Ian Jerrum looks at selection and recruitment, induction, training and development, and performance management

Managers have a key role to play at every stage in the ‘employee life cycle’ through which an individual passes from first contact with a company right up to leaving day. This role can be described as ‘hire, inspire, admire, retire’.

Employees are one of the biggest expenses – or investments – for most insurance firms. Unlike premises or office equipment, however, human capital is highly volatile, and it is the manager’s role to handle that volatility – while always observing FSA regulations.

In terms of recruitment and selection, this means taking proper account of the knowledge and skills required for each role when hiring. It also means gathering sufficient information on applicants’ experience and training, and obtaining proof of all relevant qualifications.

Not hiring the best person available is usually a false economy. The cost of replacing a bad hire will always exceed the marginal cost economy of accepting second best.

It is a mistake to think recruitment is best left solely to the HR department. HR managers have a role to play, of course, but they won’t always be the ones with the best under-standing of the specific skill set required for a particular role. It is always important to recognise talent when recruiting. Skills can be taught, talent cannot.

The first contact with a candidate is at the interview. Interviewing is inevitably subjective and should be just one of a range of selection and recruitment tools. Others include skill testing, psychometric testing, personality inventories, candidate presentations and case study work.

When there are multiple candidates for a role, an ‘assessment and selection centre’ offers a chance to see how candidates work alongside others (albeit in an slightly artificial competitive situation). But to derive the full benefit from the exercise, it is usually best to bring in outside assistance.

Improving interviewing skills can also pay dividends. This can often be a simple as knowing what questions to ask – focus on the skills, attitude or potential needed for a particular role, and make sure you listen more than you talk.

Given the potential for discrimination claims when recruiting, it is also important to be aware of the relevant areas of employment law and the correct policies and procedures to follow. There is plenty of free professional advice available to smaller firms from organisations such as Business Link. Larger companies, of course, will have their own procedures.

Moving on to induction, the sooner a new recruit is fully and happily integrated into the organisation and its culture, the sooner he will begin to be productive.

The worst-case alternative is what is termed an induction crisis. This is the costly problem of disillusioned or demotivated employees, who leave because they have never really ‘bedded in’ – or worse hang around being ineffectual or disruptive.

A well-planned induction process must include regulatory compliance, as a minimum. There are also considerable benefits in ensuring acceptance of a firm’s values and goals, identifying future training and early career development opportunities. An effective induction can help to reduce employee turnover and recruitment costs.

Managers benefit from having enthusiastic and motivated staff around them. This ethos can maintain morale. A friendly team can act as ‘buddies’ to new recruits and help speed their integration into the day-to-day activities. Recruits will also understand the appropriate level of supervision from the start, which will reduce misunderstandings.

Managers have an important role to play in supporting the training and development of their team, ensuring that each progresses with a personal development plan that coincides with the organisation’s aims and objectives.

From a regulatory standpoint, managers must also ensure appropriate training and supervision of new recruits is provided to full competence – and ensure they remain so.

In this context managers should review past performance to identify where training would be helpful, establish and monitor performance against agreed objectives, and analyse development for current and future roles.

Traditional training courses can usefully be supplemented with e-learning and other guided reading or resources, on-the-job coaching, job rotation, shadowing, project work/assignments, secondment, and studying for formal qualifications where relevant to a particular role.

Assuming employees have a personal development plan, it is important to look at ‘how to get there. This would typically involve four main elements:

Sequence – prioritising needs, assessing interdependencies and planning appropriate timings

“HR managers have a role to play, of course, but they won’t always be the ones with the best understanding of the specific skill set required for a particular role

Load and pace – spreading development over the year, avoiding overload, allowing for the individual’s learning rate

Variety – mixing different approaches to stimulate learning, taking topics one by one to avoid confusion

Document – formally identifying all development needs and how they will be addressed.

Remember, of course, that data protection legislation requires that working files on individuals should be kept in a locked office or cabinet and be retained for three years following a change of position or employment.

In order to manage performance effectively managers should monitor their staff consistently and objectively through appraisals and reviews – and link individual employees and the roles they fill back to wider organisational plans and objectives.

A performance appraisal is a meeting between manager and employee to review performance. The objectives set here are often captured in a personal development plan. Appraisals should not be an isolated once-a-year event, but part of an ongoing dialogue between manager and employee.

These discussions can often benefit from a performance contract that articulates:

The employee’s prime purpose

Critical factors in their success

Key tasks

Required competencies for their role

Resources available to them

Expected performance standards

Forms of recognition or reward to be expected from meeting these

Provisions for evaluation

Two-way feedback.

In other words, the formal appraisal meeting should not contain any surprises and should be a comfortable and productive discussion for manager and employee.