneurAre you an entrepreneur ?

I remember the day I applied for an HR Services Manager role in a FMCG firm. That was 13 years ago. This blog tries to bring that memory back to life.
The notion of entrepreneur was apparently very important to my future boss.
The what?”, I asked.
That is already a good sign”, he replied. “You ask what it’s about. Most candidates do not. They simply nod their heads. I often get clichés or some examples when I ask what it means for them to be an entrepreneur.”
So I repeated my question. “What does entrepreneurship mean to you in the role of an employee ? You’re not looking for a freelance HR Manager, right ?”
He smiled. It appears he had a concern. He was worried about the job I had then. I was HR Business Partner in the financial industry. My future boss was wondering about the habits, the culture and the way things were getting done in that industry. He perceived the banking and assurance industry as rigid, hierarchical and bureaucratic. And clearly the company I was applying to, wasn’t like that at all.
I listened to his concerns.
Then I told him about the context of a merger and the related change I was working in. I talked about the uncertainties I had to deal with every day. I described how often it was up to myself  to be creative,  to find solutions, and to take decisions. Last but not least, I told him I had to work with colleagues without having any logic or formal line in the organisation.
Then he replied: “You can tell me everything you like. I can’t check all these things. But I clearly feel your huge enthusiasm talking about this. Are you sure you want to quit your current job ?”
Yes, but for other reasons, as I explained earlier.”
OK, Karl”, he said, “let me just explore a bit further your own story about being an entrepreneur.”

Entrepreneurship for Employees

“First of all”, he continued, “it is important that you do what your job description suggests. Let there be no mistake about that. But then again, that is not enough”. (From here on the quotation marks are omitted).

Two job descriptions

I would appreciate if you’d have two job description after a year in the job.

  • the one in front of you now;
  • another one that you create yourself. You don’t have to write this one down, but it definitely should exist and be visible to everybody.

The job you create yourself, could at a certain moment replace or even overrule the official one you have on paper now.
See it like this. As you have an HR background and as you are applying now for an HR function, I recommend that you use this job content as guideline. Certainly in the beginning, when all is new and you still need to find your way,

Continuous challenges

However once you’ll have found your way, I expect you to create new challenges.  And I want you to consult with me about them. Challenges can be about:

  • roles
  • job content
  • ways of working
  • initiatives
  • projects
  • strategies
  • collaborations with colleagues or external people
  • responsibilities.

Every time we meet, I’d like you to present at least one idea to enlarge, enrich, change your job. And I want you to tell me about at least one error you’ve made.
Quite frankly, I am much more interested in coaching you on those aspects than on your performance in the job as it is described. This being said…
I interrupted him with a smile. Yes, you want me to do the job as well.

The Engagement

Already on the way back, my future leader called me. He asked if I could come in the evening for a last meeting with the CEO. And I was kindly invited not to screw things up because I was number one on his list.
Guess what the CEO asked ?
The conversation repeated pretty much what my future leader had said about the expected entrepreneurial spirit. At the end of the meeting he made me a formal offer. I gladly accepted.
The first year I worked there, I thoroughly explored my entrepreneurial skills. My new colleagues really showed me all the corners of the room. I loved it!
Let me try to summarise these skills.

The skills of an employee-entrepreneur

  • Be hands-on.

    Some tasks are not part of a formal description. But someone needs to do them. Do not hesitate to do them yourself. Especially when you see no one else is picking them up.

  • Ask internal/external “strangers” for help.

    You can’t know everything. Certainly not when it’s not your job. So nobody will ever blame you for asking what you don’t know. On the contrary. They’ll appreciate it. So ask people for help. Also include people you do not know yet.

  • Read and act in between and across the lines.

    Your territory is not somewhere on the organisation chart. Your territory is the large group of people all working for the same company, or on the same projects. Network and have conversations with them regardless their function or place in the organisation.

  • Have courage.

    You’re doing things you’re not used to do.  Sometimes there’s nobody to call and ask how to go ahead. So you may have to take decisions yourself. Take risks, make errors and assume the consequences. Your boss may disagree with your final decision. (S)he will usually agree that the presented options were reasonable for the situation at hand.

  • Be results-oriented.

    Take ownership of many things. You want to complete them successfully. The result (the “what”) is much more important than the “how”. Of course within the context of common sense. You are a can-do person. You cut through and resolve problems others run away from.

  • Grow fast.

    Your judgment becomes stronger and more powerful with each experience, decision or failure.

  • Be energetic.

    You are full of enthusiasm and energy. You consistently generate results that are higher than expected.  You are fully committed to the organisation, its goals and its overall success.

  • Supervision.

    You perform effectively with limited supervision. You are able to self-motivate and set priorities with minimal guidance.

  • Multitask.

    You are flexible to create and accept new assignments and responsibilities. You can take on more than one role until these tasks can eventually be assigned to others.  You’re also willing to do things that others with less responsibilities or skills will take over in later phases.

The environment of an Employee-Entrepreneur

Of course this can only work in the right environment. An employee can only become an entrepreneur if the company encourages him/her to be an entrepreneur. I have known organisations that prefer you to do your job within the lines of your job description without exploring other areas. And that’s fine if organization and employee agree on that and find happiness in it.
Briefly, I think a culture that encourages people to become an entrepreneur, should have the following elements:

  • the belief that teams of entrepreneurial employees do better and work faster than teams of traditional employees would.
  • the willingness to accept mistakes, conflicts and chaos, than a traditional employee environment would.
  • a coaching style more focused on potential than on performance.
  • a reward policy that prioritises success in special initiatives, and not success in the normal job.
  • a very safe and trustful relationship with the direct leader.

I went through an intensive learning curve in this company. This would turn out to be priceless later in my career.

The skills of a real Entrepreneur

You’ve learned how to be an internal entrepreneur. How can you transfer those skills into being a real entrepreneur in the real market ? This is an important question e.g.  when you become consultant after a corporate career.
To be continued.


Continue reading “Entrepreneur vs Employee”

Recipe 4 Career Success

Recipe 4 Career Success
 

Good Career Intentions

A new year approaches. For some the changing of the calendar is an occasion to define new targets, change habits or do what was not done the year before. One area of interest is one’s own career. People wait for the end of the year to take career decisions and change jobs. Here is some career advice coming from 8 fictitious music albums.

 8 Career Albums to make us think

2
The début album by Ordie is called “Adapt”. Some people do believe that you need to adapt to be successful in the career. The question is how far this adaptation should go. I prefer to talk about integration or just fitting in. Organisations that ask you to adapt (or leave) are loosing out on someone special: you. It’s also strange because people get hired because of who they are, and not to become someone they are not. But if to adapt means to continually learn and to work in an environment that challenges you while at the same time nurtures you, than you’re fine. Do not leave such a company too fast because it might have still a lot to offer.
1
 
 
The Album “Up or Out” by a group called The Waste is about how you have to progress on the hierarchical ladder as the only alternative for careers. That’s weird if you come to think of it. There are just not enough places in a company to make that happen. And that’s why still today some companies prefer people to leave than to stay. But staying a little longer in a job on a certain level cannot harm. Of course the Up or Out Theory creates a Darwinian situation, as only the best can go up. The rest should leave. Reality is of course never this black or white. The world is grey. But if you feel you are treated as a second-rate employee because you choose to stay in your job, perform well and achieve a higher level of expertise instead of moving up, consider to leave.
 
7
The group “Be Alpha” is singing about people who live their lives beating others at everything: studies, work, sports, … One song in this album without title is about how a successful manager sees his wife and children leaving him. The song is called “Paradox”. Indeed, the paradox of life is that if you want everything you might end up with having nothing. And that being successful in one thing, might cause being less successful in another thing. People sometimes make their lives so miserable because of their inability to make choices. If you chase everything, you have nothing.
 
6
 
 
The PostPunk group Dictator has a new album called “Listen and Obey“. The Album is about how young soldiers in the first world war listened and obeyed. They ran towards their deaths in often senseless battles with hardly any sustainable results. Songs like Somme, Passchendaele and Gallipoli show the suffering of people because of their obedience. Some companies are like this as well. If the only option is listening and obeying, you might be in the wrong place. Companies should stimulate the debate prior to the decision-making. Work should be also meaningful because people can take responsibility for it.
 
5“No Grey” is an album by the group The Grey Zone, a Belgian Blues Band. The album describes how the Western Society treats its older citizens. One song is called “Priorities”. It’s about how we do not have the time to care for our parents, but we have time to have hobbies. If you are aging, how does your company look at that. Do you work in a company that allows people of all ages to develop new competencies? Or does the company look at aging as a process of decay, where there is no value?
4
 
 
 
Tina Burner has released a new album. In the style of the 70ies she talks about the 21st century workplace. In 9 elegant disco songs she describes what she calls the “Work Inferno“. One song “the building” is about working conditions in Bangladesh. The song is inspired by the disaster in a clothing factory in Savar. But other songs are about working conditions in the West. Tina Burner sings about Burnout, about harassment. So how do you feel in your company? If you feel well, you might want to stick around.
 
9 This is one of the most hyped albums of the year. The Aesthetics sing about cars. “For a bigger Car” is about people who work harder for the wrong reason. They do not work harder to provide for their family, or to change the world. They work hard to have a bigger company car. The Aesthetics describe a life of meaninglessness. These people have no other purpose and define their identity by the size of their vehicle. Be sure that you know why you work. Working for money is not so bad, everyone does it. But if it’s only for the money, you might be in trouble. A career that is built upon earning money, might not be satisfying enough. But let’s not forget that for many people, working for money is the single most important reason. Let’s not judge that either.
 
 
8
Rank and Yank released an album called “do it”. It’s about taking ruthless decisions without taking into consideration the moral consequences. The name of the Band comes from a practice, Rank & Yank, which requires managers to rank their employees annually. The lowest x% is yanked out of the company. The benefits seem to be endless. Not only you can have a constant inflow of new blood, you cut out the dead wood. But this story is asymptotic. This means that you can do achieve that the first few years. But after a while the quality of your people will be such that there is no reason for yanking. And at that moment the system becomes the purpose. Don’t forget that leadership is a moral process. It’s moral because it touches people and one decision can affect the integrity of others.
 
 

Two Questions as recipe for Career Success

There are many excellent companies around. So before you decide to leave your current company, you might want to answer two question.
The single most important question to ask is how this company helps you to achieve your own professional and personal goals, not only today but also tomorrow.
The second question is what you are willing to do to improve your career situation. The risk is that you appreciate some convenient factors (like proximity, the low risk to stay vs the high risk to leave). Try to appreciate what you have in your current company that makes you sustainably employable and then take a decision on what you need. Maybe you can find an answer to your needs in your current company. Asking those two questions might be the recipe for success.
 
Happy New Year.
 
 
 

Houston, we have some conflicts!

conflicts
I have been coaching some people through conflicts recently. I saw them taking up various behaviors. Going from yelling to each other, to manipulating each other. To end up simply avoiding or even physically running away from conflicts. And there was me, trying to fix things.
No, of course not. Only the partners in a conflict can fix it. For themselves and for each other. My mission was to make existing conflicts “visible” and somehow “negotiable”. I do this by coaching team members; first individually, and then in group. I learned once more that conflicts art part of our work and life. One cannot live or work without facing conflicts now and then. Conflicts are very normal and human. They have always existed and they will continue to exist. Even better: they should always exist!
Conflicts can be of very high value! They can trigger breakthroughs one would never have without conflicts. (And sometimes they make you write blogs). It’s hard to imagine when you’re busy having fights, that the long-term conflicts cause changes, including positive ones. Many people will probably agree. But in a real conflict,  people are not very enthusiastic. We can see the benefits of conflicts, but we are usually not too fond of going through them. We don’t like conflicts in general.

Conflicts

What is in fact a “conflict”? My personal definition: Any situation in which your concerns, desires, needs, ideas, values, or objectives differ from those of another person. So it is possible that two persons are in conflict with each other without any visible demonstration of it. Conflicts are a natural part of life and no one’s “fault”. Their results however are not naturally predetermined. They may:

  • escalate and lead to unproductive results;
  • be resolved and lead to even better performance;
  • be avoided and continue to exist ‘underground’;
  • take many other forms, change of form, and go on for years…

Two basic reflexes

Once there is a conflict, what happens usually? We naturally respond to conflicts in one of these wo ways:

  • You want to “get away from the conflict”. You become aware the other person has e.g. another vision. You become aware that sooner or later this will cause frictions. For now you decide not to do anything and just wait and see. Or the other person clearly states his/her vision is “obviously” the only one correct. You seriously disagree and would like to react, but for now you decide not to…
  • You are ready to “take on anyone who comes your way”. Imagine the same person with a differing vision. You walk straight to him/her, telling clearly you disagree and that you expect him/her to follow your vision.

None of these two responses is good or bad. They are personal responses. They must never be judged. It’s very important however that we learn that we can choose. We can and should intentionally and deliberately choose our response to conflicts.

Conflict management

You can indeed manage conflicts by choosing how to deal with them.
Conflict management starts from the principles that:

  • Not all conflicts can or should necessarily be resolved;
  • A set of styles and modes allows to decrease unproductive escalation and increase productive outcome.

By choosing a conflict style and modes, we are more likely to solving the problem at hand.

Conflict styles and modes

Source: Introduction to Conflict Management, Thomas & Thomas
The two basic styles of all conflict-handling modes are “Assertiveness” and “Cooperativeness”. Assertiveness indicates your willingness to push through “your way”. Cooperativeness indicates your willingness to go for a “common way”.Within the framework of these two basic styles, there are five conflict-handling modesYour conflict mode is in general the result of your skills and the situation you’re in.
 
Thomas Kilmann Conflicts

  • Competing

    “My way or the highway”

    The competing mode is high on assertiveness and low on cooperation. This mode is appropriate when quick action needs to be taken. When unpopular decisions need to be made. When vital issues must be handled, or when one is protecting self-interests.

  • Avoiding 

    “I’ll think about it tomorrow”

    The avoiding mode is low on assertiveness and low on cooperation. This mode is great when you have issues of low importance. To reduce tensions and to buy some time Or when you know your limitations and allow others ownership.

  • Accommodating

    “It would be my pleasure”

    The accommodating mode is low on assertiveness and high on cooperation. It’s a good mood to show you’re reasonable. To develop performance and to create good will. It also helps to retreat and maintain perspective, or to keep peace. Some people use the accommodating mode when the issue or outcome is of low importance to them.

  • Compromising

    “Let’s make a deal”

    The compromising mode is moderate on assertiveness and moderate on cooperation. This mood is ideal when issues of moderate importance need to be resolved. When resolution needs to be reached with equal power and strong commitment. When temporary solutions are acceptable or necessary. When there are time constraints and competing/collaborating have not worked…

  • Collaborating

    “Two heads are better than one”

    The collaborating mode is high on assertiveness and high on cooperation. Recommended when solutions need to be integrated. When learning needs to happen and when perspectives needs to be merged. Or when commitment needs to be gained or relationships need to be improved.

Nothing new ?

I am quite sure this framework is not  a “revolution” for most people. They have learned through life and experience to deal with conflicts in certain ways.Less sure for me is if they’re happy all the time with their way of dealing with conflicts. And if they are aware it’s all about choosing an appropriate mode. It’s not about always reacting in the same way, because they’re used to that.
Are you most of the time consciously choosing one of the possible modes ? Or are you adapting to how others make choices ?
Do you have a preferred mode you use more than the other modes ? Are you happy with that mode ?
All these modes are “ok” on condition that you make conscious choices, each time you use them. If you don’t feel happy about this, it probably means you should choose differently or vary a bit more in the use of the modes.
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2P9jW4_Q8s
Choosing and being able to adopt other styles, requires of course some skills. I will write about these skills in one of my next blogs.
 
So in the meantime, Houston, we have some conflicts. And that’s OK.
 
 
Read also on hrchitects:
Conflict equals Opportunity 

Vision is what you need. Not eyes.

Vision

Reverence

I love music. I often find inspiration in the lyrics. Sometimes a song provides inspiration, a last missing piece of a puzzle.Take “Reverence” by Faithless. One phrase really took my attention. “You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb49W1u7QaY

“You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”

A while ago I finished a three-day teaching assignment in Algeria. I took part in an MBA-program, organized by the “Business School Netherlands”. The participants and I went through some co-creative sessions. Topics were Strategic HR, Leadership and Coaching. We had great conversation. Sometimes we were totally aligned. But some moments I saw doubts and surprise in their eyes. At other moments the surprise was all mine.
Once we had a fantastic experience of flow. We were talking about our ideal corporate environment and culture. And about the gap between the current reality and that ideal situation. To close this gap we tend to introduce HR and Leadership strategies. These look surprisingly simple at first sight. All we need is vision. Then the rest will follow.
I was not too sure about that. I wanted to go much more in detail. I wanted to explore the link between vision and strategy, between strategy and policy. I also wanted to analyse the role of leadership. But during the breaks it became clear to me why they kept on talking (only) about vision. They started telling me about the situation in Algeria. Algeria is a country in full development. There’s a gigantic need for education, management, leadership, vision and many other things.

A guided Tour through Algiers

My great participants also honoured me with a guided tour through Algiers. They told me not to look around too much. They said  the place is run-down and dilapidated. They kindly invited me to look at the potential of the place. To see that  there is a need for a vision for the future. They asked me to just close my eyes during taxi drives and to feel and listen to what was happening on the streets.
I saw some run-down buildings and streets. But still the people working in that neighborhood did not seem to be bothered or depressed by that. On the contrary. They seemed to work very hard. They seemed to have a mission in their mind. There’s the problem, my hosts told me. People work very hard, but they seem to have difficulties to see beyond just looking after their families. There is no vision on how to develop the country. No vision of  the future. No vision on how to contribute to that. No national identity.
People use their eyes to “see” the here and now. But they lack a vision. They don’t even need their eyes to do what they do. They can do their work and live their lives almost blindly.
But they do need vision to look further. And a vision can lead to true and lasting change in their country.
What do we need for building such a vision? Or maybe we should ask a different question. What keeps us from developing a vision? Often it’s about culture or habits. The conversations during the tour confirmed some research on Algeria. This brought me to the following 3 thoughts on managing change, the Algerian Way. And by looking at the Algerian way, one questions also the own approach.

  • How does a manager realize change?
  • How about the sense of time?
  • How do manager and team relate to each other?

1. Being a (Change) Manager in Algeria

“We can only dream about modern management”

“They are not managers, they act like family. But you already have family. One is enough.”

Being a manager in Algeria is a challenge. Or maybe not. Management is conservative and hierarchical. It’s defined by a strict definition of roles.

  • Conservative behaviour (e.g. dress codes and general conduct) is commendable.
  • You have to show and demand the proper respect for position, age and rank.

It is necessary to understand this hierarchical system. People believe their managers got their promotion because of their greater experience. It is not right to question any of his decisions. And managers should not even consult their employees before deciding. Managers are often paternalistic. Professional relationships between managers and employees usually overlap with personal relationships. They act like family.

This kind of leadership culture does not really stimulate change. Change is often seen as a threat to society and to the company. So managers are generally averse to change. Changes must be seen as positive for the ‘whole’, not just for the individual.

Of course change does happen. But managers in Algeria need to take into account that change will take longer than planned. And group effort will be the driving force behind it. The group will thoroughly assess the change and everyone needs to agree to it.

Let’s be honest.  I was not able to change the group’s conviction. Not one model I showed could change their mind. But at least now the participants are aware of other existing approaches. And that’s essential. Because now there is awareness and eventually a willingness to start a journey themselves. And through this awareness and willingness they could influence their colleagues, managers, companies and their society.

2. Approach to Time

“Patience is what you need to know about and practice”

Deadlines and time are fluid in Algeria. Patience is key. Essentially in a culture of relationships, you need to take the time to get to know someone. Don’t rush. If you do, you may jeopardise any future coöperation. It’s advisable to stress the importance of agreed deadlines and how not keeping them may affect the rest of the organization. However, it isn’t unusual for a manager in Algeria to avoid confrontation over a missed deadline. The main purpose is to maintain a positive atmosphere within the team.

Some managers who have experienced global and intercultural environments, may have a different appreciation of the need of timing and deadlines. They will more likely try to meet them.

3. ‘Boss’ or Team Player?

“We don’t play, we respect and try not to be embarrassed”

Due to the hierarchical setup, it is important that the manager maintains his/her role as ‘boss’. In this way (s)he instills the necessary respect. When the manager needs to work collectively with his/her team however, it is important that he states this need and encourages the team to cooperate openly.
If an individual contributes sub-optimally, the manager needs to deal with this carefully. It is essential that the employee does not feel embarrassed in front of the colleagues. The rest of the group needs to feel able to continue to take part.

Is Europe so much different here ?
Also in my culture, corrective and even positive feedback about the performance of an individual employee is not appreciated when given in front of a whole group.

Change as compromise.

Any successful change will necessarily come from the inside. Even if it’s triggered by the world outside. Successful change will always be a compromise between necessity and urgency, and the respect for these three cultural features. Unless of course a radical event would take place.
Again I asked myself if Europe is so much different ?
Do we like change that much? Isn’t change for us often a matter of compromise as well.  Do we not accept compromise against better judgement?  Will change not pass easier if it happens in respect of our habits and values ? It is like that unless some dramatic event would take place. In that case change simply occurs. Period.

How are we doing in Europe ?

I left with the impression that Algeria still has a (long) way to go in becoming a so-called “modern” place of business. My group asked a confronting question: how are we doing in Europe ?
I would hope better. But alas. We know our own depressing corporate architectures. As we know our own conservative reflexes.
We may perhaps not want to see them because we think we have a good and solid vision. But then again, You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision.

HR strategy: Control + Alt + HR function ?

snale - HR Strategy

HR strategy, the discussion.

I’ve been in HR now for more than 15 years. In all these years the “strategic” role of HR has not been out of the debate.
Through the years I’ve noticed that this strategic role is complex and intangible. I will not try to define and describe the word strategic in this blog. You could check other literature for that. I am looking for what defines the strategic role. And I would like to answer the question how HR could become more strategic in the future.  I am aware it’s not perceived as strategic today.

The management team

There’s a perception that being a part of the management team is the most important indicator for the strategic nature of an HR manager. Only when you’re on the team, you are strategic.
But this is nothing more than a perception. I’ve known HR managers who are member of that team but who were not strategic at all and vice versa. So it’s not that. So it’s not team membership. Could the strategic role depend on the person?

The person

If an HR manager is not perceived as being strategic, surely it’s due to his or her own behaviour. There is one key question. Does the HR Manager have enough power to influence the strategic decision-making ?
Being able to influence is always an advantage. Sometimes it might be necessary. But it’s absurd to limit the strategic power of the HR function to the personal impact of the HR Manager.
So it’s not team membership or the HR Manager’s behaviour. What then is the determining factor for  HR to become strategic?

The functions and roles

Dave Ulrich has introduced one of the most influential models in HR. He clearly described 4 roles for HR. HR was to become next to the administrative expert also a champion for the employees, a change agent, and a strategic partner.

The 4 HR roles, inclusive the HR strategy role.
Dave Ulrich’s model of HR

This offered a framework that helped HR departments to develop into what they are  now. Various people fulfill the different roles within the department. Those people need to collaborate with one another and with the internal client.
The focus on the internal client cleared the way for the HR business partner. This is a generalist who functions as a single point of contact for the internal clients. This function also integrates a change driving and strategic dimension.
So here we were and are.
HR finally became a full function, covering the four roles. And the people in  HR departments started integrating the strategic dimension in their roles. The strategic HR role was born.
Was it ?
If all of this were true, why hasn’t the discussion about the strategic role of HR not stopped? Why have certain HR functions dramatically felt the crisis? Why have they been hit by serious cost cutting? Why was HR unable to turn the continuous “noise” about its HR strategy into satisfaction ?
Could it be that we have forgotten the people?

The people

Employees and their managers do not benefit a lot from the fact that the HR function is strategically positioned. That’s because there’s a long way between the definition of a strategy and the experience in the field.
Suppose your manager:

  • is a member of the management team.
  • supports and communicates the HR decisions to the own department.
  • is actively participating in the HR decision-making process.
  • has the active support of an HR business partner.

Then chances are that

  • the implementation of the HR strategy will go ahead smoothly
  • you will effectively feel “something” of what the HR strategy is all about.

But even then. Interpretations, convictions, emotions and misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities between the business and HR could spoil the party.
Should we conclude that an HR department can be as strategic as it wants, but that at the end of the day it’s the people who mess up ?
Absolutely not.
If people perceive the collaboration between HR and their department negatively, there is a problem. People do not experience the  HR strategy as intended. In that case HR has seriously messed up.
HR and the company face a huge challenge here. An HR strategy can only be successful if there’s a good collaboration between HR and the line managers. And I’d take it a step further. The line manager should become the real owner and executor of the HR strategy in his/her department. The HR business partner can give support and not drive the HR agenda. It’s about coaching business people towards HR (strategic) decisions. The HRBP should not take this decision him/herself.

The people processes

So the line manager is responsible for HR. And the HR business partner has a supporting and coaching role. We cannot expect our line manager to set up a “mini HR team”. That would not work. That would only lead to ineffective fragmentation of the HR function.
But line managers manage a lot of processes. So they can also manage HR-processes if they’re supported by experts and coaches. Some examples are:

  • Recruitment
  • Performance management
  • Outflow of weak performers
  • People Development
  • Team building

Let me introduce a new process the business could perfectly drive: the HR strategy process.

Control + Alt + HR function

HR Strategy is about the continuous improvement of people processes. It’s driven by the business. HR is no longer a function. It’s a process, driven by the business.
How do we have to understand these processes?
Some examples. Improvement of:

  • Hiring. How and where to attract our future talents ? Business people  know the market better than HR people.
  • Talent acquisition and development processes. Which competencies will we need within 5 to 10 years? Business people  know the future needs of the customers better than HR people.
  • Industrial relations. How can we convince the unions better than by telling them how the business is working ?
  • Internal communication. How can we integrate social media in the existing employee communication platforms?
  • Retention. How can we use the output of exit interviews more appropriately?
  • Team building and collaboration. How can we better deal with conflicts in our teams?
  • Leadership development. How will our own leadership have to evolve if we want to stay successful ?

Imagine managers becoming responsible for driving and managing these people processes. They are not only responsible for driving existing people processes but also for co-creating new ones. Of course, they are supported by colleagues and HR.
Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 20.13.24
I think these managers will be much more willing and able to:

  • see the HR strategy as their HR strategy
  • make it much more concrete for their people.
  • transform employee’s negative perceptions about HR into transparent understanding of it.

That is the real meaning of strategic HR.
 
Read also:

Family and work: 4 ways to improve family life at work

Family and work

Family and work seem to be in conflict. Family is one of the main sources of happiness and fulfilment. When looking back at their life, dying people often state that they regret not having spent enough time with family and friends and to have worked too much. Indeed, there is a friction between work and other roles as time is limited. People have to divide time across the different roles like work, family, volunteering, friends, hobbies. And of course there are some tendencies that seem to portray work as a role that prohibits people from taking on other valuable life roles.

  • There is more choice than ever. People have increased activities outside of work.This leads to fragmentation of life, with work becoming one fragment.
  • Work has become more intensive, and the barriers between work and private life have faded.
  • Family life has become more complicated. The rate of divorce and newly composed families has increased.
  • Dual career families face challenges to cope with the caring role
  • As life expectancy has increased, employees see themselves faced with having to care for both children and parents.

Helping People to lead their Life

Not so long ago, companies thought that it was right for employees to leave their family business behind when entering the gates of the company. People came to work and companies were only interested in the active components of the employee. These were competencies, engagement and productivity. It’s clear that the emotional state of mind of employees influence these active components. Family life plays an important role in that emotional state. So this is why companies should be interested in family. Even more. Companies should actively look for ways to help people to lead their lives. Including their family life.
There are 4 ways to do that:

    1. Accomodation

Provide accommodation that alleviates some of the worries people have. This may include child care, health services, extra child allowances, … Accommodation makes live more easy and are binding. Unfortunately these forms of accommodation are usually not related to the work itself and does not solve the problem of alienation.

    1. Flexibilise Work

Change the organisation of work. By providing work flexibility a company can help people to combine family and work life. Flexible hours or telework are common ways to help people to allocate time to the family role. Flexible work patterns change the very organisation of work, but do not change the work content or the friction between work and family itself. At best, this approach makes it easier. It accommodates.

    1. Results-Only-Work Environments: ROWE

Giving responsibility to people in the execution of their work, by not focussing on time and place of work, give people the feeling of ownership. They become entrepreneurs and the work becomes more interesting. People are free to decide what, when and how much work is done as long as contractual expectations have been met. The focus here lies on getting the results. This is based on trust. The disadvantage of this approach is that people risk to work too much and neglect their family. The main difference is that they will feel responsible for it and not blame their employer. This sounds a little manipulative, and that’s why employers who introduce these cultural changes, should address the need to spend enough time outside of work. To many employers this turns to to be a dilemma, or a conflict of interest. An employer has an interest in keeping employees at work as long as possible. But here’s a question. Is this sustainable?

    1. Balanced-Results-Oriented-Work-Environments : BROWE

The paradox of success is that people who overinvest in work are likely to end up in trouble. This is divorce, loss of contact with their children and end up regretting this at the end of their life. So instead of talking about ROWE (Results-only work environments), we should talk about BROWE. Balanced results oriented Work environments. Balanced, because there is a keen focus on keeping a balance between work and other life roles. And I prefer results-oriented rather than results-only because work is more than getting results. I dread the word results only because this creates an environment that has no mercy or kindness. Results are important, but also the way you get results is important. So there’s a big need for balancing. An employer cannot forget his responsibility in this. He should nudge people towards that balance.

BROWE as preferred model of employer support for family life

Accommodation is in itself OK. It’s a start to become more family friendly. But a company can go further. Let’s not think that individualizing work will do the trick. ROWE is a progress but entails a risk. An employer should help people to keep balance. This will add to the sustainability of work. This will lead to sustainable employability. More than accommodation, BROWE will give people the experience that the company cares about its employees. And that it is willing to help them to find balance in their lives.
 
See also : Leslie A. Perlow & Erin L. Kelly. Toward a Model of Work Redesign for Better Work and Better Life. Work and Occupations February 2014, vol. 41 no. 1 111-134. This article compares accommodation with work flexibility arrangements and ROWE. I believe we should take it a step further and introduce BROWE.
 

Thought Control (2014)

Thought control in 2014. Where does the idea come from? This blog post was triggered by a program on TV about how companies organize their induction processes. In 2014 some parts of those induction programs seem to look like … thought control.
antinori2

1984

Today it’s allegedly 30 years ago that Winston Smith started his diary. On April 4th 1984 he committed a thought crime by penning down his thoughts. A thought crime is a thought that is unorthodox, or outside the “official government vision”. In Orwell’s 1984 the government wanted to control behaviour and thoughts. In order to do that technology was used combined with an indoctrination that seems close to mental torture. People have to constantly listen to propaganda and are constantly being monitored through telescreens and have

Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it (=the telescreen); moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. — George Orwell, Part I, Chapter I, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Orwellian Techniques

Thought Control - 1984
1984

The picture that George Orwell created in 1949 of a grim future has never been so close as it is today. We are being monitored on CCTV, through digital tracking, mobile communications, … Our whereabouts are well documented. We throw personal information on the web. Privacy has never been so low in the past century. But that does not mean that there is thought control. Let’s have a look at the Orwellian techniques of thought control.
 

  • Bellyfeel: is the blind acceptance of an idea. It’s an idea that becomes so integrated that it becomes ‘gut feeling’.
  • Blackwhite: the loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline requires it and to forget that you used to believe the opposite.
  • Crimethink: a thought that is considered to be unorthodox. Having an unauthorized thought can be punished by slave labour in work camps (the funcamps) or even by death penalty.
  • Duckspeak: speaking without thinking. You speak the words the authority asks you to utter.
  • Newspeak: the language used by the Party. It’s a kind of dialect with new words and abbreviations.
  • Unperson: a person who has been vaporized. In 1984 all traces of a person that has been vaporized are destroyed.

I do not think we are there yet, even though the individual freedom of people seem to have become restricted as we all want to have and do the same things. Another question struck me. Is there any thought control in companies?

Corporate Propaganda

The purpose of the party in the novel 1984 was to control thoughts. Controlling thoughts is effective. But It’s not efficient if you look at the energy that is invested in suppressing individual thoughts and behavior. In East Germany the Stasi seemed to have employed half of the population to spy on the other. But that’s a totalitarian state, that’s different.
So is there any of this also occurring within companies? Please bear with me for a moment. Companies can have a similar tendency to control. They may have some elements of thought control installed in their culture and habits. You will say that this is in no way similar to what Orwell has described in his novel. And that is of course true. And still, in some corporate cultures it is not done to openly criticize or even question certain decisions. Decisions usually come from above and fall down on people’s desks. The ukase that go with them are usually clear.
Some corporate communication is similar to the Pravda, the former magazine of the communist party in the USSR. Induction and socialization mechanisms are installed to make sure people know what is orthodox and what is not. Internal propaganda is garrotting any dissident voice and installs an atmosphere of fear.

The Cost of Fear

Fear is efficient, one might say. Like in 1984 fear is effective in controlling people’s behaviour. People are paralysed by the thought of having thought that are not orthodox. And it is sometimes very difficult to know what orthodoxy means. So people become dependent of what the great ruler, or big brother probably wants. It’s an organized neuroticism to suppress any deviant thinking which might undermine the (state) leadership.
But what is the cost of fear? The (hidden) cost is tremendous. People don’t tell you what they think. People don’t think along and shove all responsibilities to the “higher” power. People will not warn against the consequences of bad decisions. There is no initiative because any initiative might be deemed wrong or might lead to an error. Errors are not tolerable. Groupthink arises.

We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity – it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity – an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.
Whyte (1952)

The Orwellian Company?

Imagine a company that would like to employ Orwellian techniques as a motivational technique. (1) First, you need to create an enemy. In 1984 that would be the Brotherhood. In your company that might be the competitor. (2) you create a sphere of constant threat. The company can go bankrupt at any time. The evil competitor is eating away our market share and our profits. (3) You install a system of propaganda full of blackwhite and exaggerations. (4) You make people dependent by repeating the messages all over again and by making them insecure through unpredictable reactions. (5) You make sure that loyalty is the prime reason to get promoted. Strong, independent thinkers do not get promoted. And when you hire people, you make sure that they are not strong. Obeying becomes a value. (6) You can train leaders in Machiavellian styles of leadership and install a system of manipulative rhetoric. (7) You install rituals and symbols that give people a good feeling. You might even want to consider a corporate anthem 😉
This is hell on earth. Would you want to work for that company? Most people would not. Fortunately people have (usually) the choice to leave. But in dire economic times they are less inclined to do so. So what would you put up with?

Go against the Grain

It takes courage to go against the grain and to speak up. And so, even when a company does not want to install a culture of fear, mechanisms like groupthink and thought control get installed implicitly. And the worst thing is that managers do not see the processes of thought control. The information they receive gets filtered. People decide not to differ. Out of fear, respect, awe … or maybe because speaking up is simply not done. Make no mistake. There is no value in conformism for the sake of conformism. And let’s not confuse conformism with alignment. It’s imperative that leaders be aware of the possibility of implicit thought control and groupthink. They have to fight it.

Fighting Thought Control and Groupthink

Thought control can be there, even when it is not desired by the company. I have only one message: never accept thought control and avoid groupthink. It’s poisonous. Here are some ideas on how to fight it.

  • Be clear that conformity in itself is not a value.
  • Adopt a style of transparency and honesty. People need to be sure that you tell the truth and that you expect others to tell the truth. People expect honesty.
  • Check to what extent people in your company or team dare to speak up. Look for opportunities to invite people to voice their thoughts and concerns.
  • Assemble diverse teams. Build trust and allow for conflicts within the team. Select people that have a voice. Avoid to hire people that want to please.
  • Involve people in decision-making processes as early as possible.
  • Avoid early judgment. As a leader you better be strong on the why, but reluctant on the how. Leave space for people to voice their ideas.
  • Look for the dissident voice. Not to silence it, but to learn from it. Dissident voices are a valuable asset to the company.
  • Let people know that they can differ. If there’s a devil’s advocate, give him space. If there’s no devil’s advocate, ask someone to play the role.
  • Check to what extent leaders in your company have the courage to be vulnerable and accept criticism. Train them to look for the dissident voice.
  • Talk values. And live them. Make sure leadership behaviour is based on trust and exemplary behaviour.
  • Scan the environment for differences between behaviour and espoused principles.
  • Ask questions. Go to Gemba. Walk around. Listen carefully and show empathy. Show interest.
  • Invite people from outside the team or company to spice up discussions by bringing in other perspectives.
  • Scan for territorialism, vanity, status drive, oppressive behaviour. Have no tolerance for intolerance. Get rid of people who impose ideas.
  • Make people responsible and accountable.
  • As a leader, stay humble. Don’t assume you know better. You simply don’t.

As a leader you need to manage implicit thought control. In a next blog I’d like to debate the advantages and risks of dissident voices as I am sure that some people might think that dissident voices have no place in a company. But they do. Many companies and many projects have gotten in difficulty because of conformism. So get rid of mechanisms of thought control and group think and create an environment in which there is no fear to speak up.
Sources
Whyte, W. H., Jr. (March 1952). “Groupthink”. Fortune. pp. 114–117, 142, 146.
More information about 1984 : http://georgeorwellnovels.com/books/about-nineteen-eighty-four/

The 5 future roles of HR

Pressure

HR is under pressure. Most HR-managers feel this. Budgets are cut and processes are criticized. HR needs to reinvent itself. It needs to find ways to shape its own future. In the past we have lamented about the lack of strategic “weight” within the company. I have worked for 2 decades in HR and I was always puzzled by this. Lamentation is never the right option. We need to do things. And we can only gain influence by doing well the things we are doing. But were we any good? Let’s face some brutal facts.

  • According to a Gallup Survey, only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged. They are outnumbered by the actively disengaged employees.
  • 20% of workers in Europe report a poor mental well-being (5th European Working Conditions Survey). In Belgium half of the employees experience a too high mental workload (Securex Whitepaper) –
  • The ILO world of work 2013 survey reports a degradation of job quality between 2007-2011. The change of Job quality is determined by the change in the percentage of temporary employees, the change in social benefits expenditure as share of total public expenditure and the growth in the average hourly wages between 2007 and 2011 were used.
  • Long-term absenteeism is on the rise according to a Securex Research and the increase of long-term absenteeism is accelerating.
  • Research on Karaseks Job quality model, consistently report low figures.

And I could go on. Of course, HR professionals should not take the blame. But still, these facts have to make us think about our own profession.

Wasted time

And the question is how we can do better. This situation has been predicted 4 decades ago by Alvin Toffler in his monumental book “Futureshock“. We are now where he predicted us we would be. McGregor has defined in the 60ies human-centric style of leadership and organisation in “the Human Side of Enterprise” and Shumacher pleaded for economics as if people mattered in his book “Small is Beautiful“. These and other books from the past, have predicted our present and future state.
It seems we have been wasting 4 decades to find ourselves in a difficult situation. So it’s time to act. If people in HR really want, they can shape their own future.

The Future

Thinking about the future of how employers will manage the employees should make us humble. Indeed we know the past and the present, but are ignorant about the future. There are two answers to the question about that future. We can think about the future content: what will be the tasks? And we can think about the process: what will be our role?
The first question is in my opinion not the most important one. To answer it you can review many surveus that have asked the question. A research by Boston Consulting Group revealed 6 tasks for the future:

  • Managing Talent: assessing quantitative and qualitative needs for talent, managing the talent pipe-line.
  • Managing Demographics: managing the loss of capacity and knowledge, managing the ageing workforce
  • Becoming a learning organisation: choosing a learning strategy, boosting the number of on-the-job development programs, measuring the return on investment.
  • Managing work-life balance: determining what people need, building programs that afford flexible working hours, enhancing corporate social responsibility
  • Managing Change and cultural transformation: determining and shaping desired behaviours, ensuring top-management support.
  • Getting the fundamentals right: mastering people processes, delivering on recruiting and staffing, transforming HR into a strategic partner.

 
The second question is much more interesting and challenges us more. What role can HR play in organisations? I see 5 determining roles for HR in the future.

Role 1: The Architect

HR no longer owns the people processes. Instead, HR becomes a facilitator or even an architect. By creating the right context in which people can be successful, HR will deliver its greatest contribution. In that sense HR is working on culture, organisation, processes and environment. The processes are not HR’s, they belong to the company. Let’s also not ignore the CEO’s increasing interest in people, leadership and culture. The CEO (or the board) is the owner of people processes. HR takes on the role of architect. HR will create organisations in which leadership, cooperation, innovation, entrepreneurship, … can develop.

Role 2: The Artisanal and Digital Expert

But to be able to take on the role of architect, HR needs know-how. In the recent past HR became a generalist, but in future we will become experts, or craftsmen. Instead of being a generalist, HR will offer top-notch expertise about the people side of the company. Apart from the more traditional, artisanal know-how, HR will have to master the digital know-how: Social Media, HRIS, Employee Self Service, … HR will need to incorporate knowledge and practices from other disciplines into its own discipline: marketing, finance, service management, … Learning from others is a great opportunity for HR.

Role 3: The Coach

But HR should be aware of reification of people. In the quest for a spot at the board table we might have lost the contact to people. HR needs to be(come) more empathic. Empathy means to listen, try to understand and act upon that understanding. And why should HR not introduce kindness, compassion and humanity into the corporate DNA? It’s like we need to rediscover the human being behind the employee ID again. This is not an appeal for meaningless softness. Business needs to be human in order to help people to be successful. HR becomes a coach of the organisation, its management and its employees. In the future it will be the employee that will determine and evaluate a company’s people strategy. Coaching is a way of individualization of the people strategy.

Role 4: The Data-Strategist

Like any other discipline, HR is oriented towards results. HR will work on becoming evidence-based. That entails not only looking for data to assess HR interventions, but also planning interventions based on available scientific insights. There is not much big data in HR today. However, by analyzing the data we have, we might be able to shape the future of our profession.

Role 5: The advocate

HR leaves the backbench and becomes an advocate of the importance of people processes and results. The people strategy is a part of the company strategy. HR people are gaining influence through their know-how, there fact-based approach and their proactive contribution to the business results. Any business decision has an impact on people and any business strategy depends on the quality of the people who execute it.

Integration

If HR is able to design organisations, based on its profound knowledge of human behaviour, with the necessary coaching presence it has a bright future. We need to take on 5 roles, all at once. When I presented this to a group of HR professionals, it was clear that the role of coach and expert were seen as the most important and developed roles. This is good starting point for any profession. But HR can expand its influence by trying to look for evidence. And this evidence can be used to build an HR strategy through which HR can become the advocate and the architect of the people side of business. When we can do this, there will be no lamentation needed.
Future roles of HR

Related Blogs

This blog post is based on a presentation I have done for the Antwerp Management School. The Slides (in Dutch) are available here:

Avoid rejection. Do not adapt. Integrate.

wood

Rejection after Organ transplantation

When an organ gets transplanted from one body to another, the risk of rejection is one of the main concerns. The breakthrough in organ transplantation was when medication that suppresses the reaction of the immune system which causes rejection was introduced.
There is a word in German called Fremdkörper (in Latin Corpus alienum). Literally this means “Strange Body”. It refers to something that does not belong.  When applied on people, it feels like an aggressive word because it underlines us versus them. A new employee can be considered to be a Fremdkörper or can feel like it. If this is a case, the process of integration has failed and rejection has started.

The Risk of Rejection

Every time a new employee joins a company, there’s a risk of rejection. And the cause of this rejection can lie with both the new employee and the company. This is especially true for senior employees and executives.

We seem to underestimate the effort a company has to make to integrate a new executive. And at the same time we seem to overestimate the employee’s capacity to integrate.

That’s a conundrum. So should an employee simply adapt to the new surroundings? Should (s)he blend in with the crowd, disappear, take on the same colour? That would be a pity because someone has been hired for who (s)he is and what (s)he can do. If (s)he were to adapt, (s)he might lose the very reason why (s)he was hired and lose his or her value for the company.
The point is that you can avoid this rejection before and after an employment contract has been signed. Here is how.

What the Employer can do before the contract is signed

  • Think about the company’s immune system. Analyse how rejection could take place and what the employee could do to avoid rejection. Talk about this. Take away if possible certain issues that would stimulate rejection.
    Analyse previous early exits of people that have entered the company to see what was the cause of that. Talk to people who have ‘survived’ and are still there. What made them successful?
  •  Take the time to explain what the company stands for. Focus on values, beliefs, culture. Be clear about what should be changed and what is to be kept. Define the mission both in a generic and a specific way.
  • Be very clear about the role the new employee has to play. What do you expect from him or her?  Inform him or her about your reasons to hire.
  • Be explicit about the psychological contract. Ask what the  candidate expects. Try to find out what his or her doubts are.
  • Give a realistic job preview. This is not easy. Even if you tell people how hard the job is going to be, some people do not listen.
  • Be clear on what you plan to do when there are issues. Invite the employee to be open about any doubt, worry or question (s)he has.
  • Allow for customisation. I-deals are a way to sculpt the employment according to the needs and strengths of the employee.

What the Employee can do before the contract is signed

  • Take the time to discover the company before you sign the contract. Talk to people. Try and meet your team before you enter. Gather information.  Check your network. Browse the net. Ask questions.
  • Talk about your own values and check how they fit with the company’s.
  • Be explicit about the psychological contract and about what you expect from the company.

What the Employer can to after the contract has been signed

  •  Give the new employee the time to discover the company. Don’t overload him from day one with work. Draft the induction program in such a way that he can appreciate the company in all its qualities. Gradual induction will be profitable. Even if you are in a hurry, socialisation cannot be compressed and summarised in a powerpoint
  • Check on how the new employee feels. Ask about the surprises. Try to find out what the new employee worries about.
  • Confirm the reasons why he or she has been hired. Do not ask the employee to adapt, but give him hints on how he can integrate.
  • Clear some of the obstacles by communicating clearly why the new employe has been hired. Especially for senior level employees it is paramount to make sure the organisation knows what the mission is.
  • Talk about culture, values and expectations.
  • Give feedback, not only about achievements but also about the integration process.
  • Make sure everyone knows that you support the new employee
  • Monitor for rejection processes. Intervene accordingly.
  • Don’t be blind. If the employee makes mistakes, or worse, shows contempt for the company he is working with, you have to take measures. Ultimately, you might need to stop the employment contract before damage is done to the company.

What the Employee can do once the contract has been signed

  • Seek feedback. Ask questions. There is nothing wrong with asking people how you are doing.
  • Express your concerns if you have any.
  • If there’s a breach of the psychological contract, talk about it.
  • Don’t belief everything that has been written in the book “the first 90 days”.
  • Don’t act as if you are only temporarily here but take a long term perspective.
  • Show respect for people and their past. Don’t be arrogant about how other companies did better. Try to understand why things are the way they are.
  • If you need to act with a sense of urgency, talk about it. Be transparent.
  • Remain yourself. Don’t adapt. Don’t change. You have been hired with a reason. But if you feel your own style and personality has frictions with the culture, do not ignore that. These could be signs of rejection: either you reject the company or the company is rejecting you.
  • Be yourself. It’s the only thing you can do well from the beginning. Don’t be pushed into becoming someone else.

The importance of managing integration and rejection

Hiring someone from outside is a big decision. The person involved probably leaves a job behind to come to your company. That is a risk. But the company takes a risk as well. Therefore the risk of rejection, which is a mutual risk, should be managed well. The cost of failure by rejection is too high.