HR 101: A Guide for Small Business

HR 101: A Guide for Small BusinessEarlier this week I talked about the importance of HR in a startup. Whenever I talk about this topic I receive questions about what exactly I’m referring to when I say HR. Is it just the legal stuff like paying employment taxes or is there more. It’s a good question with an answer that would probably differ depending on who you asked. Here is my idea of HR 101 in a small business or startup environment.

Essentially there are three things that I believe small businesses need to think about in the very early stage of their people development. I do believe it is important to start thinking about these things with the very first hire. The degree to which you should build strategies around these areas grows with every hire.

The baseline nature of HR is tacit. The role was invented to ensure compliance. While it has evolved in the last few decades to much more, the necessity to ensure legal compliance remains, especially in states like California. Setting up and growing a business dictates the need to be legally compliant in hiring, payroll, performance management and more. This is HR at it’s most basic and the bare minimum of what all small businesses should consider.

At this stage, companies are figuring out what payroll service provider they will use, acquiring unemployment tax ids and workers’ compensation insurance and ensuring workplace posters are legal documents are available to all employees. This is where ensuring you understand laws around documents required at hiring (tax forms, I-9 etc) is important. Writing handbooks, understanding the law around required benefits (if any) and making friends with legal counsel are all important parts of the compliance area of HR infrastructure.

Quite possibly the most important step for early stage small businesses is figuring out the recruiting process. It’s not enough anymore to just place an ad and hire the first qualified person you see. Small businesses have a lot at stake. The first few hires are crucial. I encourage small business leaders and especially new founders to really think about the type of person you want to hire beyond the job description. This requires thinking about what type of environment you want to build in the long run and what intrinsic characteristics a person needs to help you get there.

Let me give you an example from my own business. I started this business because I wanted to be able to navigate being mom and worker. I wanted the utmost flexibility, beyond what even a 100% telecommuting job would give me. I wanted to be able to completely own my schedule. One thing that has made me successful in doing so is that even though I may not sit down and work a typical 8-5, I am extremely responsive to my clients needs. This means I may be taking calls at swim practice or answering texts while grocery shopping, but responsiveness is important to my clients and so I make it a priority. When I started to think about hiring employees, I knew this was a trait I needed in them. I don’t care when, where or how they work, but when I or a client reaches out, I need them to be responsive. That doesn’t mean stop everything and do what the client asks, but it does mean giving some response to let the client know you are on it. Beyond any skill set they may have from their past experience, this trait is the most important for me.

I have clients who say they need critical thinkers or individuals not afraid to push boundaries. Whatever those things are, the hiring process should seek them out. The process has to be thorough enough to sift through a person’s experience and character to make the best decision.

Organizational Structure:
I’m often impressed with business leaders who know ahead of time the type of organizational structure they want to build and then are very deliberate in keeping it so. What normally happens is that leaders let business growth, or the ideas of other leaders, dictate the type of organizational structure. With that, you either end up with too many leaders or not enough. Small businesses can go through times of explosive growth. With that comes decisions around how to break out departments and how the reporting structure should be. While this can be organic to some degree, thinking about how this builds out early helps focus development.

Regardless of what other consultants may say, there is no one right structure for small businesses. Some of my clients are very flat while others have multiple layers and leaders even though they only have 100 employees. While I prefer a more flat organization initially, that doesn’t mean it always works best. Much of what works is dictated by the founder or CEO’s personality and preferences. How involved do they want to remain in the minutia and how much are they willing to let go.

I often lump leadership development in this as well. As you think about organizational structure and potentially adding layers to a business, it’s imperative you also think about how you are going to develop those leaders you hire or promote. Assuming they need no development is short sighted. All leaders need continual development opportunities and the need for this doesn’t change because a business is small. In fact, I would argue it increases.

While HR infrastructure is so much more, these three areas are the most important for new businesses or those in an early stage of growth. Thinking about them early rather than waiting until they are broken will prevent so many headaches down the road. In future posts we will break down these areas one by one to give more detail and guidelines on how to build strategies in each area to set you on a path of success with your people processes.


The Case for Human Resources in a Startup

The Case for Human Resources in a StartupI met with a HR professional thinking of branching out on her own last week and had a great discussion around startups and human resources. The question we were pondering was why startups, and in my experience many small businesses for that matter, not think about HR early in the process.

I’m not sure we have the answer.

In my six years of running this business I have come across two types of businesses. Those that do think about HR right away and want to build infrastructure as soon as they make their first hire and those who think about HR after they have received a letter from the DOL. There are far more of the latter than there are the first. The first are typically more successful – anecdotal on my part of course, but my experience nonetheless.

My stance is and always has been that founders should start considering people practices from the minute they make their first hire. This doesn’t mean they need to implement complex programs right away, but their are people implications that should be considered before that first hire hits their first pay day, and I’m not just talking about the legally required stuff.

The biggest case I can make for building an HR infrastructure early, lies in the way the business grows from a headcount perspective. Once a startup receives it’s first or second round of funding, it usually has hires it wants to make immediately. Depending on the size of the funding, a startup could double in size in a matter of months. Because this all moves very quickly, the recruiting process, onboarding process and culture establishment is usually muddled, convoluted and often non-existent. Mistakes can be made in the hiring process, new hires aren’t trained properly or at all and the environment that is established is not what the leader intended.

Thinking about people infrastructure early in the process does add one more thing to a founder’s plate. It does mean they have to be deliberate about how they hire and how they move through every other phase of the employee life cycle, even if they only have five employees. But fixing mistakes later is difficult and painful.

It is the epitome of the old adage which I’ve heard phrased a million different ways, but I like this one.

“Take the time to do it right the first time or be forced to spend the time doing it over later. The choice is yours.”

So my plea to startup founders or small business leaders who have never really thought about the people infrastructure and have just been winging it – think about it. If you are struggling to hire, struggling to train, struggling to get people on the same page, you need to put people strategies in place to fix all of this. The longer it goes without attention, the harder it is to create what you actually intended in the first place.

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New Employee Orientation in CA: Why a Formal Process is a Good Idea

Employee Orientation in CA: Why a Formal Process is a Good Idea Ah California. It’s amazing the stuff I didn’t know about California law before I moved here. I’m thankful now I never landed a CA client while living in the Midwest because the truth is, there is a lot about the law I wasn’t aware of.

But nearly three years and a slew of clients later and we are almost experts. I say almost because not even the lawyers in CA call themselves experts – way too many changing laws to ever fully feel confident you know everything in this state.

One of the things that is different in CA than most states is the requirements around onboarding and offboarding of employees. Not only does the state require that certain documents be given out, but with the various unique laws in this state, hello meal period penalty, businesses will want to prove they have shared everything necessary with new employees.

This is why a thorough orientation (and onboarding for that matter) program is necessary. Orientation programs are held the first day(s) of a new employee start. There is a difference between orientation and onboarding which you can read about here. For this article we are just going to focus on orientation.

Because I believe all orientation/onboarding programs should be more than just paperwork, I’m going to highlight both the legal and soft touches that should be included in orientation. While the legal aspect is specific to CA, there is no reason why a business in any other state couldn’t consider this as a guideline as well.

So many times we bring new employees in, sit them down, shove new hire paperwork in their face to have them fill out and then sit them at their desk to figure things out. This isn’t a fun way for anyone to start. The first thing a new employee should experience is introductions. Introductions to the team, the leaders and anyone else they will come in contact with on a regular basis. Allow the employee a few minutes to share about themselves and key players to do the same.

One on One Supervisor Time
I’ve heard stories of how some employees do not meet with their new leader until their 3rd or 4th day or even later. New employees and their leaders need to immediately start to build trust and rapport. You can’t do that if you are a ghost for three days and then pop in for a drive by. Leaders should sit down with their newly hired employees on day one and go over high level expectations and what they think the employees first 90 days will look like (this is where the complete onboarding program comes in).

Legally Required New Hire Paperwork
Of course, there are those legal documents employees must fill out. In all states the minimum paperwork is the Federal tax form and the I-9. State tax forms may be required in some states. In CA, state tax forms are required only if the withholding differs from the federal withholding. Also in CA, there are other documents that must be provided to employees as well. SHRM just did a nice write up about this and I hate to re-invent the wheel so you can read about all of those documents here. I encourage employers to have a document that new hires sign stating they received these documents just as extra proof they handed them out.

Employees can typically be left alone to fill these out without help from HR or their supervisor, but someone may want to be nearby in case they have questions.

Non-Legally Required New Hire Paperwork
All businesses typically have other documents that they want new hires to sign as well. This could include benefit paperwork, non-disclosure agreements or equipment lists. An employee handbook should also be given to employees during orientation. When providing these documents, I encourage a member of HR or the leader to walk through these documents with the employee to explain why they are being asked to sign them.

In CA, there are laws specific to the state that are usually outlined in an employee handbook. Things like meal periods and penalty, preventing sexual harassment and pregnancy leave are unique to the state. I encourage California employers to highlight these specific policies and any procedures around utilizing them that employees need to know. And in all states, I encourage employers to receive a signed statement from every employee stating they received the handbook.

The Soft Touches
One thing that can often be overlooked during a new employee orientation are those soft touches. Things like who may take the employee to lunch or having their desk ready with supplies and a name tag. Anything that makes the employee feel as though you were anticipating their arrival and are happy they have joined the team.

I’ve heard leaders say they don’t want to spend a ton of time or money getting a workplace setup for an employee in case they don’t show up on day one. The flip side is the employee who does show up and then has to wait three days to get a computer setup with email. It doesn’t take too much time or money to get the basics setup and then invest in more once you know the person actually starts. Plus, if you are constantly worried about your employees not showing up on day one, something is broken in the recruitment process which is a whole other blog post.

The goal of orientation is not just to get the legally required documents you need, although that is important. The goal is to make the new hire feel welcomed and appreciated from the start. First impressions are made so quickly and it is hard to overcome a negative impression within the first 90 days.

Think about how you would like to walk into a new role and then do everything possible to make sure a new hire gets the same treatment.

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Should Your Small Business Have an Unlimited Vacation Policy?

Should Your Small Business Have an Unlimited Vacation PolicyIn our work helping small businesses build HR infrastructure, we often spend a bit of time discussing time off policies. For the record, I have never had a business decide not to offer time off, but have certainly had businesses go back and forth for some time trying to decide which policy is right for them. There are many options.

Paid Time Off (PTO) – where all time off hours are in one “bucket” and employees can take them as they choose.
Gifted Time Off – where employees are gifted their year’s allotment of time off at the start of the year (or their employment) and can take as they choose.
Accrued Time Off – by far the most popular, where employees accrue time based on hours worked.
Unlimited Time Off – the policy that has risen in popularity in the last few years where, as the name suggests, there is no tracking of time off and employees can take as much, or as little, as they want. This is the policy we will discuss today.

An unlimited vacation policy in one where employers do not give guidance on how much vacation time can be taken and can not discipline for taking too much time. If an employee is taking too much time and their work is suffering, they can be disciplined for performance, but not for time off. The policy truly is an open policy where employees are in control of time off. Leaders can enforce black out periods or deny requests, but there should be definitive business reasons to do so.

In recent months, I have had several clients who started their business with accrual based policies consider switching to unlimited policies. After consideration some have switched and others haven’t. The decision comes down to a few key points that each business has to evaluate for themselves.

Before I list those steps let me say that for my clients in California, we are extra careful. With the labor code as it is in this state, we want to be sure we are not violating any law that could allow employees to feel they need to seek legal recourse. The point of an unlimited policy should be a benefit to employees and California in particular is extra strict about making sure they are in fact, a benefit.

The first point that needs to be discussed around an unlimited vacation policy is whether or not the culture of the business supports it. My business, for example, is perfect for unlimited vacation. My employees can work from anywhere, anytime. They have no set schedule and do not have to report into me on any given day. They have work to do and as long as it gets done I don’t care how or where. They don’t need to tell me when they are taking a day off, they only need to make sure the work is complete. While not all businesses can be this relaxed, many can do some variation of this and those are perfect for unlimited vacation policies.

If your business demands that people be in your location on a very consistent basis and vacations that aren’t planned months in advance will hurt productivity then an unlimited policy is probably not for you.

Employee Base
Most of the employers who I know either have these policies or are looking at implementing them are made up of mostly exempt employees or are considering offering it to only exempt personnel. These individuals are already in the mindset of having control over their schedules. They are used to independent work and know how much or how little they need to work in a week to accomplish what they should.

State Specific Law
As mentioned, California and other states have stricter laws in their labor code that make unlimited vacation policies tricky. First, mandated sick leave laws require employers to prove they are providing so many hours of sick leave per hours worked. In these states, I always encourage employers to have a separate sick leave policy in accordance with the law and only make the vacation time unlimited.

Further, employers have to be very careful of doing anything that seemingly caps the unlimited vacation or tracks it in any way. The minute this time is capped or tracked, it is no longer unlimited. This is the one policy where the required record keeping is minimal and actually discouraged.

The Transition
When transitioning from an accrued policy to an unlimited one, it is always advised to have a specific end date of the old policy and start date of the new one. Employers should pay out any accrued vacation. I have heard of companies who have given employees a window of time to use their accrued vacation before moving to the unlimited policy, but if employees aren’t able to do so they are legally required to pay it out anyway so it may be easier to plan to pay it out. Employers should have a clear communication plan on how vacation will be handled, how employees can request time off and if there are any restrictions or blackout periods.

It has been argued that unlimited vacation policies result in less vacation time for employees. For this reason, I prefer employers to build in a way to encourage employees to take time off. It could be that you offer a free flight to a destination of their choosing or something along those lines. It should be something tangible rather than paying out time as that could be misconstrued as an accrual system.

One final thought. I have had clients who have switched to unlimited vacation policies only to switch back. The reasons are varied but sometimes employees and leaders end up not liking them as much as a more structured system. It certainly isn’t for everyone. Before transitioning to a system like this, it would be beneficial to talk to employees and leaders and get their thoughts before proceeding. The last thing you want to do is implement and then find out everyone hates it. Time off policies are supposed to be rewards for work well done, not policies that make things more difficult.

If you are considering moving to an unlimited vacation policy and want to talk through the implications for your team, we would be happy to help.

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Why Challenging Employees May Be Good For Them

Why Challenging Employees May Be Good For ThemAs most of you know SHRM17 is happening this week in New Orleans. I am missing it for the first time in years and have a serious case of FOMO. To ease my jealousy a bit I have been religiously following the Twitter stream. If you aren’t following along and you are in HR, you are missing out. Period.

One of the speakers I was most disappointed to miss was Kat Cole. I have followed her for a while and anytime I get a chance to read something she has written, watch an interview or just generally learn more about her I do. So naturally, I was starting at the computer yesterday focused on gleaning the best tweets filled with her wisdom.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

After her session I asked attendees what stuck with them the most from her talk and this tweet was one that came back.

It’s rather powerful no? Here’s why.

A call I get at least once a week from leaders in small businesses centers around the fact that they have to challenge an employee, ironically enough it’s usually a leader on their team, and they want to know how to approach the conversation. This challenge isn’t always negative feedback about that employee’s performance. More often than not, it’s challenging the way they are thinking about their work, a decision they made for their team or their individual leadership style.

Let me give you an example.

Last year a CEO who had given her leaders a very loose leash when it came to making business decisions for their individual team had a leader go a little rogue with compensation. She felt, and so did I for that matter, that he had been making compensation increase decisions based on his affinity towards a person rather than true performance. He had also been a bit all over the map when offering salaries to new employees, presumably based on his personal affinity towards them.

Not only was this affecting the crazy range of compensation on his team, but it was affecting how he worked with employees and how he allowed other leaders to interact with them. If another leader had constructive criticism for one of his “favorites” a rather angry discussion would ensue where he would defend their actions or words. His behavior was creating a divide among his peers and alienating the “not so favored” members of his team.

His work performance was on par. The discussion that needed to take place had nothing to do with how he worked, but more a slippery slope that his CEO and boss saw that he clearly didn’t. I wish we had Kat Cole’s statement back then because it is perfect for this situation.

The reality is tough conversations are never easy. Challenging someone on something is not fun. Sometimes though, that challenge has to happen to make them better. Especially when we are talking about leaders. Especially, especially when we see someone going down a bad path that they may not recognize themselves.

We have to be confident in our ability to do this as leaders. We can use Kat’s approach and explain that we are challenging because not doing so means we are failing you. However we approach it, we have to approach it.

As I read through the tweet stream, one thing that is clear is that there is a ton of pressure on leaders to do lots of different things, communicating often and appropriately being chief of them. That communication can’t always be positive. Much of the onus on leaders when it comes to communication is sharing the good and the not so good.

It may be exactly what your employee needs to hear.

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Lack of Brand Awareness – The Small Business Recruiting Killer

Lack of Brand Awareness-The Small Business Recruiting KillerMany of my friends are at HR Tech World this week. During the first day, I think before the main part of the actual conference kicked off, I saw a post from a friend that shared this stat, “Candidates follow your company for 7 months prior to every applying for a job.” This post didn’t have a source for that stat so I have no idea where it came from or it’s accuracy, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume it’s true.

And if it is, that is one more nail in the coffin for small business hiring.

A few weeks ago I spoke at the PIHRA South Orange County breakfast. My topic was Getting Ahead of the Recruitment Curve. During the talk I mention small businesses and how many times they face an uphill battle not only because they may not be offering competitive pay and benefits, but because no one has ever heard of them. Moreover, their marketing engines aren’t firing on all cylinders yet so if candidates are spending 7 months lurking before applying, small businesses are completely missing out because they don’t have anywhere to lurk. Candidates never hear of them, can’t follow their story and therefore do not know who they are until they see a job opening. I would venture a guess candidate’s are way more leery of applying for a job with a company they have never heard of over one they have.

It is for this reason I encourage all of my clients, from startup to established small businesses, to start thinking about their employer branding early. To utilize social media and technology to the extent that their time and budget allows to get their name out there and start sharing a bit about who they are.

And one of the most crucial parts of my advice is that they do it even if they aren’t hiring. Even if they don’t anticipate hiring for a year, it’s important to start putting information out there now. I firmly believe that for small businesses with little to no budget for recruitment efforts, social media has to be a firm part of the recruiting strategy. It isn’t the entire strategy mind you, but a firm part of it.

One of the stories I urge clients to share is their origin story. For a startup, I think great employer branding campaigns follow the journey from startup to profitability. It isn’t always pretty, but it’s real and those willing to take chances on working for a startup expect real. For small businesses who are more established, I think looking back to your roots and sharing the story of how you came to be to the place you are today is a great way to get people engaged in your brand and excited to learn more about you.

The goal is to get people to see a job ad and say “oh yeah, I know about that company” and if the stat shared above has any truth to it, you need to get ahead of your job openings by 7 months to make that happen.

It isn’t just something to pass of and think it isn’t relevant to you. If you are a small business who will eventually need to hire staff, it is relevant and the time to start thinking about sharing information about your company is now.

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Dealing with Big Personalities in Small Environments

Dealing with BIG Personalities In Small EnvironmentsBefore I get to today’s post, I wanted to share a link to an interview Christine recently did with Vocate.

Now on to it…

Small businesses come with all types of unique challenges. Ensuring the product or service is viable. Securing the level of funding needed to develop the product/service. Actually getting it to market while making payroll each week and of course, turning the business into a profitable endeavor.

And all of that is the easy part. Because in order to do all of that effectively, you have to navigate the people side of the business. Hiring, training, developing and dealing with all the different personalities.

And when some of those personalities are big and the work space is small, new challenges are presented.

I received a call last year from a founder who was renting space in a local WeWork office. He and his team of 22 were interchangeably working from this office space and remotely. Meaning, on some days certain ones were in the office while others worked from home and then on other days, they switched. He explained that he had a few “big” personalities on his team that were making the tight quarters feel a bit claustrophobic. He asked if I could come in and observe and then give him some advice on how to proceed.

From the moment I entered, before the founder even needed to tell me, I could identify who the big personalities were. There were two of them, male and female. They introduced everyone, rather than let everyone introduce themselves. They took the initiative to tell me everything that was happening at the business, what they were working on and what they thought needed to happen next. They thought I was there to give feedback on how to conduct more effective meetings so they proceeded, unprompted, to tell me what they thought could be done better.

Now let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with big personalities. These two employees were highly valuable employees with which the business could not move forward without. Their expertise was crucial to getting this company’s products to market. In any business however, and especially at a leadership level, people have to learn how to adjust their style to accommodate those around them. Alienating everyone makes team work rather difficult.

In the meeting that I observed, these big personalities talked over others, answered every question asked before others could, and backed each other up when anyone disagreed to the point that the opposing party would just give up. A better word for these big personalities would be dominant. They were confident, which was only fueled by their respect of each other, and direct to the point of making others, including the founder uncomfortable.

It’s important to note here that this is not an extrovert vs introvert thing. One of these individuals was a definite introvert. We can have dominant personalities too – just ask my husband.

It’s also important to note that this isn’t always about ego. I don’t think either of these individuals had insanely large egos or were narcissist. It was more that they were passionate about their work and wanted the launch to be perfect in their eyes. The problem is that their passion was coming off as abrasive and angry at others.

So here were my suggestions. First and foremost I told the founder that he had a responsibility to set the tone. In the meetings I observed, he tended to open the meeting, but then let these two take over. Stuff got done and the meetings were productive, but the tone was often off-putting to others. I told him that if he wanted everyone to have a chance to speak he was going to have to make sure it happened. He may even have to go as far as telling the two big personalities that he appreciated their input but wanted to hear from others.

Next, I told him that he was going to have to make it safe again for other employees, who may have an opposing view, to speak up. This meant he was going to have to expressly solicit opposing views and then praise them publicly for sharing another side. This was going to be uncomfortable at first, but there were a few people in the room who I felt like would push back if they felt like he had their back. This doesn’t mean he had to agree, but support them in raising different viewpoints.

Finally, I suggested some coaching for the employees with big personalities as well as getting to know you exercises for the whole team. We did two very distinct things there. First, he shared with the two employees, as well as two others, that he was starting to look at how leadership roles would play out as the business grew. He wanted the four of them to be involved in a leadership development program with him. In this program he would be laying out the culture he wanted to build and the type of employer he wanted to be. They would help him design a process for getting there. Second, since everyone in the company knew their MBTI profile, we did some getting to know you discussions around the different personality types and how to work together.

While all of this is a continual work in progress, because leadership always is, I’m happy to report that the things we put in place made a difference. Talking out loud about what shuts people down versus what encourages better teamwork is always a great starting point. Being consistent about reminding each other of those personality traits helps it stick in the long run. It’s constant work, but work that must be done to overcome those personality traits in some employees that are completely alienating others.

Have you dealt with this in your small business? What did you do to overcome? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

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SHRM 2017 Small Business Session Guide – Download Now!

SHRM Small Biz Session Guide

Updated 6/21/2017: Since SHRM17 is over, we have taken down the guide, but we will release one every year so check back in 2018 for SHRM18.

As sometimes does, life has happened to me over the last few weeks and I had to back out of attending SHRM17. Personal and work commitments combined with a pretty brutal travel schedule over the last few months have made it clear that I need to slow down a bit. Unfortunately SHRM was one of those things that had to take a back seat this year. It was a tough decision, but the right one for me in the is moment.

While I still thought I was going, Christine and I decided to create a session guide focused on small businesses. The SHRM conference boasts so many wonderful sessions and speakers, but many of them offer solutions that may only be available to big business. The ideas and technology presented may be out of budget or not even offered to businesses with less than a certain number of employees.

We didn’t want my not being able to go to prevent us from releasing the guide – so we didn’t.

In this free download, we have laid out our top 10 picks for sessions we think small business HR practitioners should attend. We believe these sessions will be relevant and can apply even to the tiniest of companies. Our guide includes why we like the session and even tells you when and where the session is being held so you can plan accordingly.

Here’s the thing. We certainly don’t want to discriminate, but we know that the majority of our audience is HR leaders or those responsible for HR in organizations with 250 employees or less. That is who we built this guide for. That isn’t to say that if you have more employees you won’t find this useful, just to say we designed it for the smallest of the small.

I was scheduled to speak on the Smart Stage at SHRM and was going to discuss Big HR for Small Business. I’m happy to report that my friend and super smart small business HR leader, Dawn Hrdlica-Burke is going to take the session for me. Same title, same description and probably better content if I’m honest. She gets small business and you won’t be disappointed by learning everything you can from her.

Even though I won’t be at SHRM, I will still be following along on the Twitter stream and would love to connect with attendees from afar. I know you will have a great time and I hope to be able to join the team again next year!

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Three Ways to Engage the Introverts on Your Team

engaging introverts

Last week at the WorkHuman conference, Susan Cain took the stage to share some real truths about introverts. I normally cringe when I hear people talking about introverts for one very real reason – the person speaking is usually an extrovert. I love that Susan, a self-proclaimed introvert, shares her thoughts not only from a scientific, research based perspective, but from life experiences as well.

For all the discord back and forth that happens over the validity of most personality tests, one difference that people everywhere recognize is that people identify as introverted, extroverted or ambiverted. As Susan points out, for decades extroverts were the celebrated group. More and more however, leaders are recognizing the need to be mindful of their introverted team members and meet them where they are instead of trying to “fix them”.

Because as I said in my recent DisruptHR Orange County talk (linked below), introversion is not a disease.

As a raging introvert myself, I often find myself talking extroverted managers through how to engage with an introverted team member. I thought today I might share with you my most common advice.

One on One vs Group Settings
You will always get more interaction out of an introvert one on one versus in a group setting. Always. Full stop. We hate large groups, or small groups, or any group really. Of course our hatred lessens the more comfortable we get with the people in the group, but regardless, we will always prefer one on one and be more open to sharing our complete thoughts in that setting.

For the introverts on your team, group meetings are fine if they are necessary, but it might be beneficial to also follow up one on one or even individually ahead of the meeting to get more from them.

Appreciate Our Need to Think it Through
If Who Wants to be a Millionaire offered up philosophical questions instead of fact based ones, introverts would never win. Why? Because we like to think completely through our thoughts on something before giving an answer.

A few weeks ago a CEO became frustrated when his introverted CFO came back to him after a meeting and disagreed with a direction they had decided to take during the meeting. He wondered why the leader hadn’t brought his objection up during the meeting. My response: he didn’t know he objected until he thought all the way through it.

As a business adviser once explained it to me, introverts layer information in their head. They flip it over, examine it, toss out what doesn’t make sense, add another layer and keep doing that until they have their final answer. Then they give that answer all tied up in a nice little bow. That process takes time. If you ask a big question and expect an introvert to give you a complete answer in a short time frame, you will never get it.

Do Not Discredit our Ability to Do “Extroverted” Things
At an event earlier this year where I was brought in to be a social influencer, an attendee and I started talking about introversion/extroversion. I shared that I was an introvert and she said, “so I guess you won’t be one of the people sharing much on social through this event?”

Um, actually… media is an introvert’s favorite playground. We can be social without having to be social, know what I mean? In fact, some of the top sharers from WorkHuman last week were us good ‘ole introverts.

Then I took the stage and spoke at the event and she was even more confused. She told me after she didn’t think I was really an introvert. No, trust me, I am, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do things that have been long considered extroverted.

Like speak in public
Or be social when I want
Or lead a team, some of who are very strong extroverts.

I don’t believe any activity is strictly an introverted or extroverted activity. The difference in how that activity affects us. For extroverts it may energize where introverts may feel drained.

So don’t think the introvert you work with can’t lead a project or a team. Don’t think they can’t represent your brand online or in front of a crowd. They can. They may need a nap after, but they can.

While there is so much more that goes along with engaging introverts, these are often my top tips. Susan’s book, website and social feed are great resources of true research and detail as well. For a quick five minute take on how to deal with introverts, check out my Disrupt talk.

If you are an introvert or an extrovert who has to deal with introverts, I would love to hear what you’ve learned in the comments below.

The Quickest Ways To Piss Off An Introvert | Sabrina Baker | DisruptHR Talks from DisruptHR on Vimeo.


Sometimes #WorkHuman is Simply About Remembering the Fundamentals

Sometimes #WorkHuman is Simply About Remembering the FundamentalsA few things have struck me while attending the WorkHuman conference this week in Phoenix. First, let me say this team knows how to put on an event. Hands down one of the best conferences I have ever attended. Second, I wonder if we aren’t guilty of over-engineering just about every aspect of the employee – employer relationship.

And I mean every one.

At the end of every Q&A with keynoters the question of “what does working human mean to you?” Chaz Bono’s very simple answer, “how else do you work?”. Julia Louis-Dreyfus ended her session stating that kindness wins the day. Every time. In every way. Kindness wins. So while we spend hours upon hours trying to think about programs and events that will make our work more human, we are overlooking the very basic principles with which we know to be effective.

My son is very well mannered. Maybe that’s a brag, but I don’t really care. From the time he could speak, my husband and I have drilled proper manners into his brain. Please. Thank You. Bless You. Hold the door. Don’t interrupt. Don’t say unkind things. Show affection and appreciation to those who matter. Do nice things for people even if they didn’t ask for them.

My husband has been a true force in drilling this into our little man’s head. Now, at 7 years old, we are constantly told how polite he is. How he has the best manners of any boy his age many people have ever met. How he is so considerate and empathetic to others. When I went in for a parent teacher conference this year, his teacher assured me I would never have to worry about behavior problems with my kid as he is the most well-mannered kid she has ever encountered in 1st grade.

As I think about our workplaces and the words we use to describe what working human means – engagement, empowerment, culture, I wonder if we aren’t overlooking the fundamentals that make such a difference. At the influencer dinner Tuesday night, my table mates and I were talking about all of the airline debacles in the news lately and specifically about how the crew handles these types of things. Someone noted how important tone is in these situations. The airline employee may be absolutely right in doing what they are doing, but the tone in which they do it matters. The way they say it. The words they use. The tone.

Basic communication fundamentals.

I have a client right now that is in a tough spot. They are working on second round of funding. They are in a push to get their product to market and the work is really hard. The hours are long and the work environment, because of what they are building, is dirty and hot and no fun at all. When the CEO hired me to help him figure out how to attract people to this business, because once they get passed this stage, everything changes, I asked him what he could offer perspective employees. His answer exemplifies exactly what I’m talking about.


He said, “I can’t give them top dollar right now. The work environment sucks, even for me and it is going to be maybe a year before it gets better. They are going to go home dirty, tired and wondering if it’s worth it. But they will be respected. They will know that they work in a place where their leader respects them as human beings and as experts at what they do. It may be all I can give them right now, but I can give them that.”

When he said that, I wondered if it would fly. It did.

I can’t tell you how many applicants who I’ve shared the reality of the work environment with and then tell them that what they will receive is respect, tell me it’s worth it. They either don’t feel respected where they are currently or have worked in an environment like that in the past and feel that respect is worth it’s weight in gold.

And respect isn’t some newfangled idea. It’s a basic fundamental of human interaction.

So while I love all the ideas around building a more work human culture, I encourage us to remember the fundamentals. The oldies are still goodies in this case. Respect, manners, kindness. In the end, they all win the day.