HR Roundtable: How Do You Know if Your Organization Is Healthy?

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Feb 16, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

The February HR Roundtable in Cincinnati was cool because the topic was suggested by one of the regular attendees.

That kind of engagement is awesome and fits with what we gathered for. The topic was, “How do you know if your organization’s healthy?

We talk about the workplace constantly in blogs, and there are countless suggestions on how to improve things, but how do you set the baseline first?

To tackle this missing piece, the small groups discussed the following questions:

  1. How is organizational “health” defined?
  2. How do you know if an organization is unhealthy?
  3. What can you do, and who is involved, in keeping an organization healthy?

The groups jumped on these tickler questions, and the discussion was thoughtful and measured. It was a bit calmer than most Roundtables, however, they came back with some phenomenal answers!

1. How is organizational “health” defined?

  • Internal and external viability — This may be more of an “eye test,” but it’s very true. If the vibe of an organization is healthy, then you’ll be able to see it in the culture and in the employees at all levels. Externally, if the business community sees a company as viable it also is a measurement of its health. If we continue to disregard this fact of business, we will always remain on the fringe of organizations.
  • Employees collectively flourish — This was a fantastic answer because the idea was that the staff in its entirety flourished. That is different than just existing or even being engaged. If you reach a stage where people can flourish at your workplace, you are definitely healthy!
  • Acceptable turnover — It’s ironic that we measure turnover in HR as if there has to be a way to plug the drain. We need to come to terms with the notion that not all people will like our organizations. A mix of voluntary and involuntary turnover is a great measurement. Quit thinking about turnover as an extreme. It’s better to see it as part of a fluid company culture.
  • Creativity is allowed — Now, don’t jump on the innovation bandwagon here just to continue to banter about a phrase that makes you seem edgy. Establishing an environment where creativity is allowed is honestly more reflective of what happens in companies. Since massive change (innovation) is so hard to quantify, allow folks to look at their roles and contributions and let them be creative in hitting desired, or even new, results.
  • Healthy conflict — This is another great response. HR is often engaged in either conflict avoidance or conflict management. Neither of those approaches are healthy. Having an environment where disagreement, reflection, challenge and even failure is healthy. This is because it’s going to occur anyway so quit trying to force into parameters that elevate it in ways that are destructive. A little tussling helps make change happen!
  • No fear — This is almost an ideal, but it is intriguing. If employees are assured that they have security and an opportunity to contribute and add value, without fear you’ve done well. The challenge of retribution and retaliation happens because people’s personalities get in the way of the work at hand. This can be addressed, but it takes an HR effort that is willing to step in the gap to establish and maintain a culture that is safe.

2. How do you know if an organization is unhealthy?

  • Failures are accentuated — We love to see others flame out, don’t we? There is so much time and effort wasted in people jockeying for attention and position that we can’t wait until someone falls because we look better. Read that again. If that is what is happening in your organization, you are not well
  • Your structure is defined by silos — Yes, silos exist in every organization. If your entire company looks more vertical than a web that intertwines across departments, you are sure to experience disconnectedness. It has to thwart productivity because it’s so difficult to get to every person who may be needed in order to move things forward. Having built in kingdoms is not healthy for the company and even within each silo.
  • Complacency — When there is a malaise of how work is done and who is doing it, watch out because complacency has fallen over you like a fog. If people hover at work and approach things with a lukewarm commitment, your culture is going to be stagnate. This is true especially for HR folks. Without passion for what you do and the people you work with, HR will be negative and that is a guarantee.
  • Fines, violations, lawsuits and the like — Just like the point above regarding being visibly viable, this is an eye test as well. There may be times when these regulatory issues happen, but they should be an exception. They also need to be handled consistently so the chance of anything like this occurring is minimized.
  • Blame and deflect — When people, and especially leadership, don’t take ownership of how the company is performing, you have a Teflon culture. Everything is deflected and bounced around until an appropriate scapegoat is found to be a target. An organization that lacks accountability will suffer. There’s no way around it.
  • The exit door is more active than the front door — There is unhealthy turnover that can happen in companies. The way to measure this is by seeing if you know more people who’ve left the organization than the number of folks you know who’ve stayed. If a company allows a toxic or unhealthy culture to exist, don’t stand near the exit because you may get run over.

3. What can you do in keeping an organization healthy?

  • Have a “people focus” first — This suggestion makes non HR people cringe, but it’s a reality. Work is done by people not processes. Too often we put processes first and feel they will work regardless of who uses them. That’s just not true. You need to help organizations realize that every type of company will succeed if you can put people first.
  • Seek input on a regular basis — You can destroy the silos that try to exist if you make efforts to get input from people across departments and levels. Do your best to eliminate a “groupthink” practice where everyone just mimics what they think should be said. Encourage suggestions, critiques and evaluations of how work is being done.
  • Give people context when communicating — We tend to list “better communication” every time we talk about workplaces. However, we rarely emphasize the reality that we don’t dive into the intent of what is being communicated. Taking the time to give people context is invaluable because it isn’t done. We need to stop the practice of communicating on a drive-by basis. If you change your approach personally and be the person who is consistently contextual, you will see great communication actually exist!
  • Become servants — Along with a people focus, you can improve the health of an organization if serving others is the norm and not some company event. This is a challenge because most people focus on themselves. Great HR has an outward focus to all those around them. The reality is that by practicing this regularly you’ll see the whole come together over time. It is a long, ongoing process, but worth every moment.
  • Instant recognition — This suggestion is unheard of and rarely practiced. It is the best way though because when we delay feedback and recognition to set times and dates, we’ve missed the chance to have the most significant impact. Quick aside – this is NOT a generational issue! This is a people issue. Everyone enjoys recognition and feedback. Age is not a factor and we need to quit splintering the workplace thinking it will bring us together. Catch people performing well and let them know it when you see it. Don’t wait for some review or some cost of living raise. Observe, and expect, people to do well and they will.

This was a fabulous topic that could have been more deeply explored.

This was a great starting point and I’m sure you can take these points and use some, or all, of them in your workplace so that we can all have healthy workplaces and organizations.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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