Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When expertise becomes an enemy of quality service 14 – personnel policies as dynamic and at least ideally, coherently and consistently organized operational systems 2

Posted in career development, HR and personnel, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on September 24, 2016

This is my fourteenth installment to a series on expertise, and on what an employee or manager needs to bring along with it, if it is to offer real value and either to themselves or to the business they work for (see my supplemental postings section at the end of Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 69 and following, for Parts 1-13.)

I offered the first twelve installments to this series, in large part as a series of scenarios in which a more flexible approach to Human Resources, and to personnel policy and practice would make sense and both when working with individual employees and for the business as a whole. Then I turned from the more specific contexts of these scenarios, to consider a more general policy, big-picture perspective of personnel policy and Human Resources practice in following it, in Part 13. And I offered that as a risk management posting where I raised a balancing, compelling need for consistency in policy and practice, too.

And I ended that installment with a fundamental question:

• How can a business remain competitive, and particularly in an employee-favoring job market where best possible new hires, and your best current employees have choices and opportunities that mean you’re having to compete for them,
• While still maintaining an essentially consistent personnel policy and practice?

Securing and retaining the people you need in your business, if you are to succeed in a competitive industry, means being able to offer better terms of employment than your competitors can, for your most strategically important new hires and employees. And this calls for flexibility in how you work with them, and in setting the terms under which they would work with you. But at the same time, you have to studiously avoid creating situations that can be construed as being discriminatory in any way.

To cite a somewhat simplified example, consider a situation where you need to hire software developers with specific new cutting edge skills in order to keep your product development team competitively up to date. And you need to integrate them into that larger and more comprehensive software development team as you hire and onboard them – where you have traditionally categorized these employees into two job level and pay scale categories: basic software developers and senior or lead developers. And you have traditionally advanced your software developer employees from basic to senior positions on the basis of experience and on the job performance, and according to consistent salary and benefits scales. I am not necessarily just posing a simple seniority equals advancement scenario here, but I am outlining what can become a fairly inflexible, single path forward set of career advancement criteria with a matching single track implementation pattern for them.

This approach has worked for you in the past and certainly when it was first set up and most of the basic, core technology that you needed to have in-house was relatively standardized and commonly employed – and available throughout your industry. Then, game changing disruptively new technologies appeared that would reshape what it means for a business like yours to be competitive moving forward.

Your best employees up to now have always distinguished themselves primarily by how effectively they were able to use standard tool and skill sets. Now your best and certainly your most important ones have to include people with enough training and experience in those new technologies so that you can effectively bring them in-house too.

If you simply keep your two tier software developer categorization in place, ignoring at least for personnel policy purposes the precise skill set specifics of these new job openings, you at the very least create opportunity for potential workplace discrimination suits and certainly if you have older, same job level employees who have always received very high level work performance reviews, and they find out and can convincingly argue that younger, less experienced and less proven employees are systematically being paid more, and on better terms of employment.

The way that I have set up this scenario, leaves an obvious way out of the potential age discrimination predicament that it raises. You need to offer more and better to specific new hires with those essential new disruptive technology skills? Set them apart as a separate job category and hire specifically for that. And this will work until day one of the next newest and best technology cycle, when the next new must-hire for disruptive technology shows up – at which point you will have to repeat. And meanwhile, this first next great new disruptive thing is going to lose its new tech luster and become as mainstreamed as any that you have ever had in-house. How do you distinguish between current must-have new and exciting – and strategically essential to bring in-house, and everything else that you need, when New is always changing?

One obvious answer, or at least part of an answer is to dispense with the simple two tier approach that you have always followed, and that is reflected in your table of organization. Another would be to make your hiring distinctions differently, and flexible depending on the immediate, at time of hire value of the specific skills and experience acquired. This is all very basic and none of it is, or should be new to anyone reading this. But for purposes of this discussion, this also means rethinking and redeveloping basic personnel policies for how they manage terms of employee service and compensation, to allow for greater situational flexibility – and without risking backlash from employees who feel left out, and who can show that special benefits offered to others violate in some way, the presumed standard and consistent policy that they are judged and rewarded by.

And that leads me to the crux of this posting:

• The need to frame and execute flexibility in what is offered to employees and in the terms of service that they have to meet,
• That simultaneously reward the most valuable people that the business needs to bring in and keep,
• And that is overtly fair and open to everyone at that business – and even when “most sought after” there, is a seemingly constantly changing hiring and retention target.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, where I will discuss the more traditional approach of businesses keeping salary ranges and related terms of employment details secret, and the increasing likelihood that any such secrecy will be breached with everyone able to see this type of information, and for any and every type and level of position in a business – any business. My goal there will be to at least begin a discussion of personnel policy best practices in an age of essentially complete transparency, as the interactive online experience and social media are giving us.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 (with this included as a supplemental posting there) and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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