Sunday, May 5, 2013

HR in the Spotlight: Why Even the Smallest Arts Organizations Should Have a Strong HR Infrastructure (Part II)

Part II: Showing Employees Some Love

Ok, now let's focus on the employees.  Part I of this post put a spotlight on the need for organizations to document and follow the letter of the law.  But it's not just about avoiding risk.  You also want to make sure you put processes in place that help retain and engage employees.  Focus on keeping them happy, not just covering your butt if something goes wrong!

What Should I Do If… I often see organizations scramble when an important employee situation or decision comes up.  They do not take the time to set processes up ahead of time, so when an incident (good or bad) happens, people don’t know who does what and when.  Any solid process should include:
·         Who is the decision maker?
·         Who needs to be informed/consulted?
·         What documentation needs to be in place?
·         Key steps to the process and if there is a specific order they must happen
There are two key areas where processes are integral for any solid HR foundation: Employee Life Cycle and Interpersonal Conflict.
Any organization should have set processes for when an employee (or intern or volunteer) is hired, promoted, transferred, demoted, or terminated. For example, at the time of hire, who gets to make the final decision and the details of the offer?  Who is responsible for collecting the new hire paperwork?  Who is going to make sure they have an email account, phone, computer, desk, or any other tools/supplies needed? Who is going to welcome and guide them on day one / week one?  Who adds them to the payroll?  This list is not meant to overwhelm you.  It will be much less stressful for you to think about this ahead of time instead of rushing around the morning a new employee is about to start.  Or worse, find out someone made an offer without the right approval.  And if this is all planned out ahead of time, it will also be a much better on-boarding experience for your new employee.  An experience, that when it is poor, can leave a bad taste in their mouth for the entire time they work with you, assuming they even stay past the first 30/60/90 days.

The other important area for clear processes is Interpersonal Dynamics.  This can include conflict management , employee complaints and general employee relations issues.  If an employee has a concern, who should they turn to (outside of their direct manager)?  If you do not have an internal HR contact, you should elect (and train) one senior manager to act as the single point of contact for any escalated issues.  By having one senior member be responsible for investigating and mediating any interpersonal conflicts that arise, you provide a consistent process that both the employees and the other managers can trust.  There are plenty of webinars, workshops and coaches that provide guidance and training to the senior manager that is delegated to this role.  Ironically, this is one place where organizations can focus too much on documentation, and not enough around conversations.  Documentation is not enough.  Employees need to be heard and the person responsible for these investigations or mediation needs to have those conversations.

Any investigation or mediation should include the following components:
  • The senior manager should interview the person bringing the complaint forward.  They should ask if there were any witnesses to the situation.  They should be prepared to ask follow up questions to make sure they are clear on the concern.
    • Do NOT promise confidentiality.  You CAN promise to only discuss the matter only with those involved or with those that need to know (their manager, the head of the organization, etc).
    • Do NOT promise a specific outcome.  You want to be empathetic, but you have only heard one side of the story at this point.  You cannot determine the outcome of the situation until you have spoken to all relevant parties (or researched relevant data like emails, etc).  You CAN promise a thoughtful and timely investigation or mediation.
    • Do NOT judge.  Even if you feel like the complaint is unwarranted, if the person is being "too sensitive", if you think the employees should be able to figure it on their own, etc.
  • The senior manager should then interview the other person involved (or who the complaint is against).
  • The senior manager should then interview any witnesses or other people who's names have come up in the investigation. If this is a mediation, this step may not be needed, depending on the severity of the situation.
  • The senior manager should make sure they take clear notes in each meeting to review when making a final decision in the investigation (or to recommend a next step in the mediation).
  • If this was an investigation, the senior manager should circle back with the person the complaint was made against and let them know your decision.  They should also circle back with the person that made the original complaint.  But they should not need to reveal the final action taken against the other person (i.e. don't say, "We fired John." but you can say "We finished the investigation and took the appropriate actions.").
    • If this a mediation, bring the two people together and talk through their concerns and how they can move forward and work together successfully.            
Show Them Some Love. As mentioned earlier, these posts are meant to help, not scare.  Yes, the focus is clearly around risk mitigation and how to avoid a situation that will close your doors.  But there are other simple HR foundational practices that you should implement that will improve employee engagement and morale.  Specifically, Training & Development and Rewards & Recognition.  It's about making them love what they do, not just keeping yourself out of hot water!

Yet again, you may be thinking, “We barely have enough hours in the day to get the bare minimum done and keep our heads above water, how am I supposed to find time for training or money for something like a bonus?!”  Most of the time, it doesn’t take much to show an employee how valuable they are to your organization.  A delivery of cookies during a long afternoon, a bouquet of flowers for a job well done on a key project or even a hand written note opening night (or closing night) of an event to thank them for all their hard work can go just as a far as a bonus.  As for training or development, maybe you can invite a guest speaker from your industry to come in during a lunch break to talk about an exciting new program they just launched.  Or maybe there is an employee who works on your backstage crew that is interested in directing so you set up an opportunity for them to shadow the director for an hour during an upcoming rehearsal.  Even basic development opportunities and recognition are proven to improve productivity and retention.   If your employees are happier and more engaged, that will flow over to your customers/audience (and isn’t that the goal of any arts organization!). 

Curtain Call.  Nothing noted in this article needs to eat up a lot of your budget or time.  That is a precious commodity to a leader of an arts organization.  But even the small investments noted can save you hundreds and even thousands of dollars in money spent later in loss of productivity, wasted money on programs that are not meaningful to your employees or even litigation fees.  Those savings can keep your doors open, your managers and employees and volunteers happy and your customers coming back for more…oh, a maybe, just maybe, a little more sleep for you!