With everyone settling back into work after the New Year, now is a great time for HR folk to think about how they can support the business better by working more effectively in the months ahead.
This isn’t about setting resolutions – I’ve deliberately avoided the ‘R’ word, because by the second week in January, most of us have already given up on those personal promises to make 2020 the year we get fit/lose weight/insert your own as appropriate.
The start of a new decade does, however, provide a good opportunity to set goals, review working practices, improve your personal productivity and generally think about how you can take things up a level.
It’s not always about making big, ground-breaking changes. Often, just a few small tweaks to the way you work and approach things can make a real difference.
For those looking to make a fresh start or shake things up a bit, here are a few suggestions:
1. Don’t overpromise
If you over-promise, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Most HR people I come across are incredibly busy. The board wants the latest stats on headcount and retention, managers are banging on the door with disciplinary and grievance issues, policies need updating, there are interviews to be conducted, inductions to be arranged, sickness absence to manage. Everyone thinks HR has the magic wand that will solve all their issues. Trying to get to the end of the to-do list isn’t feasible – and trying to be all things, to all people, all the time is only going to result in stress and exhaustion. Take a step back and think about what your priorities are, what it’s realistic for you to achieve, and how you can set boundaries and manage other people’s expectations of what you can and should deliver.
2. Manage your time effectively
How well are you really managing your time? Is your day getting taken up by interruptions, distractions and minutiae that stops you getting to grips with really important issues? There are some common traps we all fall into. Letting your email rule your day is probably the biggest one. Turn off the notifications on your computer and your phone so that you are not tempted to stop what you’re doing every time a new message pings into your inbox. There are very few people who need to be constantly on the end of their email – and very few emails that need an instant response. Try having a couple of set periods during the day when you look at email – and then close it down in between so that you can concentrate on making progress with the most important tasks and projects on your list. Multi-tasking is another bad habit to get out of. Trying to do numerous things at once addles your brain. Just the simple practice of concentrating on one thing at a time can make an enormous difference to your productivity. One other practice I’ve found particularly useful is ‘eating the frog’ (drawn from Brian Tracy’s book ‘Eat that Frog’). The basic premise is that you start the day by polishing off that task that’s hanging over your head and that you’re constantly putting off in favour of other, usually less important things. Once it’s out of the way, our time, energy and attention are then freed up for other more important stuff. Try it!
3. Listen more
It sounds simple – but it’s easy to get so bogged down in actioning the things on our ever-expanding lists, that we don’t pay enough attention to listening to what people in the business are saying. Sometimes, just giving a manager or employee your full attention and really hearing what they are saying can stop a minor issue escalating into a crisis or a small disagreement turning into a dysfunctional dispute. It could also mean picking up on a nub of a great idea that could have a real impact on the way work is organised – or equally picking up on a signal that one of your most talented employees is starting to feel dissatisfied or unsettled and may be looking elsewhere. Listen for meaning and to really understand what is not being said, as well as what is being openly expressed. This ability to hear people and engage will help you create new insights and new understanding.
4. Get outside of the building
It’s easy to get stuck in an HR bubble, head down, nose to the grind. But making the effort to get outside and network with fellow professionals can make a real difference to your practice and impact. Get engaged with your local CIPD branch (you can find a list on the website www.cipd.co.uk). Most run regular events, with many also having special interest groups for core areas of HR. Find out what conferences are coming up and plan to attend so you can pick up on the latest thinking, make new contacts and explore best practice in other organisations. Don’t restrict your networking just to HR. I make a point of at least once a year, going to an event that isn’t directly relevant to the day job. This year, it’s Nesta’s Future Fest: https://futurefest.org/futurefest-2020/. You will be surprised at how many of the ideas and insights you can pick up from other, non-HR professionals and events, that you can take back and apply to the challenges in your organisation.
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff
If you haven’t already, make 2020 the year you embrace automation. A good HR management software system can help release you from so much essential but time-consuming admin by automating core processes. It will help you streamline the way you manage holidays and sickness absence and can bring consistency and transparency to performance management processes (and make it more likely that appraisals actually happen when they are meant to). Systems with a self-service element will give employees access to their own personal data so that the HR team doesn’t have to keep up with changes of address or bank details.
An HR system will also give line managers easy access to information about their team, so they can spot skills gaps, have informed conversations with their people and plan how to resource projects and manage workflow. Systems have come on apace in recent years, and good quality HR software is now much more cost effective and within reach of businesses of all shapes and sizes. Compared to the benefits you will gain in terms of time and efficiency, it’s a small investment.