Key Questions HR Pros Ask to Develop the Leadership and Navigation Competency

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Is Our Workforce Performing at the Level We Need?

How do we know? Does the evaluation of our workforce correlate with our business performance? If HR professionals look to their performance management system and cannot find the answers, they need a new system. The data HR has today provides executive leadership a compelling reason for why a system is or is not effective. If the data do not tell us something, why are we making managers and employees go through the motions?

Are Our Leaders Effective? How Do We Know?

Organizations often conduct employee surveys regularly, usually requiring managers to report the results back to their teams and to create action plans. Do the surveys make a difference? Data should provide insight. HR professionals should not shy away from talking with employees about their work, their experience, and their environment. This is a great way to gather data and show employees that the organization is interested in them.

Who Are the High-Talent Performers?

How do we know? Organizations capture profiles of high-potential talent, generally on an annual basis. What happens to that information? Is it shared with other HR teams so that those high potentials stay on the radar screen? Do executive managers have as clear a vision of the organization’s talent as they do the organization’s finances? Do employees in the top talent category know they are top talent?

What Is the Risk of Losing Our Talent?

Few organizations can claim they do not need talent. Gathering this information is sketchy at best, but teaching leaders how to engage top talent mitigates the risk.

Is Our Organizational Design an Obstacle to Effective Leadership?

Organizational design is a huge factor in human performance. Those matrix organizations in which people have two bosses are the most challenging organizations to lead, and understanding how the matrix is working is data that arm the HR team with the ability to influence organizational design. And, if HR examines the results of its employee survey, it can look for a correlation between the managers’ span of control and the employee engagement. A manager can manage (effectively) only so many employees, and the number may depend on the work being done. This is an area where HR can make an impact, through data. What is the correlation between the number of employees managed and department performance? And employee satisfaction? If the data show that span of control is negatively affecting performance, HR now has data to discuss with operational leaders.

Are Employees Engaged and Committed?

The results of an employee survey can provide rich data. In my experience, employers use about 10 percent of the data effectively. Engagement is a perfect opportunity to think and analyze collectively as an HR team because engagement crosses through every HR discipline. Are managers given their data and left alone to interpret and develop an action plan? How well will a manager accomplish this important task?

Are Our Programs Cost-Effective?

HR professionals who do not think they can or should track the cost of their programs or track the labor costs of running them should think again. If we cannot clearly articulate what each program offered costs the organization, we are vulnerable to having others estimate the programs’ costs, and usually it is higher than they (or we) would like. Having a handle on the cost of programs allows an HR team to show its value and its competitiveness with outside providers. External consulting shops can tell the customer exactly what the service will cost. Will employees love to track their hours? Doubtful, but what rich information will that provide on many levels!

How Do Our Customers Feel about Our Work Products and Services?

This is not only a marketing question, and the answers should not be cloistered in marketing. What better way to help employees understand their value proposition to their customers than seeing direct feedback. Does HR need to burden employees with yet another survey? Perhaps not, if HR is interacting with the employees, asking good questions, and using the responses as data for analysis. On the other hand, having empirical data forces an HR team to look honestly at its value proposition.

Can Our Data Answer These Questions?

Ah, this is the $64,000 question, and with today’s fragmented technology offerings the answer is probably no. One of the biggest challenges for any HR team is having accurate and credible data that can answer these questions. That means that systems need to talk with each other, and data need to be simple, data points consistent, and information shared. Some may call HRIS tactical. I beg to differ. HRIS is the foundation of strategic HR. If the data are not credible, neither is HR.

What Business Intelligence Outside the Scope of HR Do HR Professionals Need?

Sourcing business intelligence is an opportunity to build relationships with key business leaders, asking questions about their needs. Looking only at the people part of an analysis misses the financial and operational part. Business intelligence should be looked at holistically to understand what the data are saying. Here is where embedded HR partners bring value. If they are thinking collectively with centralized HR, they know what to ask, and they return to their units with the data needed to influence.

Excerpted from Carol E.M. Anderson, Repurposing HR: From a Cost Center to a Business Accelerator (SHRM, 2015).
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