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An effective timeline keeps the HR process flowing

October 10, 2014
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How important is timing?

We’ve all heard references to how doing something at the appropriate moment makes all the difference. We even see it taught in schools when they talk about the Great Man (or Woman) Theory of Leadership. The point of this discussion revolves around whether the person became great because of innate skills that would always surface, or did the skills the person had or developed become important because the times or events of the day required such skills and, by default, the person becomes the recognized leader?

The above discussion can be interesting, but once you’ve been through it, what do you do with it? Perhaps you can analyze what is going on and see what skills would be useful. We all sort of do this when we get an education with the intent of pursuing some career goal. Even then, by the time we get the education and experience, things change or we change, and the match doesn’t happen quite as expected.

Then there is the Scout motto: Always be prepared. That’s easier said than done, but its underlying premise is the most important element. Look ahead and try to figure out what you might need and bring it along. Parents do this all the time when traveling with young children.

Now what does this all have to do with human resources? It is really quite simple. If we are to be an effective HR department, administrator or manager, we have to think ahead and plan for what could or will happen. Unfortunately, many in this function operate nearly all the time in a reactive mode. We only think in terms of putting out the fires, or we react when some line manager comes up with a new approach to operations that will have fallout affecting the employees.

The more successful HR operations spend a fair amount of time anticipating what needs to happen to make things go smoothly, whether it is hire 100 new employees for summer work, plan for open enrollment, or have the correct policies and practices in place to fend off a union drive. This all seems so logical, it probably makes you wonder why I even bring up the topic.

Let me tell you that in my experience as a career HR practitioner, the number of organizations that work with a fleshed-out operations manual and an annual action timeline is pretty small. As a result, things fall in the cracks frequently; things really go haywire when the long-term HR employee gets hit by a bus or goes to another organization on short notice. The organization thinks everything is organized because this key person has all the information in their head or knows the organization well enough to anticipate what will happen and when.

The senior HR leader and/or the responsible senior line executive ought to demand that this function have their annual timeline available for review and should have the details available that support actions within each function of HR. These details start with strategy, followed by policy, program design, plan documents and detailed procedures. The whole function should then have an organization chart that specifies responsibility assigned so the functions of the department are managed to meet the events that will or need to happen in a timely manner.

Now comes the next cliché: It is hard to remember you are there to drain the swamp when the alligators are biting your bum. That is all very true, but unless you find the solution, you’ll never drain the swamp, and the alligators are likely to give way to larger and more vicious crocodiles. Being too busy is not an excuse; it’s a matter of priorities.

So how do you do this? Maybe it is as simple as taking a look at the Finance Department. Nearly all will have a series of schedules that must occur at various points: payroll completed on a regular basis; monthly closing of the books required to meet standard accounting practices; quarterly and annual financial statements for owners and auditors. Of course, there also are all those documents that must be prepared to meet IRS regulations on a fixed timeline.

These same practices can be applied to HR. An annual plan of all fixed commitments is the place to start, with a beginning and end point noted. Then move on to those events that happen on a regular basis but have flexibility. Then examine those aspects of the departmental functions that aren’t tied to a timeline. Determine when it is best to review policies and practices and change them as appropriate. If you do this with some regularity, they are a lot less likely to pop up at the wrong time and throw off all the other items that need to be addressed.

Now that you’ve got your timelines organized, you can also determine if all the departmental roles are covered and who has the responsibility and authority to address required matters. Others in the organization should also know this.

The last item on the list of effective practices to get HR matters addressed in a timely manner is reporting about the work you are managing. So often HR administrators and managers work very hard to make things happen and minimize problems, but they fail to tell others what is going on. They need to get the metrics about their work visible, for good or bad. Without this data being shared with line management, they rarely will have an idea about what you are doing. And most likely they will speak up only when you’ve dropped the ball and it impacts their actions. Keep key organization leaders apprised about the number of hires, turnover rates, timing of completed performance reviews, cost of benefits, compensation market studies, etc. They will be interested and they can be allies in getting your job done.

Ardon Schambers is president and principal of P3HR Consulting and Services LLC in Grand Rapids.

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