Listen effectively to your people – a case study

The top Sales Executive of a mid-size Pharma company is consistently complaining about the performance of the Sales team and the related hiring process. However, the company follows the three-step recruitment process with checkpoints, but the VP of Sales complains of hiring the average and below-average people in the team. He is always raising the concern of not hiring proven sales talent that impedes the team performance and finally affects the targets. The HR Head noticed the frustration of the stakeholder and decided to take steps before the situation becomes dysfunctional. She decided to have a conversation with the VP and explore more in-depth as to what is the root cause of his behavior and complaints. To effectively handle the situation she planned a meeting with him to get to the core of the problem. The HR initiated the dialogue and listened to VP complaints with patience and assured him to work in a collaborative way to resolve them. So, what is that skill which the HR imparted in this situation?  Yes, She demonstrated a high level of active listening. Active listening forms one of the essential aspects of any communication when it comes to gathering information and solving problems.

Listening is the ability of a person to respond to any sound or action. It means paying attention to the message, language, tone, and body language of the sender. Listening becomes active when a person concentrates on any communication with all senses. In our day to day life, we hear many sounds or messages and respond to them according to senses. A casual response to any external sound is considered passive hearing as it doesn’t retain the message of the speaker. But when the receiver pays full attention to the sender, understands their message, comprehends the information, and responds thoughtfully it is said to be active listening. For example, our response is casual on the bark of a street dog while our senses actively respond to a Lion’s roar. Likewise, response to an angry boss is highly attentive as compared to a normal discussion. Active listening involves both verbal and nonverbal communication, such as maintaining eye contact, nodding head, asking meaningful questions, etc. It will make the speaker feel listened that results in explicit, open, and honest communication.

Now let us examine the above situation where the Head HR decided to have a first-round of discussion with the VP to understand the situation. HR decided to take the Three-Step Dialogue strategy to address the situation. As mentioned, active listening involves full attention and understanding of the sender’s message by asking meaningful questions.  The Head HR prepared herself with a few sets of questions to reach to the core of the situation. She intended to get a clear vision of sales team objectives and align the HR strategy with the business. She structured the meeting session into following set of questions to understand the situation-

  1. Know the performance of the sales team to date – The main concern here was to collect information on sales team performance in a recent periodic review to understand the role and expectations of them.
  2. Identify the experience, skills, and behavior – This will help HR understand the characteristics required in a new hire to meet the team objectives. It helps HR in identifying potential candidates who can excel in the organization’s selling environment.
  3. Standard Profiling – The HR tries to frame a blueprint for current and future hires by identifying an ideal candidate for sales role. The VP – Sales was expected to discuss the top performer’s profile, and correlate it with new hires to improve on the hiring process.
  4. Know the competition – To create and Employee Value Proposition (EVP) it is pivotal to know about the competitors. It helps HR in identifying key differentiators used to make an appropriate hiring strategy to attract and retain talent.
  5. Appropriate JD for all positions – The HR understands any job accurately through the roles & responsibilities, qualifications, and experience. A detailed JD for a job not only helps the HR but also pass a clear communication to the applicants, about expectation and objectives attached to any position.

The VP Sales felt relaxed after this meeting and appreciated the structured and transparent communication of Head HR. Both of them agreed to partner in developing an effective strategy to improve the performance of both the departments to achieve their human capital objectives. The above case reveals the positive effects of active listening on problem-solving. It makes people feel listened to and heard. Furthermore, this skill helps people build and maintain relationships, handle conflict, retain information, and meet expectations.

Following the three-step dialogue strategy, the Head HR scheduled a third meeting with the VP Sales to discuss the blueprint for effective sales recruitment and retention strategies. She wanted to discuss the framework for maintaining clear communication, hiring process with timelines, and other changes that can support better outcomes. She plans to take the following initiatives –

  1. A three-level hiring process – The Head HR proposed to develop a mutually beneficial three-tiered interview process to hire only those candidates who exhibit only required skills, experience, and behaviors. The first level involves screening; the second measures the skills and experience; the third analyses behavior with role plays and psychometric assessment.
  2. Setting channels for clear Communication – To avoid delays and miscommunication Head HR assigned a special SPOC from the HR department who will work in close coordination with the VP Sales for the hiring process, receiving feedback and performance reviews with specific timelines.
  3. Create a top-notch onboarding program – The HR discussed an onboarding strategy that aligns with the department revenue goals. It involves the setting of onboarding objectives, developing of a sales manual, pre-hire materials, and involvement from selected stakeholders to educate recruits before and on their first day.
  4. Developing a PDP for the sales team – The HR proposed for a professional development plan in alignment with the business strategy for developing employees. It includes both the long-term and short-term objectives for the sales team together with a competency development plan that aligns with department goals.
  5. Advocating a robust sales culture – Best talent work for an organization that is engaged, competitive, and respected within the industry. The VP was advised to ensure regular reviews, appreciation, and reward systems for the sales team to develop a culture of continual progress and high achievement. It will not only help in achieving goals but will also help the HR in recruitment and retention.

The meeting concluded with mutual understanding and an assurance to take the strategy forward in achieving both the departmental and organizational objectives.

We can observe here that a number of problems can be solved with high level of active listening skills. When we listen carefully, we help calm the other person’s emotions, so they feel heard. And when emotions get de-escalated both parties can use cognitive problem-solving to generate options to overcome the situation. HR, therefore, has to be an active listener to know more about people and their concerns. Then only they can develop stronger relationships and retain more information from the workplace interactions. People who listen effectively can control communication, understand the situation, and come out with appropriate solutions.  This skill can give them an edge in life and at work. The Greek philosopher Diogenes once said, “We have two ears and one tongue so to listen more and talk less”; So let’s listen first before we act.

At HRletes, we serve you by actively listening to your concerns, understanding them in your frame of reference, and work to develop efficient solutions to your problems.   

Common HR challenges of small and mid-size business

Human Resource forms one of the most important components of any business. But in small or mid-sized companies (having 5-100 employees) development of an HR function is a gradual process that happens when the business becomes stable and mature. However, the growth period is the time when such companies face the greatest HR challenge. Mostly hiring senior HR professionals is not a viable option considering the increased cost. The focus on revenue generation, client acquisition, and improvement of product/services push the HR to the back seat. Inappropriate hiring, undefined policies, non-aligned processes, and lack of proper communication between employees and management are usual issues when the value of HR is not readily apparent. As the company and workforce grow, small business owners should be aware of the HR challenges, so they’re prepared to tackle such issues at the earliest.

Here are today’s most common HR challenges small companies face in the business –

  1. Hiring Mistakes – Small business owners face a variety of challenges when it comes to recruitment. The process is difficult and time-consuming because of no recruitment expertise. Improper handling of the hiring process can make the company settle for a candidate who seems to be a fit on papers but not suitable as job requirements. Employers fail to analyze recruitment strategies to identify, attract, develop, and retain talent as per their business needs.
  2. Chaos in record-keeping – Accurate and proper documentation facilitate decision making in the organization. Documentation forms the base of the HR function, but a casual approach to it can result in legal issues. Small businesses face challenges in record keeping because of lack of proper template, and formats. In addition to employee information, it is important to document company policies, procedures, and benefits to create a transparent working culture.
  3. Lack of formal Induction program – Induction is a well-planned program to acquaint the new joiner with organization, people, and workplace. Absence of a specialist to design, organize and conduct a formal induction program for employees pose a lot of challenges for SMEs, in the form of new hires fit in, role clarity, acquaintance with colleagues, and company culture.
  4. Unsystematic Payroll Management – Payroll is not just paying employees, where on one hand it ensures on-time employee payments it should also assure business compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Small businesses usually suffer in this domain because of unplanned processes and systems. The failure to collect correct information on time results in faulty and late payments with non-compliance, fines, and penalties.
  5. Improper Database Management – As the business grows the related information in the form of data increases. Eventually, the time and effort required in its collection also increase. But all these go in vain if this information and data are not properly handled, and organized. The absence of proper data strategy in small companies creates a lot of challenges in collecting, storing, sharing, and using data for business decisions.
  6. Compensation and benefits – Because of their attention on revenue, SMEs fail to do an appropriate compensation benchmarking. That results in an inappropriate pay mix for the employees. It would not be easy to attract talent if the company is not aware of the right amount to offer, to an employee. Along with this identifying an appraisal cycle, deciding on benefits packages like health insurance, retirement plans, training, and development programs are crucial factors for potential hires. Understanding them and deciding on a suitable mix is one of the key areas small businesses struggle.
  7. Unclear job description – Start-ups and small businesses often take a casual approach when it comes to assigning proper roles and responsibilities to employees. It’s usual to see everyone pitching in to do all kinds of tasks leading to confusion and resulting in inefficiency. One of my HR friends was discussing the same issue in her current organization and looking for a suitable strategy to address it.
  8. Talent retention – Even after having sufficient budgets some small businesses struggle to retain employees because of competition and unplanned retention strategies. When employees’ issues are not handled by proper HR management it is difficult to retain quality employees and impact the business growth negatively.

Small businesses face myriad other problems apart from above because of no in-house HR function or a specialized Consultant. This can lead to dis-satisfied employees and affect the ROI through employee turnover. But if we address all these challenges with a well-thought strategy their impact can be mitigated and the organization can be brought on the path of success. An experienced HR professional or Consultant can advise on critical issues and strategize the HR processes to maintain and sustain a growth pace.

Let’s check on the solution and strategy to address such issues and challenges in our next write up. Stay tuned and safe till the next edition.