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Asking The HR Practitioners

Mar 26, 2008
Among the best-kept secrets at the Human Resource Institute are our Practitioner Consensus Surveys. HRI conducts these short surveys on an almost weekly basis, usually at the request of member firms. The objective of the surveys is to quickly gather and compile information on workforce management practices. This not only helps HR professionals stay abreast of what their colleagues are doing, it helps HRI track what's on the minds of today's practitioners. Below are findings from several surveys recommended for analysis by Greg Pernula, HRI's membership services director and the person responsible for conducting and compiling the data from the surveys.

Most firms have a formal succession plan, but relatively few measure the effectiveness of those plans. HRI's May 2006 Succession Planning Survey of 89 organizations found that three-quarters have a formal succession plan and 70% conduct a talent review. Not surprisingly, the large majority of plans look at the potential as well as the performance of those who are considered in succession plans. Yet, only 34% of responding organizations measure the effectiveness of their plans. This raises questions about how companies will be able to revise and improve their succession plans as time goes on. After all, the future of organizations often hinges on the "success of succession."

External training remains a decentralized process, but there might be some tracking problems. HRI's January 2006 External Training Survey of 121 organizations found that only about 40% of respondents have a department that's been designated to approve or oversee external training or conference attendance. When respondents were asked who must approve external training and conference attendance, the most common response (at 44%) was "supervisor only," followed by "supervisor and next level" at 36%. This decentralization makes sense because the monies budgeted for these activities tend to come from functional groups (63%) rather than the company (22%) or corporate (14%).

Such decentralization probably makes the external training process less bureaucratic and more agile, allowing workers to get the training they need when they need it. But organizations should beware of the potential of losing track of the new skills employees are picking up. Only about half of organizations require proof of attendance or track such training via their HR information systems.

Overall, outsourcing is working out. HRI's July 2005 HR Outsourcing Survey had only 63 responses, but most agreed that outsourcing in their companies had met expectations. Benefits were the most commonly cited HR responsibility that was outsourced, followed by payroll. The top three reasons for outsourcing were the improvement of service delivery (27%), cost savings (26%), and gaining the advantage of outside expertise (20%).

Generally speaking, the organizations that outsourced some of their operations felt their expectations were met in the area of cost savings and service delivery. The operation that was least satisfactorily outsourced, at least in terms of cost, was payroll. Overall, just 4% of respondents said they were dissatisfied with their outsourcing, 53% said it was acceptable, 35% said it was good, and 8% said it was excellent. Although these aren't rave reviews, a large majority of respondents said they would definitely or probably outsource again if they had a chance to do it over.

There's no such thing as a standard communication process. HRI's September 2006 Internal Communications Survey of 114 organizations found that about two-thirds have an Internal Communications function, but this function can report to HR (31%), Marketing & Communications (41%) or other areas (28%). Less than half (44%) report to the executive level of their organizations.

Respondents were asked, "When an item has been identified as something that needs to be communicated to employees, how does the process work?" It seems that trying to find the right balance between bureaucracy and chaos can be difficult. Some companies have systems in which messages have to be cleared at multiple levels. In one case, an EVP of HR develops the draft and then has to clear it with both the CFO and CEO.

Other companies rely on cross-functional partnerships or teams, with HR and Communications specialists working together. Some systems sound relatively haphazard. One respondent wrote, "If you are talking about a company-wide message, there probably would be a bulletin letter sent around. If it were a department issue, you better just hope you hear about it or get the e-mail. The problems with the way things are communicated in my area is that they are not. If three different people say it, it sounds different every time. There are too many directors and not enough communicators."

Performance management remains a work in progress. HRI's April 2005 Performance Management Process Survey received 53 responses and resulted in considerable commentary. The variety of responses suggests that there is no business consensus on how to operate the performance management (PM) process. For example, when respondents were asked how much of their organization's PM review is qualitative vs. quantitative, the responses ranged widely from "mostly qualitative" to "mostly quantitative." When asked what their organizations had done to make the PM process more efficient, however, a significant number mentioned technology. "Both objective and competency evaluation are supported by automated tools used both by the manager and the employee," summarized one respondent. Posting the process and helpful tools online seems to be a relatively common method of trying to make PM more efficient and accessible. Some respondents have also focused on redesigning the system and/or making sure employees are effectively trained in how to use the system better.

One participant noted, "[We] have incorporated various forms of training to support the communication elements of performance management. We instruct top-down on three performance coaching elements: active listening, feedback and facilitative problem solving. We also provide performance support tools, discussion guidelines and talking points on the intranet for ease of access by managers and associates. We also have incorporated discussion of the associate's role in performance delivery in the new hire orientation."
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