• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

In the first of a new regular column, Pam Henderson looks at some of the basics of good people management.

New research shows that while two-thirds of chief executives say they rely on their people as a significant source of competitive advantage and the evidence suggests they are right to do so only one in ten of them regards people management as a top priority. The reality would seem to be that the maxim people are our greatest asset is not consistently applied.

Too many arts organisations consider Human Resources (HR) to be the administrative, practical and legal business of employing people managing contracts, holidays, grievances and keeping up-to-date with changes in employment law. There is little thought given to the possibility that effective HR processes could improve performance across the organisation. While arts organisations use increasingly sophisticated marketing tools to develop external customer relationships, there seems less focus in managing internal relationships by which I mean staff and their managers.

Twenty-first century arts organisations need managers who understand and can deliver productive people management. That means finding ways to encourage staff to work more effectively by triggering the discretionary behaviours (going the extra mile) needed to do a job well rather than merely adequately. Staff are more likely to exceed the minimum requirement when they feel motivated, find their job satisfying and feel committed to their organisation. Effective HR builds policies and practices to engender commitment, satisfaction and motivation.

Making it effective

To have any useful impact, your HR policies and practices need to do two things. First, they need to reflect the values and culture of your organisation this will drive how you recruit and retain staff. Second, they need to have an impact on the quality of the relationship between managers and their staff. If they dont, everyone will just carry on as before.

Purcell(1) showed that practices most likely to further commitment, satisfaction and motivation include:
" Having managers who are good at leadership
" Having a manager who shows respect
" Being able to raise matters of concern
" Working for an organisation that assists people to balance home and work
" Working in teams
" Having a say in decisions that affect the job
" Opportunities for training
" Having some influence on how the job is done
" Doing a challenging job
" Opportunities for career advancement.

The study showed that involving staff has three times more impact on their levels of satisfaction, motivation and commitment than being sent on a course, and that respect shown by the line manager is twice as important to staff as a performance appraisal. There is an essential idea implied here, which is that HR practices will only have a meaningful impact on performance if they improve the quality of the relationship between managers and staff. Managers who have good leadership skills, communicate well with staff, respect, involve and consult, set goals, provide feedback, and carry out performance-appraisal reviews enthusiastically and thoroughly are more likely to get their staff to reciprocate with behaviour that is beyond mere compliance.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to enshrine these core behaviours of an effective manager in an isolated policy manual. Thats why effective HR practices are those that are underpinned by and respond to the organisations culture and values. This powerful expression of what the organisation stands for and is trying to achieve binds together people and processes. For example, if the key idea in your organisation is social inclusion, then you would want to have very clear practices about maximising staff involvement. If your organisation is about artistic innovation, then you might want to develop HR practices that reward new-thinking and improvement. A flat structure, team-working and high levels of autonomy would be important.

Getting there

An important first step is to find out how your staff think and feel about working in your organisation now. This can be done through a survey that you can buy off the peg and then modify. If impartiality or additional expertise is important, then you might want to think about getting outside assistance. The findings will allow you to start building a picture of the current organisational climate. You will begin to understand the size and shape of the gap between your written mission and values and the organisational culture and values your staff feel they actually operate under. At this stage, you may decide to undertake additional research to probe particular areas further.

The second step is to look at the policies and practices you have, using the knowledge and insights you have gained from the first stage. Here you start to work out to what extent they help you maximise the performance of your people.

The third step is to develop the HR policies and practices you need to get the performance you want. This means developing policies and practices that make your organisation, and the work, satisfying and motivating for your staff. You might want to think about:
" Circulating information on organisational performance and strategy
" Providing all staff with a copy of the business plan and targets
" Internal staff surveys
" Staff suggestion schemes
" Quality circles
" Self-managed or self-directed teams.

You will usually see some improvement in peoples performance if you have:
" An annual appraisal scheme
" Formal feedback on job performance from line-managers and customers
" Formal assessment tools for recruitment (e.g. competencies)
" An annual review of employees training needs
" Training of staff to perform multiple jobs
" Increased workforce diversity
" Mentoring programmes
" Models such as Not for the Likes of You or the Excellence Model.

There are few not-for-profit organisations who feel it appropriate to use performance pay or profit-sharing, but there are many other practices that foster commitment, such as flexible working, job rotation and family-friendly policies.

Pam Henderson is a Director of the Henderson Aplin Partnership and specialises in performance management.
t: 01223 520293;
e: pam@hapartnership.com

Useful (free) publication: Getting the best out of your people at work published by Business Link and available from the DTI website.
1 John Purcell and Peter Boxall (2002) Strategy and Human Resource Management (Management, Work & Organizations), Palgrave Macmillan