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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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Why Challenging Employees May Be Good For Them

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

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

And I wasn’t disappointed.

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

It’s rather powerful no? Here’s why.

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

Let me give you an example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It may be exactly what your employee needs to hear.

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Lack of Brand Awareness – The Small Business Recruiting Killer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dealing with Big Personalities in Small Environments

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

Now on to it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SHRM 2017 Small Business Session Guide – Download Now!

SHRM Small Biz Session Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Ways to Engage the Introverts on Your Team

engaging introverts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sometimes #WorkHuman is Simply About Remembering the Fundamentals

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

And I mean every one.

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

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

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

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

Basic communication fundamentals.

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

Respect.

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

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

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

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

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

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The First 90 Days – A SHRM17 Interview with Amy Hirsch Robinson

The First 90 Days, A SHRM17 Interview“We spend so much time and talent finding the right person, why not spend as much effort on keeping them?” This is the line that stuck with me the most during my interview with Amy Hirsh Robinson. Her session, The First 90 Days Will Make Or Break Your New Hire, will be presented at the SHRM Annual Conference in New Orleans.

I could not agree more.

I like to say that onboarding starts in the recruitment process and lasts through the employees first several months or even year into their employment. Yet, as Amy points out, we tend to throw them to the wolves too soon and lose them almost before we even really have them.

Amy points out that all employees have an onboarding experience. Whether you have a formal onboarding program or not, they experience something. It is important to make sure that experience or imprint as Amy calls it, is a positive one. As we know, once the impression is made, it is hard to change it.

Amy will go through the details of what makes a great onboarding program in her session, but sites generational context as an important factor. Each generation in the workforce has different expectations for work, communication and how they are treated, explained Amy. It’s important to understand who you are hiring and tailor onboarding programs to each generation.

The biggest challenge companies face according to Amy is looping managers in about the importance of onboarding. In my work, I find that onboarding is often seen as a touchy-feely that just isn’t necessary. As we move more and more of a younger generation into the workforce this mindset is going to have to change. It isn’t touchy-feely, it is a must have that helps employees integrate properly into the workplace.

Amy says her session is suited for anyone and she gives examples throughout for both large and small businesses.

Check out this and her other sessions throughout the SHRM conference.

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Are You Calculating Holiday Pay Correct?

Are You Calculating Holiday Pay Correctly?I chalk these kinds of posts up to the unsexy side of HR. I’m actually not convinced there is a sexy side of HR, but if there were, this type of talk would definitely not be on it. However, much of our work with small businesses is compliance heavy. With Memorial Day coming up, which always feels like the start of the holiday season for me since there is a holiday every other month or so after it, we thought it would be beneficial to cover some commonly asked questions we receive from our clients about holiday pay. And since we are California based, we will be covering it from not only a federal, but CA perspective as well.

First and foremost, there are no federal or state laws that require a company observe federal holidays or give time off to employees. Obviously, retailers and other companies are open for business during many US holidays and can require employees to work during that time. However, common practice is that most companies in the US do observe at least some of the federal holidays and offer holiday pay for those days.

Second, if a company chooses to allow employees time off for a holiday and pays them for that day, the pay is not considered in the calculation of overtime. Let’s take Memorial Day as an example. An employee may be allowed to take Monday off and be paid 8 hours of holiday pay for the day. If that employee then works Tuesday through Saturday, 8 hours each day, they would be paid 48 hours of pay at their regular rate of pay.

The words to focus on in overtime rules is hours worked. Overtime is calculated for hours worked over 40 in a work week (over 8 hours in a day in California). Since holiday pay is pay provided for hours not actually worked, it is not figured into overtime calculations.

Third, an employer can give holidays off, but choose not to pay. In this instance, the rules are different for hourly vs salaried workers. Hourly workers do not have to be paid for the day, however, salaried workers do. If a salaried worker works any hours during the week of the holiday, they must be paid for the holiday as well.

Fourth, employers can attach conditions to holiday pay. Common conditions are that the employee must work their scheduled day before and after the holiday in order to receive pay for the day off. Any condition can be put in place as long as it is not discriminatory to one group.

Where employers could get in trouble is in having a policy they don’t follow. While there are no laws stating that employers must give time off for holidays or have to pay for that time off, there are cases where employers had a written policy they didn’t follow. If your company has a written policy stating that it will pay double-time to employees who work on a holiday, you need to be sure that is happening.

Finally, holiday observance and pay can be a marketing tool businesses use to recruit. Because it is common place for most businesses to observe the holiday and pay employees for it, one who doesn’t may be behind the curve in attracting the talent it needs. Giving employees time off, whether on the actual holiday or another day in exchange, is a great way to tell employees you care about them as individuals and not just employees.

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How to Be an Innovative Leader

How to Be an Innovative LeaderA few years ago, an HR Department of One leader reached out to see if I could serve as a coach to her over the course of several months to, in her words, “help her be more innovative”. When she and I discussed what she needed, I asked her if being more innovative was her only metric. It was. I then asked her how we would measure that. She had to bring in her CEO to answer. He explained that he thought Susan could use some help in thinking of new ways to do things, in offering new ideas and in being more original with her ideas.

Oh boy.

I then asked a series of questions around the areas of HR he felt like she could be more “innovative”. I asked if he felt like things were truly broken or if he felt like they were running ok, but wondered if there was a more “innovative” way of doing them. He explained that he wasn’t sure, but just thought she needed to be more innovative and was glad I was there to help her do that.

I’m gonna double down on that oh boy.

Innovative is a word we throw around like strategic. Especially in HR. We all want to be strategic. We want to be cutting edge and new. Fast and effective. To be seen as a high contributing member of the team. To do all of that, we think we have to be innovative.

But innovation is like the random kid videos that go viral. You can’t always plan for it. You can try to think outside the box and create new things, but that doesn’t always go as planned.

And what’s more, it isn’t always necessary.

So here’s what we did. I agreed to come in and help the HR leader audit her current practices and, in the process, gain a better understanding of the workplace. Through this audit and time together I would see if there were areas that I thought could use some improvement. If there were we would work on them together or, if they were outside my expertise, I would point her in the direction of something (content, another consultant, technology etc) that could help. That process really sums up my advice for “how to be more innovative”.

First, look at everything you are already doing to make sure it makes sense. Innovative leaders are often questioning whether things could be done better, more efficient or faster. And these questions are always happening. Put your major processes on a “do they still make sense” rotation. Pick a time frame that makes sense depending on how fast your business changes and review the process to ensure it is still the best process.

Second, there is strength in numbers. In the HR community, there are so many people willing to share ideas or help. Consultants and agency recruiters are only able to do what they do faster than others because of the network they have. The groups I am in, whether on social media or in person, and the events I attend (conferences etc) are a constant treasure trove of new ideas. Hearing how others do things always helps me question whether my clients could benefit from changes made. Sometimes, things are running well in a particular area, benefits for example, but then someone in one of these groups will mention a benefit they offer and it will trigger great ideas for my clients. My clients think I’m innovative, but what I really am, is connected. HR pro’s, especially those in an HR Department of One, need to connect with others so they feel they aren’t going it alone.

Third, and maybe the hardest for some, is to constantly be thinking about technology. I have a client who does this well. They are always looking for new and emerging tech to try out to see if it can help them be more efficient. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and they realize they wasted time setting something up that doesn’t work, but in a world where nearly every technology option has a freemium offering, they wasted time and nothing else. HR shouldn’t be afraid to try technology either, and it doesn’t always have to be big technology. HRIS systems and applicant tracking software is great, but so are apps to help you control your email or calendar. Small innovation is still innovation.

The point is, innovation can not be forced. An HR leader is not developing new products for Apple. They are ensuring that a company is legally compliant and that processes and systems are in place for employees to have the best experience possible. Sometimes the solution to these things are simple and that thing that has been working for years is still the best option. It doesn’t hurt to question, consult with others and leverage technology, which may lead to innovative solutions, but pure innovation shouldn’t always be the goal.

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