LEADERSHIP / MAY. 30, 2015
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The Pitfalls of People Management

Even if you are not a fan of international cricket or sport in general, you will most probably have been following the ongoing Kevin Pietersen saga with interest. Arguably the finest English batsman of a generation, South-African born Pietersen has engaged in a long-standing battle with the English Cricket Board (ECB) and has recently been told that he no longer plays a part in the nations’ immediate plans.

While the long-term future for Pietersen is as unclear as the precise circumstances that have contributed to his downfall, there is no doubt that the situation has been handled exceptionally poorly. From miscommunication to accusations and recriminations, inadequate management has led to a public relations and HR disaster that both parties are struggling to recover from. This is the type of situation that your business would do well to avoid, as the time and potential cost of resolving such issues can ruin a business.

See Also:3 Steps to being Hired as a HR Director

Other Examples of HR Fails: The Pitfalls of People Management and how to Avoid them

As a fundamental rule, HR departments exist to protect the interests of all employees and ensure that companies are compliant with the latest employment law guidelines. This is crucial, especially when you consider that court fees in the UK have risen by 600% as part of the Ministry of Justices’ drive to reduce costs. This is part of a sweeping trend, and HR departments must adopt a proactive approach if they are to avoid such complications in the modern age.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most memorable HR fails in recent time and determine the key lessons that businesses should draw from these: -

Sacked for Publishing a Picture of their Pay-check

Perhaps the central issue in the Pietersen debacle is the lack of clarity surrounding the reasons for his dismissal. This can be caused by a number of factors, although the failure of HR representatives to recognise up-to-date employment laws is one of the most prominent.

Lacoste fell foul of this fundamental rule in 2013, when they fired an employee for publishing a picture of his pay-check on Instagram. Now, while most firms request that you refrain from communicating the details of your salary to protect the integrity of their wage structure, this is not a legal requirement and employees have a basic right to talk about their rate of remuneration if they wish to. So long as this information was shared with at least one co-worker, the conversation should be considered as protected speech rather than an offence worth of termination.

So what can your firm learn from this experience? The main lesson is to ensure that your HR department remains fully in touch with real-time employment law and employee rights. This is especially true in the age of social media, as this evolution has changed the law surrounding protected speech and interaction. By working hard to recognise and enforce the rights of your employees, you can avoid unfair dismissals and costly legal fees.

Placing Profitability ahead of Individual Employee Needs

As a HR team, the well-being and requirements of your employees should be attended to at all times. After all, in recent times there has been a major drive to create more flexible working derivatives in countries such as the UK, where employees can now formally request an accommodating schedule that suits their individual circumstances. This is pivotal, not least because it enables parents to maintain their career and balance this alongside the demands of childcare.

You would expect most major brands to have successfully incorporated flexible working rights into their business model, but American coffee giants Starbuck came under fire last year for failing to put the needs of its employees first. The issue came to light when a profile of single mother and Starbucks employee, Jannette Navarro, appeared in the New York Times, claiming that the brands’ scheduling software had left her struggling to balance the demands of parenthood and her challenging degree course.

Essentially, the software used by Starbucks utilised sales patterns and consumer data to schedule working hours in all of its baristas, advising employees of their timetable just three days before the start of the workweek. This software also scheduled back-to-back shifts for Navarro and other staff members, simply because it was entirely automated and failed to involve human administration. The program was adopted to reduce costs and subsequently drive higher profits, although it is has achieved this at the expense of human capital.

This goes against the very purpose of human resources, and your business must always balance the need for profitability with the rights and requirements of individual staff members. Starbucks have subsequently committed to amending their scheduling policy, and other brands should heed this as a lesson when they consider profit-making exercises that impact directly on staff members.

When Recruitment Goes Wrong

To those within the HR industry, there is a sense that the sector is often unfairly undermined by the actions and decisions of individual managers and employees. While there is an element of truth in this, anyone who believes in accountability must surely recognise that HR departments are largely responsible for the recruitment drives, processes and training schedules that brands implement. This means that if people fail to deliver in the job role that they are employed to do, some responsibility must fall on the shoulders of HR professionals.

To understand this further, let’s take a look at the events that unfolded at major automotive brand Toyota between 2009 and 2010. During this time, a number of models experienced huge manufacturing faults, causing the brand to infamously recall nearly nine million cars worldwide. Combined with poor public relations, this contributed to a huge decline in sales and brand reputation, while the blame was controversially apportioned to flawed design practices and ‘weak execution on the part of the HR team’.

While this may seem harsh, it was evident that many of the mechanical faults emerged as a result of human error. Given this and the sheer volume of faults that were found with Toyota’s vehicles, it became obvious that there were underlying issues with the validity of employee training and the processes implemented to identify, recruit and reward talent. A lack of requisite skills or a strong managerial infrastructure is central to many business failures, and an honest HR team would be required to assume at least partial responsibility for these issues.

This underlines the importance of strategic planning in business growth, as firms can only succeed if they have talented employees and experienced managers who are able to meld an assortment of skills within a close-knit team. This can be achieved by creating clearly defined job descriptions for each individual role within your business, which enables you to identify suitable skill-sets and compare these against employee requirements. A proactive approach to training is also crucial, as this will ensure that your employees continue to refresh their skills in line with industry standards.

See Also: Top 10 Skills Needed for a Job in HR

With these points in mind, you should be able to safeguard your business from the type of public relations disaster that has surrounded Kevin Pietersen and the ECB. In addition to this, a proactive and well-trained HR team can also save your business thousands of pounds in the quest to comply with employment law.

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