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When to blame HR for low performance



when to blame HR for poor performanceWhen an employee isn’t performing as desired, our first response is usually to blame them. Is there a functional, job-related problem that can be fixed, or does he just have a bad attitude? Or we blame his boss for a lack of supervision, support, or leadership. But sometimes, responsibility for poor performance lies with HR.

In some companies, HR is (perhaps silently) viewed as necessary, but lesser than other departments. Not as a true profession. HR team members consciously or subconsciously feel this second-class opinion and take it to heart. That can affect their own performance, especially their interactions with candidates and existing employees. Behavioral experts tell us that individuals who feel inferior tend to treat others as inferior, as a way of boosting their own self-worth.

How we view others directly affects how we treat them.

In many ways, performance expectations are a self-fulfilling prophecy. Studies have shown that teachers who believe their students are gifted are more supportive. They take more time to answer questions and provide detailed feedback. They smile more, nod more, and generally give more approval.

It’s easy to believe that this same principle applies to employees. The great ones are treated greatly, but perhaps those seen as poor performers are being assisted to fail rather than succeed. The problem is, feedback can be very subtle. It can be a “vibe,” or some form of mild, ongoing neglect, as well as formal periodic performance reviews.

Poor performance is often a group effort

Yes, sometimes a person is in the wrong job, for whatever reason. But if an individual has been hired or promoted for seemingly sound reasons, who is to blame for their failure to perform? Most HR teams work hard to create performance evaluation processes that are relevant, aligned with current company policies and needs, etc.

All too often, though, managers don’t follow the plan. That may be because top leadership isn’t following the plan. If a manager’s own performance assessment doesn’t follow the approved process, there is certainly no incentive for her to use it herself when evaluating her people. And so it goes.

Sometimes managers simply circumvent HR’s performance management plan, using their own observations and metrics to assess individuals within their department. After all, they deal with their people on a daily basis, so evaluation can occur in real time. While this might generate effective feedback for the employees involved – and the team might even be achieving targeted numbers — it may not address company-wide performance goals and objectives.

HR’s involvement with employees doesn’t abruptly end the day someone is hired. So it falls to HR as well as supervisors and managers to ensure that employees are given the tools and feedback needed to achieve peak performance. That includes ongoing, timely communication and constructive feedback that encourages engagement and rewards upward progress in overt ways.

As a society, we take great pains to boost self-esteem in children with positive talk and so on. We want them to succeed, and that starts with seeing themselves as success-capable. Don’t employees deserve the same level of support? Unfortunately, if HR has a corporate self-esteem problem, and supervisors and managers aren’t leading by example, the system cannot work as intended.

The solution must be a group effort, too

Commitment to a unified plan has to start at the top. Executive leadership, managers, supervisors and HR all need to work together to develop a performance management plan and metrics that everyone agrees is not only relevant but designed to foster positive growth. HR must be seen – and see itself – as an equal partner in employee development. Especially in creating a system that can help transform low performance into success for every employee.

Perhaps it’s time to re-examine our subtle biases – opinions about likely performance that may be inadvertently holding employees back rather than helping them flourish. That way, we can focus on early intervention and improvement of low performance, rather than after-the-fact review focused on what went wrong and who is to blame.

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