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Is Your Job Posting Holding Back Your Recruitment Strategy?

Discover the best cost effective, innovative employee recruitment process plans and creative HR selection practices & employer strategies for human resources.

Hands down, the topic I get asked about the most from small business leaders is recruiting. How to recruit top talent? Where to find top talent? How to afford top talent? What to do to promote the business and build a brand? How to compete with larger competitors? It is top of mind for any startup or business in growth mode and seemingly a constant struggle.

I don’t report to have all the answers. In fact, anyone who does is lying. There is no silver bullet in recruiting. None. Not one. Zero.

What works for one may not work for another. Some brands can get away with things other brands wouldn’t dream of. Some can pay less because they are a pathway to Google. Others can pay more because they are Google. You get the picture. Nearly every business struggles with recruiting in some form or fashion. Even the big ones.

While there is no one size fits all solution to effective recruiting strategies, there is one truth, having a strategy is better than not. And most companies are missing that boat. Going through the recruitment planning process is essential for small businesses to be able to succeed in finding the talent they need. Most go through no process however, dive right in and hope for the best.

And by diving right in I mean they post their job descriptions on a major job board and pray the one who walks on water applies and wants less money than they are offering.

You laugh because it’s true.

I’m guilty and I know you are too. Unless I’ve been called in specifically to help in recruitment planning, it’s hard to get a company to change their ideas about job postings. If something has worked for them in the past, they are going to keep doing it. Apparently, even if it’s not working for them they are going to keep doing it because they bought a $10,000 package and darn it they are going to use it.

I believe as time goes on, the competitive nature of small business hiring is only going to get worse. Merry Christmas to all. I think that getting people to apply at all to a brand they have never heard of is going to become increasingly difficult. Let me correct that, getting the right people to apply is going to become increasingly difficult. Even the most creative recruitment strategies are going to go bust if the right people aren’t attracted to them.

Like moths to a flame, that job ad may be the burning light your recruiting needs.

I often listen to my clients as they are talking to a candidate for the first time to hear what they share. In highly competitive markets some of them have honed quite a sales pitch. It’s impressive really. They give such a speech that the candidate can’t wait to join. Usually these are candidates who have been sourced by some recruiter or another and the manager knows they have to do their best sales job to land them. Then I wonder what would happen if that same sales pitch was turned into the job ad. If the boring lines about job duties was removed and the vision for the company, team and this roles future was shared. Would a job posting had worked if it was more of a sales pitch on the company rather than one long to do list.

I think it’s something worth playing around with. I know that one common complaint I hear from small business HR practitioners, typically HR Department’s of One, is that they don’t have time to explore sourcing strategies in recruitment. They think they don’t have the time to search for candidates, make contact and hope they are interested. So they have to rely on job postings to get the job done. I’ve rebuted that here, but for the sake of this post I’m going to pretend it’s true.

If you don’t have time to source or explore different recruitment strategies outside of posting jobs on job boards, then why not at least get creative with that job ad to see if maybe, just maybe, something different will work better?

Of course, you want to keep it on brand. I have had my fair share of conversations with leaders who appreciate how I jazzed up a job ad, but didn’t feel like it represented them well. And you’ll want to monitor to see if the quality of candidates does change, either for the better or worse. If better, great. If worse, time to adjust again.

Sometimes it can be as simple as adding more about the company or highlighting certain aspects of the job that usually aren’t on a job description. Maybe it’s highlighting some of the perks of the company that are different than medical, dental and paid vacation. Maybe it’s the raw honesty of saying that you don’t have a lot to offer, but the chance to get in on the ground floor and build something amazing.

In my six years in business, I’ve met more people than you can imagine who would jump at that opportunity.

So maybe if your current job posting is getting you nowhere and you don’t have time for a total recruitment plan revamp, simply take a look at your job postings and see if they could be holding you back. Try to switch them up, make them stand out from others. Tell a story that shows candidates why applying to your job is worth their time. Give them the same sales pitch that makes candidates want to work for you when they get in the door. Often it’s the simplest changes that make the biggest differences.

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Top Performing Employees May Not Be Your Best Leaders

Discover how to improve employee engagement, productivity, performance and leadership management with talent development training, strategy and planning systems.

As even the flattest of organizations grow, they find the need to add more leaders. When that growth happens quickly, organizations may look internally to see who may be able to fill those leadership shoes. One of the top metrics used in this case is employee performance. It only makes sense that top performers would move into leadership positions.

Except that sometimes it doesn’t.

Up until this point, those high performers have been assessed on skill set. Even if your performance management process includes some form of people skills in it’s evaluations, chances are good that all of the metrics that deem them a top performer, are skill based.

And yet.

Leadership positions require people management skills. Obvious, but true. Just because you have the technical skills to do a job, doesn’t mean you have the people skills to lead others. They are simply not the same thing. Further, and maybe a more important note, leadership requires a will to lead. Something that is sometimes lacking in employees who are tapped for leadership positions.

At the same time, it is an admirable characteristic and sometimes a competitive advantage of small businesses that they promote from within. So, if a business is going to make it a priority, there are a few things they should have in place before ever assuming that someone who is good in their job would be good at leading others to do that same job.

Talent Management Strategy
A robust talent management strategy ensures that employees receive ongoing development that is not only focused on improving employee performance, but enhancing the more intrinsic skills necessary for people management. While talent management strategies may seem like something only big businesses can do, I find that startups and small businesses can actually have greater success with them. Here’s how.

When businesses are small, leaders have fewer direct reports. When businesses are small, they are often more flat and have less convoluted layers that make truly effective leader to employee interaction difficult. When businesses are small, the daily interactions that leader and supervisor have naturally can become part of a talent management strategy meaning that everyone, not just top performers, can be included.

Effective talent management strategies begin in the recruitment process and never end. They heavily involve the employee’s leader. They do not have to be fancy, but they should be two-sided. Meaning the employee should be asked about their career aspirations and the role they see the organization playing in getting them there.

And when they mention leadership positions as part of the long term goals, the next phase comes into play.

Leadership Development
When we create leadership development programs, we believe an integral part is customization. For the organization of course, but more importantly for the individual. For this reason, we create an overarching leadership development training plan that allows wiggle room for each individual to create their own plan. In fact, one of the components of our programs is that every individual involved gets to create their own idea of a plan that could get them where they want to go. We then take the leadership development training that everyone must go through, mesh that with each individual’s customized plan and create an overall strategy that creates ready leaders when needed.

It sounds much more complicated than it is.

The reality is, having the desire to lead is a necessary trait to actual leadership. Sure some people are natural leaders, but others aren’t. For those, that willingness to be self aware of their shortcomings and be willing to work together and individually to overcome is essential. Asking them to come up with their own leadership development plan, helps identify how self aware they are and how willing they are going to be to work on the hard stuff.

The leadership development training should cover all the things leaders need to know such as moving from peer to supervisor or having those difficult conversations (two of our most requested training programs). It should provide basic understanding of leadership’s role in employee engagement. It will provide leaders with the basic people skills every leader needs. It is training that even outside leaders should go through once they join the organization. The training is high level, while individual leadership development plans are more detailed.

While tapping that high performer on the shoulder and moving them into a leadership role may seem like the obvious answer, it may not be the best solution. Easy, yes. Best, maybe not. The earlier an organization creates a strategy that helps them grow the talent they have into the leaders they need, the more successful they will be at actually doing so. Then their competitive advantage becomes two-fold. Having a robust talent and leadership development strategy while also promoting from within. In this day and age, individuals are willing to stick with companies who offer those things over ones who pay the most.

For organizations overwhelmed with implementing this type of initiative I always suggest to start with just one component and add on from there. Create a robust onboarding program first or a leadership development program. Even just doing a few workshops with top leaders that starts to create common language around what leadership in the organization should look like is a great and easy place to start. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, the point is to be deliberate. Make talent management and leadership development a priority and only good things can come from it.

And for my small business clients, I always say, the earlier the better. It is not nearly as time consuming or costly as you may think to implement these programs. Get ahead of it before behaviors are out of control and you have to start from a negative place. Correcting bad leadership behaviors takes much longer than cultivating them in the first place.

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Make Microlearning Part of Your Learning and Development Strategy

Learn how to use microlearning in designing and developing effective human resource methods for a staff training development plan and learning program for employees

I have talked quite a bit over the years about how I believe training and development is an essential component of any business. Even small businesses, with limited budgets and resources, can put a focus on employee learning and will reap significant rewards by doing so. It is one of the main reasons we are rolling out our learning management system next year. It is our way of helping our startup and small business clients put an emphasis on employee development.

In recent years, web based training has taken a front seat in many businesses. Anything that allows employees to take a training course when and where it best suits them is important for many businesses with so many mobile employees. Training efficiency has become as important as training efficacy.

For this reason, when I am proposing a new training and development plan to potential clients, I always build in multiple training methods. I find that the best training programs, especially leadership development programs, include a mix of in-person and web based training modules. Certain topics are better suited for an in-person facilitated traditional training setting, while others can be understood just as easily from an online course. The important piece is to understand which is which and more importantly, vary the length of time.

One of the things my team and I are enjoying playing around with and will be adding more opportunities for our clients to use in 2018 is microlearning. In this day and age we want everything at our fingertips quickly. We watch videos instead of reading because we can get to the information quickly. We can get as much out of a 15 minute YouTube video as we can a two hour long documentary if done correctly. That is the idea behind microlearning.

We consider microlearning sessions to be no more than 15-20 minutes in length. They are quick hits of information that can be consumed anytime, anywhere. They supplement the greater training and development strategy by dialing in on a subject that is only touched on in another training sessions.

Let me give you an example.

We created a leadership development program for a startup that is executed for all new leaders coming into the business or being promoted into a managerial position. The program consists of four in-person training sessions on what we consider the big leadership topics: communication, engagement/development, leading through change and leadership style. Obviously in even a full day training session, which these aren’t, you can not cover every inch of these topics. You have to hit the major points and use other learnings throughout the year to supplement.

This is where microlearning come in.

Under each of these topics we created sub-topics. Some of these are going to be the same from company to company, while others are specific to whatever the company may face. These topics can be covered in web based training, but we know that to keep the trainee engaged and wanting to continue the sessions, we must break up the style and length of time. Rather than have a 2 hour session on motivating teams, we can offer a one hour high level webinar and then offer 4-15 minute microlearning sessions which speak to different personality types allowing the leader to pick the ones that most apply to their team.

Employees are more likely to participate in and find value in training that they feel most applies to them. We find that requiring the big training, but then giving multiple options for additional training in the form of microlearning encourages leaders to participate more and feel they get more out of it.

And any training and development program is only as good as what an employee can get out of it and put to use.

Another great thing about microlearning is that they can be used to allow other employees to share their expertise. Employees who may not feel comfortable getting up in front of a group for an hour and training on a topic even if they are an expert, but they may be willing to record a quick 15 minute session via an online service where they don’t have to stand in front of anyone and can get straight to the point.

The possibilities of how you use microlearning are really endless. I’ve talked mostly about web based, but they could be in the form of podcasts or blog reading. Any medium that allows the user to consume helpful information in a few minutes of time can be considered powerful microlearning that adds to the overall learning and development program.

Are you using microlearning in your business? I would love to hear how you are using it and how it’s working for your employees. Leave a comment below or email us directly to tell your story.

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Creating a Positive Employee Experience for Your Small Business

Creating a Positive Employee Experience for Your Small BusinessI met with the HR Manager of a potential client last week and she described the company as a 10 year old startup. She explained that while the business was established, growing and thriving, they still liked to do things “scrappy”.

I like that definition.

When you are small and scrappy, all employees must wear multiple hats. I have clients who when you walked into their office you wouldn’t immediately know who the CEO is because they are all working together doing whatever needs to be done to move things forward. It is a unique experience and one that can take some getting used to if it is new. It is the reason many individuals who spend most of their career in big business and then move to small business, have a hard time adjusting or quit before they can really get their feet wet.

It is for this reason that during the interview process, I ask candidates about their experience in small business. If they have none, we spend a good amount of time talking about what small business environments are like and how they might be able to work within that. Many think that small businesses must be easier but the reality is very different.

Beyond making sure that candidates know what they are getting into, leaders can do their part to create a positive employee experience even when you are asking people to do things they may not want to do. In the beginning, everyone is in the weeds and not able to be as strategic as they want. How do you maintain positivity during that period to ensure employees stick with you for the long term?

Most businesses focus on customer experience. Some are paying attention to candidate experience. The place where they fall short is in employee experience. Especially in small businesses, where everyone is moving a million miles a minute, employee experience is usually not considered until someone is walking out the door. Over the years that we have been in business I have witnessed vastly different environments from one business to the next. For those who are creating positive employee experiences there are a few common traits.

Before we get into those I will say that for any of this to work small business leaders have to be deliberate. They have to be intentional. They have to think beyond the service or product they are selling and focus on the employees who are helping them to make it happen. Without that intentionality, culture builds itself and employee experience can become a very problematic thing.

Open Communication

Without fail the first thing a new client tells me about their workplace is that they have an open communication policy. I have learned to ask them what that means to them. I often find out that what it means to them is not what it means to their employees. When you only have 15 or even 50 employees it is very easy for everyone to interact on a daily basis. Even if the work is not overlapping, which is rare, there is no reason why open communication should not be practiced and encouraged.

I have a client who shares in the recruiting process that all employees have the ability and are expected to share ideas and push back, even to senior leaders, when they feel something isn’t right. Not only do they say that, but they mean it. Small businesses that truly foster open communication in both word and deed and do not put boundaries on that communication or make it political have much better employee experiences.

Honest Communication

This one is big. Especially if the small business is in startup phase or experiencing some issues with funding, honest communication about where the business stands to all employees is critical. We serve as a grievance hotline for clients and one of the most common complaints really stem from employees just feeling insecure about their longevity with the company. They feel their leaders are hiding things from them because they aren’t telling them where things stand financially or what the growth trajectory looks like.

Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to share, even the not so positive news, about how the company is doing. Employees are likely to be more loyal to a leader who they feel is honest with them even in darker periods. We all want to work for someone we feel we can trust and being honest is a crucial step in building that trust.

Get Out of Their Way

I founded this business by myself. For many years I did it all. I’ve built the brand by myself and handled all client work from top to bottom. Once I reached max capacity I started adding team members. While it is nice to delegate and move things off my plate, it’s also tough at times to have someone else do things in a way that I wouldn’t. I have to remind myself to get out of their way and let them do it.

Because founders are clearly passionate about the business and have a very vested interest in how things are going, they can be some of the worst micromanagers. Even if they weren’t prone to micromanaging before their entrepreneurial journey, starting a business can turn them into one. Nothing turns competent, capable employees off faster than being micromanaged.

To avoid this in my business, all my staff is virtual and I have a policy that allows them to work when, how and where they want. All I want to know is that the work is being done. Keeping it this way keeps me from seeing what they are doing every day and wondering if they should be focusing on something else. It also minimizes my urge to tell them how to do something they are completely capable of doing on their own. Something I believe they appreciate.

Creating positive employee experiences isn’t about fun parties or foosball tables. It is about fostering an environment where employees feel like they can trust leadership, where there is an open and continual loop of information and where deeply honest conversations can be had without consequence. Having those fundamentals in place makes everything else that much easier.

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Preventing Sexual Harassment is More Than Just Training

Uncover the top ways on how to train and maximize prevention of sexual harassment at the work

You would have had to be living under a rock to not have heard of all the sexual harassment allegations being brought forward these days. Celebrities, politicians and the like are all being publicly shamed for their crude and inappropriate behavior. And rightfully so. I always say that it is crazy that we are still talking about this in 2017 and yet here we are. Human behavior is both fascinating and tragic at the same time.

In the small business space I find that clients land in one of two camps. There are those who are overtly cautious about doing anything that could be deemed as harassing. And those who think the rules don’t apply to them. There are small business leaders who won’t talk to an employee of the opposite sex without someone else present and those who, because they are the owner of the business, think they are immune to the repercussions of bad behavior.

Bad behavior begets bad behavior. Often when I am dealing with a leader who thinks they are immune and we have a conversation around the inappropriateness of their actions, they often tell me they have gotten away with it for so long that it would be stupid for people to start complaining about it now.

I’m sure that’s what Harvey Weinstein thought.

Any lawyer will tell you that businesses of all sizes should offer preventing sexual harassment training to all employees with a special session for managers. For this reason, one of the first modules we roll out in our learning management system in 2018 will be on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. We recommend all employers require employees to take this training upon hire and on an annual basis.

But training, while necessary, is not enough, especially in small businesses.

For harassment of any kind to not be an issue in small businesses, top leadership must only demonstrate the type of behavior they want, only encourage the type of behavior they want and immediately hold accountable anyone who steps outside those boundaries.

Demonstrate:
It can come as a surprise to many leaders that their every action is being watched and critiqued. Employees are looking to see if word aligns with deed. They are looking to emulate the behavior they see in hopes that doing so may further their own ambitions. Employees may even mimic behavior they are not comfortable with if they think it may help them get ahead.

Leaders own the culture of the company. If there is a prevalent culture of harassing behavior, it is because the leaders have demonstrated and accepted that type of behavior all along. Which brings us to the next point.

Encourage:
A client of mine is a big believer is praising in public. He believes that if he continually praises employees in front of other employees for behaviors that he wants to encourage, they will keep doing it. It works pretty amazingly in his business. I have witnessed him encourage behaviors that other leaders would overlook or expect as common place. This method can be used to ensure that employees are treating each other with respect. Whenever those behaviors are witnessed, leaders can publicly encourage hopefully perpetuating that behavior.

It takes a mindful leader to seek out and reward this type of behavior, but the benefits of doing so can be reaped for years to come.

Hold Accountable:
All businesses, especially in this day and age, must have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to harassment. Overlooking inappropriate behavior or brushing it off as minor can be detrimental to small businesses. Not acting quickly taking appropriate action, even if that means terminating a high performer, only sets a precedence that can come back to haunt the business later.

It is this step that employers get wrong the most. Even if they say they do not tolerate harassing behavior, even if the leaders demonstrate the right type of behavior at all times, not taking action when it happens immediately negates all of that. It seems to be more difficult to hold tenured, high performing employees accountable or those for whom harassing behavior seems so completely out of character.

But zero tolerance has to mean zero tolerance regardless of who the person is.

Leaders must take all allegations of harassing behavior seriously. They must investigate appropriately seeking the help of their HR team or outside investigator to help. Finally, and likely most importantly, they must take action quickly when warranted.

In addition to training and the three areas listed above, small businesses should have a multi-option complaint procedure that gives employees several different ways to complain. Only giving employees one option means they will seek outside counsel should that one way be uncomfortable for them. Further, having multiple people involved in the investigation ensures that one person isn’t allowing their emotions to cloud their ability to see the truth. This doesn’t mean include people who have no business being a part of it as confidentiality is a concern, but including more than one person will help to ensure objectivity.

In 2016 the EEOC received approximately 27,000 charges of sexual harassment. Many charges occur because the employee didn’t feel they were heard at work, felt like the behavior was tolerated or felt they were retaliated against for speaking up. This likely means that many of these charges could have been avoided had the leadership in those companies done more of the things listed in this post.

One final thought. Leaders with the best intentions can overlook behavior because they think that things like that don’t happen in their organization. It is those very leaders who are often blindsided by a lawsuit. Or worse, leaders know the behavior is happening but they believe a lawsuit could never happen to them. Until it does.

The point is that, as the continued allegations continue to roll in about celebrities, politicians and big brand CEO’s, taking harassing behavior with anything but the utmost seriousness can be a small business killer. Uber may be able to name a new CEO, pay millions in settlement fees and promise they are turning things around and survive the storm, but most small businesses couldn’t.

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Pros & Cons of Outsourcing Your Small Business HR

Learn about the pros and cons of outsourcing your human resources functions and HR support services for small businesses and companies.

Small businesses have several options when considering how to handle their human resource needs as they grow. Ultimately, the decision of whether to outsource HR, use a service such as a PEO or handle it in-house comes down to business strategy, culture and immediate growth plans.

For our client who choose to outsource, they use us until they are large enough to need their own full time HR person. Typically that happens between 75-100 employees. Inevitably there is a mark earlier than that though where the discussions start happening about the pro’s and con’s of continuing to outsource or bringing someone in-house earlier than they thought. That mark is different for all businesses, but the discussion is nearly the same.

In having these discussions with our clients for the last several years, here is our top list of pros and cons to outsourcing your HR services.

Pro:
Cost: Hands down outsourcing HR is typically cheaper than bringing someone on in-house. The in-house person will not only cost a salary, but benefits and other incentives as well. The first discussion all clients want to have is whether it is still financially advantageous to keep outsourcing. And up until that 75-100 employee mark, it almost always is.

Con:
Distance: Our team does it’s best to seamlessly integrate as though we were an onsite staff member. The reality however, is that we don’t sit onsite and may not even have a presence in the office every week. This can sometimes make employees or leaders feel disconnected to their HR provider.

My team and I talk a lot about being responsive to overcome this challenge, but we know it exists.

Pro:
Expertise: Possibly the largest pro of outsourcing HR services is that you can ensure that someone with the highest level of expertise in an area is handling it. Whether you split your services and have recruiting handled by a recruiting firm and compliance handled by another firm or whether you find a firm (ahem) that can do it all, you know you are getting specialists in those areas to handle your needs. If you want specialist in-house you have to build an entire team which only makes the cost increase more.

Con:
Priorities: An in-house team is dedicated to your business and your business only. An outsourcing firm is handling multiple clients and multiple client needs. This can result in delayed responses or miscommunication.
I have recently changed our business model to address the issue of priorities, especially for our clients who are growing and past that 50 employee mark. More dedicated resources are needed for that group. While our generalist may still serve multiple clients, the overall number and workload is much less and allows them to focus more into just a few needs.

Pro:
HR Tech: Small businesses often do not have the budgets for HR tech. If they do have the budget, they do not have a lot of negotiation power because their headcount isn’t enough to entice the tech company to lower the price. What’s more, many tech companies won’t even offer services to business that are under a certain employee threshold.

Outsourcers either come with their own HR Tech, or, because they can refer multiple clients, they can get tech companies to offer discounts or allow businesses to join earlier than they normally might be able to. We pride ourselves on having great connections with, not just tech companies, but brokers and other HR service providers that allow us to pass on discounts to our clients or allows them to have access to tech even if they do not meet the headcount minimum.

We are very proud to be rolling out a learning management system for our clients next year. Tech that most small businesses can not afford on their own.

Con:
Culture: It’s hard for an outsourcer to help build culture unless there is dedicated onsite time built into the contract. Even then, an outsourcer will never have the same feel and ability to build culture like an in-house team would. For an HR person to really be able to help build the environment around them, dedicated regular on-site time is needed.

In order to combat this, where culture is a focus, we work with leaders to ensure that they are driving and demonstrating the behaviors they expect even when we can’t be around. It’s a bit harder, but it can work.

Pro:
Best Practices: We focus on small businesses, the smallest of small really. Startup to 75 employees is our prime target and the vast majority of our clients are below 50 employees. In nearly every client meeting, every week I get asked the same question: what are your other clients doing? In or outside industry, it is comforting for small business leaders to hear that other small businesses face the same struggles and to know what they have done to overcome. An in-house team without a large network would not have this information readily available. We often pull on the experience with one client to fix the problems of another. It allows us to continually build a knowledge database we can pull from as problems arise. We have likely seen them before and know what to do and more importantly, what not to do.

Outsourcing HR is a different decision for every company. Early on outsourcing this function helps startup and small business leaders focus on the business at hand while knowing they have someone ensure they are compliance. As the business grows, outsourcing means that experts are on hand to help get the business where it needs to be. Once it is time for in-house staff, having an outsourcing provider who has been with you from the beginning and can help transition the new person into the role is always better than throwing someone into the deep end and hoping they can swim.

Outsourcing isn’t a perfect solution, nothing ever is. It is certainly one that can keep costs down while still giving businesses the expertise it needs for employees to feel their needs are handled. I often hear small business leaders say they don’t know what they don’t know about HR and that is where outsourcing comes in. No need to figure out what you don’t know if you have someone who can take care of it for you.

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Three Ways to Show Employees You Care During the Holiday Season

Discover Three Ways on How to Recognize, Engage and Show Employees You Care in the Workplace.

The holiday season is upon us. I have no idea where January through October went, but alas, here we are. The holidays bring a mixed bag of emotions. For some they are a joyous occasion of family and relaxation. For others they are a dreaded time of loneliness, bitterness or heartbreak. While it might be preferable for workplaces to gloss over the holidays and continue on as though it were any other time of year, it isn’t practical.

One thing the holiday season does for all of us is give us an opportunity to show our appreciation for the good in our lives. For small businesses, that appreciation is often centered around the employees that have worked so hard in the preceding months to help the business get where it is. Or, those employees who have stuck it out even though the preceding months have been less than desirable. This time, maybe more than any other in the year, allows small business leaders the opportunity to show appreciation and that you really do care about your employees as people, not just cogs in the wheel.

Showing employees that you care doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. Often gentle, subtle reminders are best. The goal is to be deliberate about the fact that the holidays mean something different for everyone and that you as a leader, are empathetic to whatever that is for each employee.

Here are a few ways that leaders can show they care during the holidays with examples from our current client groups of businesses between 9-75 employees.

Help Them Hold Their Traditions
One year a client invited me to a Thanksgiving lunch with he and his executive team. During the lunch, he asked his team members to go around the table and share their most treasured holiday traditions that they share with their family or friends. Each had fun stories of Christmas morning breakfast or driving around looking at houses lit up for the season. These stories not only helped the team to get to know each other on a personal level, but as the leader could he would recall these stories and do his part to ensure that team members were able to keep them. For example, one team member talked about Christmas Eve breakfast and how the entire team pitched in to help make one thing to serve and then they all sat around eating. The leader recalled that last Christmas Eve he had called this team member during what was likely this breakfast time to talk about a client issue that had come up. After realizing that, he asked his executive team to consider what they would do this year to avoid calling this team member during his Christmas Eve breakfast.

He did this for his entire executive team. For each, he found ways to make sure they were able to honor their long held traditions without the worry of being interrupted by work.

Remember Thanksgiving and Christmas Aren’t the Only Two Holidays
I’m guilty of this one. There are so many holidays that happen in November and December outside of Thanksgiving and Christmas. As our workplaces become more of a melting pot of cultures, our employees are more likely to celebrate things that the business doesn’t shut down for. Traditionally, small businesses shut down for a day or two at Thanksgiving and the same for Christmas. Yet, some employees may not celebrate either of these holidays and would prefer time off at a different time. Last year a client with the most diverse employee population of all of our groups asked what they could do to accommodate everyone. I suggested that rather than state that an employee had to take off Thanksgiving, give employees a day to use anytime between Thanksgiving and New Years. Of course, their work allows for that and not all environments do. For them it worked brilliantly. The leader went to his team and told them that they all had 6 days to use between Thanksgiving and New Years that would be considered paid holidays. Employees who celebrate the traditional American holidays took two days at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, but the others were able to take the days around holidays that meant something to them. It worked beautifully and let employees know that the leader cares about all of the holidays and his employee’s ability to celebrate them.

More WorkFlex
I have clients who shut down between Christmas and New Year’s while others encourage employees to use built up vacation time to extend their time off. Many businesses face a slowdown during the holiday season making it the best time to encourage employees to take a break. Other clients do not necessarily encourage more time off, but they do soften the rules around telecommuting during this time. One client needed one tech support person to work Christmas Eve on the off chance there was a call. The first few years it was a fight for all employees to figure out who was going to be that person who had to be the only person working on that day. Eventually, the leader invested in the technology needed to allow the employee to work Christmas Eve from home. Now, the employees rotate and even when it’s their year they really aren’t too upset because they can be at home with their family and still be available to take a call if one comes in. This added workflex arrangement has made working on this day much more bearable.

All of these are simple things that can be done at little to no expense yet they go a long way towards letting employees know you care about them. For a time that is supposed to be filled with peace and joy, the added impact of feeling that from an employer can create a sense of loyalty that will be hard to shatter.

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New Ideas & Examples for Conducting Performance Reviews

Discover new ideas and examples for effectively conducting employee work performance reviews and appraisals.

This time of year brings thoughts of family, turkey, pumpkin spice everything and hopefully, a little time off to relax. This time of year is a joyous occasion for most and an opportunity to reflect. For many companies across the nation, part of that reflecting happens in an effort to complete annual performance reviews.

The bane of many a leader’s existence.

While there has been much talk for years about doing away with the annual performance review, many companies are holding on. Our HR services caters to small businesses and most of them are doing some form of annual reviews when we join their team. For the most part, they are what you expect from annual performance reviews: lengthy, hard to measure and lack the real ability to change behavior or performance.

The alternative that seems to be gaining momentum in many companies, such as Netflix, is real-time, ongoing feedback. A continual loop between supervisor and employee that eliminates the need for formality and offers a better opportunity to really move the needle forward. This approach is ideal in my opinion, but not always practical for small businesses. You may think it would be easier to deliver ongoing feedback in an organization where you only have 25 people. If you’ve kept that organization relatively flat however and you are wearing multiple hats as founder, it isn’t. Virtual workforces and the everyday stress, especially in a startup environment, can make this idea of a continual feedback look difficult to execute.

It can be done and to the leader who can be deliberate about it, I encourage them to go for it. We have set up several performance programs in small businesses that are centered around a continual feedback process. Again, I think this is ideal, but know that it isn’t practical for everyone. So for those small teams I have a few different ideas that might make the process more thorough while still allowing for the annual process to take place.

Involve Peers in the Process
There are multiple relationships in the workplace. Relationship between employee and supervisor, employee and company, and of course, employee and co-workers. Yet, annual performance reviews are always taken from the viewpoint of only one individual, the supervisor. If an employee interacts and works with multiple people, then their performance feedback should, at some level, include information from those people.

Facebook allows employees to pick three to five peers to review them. A client of mine, with 15 employees, allows every other member of the team to weigh in on the performance of others. There is something about the accountability to one another when you know every person you interact with is going to provide feedback.

It’s important to ensure that peers are providing feedback on relevant components and that subjectiveness (I don’t like her so I’m going to give her a low rating) is removed, but when done well, utilizing peer feedback in a review can be a tremendous step in improving performance.

Dial it Down
Last year I was hired by a company of 47 employees to restructure their performance review process. They wanted to keep their annual review, but wanted to update it and then look at how they could include more ongoing feedback sessions throughout the year. I always start this process by looking at what they were currently doing and was a bit shocked to see the form they were currently using to conduct reviews. It was 8 pages long and extremely labor intensive to fill out. Leaders had to leave extensive comments, explanations and examples for each category, of which there were many. This meant leaders either spent hours and hours filling out forms or didn’t put full effort into it. Either way, the performance feedback was not effective and highly unproductive on multiple levels.

We took their current form and modified it into the categories that were really necessary to impact performance. What was 8 pages that required extensive information, was decreased to 2 pages of highly impactful feedback. The form still accomplished its intended goal, but in a much easier to process format.

With performance reviews, more is not necessarily better. In this case, more often means least productive method.

Consider the Milestones Along with the End Goal
One of the most effective changes I have seen in a performance review process came a few years ago with one of my first clients. Their performance reviews were typical up to that point. Every employee had a list of goals and at performance review time they essentially received a pass or fail grade (ranking) to that goal. If they passed, they got a raise. If not, they didn’t. After reviewing the work that employees were doing, I made an observation. The goals assigned to many employees took a long time to accomplish. Some couldn’t even be accomplished in a year. Essentially, employees were tasked with goals they knew would take a long time and they would receive no reward until the task was completely finished. Further, due to the nature of the business, that goal could be one to two months out from completion and, through no fault of the employee, be eliminated. Imagine working on something for nearly a year, having it be a part of your formal review process and then have it be eliminated right before completion. Not very motivating.

We decided to build in milestones for the longer range goals that allowed employees to be rewarded for meeting smaller goals along the way. This accomplished several different things. First, it gave the employee incentive to make it to the next milestone knowing they didn’t have to wait until the project was completely finished before seeing any recognition. Second, it allowed leaders to keep better track of projects which prevented more projects from being cancelled closer to completion. Third, when projects did have to be cancelled, employees didn’t feel as bad because they had been recognized for the work they had done to this point and weren’t left hanging after doing a ton of work and no reward.

Sometimes goals take longer than a review period. Other times a goal wasn’t accomplished, but the progress towards the goal is just as important. Performance reviews that give a flat pass or fail grade without considering all factors are missing the motivation mark.

I believe the reality for most companies is that the review process is not being as effective as it could be. For true performance motivation and improvement, continual feedback that flows freely between supervisor, peer and employee is needed. In environments where that is not possible or not supported, making a few tweaks to the current process can make a huge difference in effectiveness and efficiency. Two things all small businesses need more of.

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Three Steps to Having & Managing Difficult Conversations with Employees at Work

Learn about the three steps to having, managing, & dealing with tough, difficult & challenging conversations with your employees & staff at work or in the workplace.If there is one topic that new and seasoned leaders ask about the most, it is how to have difficult conversations. The reason for the conversation varies: performance issues, personality conflicts, behavioral concerns and even the most dreaded conversation of all, body odor. I find that one of the ways I spend at least part of my day, every day is coaching leaders through a difficult conversation.

The topic of how to have difficult conversations will be one of the first we roll out with our learning management system coming next year, but until then, I thought I would give three tips for preparing for and having even the most difficult of conversations.

Prepare:

I think one of the biggest mistakes made in having these conversations is that the leader goes into it without preparing. They want to get it over with so they bring the person in and just start talking. Because they haven’t thought it through ahead of time, they may not use the right words or be as direct as they need to be. For the employee it can feel as though the leader vomited a bunch of words on them that really don’t mean anything. A conversation where the employee leaves the room unsure of what was just shared or of what they are expected to do next is not going to fix anything.

While conversations should happen in a timely manner, it is ok for a leader to take some time to prepare. Sitting down and writing out key points that you want to cover, being specific about the exact problem and what you are expecting the employee to do after the conversation will help you stay on point later.

Potentially a more important part of preparation is thinking about the employee themselves and how best something like this should be communicated in a way they can hear it. What specific words does this employee need to hear? How direct can you be without shutting them down? Some employees need a bit more of a tender touch while others want no fluff. What type of employee is this? If your business has done any kind of personality workshops, like Myers Briggs, and you know the employee’s personality type, this is a great time to review how they like to be communicated to and use that in your discussion.

I firmly believe that when we communicate we should mimic the style of the person we are speaking too rather than expect them to adapt to our own. We need them to be able to hear our message in a way that it sinks in. Our normal style may not be able to accomplish that.

Focus, Specific and Action:

These are the three words I ask every leader to remember during the conversation. Tough conversations can get derailed very easily. Especially if emotions start to run high. Our natural defense when someone is giving us negative feedback is to deflect and start blaming other things. For this reason, a leader has to be able to focus and manage the conversation again and again. They have to be able to not start going down the rabbit hole of all the other things that may be brought up and remember to stick to the topic at hand. The employee isn’t going to do this so it is the leader’s job to bring the conversation back as many times as necessary.

Another pitfall that happens in these conversations is that the leader is not specific about the issue. They dance around or try to downplay the severity in an effort to save hard feelings. Indirect feedback rarely accomplishes anything. Employees need to be clear on what happened that is not acceptable. A leader should check for understanding several times throughout the conversation. If they feel the employee may not be getting the point, they should try to explain it in a different way until they are sure the employee understands the problem.

Finally the conversation has to included actionable items the employee can and should do to correct the problem. We shouldn’t always assume that the employee knows how to correct the behavior or that their way of correcting it is what we would prefer. We as leaders, must lay it out for them in a way that makes it clear what we expect.

Follow Up:

The reality is that no matter how much you prepare and follow the tips above, difficult conversations may still be very difficult. Emotions can get the best of employee and leader. Harsh words that shouldn’t have been said, can be. Desired outcomes may have not been as clear as needed. Both parties can leave the conversation angry and exhausted.

For this reason I suggest leaders wait a day or two and then follow up with the employee. Let emotions die down a bit and then do a quick check to see if the employee understood and knows what they need to do going forward. This isn’t the time to rehash everything and in the end, the employee doesn’t have to agree with the feedback, but they do have to understand it and be willing to work towards a solution.

Then of course, there should be additional follow up throughout the following weeks and months to make sure the employee is on track with the changes that needed to be made. This follow up should be full of praise when changes are made and slight course corrections so that the end outcome is highly positive.

In the training that will come out next year, we will walk through each of these steps in detail and give suggestions for what to say and do during each phase. For now, this simple guideline should put you on the path to better conversations, even when what you are saying is hard to hear. I don’t think anyone ever gets to the point of liking difficult conversations, but we can get to the point where we are comfortable having them. Like anything, it takes practice and experience. Experience that we don’t want to have, but helps us tremendously in the long run.

 

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The End of Year HR Catch Up and How to Do It

Discover how to catch up on tasks for the end of the year with the catch up list.As of the publishing of this post, there are 52 days left until Christmas. Fifty-two. If you find where 2017 went, I would love to have a chat with it about slowing down. If you are anything like me, hearing that we only have 52 days left brings about a small tinge of panic. Really, once Thanksgiving hits, it’s all downhill from there. Before we know it, it’s New Year’s and we are left with a huge list of goals to accomplish in 2018.

Along with all those things we didn’t accomplish in 2017.

In chatting with a long time subscriber last week, she mentioned her catch up list and how she was going to have to really buckle down to get a lot accomplished before year’s end. During our chat we worked through a few ways to tackle that catch up list and I thought I would share them with you today.

Write It Down
Obvious right? I have this love/hate relationship with lists. I will use them religiously for a few weeks and then get sick of being depressed by how long they are. I know they help me, but sometimes I just don’t want to see everything I have to do in writing. Regardless of my disdain, she and I both agreed that writing all the things that need to be accomplished by year’s end in a place you can see every day is important.

Remove the Waste
I can not remember where I heard her talk about this, but in a talk I heard of Arianna Huffington’s, she talks about giving up on goals that no longer matter. Her example centered around learning to ski I believe. It had been a long time goal of hers but over the years the importance had diminished. She would keep it in the back of her mind and often lament over not having accomplished it until one day she realized it really wasn’t important anymore. She let the goal go.

I know that I carry things on my to do list that are maybe not as important to me or others as they once were. I carry things that my ego may want to hold on to, but accomplishing them won’t really improve anything. As HR professionals or small business leaders, we put things on our lists that we think we should be doing or we think employees want, but in reality, accomplishing those things won’t really make that big of a difference.

Comb through your list and make sure that everything there really needs to be accomplished.

Use the Snowball Method
Finance expert Dave Ramsey touts the snowball method of paying off debt as highly effective. In this method you pay off the smallest balances and then, once paid off, apply that payment to the next smallest and so on until all debt is gone. I like to use this method for playing catch up. I start with the task that is quickest to accomplish. There are often projects that are in progress and may even be close to completion. Knocking the quicker tasks out helps me know a few things off my list in quick succession which is motivating to me.

Or you could….

Use the Eat the Frog Method
Time management expert Brian Tracy would probably disagree with that snowball method. He teaches people to “eat the frog” or start by accomplishing the most important task first, even if that task is something you really don’t want to do. I’m sure he would suggest looking at that catch up list and say that the most important tasks should be accomplished first, even if it will take the longest.

I think you could do either. Context around your list will likely dictate which method you use.

Review the Risks
As you look at that catch up list there are likely things that you know are in jeopardy of simply not being accomplished. Whether it be time constraints, lack of budget or any myriad of other factors that keep people from accomplishing what they need, there is likely at least one thing on that list that you know, even with your best intentions, may not happen.

I think it’s important we are honest about those things. Rather than have to answer on January 1st why we are still working on something from the previous year, I like to be honest about the possibility ahead of time that they may be carry over goals.

You may have to review the risks with your supervisor or support team and decide together which catch up priorities can be moved to the carry over goal list. We all have things that come up that prevent us from accomplishing all that we wanted and there is nothing wrong with carrying over goals from one year to the next.

Get Some Help
If your list is longer than 52 days worth of time (let’s face it, no one works between Christmas and New Year’s) then maybe it is time to get help. Can you outsource something from your list, even if it’s just a part of a project? Can you rally the troops inside your office to pitch in on some of the higher priority items? Most items on an employee’s to do list are not things they are solely responsible for. It’s ok to ask for help and now may be the best time to do it…when people are in the holiday spirit.

Reflect and Learn for Next Year
The hardest part of this whole thing may be reflecting on how you were left with a catch up list this year and how you are going to avoid that in 2018. There were likely extenuating circumstances or fires that needed attention that pushed back goals. It may be that there needs to be less goals in the coming year or at least less aggressive ones (in quantity not quality). Whatever the reason, it’s important to think about why things were pushed to the end of the year and how to avoid that in the future.

The end of year catch up can be overwhelming. It can make what should be a very happy time of year rather stressful. Take a deep breath, get it on paper and tackle it as best you can. And then start the new year fresh and ready to get ahead instead of falling behind.

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