From Foe to Friend
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Do these employee complaints ring a bell? Here's what HR leaders can do to change negative perceptions of their department.
On his first day of work, Ronald B. McKinley, PhD, received a blunt assessment of the department he was hired to lead at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "Human resources are at best irrelevant, at worst an impediment to the work I need to get done," a world-renowned neonatologist told McKinley, vice president of HR at Cincinnati Children's, which employs nearly 10,000 people--including more than 600 physicians.
The doctor's remark wasn't the only criticism McKinley and other HR leaders have heard about their departments. Some common employee grievances could be a sign that you and your HR staff have some work to do. Any of these sound familiar?
1. The department is a roadblock to progress. HR should support the vision of the organization and help senior leaders' decisions become the actions of the staff, says Mark H. Holtz, senior vice president of operations at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, PA, part of the three-hospital health system Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network that was No. 80 on Fortune's "Top 100 Places to Work." Too often the department can become mired in policies, rather than working to find a compromise that keeps the organization moving forward within legal boundaries.
2. There's a constant communication breakdown. Inquiries are sometimes denied by the HR department for no apparent reason, and nothing frustrates employees more than a lack of direct communication, McKinley says. To solve this problem at 418-licensed-bed Cincinnati Children's, the HR department hosts town meetings where questions are solicited from employees for a panel of senior leaders to answer in the public forum. Questions that go unanswered in the hour-long session are answered and posted on the hospital's intranet, and those who can't make the town meeting can view it through a live Webcast that is also stored on the intranet site.
3. Reaction time is glacial. Employee satisfaction survey results are useless unless they are analyzed and action points are created. When Molly Seals, president of the American Society of Healthcare Human Resources Administration and senior vice president of HR at Humility of Mary Health Partners, started at the hospital, she was given two three-ring binders full of satisfaction results from a year and a half before. They had been sitting on her predecessor's shelf, untouched.
This wasn't the only delay Seals saw in her department's operations. Employees at the hospital, part of a three-hospital system that employs more than 5,000 people in Youngstown, OH, often complained that any questions about benefits or other issues often fell into a black hole. To counter this, she created a Human Resources Service Center, where employees can get one-on-one help, either in person or on the phone, and most problems--96 percent--are resolved immediately or within eight hours, Seals says.
4. New hires are left to sink or swim. "At the end of the day, employees don't leave organizations, they leave supervisors," says Holtz. Don't let your best walk out the door-and over to the competition--because managers and HR leaders are not paying attention to the crucial first months of employment. Seals recommends conducting 30-60-90-day interviews with new hires to see how the job is going, answer any questions, and make sure your organization is living up to the individual's expectations.
5. Management has no support. There's nothing worse for your managers when they are faced with an unruly employee or a confusing policy and have nowhere to turn for answers. An unproductive manager has a trickle-down effect that impacts the rest of the staff, so it's important that this frustration is addressed as quickly as possible.
At Cincinnati Children's, HR people are imbedded in key business units around the hospital. Their job, says McKinley, is to manage the relationship between HR and managers and provide close-in HR support. McKinley's department also hosts a management council every two months to update managers on any HR policy or benefit changes. Such support ensures that managers aren't left swinging in the breeze in a time of crisis.
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