In biology, the centralized nervous system is one of the hallmarks of an advanced organism. It coordinates essential functions like heartbeat, reflex, and growth so effortlessly that we don’t even have to think about them. This frees us to succeed at more than just basic survival, giving us space to discover our purpose, forge new relationships, and build something more than ourselves.
In this four-part series, BambooHR explores how HR serves as the central nervous system for your organization, working with finance, management, recruiting, and marketing to help you define your goals, strengthen your teamwork and collaboration, and succeed at your mission. In our previous post, we explored how HR and Finance need to work automatically and seamlessly to keep an organization running. The same principle applies to the relationship between HR and management.
Let’s start with a brief word association exercise. Ready?
The word is reflex.
Now if I had to guess, many of you are thinking about a small, triangular, orange rubber hammer at your pediatric checkup and your surprise that your leg moved on its own when the doctor tapped under your knee.
If not, then you’re probably thinking of a martial arts master or sports star, catching speeding arrows and/or baseballs as they fly through the air.
But reflex controls so much more of your physical response than just your arms and legs. Admittedly, I’m not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. But Wikipedia lists 46 different reflexes, from blushing to coughing to shivering. Your body is constantly monitoring its condition and fine-tuning its response, trying to fix problems before you realize you have them.
Most of these reflexes come from the lower brain. These sections of the brain handle balance and process sensory input, and they also determine which sensory inputs reach our consciousness. With reflexes, that last part sometimes comes after the reflex has already kicked in: we might only notice we’re cold after we start shivering, for example. Science has nicknamed this part of the brain the reptile brain, as humans share these structures with reptiles and other animals who mainly operate on instinct. Sending these messages quickly can be the difference between life and death, whether from the sudden threat of getting eaten by a jaguar or gradually freezing.
When I was young, I remember watching a video in science class about dinosaurs. It claimed that, due to their large size, it took a full minute for neural messages to travel between the tip of the tail and the brain. The animation showed the delayed reaction with a cartoon dinosaur finally noticing a stick of dynamite on its tail, then watching helplessly as the fuse burned down before the neural signal reached its tail muscles. (Dinosaurs and cartoon violence: two great ingredients for lasting childhood memories.)
But the point is that, in both physiology and the workplace, communication has evolved. We can’t afford slow, lumbering response times any more than that poor brachiosaur. If HR and management are going to work together effectively, you’re going to need much faster reflexes.
Developing Feedback Channels
It’s one thing to encourage feedback. It’s another to make sure the feedback gets recorded, shared, analyzed, and acted upon. When BambooHR was developing its performance management tools, our product development team conducted extensive consumer research on traditional performance reviews. Here’s what we found:
– 40 percent of managers don’t follow up on employee progress
– 38 percent of annual reviews only focus on the most recent performance
– 26 percent of annual reviews result in no plan for improvement
– 74 percent of managers aren’t held accountable for what happens in performance reviews
These statistics add up to a lot of latency in understanding what needs to change. It’s enough time for a toxic employee to poison a team’s culture, and it’s enough time for a disengaged employee to interview and accept a position somewhere else.
To hone your organization’s reflexes, you need more frequent formal feedback than an annual review. A successful feedback program connects HR and management, acting as a conduit between employees, their managers, and leadership. Then when informal feedback isn’t enough, managers can report issues and know that they will reach the level of leadership that has the authority to decide on a solution.
An Appropriate Reaction
I’m not suggesting that HR devote all its time to reporting and recording feedback. That task is best suited for a core HRIS. But HR is in the position to be the gatekeeper, working with other departments to identify strategic issues like employee engagement and team structure at a much higher level before making recommendations to leadership.
As our CEO, Ben Peterson, recently put it at the 2017 Summit, slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. When HR handles feedback effectively and uses it to create an informed strategy, your organization isn’t jumping at the slightest noise. Instead, it’s reacting smoothly and implementing changes to match whatever challenge comes your way.
Developing strong reflexes in your organization is key to staying ahead. When HR and management coordinate on both automatic and decisive functions, it helps set your organization apart from the rest.