As I survey the employee/employer relationship landscape, I really never see a great story. Oh, sure, there are good “anecdotes” here and there of some company (typically privately held, startup-mentality, uber-cool) doing something unique and interesting enough to get into INC and Forbes. These stories are the bloody chum consultants tweet, retweet, post and build models around (until the next unicorn sighting comes along and then all the past is forgotten).
In other words – HR is… has been…. and always will be… HR.
I think about that statement and wonder why?
Is there something about the way we look at employees and employer relationship that is fundamentally broken?
I think so. And I think it is rooted in how we look at the work that needs to be done in an organization. We hire people based on a “job” that has defined roles, reporting, outputs and temporal constraints. Those things then equate to compensation. The compensation is based on a specific role and job description.
Is the problem that we look for people to fill “full-time” positions vs. looking for people to contribute to the company? I know that sounds like a distinction without a difference, but when you vector in from the point of view of asking “what’s needed in the company” instead of “what’s required in that position” a lot of what and how you think can change.
Let me run with this for a minute.
Utilization Isn’t A Fixed Number
Here’s my train of thought.
- No employee is 100% utilized. Some weeks they work 50 hours, some weeks 20 (their time sheet ALWAYS says 40 though – we know that game.)
- No employee loves everything about their job. Don’t trust your employee pulse surveys. They all lie.
- No employee is using all their talents. I would suggest like the old (and incorrect) saw that “humans only use 10% of our brains”, employees are really only tapping into 50% of their talent.
- No company gets all their mission critical tasks completed. I’d say only 50% of companies get 75% of those tasks completed. The rest of the companies get by simply by being above the worst performing companies, limping along with 2-3% annual growth. Imagine if those things that we mumble through at staff update meetings actually were completed!
- If we have employees with available processing cycles, and companies have projects going unfunded (ie: under staffed and undone), then maybe we should do a little forced action?
We Always Work Harder at Our Hobbies
How can we match up the work that needs to be done and the unused effort (capacity) inherent in every employee “system?”
What if we assume no position is a “full-time” position? What if we remove the stigma associated with employees having to be heads down 40 hours (or more a week) proving they are earning their paycheck. Can’t we just be realists and know that what we’re really buying with “full time” employees is “emergency response focus”? What we’re buying is the security that when the s&*t hits the fan we have someone who can meet and exceed that 40-hours for the specific position. Full-time should be considered the “maximum bandwidth” you’re paying for if and when you need it.
Full-time is like a turbo on a car. It only kicks in when you mash the gas pedal to the floor. 90% of the time it’s not engaged. You’re simply driving around on a normal engine as if it didn’t have a turbo. You’re only using 50-75% of the potential horsepower in your engine. You paid more for that turbo engine – even if you aren’t using it all the time. You paid for the maximum horsepower it generates not the average horsepower. You paid extra for the turbo just so you have the ability to tap into that extra power when you need it.
Positions should be looked at in the same way.
Every position in the company should be viewed like a turbo engine. The salary is equal to what you would pay for emergency, on-demand, 100%+ focus on that position’s core requirement. The rest of the time you have an employee cruising along. And that is fine.
When we remove the 40-hour minimum stigma and look at it from this point of view, I think it opens up some interesting workplace options.
- You created a marketplace for projects that need attention? Employees could sign up and work on them in their “spare” time. How many employees are chomping at the bit to experience new ideas and new challenges every day? A lot. Trust me. You could even throw in in some non-compensation rewards and recognition (badging seems like a natural here.) Don’t give me all the reasons it won’t work now… just think of what could be accomplished if you could harness that extra 10-20% of unused hours. And it is VOLUNTEER hours. Which typically means they work harder on those things than their actual job.
- You finally enforced a 15-20% “discretionary” work policy? Many companies have them, but few monitor them and enforce it.
- You created rolling internships for employees to work “part time” in various departments as a way of experiencing more of the company? (I suggest a mandatory 30 day stint in HR for starters.) Again, many companies do one/two-week rotations during onboarding. I’m talking more about getting into the trenches and working 5-10 hours a week in a different department. Not a tourist, but a part-time resident.
- You gave employees time to do part-time jobs outside the company? Experiences in different fields and domains increases creativity and provides a richer database to draw from when solving problems. Let them experiment.
Before your HR undies get all bunched… remember… this is about applying excess capacity when it’s not needed in the main role. When it is needed, when you need to accelerate away from the super-fast zombies in World War Z, you still can pull that employee back into their lane and get the work that is needed. The company still has the right of first refusal on that employee’s time.
Now, I’ve never worked a day in HR, which makes me infinitely qualified to comment on it.
What do you think? Are we missing something when we think in terms of absolutes and assuming “maximum” engagement with the role instead of “average” engagement over time?
Thoughts? Rotten tomatoes?
Paul Hebert is Senior Account Executive at WorkStride, Inc, and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on helping connect best-in-class incentive technology platform to behaviors you need drive business results through employees, channel partners and consumers.
Using proven motivational theory, behavioral economics and social psychology he has driven extraordinary company performance for his clients. Paul is widely considered an expert on motivation, incentives, and engagement.
Other notable activities:
- Interviewed by the BBC on executive motivation and pay
- Quoted three times in USATODAY as an expert in incentives and channel travel programs
- Published in Loyalty360 magazine
- Writer and founding member of the editorial advisory board at the HRExaminer website
- Contributing author of “Enterprise Engagement: The Textbook: A Roadmap to Achieving Organizational Results Through People”
- Contributing author of 3 books on social media “The Age of Conversation #1, #2, and #3”