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Professional guidance on Reference Checks

Conducting reference checks about past performances from supervisors or peers is an essential step in the recruitment process. It can reveal a candidate’s behavior that is critical in your decision making regardless of their impressive competencies. Reference checks should therefore provide insight into the candidate since there are serious institutional liabilities if during hiring an organization fails to conduct an effective reference check. Notably challenges have been around the how of reference checking.

In this article, we seek to highlight to those responsible for this critical function to look out for some of the dos and don’ts of the process. Often reference checks have been unsatisfactory and time consuming. It needs a defined process since doing it haphazardly can lead you to being stuck with a whole lot of nothing.

Consider the following iterations:

Save Reference Checks for Last

It is common practice for companies to save reference checks until they are ready to make an offer to the candidate. This practice saves time and shows respect to the candidate. Checking references before interviews and shortlisting can create false expectations.

Formulate Efficient Questions

It is best to ask open ended questions and move away from the yes /no answers. Develop and streamline a set of questions related to the job on offer and the candidate’s experience/performance. Look for cues and pauses as you discuss.

Put These in Writing

Document the information for decision making and filling.

Advise Candidate that you will be Reference Checking

This is important especially where current supervisors have been given as referees. It is not always plausible that the candidate will inform their current employer of their potential move. While the best practice is to speak to the person who directly supervised  the candidate it may not be possible though they are likely to have more solid information. This can only be done if the candidate specifically highlights that it is ok. Doing so without their permission, you run the risk of alerting their boss that they are actively looking for a new job.

How to Handle Informal References

What is a matter of concern in our environment is the use of backdoor references where information is asked about a candidate from someone not listed as an official referee. If conducted professionally and ethically these can give deeper insight into the potential employee. If backdoor referencing must be done ensure they are productive and do not cause harm to the reputation or the career of either party.

Take everything said during backdoor referencing with a grain of salt. Since the person providing it knows it’s off the record they usually are tempted to allow other personal grievances or ambitions to come through. Always ask yourself whether they would put that in writing, if no, exercise some discretion. It is a right of the candidate to see that information about them. If as a recruiter, you do not want to divulge the information you got through backdoor do not forward the information. Let the informant know that you may use the information for decision making. Such transparency reduces malice and chances of suing each other of defamation of character.

Always remember that information is limited by the perception of the person giving it. Backdoor reference needs to be cross checked with another person. Making decisions without considering the circumstances will be a monumental error. While backdoors are an important source of confirming a candidate’s suitability, do them with consideration and stay within the bands of the law. Do not automatically reject a candidate because of one discrepancy as there are many reasons for the discrepancy and inconsistency. Evaluate these first by following through with other sources checking out for pauses and cues.

Never Write Off the Candidate at Face Value

In reference checking discussions never assume people stay the same. Most people go back ten years and just because someone had a difficulty with an issue does not mean they still behave that way today since circumstances that triggered that behavior may never be experienced again.

Using for another source dig deeper for situational circumstances that could have put the employee at a disadvantage. Also check on the period the candidate was with the organizations and ascertain development of  some cultural misfit along the way. Today many successful professionals won’t stand being micromanaged and this can annoy medieval bosses especially those who have not migrated their leadership mindset to the 21st century way of leading. If the candidate had been with the employer for a long period of time rather ask the candidate directly as well.

Validate information during reference checks

Take time to validate information on CVs and given in interviews with referees. It is therefore important to introduce yourself, highlight the purpose of your request, give a brief on the job at hand etc. It is crucial to maintain the same approach and request for similar information for all applicants being considered.

In conclusion reference checks can be done in an efficient and structured manner and yield useful information to aid decision making in the recruitment process.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com

How to influence organisational culture after restructuring

Once news of an imminent restructuring, reengineering, and transformation process starts to filter in an organisation the way things are done almost immediately changes. Staff becomes anxious, some will be angst. The rumour mill awakens and in most cases, it works against formally communication.

Let it be clear that if Leaders want to influence the culture immediately after restructuring, the culture strategy has to be implemented before, during and after the re-organisation process. It is therefore imperative to try and anticipate the people issues and possibly work on addressing them upfront. This will ensure a higher chance of influencing the culture issue after the re-organisation process. What questions would employees have once they hear that the organisation is restructuring? A Harvard Review article entitled, “Three Answers Every Employee Needs” summarises some of the demands by employees. 1. Do I have a job in the new organisation? 2. Who will I report to? 3. What will my remuneration be? Further engagement will bring out more issues around these questions. Employees are anxious to know the impact of the re-organisation process on their job titles, job content, job scope and overall its configuration in the new organisation. It therefore, becomes key for management to empathise with that uncertainty and strategize accordingly.

Some leaders in a bid to keep the re-organisation process confidential have lost trust and key talent that is needed to steer the organisation during and beyond the process. Transparent communication becomes key to make known what the process is all about and what it is not. A communication strategy has to be developed and implemented involving identifying the channels to reach out to staff such as email/town hall approach, what information is communicated and by who. The initial announcement should ideally come from the top office of the organisation articulating why the process is being undertaken and as per current business trends it’s mostly for organisational survival by improving efficiencies and productivity. Human Resources (HR) Managers and Line Management should open up discussions and be able to answer any issues from staff.

It is important to prepare for staff disengagement even after a communication strategy has been implemented. The possibility of job loss in this current economic environment will leave staff with low morale. Staff disengagement may continue even from those remaining in the organisation as they grapple with the imminent changes.

Once a layoff has been effected, Management need to ensure the remaining staff quickly settles in. Where reporting relationships have changed, allow new supervisors to meet their team. The new expectations and goals should be clearly outlined to the team too. If there is material change in the job content, job descriptions have to be amended accordingly. Subsequent HR management processes such as performance management, job evaluation, and skills and competence requirements need immediate realignment in order to build a high-performance culture in the new organisation. Mentoring and training staff on new skills required in the new organisation builds trusts between the leadership and staff. The longer these necessary processes take during or after restructuring the more difficult it will become for management to influence organisation culture.

The way the organisation handles laid off employees has a great impact on the culture that prevails after the restructuring. It is of course difficult to have all employees perceive retrenchment as fair in terms of selection of staff/positions and package offered. It is however important to strive to be as objective as possible by focusing on the business demands and giving support to retrenched staff. Layoffs become necessary for business competitiveness and should not be perceived as personal. A lot has been written about preparing employees for layoffs and organisations can implement some of the suggested initiatives as a way of reducing trauma and building trust.

Corporate restructuring and layoffs are unfortunate, but inevitable process of today’s business. It becomes key that management has the necessary skills for change management. The length of time the whole process will take has a huge impact on the culture that will prevail afterwards. Harp -hazard implementation of changes followed by reversals will further erode the trust and confidence that staff has in management. Lastly engage those who stay. Understand their people issues and show commitment in ensuring they quickly get productive in the new organisation.

It pays to treat staff in restructured organisations as new employees by clearly communicating the new vision/direction of the company and the desired culture required to take the organisation there. Whenever there is reorganisation the Corporate Commitment either changes or is reinforced and this must be promulgated as necessary. Management should show confidence in the new direction and champion corporate values and contagion will prevail across the organisation.

In conclusion, it is not enough to plan for business change and not adequately plan for people issues, otherwise it will be a plan to ensure staff disengagement. Keeping your remaining employees engaged, will require management to be honest, consistent and proactive. Peter Drucker’s statement of the importance of organisational culture in strategy execution encapsulates this article, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com

How to manage workforce diversity

Diversity in the workplace is defined as the acknowledgement and valuing of differences among people with respect to views and approaches. On the other hand, diversity in general has been associated with varying race, age, culture, ethnicity, gender, creed, political opinion, education, skills etc. Employees with the same gender and cultural background may have diverse thinking and approaches. It is therefore the appreciation that people are different cognitively in their approaches, perception of things, doing, as well as relating to one another that is important. The challenge is how to manage diversity whichever way we define it.

Despite the associated benefits of diversity in creating an exciting, flexible and creative corporate environment through synergistic blending of individuals with different backgrounds and perspective, most managers have challenges managing multicultural workforces. With the world now a global village, there is more interaction among people from diverse cultures, beliefs and backgrounds than ever before. Organisations no longer exist and operate in insular environments, they are now part of a worldwide economy and competition is coming from nearly every continent. Managers need creativity in management and openness to change.

Challenges to managing diversity come when decisions makers only value individual who are similar to them in attitude, beliefs and values. Henceforth organizational selection need not be based on undefined concepts of fit and chemistry, tribal or racial stereotyping which guides behavior towards a group.

The goal is to encourage mutually beneficial interactions among diverse employees by promoting an inclusive culture in the organisation. To attain diversity, managers should avoid discrimination which limits progress due to stereotyping. To be successful in a multicultural environment it is key to manage the differences than ignore them or allow problems to fester. Managers should make a conscious effort of ensuring all employees understand the organisation goals and are willing to attain them. These team will be a mix of individuals with different skills but sharing two things - passion for what they do and the wish to get things done. This must come first. Conflict may result thus affecting production among people who do not understand one another. Very often though, managers value employees with a variety of thinking and approaches but at times they do not understand how to manage them. Yet, respecting these differences is the key to maintaining a successful innovative culture.

Focus need to be on diversity and looking for ways to become more inclusive if diversity is to become a source of competitive advantage. It is indeed a key component that organizations cannot afford to ignore as well as a good practice of effective people management.

Managers need to understand their own cultural conditioning so that they see how their conduct influences their opinions, attitudes and behavior. Effective multi-cultural managers need to overcome the tendency that everyone is the same. Learn to describe cultural differences before interpreting and evaluating them. Also show respect for others and their culture, avoid being judgmental when faced with cultural differences. Be flexible and tolerate ambiguity.

With the increase in workplace diversity the ability of many organizations to remain competitive will depend on them managing cultural diversity. Develop policies and practices that allow for diverse employee to work comfortably and cooperatively together. Diversity conscious leaders allow a broad array of needs and expectations to be considered rather than just those of the majority cultures. When team members bring their own behavior skills and biases, creating teams out of such vast array of unique individuals is problematic. Team building with diverse member can be a nightmare. Innovation takes place when different ideas, perceptions and ways of doing collide. However, this happens only when there is collaboration among various players who see the world differently.

Paradoxically corporates now work from countries mixed with national cultures. Managers’ attitude to priorities becomes important. Being good listeners who are sensitive to perceptions becomes key. A lot more people are working and living outside their home countries. Managers cannot go around this but dealing with it by listening and establishing ways to get everybody to work together.

Effective management need to be aware of skills necessary to create successful diverse workforce. There is a real need for mindset shift as people advocate and lobby for inclusivity in organizations. It’s high time managers become open about their cultural biases’ roadblocks. Demographic changes in leadership now a topical issue as issue of women inclusion in the C-suites becomes a business trajectory.

A diverse workforce reflects a changing world and marketplace. Leaders through diversity start building their business competitive edges. Best ideas and solid execution are formed by multicultural workforces and with the advent of the global market place diversity plays a significant role. Employees who speak the language and understand the culture of their international trading partners provide their companies with a competitive edge

Being just or fair by managers no longer suffices; embrace equity to ensure creation of an enabling environment for innovation to happen. Diversity management is simply more than the acknowledging of differences in people. It involves recognizing the value of differences, combating discrimination and promoting inclusivity.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com

Human Resources Development & Organisation Survival

Companies that enjoy enduring success have core values and core purposes that remained fixed while their business strategies and practices endlessly adapt to a changing world. It therefore follows that training and development in organizations ceases to be just important but vital to ensure that adaptability. Unfortunately, in the current climate, most employers are finding development opportunities expensive. However, despite these drawbacks training and development provide both the individual and the organization benefits that make the cost and time a worthwhile investment.

There are indeed a lot of benefits to the organization offered by training and development opportunities given to employees. Training and development present a prime opportunity to expand the knowledge base of employees. This strategic imperative helps organization to improve performance as employees through training and development better understand their responsibilities and roles.

The importance of training employees both new and experienced can never be over emphasized. Among emerging HR practices is the creation or building of intellectual capital. Today every manager recognizes that intellectual capital matters. The challenges for most organizations lie in figuring out what it is and how to increase it. The concept has however been synthesized in the following definition: intellectual capital = competency x commitment. Because the equation has two factors which are multiplied together it implies that either of these elements alone is not enough. Both commitment and competence must be residing in an organization’s labor force if the organization is to create its intellectual capital. Under these emerging practices the need for building an organization’s intellectual capital through various strategic human resourcing facets like training and development as a competency building strategy becomes an imperative. Once organisations are committed to developing their staff, staff become committed to the organisation’s success. Employee satisfaction and morale rise as employee feel valued. Through training and development programs employees’ weaknesses and potentials are identified. Weak links in teams and individuals are also strengthened. Resultantly, the ability of employees to work in teams and as individuals is improved as the employees are furnished with the needed skills and development to fully appreciate their roles and contribution. Robust training and development ensure that employees have a consistent exposure and background knowledge to carry out their duties satisfactorily.

Some of the resultant benefits associated with training and development are increased innovation by organization. It is through ongoing up skilling and staff empowerment that encourage creativity. New ideas can be formed as a direct result of training and development. Innovation is only possible if employees are given opportunities to advance their skills and play a part in problem solving. It becomes a way of respond quickly and flexibly to advancing business needs. A workforce that is constantly benchmarking and updating its skills is one that can respond to change and also anticipates it.

Staying on top of technology and market trends and striving to be ever more flexible has become everyone’s responsibility. Collectively all eyes need to be shifted to market forces. For these imperatives to be achieved clearly the need to sharpen the saws becomes non-negotiable. While the corporate world fully appreciates the costs associated with building this intellectual capital the key thing becomes that of picking the relevant training and development programs. Having a strong and successful training strategy will help to develop employees. Doing so not only help business develop their brand but such programs make a company a prime consideration for career changes and advancement. It makes an organization attractive to potential recruits who seek to improve their skills and opportunities associated with new skills.

To cut on training costs organisations have embraced what is known as blended learning. This is becoming more and more popular as it uses both online and classroom learning. Online platforms have taken a center stage while on the job learning has also increased in popularity. Many organizations focusing on creating career resilient workforces prefer using on site rather than attend off site training programs. The advantage of using on site learning programs allow organizations to train more people working across a large international footprint. These are also cost effective and allow for greater process censoring.

Blended learning help organizations with multiskilling staff in preparation for the changing market trends. Organizations focusing on creating career reliant workforce allow staff to work on their employability as opposed to being loyal to their careers. Career resilient workforces are empowered with a lot of skills so that they easily jump ship and take up special projects allowing them to switch back and forth between regular duties and special projects.

Clearly training and development remain critical and in view of the advanced technology platforms now used as cost cutting methods, why should an organization opt to lag behind? Businesses embracing these approaches are viewed as state of the art as they demonstrate the value they give their employees as a source of competitive advantage. Nowadays organizations and employees are more agile and adaptable if employees have multiple skills and easily move across functions.

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com

Why employee engagement matters in organisations

Employee engagement is not just about employee happiness or satisfaction. Employee engagement is about emotional commitment to the organization and one’s job. When employees are emotionally invested in an organization, they are willing to make it succeed. Engaged staff have a direct line of sight between the organization’s goals and individual efforts. Employee engagement therefore, drives performance.

A business is taken care of by taking care of its employees. Employee engagement is cultivated in organisations that develop a culture centered on service to the customer and employees. This approach has been referred to as the service -profit chain. From this approach business need to be cognizant that value is created by satisfied, loyal and productive employees. So, what is vital is to create an environment conducive to engagement where employees are happy, productive and passionate about what they do. Once employees feel accommodated as well as having their goals being aligned to the business strategy and can see and measure the outcome of their performance, then business bottom line surges. Engagement is to a large extent that glue that holds the strategic objectives of the employee and the business. Employee engagement also answers to the employees’ value proposition when they ask what is in it for me.

Myriad of factors make up an employee’s value proposition but before delving into some of the very critical ones, it is important to highlight other business benefits of employee engagement. Engaged employees can become business ambassadors who speak highly of the business, hence promoting its branding. Such employees are less likely to leave their organisations. Many of these employees are seeking recognition for their effort and are working towards delivery.

Engaged employees are more open to innovative ideas and new processes. They are always thinking about enhancing the work they do rather than just performing the bare minimum. They value customer feedback and this attitude is a prerequisite for innovation. It is therefore important for leaders to develop and implement effective customer & employee feedback loop. It doesn’t end there though. Effective mechanisms for making sure feedback and ideas get actioned are critically important.

Management has to be aware of engagement drivers in organisations. Engaged employees tend to value and foster connections among their teams. Effective communication therefore, becomes a key driver of employee engagement. A connected culture encourages communication leading to increased productivity. This good communication also increases collaboration and can diffuse and decrease conflict, such commitment to the organization leads to the building of a stronger employer brand hence the ability to attract highly productive employees.

Engaged staff clearly define their expectations as well as the materials and equipment needed to perform their jobs. They also value opportunities to discuss their career progress and growth. They value their job design because their work is paramount to achieving corporate goals. Opportunities   for employees to use a variety of skills in a variety of work tasks are also another driver to engagement. Engaged staff are therefore solution driven.

Another essential driver is to get the cooperation of your employees; when leaders live to their part, employees will be determined to live to theirs. Consult employees about their wishes and desires. This also encompasses issues of corporate culture, leadership style and reward and compensation systems.

Further analysis indicates that they are three parts to employee engagement, the physical, emotional and cognitive. The physical is that aspect of engagement dealing with employees’ ability to exert high levels of energy to complete their tasks. Not only does physical aspect work alone, the emotional part is part of the game as employees need to put their hearts into their job to have a strong involvement in it and a sense of significance. So, management issues to deal with employee emotions are a strong building block to employee engagement. Finally, is the cognitive aspect which looks at that state of an employee as they get grossed in their jobs. These three elements require that employees are engaged on each level investing significant energy to complete their work and achieve positive organizational outcomes.

In the past organisations have carried out surveys on employee engagement but such surveys alone have failed to increase employee commitment. Surveys are just a tool and it is indeed only as good as its user. Such surveys may help expose weaknesses in management of employees and customers. Best results are attained if business creates engagement strategies that focus on the results of the surveys and key general drivers of engagement. They should be made part of the organizational integrals to the business just as sales, accounting, marketing, monitoring and evaluation etc. It is vital to focus on a few facets of these drivers of engagement so that the business does not bite more than it can chew. Also choose clearly those facets that fit with your business, market and industry as you define your scope of effort.

Engaged employees are willing to go the extra mile to satisfy customers. Let me conclude with this quote, “To win the marketplace you must first win the workplace.’’

Emmanuel Jinda is the Managing Consultant of PROSERVE Consulting Group, a leading supplier of Professional Human Resources and Management services locally, regionally and internationally. He can be contacted at Tel: 263 773004143 or 263 242 772778 or visit our website at www.proservehr.com