How and when does a reputed Hotel decide if its young front office employees or cashiers or order takers can actually begin to handle guests? When are wealth management professionals permitted to start engaging with clients to give them information or guide them with their wealth management decisions? For that matter, when does a pilot get to fly the plane or a surgeon begin to perform surgeries?
One of the most important moments of truth for any professional is when he or she gets to go live and perform a task or offer a service or deal with real customers. This is a big moment and the manner in which it is handled can make a lot of difference not just to the recipients of the service but also the professional himself or herself. When managed well, the professional grows in confidence, stature and of course competence. Or else, the professional can make mistakes, cause huge risks to the recipients and harm to the reputation of the function or profession and of course end up feeling completely demotivated.
HR Professionals are no different.
Have we all not seen many a new HR professional starting off his or her career facing customers (employees and people managers) without due training and preparation and as a consequence suffer humiliation, loss of confidence and of course add ammunition to the perennial criticism about the function.
In fact, a large number of the so-called HR business partners who were hoping to do strategic stuff end up solving problems or trouble shooting mostly because somewhere some young, new and mostly untrained HR professional who was the first port of call did not do what was meant to be done in an error free manner.
So, when can we say an HR Professional is ready to be put in front of customers? In my view, there are at least five clear areas in which the person needs to acquire a base level of proficiency before being cleared to engage with internal customers.
Understand the organisation’s published policies, products and programs
Every new HR professional must be completely familiar with all the published HR products, programs, processes and polices of the organisation. This familiarity should help them answer basic questions and explain how they work, why they are the way they are, how one can avail of them or comply with them. The HR professional must be fully familiar with anything that is put in the public domain by the function – intranet, bulletin boards and mails – no different from the way B2C businesses keep its customer facing employees fully briefed about all new products, services and offerings.
Understand how pay, benefits and other policies are actually administered
It is equally important for the new HR professional to know how the company’s payroll actually works, how various benefits are administered, how provident fund get remitted or withdrawn, how some of the basic employee welfare services like cafeteria, transport and so on work, how things like attendance and leave are recorded and computed, how new employees get enabled, how HR service providers are paid, how tax is computed, how the final settlement works and so on.
This unfortunately is easier said than done. With most HR functions at least in large organisations moving towards shared services, I am beginning to see a worrying trend. We have an entire generation of young HR professionals who are completely disconnected from the role of aiding policy implementation. They are growing up believing that they can leapfrog into business partnering and leave this seemingly inconsequential stuff to shared services.
Young HR professionals would do well to spend at least a few mandatory months working in shared services. This way, they will understand how the basics work and also experience the moments of truth as faced by employees.
Young HR Professionals must also get proficient in case work – solving some of the most common problems or issues or complaints or grievances that are raised by employees and their managers. By learning to analyse these problems under due guidance, they will also figure out what typically goes wrong and how they can fix it with a spirit of service orientation.
Training in service skills
HR professionals must be trained in the basics of service skills so they can present a very professional image of themselves and their functions. They must know how to greet and answer the phone which rings at their desk professionally. They must be asked to choose ring tones which are neutral and do not announce their musical tastes to the world. They must know how to respond to mails with clarity and accuracy and know that a mail is different from a text message.
They must know how to handle an irate employee. They must be able to listen with empathy and respond with understanding to an employee or a manager who has an issue and is looking for a solution or just wants to be heard.
They must know how to handle a complaint without becoming defensive and also know how to recover when there is a service failure. They must know how not to take the employees’ anger towards company policies and processes personally.
They must above all be well groomed. It may be fine for a young employee to wear faded jeans to work. But an HR professional who is supposed to be the custodian of critical people processes and represent the organisation to the outside and inside world, should be groomed professionally.
Commit to standards of professional excellence
HR Professionals must know that they are bound by certain standards that form the bedrock of their profession.
Upholding fairness in all that they do is one such standard. Bring committed to the safety and security of employees is another standard. Maintaining confidentiality about employee information is yet another standard. Being a role model on the business conduct guidelines of the organisation is a fourth such standard.
They must know why these are important and what the consequences of non-adherence are.
The new HR professional must not only be clear about his or her role but also his or her larger responsibility towards the function and its overall service quality levels. When faced with an employee query or issue, the professional should readily offer to help and not say it is not his or her job – just the way, a well-trained hotel staff will make every effort to help a guest with any problem in a seamless way no matter which department he or she belongs.
Once a young HR professional qualifies across these five basics dimensions, at least to an acceptable level, we might say that the person is service ready. He or she can now be safely put in front of employees or managers with the assurance that the person will do what is right for the person and the profession and through those actions grow in confidence and professional stature. On this carefully built foundation, the person will of course need to keep adding higher and higher levels of competence on a daily basis.
Until that is achieved, it is best that he or she wears an “HR Trainee” badge and merely shadows a trained senior.