HR Roundtable: Just What is it That HR is Measuring?

The December HR Roundtable in Cincinnati was challenging because the weather had begun to turn and the traffic to get to the location was gridlock. It was appropriate that this happened though because the group discussed the issue of “Capacity.”

HR tends to measure a myriad of “aren’ts and don’ts.” We do this through HR systems, performance reviews and other items to feel that we’re contributing to the bottom line and using terms that Finance and other departments understand.

It’s a mistake! So, this month we decided to stretch and talk about measuring employee’s capacity. It will work, but people aren’t doing it. To get the thoughts starting, the group started with the following three questions:

  1. What items do companies need to come to terms with before measuring capacity?
  2. What is HR measuring now?
  3. How can we measure capacity?

This topic was tough to get into because people like the concept, but it forced people to think of new things – which we honestly don’t do near enough! When the small groups reconvened, here is what they had to share:

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What do companies need to change to measure capacity?

  • Does the work we do match the company’s goals? Great point! Companies are filled with mass amounts of work that is senseless and does nothing but fill people’s time each day. Have you asked if the HR work you do matches up with where the company wants to go? If it doesn’t match – why do you continue to do it? Also, what are you doing as HR to set the company goals?
  • How do you define “capacity?” If you have been a follower of the HR Roundtable for any amount of time, this falls into the classic “it depends” category of HR. Capacity needs to be fluid because it can be different for each company. What matters to one company, or even one department, may be irrelevant in another environment. The key to this point is to take the time to define what capacity means to your workplace. Define what MATTERS, not just what has been tradition or preference.
  • What is the “real” work? Not to drive this into the ground, but it bears to note here that people will fill their time with something if it’s not defined for them. You can have everyone give input on job design and work flow, but it needs to exist and not be ambiguous. People who may be seen as “slackers” may just be filling time because the real work is vague at best. We need to embrace that people, given the chance, want to do great work. It’s up to the company to make sure the work it does is relevant.
  • What are the Key Performance Indicators? Most people looked like deer in the headlights when this answer was given, which means that most people aren’t as connected as they should be to their company. Key performance indicators are the things that your company is measuring that matter to the business. HR needs to not only know these things, but make sure they are part of the KPI in essential ways. If HR isn’t included in these indicators in some form or fashion, it’s not good.
  • People are all unique . . . and we hate that! It’s true. Companies, and HR especially, spend hours upon hours to try and make everyone the same vs. leveraging the strengths they bring to work every day. Why are we so reluctant to take people for who they are?  Anyone who says “it takes too much time” to be with your employees needs to get out of HR !!

What is HR measuring now?

  • Attendance. I know this is a sacred cow of the American landscape, but have you asked why you’re measuring whether a person shows up or not? Is presence a guarantee of performance? The first argument you’ll hear is, “Well, if they’re not here, then they can’t perform.” That’s true. Then what we should be measuring is a performance issue, isn’t it? We have to get out of the continual HR systems that are based on “showing up.”
  • What Senior Management tells us to measure. How true is this? In our rush to be at the table, many HR people tend to pump out data and systems that give Senior Management the items they “need” to prove the ROI of HR to show that we’re a bottom line provider. Please note — there is a HUGE area of opportunity to get information that is valuable and relevant in front of Senior Management, but initiate and bring it to them versus waiting for another trendy idea that will inevitably be short-lived.
  • Quality of hire/time to hire/cost of hire. Nothing wrong with these at all. The question that begs to be asked though is this: after a person is hired do we continue to measure their value to see if we are continuing to see them perform and excel? Or, is getting Finance the numbers good enough?
  • Weaknesses. It’s true; the vast majority of Performance Management Systems in all forms measure what an employee is not doing, and then we come up with goals to make sure that we bridge the weakness gaps. How does this improve a person’s performance? Strengths are assumed as “givens” in a person’s performance, yet we don’t try to build on those. It seems backwards.
  • What have you done for me lately? How can employees to perform to this when they are trying to follow an often informal and unspoken system of making sure they do the item that makes others look good. This has to be tiring and extremely difficult to manage for any type of consistency.
  • We don’t like people. People don’t want to say this out loud, but people are tough. That is what makes them so amazing! If everyone was easy to get to know, we wouldn’t know what to do with that, and we would be skeptical of the interaction anyway. We are great talking about companies, jobs, etc. We just don’t want to really get to know someone because we think it takes too much time and energy.

How can we measure capacity?

  • See how “full” a person really is. As stated before, people will fill their time. They’re not doing it to be malicious. They do it because they’re getting paid for a full day, so they make sure they’re full. Sit down and evaluate your job descriptions to make sure that people are actually performing those roles, and, that the work moves the company forward. People want to be full. Look at flexible schedules and/or arrangements that may allow them to be at capacity most of the time vs. having mandated start/stop times because that’s what companies “do.”
  • Expect employees to be engaged. This is the buzzword of HR and there are people getting paid as “Engagement” experts. Ick. This is where HR can shine. Revamp your systems for the employees who are engaged. Destroy the systems that are just for the “paycheck” mentality folks. Model the behavior of engagement as well. If HR’s not engaged, then how can you expect anyone else to be? Seriously. Employees who are engaged will fill themselves up to a capacity that companies are yearning for. Again, HR should be the one leading this charge so we can provide the environment, development opportunities, etc. that ensure engagement.
  • Give people context. We have to take the time to describe the context for decisions, directions, etc. People respond more when they see the bigger picture on their work. If you spoon feed someone because you think that’s all they can “handle,” then you’re making a big mistake. It’s true that people have different capacities, but find out what they are. Don’t assume you know what it is. Don’t keep people in the dark. They don’t like it, and neither do you.
  • Challenge people. We have forgotten that people learn from failure. With our “everyone’s a winner” mentality, people are petrified to fail and are hesitant to also take risks. Teach people that they’re safe and allow them to use the gifts of innovation they have in their roles (or for the company as a whole). Challenges are great. HR needs to model this. If they did it would transform our profession!
  • Development vs. performance. Time to get out of the Performance Review to get the 3R’s – rate, rank, and raise. People who are conditioned to do what’s “necessary” to get their quarter raise won’t ever work to their capacity. They’re working to what they think they’ll be rewarded for and companies encourage it. Then we make a bell curve to identify our top 10 percent and bottom 10 percent and act accordingly. Try this instead: develop your staff to increase their strengths to move your company forward. Don’t allow anything else and make it unique for each person based on their capabilities, willingness, and desire. I know that its not the “one size fits all” system, but it works. You’ll see people shine in ways you’ve never seen before. Develop people. They’re waiting for it!

This was a great session to end 2010. Thanks to everyone who has been able to attend an HR Roundtable this year. I appreciate you taking the time to get connected to the greater HR community and see how you can learn and make a difference in your corner of the HR world.

Make sure to join us in 2011. It will be another boundary stretching year!

Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa's, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area with 16 locations and over 1,200 team members. Steve has been an HR professional for more than 30 years in the manufacturing, consumer products, and professional services industries. He facilitates a monthly HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and runs an Internet message board for HR pros that reaches 7,800 plus people weekly. Steve joined the SHRM Board of Directors in January 2016. You can contact him at, or on Twitter (@sbrownehr). You can also read more on his personal blog, Everyday People.



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