UCT GSB's Tim London advises against focusing on compliance 

Rather, employers should think about minimising the 'job tax' to get the best out of their people.

Speaking at the HR Indaba, UCT GSB professor Tim London said he did not like the word ‘compliance’. He attendees to steer clear from it because too many people didn't view it as the minimum standards it refers to but instead view it as a goal.

In the context of HR, he said compliance includes all the things employees are told they need to do to avoid getting fired.  The problem with that is that it immediately creates a mindset within employees to have a low expectation of themselves. For Tim, talking about compliance is akin to talking about tolerance.

He referred to his time living in Northern Ireland where, for a long time, there was a lot of talk about religious tolerance between the Catholics and the Protestants. One day, someone said to him that it's a really bad word to use. 

"They said to me, 'imagine if someone said to you, how is your relationship with your significant other, and you said, 'we tolerate each other'. That's not exactly a glowing review of a relationship, is it?' It changed my perception of the word tolerance but today, I feel the same way about the word compliance," said Tim.

"When I hear that a company is in 'compliance', it doesn't fill me with a sense of hope and excitement that the organisation is driving itself forward. It may not get sued for anything, which is nice but I would emplore you to start thinking about how you use those words of if you should be using them at all."

For Tim, the same applies to KPIs, which are typically backwards-looking and again tend to focus on a minimum requirement as opposed to what is going to be crucial for growth.

It’s all about minimising the job tax

The key takeaway from Tim’s session was the notion of a job tax, which he referred to as the things employees don't necessarily enjoy doing but have to do in order to be able to be effective at doing the things they really enjoy doing. 

"For me, it's marking papers. I don't enjoy it all but that's my job tax. I do it because it allows me to do all the other cool stuff that I love about my job."

Over time, however, that tax can increase. What you have to do when you are in HR or a business leader is maximise the stuff that people are excited about and minimise the amount of job tax. Job tax is what keeps people from being engaged and hinders their performance. 

In order to ignite true potential, Tim urged HR professionals to harness the organisational purpose and values to keep employees engaged.  

Said Tim: “Think about job tax in the context of understanding the individual because, if you don't know your people, you will have no idea how much of a job tax you're putting on them. You want to think about people and not their job titles. If you take senior analysts, for example, some will be good at some things and bad at other things and vice versa so you want to be able to shift those activities and responsibilities around to ensure that people dedicate more of their time to their strengths and interests."