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5/5/2019 Sidestepping Employees Who Go Through the Motions

VOICES IN THE PROFESSION | SEPTEMBER 2018

Sidestepping Employees Who Go Through


the Motions
BY RAJIV BURMAN, KRONOS

In the middle of the Mandovi River, late in the evening on a cruise in Goa, India, a troupe was
performing local dances. My partner nudged me in the middle of a dance routine we were watching
and pointed out a pair of dancers. They seemed to be going through the motions with little passion

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and interest. Like an obsessive itch you can’t give up, I would search them out in all the
performances that final evening and was fascinated with their fixed smiles and disinterested
moves. They trudged along, and presumably did their job — but it certainly wasn’t inspiring, and
they didn’t make others better.

We all have come across employees who meet the standard metrics. Like these two performers,
they arrive on time, they dress the part and they make the right moves, but something is missing.
And our usual key performance indicators (KPIs) of measuring goals would not fault these
performers. Yet, to the audience, they missed the mark completely. And then there are employees
who bring energy into their jobs and environment — the server who makes for a positive
experience in a restaurant or the gas station attendant who makes you feel that they value your
business.

Organization processes and policies, such as standardized performance management models,


miss out on valuing the essential human passion that is the difference between an average
performer and an outstanding one. The rules-and-processes burden in an organization creates a
culture of staying safe to survive.

Over time, managers and HR professionals looking to find that missing spark spend money and
time running “team-building,” “innovation” and “motivation” training programs. They build recognition
tools doomed to fail because they are not addressing the heart of the problem. Alas, there is no
silver bullet. Instead, let us get to the root of the problem through three basic approaches.

Hire Beyond the Résumé


Look for the spark that indicates that someone really wants to dance and isn’t just looking for a job.
There always will be some who have more passion than others. Avoid hiring folks who just want a
paycheck. I hear business leaders complain that passion is easy to look for in an artist, but who has
the desire for being a check-out clerk in a big-box store? This is where HR professionals can add
real value to the business. Find the key aspect that drives success in a role. In the big-box store
example, it is critical that a check-out clerk enjoys interacting with people and helping them.

Let Managers Manage


Don’t kill the enthusiasm and energy you worked so hard to find through standard organization
performance assessment forms and metrics that have little to do with keeping people motivated.
Empower and enable managers to make the decisions on assessments and rewards that are
critical to what is needed on their teams. Rather than using a standard form and template forced
upon every part of the organization, allow managers to identify what is valuable and hold them
accountable for the results. Standardization leads to metrics that have little to do with the real
reason that job exists. This is an opportunity for HR leaders to partner with business managers in
making this happen within organizational constraints like budgets, rather than operate as the
process police for a companywide approach.

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Focus on the Real Reason a Job Exists


Train, build and develop the core skills that are the reason that job exists. Instead of making
everyone drink the same Kool-Aid of culture, allow managers to focus on the critical competencies
for each job — all while using your corporate culture as a foundation. Organizations will have a
common baseline of values, but on top of that foundation, the magic comes when you allow
managers the freedom to build their own high-performing teams. Again, there is a tremendous
opportunity for HR to make a real difference to the business by empowering managers and getting
rid of companywide competencies that are counterproductive.

Keep the Spark Alive


These three changes in approach can help save HR and businesses from marching toward the
standardization that drives employees to boredom and monotony, killing the very spark that could
have made them stars in their roles. These recommendations may seem at odds with the current
environment in which HRM technology, a continuous drive toward efficiency and global processes
are de rigueur, but to inspire your people you must go back to basics.

Rajiv Burman heads human resources for Kronos in APAC and has more than 25 years of
experience in HR across North America, Asia, China and Australia with a focus on change
management and organizational design.

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