Good HR practice can help you through the downturn

When insecurity and change are the new norms, staff value honest, timely communications, writes our columnist Gill Taylor

Gill Taylor
Gill Taylor

One of the things we have in abundance in our sector is change. This is not new - but the scale of the present challenge is unprecedented, and it's not getting any easier.

Some organisations are already agile, but some have never had to scale the heights of change they are facing now. Among these are organisations that are traditionally reliant on regular and predictable local government funding, and which are now seeing their incomes reduced as councils recalculate priorities.

It would be a rare organisation that has not had some kind of reorganisation, restructuring and/or redundancies after six years of economic recession and another three of planned austerity. This is the toughest operating environment I can remember - so how can good HR help us?

First, stay strategic and help to lead change across the organisation with the chief executive and senior team. Good HR people know the legal pitfalls of any changes you might be planning. In their networks, they will find out about local and national agendas and developments.

Second, plan and manage change as openly and honestly as possible. When insecurity and change are the new norms, staff value honest and timely internal communications.

Work with managers on staff engagement, the right communications and the right performance management. Recent research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows that job satisfaction in the voluntary sector is the highest of any sector, at 52 per cent, and has risen in the past six months (the private sector is on 45 per cent and the public sector on 25 per cent). Where expectations of traditional benefits or job security have been slashed or shaken, people put more value on relational aspects of organisational environments. Treating staff with respect, consulting on changes and keeping staff informed all lead to greater job satisfaction, despite the wider environment.

Third, develop a more flexible organisation. HR can help with building the skill sets of the senior team beyond their specialist delivery area. HR can enhance their people-management skills if we can develop trust and work in partnership. There are still a lot of managers who don't really know how to prioritise performance management to encourage staff to work at their best and deal with poor performance when necessary.

Fourth, ensure that staff are doing the right jobs. We tend to spend too much time trying to fix people's weaknesses. Research shows it is much better to play to their strengths and recruit people who can do the work we need them to do. We don't have time to fail in recruitment. Train and develop staff from within. Now is the time to push their boundaries and build confidence and skills. This helps staff to be more flexible and enhances their employability, as well as boosting job satisfaction and motivation.

Gill Taylor is a sector HR consultant

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