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HR Leadership Column

Do Less. And Do It Better.

Seasonal event-planning should not be a high -- or even mid-level -- priority for HR leaders, especially when there are so many strategic initiatives that should take precedence. And the same is true when considering new programs. Make sure your HR function is successful at what it already does before adding on.

Monday, October 4, 2010
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I recently received an e-mail from a human resource management organization entitled Plan Now for Upcoming Workplace Observances. The e-mail contained a list of several observances in October and November, and noted these occasions would "provide HR professionals the opportunity to positively impact the lives of their employees."

Included in the list of observances were:

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October)

Drug-Free Work Week (Oct. 18-24)

Halloween at the Office

Seasonal Flu: Raising Awareness

Veterans Day (Nov. 11)

Fostering Gratitude at Work (Thanksgiving)

I cringed when I read the e-mail.

Should HR really be spending time on any of these observances? What's the value added by such efforts? Are they just a collection of the politically correct concerns that HR professionals have allowed themselves to be roped into acknowledging and recognizing in the workplace? 

In fairness, the list could be a helpful reminder to HR professionals that some employees will expect HR to do something to observe or acknowledge these events or issues. And the information provided in the e-mail will save them time if they have a corporate culture that demands some action. There's no need to reinvent the wheel when you can get helpful information that's made easily available.

But there's a real risk of building these observations into your "to do" HR calendar. The time required to organize something will drain away precious time needed for your "absolutely must do and do it well" HR calendar.

Too often, HR professionals allow themselves to get bogged down in launching a program to address a single issue or producing a one-time event to show that the employer cares about something. The HR department allows itself to become viewed as the event planner for the organization, rather than a key player in ensuring organizational success.

My advice to HR executives is simple: do less, and do it much better.

Before launching any new programs, do an honest assessment of how your HR department is doing on the basics.

* Is the HR department fully informed on the strategy of the business, how well the business is doing to execute the strategy and what HR levers can be pressed to help contribute to the strategy?

* Are you sourcing the right talent, for the right positions, in the right organizational structure to execute the strategy, and doing it in a cost- and time-efficient manner?

* Are employees being paid without error, according to a compensation program that is competitive and understood by the employees?

* Are your benefits programs competitive and being administered without errors or confusion?

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* Do employees get regular feedback on their performance, which provides valuable information to the employee on what they do well and how they can contribute more to the organization? Do they understand how this performance is linked to compensation?

* Are managers really managing -- and are leaders providing real leadership -- in a workplace where co-workers treat each other with respect?

Unless the answer to all of these questions is "yes," HR shouldn't launch new programs or initiatives.

If people aren't paid correctly, or the benefits plans are too difficult for the employees to understand, it won't matter how strategic and visionary a new initiative might be. HR will be viewed as inept -- and any efforts will be suspect.

If people aren't getting regular, useful feedback, they'll never fully engage. If managers don't feel comfortable managing, and HR allows itself to become a full partner in managing for the manager -- instead of training the manager to better fulfill his or her responsibilities -- productivity will suffer at the expense of the business.

And if leaders are distracted and fail to provide leadership, the organization will drift.

Recessions are terrible for just about everyone. But they also create an imperative for organizations to reassess their activities, and they provide useful opportunity to jettison unnecessary activities. It's a good time to get back to basics.

Do less. And do it better.

Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, is an author, speaker and consultant on human resource management. She is on the board of directors of the National Academy of Human Resources.

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