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Why Training Should be a Priority in all Businesses

Why Training Should be a Priority in all BusinessesOne of the projects I enjoy working on the most is creating training and development programs for clients. We create training programs that cover a broad range of topics such as every day work procedures, compliance issues like anti-harassment and customized leadership development programs. We find that businesses who make training a priority have higher levels of engagement and productivity.

Employees want to be developed. This has been a hot topic over the last few years and with all the debate, I think the general population understands that developing employees makes them more loyal and less likely to leave. This is opposite the old school of thought that developing them would only help them take those skills to competitors.

In our work which is focused on small businesses, training and development is rarely a priority. Not because the business leaders think it isn’t important, they think they don’t have the time or budget to produce it. Additionally, they think the training has to be robust or have tons of bells and whistles. Rather than put something together that they think is mediocre, they put nothing together at all.

The reality is none of this is true. Any training is better than none. As long as the training relays the message needing to be conveyed in a clear and concise manner, then it doesn’t have to be fancy or have any extra added bells and whistles.

And the best part of all is that for something to be considered development, it doesn’t have to be formal training. It could be something as simple as a book club or a Slack channel where tips and tricks can be shared. It could be a 10 minute opening to every meeting where one employees trains everyone else on something of importance.

I have a small business client who needed more of their employees to speak Spanish. A larger and larger amount of their customers were Spanish speakers and it was becoming less feasible to have one or two employees translate all the time. The leader asked about bringing Spanish speakers in to teach the class or sending employees to evening classes, but both option would take too long to get everyone trained and would be rather costly in the end. I suggested that I create a training program for conversational Spanish in collaboration with the Spanish speaking employees. Had we sent employees for training or brought an instructor in, they would have started with the basics and worked their way into conversational. By allowing us to create the training program on our own, we are going to focus on what the employees need to know most first and then let their language skills grow from there.

We have just started this project and it’s going to be a long one, but I’m really excited about how it is going to turn out….and more importantly, so are the employees. The Spanish speaking employees are relieved that the business is at least attempting to get them help. The non-Spanish speakers are very excited to learn a new language, something they can use not just at work, but in their personal life as well.

Training opportunities and solutions are all around for the leader who is willing to get creative. They do not have to be complicated or created by a trained facilitator. Anything that develops the minds and skills of employees counts.

Ongoing training and development is becoming a competitive component of recruiting and hiring. Businesses who do not put some emphasis on it in the future may have a hard time finding and retaining the talent they need.

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Employee Performance Plans that Actually Work

Employee Performance Plans that Actually WorkI don’t know a single leader who enjoys dealing with employee performance issues. Few things are more frustrating in a business setting than an employee who is either not performing or who has behavioral issues. It is an area where experience doesn’t really make it easier.

Yet, every leader, at some point or another, has an employee they have to coach and discipline.

Progressive disciplinary policies are common among organizations of all sizes. Most employee performance issues do not warrant immediate termination so policies are put in place to give employees an opportunity to improve. These policies vary but they usually have multiple steps that could include verbal warnings, performance improvement plans, written warnings, suspension, and eventual termination.

Out of all steps I believe the performance improvement plan may be the most crucial. If done well, and early, a performance improvement plan can map out the exact performance or behavior that the employer is not happy with, outline the behavior that is expected and give the employee a clear path to improvement. Unfortunately many performance improvement plans fall short of being worth the paper they are written on.

Here are our guidelines for performance improvement plans that we think actually help improve performance.

Timing:
The biggest mistake leaders make when trying to improve performance is waiting too long. The longer poor performance or bad behavior goes on, the harder it is to fix. By the time the employee is told about the issue, the leader is so frustrated they have no patience left to try to help the employee overcome. All employee issues should be dealt with as soon as they creep up. For this reason we recommend employees receive verbal coaching as often as the opportunity allows. In weekly one on ones or regular performance meetings, employees should be cautioned about any issue that may create problems down the road if they continue.

Then, after that same issue has been coached on multiple occasions, it’s time to get serious. If regular performance discussions are happening, the time between first coaching and performance plan should be relatively short.

Complete Plan:
The second biggest mistake that leaders make when delivering performance improvement plans is only delivering half the plan – the employee portion. Leaders sit an employee down, tell them what they are doing wrong, tell them to fix it and ask them to sign the form. This leaves the employee feeling as though they are on their own and probably have one foot out the door so why bother even trying.

A complete performance improvement plan follows this outline:

Description, with recent examples, of undesired behavior.
Description of desired behavior.
Why desired behavior is important to the business.
How leader is going to help employee improve.
Milestones to improvement.
Next steps and check in dates.
Consequences for not improving.
Employee opportunity to comment.

The piece in italics is the most crucial. Hopefully all leaders want employees to improve. If so, they should be willing to do their part to help employees turn the issue around. Including this in the documentation provides accountability for the leader to ensure they are offering support and assistance as needed.

The Discussion:
Discussing performance issues with employees really is an art form. I’m not convinced there is only one right way to do it. I think it depends on the employee/leader relationship, the communication style of both and the egregiousness of the issue to be discussed. Here’s what I do think should be consistent regardless of style – preparation. Nothing is worse for an employee than feeling like they have just been the victim of a drive by where their leader vomited a bunch of bad news on them and then left.

Leaders should take time to think about the personality of the employee and how they will best receive the information. They should think about framing their words in a way that the employee will be able to hear and understand what is being communicated while, and this is key, being motivated to fix it. The discussion should take as long as is needed for the employee to walk out of the room focused on the issue at hand and understanding what they need to do to fix it.

Dealing with performance issues is a necessary task for most leaders. They are best dealt with swiftly and directly before they grow into something larger than they ever needed to be. Done correctly, they can often steer employees onto a better path, and if they don’t, at least the leader can say they tried to help and the onus for failure lies with the employee.

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What You Want Employees to Say When They Leave

Scrolling through LinkedIn lately I’ve seWhat You Want Employees to Say When They Leaveen a number of posts marking someone’s last day with their current company. The post, often of someone moving on to another opportunity, are appreciative of the opportunity they had, grateful for the relationships they forged and overall very positive. The comments on the post from current co-workers and leaders are more of the same. They share their sadness over the person leaving and congratulations for the new opportunity. And every time I see it, I think the same thing.

That’s really the way you want someone to go.

Before the cynics jump in, I completely realize that for every one of those positive exits there are many more negative ones. I know that employees don’t always leave on good terms, but this post is about how you want employees to leave so I’m going to focus on that.

Employees take on new opportunities for all sorts of reasons. Sure the statement about people leaving their leaders is mostly true, but my time spent every week recruiting tells me that often people aren’t looking to leave. They aren’t dissatisfied in their current role, but something intriguing came along and they jumped on it. Many times throughout my day, a person I reached out to with an opportunity will say, “I’m not really looking now, but this does sound interesting”. They then go down the path of pursuing an opportunity not because they are dissatisfied in their current role, but simply because the timing is right for them and the opportunity allows them to move forward in their career or work on something they wouldn’t get the opportunity to in their current role.

Sometimes it isn’t about a poor working relationship with their manager or dissatisfaction with the business, but simply the right opportunity at the right time. And when it is, that employee leaving a positive note on social media about your company is amazing branding. It also may serve as great advertising that a position is open.

As I think about what I would want employees leaving my company to share, a few things come to mind. I want them to share that…

Their decision to leave had nothing to do with leadership or dissatisfaction, but one of opportunity.

They felt supported, challenged and appreciated while working for my company.

They are sad to be leaving so many great colleagues including leadership behind.

If the door were ever open for them to return and the opportunity made sense, they would do so in a heartbeat.

These are the things that speak to people these days. Pay, benefits, flex work and promotional opportunities are always important, but what people gravitate to now are places that check the boxes above. People are more willing to exchange more money for feeling valued. The highest paying environments, that are also the most toxic, are not as appealing as they once were.

I believe statements like this, when employees leave, are powerful. They are also powerful from current employees and the more you can accumulate the better. Now the question of how to make sure this is what employees say is a whole other blog post -or series – or leadership development program. But knowing what we want them to say is a good start.

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Create a Robust Benefits Package That Makes (Most) Everyone Happy

Create a Robust Benefits Package that Makes (Most) Everyone HappyIn today’s world, people want a variety of benefit offerings from their employers- in fact they pretty much expect it.

Companies used to be considered great employers if they offered decent pay and medical benefits, but that is not the case anymore.  Employees are looking for employers who have the same values as them and therefore make offerings that meet their individual needs. They want more flexible work environments and therefore flexible benefits packages. For example, millennials strife with overwhelming college debt, may be interested in student loan payback benefits. Boomers and Gen X may be  more interested in 401(k) vesting schedules or long term care benefits.

Being an employer that has a robust benefits package doesn’t have to be daunting or bankrupt your business either.  Offering a benefit doesn’t necessarily mean you have to foot the bill.  If you get the right mix of plans it will also help your business stand out and recruit top talent.

So where to start? Here are a few simple steps to help you get started towards a more robust benefit offering.

Create a Benefit Survey

How do you know what people want for benefits if you do not periodically check in with them? While you may already know your benefit offerings for 2018, your may want to schedule a benefit survey for the end of Q1 next year. Ask questions to get a pulse of how your employees feel open enrollment went (the good and the bad). During this time, also ask some direct questions about the current benefit offerings and rank how important this is to them. If copays are the most important, that should be the last benefit you touch and make negative changes to.  After you get some info on the current state, throw in some new benefits the organization are considering. If your employee base is older, they may not find any value in student loan payback benefits. If your population is younger they may be really interested in pet insurance or maternity/paternity benefits. A simple survey can get you those answers and help you offer new plans that really add value and aren’t just another administrative headache.

Get Quotes and Plan Information

After you have conducted a survey and know what benefits your employees are interested in, start researching what is out there from different providers. Get as many quotes as you can and start reviewing networks and payouts. Many times employers feel like they can’t offer certain benefits because of cost. Remember, they are called voluntary benefits for a reason, and employees don’t really expect employers to pay for pet insurance or universal life, they just want to have the ability to enroll in them and therefore are happy to pay the cost.

If you are taking a look at current offerings, begin talking with your broker about options for the next plan year as soon as results of your survey are back. Make them aware you want to see some costs of changing the plans based on the feedback you received. Maybe your employees thinks their co-insurance is too high, or they want more contributions to their HSA.  This allows you to price out some options and start analyzing the impact on the bottom line. Maybe you make some, all or no changes.

Make a Decision and Rollout

Once you have reviewed all the plan designs including costs and ease of administration, get the right players together and make a decision of what you should add. If you need Finance’s help to reconcile bills make sure you get their buy-in.  Also, be sure to think about the number of plans you want to add. Too many options and you may not get the enrollment numbers you were hoping for and the rollout may flop.

Finally, get together a rollout timeline. For new benefits, you may not want to wait until the next open enrollment and instead would prefer to do something in the summer so you can properly communicate it.  For other standard benefits like medical and dental you may be required to wait unless you want to amend the plan, so it may make sense to look at the numbers and make changes for the upcoming plan year.

And after all is said and done, make sure you communicate that these new plans/changes came from the survey feedback to tie it all together. You might not make everyone happy, but at least MOST employees will know that you take their feedback seriously and a little of that will go along way.

 

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It’s Time to Refresh Your Recruitment Strategy…Or Actually Have One

It's Time to Refresh Your Recruiment Strategy... Or Actually Have OneOne of the topics I speak about at HR meetings is “Getting Ahead of the Recruitment Curve”. Like all of my talks, I tailor it to small businesses or those without a ton of resources or budget. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, I think the opening point of my talk applies to many businesses.

Our recruitment processes have become very reactive.

We wait for the requisition, go to our trusted, yet maybe unreliable resources and pray that it all works out in a time frame the hiring manager can live with. The process for many is on auto-pilot and even if ineffective, we still resort to the same four our five steps each and every time. Our strategy is absent. Our process is broken. The task is a source of frustration each and every time and yet….we keep doing it the same way.

While I can’t give you one recruiting strategy that works for every position, I can give you what I think are the proper components of a recruiting strategy. The areas that need to be considered to determine what outlet works best for your business for finding candidates.

Not just best available candidates but best fit candidates. That’s an important distinction.

Workforce Planning:
We are going to have an entire series devoted to this later in the year, but no recruiter or business leader can do an effective job of creating a recruiting strategy without really understanding the state of their workforce.

Who is leaving?
Who may be leaving?
Where do we currently have gaps?
What gaps do we know we are going to have in the next 90-180 days?

These are just some of the questions workforce planning answers. Without knowing who and for what position you will be hiring, the following steps are a waste of time. And you need to know that in the long term, not just what is happening today.

Measure Effectiveness
The refresh part, for those who already have strategies, happens when we look at what we have been doing and measure it’s effectiveness. I’m often amazed at the number of companies who have purchased packages with job boards when those aren’t really the things that are bringing in the candidates. I’ve heard of companies paying a monthly subscription fee to ZipRecruiter or purchasing a $10K package on Careerbuilder only to realize that those outlets are not what is bringing in the talent in the first place. That is just money down the drain plain and simple.

Learn a New Skill
Sourcing, social media, networking – all effective outlets for finding viable candidates. Effective strategies mix these up and use all of them at one point or another. Recruiters who do not know how to do one of these may assume it won’t work. There are more than enough resources, both paid and free, that can teach these areas. Recruiters who want to get ahead of the recruiting game, must have a wide breadth of knowledge in all possible strategies so they can determine what is and can work for them.

While not all the steps to creating or refreshing a recruiting strategy, this list is a good start. The first step is to realize you have been very reactive, take a step back and think about how you can organize the process to make it more effective and efficient. It’s not bad to have a recruiting process on auto-pilot. It’s bad to have an ineffective recruiting process on auto-pilot.

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Get Your Employees Excited and Engaged About Open Enrollment

Get Your Employees Excited and Engaged About Open EnrollmentAcacia HR’s Christine Kopp is getting you ready for Open Enrollment in today’s post.

That’s right, the title says get your employees EXCITED and ENGAGED about open enrollment this year. I know it’s August, but now is the time to start planning for open enrollment. Hopefully you have already met a time or two concerning your plan performance with either a broker or TPA and you likely are in wait mode until you get your final quotes in.

So instead of waiting until the last minute to plan everything, start putting together a strategy. I know I probably got a few eye rolls on the engaging part but it’s true. Instead of passing out the proverbial memo or sending a bunch of emails that no one is reading, make open enrollment something employees can get excited about. (Even if there isn’t much to be excited about these days)

With the ever-changing climate of Healthcare Reform and the Affordable Care Act’s future, employees are more engaged in their benefits than ever. Use this to your advantage to really sell all that you do for your employees around their benefits. Its also a great time to make employees feel like you are listening to them, even if listening is all next years budget allows for- and trust me I’ve been there! Here are a few ways that you can make this year’s open enrollment smooth and engaging:

Get ahead of the changes- good and bad

So maybe your plan experienced high claims and your renewal is out the roof.  The company can’t take on more cost so something has to give, hello rate increases and plan changes. Employees may not like it, but they will understand if you explain to them the why part. Understanding the why behind the changes is especially important with the millennial bunch, but really, who doesn’t want to know why the changes are occurring.

Take the guess work out of what is changing by putting together a comparison sheet that explains the changes to co-insurance or co-pays.  People will get upset no matter what, but explaining that you started with a 40% increase to the premiums and got it down to 15% by making changes at least helps people understand that you weren’t some heartless HR person who doesn’t care about employees. (okay, maybe that was just me called that) Don’t let open enrollment disengage employees, instead rally your message about we are in this crazy open enrollment thing together.

Communicate

Yes, you must talk to your employees and even if you have less than stellar news to share, please, I beg you, do not hide in your office all of open enrollment!  You laugh, but I would have HR generalists who would call out sick most of open enrollment or sit behind locked doors on conference calls the entire day and people would be gathered around the door!  I know your other duties aren’t stopping because it’s open enrollment.  If you can’t handle large crowds outside your door schedule time to hang out in the break room to take questions. Just be sure to cover all shifts.

Don’t forget to make sure the communication is consistent and often. Most employees feel like they don’t have enough information to make an informed decision during open enrollment. I used to put together a communications plan including exactly what, when and how we were going to communicate to employees. Share this plan with  your management and operations teams. Define the key messages about the changes and how you want questions handled. I always preferred them to be sent to HR but if you are an HR department of one that might not be an option, so get your managers answering questions how you want them answered.

If you have a communications team, use them. I don’t know about you but I am hardly creative. To me typing something in Comic Sans MS constitutes a fun communication to me. If you use a brokerage firm, see what services they offer, don’t forget, you are paying them commissions.  Smaller broker firms may not offer much else but larger ones may be able to help you draft some communications. And finally, If none of those are an option, there are companies out there who specializes in employee benefit communications. The possibilities are endless.

Make it fun! 

So I promised you that we would talk about getting your employees excited for open enrollment.  I had some employees who couldn’t wait to get into the employee portal and review and make changes. Some call them early adopters… or but to me they were my favorite employees. But not everyone is this enthusiastic about open enrollment, and if you are dealing with a lot of changes that could be perceived as negative you would want to take more of a empathetic tone. You are dealing with many types of employees who want to receive their information in different forms so give it to them. Some want videos, some want one on one time and others just want a newsletter and left alone. Offer lots of variety to keep them engaged.

If you are looking for some fun ideas, try playing some games like benefit bingo during a meeting or watch some funny (yet appropriate) videos that go with your open enrollment theme. If your employees don’t have much use for fun you can still make information interesting and engaging.  If you are sending out a newsletter put in some extra credit questions hidden in it. Then instruct employees to submit their answers to HR and be placed in a drawing for a semi-fabulous prize to see if they read it.  If you have group chats send out one to two sentences about a specific benefit, SMS texting works great for this too. And don’t forget the visual. Posters, postcards are all great, but if you are trying to be more green, change your company screen savers with some information about open enrollment.

Hopefully this post will get you thinking about doing a couple of new and engaging things to refresh your open enrollment. Remember this is a time to showcase what you do offer your employees. Make them excited about the good stuff, have fun where you can and most importantly help them understand why there are changes.

 

 

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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.

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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.