Human Resource Management – Personal Case Studies
Human Resource Management
The universe of information on effective management is enormous. A manager who desires to improve his or her skills will have no difficulty finding ideas and even guidance in the literature. Some of the most has been established by the Gallup Organization. Over a 25-year period of conducting research, the Gallup Organization has compiled data from observations in excess of 80,000 interviews that they conducted. The results have been published in a series of books including: Now, First Break All the Rules, Now, Discover Your Strengths, 12 Elements of Great Management, Strengths Finder 2.0, Strengths-Based Leadership, How Full Is Your Bucket, Wellbeing — The Five Essential Elements, and The Jobs War. I list the books here to demonstrate that there is a plethora of literature on good management, creating good workplaces, employee skill building, leadership, and job development strategy. In fact, I have found the work of the Gallup Organization to be an elegant mix of robust research and easy to understand actionable insights. Further, much of the literature on human resource management is based on theory that is derived from analysis of constructs and the external development of conceptual frameworks with which organizations and people are then compared. An important difference — and essentially the reason I rely confidently on the work of the Gallup Organization — is that the theories put forth by the Gallup Organization are based on years of research in the field.
I will refer to the Gallup research through this paper and use it as the fundamental platform for analysis of the two human resources management issues I discuss. The Gallup research that I will utilize most often is the work of Buckingham and Coffman (1999) — in particular their work in Now, Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths — which identifies 12 dimensions that make all the difference to organizations and to workers — effectively describing what it takes to create a great workplace and contribute to job satisfaction.
Description of the situation. In my position as a middle manager in a bank in which I supervise four other people, I find myself in a position of having to carry out directives of which I may not have confidence, and in some instances, directives that I do not support or believe are in the best interests of either the bank or the employees. That this problem exists at all is an indicator that upper management does not ensure that supervision and evaluation are carried out in thoughtful, reasoned, and productive manner. I describe one such situation below.
Jill was a bank teller who was a favorite of many of the bank’s older clients. She was friendly and patient with the elderly clients to the degree that they began to ask for her when they came in to do their banking. If there was a line of customers, the elderly customers would step aside and give up their place in the line until they could time their re-entry to coordinate with Jill’s availability. The effect was that the bank lobby would often contain two separate lines of people conducting their banking business. One line of waiting customers would go to whichever teller was next, while the other line — consisting predominantly of elderly customers — waited patiently for their turn with Jill. Many of these customers were pensioners, but an equal number banked with our branch for wealth management. If Jill was busy with another customer, and it was taking some time — as it often did — the elderly clients would not go to another teller, even if they were standing idle or beckoning for them. If asked, they would respond, “I’m fine. I’ll just wait for Jill.” Most everyone was happy with the situation and considered the arrangement just one of the ways the bank tried to customize responses to our customers (Bolman & Deal, 1997). The other tellers took pride in the cluster of happy customers waiting to see “their Jill.”
Deborah, a new senior manager emerged from her newly and expensively redecorated office one afternoon and observed the patient line snaking away from Jill’s position. She watched the proceedings momentarily and then went to the first and second elderly customers in line and tried to get them to go to the teller positions that were “open.” She met with some resistance, but continued to try to persuade them. The elderly customers just looked at her or declined to move. One elderly woman — after vehemently and somewhat apologetically refusing to do business with anyone else — turned and walked out of the bank. Frustrated, Deborah stormed back into her office, leaving an astonished cluster of customers in the lobby.
Before the tellers left for home at the end of the work day, Deborah — who was standing in the open doorway of her office — called to Jill, saying she needed to see her right away. Even though it was well past Jill’s eight-hour day, Jill had no choice other than to do as she was told by a senior manager. From outside the closed door, behind the frosted windows of Deborah’s office, the other tellers and I could hear Deborah loudly berating Jill. At that point, I went to Deborah’s door, knocked once sharply, and let myself in. Deborah gave me a steely look and told me that she was handling a personnel matter, and finished by saying that I should leave. Instead, I sat down in the other chair in front of Deborah’s desk, and explained that supervision of the tellers in the lobby and at drive-thru was my responsibility (Levin, 1945). I further stated that, as Jill was my direct report, I would stay to hear the rest of the conversation between Deborah and Jill. I also said that when Deborah was finished talking to Jill, I would take a few minutes of Deborah’s time.
Deborah then said that she was done with Jill, but she was not done with the matter. I encouraged Jill to leave and then spoke more to Deborah. I admit to shaking in my boots, but I was horrified to see that Deborah was undercutting the great supervisory relationship I had carefully cultivated with the tellers. On the spot, I told a complete fabrication, saying that Jill was being moved to a new position as the “greeting teller” in the lobby. Our branch didn’t have any such position, but other banks were using the strategy of a “traffic monitor / greeter” in their branches to help people accomplish their banking tasks expeditiously, to eliminate customer confusion or hesitation, and to establish a friendly and welcoming environment in the branches.
Reflect and analyze. In that defining moment in Deborah’s office, it struck me that the bank — that I — was not using Jill’s skills to best effect. Jill excelled at all the tasks a “traffic monitor / greeter” would need to perform. And further, by changing Jill’s assignment, I felt that I was appropriately applying the 12 dimensions described by Buckingham & Coffman (1999) that correlate with higher customer satisfaction, higher productivity, higher profits, and higher employee retention. Of the 12 dimensions of great workplaces, several were particularly relevant to the situation in which Jill, Deborah, and I found ourselves that evening.
Number three of the dimensions is: Doing what I do best in my job most of the time. Jill had already adapted her job to allow her to do what she does best for most of her workday — or rather her customers had adapted her job for her. Deborah threatened to take away this important dimension of Jill’s job satisfaction, to the detriment of Jill and the bank’s relationship with some of its most important customers. The position of “traffic monitor / greeter” would enable Jill to use her skills without the encumbrance of the more narrowly defined teller responsibilities.
Number five, number seven, and number nine of the dimensions are: Knowing how I contribute in important ways to my company’s mission or purpose; Having co-workers who share a commitment to doing quality work; and My opinions at work seem to count. Up until the point of Deborah’s interfering outburst, Jill and all the other branch employees were confident of Jill’s unique and important contribution to the mission of the bank. The all shared a commitment to providing the best possible service to the bank’s customers (Monaghan, 2001). Jill and the other tellers had openly expressed their assessment of the customer flow concerns in the lobby that resulted from Jill’s popularity — and they had openly endorsed the situation. Many tellers had asked for additional work that they could accomplish at their stations when Jill was busy and they were not. I proposed a 360 degree performance evaluation to assess these arrangements (“Making the Team,” 1998).
Number four, number five, and number six, respectively, of the dimensions are: Recognition or praise from my peers and supervisor acknowledge my contributions; Experiencing that my supervisor cares about me; and Someone at work encourages my development. Advocate that I am — and was at the time of this scenario — I was completely confident that Jill felt supported in her work and development, that Jill knew I was interested in seeing her succeed, and that I appreciated the special set of skills that she brought to the job.
Number eleven and number twelve, respectively, of the dimensions are: Someone helps me develop the innate talents that I bring to the job; and Opportunities to learn and grow. By providing Jill this new opportunity to expand hers skill set and take on some additional responsibilities, I was able to convey to Jill my appreciation of her innate talents, and I was able to identify the best possible match of her talents to a valued job at the bank.
Number and number, respectively, of the dimensions are: Having a best friend at work. Although Jill undoubtedly had other friends at the bank, I think at that moment in Deborah’s office, I became Jill’s best friend. As a side note, Jill, the other tellers, and I work diligently to maintain friendly relationships, but also to ensure that our opportunities to fraternize do not result in favoritism.
The scenario described a situation in which a supervisor did not consult with a middle manager in order to understand the background and the rationale for what she perceived was a problem (Senge, 1990). In my efforts to avoid this type of destructive confrontation in the future, I requested that Deborah and I meet regularly to discuss how the new position was going with regard to customer response, Jill’s performance, and the profitability of the branch (Kaufman, 2003).
Bolman, LG and Deal, TE (1997) Reframing Organizations. Artistry, choice and leadership (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Buckingham, M and Coffman, C (1999) First, Break All the Rules. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Buckingham, M and Clifton, DO (2001) Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Example Items from Peer Evaluations and 360-Degree Performance
Evaluations (1998) [In Making the Team, 360 Degree Leadership. RHR International Co., Wood Dale, IL: HHR International Co.]. Retrieved http://www.leighthompson.com/
Kaufman, R, Oakley-Browne, H, Watkins, R, and Leigh, D (2003) Strategic planning for success: Aligning people, performance, and payoffs. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
Lewin, K and Grabbe, P (1945) Conduct, knowledge and acceptance of new values. Journal of Social Issues 2.
Monaghan, CH (2011) Communities of practice: A learning strategy for management education. Journal of Management Education, 35, 428-453. Doi: 10.1177/1052562910387536 Retrieved http;//jme.sagepub.com/content/35/3/428
Senge, PM (1990) The fifth discipline. The art and practice of the learning organization, London, UK: Random House.
Wagner, R and Harter, JK (2006) 12: The Elements of Great Managing. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Rath, R and Conchie, B (2008) Strengths-Based Leadership. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.