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Michelle Malay Carter

Michelle Malay Carter

The Society would like to thank Michelle for granting us permission to republish one of her favourite blogs for our affiliates.

This blog was originally published February 12, 2008 on Michelle's own page:

Regarding the long-suffering demand that HR be granted a seat at the table, I’d like to address this issue using my work levels goggles. Is it really about HR needing to acquire this competency or that competency, or is it about organizational structure?

I’m Talking About a Strategy Table
If we assume that “the table” is a place where strategy, not current operations, is discussed, then seats at the table must be filled with people capable of thinking strategically. Unfortunately, most competency models don’t have a valid or reliable definition of “strategic thinking capability”. I’d like to offer one.

Strategic Thinking Capability Defined
Using work levels terminology, this means people capable at level 4, i.e., those capable of mentally managing,planning, integrating, balancing and coordinatingmultiple serial pathways to deliver goals with delivery times falling betweentwo and five years.

Level Four Work Example
An example of level four work I offered in a previous post was:

Expand our sales footprint beyond the US by establishing a sales force in Mexico which should be responsible for 15% of total sales at the end of four years. (i.e. Integrate multiple serial pathways: recruiting, staffing, facilities, technology, Mexican human resource law and customs, customer identification, sales process, product offerings, marketing, advertising, operations, delivery, warehousing. etc. to deliver a four year objective)

Catch 22
You’ve also heard the complaint that no one will hire you without experience, but how can you get any experience if no one will hire you? HR is entrapped within this classic, catch-22 dilemma.

If your only experience with HR has been in an organization where HR was relegated tocutting paychecks, planning picnics, and offering soap to smelly people, then you might not be able to appreciate the value a strategic HR role could add to your organization. Picnic planners need not be in your strategy sessions.

We’re back to work levels, not all HR roles are created equal.

You Get What You Design and Pay For
Assuming your organization is of sufficient size and complexity to merit a strategic HR role, in order to attract strategic HR talent, you must create a strategic, level 4 HR role, embed it with level 4 work and then pay accordingly. No organization is going to pay $120K for picnic planning, and conversely, no strategic-capable HR professional is going to take a $40K, picnic-planning role.

If You Build It, They Will Come
To grab a line from the movie Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. If you built a role that was tasked with creating an integrated recruiting, screening, selection, compensation, development, performance management, managerial leadership system to build a talent pipeline capable of staffing our organization to meet our strategy 3 to 5 years down the road, you wouldn’t dream of excluding that person from the table. And your applicants fora rolethat was scoped at thislevel of complexity and specificitywould well deserve a six figure salary.

To Seat or Not To Seat
If your organization is of sufficient size and complexity to merit a structure containing a truly strategic HR role,then it would beimperative to have them at the table. If HR in your organization isn’t structured to add strategic value, save the seat for someone else.

I’m OK. You’re OK. Let’s fix the system.

Is HR in your organization strategic? Should it be?

Originally published on Mission Minded Management and reposted here by permission of PeopleFit

Don’t Hack Jack!

Our underlying beliefs and values drive our behaviors.  Jack Welch believed, “If you’ve got 16 employees, at least two are turkeys.”   From this belief flowed the talent management systems at GE.  One of the most controversial (and unfortunately emulated) practices was that of cutting the bottom performing 10% of employees annually.

Judy at the Employee Factor, who also questions the practice, posted some statistics showing that these beliefs and practices are still common.

Systems telegraph values and drive behavior.  
In addition to, “two in 16 employees are turkeys,” what does the practice of cutting the bottom 10% of employees annually telegraph and drive?  (Hint:  It’s not trust nor engagement.)

Values Telegraphed:

  • We don’t trust or expect our managers to hire appropriately.
  • We don’t trust or expect our managers to deal with under-performing employees so we will micromanage the process.
  • Perform at all costs or you are gone.
  • Don’t set your sights on anything with a return that is longer than one year.  You may not be around the second year.
  • All factors that influence employee performance are within the employee’s control.  (False)

Behaviors Driven:

  • Managers who hire well are now penalized, as they will be forced to eliminate team members every year.  With this system, competent hiring managers are put in the untenable situation of either firing good employees, or they must intentionally seek out and hire dead wood with an eye toward firing them at review time.
  • I will not help my teammates as they may end up higher on the list which puts me lower on the list.  I can’t risk that.
  • I may need to sabotage my teammates in order to make the top nine on the list.
  • I may need to do something that will get me my performance numbers in the short term but that I know is not in the long term interest of the organization.
  • I must fudge the numbers, pay a kickback, cover up mistakes… in order to make the top nine.

Cutting the bottom 10% annually is a defensive, compensatory system for lack of understanding of work levels, human capability and managerial leadership.

If you believe that:  I’m OK.  You’re OK.  Let’s fix the system, you would design your organization accordingly.  We need to equip, train and support (through systems design) line managers to successfully discharge their managerial leadership duties.

We wouldn’t let our untrained neighbor perform surgery on us in our backyard with a hacksaw, a hardback copy of “What Good Surgeons Do”, and a pep talk.  Yet we put employees in managerial positions, offer them some platitudes, the latest best-selling book on leadership, and send them off to lead “our most valuable asset” in polluted environments with inadequate tools.

Jack Welch is brilliant, and I admire many things about him, this is not one of them.  I have a more positive belief set regarding human nature and our desire to do meaningful work.  All we need to do is create work-enabling systems that eliminate conflicts of interest for employees, and send them off to work.

I’m OK.  You’re OK.  Let’s fix the system.  In my next post I will discuss how I would take an offensive rather than a defensive approach to low performance.

Have you ever been the victim of a bottom 10% cut?  Have you ever been forced to cut an employee who didn’t deserve to be cut?.

Professional associations & universities that support and / or co-market society conferences

 New York City, USA

IBM International


The Argentine Human Resources Association

The European Organization Design Forum


Canadian Association of Management Consultants

Human Resource Professionals of Ontario

Human Resource Planning Society

An institute for advanced human resources professional development

An association of academics, business users and consultants headquartered at Aarhus University in Denmark

A USA based association

A Toronto-based association of advanced HR practitioners 


An Argentine Society for Quality Improvement


The Argentine Society for Training and Development

The Argentine Human Resources Association

Federation of Human Resource Associations in Latin America 

The Buenos Aires Technological Institute

An professional association for public service employees in Canada

Consulting firms that provide financial support


A management consulting firm in Toronto, Canada



Forrest and Company, Toronto, Canada


A global network of associate consultants headquartered in Toronto Canada



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Toronto, Canada

Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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