In The Workplace

I was pirated from a business process outsourcing company (BPO) to head the human resource (HR) department of a medium-sized factory. During my first two months, I encountered policies and practices that I found unnecessary and unproductive. Top of my list is the perfect attendance award and the 15-minute grace period before the workers are recorded as tardy. May I have your insights on this? — Blue Whale.

A parish received a small gift box, which included a card that read: “Enclosed you will find a check for $5,000 to be used as a memorial for….”

The person who sent it forgot to sign the note and to enclose the check. There were no further details except for one clue. The card had a gold tint on the back with the words “Published by the Alzheimer’s Foundation.”

We often forget about important, basic things, like the rationale behind the policies you mentioned. It could be industry practice or a well-entrenched tradition observed by management since the company was established. The best approach, therefore is to rediscover and to understand why these policies are in place.

This isn’t difficult. All you have to do is to talk to the old-timers and dig deeper by looking at the records, if any.

Don’t rock the boat yet. Study it very carefully before changing anything. A long-time practice, in place say for five years, could be difficult to change unless you find a convincing legal reason to overturn it. Much also depends on whether a union negotiated those rules in collective bargaining.

Instead of focusing your attention on these entrenched policies, the best that you can do is review the performance appraisal system. Make it robust and objective. Establish your priorities. Take your cue from top management, but announce your intent to review the current system to make it easier and more practical for everyone to use.

The performance evaluation system is often viewed as an exercise in futility, not only by line supervisors and management but workers as well. Most supervisor would have difficulty summarizing a worker’s performance over a year into a series of check marks and brief sentences.

Most Filipino line leaders would prefer to give average ratings to avoid making unpopular decisions. The net result is that these supervisors don’t like employee reviews.

As soon as you got the go-signal from top management to review the appraisal system, focus on those issues that could give you instant success. The items that follow will help you do that towards attaining the maximum benefit for HR and the whole organization:

One, change the frequency of appraisals from one year to quarterly. Instead of waiting a year to evaluate the workers’ performance, make it a quarterly routine. As soon as they become comfortable with the increased frequency, make it a monthly event. This will be the cue for everyone to stay on their toes.

Two, use technology to monitor daily performance. There’s a lot of new software that can help management track worker performance, sometimes almost in real time. Accurate data can give the system an air of objectivity and eliminate the need for leaders to manually intervene.

Last, improve the format or the assessment form. If you don’t have a technology budget and must remain with a manual appraisal set-up, the next best thing is to improve the evaluation form. Many of these are poorly designed and contribute a great deal to the stress experienced by executives that use them.

I know how a newcomer feels in these situations. You want to make your presence felt, but while ruffling the fewest feathers possible. Focus on the low-hanging fruit. There are things that can be easily changed without generating resentment from those who might be adversely affected. To soften any impact of the changes you are planning, consult all department managers and note their concerns.

Conduct an informal survey among your colleagues. Schedule a focus group discussion facilitated by an external consultant. This is imperative to avoid having the results being tainted by office politics. Don’t forget to take into consideration the personality of each department manager, any one of which could make it difficult for you to do your job. You may also want to anticipate all possible issues that may arise from staff.

Discuss the result with your CEO and agree on your proposed solutions. Take the time to do the job right. This is something that should not be rushed. If and when you obtain buy-in from the department managers, the next thing to focus on is an employee morale survey, which can be done every two years.

Bringing all workers and their line leaders to their full potential doesn’t end with a formal evaluation process. In general, the extent of your contribution will depend much on how you successfully reconcile the interests of labor and management while promoting the principle of meritocracy across the organization.


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