Posted on 10 May 2016
If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Our people are our greatest asset,” and promptly rolled your eyes in derision, then you are not alone. Carolyn Noumertzis, Head of HR Transformation at Jetstar Airways, has a low tolerance for the saying, too.
While she considers Jetstar’s large fleet of airplanes to be part of its assets, she does not believe that it is particularly beneficial to consider employees as assets as well. Although Carolyn admits that she hasn’t come up with another word to replace “asset,” she feels that using the term conjures up the wrong association.
“We need to be interested in the person rather than the asset,” says Carolyn, whose team is responsible for streamlining transactional HR activities across the multinational company, which boasts one of Asia Pacific’s largest low-fare networks.
We need to be interested in the person rather than the asset.
To that end, Carolyn believes HR’s contribution to the organisation should be to find ways to unleash the potential in each individual, which will in turn enhance the overall performance and value of the company. For instance, rather than telling an employee what their development needs are, a manager should identify an employee development plan only after they have taken the time to understand the employee as a person. Then, the plan can be tailored to a person’s area of interest and what they hope to get out of their role and their time within the organisation.
When it comes to employee development and retention, Carolyn’s philosophy is: “Train them so well that they’re good at what they want to do and don’t want to leave you. If I can develop each person on my team to a point where they’ve grown some skill they didn’t have before and it becomes beneficial to them in their next role, they’ll always look back fondly on their time with Jetstar.”
Most people come to work planning to do their best – even if the definition of ‘best’ may differ between the manager and employee.
Through her own career journey, Carolyn has come to realise that by focusing on the individual and understanding them as a person, high performance and positive outcomes will follow. As a result, she has built loyalty and trust among her team, even creating an atmosphere where she can uncover problems and identify solutions sooner because team members are not afraid of the consequences of bringing an issue to her attention.
This same individualised philosophy informs how she coaches managers to conduct successful performance reviews – using empathy as a starting point. First, she explains to leaders that, although the performance review may be a big deal to them, it is an even bigger deal to the individual who is coming in to talk. As she points out, most people come to work planning to do their best – even if the definition of “best” may differ between the manager and employee.
But, by taking a spirit of good intent into the room rather than adopting a judge and jury attitude with an employee, then the whole dynamic of the conversation will change. When managers talk to the person about what they’re trying to achieve, as well as what went well and what didn’t, the conversation can be so much more powerful.
“Employees will walk out feeling like the manager hears them, understands and wants to help them further their career. That unlocks discretionary effort in a way that no formal process could ever do,” says Carolyn.
Taking away a numbering or ranking system doesn’t necessarily give the conversation any better quality.
As a general rule, she recommends that most companies find the middle ground in the debate around reinventing performance management. While the conversation between manager and employee is what is ultimately most important, taking away a numbering or ranking system doesn’t necessarily give the conversation any better quality.
Instead, there needs to be a balance struck between conversation and categorisation in order to improve an individual’s performance. In Carolyn’s opinion, the best approach is to push the performance conversation, but also not shy away from having a ranking. After all, it’s not a foreign concept to be rated or ranked – the model is used in schools and colleges, for instance. And, as Carolyn points out, if a company is focused on pay-for-performance, lots of meaningful conversations just won’t get you there.
In most companies, HR can do a better job to help managers and employees have quality, meaningful conversations about performance. As a support to the discussions, HR needs to create the frameworks that can be used to enable these conversations. Carolyn feels that the beauty of a performance conversation is that employees understand what they are doing well so that they can keep doing it and leverage their strengths. On the flip side, they also can get some insight into what they could be doing better.
Ultimately, Carolyn believes that by focusing on improving and rewarding individual contributions to the company, the overall organisational performance can be improved.
About The Author
A HR leader with over 20 years' experience, Carolyn has worked with some of Australia's best-known companies including Jetstar Airways, Coles Group, Paciﬁc Brands, Foster’s & Oz Minerals. Managing change and transformation in both growth and turnaround environments has been a constant throughout her career. Commercially minded, Carolyn is focussed on pragmatic and practical solutions. Her specialist areas are strategy, talent management, transformation and change. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from LaTrobe University and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.