Human Resources magazine reports on a speech given by Asda’s People Director (what?!) David Smith last week.
He says that to add value, HR needs to remove poor performing staff, set a framework for management and measure the results. According to Smith, Asda is currently outperforming the rest of the food industry by 4%. He attributes this to the company’s strategy of ousting low-performing staff, a process he refers to as “removing the red”. Speaking yesterday at a networking event organised by Ceridian, Smith also advised on how best to improve staff performance. He says companies need to engage their employees through communication, hire on attitude and not on skill, and recognise an employee’s achievements (which Asda claims it has “got down to a T”). He says all these recommendations apply to the shop floor as well as to the executive.
HR comment: Asda’s commitment to hiring staff based on their ‘attitude’ rather than their overt skills is in stark contrast to the government’s agenda to build up skill levels of 16-18 year olds, as announced yesterday by education secretary Alan Johnson.
I have argued for years that companies should tackle poor performance early, rather than letting it get worse, pissing off the rest of the staff and eventually paying off the culprits with large sums of cash. I can see a potential problem in hiring on “attitude not on skill” though. What happens when someone, either a candidate or an existing employee, claims that what the employer might perceive as an attitude problem is based on their cultural norms?
I’ve seen it happen. For example, an Afro-Caribbean woman refused to go on a management development programme because it involved self-disclosure, which she said was not part of her culture. A Hong-Kong Chinese woman denied being aggressive when she reprimanded her staff, saying that Cantonese speech patterns just sound that way to Europeans. What looks like ‘bad attitude’ to one person, can be a cultural norm for someone else. And, yes, sometimes people will play the cultural card to cover up bad behaviour.
If you want to start recruiting and managing people on the basis of attitude, you need to make sure you have some good measures in place, or you could be storing up a whole load of trouble. But I’m sure that a company sophisticated enough to have a People Director will already have that one covered.