Here’s how HR professionals can position themselves as an effective support system for ambitious staff.
“I’m going to speak with HR about this.”
Unfortunately, the sentence is more often used as a threat than as a suggested solution for improvement. The HR department is commonly viewed as a policeman of sorts; enforcing company rules and policies, and acting as the executive team’s partner in managing staff issues. Too often, employees think of “speaking with HR” solely as a last-ditch effort to handle workplace controversy or to report a co-worker for misconduct.
The HR department can do so much more than simply reprimand the rulebreakers. HR professionals are in the perfect position to support both the executive side and employee side of the company — you can ensure each is working to its highest potential, and contributing to company goals.
One of the best ways to work towards company goals is to support your employees in improving their job performance. This initiative helps the individual employee (through career development, professional growth, and skill building) just as much as it helps management (through increased staff productivity and a culture of growth). Not enough HR professionals are taking advantage of the optimal role they can play in growing the organization.
You have the power to make it easier for top performing employees to succeed—bringing the whole company up with them. Here’s how you can get started in positioning yourself as an effective support system for your ambitious staff.
Paving the Way for Top Performers to Succeed
Reimagine Your Role
Traditionally, HR has been seen as an adversarial arm of management. While that may not be the case in all workplaces, the perception lingers for a lot of people. An effective HR professional will advocate for, listen, and respond to employees, as well as management. Your job is to successfully manage a balancing act that ultimately benefits both parties (and company outcomes) in the long run.
Ensure that company goals are well communicated to staff, and vice-versa; articulate staff goals and aspirations clearly to management. As a liaison between the two, you can create clear expectations for each side, and help prevent misunderstandings or surprises. Redefining the role of HR starts with how you act and position yourself around the workplace—your employees won’t view your department differently until you do.
Set Attainable Goals
It’s hard for employees to move forward without something concrete to move towards. Help your employees set realistic goals, and formulate a plan to meet those goals. Some of these should come from management, while other goals may be created by the employees themselves.
Goals should be based on the company’s vision and directly relate to its objectives, while also aligning with the employee’s personal career aspirations. Make sure organizational objectives and mandate are clearly formulated by management and communicated to staff.
Once objectives are well defined and understood, you can help make them more achievable for staff. Breaking goals down into individual tasks, projects, and identifying milestones can make large tasks seem easier, and keep employees motivated. Simply moving an item from “to-do” to “done” has amazing power to build momentum for the next step. Utilize a system to align individual tasks to broader company goals, and keep management up to date on progress.
Mark Progress Frequently
Tracking goals is just as important as setting them. While annual performance reviews are essential, tracking goals should be an ongoing, year-round process. Psychology research suggests that the sheer act of monitoring progress helps people to improve behaviors and reach their goals.
In most cases, an employee’s manager or direct supervisor should be the one to help him track and report on his goals.
Your role in HR is to help managers set clear deadlines for deliverables, with frequent follow-ups to best support their staff. Consistent and frequent check-ins allow managers to catch mistakes sooner, and give constructive feedback to help employees adapt their upcoming goals and overall strategy as needed.
Provide Continuing Learning Opportunities
Even your top performers won’t come in having every advanced skill and certification right off the bat. You may find that a consistently high performing employee lacks one certain qualification for a promotion within the company, or has been working so hard she’s fallen behind on the latest trends. When employees have been with your company for a long time, they have the benefit of experience and familiarity—but they may not have the fresh skills and outlook of a younger or external candidate.
When these skills gaps arise, it’s much more economical to train and develop your internal staff than to hire outside of your organization. Even better, offering quality training opportunities can act as a reward for staff who are already working hard for your company. As HR professionals, part of your job is to recognize if and when to develop internally rather than hire externally, and to source and administer the best learning opportunities.
Knocking Down Roadblocks to Employee Success
Remove Yourself as a Barrier
You want what’s best for your company and your staff, but don’t let yourself accidentally stand in their way! HR professionals themselves can become a barrier to top performers’ success by micromanaging. It’s important to be an advocate for employees, to shape their goals, and to follow up on them. But, equally important is to let the employees take initiative and build autonomy.
Encourage employees to monitor and direct their own progress; this includes taking the initiative to identify challenges or struggles in themselves before a manager has brought it up, and thinking up potential solutions. Some companies utilize performance management tools, which allow team members to independently direct their own goals, while keeping them accountable to the company as well. Remember, helping your top performers brainstorm and set achievable goals is one thing; setting goals for them is another.
Reverse Disengagement through Challenges and Rewards
Ensuring top performers succeed requires engaging them first. Disengaged employees quickly become a drag on your entire company, producing poor quality work and bringing down those around them.
How can you reverse the effects of disengagement? Start by revisiting the attainable goals you’ve helped your employees set, and ask yourself: are these goals too attainable? While setting realistic goals is important, it’s equally crucial that they aren’t too easy to achieve. Employees want to be challenged and stimulated in their jobs — this makes them feel they are continuously growing in their roles.
Don’t stop at the challenge itself. When employees rise to meet and overcome professional challenges, they should be recognized for this growth. Setting, tracking, and accomplishing goals feels good internally, but sometimes a little external reward can go a long way towards making top employees feel especially valued. Creating incentive programs is a great way to stoke the motivational fire, and keep the momentum going. HR professionals can work with management to identify specific company goals, then develop incentive programs that recognize work done to further those goals.Fix What Goes Wrong, the Right Way
Employees will make mistakes. It’s a fact. Seeing these moments as opportunities for growth—rather than setbacks—is better for the employee, and better for business. In HR, you can be the one to shape this perception throughout the company culture. Reframing the question from “What did they fail at doing?” to “Why did they fail?” is a good start.
Whether it’s a lack of training, unclear instructions, or issues with individual time management, you can help team members identify and come up with solutions for the roadblocks preventing them from success. Institute training programs to help top performers grow and gain confidence in the company and themselves. An individual failure might reflect poor communication between management and the employee—a good opportunity for HR to jump in and reassess the process.
Poor time management might be harder to fix, but sometimes, simply helping employees to understand an issue in their workflow allows them to start paying closer attention to improving it. Working collaboratively and openly with staff gives them a chance to improve themselves, and build their sense of professional worth and autonomy.
For larger workplace or social issues, establishing a conflict resolution policy before conflicts arise will help keep things constructive rather than destructive.
In today’s workplace, fear of change can be a company killer. HR professionals have the potential to be on the forefront of progressive corporate change. Modern approaches can include introducing flexible PTO policies, compensating employees for outside job-related training, or shifting from annual performance reviews to consistent coaching or year-round feedback.
As a new generation of professionals enters the scene, HR professionals should anticipate significant paradigm shifts, and maximize on the potential to embrace those shifts to improve the company overall. Change can be good, and it will keep successful companies moving forward with their top performers into the next generation.Use Your HR Powers for Good
Soon, the phrase “I’m going to speak with HR about this” may be optimistically announced around the job site, by employees with a positive attitude about growth and problem solving—rather than just the signature line that means someone’s in trouble.
Creating a positive environment for top performers to succeed and removing roadblocks to their success is a long-term strategy for overhauling the entire perception of the HR department. No longer simply a law-maker and rule-enforcer, HR can also be a productivity-booster, reward-giver, and growth-driver. Effective HR professionals will balance the need for immediate solutions with the long-term importance of effective, engaged employees. When facing problems and considering solutions, take a step back to ask yourself: Which approach will be better for the employee, and the company, a few years down the road?