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Lest we forget… our unsung heroes

While some roles will always be more strategically valuable, and some employees more difficult to replace, the reality is your organisation needs everyone to be engaged and performing in their role. Sean Conrad, Product Analyst, Halogen Software, explains.

A friend of mine once worked as a technical writer for a high profile technology firm that was full of highly qualified engineers, many of whom were designated as scarce skills. She says she never felt valued there, despite being highly skilled in her own area and a solid performer. She saw that most of the money, resources, opportunities and recognition in the organisation were given to the engineering staff. She felt completely disposable. Yet she’s a great worker and has proven to be a real asset to all her employers. Does your organisation have unsung heroes like her? People who work in vital if not flashy roles? People who are often the backbone of the company, and are strong performers in their own right, but who don’t stand out as scarce skills, high potentials/performers or retention risks?

While some roles will always be more strategically valuable, and some employees more difficult to replace, the reality is, your organisation needs everyone to be engaged and performing in their role. There really are no “dispensable” roles in the organisation (or there shouldn’t be). So how do we as HR professionals create a work culture that values the contributions of every employee? One way is through talent management programmes. Here are a few suggestions. Focus performance appraisals on employee development. We know from research that providing employees with development opportunities is a key contributor to employee engagement. For the employee, development opportunities are one of the key “what’s in it for me?” factors. They’re a way we invest in our employees, even as we reap the rewards in terms of improved employee performance.

By changing the focus of our performance appraisal process, from rating and ranking employee performance to fostering development, we can make it a powerful tool for recognising and retaining all employees. As managers discuss performance on goals and competencies, they should be reviewing and discussing development needs and opportunities. Regardless of the employee’s level of performance, the question should be: how can the employee improve, expand or deepen their knowledge, skills or experience? The same should be true when assigning new goals; managers and employees should discuss how the employee’s contributions can be expanded and what development they need in support. Performance appraisals are also a wonderful opportunity to discuss career aspirations and assign development activities in support of them. While ultimately, the employee owns responsibility for their own development and career progression, the performance appraisal process can help provide a focus and support for this. The primary outcome of every performance appraisal could be a development plan rather than a rating. You can encourage all this by embedding space for development plans right in your performance appraisal forms, after each competency as well as in a separate professional development section. Every employee deserves that. Today, best practice succession planning looks at developing talent pools for all key areas in the organisation, not just leadership roles. But that kind of focus could really extend to nearly all positions in the organisation. Do you have a backup for non-critical as well as critical roles? Are you cross training employees so they understand the roles and responsibilities of others and can pitch in to help when needed?

Developing talent pools and cross training employees helps give everyone a greater appreciation for the contributions of all and build stronger working relationships and interactions. And again, it focuses on developing employees, making them more valuable to the organisation as well as more “marketable”. We often value employees based on their potential to move up in the organisation. Yet many are happy with their current level of responsibility and possess core abilities that are valuable to the organisation in many ways. It is important to encourage lateral moves that allow employees to apply their core abilities in different ways and offer development opportunities to everyone.


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