Human Resources - Symposium Learning

May 18, 2022

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In the past months I designed multiple bespoke training programmes dedicated to the role of the Manager in this new brave world of distributed teams.

I have 2 key considerations stemming from the experience

  1. Management training programmes created to primarily fit organisational ambitions tend to receive fewer positive reviews
  2. Managers want a Tool Kit –a short cut on how to use the techniques described on LinkedIn, HBR and other sources readily available.

Usually I am engaged by Lead HR business partners: after the first few conversations I design the programme and get approval by senior management. Once the programme content is generated and the training is rolled out.

Most of my trainings begin with a contracting exercise: as an workplace educator I need to secure that the expectations of the attendees match the content.

Over 80% of the answers to “What you want from this training?” begin with “How to” followed by action words like “prevent, ensure, facilitate.” Managers are asking for bullet pointed actions that can be applied in very specific situations. I often refer to it as requiring “a recipe book” with ingredients and sequential order of action.

Common topics listed by Managers when discussing Hybrid/Distributed/Flexible Teams

  • Practical skills
  • How to use time on site/off site
  • How to foster collaboration
  • How to integrate new staff

Managers are interested on how to convince people to return to the workplace, less how to foster the new culture of hybrid workplace. Managers are struggling in supporting remotely new colleagues and may not find clarification in models of asynchronous communication.

Managers can read the blogpost by Daniel Goleman independently with their morning coffee – but they want to know how Empathy actually manifest itself in a disciplinary meeting over Zoom.

When a learning facilitator becomes too normative however, the manager risks to apply any of the shared tricks out of context and generate resistance rather than results.

The challenge as a content creator is to provide an array of novel examples and techniques that a manager can use and that also fit with the organisation’s ambition of enhancing skills and promoting critical thinking.

I suggest to organisation to run focused Training Need Analysis that detect these demands before the audience joins the Training. Collecting employees’ insight is always a challenge and organisations might need to engage in multiple training analysis– however, it is a wise investment.

Action based learning objectives are best achieved via internal coaching and mentoring or during workshop focusing on experiential role-play. Breakout rooms or small focus group discussion tend to be insufficient to provide hands on knowledge. It is crucial for the learner to know where these insight can be gained.

To bridge the challenge, I ask all attendees to prepare by completing a 10 mins of reflecting journaling and to answers 2 questions

  1. What do you know already about the topic?
  2. What problems are you trying to solve?

The managers who engage gain confidence when their knowledge is validated (they read the same research!) and can present to the trainer real life scenario to be used as foundations for the “how to” guidance needed – generating solutions while engaging with critical thinking content.

February 9, 2021

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Strategies to increase employee performance & engagement have been used since the early 1900’s when early automation rendered some factory jobs repetitive and boring. 100 years later organisations are still working on striking the right balance between providing comprehensive directions whilst allowing employees’ autonomy. 

A recent response is found in the SCARF theory of motivation recently developed by neuroscience.

principles of scientific management bookHR analysts’ ability to detect behaviour and translate it into statistics is one of the greatest advancements for the last decades Employee Performance Management. Behavioural data is easy captured by the everyday technology used by most employees in most businesses. For instance at the supermarket, performances is measured by the speed of checking out goods; at the optician by the average duration of a visit and total appointments cancelled. In an office insight can be as detailed as the number of keystrokes per minute. Video conferencing software tracks eye movement to define engagement in conversation. AI supports the construction industry in reducing health and safety challenges, including social distance in the time of covid-19.

The practices of measuring the details of performance at work are not new – Frederick Taylor in 1900 in his work “The principles of Scientific Management”  describes scientific management as “the practice to systematically partitioning working into its smallest elements and standardising tasks to achieve maximum efficiency”. 

Over the years however, Scientific Management theories have been largely criticised. Core set back is the perception that performance standardisation is driven by lack of trust by the employers and in consequence enables the detachment and disengagement by the workforce. As a response, the 1940’s work of Maslow in the Hierarchy of Needs and the drive to self-actualisation began to shape companies’ work policies from on-boarding to career advancement. For many, the role of the employer is to create inclusive and engaging roles and to support work life balance for all employees.

In the mid 1950’s Douglas McGregor defined the tension between the approaches of Scientific Management and Employee Self-sufficiency as Theory X and Theory YTheory X summaries the practices that encourage close monitoring of employee’s behaviours to ensure efficiency and reduction of costly mistakes – including Health & Safety concerns. Theory Y is the counter balanced approach, which sustains that employee engagement and efficacy can only be reached by giving responsibility, autonomy and freedom of initiatives.

The search for balance continues in present days. 

Most HRM conferences dedicate extensive coverage to Employee Empowerment, Engagement, Voice of the employee. Freedom and self-actualisation are powerful tools for retention and company success. Maslow’s Theory of motivation remains are part of the educational curriculum of most managers and HR practitioners. 

At the same time, an organisation capacity to micro-manage employees’ activities and performances has never been greater.  According to recent entry in Wikipedia, up to January 2020 over 350,000 users are active on WhatPulse, a key-counting programme.

An article by Scott Shane in the New York Times in 2019 reported that more than 125,000 Amazon’s warehouse employees are given algorithm generated targets which include how long they should take to pick up each item in an order. The article moved further in suggesting that also “warnings” which can be ground for dismissal are generated by an algorithm.  

Recent research in neuroscience resulted in the SCARF Model published in 2008 by David Rock. The model applies to the workplace as the workplace is a key component of our social domain and existence, even when carried out virtually. Rock’s research shows that our neurological response to management can be divided into 5 main social spheres: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. 

Our ability to monitor and control performance has a direct impact onto the 5 workplace social spheres and by correctly assessing them it is possible to understand what type of engagement or di-engagement response could be expected. For instance – if a specific performance monitoring system completely alters the Autonomy domain – by which we regulate our ability to exercise control over event – a negative or positive response can be anticipated.

Performance Management rests upon the balance between Performance Control and Employee Autonomy and this 100-years-old pursuit continues to inspire.  While I engage with extensive amount of meta-data generated by software, I am reminded not to minimize the individual input to the smallest of it components – as inevitably I would lose the ability to appreciate the larger meaning of what constitute organisations mission, vision and success. 

“For I have known them all already, known them all.

Have known the evenings, morning and afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”

TS Eliot – “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”