Modern Human Relations at Work

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Book Modern Human Relations at Work written by Kathryn Hegar and Richard  Hodgetts, is a kaleidoscope of modern practices and techniques in human relations management  that are actively applied not only in the United States, but all over the world. It gives a clear understanding of a 360-degree evaluation and feedback system used for the assessment of human resources strengths and weaknesses, as well as identification of their needs in development, and presents  effective methods of gaining personal competences. In addition, the book outlines the latest payment and rewarding tendencies in progressive companies and discusses a concept of discipline problems. Finally, it highlights  governmental ethical initiatives and focuses on green technology and privacy aspects.

The authors refer to a multitude of  sources describing practices of well-known companies with a good reputation; consequently, all the stuff presented in the book may be accepted as reliable. However, the book lacks personal evaluation of the outlined methods and techniques and does not comment  to what extent the outlined stuff might be helpful in various situations and what consequences it might have if used inappropriately. As a result, the book’s readers only learn the lessons and check the understanding with the help of exercises that go after the chapters. No doubt,  all ideas are valuable and effective, and they are worth studying. However, some of them bear potential threats that need further explanation to readers.

The most considerable finding in the modern human relations is a 360-evaluation review, directed at the development of managerial competences needed for achieving strategic goals of a company. According to the book, the 360-evaluation review is aimed at finding out to what extent a person shares business values of the company in such aspects as vision, receptivity of change, accountability, empowerment, involvement, teamwork, speed, and energy. Such categories as “speed” and “energy” seem slightly odd on the list of aspects, since they are attributed to personal characteristics, unlike the rest of components.

The book does not say that this evaluation method is mainly appropriate for junior and senior managers who are a driving force for any changes at companies, since their competences are crucial for  success. Directors, subordinates, colleagues and customers assess a manager by his/her ability to reveal strengths and weaknesses and compose a plan for further development. The evaluation process is time-consuming; however, it can bring real improvements if conducted on a regular basis. When managers are aware that their actions and behavior are analyzed not only by their bosses, but also by their subordinates, colleagues, and customers, they will have to perform and communicate more efficiently and with a sense of responsibility. Moreover, due to anonymity of the process, subordinates will give the true opinion without any fear to be punished, and colleagues will not be afraid to spoil the relations.  Also, the estimation results may help people  see how they are perceived by other individuals and adjust their behavior to the standards. However, such kind of evaluation activity can be very stressful for managers, since their career might depend on the results. It is good when a person fits in with the occupied position and deserves a promotion, whereas a poor feedback may result in some bad consequences, even in dismissal. Based on the results of a 360-evaluation review, a manager and his supervisor will have to develop an action plan in accordance with the development needs for covering short- and long-term goals in the context of the company’s strategy.  Thus, the acquired knowledge and skills will be beneficial for both: this manager and the company.

An action plan is an agreement between a supervisor and an employee about the employee’s performance in the areas that need to be developed. It outlines  which competences the employee has to gain to get a better job or a position. However, the book says that once an action plan is developed the employee takes all responsibility for its implementation while  the supervisor can be approached for advice. As far as it is generally known, an agreement is obligations and rights of all parts involved in it, thus an action plan cannot be  purely a responsibility of an employee. The employee’s supervisor, who acts on behalf of the company, must bear responsibility for creating conditions that are favorable  for the employee’s development. For example, if the employee failed to attend the courses needed for gaining new competences because the company eventually decided to cut off its expenditures, it must be the company’s responsibility to amend the action plan. The employee must have a right to request an alternative solution.

The other valuable idea is coaching plus goal setting as an integrated approach to the development of employees’ competences. Employees appreciate  care and a helping hand in the form of advice and guidance. Moreover, they feel more confident when they know what competent people think about their performance, since  such partnership enables them to set goals and get satisfaction from the process. Thus, 92% of people who received the coaching assistance in the 360-degree feedback system admitted that the system was effective and they did not have any difficulties setting the goals. On the contrary, as many as one-third  of people who participated in the system without coaches were not capable of setting goals and only 34% of them thought that the system was efficient (Hegar & Hodgetts, 2011).

Mentoring is a challenging idea for modern human relations, since it bears a risk of secret information disclosure and manipulation within the terms of dishonest competition. It involves guidance and encouragement from trusting and non-formal relationships. Mentoring is similar to coaching due to  humans’ natural need in advice and guidance; however it is based on the need to get advice on the situation at work from a “thinking partner” who can be found outside the company. In the rules for finding the right mentor Heffernan and Joni say “… find someone who looks for answers with you. You need a third opinion - a thinking partner outside your company, often on retainer, who has no vested interest in anything except your success” (Heffernan & Joni, 2005). Hegar and Hodgetts says that nowadays approximately 75% of all executive managers younger than 40 years have mentors, and some of the mentors were found outside the company (Hegar & Hodgetts, 2011).  Being involved in this tendency, an executive may be trapped by some dishonest competitors that may arrange a false mentoring. After establishing trustful relations, the victim executive will disclose some secret information in exchange of the lacking knowledge and guidance.  The false but proficient mentor will know the secrets and report them to the competitors in exchange for big money. The latter  will be manipulating the victim executive through the mentor in accordance with their mercenary motives.

The idea of linking pay to performance is valuable, since it is a fair reward for good performance and a technique for increasing the overall productivity. The salary is composed of two components, one of which is a fixed part and the other depends of the performance. If the employees have failed to reach the established level of performance, they are not  paid the varied part. In some companies, the managers’ salaries are not high, whereas they have a possibility to get between 10 to  20% bonus if their unit has performed well. This method stimulates managers to establish good working relations with the employees, find possibilities to make them work better, and improve the productivity.  Variable part of laborers at workshops and plants should depend on the amount of production and quality, since they work in a definite sequence of manual and automated operations and their main concern is the amount of produced items and quality. Sales persons should be awarded for  increased sales and effective efforts to attract new customers, find  efficient promotional techniques and support the development of  new distribution channels. The managerial staff must be paid for the achievements obtained thanks to their leadership competences and skills.  According to the consulting firm Mercer LLC, in 2003 only seventeen major U.S. corporations out of one hundred paid their executives for the performed targets that depended on their leadership skills and efforts, whereas in 2005 the number of such corporation grew up to thirty (Lublin, 2006).  The main difficulty is to determine the “meaningful” targets and get a clear understanding of how they depend on the personal performance, innovations, and efforts. This method will be motivating as long as the results are fair and the targets are challenging. Thus, the targets need to be regularly revised and updated in accordance with the technological development, modern practices, and standards. The concept of employee involvement in the company stock share purchase is quite interesting, since it is aimed at enhancing their commitment to the company. Such companies as Cisco Systems, Starbucks, and Southwest Airlines propose their employees to buy their stock shares at a discount up to 15 percent.  However, such proposal is often non-motivating because the employees are usually not well- informed about the benefits of co-ownership (Braham, 2003). Another interesting way to motivate personnel at service companies is to involve them in a competition for getting the award in the form of money or some benefits like tickets to the concert or a trip to Hawaii. Bonus funds may be created at the expense of saved salaries after flattening the organizational structure. For example, a winner of the nomination “General Manager of the Year” among the Peasant Restaurants was awarded with a trip for two persons to Europe. However, it should be added that any competition for personnel will be stipulating if  based on the following principles: equal access, clear procedure, fair results, a worthy reward, and recognition.

The importance of recognition is undisputable, and it has a big impact on behavioral effectiveness. Nowadays human recourse managers pay more attention to the necessity of saying “sincere thanks” to the employees, which is sometimes even more efficient that the paid bonuses. The most desired reward is public recognition, written or oral, given in a sincere manner, in due time, and in a special way. The reward makes people think that they are important, their contribution is valuable and other people respect them. (“Employee recognition: Top ways to recognize employees in the workplace,” 2011).

Discipline is a negative reward, but sometimes employees ignore the rules to deliver a message that they are not fairly treated. One of the main findings of the last century, which is still very important and will be important in the future, is that the discipline bears a clear sense of purpose and has  primary and  secondary goals that are different for the types of problem employees (Seltzer, 1987).  Misconduct cannot  be attributed only to irresponsible workers, but also to those who feel unfairly treated. Such kind of workers are determined as the second type of problem employees, and they must be treated in a special way to prevent the conflict. They are usually sensitive people with the heightened sense of justice and serious attitude to work. However, they are arrogant to tell openly what was done wrong towards them and start behaving  as if they do not care about the rules. The conflict can be resolved if a supervisor initiates a conversation to discuss the problem and find the appropriate solution.

Hegar and Hodgetts emphasized the importance of HR specialists’ role in improving the image of Americans abroad. According to people from foreign countries, Americans are insensitive, arrogant, exploitive, and quick to take but slow to give. In 2001, Keith Reinhald initiated a group “Business for Diplomatic Action” to better the image of Americans trough their behavior abroad and make an American  “a better global citizen”. In 2004, the Business for Diplomatic Action Group developed a booklet “World Citizens Guide for Americans” that was recommended to read by all American citizens who were going to travel abroad (Klimkiewicz, 2006).  Human relations specialists shall provide trainings for employees with an overseas assignment and their families taking responsibility for their successful life abroad.  The expatriates will have to learn about the customs and traditions of the foreign country, its educational and social opportunities, and living conditions to be able to live there successfully and make an impression of a responsible global citizen. 

Green Technology is the healthiest tendency that must be widely developed not only in the United States, but also all over the world.  Businesses try to use green technologies and materials to reduce carbon footprints and minimize waste, and air pollution in order to produce nontoxic, reusable, and recyclable products. Furthermore, the green technology is a tendency of locating office buildings, distribution centers, and warehouses in modern green buildings constructed from non-hazardous materials. California is the leading state in applying the green technology principles, and California Green Building Standards Code has already been developed and published. As soon as the standards become a common practice, they will bring new challenges to human relations issues (Palmese, 2013).

Monitoring video systems have been used by many companies for a long time, however, privacy is still a disputable and sensitive issue. Nowadays, surveillance and web cameras and TV closed-circuits are fixed everywhere in the allowed areas to monitor employees in various types of their activities, and provide security. However, sometimes companies want to strengthen their security, and they install cameras  in  inappropriate places such as changing rooms and bathrooms. When employees discover cameras or become aware that they have been recorded, they consider it  an act of violence and file lawsuits. Thus, security and privacy of employees is a concern of the human relations management.

To sum up, the book is a methodological recourse with the best practices in modern human relations aspects collected from reliable sources. It comprises many valuable ideas and good recommendation; however, lacks personal assessment of the outlined stuff and lacks situational analysis. The most important finding of the book is the benefit of the 360-degree evaluation and feedback system, which is efficient not only for determining the need in development, but also for making interpersonal relations more tolerant. However, the system reaches it maximum efficiency if it is followed by coaching that is very helpful for the goal setting. Dishonored rivals may use mentoring for their own selfish purposes. As for payment, it is motivating only when it is connected to the performance targets, whereas sincere recognition is the best motivation. Discipline problems may have a message of unfair treatment. Standards of green technology, norms of ethics, behavior, and privacy are regulated by the government, however they bring challengers to human relations issues. 

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