Viewpoint: 10 Fact-Based HR Practices for Company Success

By Benjamin Schneider June 21, 2021
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Viewpoint: 10 Fact-Based HR Practices for Company Success

​As companies strive to return to a new normal, it is important to have an integrated approach that ensures the new normal is a positive one for all employees.

To that end, I've developed 10 HR practices based on my 50 years of consulting and research. They should be viewed as a holistic picture of HR that will yield high levels of employee engagement, customer satisfaction and loyalty, which will lead to the company's financial success.

These practices should be viewed as an integrated way of working and not as isolated actions because, collectively, they send a powerful cultural message that people are central to the planning, operations, strategy and success of every company. In short, a people-focused culture serves as a foundation for everything a company wants to be and achieve because it will have the engagement and goodwill of its people.

Practice 1: Professionally developed tests of employee ability, personality and interests are valid for the prediction of newcomer job performance, absenteeism and turnover.
There are hundreds of purveyors of such tests, but be careful since they all sound wonderful but have not been validated for the specific jobs in your company. In addition, they likely have not been examined for the degree to which they artificially discriminate against protected classes. Be very careful when purchasing employment tests that do not meet the standards of the testing profession or legal requirements. Select the skills you need for the jobs you have—now and in the future—and seek the people who fit the kind of culture you want to have now and in the future. Think of people as more than fixed expenses; they are valuable assets because they do the work you need done.

Practice 2: Positive onboarding is good for the company and for new hires at all levels.
Employers hire people and put them to work, sometimes after training them. But companies fail to pay attention to the other early experiences that newcomers have—the cafeteria (if one exists), who the real boss is of the work unit (frequently it is not the official supervisor), and what is most important to focus on while on the job: speed, quality or customer service. In other words, newcomers need informal "training" as well as formal training and should be assigned one of your best people to be an advocate who is responsible for conveying this early information and checking in with the new hire informally throughout the day, including by being a lunch partner. Such onboarding programs yield increased work engagement, speedier attainment of proficiency on the job, higher performance ratings, lower absenteeism, improved safety and service performance, and lower turnover. It is well worth the investment of time from your best people to be advocates for newcomers.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Understanding Employee Onboarding]

Practice 3: Engagement has a significant impact on employee performance and attendance, as well as financial performance.
Employees who feel they are using their important skills at work are more engaged, but that isn't their only source of engagement. A positive team experience when working with co-workers and the perception that senior leadership and the CEO are forthcoming, communicative and follow through on commitments also contribute to engagement. It may seem paradoxical that more than the work itself is involved in engagement, but the evidence is clear that employee engagement is a foundation on which companies can build their reputation and success and, not so incidentally, become the employer of choice attracting the best possible people to become applicants.

Practice 4: Fair and just HR practices, specifically performance management and equitable compensation, serve as a foundation for trust that allows employees to feel psychologically supported, trusted and engaged
Employees return fair and just investments made in them with effort and energy directed at fulfilling responsibilities that meet or exceed organizational objectives. Fair and just practices meet the following criteria: They are equitable (people get what they earn as a result of their performance compared to the performance of others); they are accompanied by interpersonally positive exchanges (they are personally dispensed not via e-mail or in an envelope); and there are opportunities to question decisions. This is the most important fact to remember: Rewarding short-term performance accompanied by unsafe and/or unethical behavior is a fairness and justice disaster due to the many negative consequences that follow. Why? Because everyone knows when this happens. Any form of unwarranted favoritism is wrong because it destroys trust, which, once gone, is nearly impossible to regain.

[Want to learn more? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]

Practice 5: Know your employees' "psychological contracts" and make sure they know yours.
A "psychological contract" is the unwritten and unspoken agreement that people use as a basis for decisions they make at work. One such implicit contract is that people expect to be treated fairly. When the parties to a relationship know each other's implicit contracts, the relationship is tighter, offers more opportunities for understanding and develops a mutual trust that leads to positive outcomes for employees (lower stress at work) and employers (lower absenteeism and turnover and, for newcomers, quicker uptake on how to navigate the work and the work culture). There is solid evidence to support providing job applicants a realistic preview as a way to demonstrate the employer's expectations so that even before they commit to a job, they know what it's going to be like.

Practice 6: Offering options and flexibility to employees is good for everyone as documented by how well these worked during the pandemic.
Many employers have been pleasantly surprised by how well remote work has worked out: It's generally resulted in at least the same levels of performance or, in many circumstances, improved performance. The lessons we learned are these: Find ways to offer options and flexibility to office workers post-pandemic and, perhaps more importantly, find ways to offer options and flexibility to production and service workers. Given how technology has helped with employee scheduling to ensure coverage, these systems can help increase the flexibility all employees have for handling both their work and personal lives. Offering options and flexibility is also a signal to employees that they are trusted—and they do repay that trust. Finally, as companies increasingly invest in automation and artificial intelligence, there is an opportunity to consult with employees about the best and most advantageous tasks to be automated. The key here is to focus on the mix of human and automated operations likely to produce the best outcomes for all.

Practice 7: Carefully developed and deployed employee surveys with follow-up are valuable as input into future decision-making in regard to human issues and company strategy.
Did you know that employees know what needs fixing to make the company more successful? Don't just ask them how satisfied they are or whether they have friends at work. Ask them how well production systems are functioning and whether customer service is really serving customers. They know what needs fixing. There are lots of good examples of the usefulness of surveys as a foundation for effective talent management, as well as the identification of processes needing attention. But an employee survey initiative is useless—or worse—unless action is taken on the results. When survey initiatives begin in companies, employees fill out surveys expecting that something will happen. When it doesn't and they hear nothing about the results, they will stop responding. Employee surveys should be developed by those who are experts at the task and not thrown together by people who aren't familiar with how to do this well; this is not a do-it-yourself operation. Producing useful surveys requires that the employer commits to asking important strategic process questions; acts on the results; and ensures that there is technical expertise in survey design, administration, analysis and use of the data.

Practice 8: HR should partner with departments across the organization to be most relevant.
Doing "HR things" is only relevant to the degree that it facilitates every other function to meet and exceed its goals. What does the customer need that production will make and sales will sell if, and only if, they have the talent to make it happen? HR needs to be a partner in this stream so that it considers the talent possibilities. For instance, upskilling is the future of HR, but forecasting future talent requirements is only as good as the partnership with production and sales and strategy. And, of course, training programs must be evaluated to ensure they produce what they were designed to do. Training often isn't evaluated because HR doesn't want to "prove" it made a mistake, but not evaluating and fixing issues is the big mistake! And never forget that what people learn in training is only as good as what they are rewarded for doing back on the job. Otherwise it's useless.

Practice 9: Promote inclusion as well as diversity because it's the right thing to do and it pays off financially.
Many companies have responded to the call for increased diversity with regard to race, gender, disability and sexual orientation, but research on the consequences of such diversity initiatives reveals they often lack a positive impact on the groups affected. The reason is that diversity is a numbers game with regard to hiring decisions, and numbers do not tell the story of how people experience the workplace and the progress they make after being hired.
Studies of how new hires from diverse backgrounds experience the workplace reveals they often aren't appropriately helped as newcomers for several reasons: Relationships with new team members aren't developed; they feel unjustly and unfairly treated in regard to pay and promotional opportunities; companies do not understand their new diverse employees' psychological contracts; they don't feel their unique challenges are acknowledged; and they report that senior leadership fails to track explicit goals and accomplishments via survey data, pay, promotion and turnover rates. In short, what we know is that necessary and valid HR practices aren't being used to foster an inclusive workplace. We know how to create climates and cultures of inclusion, and we know these get reflected in a host of positive employee and organizational consequences, so it is time to make these happen.

SHRM Resource Hub Page
Overcoming Workplace Bias

Practice 10: CEOs and senior leadership have a powerful impact on the climate and culture of a company by what they do and how they go about doing it.
This also applies to all levels of management, who determine climate and culture by the signals they send about what they invest in (customer service), what they measure (rates of inclusion and not only diversity) and the kinds of people they surround themselves with (interpersonally competent as well as technically competent). So, how do they do it? They determine climate and culture by their openness to input from all levels in the company (they host public forums), by their emphasis on cross-functional cooperation (they de-silo), by their participation in community service (they are public figures), and by their presence for events important to their employees (celebrations of milestone accomplishments).

Ben Schneider is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Maryland, and an affiliate research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California. He has worked with JPMorgan Chase, Citicorp, AT&T, Giant Eagle, PwC and Lilly, among others. In 2009, Schneider won SHRM's Michael R. Losey Human Resource Research Award. He believes in evidence-based management rather than hunches and has devoted his career to understanding the relationship between the positive ways organizations can manage and engage their people and the positive outcomes that follow. Find out more at www.DrBenSchneider.com and via e-mail at benj262@outlook.com.

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