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3 People Related Leadership Challenges Small Businesses Face

3 People Related Leadership Challenges Small Businesses FaceStarting a small business is tough. A founder has to figure out all the in’s and out’s of running a business while somehow keeping themselves afloat financially. From offering a viable product or service to finding customers to finding the right systems, every aspect of a small business has to be considered and dealt with quickly.

And then you hire employees.

At times more stressful than the customer side of owning a business, is the people side. Hiring, motivating, training, paying and sometimes firing employees is draining on even the most organized and skilled among us. In our work with startups and small businesses who are experiencing growth that creates a need to hire, sometimes a high volume of candidates, we have uncovered three people related challenges that seem to pop up over and over.

Hiring First, Thinking Later
I’m a big fan of this philosophy and follow it in most areas of my business. Jump first, build the parachute on the way down. It serves many of us well as entrepreneurs. Until it comes to hiring people. Founders find themselves needing help and leap before they think. They will hire a family member or someone they think can do the job without thinking about how it should work out. And by work out I mean both the basics around how they will get paid and what laws have to be considered as well as the more advanced around hiring structures and performance management.

Too Many Layers
The amount of instances in which this challenge creeps up is astounding. A 20 person businesses does not need three layers of managers. It doesn’t. I will fight to the death on this one. This typically happens because a family member or friend was hired and wanted an executive title. Then someone decided they needed a team and that team needed a layer in the middle. Before you know it you have a whole lot of “managers” who really aren’t managing anything. This leads to so many complications such as pay disparity, general lack of continuity and ego based decisions.

Here is what I have seen work best. Everyone reports to a founder(s) until the founder(s) can no longer effectively manage everyone, then another leader(s) is hired or promoted. Only adding leaders as necessary and being very clear in the division of duties when new leaders are appointed. Beyond that, layers are only added after intense discussion and when everyone agrees that it makes the most sense. Leaders shouldn’t be added because someone thinks they need a leadership title. They should be added when it makes business sense.

Not Thinking Long Term
I have a new client from another country who is bringing their product to the US for the first time. During our first call they asked me what types of activities we could do around culture and building the type of environment they felt was important. Before we talked about a payroll system or the vacation policy, we talked about culture.

From the moment a business hires it’s first employee, it is creating an environment for employees to work within. The business can either be deliberate about it or let what happens happen. Either way, 3 years from now an environment will have been created. If a founder gets caught up in today and doesn’t at least think about a few months and years down the road, something may be created that they aren’t happy with.

And undoing that can be nearly impossible.

There are many other challenges that businesses face, like growing too fast or not dealing with issues swiftly, but these are the three that seem to hit small businesses on a regular basis. The people side of the business should be taken as seriously as the customer side. It should be as well thought out and planned as the product of service you are offering. Leaving people matters to chance may work for 1 in a million new businesses. Not sure that’s a chance I would be willing to take.

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What is on Employee’s Minds While at Work? Hint: It’s Not Work

What is on Employees Minds While at Work?Acacia HR’s Christine Kopp is taking over the blog today. Enjoy!

Do you know what your employees are thinking about while they are on the job? Here’s a hint, it’s not work.  We all know that employees come to work each day with their personal baggage. Whether it is a personal struggle, childcare issues or financial stressors it comes through those doors on a daily basis and impacts efficiency and engagement.  The latter topic is what I want to focus on today by looking at your employee’s financial well-being.

Financial well-being is nothing new, but it is gaining more traction as something small businesses need to focus on. Most Americans don’t have $500 in their savings accounts and the amount of debt people are living with is staggering. Many come out of high school and even college with just the basic understanding of finances and even more live paycheck to paycheck. In the highly competitive business world we must have our employees on the top of their game and not distracted with how they will afford their car payment. But that is exactly what they are thinking about while at work. Financial stressors are making your employees less efficient because they are so distracted with their financial baggage they aren’t giving their all.

So what is a small business supposed to do with likely a small budget? Here are a couple of ideas to get your organization helping employees with their financial well-being:

Get it on your wellness calendar

Many of us have been doing walking challenges, biometric screens and focusing on healthy living for our employees for quite some time. Why aren’t more companies focusing on their financial well-being? Make a financial literacy month and focus a newsletter specifically on the basics of financial literacy and promote any benefits your company offers like 401(k).  Once you have made the commitment that you are going to focus on financial wellness get it on the calendar!

Look for financial well-being services you are already paying for

That’s right, some of these resources are already being included in your Employee Assistance Plan or 401(k) plan and even your medical plan. At the company I used to work for, our EAP gave us a specific number of instructional hours… for FREE! Since we focused so much of our well-being initiatives on the health aspect, we would set these hours up at our locations and have employees sign up for classes like ‘Living on a Budget’ or ‘Financial Planning 101’.

Your 401(k) provider is also a great avenue to explore what resources they have available. You are paying those commission fees right? Well put them to work and check and see if your plan allows onsite financial planning and set employees up with 20 minutes.  If these aren’t viable options, set up a Finance Fair in the break room and have some reputable financial planners come out on site.  There are also many great training options you can purchase and have your employees sign up for or you can develop your own.

Hopefully these ideas will get the ball started on creating a financial well-being program that will not only benefit your employees greatly, but you will see the results in a more happier and productive work environment.

 

 

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There is a Candidate for Every Environment

There is a Candidate for Every EnvironmentIn May at the WorkHuman conference, my friends Robin Schooling and Bill Boorman did a talk on recruiting. One thing that Bill said that has stuck in my mind ever since is that when it comes to fit, there is a person for every environment. There are people who are willing and able to work in even the most toxic environment.

He’s right.

Last month I filled an Office/HR Manager position for a very challenging environment. The hiring managers interviewed 8 candidates. During both my pre-screen and the onsite interviews with the candidates we were very honest about what this person would be walking into. While not a toxic environment, one that was very demanding in a culture that is very direct and could be perceived as aggressive. For some of the candidates, the truth about what they would be facing was enough for them to say that it wasn’t the right place for them.

For others, and ultimately for the person who was hired, that type of environment was refreshing and invigorating.

The lesson I learned while recruiting for that role made it very clear that there is a candidate out there for most any environment. The key is being honest in the recruitment process and asking very targeted questions to ensure you are finding the right one.

If the environment is challenging for one reason or another, be honest.

If the CEO yells and there is no changing that, be honest.

If the leadership doesn’t really put an emphasis on employee development and just wants people to come in and do their job, be honest.

If the hours are long and the work is hard, be honest.

If the company is in a transition phase and need to get over a tough hurdle, be honest.

Whatever it is, bumps, lumps and all, be honest.

But then you have to be honest about the good. What would make someone want to work in all of this? Is it the chance to get in on the ground floor of something that will be amazing in time? Is it the chance to work with some of the smartest minds in your industry, even if they are jerks? Is it the chance to eventually build something that is far different than what it is today if everyone can just get through this part?

I often hear from HR leaders who say they struggle to hire or retain hires because of the environment they are in. Usually I find this to be because they are not completely honest during the process and then the hire sees the reality they are facing and feel duped. That is not a way to start a new job.

It may take a little longer to find the right person when your environment isn’t one that would land you on a Fortune Best Places to Work list, but that doesn’t mean the right person isn’t out there.

It’s a weird truth to comprehend, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.

Managing HR or Recruiting in a small business? Join our mailing list to get survival tips delivered to your inbox.


 

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Employment At Will Doesn’t Equal Fire At Will

Employment At Will Doesn't Equal Fire At WillOn a regular basis, I have a conversation with a CEO around employment at will. They have an employee who is not performing and when I tell them they need to start documentation they always respond with the same question. “But we employ at will right? So I can fire anytime.”

Not exactly.

In technical terms, sure. You can fire at will. In legal terms, employment at will doesn’t defend you from a lawsuit. Even if the lawsuit is bogus, it certainly won’t protect you from the cost to defend the suit. Courts may still side with an employee if they feel they were discriminated against because of any protected class or if they were harassed, even in an employment at will situation.

But Sabrina, what about probationary periods?

Sorry to say that those don’t really mean anything. Probationary periods started as a milestone for new hires to receive certain benefits, like healthcare or 401(k). Make it past your 90 days and we’ll give you this or that type of deal. While they were adapted to say that either party could terminate employment within the first 90 days with or without cause, the previous paragraph still applies. Just because you terminate within a probationary period does not mean you are not susceptible to potential litigation.

So what is an employer to do? Well allow me to beat my drum for a moment while I sing you the song I sing to clients every single day.

Hire Right
Have a hiring process in place and follow it consistently. Think about the characteristics that are necessary to be successful in this job and ask the right questions to find out if the candidate in front of you possesses them.

Often times the interview process is rushed, or there is no real process and poor decisions are made resulting in performance that is less than stellar rather quickly. Regardless of how quickly this shows up, documentation is key to supporting a termination.

Document, Document, Document
I know operational leaders get sick of hearing this from their HR team, but the reality is documentation is key to mitigating any legal risk. After my post last week about email, a conversation on Twitter started about how email can be used in legal cases. That isn’t to suggest that we use email as a way to document performance, but it is to say that lawyers and courts love documentation.

Any performance issue should be well documented especially if they lead to termination. Unfortunately, there is just no getting around it.

Check Your Leadership
I don’t want to say bad employees are caused by bad leaders, but sometimes, bad employees are caused by bad leaders. It could be that the manager has high and unreasonable expectations or that they are just a bear to work for. There have been a number of times in my career where seemingly high quality employees turn into performance issues and sometimes it has stemmed from a poor leader.

We are often quick to defend our leaders, but it is at least an important point to check.

So while most are “at will” employers, firing at will doesn’t come without it’s risks. No termination process is 100% risk free from litigation but following the steps above (especially point number 2) can help mitigate that risk and make sure your termination process is as succinct and maybe more importantly, humane as possible.

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Employee Email Pitfalls Small Businesses Should Avoid

As much as we all lament it’s existence, email is still a primary tool for communicating in the workplace. At least once a day I get asked for my email address by someone wanting to send me information. It is the one tab that is open the most on my web browser. Even though I have other outlets to communicate with my clients, it is still the most used (although text is a close second).

It is the double edged sword we can not live without….yet anyway.

If there were ever a place where you think email could be used less, it would be in small businesses. A small group of people could surely get by communicating face to face, in text or via a social channel like Slack right?

While I do find these other channels being used more and more by my smaller clients versus my larger ones (and large in my world means 200+ employees), email is still King when it comes to employee communication. Because of that, and because I am often copied on said emails, I have a few employee email pitfalls I see leaders falling into every day. See if any of these ring true in your workplace.

Not Knowing How to Use Email
One of the most common pitfalls I see is leaders not knowing which conversations are appropriate for email and which would be better suited for face to face (or at least phone) conversation. This often stems from leaders feeling uncomfortable having difficult conversations verbally. Some of the time however, it was just that email was convenient at the time or the leader wanted to get communication out right away and wasn’t able to do it face to face at that moment.

Important communication, direct feedback and changes to how someone does their work should always be communicated in person. If documentation is necessary, communicate in person first and then follow up in email.

Too Many Emails
We all have that one person in our career who relies on email a little too much. We wake up in the morning to have numerous notes from them only to proceed through our day receiving many more. Most of these emails were unnecessary – when I email thanks, you do not have to respond with you’re welcome, you just don’t. Some should have been conversations (see point one above) and others are infuriatingly micromanaging, which is exactly the type of leader I see falling into this pitfall the most.

Too many emails that spell out what you want an employee to do, how to do it and then following up on whether they did it is not only frustrating from an inbox standpoint but from a work environment one as well. Check the number of emails you are sending employees in a day and see if you might be guilty of too many messages. You either trust your people to do the work, or you don’t. And if you don’t, more email will not solve the problem.

Not Checking Your Tone
I have this habit of receiving a text or email from my husband and immediately responding with “are you being shitty?” I’m happy to report that 90% of the time he responds with no. We’ve been married for nearly 15 years, sometimes it is a definite yes, but I digress. The point is that even after 15 years of marriage I still can’t discern his tone 100% of the time if he is communicating electronically.

If I can’t always tell my husband’s tone, your employees can’t tell yours. Re-reading emails is crucial to seeing if there are words that could be misconstrued or a tone that you may have not meant when writing it. Of course, if there is a chance that no matter how you change it up it could still be misunderstood, then again I point you to the first pitfall above.

We are all guilty of replying and hitting send before we ever actually think about what we want to say and how we want to say it and that creates a lot of unnecessary miscommunication.

Letting Email Conversations Go On Too Long
This one is my pet peeve. I have said for years and years that is an email conversation takes more than 3-5 emails to resolve, it’s time to get everyone in a room and have a face to face. Going back and forth in email is ripe for miscommunication and someone dropping the ball. People are going to check out of the conversation, agreements or next steps may never be fully addressed and eventually, people just get so fed up with the process they react angrily to whatever is being said.

As a leader if you see an email conversation going on too long, it is on you to get everyone together face to face or on a call to resolve the issue.

Email isn’t going away. It will be a high traffic mode of communication for many years to come. It doesn’t have to be a painful process or a thorn in everyone’s side if we all become a little more mindful of how to use it properly.

What is your biggest email pet peeve?

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Interview with SHRM 2017 Speaker Dr. Tony Alessandra

Interview with SHRM17 SpeakerIf you have followed this blog for any amount of time you know that one topic I am passionate about is communication. I’ve written about it on numerous occasions, my most popular post being this one all about communication. I speak on it and even did my first DisruptHR talk about it. I firmly believe that many issues in the workplace could be avoided with better and more thorough communication.

SHRM 2017 speaker Dr. Tony Alessandra agrees.

Dr. Alessandra is facilitating a workshop on June 18th, titled: Adaptability: How to Talk so that People Will Listen. I spoke with Dr. Alessandra about this session and wanted to share a few takeaways.

Dr. Alessandra says that the most important thing people will take away from this workshop is how to practice communication. This is a “you had me at hello” moment for me. We are very reactive. We speak before we think. More than that, we speak the way we think without forethought or strategy. Dr. Alessandra is going to teach attendees how to adapt (change) their communication style depending upon the person or situation you are facing.

So important and yet rarely done.

Dr. Alessandra will provide a model that describes the 4 basic communication styles and how to identify each. He takes a “when in Rome” approach to communication which I really like. We should not be communicating based on our preferences but based on the preferences of those we are communicating with.

If I say it once I say it 20 times a week to leaders – let’s figure out how to frame this information in a way that the receiver can hear it. So many misunderstandings could be avoided if the person communicating would have taken a bit of time to think about how they wanted to say what they needed to based on how the receiving individual communicated.

This topic hit home for Dr. Alessandra when he moved from New York to San Diego years ago. He quickly realized that the New York style of communicating did not work well in Southern California. My own experience moving from Chicago to Los Angeles in 2014 reiterates that story well. Whether it be with people from different parts of the country, experiences or personality preferences, everyone communicates differently and using a one size fits all approach will not fly in the long run.

Dr. Alessandra says that his workshop is best for anyone who has to deal with people, so I’m certain any SHRM attendee will get something out of this session. He promises actionable content, stories and group activities that make 4 hours fly by.

Although this is the first time presenting this topic for SHRM, Dr. Alessandra is a noted keynote speaker and member of the National Speakers Association where he is in the Hall of Fame.

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