In two days, we celebrate Thanksgiving. Given this, you will no
doubt see a number of HR posts this week focusing on the importance of
giving thanks and feedback to your employees. This is not one of those
posts. Instead, I’m going to share some thoughts on a few of the
unhealthy similarities between Thanksgiving and current HR practices.
1. Overstuffed and Overstuffed
is a time of excess. We buy turkeys that are too big, cook more side
dishes that we can possibly eat, and bake more pies than we have counter
space to display them on. We eat until we are stuffed and then laze
around languidly watching football games and parades.
Unfortunately, this Thanksgiving extravagance isn’t too far removed
from certain core HR practices. Consider for example the annual
performance review. We stuff a year’s worth of feedback into one review
session, a session which is almost exclusively backward looking and
negative, not to mention hopelessly out-of-date with regard to
employees’ key contributions and development opportunities. Not
surprisingly, many employees, managers, and organizations suffer a
similar post-Thanksgiving-dinner like decline in motivation and
performance. While a couch full of semi-comatose relatives may be a key
indicator of holiday success, cubicles full of demotivated, apathetic,
and under-appreciated employees is not the desired result from our
The solution of course, is to conduct more timely, more proactive, and positive performance reviews.
We need to move away from “Thanksgiving dinner” style performance
reviews and move toward “Friday night pizza dinner.” The former is full
of expectations, angst, recriminations, and Herculean efforts on the
part of managers. The latter is a normal part of the week, filled with
no more expectation, anticipation, or effort than any other daily
activities associated with living.
2. Cooking for the Day or Cooking for Every Day?
Another cherished aspect of Thanksgiving is the time spent with
family and friends cooking elaborate meals. For many, the centerpiece of
this activity is cooking the turkey, which, in recent years, has become
a more complex endeavor. Advocates of the deep-dried turkey need
special equipment. Dry-brine and wet-brine enthusiasts need to start
prepping the turkey at least a day in advance, taking total prep-time
into the multi-day range. This of course is part of the fun of
Thanksgiving – we don’t think in terms of opportunity costs or cost /
benefit analysis when we consider the time we spend with family or the
deliciousness of crispy turkey skin.
We do however need to think
in these terms regarding such core activities as learning and
development efforts. Unfortunately, as with performance reviews, too
much of our learning and development practices are closer to “cooking a
turkey” than “making a turkey sandwich.” Web-based training courses take
months to develop, require special authoring tools, adherence to
special standards, and special skills to author. There is nothing
inherently wrong with this, and in many cases, this effort is justified.
But in other cases, we develop this way because it’s the only way we
know how to develop. While our programming and software development
colleagues have gone agile, and our marketing teammates have gone
social, many learning and development professionals toil away at
tried-and-true Addie and Waterfall development models, regardless of the
methodological fit for the specific performance challenge.
The solution is to refocus on core objectives. Is the core objective
to have perfect, bullet-proof content? Then sure, keep cooking that
turkey. If, on the other hand, your core objectives also include
“timely” training or “authentic” training then maybe it’s time to start
asking different questions like:
- When does your ability to scale through distributed social
authorship trump the importance of content perfection and production
- When does speed of information and training delivery trump quality?
- W hen does the authenticity and credibility of the message trump the completeness of the story?
Depending on your answers to the above, you may want to begin incorporating more agile, social, and crowd sourced approaches to your learning and development efforts.
In other words, we need to get comfortable with a turkey sandwich for
dinner – anyone can make it, it’s fast, it’s cheap, and it means we can
eat every night instead of once per year.
Freeloaders – every family has them, and we all love them – even when
they show up year after year with store bought cookies or a bag of
chips or on some occasions, nothing at all. During the holidays, we
forgive and forget, and laugh at their seeming ineptitude – “no really,
when we said nuts, we totally meant habanero glazed pecans; these are
awesome…” Sure, it might mean more work for Aunt Nancy, but it’s work
she loves, and it’s a once a year thing, a price we all gladly pay for
the opportunity to spend a day with family. Unfortunately, the same
can’t be said for our inept and under-performing work colleagues.
In too many organizations, freeloaders are the norm, rather than
exception. We all know them when we see them – the rising stars who’ve
crashed and burned, the hamster who hides in his cube refusing to sign
up for new work, the ghosts who actively quit months ago even though
they still come to work every day. And of course, we all know the truly
bad apples who aren’t content to sit on the sidelines but who sabotage
the efforts of their teammates. According to research by BlessingWhite, 17% of workers fall into this “bad apple” group.
There are well-known ways to combat low engagement levels and the
great news is that they are all free (or nearly so). The three biggest
organizational levers you can pull to combat low engagement?
- Provide greater role and task clarity about the work and the resulting impact on organizational success
- Provide more development opportunities and training, which can include job rotations, job sharing etc…
- Offer regular, specific feedback on the employee’s contributions and overall performance
Easy stuff. If only it were that easy to get Cousin Frank to bring
Green Beans Almondine instead of three tubs of day old potato salad from
the local supermarket…
From those of us at Taleo, we wish you a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving!