Matters Column

Do your business practices need a mentality shift?

October 6, 2017
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The mentality of the business community, like much of America these days, tends to see everything in a black and white context. They want to shy away from those elements of their lives that are gray or unclear, which seems to make them uncomfortable or of the belief they must always pin things down, so they know how to proceed when circumstances force them to act. As a result, we often find it necessary to put things in this box or that box, and then we have trouble if we want to move our positions around. To be honest, I’m a bit like this and getting more so. I tend to chalk it up to old age, experience or being smarter than those other people. 

However, I had a recent experience that maybe gives me some hope and maybe gives a little guidance on how to modify my approach to addressing various situations. First, you need to know I am not a hunter and I believe pretty strongly about gun control. The situation I encountered happened when I went to meet an old friend from California at his brother’s house in the Upper Peninsula. The house was very nice in design and spectacular in decoration. It was filled with over 50 exhibits of stuffed animals the brother and his wife had hunted over the years in multiple countries, including the front half of a bull elephant. Needless to say, it was a bit uncomfortable, but they were very gracious hosts, and it became easy to discuss the issues involved. Besides having a good time with my friend, I came away with a slightly different perspective. I got a chance to see things as others see them. The issues moved from black and white to a bit of gray. Perhaps, this will create a format that allows me to share a slightly altered perspective with others, where discussions can be handled more effectively with better solutions that can make an effective change to meet everyone’s objectives.

Mentality shift

Now, what does this have to do with business practices? It’s a mentality shift. Instead of putting everything in boxes, perhaps we would be better off positioning things in certain locations on a plate, like when little kids start eating “big people” food, and they don’t want “stuff” touching. Eventually, they get comfortable when things do touch or when stuff moves to other locations on the plate. Ideas are like food, the easier it is to move them around, the more interesting combinations you can make, and if you aren’t careful, you make something really interesting.

Business practices that are set up and isolated can take on the same characteristics. If you don’t look at the other things that are going on and listen to what the others are saying or doing, you may miss opportunities, and very likely, you will not be aware of the threats that are cropping up, which can have a serious impact on what you are doing.

One of these practices that has become a bit ingrained in the human resource area is the use of compensation surveys. Usually in late summer or early fall, information is gathered on what people perceive will be the budget forecast for the coming year on salary and wage increases. One recent survey we received predicted limited increases and only for the best performers. It looked like a rerun of a survey that was conducted during the last part of the economic recession. Or perhaps it is a wish list as to how businesses would like things to go. 

Yes, the pressures are increasing to make better profits, but this is nothing new. What is new is the labor market and getting the necessary people with the required skills. One only has to look at the high demand for talent and the fees placement agencies are able to command to know that it is a very tight labor market. You also can drive down any of the main traffic routes in any city and see the businesses that have help wanted signs. Or you can even see signs for temp agencies at various crossroads in the outlying areas — something I don’t recall seeing in the many years I’ve been associated with HR practices. In fact, the school system in Caledonia has a school bus stationed in a field near M-37 with very visible signs that read it will hire and train bus drivers. Pretty innovative and obviously necessary to meet staffing requirements.

When demand for people is such, it raises the question of how will you attract the people to get them in the door? And of even greater concern is how will you keep the people who already work for you? Of course, a critical factor is pay. If your pay scales have not been adjusted in recent years or were only average market pay the last time you did anything, you likely won’t have the tools to get the people you need. A shift in mentality and convention may be in order, especially if you have limited resources to put on the table.

Do it differently

Making adjustments so your organization stands out in some fashion has to be part of the picture. Maybe you have to move things around a little and let various HR practices touch each other. Thinking that giving adjustments to only your outstanding staff is the answer is likely to put you in a poor position with the majority of your team. In fact, your team may be just a bunch of individuals who are putting in their time until they find an opportunity to jump ship.

This is why operational matters have to be looked in a broader perspective. It can be very beneficial to see other sides of the story — in this case, from the employee’s perspective. It may be smarter to figure out how to operate in a gray area and not just give or not give pay increases. This is the time when maybe moving things around on your plate can be part of the solution for now. Maybe it is time to step back and look at compensation or the broad perspective of the work environment and figure out what can be improved and communicated to existing employees and potential new employees. If you are creative, you may actually spend your funds better and get better results. The final step in the process is to do the broad assessment again in a year because things change and that includes a variety of operating components, not just the most recent salary and wage survey.

Ardon Schambers is principal at P3HR Consulting & Services.

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