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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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Small Thinking that Holds Small Businesses Back

Our motto at Acacia HR Solutions is that small businesses can do anything big businesses can do – they only have to know how to scale. Often, when I say that to people I get a nod in agreement. I’ve learned however, that nodding in agreement and believing are two very different things.

I spoke to a group of HR practitioners at the California HR conference last week. I had an inordinate amount of small business HR leaders in the room. I consider small business to be 250 employees or less. Most of these practitioners were HR Departments of One or leaders with only an admin or one other support person not solely dedicated to HR. One of the slides in the presentation talks about technology and how lack of technology for small business is no longer a valid excuse for not functioning like a business partner. While the small business market is still an under served market in the HR tech space, it’s so much better than it was even 10 years ago. With freemium and monthly subscription options, there is tech out there that even the smallest of budgets can afford.

Whenever I say this in this presentation, the questions immediately come back asking me for a list of resources. I push back and ask why they haven’t researched any of this themselves and the answer often remains the same.

We assumed there wasn’t anything out there we could afford.

This, and two other beliefs held by small businesses, hold leaders back from being able to serve the business in the way they should. The idea that small businesses can’t do the same things as big businesses is rubbish. They may not be able to do it as fast or at the same level, but that’s not the same as not doing it. Further, small businesses often don’t need to do things at the same level as big business because doing so would be overkill. A performance management system with 18 steps and triggers using artificial intelligence is just not necessary in a 72 person firm.

Small businesses get stuck because they believe there is nothing they can do until they get bigger. Until they have a larger budget. Until they have more resources. Let’s explore three beliefs based on this idea that hold small businesses back, starting with the one I already mentioned.

Lack of Budget Means No Technology/Resources
As mentioned, HR tech available to small businesses is growing. There are companies in nearly every category; payroll, ATS, HCM, documentation and more that either cater solely to small businesses or are lowering their minimum employee numbers allowing small businesses to buy at a much earlier stage. I will be doing an entire series or ebook (yet to be determined) on HR Tech for small businesses to be released around the time of the HR Technology conference (join our mailing list below to receive those posts before they go public).

The same is true for resources. I will often have HR leaders from a 150 employee business reach out and say, “we probably can’t afford your help, but I wanted to ask anyway” only find out that they can in fact, afford our services. Depending on need, and the fact that we work solely in this space, we can usually work within the budget available. There are resources like us available for small businesses that are affordable.

Because We Are Small, We Don’t Need X
In speaking to a potential client recently, I went over how our services provides small businesses a complete HR team. That is, working with us is like having a Chief Human Resources Officer, generalist and recruiter on your team. The CFO responded with, “but I don’t think we need all that.” When I explained how it works, he realized he did need all that and actually could afford it.

This way of thinking is the easiest to fall into. I do it myself with my own business. We’re small so I don’t need an ATS, I can just use spreadsheets. We’re small so we don’t need admin support, our (insert random employee here) can handle it.

The reality is being small doesn’t mean you don’t need certain infrastructure and support systems in place. And being small is definitely not a reason to delay building or growing the people side of the business.

Size is a Disadvantage Instead of an Advantage
I hear this one most when discussing recruiting challenges. “We are small so we can’t pay the most and our benefits aren’t that great so we have a hard time hiring.” If you think that your size is a disadvantage, it’s going to be. There are many candidates who want to work in a small business environment. Many who thrive on the chaos of a startup. If leaders focus on the advantages that small businesses offer instead of the negative, their recruiting and retention programs would change forever.

Again I’ll say and forever I’ll stand by the idea that small businesses, can in fact, do anything big businesses can do. I do have to preach to the choir a bit because I catch myself thinking some of these things myself. But I know when I think about what I can do with the budget and resources I have and that are available to me, I can make it happen.

And so can your business.

 

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Pre- and Post-Hire Team Building Ideas for Startups and Small Businesses

team building activities

A make or break factor of all startups and small businesses is the cohesiveness of the teams being built. Whether the organization is starting with just a few or ramping quickly, getting new hires to work together efficiently and effectively is top of mind for leaders. If the team doesn’t jell, the road to success could be a difficult one.

When the teams are small, even the slightest hiccup caused by employees not working well together can create a much larger ripple effect. This can cause time spent on employee relations that could be used getting a product to market. For this reason, it is crucial that leaders are very deliberate, in both the pre- and post-hire process, to create an environment where new team members can get to know one another and begin to work together in a productive way.

In the last 6 years we have facilitated numerous activities geared towards helping teams establish rapport and find the path that helps them work together better. There are activities that we believe are crucial from day one and regardless of team size. These activities work whether you have 10 employees or 10,000.

Pre-Hire
Culture: I realize it seems like a buzz word at this point, but the reality is, leaders have to think about the kind of culture they are trying to build and be deliberate about hiring people that can thrive in that environment. I ask all founders questions around culture in our first meeting. It is likely they have great vision for their product or service, but we need to understand their vision for the work environment as well. Knowing the vision, helps us hire to it.

Pre-Hire Assessments*: The best hiring decisions are ones who take both skill set and intrinsic characteristics into consideration. That is, hiring processes that look as much at personality fit as they do experience. I talked in a recent post about how we use these with clients. This extra step in the interview process can greatly increase the probability that a new hire will be a great all around fit.

Peer Interviews: As much as possible, I encourage clients to include peer interviews as part of the interview process. This means that a candidate will sit with someone who would be their peer should they be hired. While this could be one more formal interview in the process, we find that making it an informal discussion often works better. As we are structuring interview processes for clients, we encourage them to include a meal with peers, typically lunch, that either breaks up the day for all day interviews or follows a more formal session with a leader. This time together gives both parties a chance to determine if there is any initial chemistry and identify any concerns they may have in working together.

Post-Hire
Post-hire I believe there are two crucial components to team building, getting to know you and how do we move forward together. I’ll break both of those down now.

Getting to Know You Typically called Ice Breakers, getting to know you activities are focused on helping new teams get to know one another faster than might typically happen. There is often a lot of talk about these activities and their effectiveness. We have found that when the activities are targeted and not superficial, meaning we go beyond just finding out someones name and title, they can be extremely effective in starting to build camaraderie and find common ground. These activities should be customized to the team and what it is they need to know about one another in order to work together. A few we like are:

Introduce a Partner: partners ask each other five basic questions and then introduce their partner to the group answering those five questions.

Common Ground: a quick activity that starts to find commonalities. Groups of 5-10 are created and given a short window of time to come up with 10 things they all have in common. These should not be generic things (like we all have arms), but specific.

Getting to Know Communication Preferences: a personal favorite of mine since communication, or lack thereof, can make or break a team, this activity asks questions targeted to help team members understand how one communicate and how they like to be communicated to. Answers are then shared.

Myers Briggs*: people resonate with Myers Briggs. Understanding their personality type and the type of those around them is an eye opening experience. It is an amazing getting to know you exercise that dives deeply into the why and how of people. Understanding type and working with people based on their preferences improves team communication and productivity.

Moving Forward Together
After time getting to know one another it is always important to have some activity that gets people thinking about how they will take all of this knowledge, coupled with the mission of the team and work together. Often for us, it means these activities are customized. Understanding what the leader is trying to achieve with the team, coupled with the personalities on the team we customize an activity (ies) that start to build towards that end. Every team is unique and because these activities must have impact, it’s hard to throw a blanket solution out there that works for everyone. I can tell you a few components that all of our activities have.

Tie In…. it may be a tie in to the key values that have just been shared or the mission that was just rolled out or the culture that the leader is building. Whatever it is, the activity has to have a tie in. Doing trust falls are great if you have trust issues (not really but just go with me), if not, they are a waste of time. Team building activity for the sake of having an activity does no one any good. There must be a purpose.

Facilitation great activities are facilitated by individuals who know not only how to administer the activity, but know how to bring it all together, to combat push back and ensure the activity lands the message it is intended to land. The right facilitator can make or break these activities.

A Visual Reminder after the activity people will be energized for a few days. Over time, work and life happens and people will forget the important lessons learned during your time together. For that reason, our activities always provide a visual that can be hung up in the office or kept on an intranet as a constant reminder of the time spent and the outcomes that decided how we were all going to work together going forward.

We often hear from leaders who say they have conducted team building activities and they didn’t work. They are an easy thing to get wrong. The steps and ideas we have outlined here are all part of a very thorough process that ensures the best teams are hired and become productive. In startup and small business life, the alternative can be costly.

Getting this right means less time doing it over. It means that teams are productive faster. It means quickly building a team bond that in startup life, which can be chaotic and uncertain, will be the glue that holds it all together. Small businesses can not afford to not do this. Throwing teams together and hoping for the best rarely works for long. Being deliberate in these areas is a long term strategy for small businesses who think big.

*We are certified in Hogan Assessments and in administering the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

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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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Does Your Business Need a Social Media Policy

Does Your Business Need a Social Media PolicyOur team spends a lot of time writing and revising handbooks. Many of our clients come to us with no handbook in place or one that hasn’t been updated in several years. For this process we have a standard list of policies that should be in every handbook and then we have a few policies we ask the client to consider based on business, industry or culture.

One policy that usually generates conversation is the social media policy. Our clients usually find themselves in one of two schools of thoughts about social media. They either don’t care entirely and want no policy in place or they want to lock it all down and make sure employees are never on social media at work.

We prefer a policy somewhere in the middle couple with training on effective use.

The reality is employees are going to be on social media. You can lock your work computers down from accessing Facebook or Twitter, but you can’t lock down their personal devices. Social media, like taking a smoke break, has become a routine part of most people’s day and locking it down only make them find some other way to do it. At the same time, giving employee’s free reign, in some environments, can lead to lost productivity or situations where social media is used inappropriately creating larger issues for the company.

Further, as I’ve talked about many times on this blog, small businesses may need their employees to help spread the word about hiring or branding initiatives and locking the networks down only prohibits advertising that could help the company. Your best brand ambassadors are often your current employees and if their social networks are active, you want them talking about your company.

Our compromise is to create a policy that speaks to proper usage of social media. We point out that social media should not take the place of other work being done, but that when time permits we encourage employees to use social media and talk about the company (positively) when the situation allows. The policy highlights a few areas that the company wants their employees talking about; recruiting, fun employee events, big initiatives the company is working on. It also shares areas where social media is not the proper outlet; employee grievances, intellectual property, anything covered by a non-disclosure.

We encourage employers to go over this policy and add training tidbits during employee onboarding. Training employees on the proper use, what will and will not be tolerated can reap major benefits for companies wanting to allow for social connection, but mitigate the risk of that connection causing headaches.

Social media is not an area where an all or nothing approach is the only option. There is middle ground that can and should be found for both parties. Companies recruiting on social can’t expect those employees hired through social channels to live for a locked down social media policy.

Admittedly, I do have clients who still think social media is unnecessary, do not have a social presence as a company and therefore want a completely locked down policy. I can honestly say that in the last two years those companies are and few between and those who used to think this way are starting to change their mind as their marketing departments get more and more involved with social. For the companies still in the social media dark ages, I tell them a prohibitive policy is legal, but don’t expect employees to follow it. Also, expect it to be the first place employees go with grievances because chances are good the company without any presence won’t see it anyway right? It may be legal, but isn’t realistic.

Modeling the behavior you want to see on social, training employees on proper use and having a policy that protects you when things do turn negative is the approach we have seen work time and time again. Middle ground, in this instance, is the best place to be.

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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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Encouraging Risk-Taking in Your Employees

Encouraging Risk-Taking in Your EmployeesI have two newish clients who are embarking on very similar journeys. Both are international companies launching their business, or as spin-off, in the states for the first time. Both have decided to launch in California, because if you can get the people stuff right in CA, you can get it right anywhere and both have called my team in to help get them all setup from a compliance and strategic infrastructure (culture/engagement) perspective.

I mentioned last week about the use of pre-employment personality assessments. I am using Hogan Assessments with both groups to understand how potential employees may act in common workplace situations.

A big talking point for both companies is risk taking. All companies have a different view on risk taking, but for both of these companies, employees need to be risk takers. Both are in the tech space, well funded and have aggressive goals for getting their product to market. They need employees who are confident in their abilities and will take risks to move things forward. This isn’t the case for every position, but for the ones where it matters, candidates who are not risk takers may not fare well.

Luckily for these businesses we are able to assess and have these conversations with candidates prior to hire, but for leaders who have already made the hire and now realize they have a non-risk taker in a role that really calls for one, can risk taking be taught? The answer is a bit complicated but I’ll try to explain.

First, let me say that I don’t think you can change someone’s natural propensity to take risks. I believe everyone has an innate level of risk they are comfortable with. Couple that with the way they were raised and past experience around risk taking and by the time we reach adulthood we are pretty settled in our risk comfort level. I do think, however, that risk taking can be encouraged…and that is the biggest thing leaders can do.

Create a Safe Space
One of the things that both leaders I am working with are doing is ensuring that candidates know from conversation one that risk taking is encouraged and expected. The environment they create for employees asks them to take risks in their work and rewards the behavior even if the risk results in failure.

Make it Ok to Fail
This is a big one. Employees may feel comfortable taking risks, but if they know they will be criticized or worse if that risk fails, even the most risk agreeable will hold back. Risk taking has to be rewarded in the face of failure. Leaders must strike a balance between dealing with the failure in a way that doesn’t discourage employees fron taking risks in the future.

Model the Behavior
If leaders want to employ risk takers they must be one themselves. Modeling the behavior you expect is the bet way to encourage not only risk taking, but any other characteristic you encourage in employees. If employees can see leaders take risks and fail they are much more likely to be willing to do it themselves.

Risk taking as a common characteristic in environments that need it can be a difference maker. It is a characteristic that is easy to identify in the pre-hire phase with the right assessment or interview questions. It’s also an easy characteristic to model and encourage for the leader who is willing to make it a priority.

Do you work in a company where risk taking is necessary? How do you or your leaders encourage employees to take risks?

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