HUMAN RESOURCES: Managing the ‘soft’ side can be the hardest

“The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff. Human interactions are a lot tougher to manage than profits and losses.”

– Roger Enrico, Chairman of PepsiCo

As a business owner, I look upon my employees as an extended family. We spend a lot of time together, share problems and successes, and share many of the same goals. Like a family unit, I find myself shifting roles from mother to big sister, depending on their needs. Because I work with my husband, those roles include wife. This role-switching is done subconsciously, but always at the forefront is the fact that I am a boss and ultimately responsible for the welfare of my business and its employees. Both depend on me to make good decisions and to make a profit.

But as we all know, business isn’t all about profit and loss, growth potential and market shares. The focus keeping accountants employed isn’t necessarily what’s keeping a business alive, for the true lifeblood of any business is its people. Numbers can be manipulated and profits can be sheltered, but unless a manager develops a partnership with employees, the numbers will suffer.

Gary Vann, Ph.D, knows this. He’s an organizational behavioral consultant with 23 years of experience as a family systems psychologist. In his practice, he’s seen a tremendous increase in job-related stress affecting families across the country, and northern Michigan is no exception. You don’t have to work in a high-rise office to experience high stress–95 percent of the businesses in our area are privately or family-owned.

As in a marriage or family counseling situation, the problems facing a business come down to its human counterparts. Vann’s company, Peak Performance Solutions, works with individuals and organizations to develop the “soft” side of business through development, troubleshooting, and management of human resources.

Vann says, “Business systems and family systems rely on communication, leadership, problem-solving skills, and relationship skills. You may have a very talented, creative professional who’s not a team player or is lacking in basic relationship skills. Relationship skills can be learned and improved, and ultimately benefit the entire organization.”

The cost of improving these skills is nominal compared to the cost of training a new employee or settling a lawsuit, as in the case of wrongful discharge, harassment, or discrimination. Vann figures it costs an employer four times a current employee’s wage to replace that employee.

It makes more sense to put money into that employee by means of career development, troubleshooting and resolving interpersonal conflicts than to lose that good employee through neglect.

As a consultant, Vann can assess and diagnose the good qualities of employees and managers and determine where the breakdowns are occurring. Using an ASSESS Developmental Test and Report, developed by Bigby Havis & Associates, Inc., Vann looks at intellectual abilities, thinking and working styles, and the motivations that make up each employee. The test can be taken via the Internet, takes about an hour to complete, and measures potential strengths and weaknesses. Vann’s interpretation of the test identifies possible leaders, as well as possible problems. One of these is stress on the job.

“Work stress contributes significantly to substance abuse, depression, anger, and other mental health matters,” Vann said. “If these become chronic, we’re looking at serious depression and anxiety disorders which then impact not only the family and business, but the community and nation.”

The stress factors that cause person “A” to start gambling excessively are the same factors that cause person “B” to open fire on his co-workers. It all depends on how that person manages stress. “Derailment” is common in any job and can be defined as a person getting off track, either through poor performance, poor attitude, absenteeism, or acts of aggression.

Dr. Vann works to turn around derailing individuals and to prevent unwanted exits of key employees. If that individual cannot make the necessary changes, Vann can suggest termination procedures to protect the employee and the company.

He may work with the employer and the individual on creative out-placement. This not only protects the employer in the case of a wrongful discharge or discrimination lawsuit, but helps the individual make a smoother and less emotionally damaging transition from one job or career to another.

Vann understands the psychology of work and the emotional attachments we make on the job. He worked for 11 years at the Traverse City State Hospital and felt and saw firsthand the effects of losing a job when the hospital closed. People form social bonds at work, have goals on the job they might not have in their personal lives, and put a lot of thought, time, and energy into their careers.

The field of organizational behavorial consulting is so new, trends haven’t been tracked. But they can be predicted: Labor shortages combined with a strong economy will force employers into new ways of thought and behavior. Vann and his peers will be there to put it all into perspective and into practice, which will benefit everyone in the work force. BIZNEWS