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So many of the clients I work with, they work in organizations committed to lean management, continuous improvement, and I think HR needs to be just as ready and be at the table doing the same type of work.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice. Joining me is my co-host and dear friend JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink and Powered by Purple Ink, a professional network I am part of.
Today’s topic is conducting HR assessments. What do we mean when we say conducting HR assessments? It’s doing a comprehensive review and evaluation of the human resource services that are being delivered in an organization. It’s calling out the HR function’s strengths and weaknesses and recommending enhancements. HR assessments can be accomplished by contracting with an external HR consultant or tasking an internal HR staff member who has broad and deep experience in the field. JoDee, what is your experience with HR assessments?
I’ve had them a few different ways, I guess. And when… when you just mentioned about, you know, one way you can do it is doing it internally within your own HR team, and I’ve been in three different roles over my career where I was the first person to be in HR in a company…
…when they hired me. So I was… I didn’t call it an HR assessment, really, but when I think back, it’s really exactly what I was doing qhen I went there, was doing that initial review of, you know, everything we did. How was it currently working? What should we be doing? What shouldn’t we be doing? And having that opportunity early on when I got there to really explore all of the processes and think what we, you know, could do about it. Of course, at Purple Ink, we also… we do many HR assessments. By the way, you might hear many people call them an HR audit. Because… for many of our listeners, you’ll know I’m a CPA by trade and I was an auditor, so I’ve always tried to avoid that word “audit,” because in the accounting world “audit” is a very technical term for a specific process and requirements and standards and all that, which there really isn’t any for HR, quote, “audits.” I mean, the concept is there as you described, but I don’t like to call it an audit.
I’ll tell you what, the word audit gives me a headache, so thank you.
That word triggers me. [Laughs] We’ll call it HR assessment.
Right, right. What about you, Susan?
Yes, I… you know, when I worked for a large global corporation, we would be tasked with doing kind of self-audits or self-compliance studies to make sure that we randomly checked, you know… make sure did we have all of our I-9s done for, you know… we’d pull a sample of the population, we would look to make sure that we didn’t have any pay equity imbalances, we would periodically do different types of self-testing, just to make sure that we were, you know, within the guardrails of regulations and… and what was expected of us as an HR function. Now, since I have been doing consulting the last now nine years, I have been engaged by a number of clients to come in and look at their HR function and to come back with recommendations on how to… for them to become more strategic. I’ve been asked to come in and really take a look at talent acquisition processes, kind of cradle to grave, because they weren’t getting the results they wanted. And each time I really looked at it as an opportunity to come in and do an assessment, figure out what was working, what was not working, and then give them recommendations and kind of a roadmap of how do you get from where you are today to where you want to be. So I’ve had a lot of fun doing HR assessments or whatever, you know, we chose to call it at the time. And I think it’s just a really healthy thing for organizations to, if you aren’t thinking about bringing someone else in to do it, think about how you can do it.
Yeah. And you know, Susan, that brings up a bit of a… another topic on this as to when it might be appropriate to have one done. So as you mentioned, it can be just an ongoing compliance issue within your HR department where you make random selections or do testing of different processes. We do them a lot at Purple Ink when they’re either thinking about hiring a new HR person to come in or maybe they’ve never had HR before, so they’re just starting HR, but also when there’s a change in HR leadership, that it can be a good time to really look at processes and then present that information to the new person coming in to say, here’s sort of a status report, if you will, here’s where things are right now.
I love that, and I have seen that done, and I think it’s really nice for an organization that may not be as aware of what HR does and then they find themselves looking for a new HR director or chief HR officer, and that gives that person some intel and knowledge that nobody in the organization could really give them.
Yeah, that’s a great point. Well, in this episode, our plan is to walk through a suggested approach to running an HR assessment, which we hope will be useful to our listeners, you know, whether you do it in-house or if you decide to bring in an outside organization to run your HR assessment. So let’s talk about the value of, like, doing a periodic HR assessment. We’ve talked about a few already, but I think it’s important that we kind of call it out, because sometimes our listeners might have to go to their senior leadership and say, hey, I think we need to invest in ourselves and I think we need to do an HR assessment. So what are some reasons?
Well, number one, I think it can demonstrate the seriousness of our function in HR, right? So most people are very familiar with having a financial audit on a regular basis. That usually is done because an outside party has required it. It might be a bank, it might be a board of directors, it could be, you know, a partnership agreement. I mean, there can be lots of different reasons to have an audit and ensure your financial records are accurate. We should be thinking the same thing about our HR practices and processes.
So true. I think it also amplifies the commitment that HR has to continuous improvement. So many of the clients I work with, they work in organizations committed to lean management, continuous improvement, and I think HR needs to be just as ready and be at the table doing the same type of work.
Right. It also gives us an opportunity to assess if we have enough HR people or maybe even using the best and highest use of the talents of our current team members and that we’re focused on the right things to move… move our organization forward and achieve our goals. You know, that’s another time when we do a lot of HR assessments, is that we’re assessing the structure of the HR team, if you will. So maybe they’re thinking, we know we need to hire someone else in HR, but we don’t know what. Should it be an HR manager? Is it a benefits person? Is it another recruiter? Right? And it’s like, let’s take a look at where we are and what’s happening and where might you get the best bang for your buck in bringing someone new to the team.
Yeah. And I think probably one of the best reasons… business case reasons to have an audit is it helps the organization understand, Where do we have people risk? Is there any risk mitigation that we might want to be doing because we realize that maybe we sometimes drift out of compliance on certain regs? Or are there different policies or practices that we’ve had for a long time that just are not staying in step with either the law or even with the changing dynamics of our workforce?
All right, so let’s go through the steps if our listeners were to engage in an HR assessment. All right, so step one, first of all, is data gathering. It may not be pretty, but we’ve got to gather some data. So I think it’s important that you obtain copies of any employee handbook, HR manual, or written HR policies or procedures that may exist. Specifically, you want to review current approaches and policies around some of these things. And, JoDee, let’s just go through these pretty quickly, because I know it’s a big laundry list, but I’ll start out. I think that if there’s any processes or policies around employee engagement, coaching, or mentoring, grab hold of it so that you can take a look at it.
The second one is thinking about your culture. Right? And that could be as simple as maybe noting… writing things down to doing some focus groups or having an employee survey to ask people about your culture as well.
Yeah, I love that. I think it’s really important that you really peel back the onion on what’s happening with the diversity, the equity, the inclusion, and belonging in that organization. You know, are there employee networking groups? Should there be employee networking groups? How seriously is top leadership involved and engaged, and what are employees feeling about your efforts in this fron?
Also taking a look at your recruiting process from soup to nuts, right? What are you doing to source candidates? How do you select them? What does your interview process look like? Are you using assessments? What are your interview questions, your EEO compliance, the applicant tracking system? How do you… What processes do you use or implement once you’ve made an offer to them? And even into the employee onboarding, as well, too. You know, one of the very first things we do with a company, if we’re doing an assessment and looking at their recruiting process, is to apply online to their own position.
So go through the process as if you’re on the other side.
Yeah, so you understand that candidate experience. Yeah, I think that’s really eye opening a lot of times.
I think we also need to really look at their employee relations practices. You know, certainly if there’s grievances, I’d want to take a look at those grievances. How are they worked? How many are resolved, and how quickly? And corrective action. Who’s on corrective action? How often do those on corrective action end up staying or end up leaving? What’s the process, and do people feel there’s a sense of fairness around it?
The next one, harassment and discrimination investigations. So that might start with your policy that’s in your employee manual, but then walking through what have you done in the past. Do you bring in a consultant? Do you call your attorney? Who… who leads the investigation processes, and who needs to be notified along the way?
I really think it’s important to dig into payroll processes, whether it’s done internally or externally, to see how clean it is, see how clunky it might be. You’re not ready to make recommendations at this point, of course, but you really want to get a good grasp of how it’s working today.
Now also take a look at your retention and security practices for employee files and HR documentation. Where are you keeping those? Who has access to those? What’s maintained? And the whole practice.
Likewise, you want to really understand the performance review process. How long does it take? Who’s involved in it? The security of the system. And, again, if there’s a way that you can assess how it’s perceived, maybe through employee engagement surveys or even ad hoc surveys, to understand how well is it working for them?
Take a look at your employee file contents and compliance. So take a take a random sample of some of your files and have a checklist of what should be in there and what shouldn’t. And are you consistently keeping those documents?
Oh, that’s great. I-9s would be one example of it, but also your FMLA, your ADA, any type of regs that you’re working hard to comply with, take a look and see how well your… the organization is doing at maintaining those.
Yeah. Do you have job descriptions? Are you following the Fair Labor Standards Act compliance with job categories on who’s exempt and who’s non-exempt? And also salary levels.
And just as important as it is thinking about talent acquisition and onboarding, you also want to look at termination processes, making sure that people are paid in accordance with the final pay laws depending where that person is situated in the country. Exit interviews, if they’re available, take a look at if there’s any themes or trends that could be helpful to you as you’re assessing. And then certainly, I would take a look at unemployment claims. You know, are we protesting them? I’ve gotten into organizations where they’re like, “Oh, no, we get them. We never protest them.” I’m like, you realize that your insurance premium could be going up? It’s worth looking at, certainly, if they’re… if you’ve terminated people for cause, you want to be an active participant in any type of unemployment claims or hearings. And then obviously, the documentation around termination, making sure that it does exist.
Your whole benefits process and enrollment activities. You know, a lot of people look at this when they’re going through benefits enrollment, and I… although it can be a time to tweak it, it really… I would highly recommend doing this outside of enrollment season, to rethink your compensation practices and policies. What are your philosophies around benefits versus salaries and the whole total rewards package?
And then I think you also want to take time to look at the internal and external training offerings and who’s eligible for the training, who’s going actually going through the training, and then the outcomes of the learning and development that you’re investing in. Are you getting the type of return on investment that the organization is hoping for?
One last thing. Look at your metrics. How… What metrics are most important to you that you should be following and tracking? Or what metrics are you not considering or looking at? Things like time to fill or turnover and retention statistics. Think about, too, how you might benchmark your metrics against others in your industry, or even geographic area, right? There’s lots of data out there that you can use to compare your benchmarks on that. PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte both have ongoing data available. SHRM certainly has that. Maybe, again, and your industry association, would have some of those numbers, as well, too.
Now, we may have missed a few things there, but I think if you attack all these things, you’re gonna have a really comprehensive data gathering phase.
And that’s a lot, right? Sometimes you don’t even think about just doing an assessment on just one of those areas, right? Your recruiting process or your benefits process… and tackle those one at a time.
That’s right, that makes good sense. You might want to triage given wherever you are in your evolution. That makes sense. Well, phase two really is interviewing stakeholders. So you’ve had the chance to gather everything that is in records or that exists, it’s time to meet, I think, with… certainly, I would meet with any existing HR staff, so hoping if there’s HR people there, then talk to them for sure. I would also want to talk to the senior leadership of the organization, because I really want to understand what the… where the organization is headed, what they’re aspiring to, their mission, their vision, because in HR, we want to make sure we’re aligned. And so I think it’s smart to start there as well, and understand their expectations of HR. I also ask, I want to speak to a number of some of your larger users of HR services. So if you have somebody who leads the entire sales force or somebody who runs your operations or… sometimes I will talk to them, and I’ll say, Who do you think on your team uses HR the most? I want to talk to those people, because they’re gonna have the most experiences and be able to, you know, kind of share with me what’s working in their mind and what’s not. When I talk to HR, I do want to understand, you know, where are they spending their time? What do they think’s working and what’s not working? And when I meet with those users of HR services, I do want to understand what their current people strategies are. I want to ask them about their pain points that they encounter on HR issues. That doesn’t mean what’s wrong with HR. It’s more on, What are the difficult moments that they have? Is it in coaching, developing people? Is it terminating people? Is it getting people to show up at work? Is it getting new hires not to go to them? You know, what is it? Where are their pain points? And then, when I sit down with the HR staff, again, I do want to make sure that I ask them to walk me through the HR technology that they’re using. I want to view it and really understand their HR operations in action.
Step number three is the analysis, right? Looking at those current approaches, processes, procedures, and again, those metrics and compare them to best practices. Right? You might be thinking, well, where… whose best practice, right? What is it I’m comparing it to? Well, use some of those industry reports we talked about earlier. But also just in talking or at a local SHRM meeting, right? What are other people doing in some of these areas? Maybe even some areas, you don’t even have a process yet, or a solid process to recruit or to onboard people or to exit people from your organization. And consider what some of those best in class alternatives are. You’ll want to really assess all or parts of the HR function that might be best served with outsourcing, realignment, or dispersing the HR duties amongst the HR team or even amongst the hiring managers and/or a dedicated HR staff member.
The fourth phase is really when you develop your recommendations. And now that you’ve studied and analyzed everything that you were able to pull together and did some benchmarking or talking to others or based on your experience having maybe worked somewhere else, you’re going to culminate your findings in a prepared written report that outlines the current strengths and challenges that you see of the HR function, your recommended actions prioritized. Usually clients say, well, Susan, what do I do first, so I want to make sure I would say, here’s what I would do in the next month, next three months, next six months, the next year, as well as any general observations and opportunities for improvement moving forward. You may, if you’re an outside consultant doing this, you may want to offer assistance with implementing the actions you’re recommending, but I would do that definitely as a separate consulting assignment. And then ideally, after you’ve delivered your report, you’re going to have the opportunity to discuss your findings or recommendations with the leadership team and HR once they’ve had a chance to read it and kind of process it. So JoDee, let’s discuss some of the surprises that we’ve had in HR assessments that we’ve done.
One of my favorites is a time… it was… one of our clients at Purple Ink asked us to do an assessment – or they actually… they initially just asked us about doing an assessment and asked us about all the things we just went over, right? What does it look like? What will it include? And one of my first examples I used was, for example, we’ll take a look at your I-9s and see if they’re in compliance. And the client said, “What’s an I-9?”
Ouch. [Laughs] Uh oh.
I knew we were in for some work there. [Laughs]
You know, a couple surprises for me. You know, there’s been times that I’ve recommended changes that the HR staff had been advocating for years, and they’d say, you know what, we absolutely have told them that we need to get, you know, we got to get rid of this, let’s say, applicant tracking system, but they could never get the yes. It was always too much money, too much money, and then I get in there, and I say you absolutely have to get rid of that, and they’re like, okay, let’s do it. Oh man, I feel so bad for the HR people, somebody from the outside telling them that, right? And that… you know what, if you’re an HR person listening, if that’s your avenue to get it, you might consider it. The second thing that surprised me that… is that leaders sometimes don’t really realize how wonderful an HR function they have until an assessment is done and truly it highlights for them things that they weren’t paying any attention to. Because clearly, senior leaders have a lot on their plate. They’re not thinking about the intricacies. But I have been so pleased sometimes to go back to senior leaders and say, your HR ship is probably one of the best operations I’ve seen, and here’s all the strengths, and yeah, here’s 2, 3, 4 things that you might want to consider doing differently or in addition to what you’re doing, but you have an amazing team and I think it really does help elevate HR sometimes to senior leaders by having somebody come in and really kind of give them that Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
Right. I love that, Susan. I, you know… whether we call it an HR audit or an HR assessment, I think people think of it as an opportunity to find out what you’re doing wrong. Sometimes it’s about confirming that what you’re doing is right.
We had a just a real recent example of one of our clients where we were doing an HR assessment and specifically, we were asking them about their recruiting process. And they said, “Oh, you know, I think our process is really good. I’m not sure you need to spend much time on that.” And Peggy on our team said, “Well, one thing I like to do is apply to one of your positions online and see how that feels to me.” And so it took her 56 minutes…
Oh, my gosh.
…just to complete the application online. And you know, from their end, they’re thinking, like, oh, we have a great process, because it’s super efficient for us when people apply and then we can make decisions quickly. Well, that was because they were asking them – right? – way too much information. And of course, that’s another good statistic to follow, too, is what is your abandonment rate? And most applicant tracking systems will be able to provide this information to you to say how many people started your application and then abandoned it, maybe because it was too long, it was too difficult, they needed too much information, they didn’t have time.
That’s very true. What a great example. So we gotta ask one JoyPowered® question relevant to this topic. What is the joyful part of doing an HR assessment? I’ll tell you what, I think for me doing it, I love learning. I love learning about how different HR operations work and functions, and then I love what I learned, taking that and cross-fertilizing with other companies and saying, you know, “Have you thought about doing XYZ? I’ve seen it work other places.” And I don’t know, I just feel like you get the opportunity to make every place better by, you know, sharing ideas. And obviously you don’t say where where it’s happening, but say “Have you considered?”. How about you, JoDee? Can you see any joy in HR assessments?
I actually see… although I’m not really a compliance girl, and this sounds very compliance-oriented process to check these. I’m gonna steal the one you mentioned earlier about the power of understanding that, hey, we’re doing things right. We’re doing things well. People have good feedback for us on this or how it’s helped them or how maybe it’s better than what they’ve had at other companies, as well. So that confirmation, really, of a good practice.
That can be very joyful. That’s great.
Now a word from our sponsors.
As our listeners have probably heard many times, I’m a CliftonStrengths enthusiast, and I know you’re a fan of strengths also, Susan.
That’s right. I know you’ve been working on a strengths certification program with some of our friends at Powered by Purple Ink. JoDee, why don’t you tell our listeners a little about the program?
Yes, I’d love to, because I’m so excited about this program. It’s called Power Up Your Strengths, and it was designed to help people become better equipped to bring out the talents of others. Inspired by the CliftonStrengths assessment, you’ll finish the program ready to help people do what they do best, and you’ll enjoy doing it yourself.
It sounds like a wonderful program, and the participants will benefit from the guidance of several strength experts – JoDee and her partners. JoDee, how is Power Up Your Strengths formatted and where will it be located?
Well, it’s 100% virtual, so anyone can join us from anywhere. We’ll have some live sessions over Zoom, and in between the sessions, there will be some pre-work and practice for participants to complete through our online platform. It will be packed with information and experiences you’ll need to be a strengths champion, trainer, or coach.
If you’d like to learn more about Power Up Your Strengths, visit Powered by Purple Ink – with a K – dot com slash strengths.
Susan, here’s our listener question, which I really love this question. Our listener says, “When an employee resigns one day and changes his mind a couple of days later, do we have to let him stay? We were actually relieved he said he was leaving.” [Laughs]
[Laughs] Oh my gosh. You know, I did a little research on this, and there’s a good article on shrm.org by Paul Falcone that’s dated December 3, 2019 that’s entitled, “Handling Employees Who Quit, then Change Their Minds,” so it sounds like a perfect article for this question. Paul notes in his article that if businesses act in reliance of that notice that someone’s leaving and moves quickly to move forward, realizing the person is leaving, by transitioning duties, posting the position, interviewing candidates, etc., you’re in a better position to defend if a wrongful termination claim should appear by that person if you hold firm and don’t allow the person to un-quit. I’ll tell you in my own experience, this has happened a number of times where there’s somebody who, when they’re angry or there’s been an incident, they say, hey, I’m quitting, giving you my two weeks now, or giving you a week’s notice, or whatever. And usually when that person, if they ever come back and say, “Hey, I’ve changed my mind, I was just really upset yesterday,” or “I was really angry,” or whatever, the employer has said, “Hey, we respected your decision. You made it. Yes, you might have been emotional, but we believe that probably was the best decision, and we’ve moved ahead. We’ve gone ahead and we’re going to figure it out, how to reorganize your duties. We know who’s going to take them over. No, we’re going to honor your initial decision.”
It’s time for in the news. A July 13, 2022 McKinsey Quarterly article entitled, “The Great Attrition Is Making Hiring Harder. Are You Searching the Right Talent Pools?” cites a survey that they did between February and April 2022 of over 12,000 employees in Australia, Canada, India, Singapore, the UK, and the United States. What I found really interesting in this article was not the sourcing of talent information, but the results on what survey participants gave as the most common reasons given for quitting their previous jobs. JoDee, let’s share those… that information, recognizing most respondents cited more than one reason for quitting.
So 41% cited lack of career development or advancement.
36%, inadequate compensation.
34% said it was uncaring or uninspiring leaders.
31% said lack of meaningful work.
Unsustainable work expectations was another 29%.
26% said unreliable, unsupportive colleagues. Which, that surprised me. Coworkers, right?
And equal to that, 26% said lack of support for health and well being.
And finally, 26% said lack of workplace flexibility. I really found this helpful, because I think it’s really important. People’s opinions change over time, but this is really fresh, and I think it helps us business leaders and HR professionals and organizations figuring out what should we be focusing on to ensure that we keep the talent we have. I’d much rather keep the talent I have than be out looking for new talent.
Right, exactly. Thanks for listening today and make it a JoyPowered® day.
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