Top 10 things I’d do if I were an HR Director

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I was a client and internal key L&D stakeholder for many years before becoming a supplier, so it’s an interesting exercise to pull this list together. I hope it offers you a fresh and different perspective.

1. Be clear on your personal BHAG

Let me explain. A BHAG is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal which is typically defined as what drives your economic engine, what you can be the best in the world at, and what you are deeply passionate about. 

Now this might seem rather grand but I would encourage you to scope out your personal BHAG for your current role. How do you want to be remembered? How do you want people to talk about your delivery and legacy when you leave? What are the associated benefits to the business if you achieved this? And most importantly of all, what are the associated benefits of you committing to such a grand goal? This is how the best leaders I have worked with operate and it would be great to see some of this spirit adopted, applied and communicated by HR professionals.

2. Embrace a performance management culture

The business world is sharper, leaner and arguably in better shape post the downturn - this is key to maintaining a competitive edge. So why do so many organisations tolerate under performance and unacceptable professional attitudes from their classic 10% ‘dog’ individuals? Firstly, it’s important to identify who they are, using a simple performance vs. potential graph via a simple ABC123 grid. Then critically decide who can be saved and who must go (C3s if you’re using the grid). Move responsibly and ethically, but move fast. These poor performers are a seriously corrosive influence on your organisation and soak up time and cost along the way. 

3. Think and operate more like a true business professional 

A good acid test for this one is rhetorically and silently to ask yourself what kind of response your initiatives would receive in the Dragons’ Den! It is very commonplace to see HR processes and procedures which are clunky, overly bureaucratic and serve only as an annoyance to the teams and users who ‘must’ adhere to them. In order to pass the Dragons Den ‘so what?’ test, the end result must, critically, drive the business and support performance at all times. If they are simple, quick and easy for users, even better. So if your initiatives do not drive and support the business, maybe you need to go back to the drawing board. Ask for regular feedback from your internal stakeholders too; they are your internal customers after all.

4. Integrate coaching with training at all times

Sorry to teach you to suck eggs here if you know this already, but integrating business coaching within training delivery, followed by a review/preview session within 6 weeks of a skills-based training program can have profoundly positive effects. What’s more, I’ve seen many clients also phase in training-related ‘express coaching sessions’ for trainees and this has been a big driver of sustainable change and post-program application. In fact, one study in the FT Guide to Business Coaching revealed that this approach could generate up to +80% post-training retention and application. This was contrasted with an eye-watering 5% post-training retention and application of the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ style of training.

5. Adopt a ‘Test & Learn’ process to increase ROI 

In the advertising industry, marketing professionals live their lives by an approach called ‘test & learn’. This rigour essentially focuses on the activities that drive optimum results. Many ‘old school’ training and coaching suppliers will shudder when they read this, but I would strongly advocate an initial pilot period when dealing with a new partner, or even a continuation of a legacy one. A pilot is a period of time with clear and defined success measures. If the program passes this gateway then it continues. The subtle difference with a pilot approach is that you can phase in multiple ‘test & learn’ windows, which provide the perfect antidote to failure and procrastination. It might also be worth considering amending your trainee feedback mechanism to include an indicative financial evaluation of the training program. This can also be performance managed and verified by their line managers to help you justify the ROI.

6. Treat suppliers as partners 

Avoid seeing training and coaching providers as suppliers and see them as long-term partners, possibly an adjunct of your team itself. A good dose of mutual transparency can go a long way to greasing the wheels of an amazing project. Don’t forget that in doing this, you should be prepared to treat your supplier with the equal (and sometimes pro-active) TLC that your business commits to its best customers. Anything they ask for, give it to them. They’re ultimately doing what they do for your benefit - so regularly involve your partner(s) in your internal stakeholder meetings wherever possible to form a ‘virtual team’. This supports trust and open communication, providing the foundation for success.

7. Replace annual appraisals with quarterly appraisals

Am I alone in viewing the annual performance review process as a turgid, irrelevant and uninspiring waste of time? To be clear, the function and purpose of the appraisal is potentially the lifeblood of any business – it’s the lengthy frequency I have a big problem with. I would argue that quarterly performance reviews, underpinned by scheduling weekly or bi-monthly 1-2-1s for all employees will drive outstanding performance and employee engagement. Amazing goals only get realised in bite-sized chunks; it's really that simple. For an added curveball, I would be intrigued to see at least one personal BHAG/KPI/objective challenging the individual to achieve something special. Give up smoking, run that 10K or learn a language. Whatever. The fact is that living in one’s stretch zone becomes a very infectious habit and it has a direct impact on positive attitudes in the workplace. 

8. Establish and maintain a feedback culture

One of the biggest blockers to motivation and performance is the absence of periodic, positive praise and well executed constructive/developmental criticism. Training and developing your middle management tier to be consistently excellent in these skills is vital - a good line manager can generate a 25% swing in an individual’s performance. 

9. Initiate regular ‘honesty purges’

How often have you attended a fantastic one-off company awayday or team brainstorm and felt truly invigorated by it? It’s amazing how cleansing and productive it can be to harness the real views, opinions and feelings of teams and individuals. Contrast this to the way most of us operate; myopically and blindly focused on the day to day, nursing latent demotivating frustrations about numerous things. By providing a regular, safe environment to have constructive brainstorms, potentially including questions like Stop/Start/Continue or barriers + solutions followed by a rigorous agreement of action ownership, you can really ease the pressure cooker and increase staff engagement. Oh, and this all helps business performance by the way!

10. Embrace Google’s recruitment policy for ‘Top Talent’

Google’s view is that ‘Top talent’ tends to embrace change and enjoys the challenge of working in a dynamic environment where everything isn’t predictable. They tend to be more innovative and flexible in their approach to solving problems and have an entrepreneurial spirit. Essentially they seek to recruit people with ability and eagerness to learn, underpinned by these five core values: adaptable, collaborative, adept problem solver, humility and leadership - i.e. an attitude that NEVER says ‘It’s not my job’. As the global No.1 market leader in media and technology, they must be doing something right behind that simple white home screen veneer!



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