Unconscious Bias and How it’s Keeping Your From the Best Talent


In an HR Facebook group recently, a friend asked for ideas to combat unconscious biases. She noticed her hiring managers heading over to LinkedIn to check out profile pictures of potential candidates. Earlier this week I spoke at the PIHRA Burbank’s monthly chapter meeting where I talked about diversity recruiting with a special point made about unconscious biases. I wrote about an event I attended a few weeks ago that also touched on the way our subconscious mind works.

I guess you could say I have neuroscience on the brain.

Ha, see what I did there. To be honest though, this stuff fascinates me. I find our brains fascinating (some brains more than others). I can not remember the stat that was shared at the recent event and searching the internet provides inconsistent data, but somewhere between 80-95% of our daily decisions, actions and responses are controlled by our subconscious mind. We aren’t even aware of them.


It is for this reason that unconscious biases are keeping us from working together as well as we could and keeping us from potentially hiring the absolute best talent for the role.

It’s the whole Joe vs Jose thing.

The idea that a person with something other than a headshot for their LinkedIn profile can not be taken seriously.

The natural tendency of all of us to gravitate towards people who look, think and act like us.

And it’s making our board rooms and our workplaces look very similar and miss out on amazing opportunities to move to higher levels of performance that often come with diversity of thought.

I’m currently developing training around this topic for a client and the research is amazing and overwhelming. We are all guilty of judging, whether consciously or not, others for the way they look, think, act or talk. We are guilty of making assessments before we really have enough data. We are guilty of overlooking someone because of demographic info. Our brains process information so fast we aren’t even aware.

And if we are aware we certainly wouldn’t admit it.

So expect a bit more from me on this topic. Not only do I find it fascinating, but I truly believe it is hindering our hiring processes to the point of crippling them. And we don’t even know it.

Have you battled unconscious bias in your workplace? What are some things that have worked for you to overcome?

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Unbridled Joy and Why We Need More

Chewbacca mask

There is something contagious about hearing someone laugh. I’m not talking about a little “ha ha”, but a full belly laugh that may or may not include snorting. A quick search of YouTube turns up thousands of videos of individuals laughing hysterically. I dare you to watch any of them and not laugh along. Even if you do not understand the joke. Even if you didn’t think it was funny. You can not help but laugh with someone who can not stop laughing themselves.

Case in point, the viral video of the sweet lady who bought herself a Chewbacca mask for her birthday. If you haven’t watched it, you must. Seriously, I’ll wait.

The video went viral shortly after Candace posted it and has since caught the attention of large media outlets and even Kohl’s (where she bought the original mask). The video is just a lady showing off her new purchase and laughing and yet it’s gone viral. Why?

Unbridled joy.

You can not help but laugh when you watch it. You can not help share in her joy. Her wildly expressive, pure joy. She warms your heart with her overwhelming happiness at something so simple. It’s really good for our soul.

And that’s why we need more of it.

Most of us are not getting enough of this. Most of our workplaces are sucking the unbridled joy right out of the air rather than encouraging it. We focus on happiness as we think it relates to employee engagement, but miss out on opportunities to encourage unbridled joy.

I don’t think you can force it. I doubt Candace walked into Kohl’s, saw that mask and thought “yep I’m about to make myself a viral video that makes millions laugh.” I believe she truly found joy in the mask and wanted to share it.

So the next time an employees walks into your office with the look of pure joy on their face listen to their story. The next time you see a group of employees huddled around a computer laughing hysterically at some silly video on the interwebs, join in and share a laugh rather than focusing on how unproductive they are being.

That laughter may just be good for your soul too.


Recruiting: Is Fast or Right the Goal?


I have been doing a bit more recruiting lately than usual. Several outsourcing clients have had openings, I am still on contract with the University of Illinois and two of my longtime blog subscribers have trusted me with openings.

I almost feel like a full time recruiter again with all these open requisitions.

When I get to work on multiple positions at once, I am reminded of the differences in hiring managers. Moreover, the differences in the planning process and sense of urgency of hiring managers.

I explain to individuals when they sign on that I am not an agency recruiter. I do not have a database of candidates that I can pull from and give you resumes tomorrow. I do have a vast network and have kept resumes from all positions over the years, but I don’t just work on one type of position, so the chances that I will have exactly the person you need without a little sourcing first is slim.

I take the job, understand the role and culture and, unless someone I’ve talked to before comes to mind, I start with a fresh search. This means the process may not be as fast as someone dealing with an agency recruiter who focuses on one niche is used to.

And some hiring managers do not like that.

Regardless of the recruiter and their process, I am often taken aback by the hiring manager who wants resumes immediately. For niche positions and non-niche positions. For positions that candidates are a dime a dozen and for those that take a specialized skill set that few have, some hiring managers expect resumes within minutes of opening the req. And that tells me a few things.

That they prioritize fast over right.

That they never planned to have this opening and are panicked about what the hole is going to do to productivity.

That they are worried that they are going to have to pick up the work left by the leaving individual and do not want to do it at any cost.

That isn’t to say that right and fast never happen together, it’s just rare. A niche recruiter working in the exact space of your open role may very well be able to produce resumes within hours that fit your culture. But most things done right take a bit of time. Any recruiter will tell you that.

There is a popular meme floating around social media that talks about how hiring managers think recruiters go on LinkedIn and it just starts raining candidates. It doesn’t. And it certainly doesn’t rain qualified candidates.

I’ve enjoyed working on these positions because most of these hiring managers have focused on right. Several of them have even said those words. “Sabrina, I want to get this right even if it takes a while.”

So refreshing.

I think it’s important to think about. What is the goal? If fast and right can’t be mutually exclusive, which is it? And saying right because you know that is the correct answer even though that isn’t what you want is cheating.

Often the response I hear is that right is preferred but fast is necessary. That’s really a whole other discussion isn’t it. Poor planning on your part and all….

For business, especially small businesses, struggling to find and keep the right talent because they are recruiting fast, sit down, do a thorough workforce planning session and allow yourself the time to hire right.

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Inconsistency: A Small Business Killer


I am delivering the first drafts of three process revamps this week. The first, an interview process revamp complete with shiny new interview guides. The second, a performance management process revamp which completely changes the thought process behind performance management towards career development. The third is a disciplinary process revamp which moves the company from a punitive legacy system to one that not all leaders are going to embrace.

I’m nervous about delivering that third one the most.

As I was putting all of these presentations together and delivering the first two, I noticed myself writing and saying one word over and over again.



Treating everyone with consistency.

Asking candidates a consistent set of questions.

Handling disciplinary issues with consistent consequences.

I realized in my years of working with small businesses that this is the word that I say the most and the word that they do the least.

The younger the company or the farther away they are from being profitable, the more inconsistency I see. I often hear the excuse that “we are a small business and have to do what we have to in order to survive.” If that means paying people salaries that have no rhyme or reason (or consistency) then so be it.

If that means firing one person but not another, so be it. If that means hiring one candidate with certain qualifications one time, but not the next, then that’s what it means.

And it gets them in trouble. Inconsistency leads to so many issues. The longer the inconsistency, the harder it is to start being consistent. The longer the inconsistency, the greater the risk of legal action. The longer the inconsistency, the longer it takes to actually build a productive work environment.

I know small business leader cringe when I tell them that they need to put policies in place from the get go that they are going to follow consistently. At the start of a business they have other things to worry about, but not thinking about them and just winging it as things come up is exactly what leads to inconsistency.

Not everything can be on a case by case basis. In fact, most things should not be.

It doesn’t mean processes can’t change, they can. It simply means that leaders, both current and future, have a guide for handling situations during all phases of the employee life cycle.

Without that guide, the inconsistency can lead to problems that most small businesses can not afford.

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HR 2020 Transformation: Interview with #SHRM16 Speaker Scott Hamilton


In January I participated in the first DisruptHR Orange County event. If you aren’t familiar with DisruptHR, it is a Ted-esque style event with speakers in the HR/Recruiting world speaking for five minutes with 20 slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds. For even the most seasoned of speakers it’s a bit nerve-racking. After much shuffling of speakers, I was asked to close out the night. Several other speakers asked if it bothered me to go last.

It didn’t.

By the last speaker the kinks have been worked out, I have had 10 other people to watch and learn from and at an event where alcohol flows, the last speaker could mess up immensely and lowered inhibitions likely make the audience a bit more forgiving.

I was happy to go last. What I wouldn’t want to do was go first.

This event is where I first met Scott Hamilton. The guy who did go first.

And then he passed out underwear.

Seriously, if you haven’t attended one of these events, you need to.

But back to Scott. When the SHRM social team asked us bloggers to interview a speaker before the annual conference I reviewed the list and was happy to see Scott listed. Scott is now helping me plan DisruptHR Los Angeles and I thought this interview would be a great opportunity to get to know him and his work a bit better. Scott is leading a Mega Session titled: HR 2020 Transformation: Next Practices in HR Strategy, Leadership, and Business Contribution

Here’s what he had to say.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your business: I am CEO of the Executive Next Practices Institute, a research and forum organization for C-suite leaders that focuses on emerging trends and the development of “next practice” solutions. I am also managing director of Nextworks Strategy- a top advisory firm that helps organizations improve their strategy, leadership performance, customer centricity and alignment. Our programs build the internal capability of companies to execute and thrive.

Your session description talks about “eliminating the legacy and silo-ed organization thinking”. Why do you think that is important for HR practitioners? Organization silos are alive and well. So is a “legacy mindset” that translates to “this is how we have always done it here”. Both contribute to poor communications, mis-alignment and lower performance. We work with organizations to restructure and align them for maximum performance.

Sidebar: while many of us bloggers roll our eyes a bit at buzzwords like silos, Scott’s right. They do exist and hinder communication.

What is a “next practices” outcome? Too often leaders “benchmark” against others. A best practices approach simply leads you to being on the same level of potential mediocrity as your competitor. Next Practices is about finding your optimal way of doing things- new processes, practices and behaviors that will dramatically change your business for the better and create true differentiation. We have hundreds of examples of businesses using these techniques to drive productivity and efficiency results for extraordinary ROI.

Read that second line again: “A best practices approach simply leads you to being on the same level of potential mediocrity as your competitor.” Brilliant

Why do you think HR Practitioners struggle with this? HR is keenly aware of organization dysfunction- they see it and deal with it everyday. The challenge is to get traction across the leadership suite to do something about it. This is why we often start with a strategic offsite to align the entire leadership team to all the issues and identify a way forward.

This is your second year doing this topic and this year you have a Mega session slot. Why do you think this topic is resonating so well with conference attendees? This is actually our third presentation and the demand for this topic has been very high given all the disruption in business and government entities. Businesses are being “uberized” seemingly overnight, driving the need for adaptability, speed and continuous innovation across the entire organizations. The next practices approach is a proactive way of driving change and create buy-in at all levels of the organization.

What else should attendees know about your topic? Attendees should expect to gain both strategic and tactical methods and specific examples to help their organization “move beyond the status quo”. We will cover all aspects of “next” organizations- talent, leadership, financial, community and engagement. They will uncover practical steps they can immediately take to engage their leadership team and contribute real business value via these techniques.

I’m excited about Scott’s session. Scott was gracious enough to extend an invitation to me a few weeks ago to one the ENP Institute’s monthly events. I wrote about my experience on LinkedIn and look forward to attending again in the future.

If you are planning your schedule for SHRM16, think about adding Scott’s session to your schedule. I will be there and would love to meet you.

See you in a few weeks.


Do Rehires Really Work Out the Second Time?


At one point or another every business faces the decision of whether they should consider hiring a former employee. Sometimes the answer is obvious, like when that former employee was fired the first time, but other times the right answer isn’t so evident.

I’m not sure there is a definitive answer. I believe that rehires should be considered on a case by case basis. I believe this even though my experience tells me that they typically don’t work.

I put the question out to my subscribers last week and received mixed reactions. A few HR practitioners stated that they would be happy to bring back high performing employees who left on good terms. Others had bad experiences with rehires that left a bad taste in their mouth.

One particular subscriber shared a story about how past performance was a good predictor of future performance, but because the person was well liked by leadership, she was rehired anyway.

We had a “star” employee who worked as an educator. When the program grant ended, she was placed in a front desk receptionist position. She was a great employee when she was at work but she had an absenteeism problem. The President loved her and bent over backwards to give her whatever she wanted. The employee took advantage of the situation. After a few months, the star employee decided to leave our agency for another. A few years passed and she applied for the job she left at my agency. The president heard she applied and I was ordered to rehire her. During the background check I found that she lied about having a degree. She stuck to her story even though she was presented with the evidence to the contrary. This didn’t matter. The president rehired her. The employee did well for a while and then the absenteeism started again. She lasted less than 6 months and left again.

Even though this story comes to mind whenever this practitioner thinks about rehires, she still believes that they should be considered on a case by case basis.

I’ve seen policies that run the gamut from absolutely no rehires under any circumstances to rehires only in very specific circumstances. If your business is considering a rehire, here are a few things to think about.

Why did they leave?
Under what circumstances did they leave the first time. Was it their choice or yours? Did they have performance issues leading up to their departure even if that departure was on their terms? Were they angry?? Were you? Don’t just think about the few days surrounding their departure, but the 3 months or so prior. How did they handle themselves and how were they as an employee leading up to their last day?

Why do they want to come back?
Was the grass not greener? Did they realize that the work you offer is better? Have they moved on for a few years, gained new experience and skills and are now ready to bring that to a higher level than when they left? Do they miss the free bagels? What makes them want to come back now?

What has changed?
If the person left the organization because the leadership was awful (in their opinion) and that leadership hasn’t changed then they probably won’t be happy the second time. Further, if the company itself has changed, in culture or ideology, then the rehire’s personality may no longer be a fit even if their skill set is.

Rehires are tricky and my experience does show that their success rate is small, but I don’t think that means a no tolerance approach is necessary. Leaders should review each rehire on a case by case basis, always err on the side of caution and make the best hire for the business based on culture and performance. It can be hard to leave former relationships out of the equation as seen in the example from my reader above, but looking at the rehire as every other candidate can help make the best decision each time.

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Using Social Good as an Employee Perk

social good

One of the challenges facing small businesses and especially startups is finding the right mix of benefits and perks to offer that will attract talent and not break the bank. It’s hard to always know what will be competitive in the market place, but more and more, employees are looking for perks that help with quality of life.

An interesting perk that I’m seeing crop up more and more is the idea of social good. That is, companies who contribute a portion of their profits to the good of mankind. Many of these social good projects are directed at clean water, clean air and anything that impacts on a global scale. I’ve also seen companies who focus on their local community and even switches charitable organizations out based on who employees are supporting.

And employees love it.

More importantly, candidates love it.

The great thing about offering social good as a perk is that it can start small and grow as the company grows. It can be done in many different ways from a portion of profits to allowing employees time off to volunteer. It can be highly organized or on a case by case basis.

Most people want to be part of something that is contributing to the greater good. They may not have the means to do it themselves, but working for a company that does allows them to contribute just by way of working there.

I’m not suggesting it’s going to be a tipping point in a candidate’s decision to choose one employer over another or an employee’s decision to stay or go, but I do think it’s an added bonus. All other things being equal, it could sway a decision.

One of the things I’m sure of is that employees want to take pride in their work and their employer. Knowing that their work contributes, even if in some small part, to the benefit of our planet and the people in it helps instill that pride.

It is not a cure for a difficult workplace or bad leaders, but when the wheels are moving forward nicely, adding opportunities to contribute to the social good can deepen the loyalty that employees already have.

And loyal employees are worth their weight in gold.

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Are You Solving the Wrong Problem?

problem solver

Just before the end of the year open enrollment period I received a call from a CEO of a company with 75 employees. He stated that he thought they might need to take a look at their benefit and perk package as a whole and thought that the open enrollment period might be a good time to do it. After reviewing their current package I found it to be fairly consistent with what companies of his size offer and therefore pretty competitive in the market place. I suggested I come in and talk to employees to see what they thought and if there were any other specifics that they might be looking for. I had a suspicion that the leader might be thinking that better benefits and perks would fix a problem and I wanted to find out what that was.

Turns out I was right. He was trying to fix a problem, but it was the wrong one.

When I got into the thick of the issues he thought he was having it was that employees were missing a lot of work and were saying that it was because they were dealing with sick kid issues or life issues that made them late or calling off altogether. In his mind, offering perks that may help with their life situation may allow them to better navigate those issues and get to work on time and often.

Noble, but short sighted.

As I started talking to employees I learned that the problem wasn’t with the benefits or the perks and how that correlated to their life issues. The problem was rather opposite. Employees felt like the benefits and the perks were rather good and for some, the only thing keeping them coming to work at all. You see, all employees reported up to one leader who reported to the CEO. This leader, to put it nicely, was a tyrant. I only had to talk to a few employees to learn that this was the case. All other meetings after that just confirmed what the others had told me.

Employees weren’t missing work because of life issues that the companies benefits and perks could fix. They were missing work because they dreaded coming in and working with this leader. After reviewing the turnover rate for the previous 12 months I could tell this had been going on for a while.

That CEO was trying to fix the wrong problem.

Sidebar: there are two things I dread as a consultant – having a company outsource their HR to me when they have someone in the position who is now going to be displaced and having to tell a CEO that they are out of touch with what is going on in their business and have a problem with a leader they value.

I delicately explained to the CEO that I thought his benefits and perk package was fair, consistent with competitors and actually a draw for his business. I then explained, even more delicately, that the problem may be more internal….as in that General Manager running the business… in he’s really difficult to work with… in he’s creating a revolving door… in, that’s the problem we need to fix.

And it’s a much bigger one.

To be honest, I think he suspected. I think, like many leaders, he didn’t want to believe that it could be the problem. He had hired this person, trained them and considered them a protege. He didn’t want to believe that he could be the reason people were leaving and not showing up to work.

You may look at this and wonder how he could not know or wonder why he would choose to ignore, but the reality is this happens every single day. Especially when it comes to leaders. As we try to work on employee engagement, our approach is often to throw as many perks at an employee as we can before realizing that any real issues likely stem from poor relationships with leaders.

It’s takes leaders getting out, talking to their people and asking the right questions to understand any problems that may be happening. It takes really listening and, maybe most importantly, having no sacred cows to get to the heart of issues and ensure you are solving the right problems.

Sacred cows. I could write for days about those and the problems they create.

What problems are you solving today? Are they the right ones?

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Communicating Rejection to Internal Candidates


When it comes to candidate experience, many companies fall short. There is either a lack of communication, no communication or the wrong type of communication. Rather than keep people updated throughout the process and being honest with them about why they weren’t chosen, we prefer the silent treatment. It’s easier to not answer the phone and delete emails asking for feedback than it is to use our words.

Pretty sad actually.

What’s worse, I don’t think we do much better with internal candidates. Case in point, this text I received from a colleague a few weeks ago.

“Hey, do you think it’s wrong that my boss didn’t tell me I wasn’t chosen for a promotion until the day the new hire showed up and I had to show him around?”

Yes. Yes I do think that’s wrong. Yet it happens every single day in businesses just like yours. You, the reader who is shaking your head at this text works for a company who may have done this. You may have even done this.

Our internal candidates should be treated with the utmost respect and dignity. They are, after all, already employees of ours. They have already put in long days and countless hours working for our business. They have already proven themselves worthy otherwise they shouldn’t be interviewing for a promotion.


This is pretty simple to fix but does take conversation savvy. There has to be a reason that the internal candidate did not get the promotion. There is a reason that the external candidate was more qualified than the internal.

So here’s how you fix a lack of internal communication for internal candidates.

You tell them the reason. Whatever it is. However hard it may be for them to hear. You tell them. I assume it’s a legitimate reason based on skills and abilities so the easiest thing to do is tell them. Tell them where they fell short and how to get there. Bonus points for telling them how you are going to help them get there. Triple bonus points for putting an actual plan in place to do so.

If you can’t be honest about the reason that an internal candidate wasn’t chosen, maybe your reason isn’t fair. If it has something to do with anything other than performance, skills or abilities you may need to look again. If it has something to do with performance issues that you have never addressed with the individual, like the email I received from Tim, then shame on you 100 times over.

You know that promotion I went for and had the interview with my boss? Well today, a month later, he tells me that they aren’t choosing me because of a mistake I made 4 months ago. I knew it was a mistake and I knew it cost the company money, but my boss never addressed it with me. In fact, I told him that I knew I messed up and he shrugged it off and just told me to “go fix it.” So now they tell me all these months later it was a big deal. Why didn’t they tell me that when it happened or before interviewing me?


All fair questions Tim. Ones I can’t answer. They probably have reasons though and think they are reasonable.

They aren’t. Might be time to find something else.

Which is exactly what should and does happen when we can’t communicate to internal candidates appropriately. They find someone who will.

And leave you with another position to fill.

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Preparing Your Business for the Minimum Wage Increase


What does a picture of an Olympic skater have to do with minimum wage increases? Simple. They both require preparation. And not just the day before the deadline preparation, but planning and execution months before.

And if you think I’m only talking about California, you are in denial.

In 2016, thirteen states and our nation’s capital all enacted minimum wage increases with effective dates of either January or July 1st. While this is a larger amount of states than we normally see, I predict that it is a trend that will continue. As pay issues across the board continue to receive a high level of attention, minimum wage will always be top of mind.

Minimum wage increases affect companies with a large amount of entry level hourly workers the most. If 90% of your employee base is made up of entry level, hourly workers, a minimum wage increase could equal a big expense.

Which is why it’s so important to plan in advance.

Here are a few things I encourage small business owners to do in order to prepare for any potential minimum wage increases.

Know Thy Finances:
I’m amazed at how many business owners (including the “smart” one typing these words) aren’t completely up to date on their financial situation. They aren’t sure what they can truly afford or what is going to break the bank. It will be important for companies with employees to understand every aspect of their bottom line to know the amount of wages they will be able to afford.

Get Creative:
Can you adjust hours, use automation or increase prices to consumers now and incrementally that will help you pay for the minimum wage increase? You may have to increase wages, but can you also find cost savings elsewhere to offset. Start playing with scenarios now to help you have a plan of attack when it actually happens.

Hire Right:
Paying someone a $15/hour minimum wage may not impact your business as much if that person is producing consistently, efficiently and effectively. Out of all the people who looking for $15/hour jobs, some of them are better workers than others. Put a hiring process in place that ensures the best hire, every time.

Don’t overlook this point. Few things are more important in business (actually maybe nothing is more important) than hiring the right people.

Invest in Your People:
It can be extremely frustrating to work in a company with a revolving door of employees. It’s frustrating for employees and leaders at the same time. If you are going to have to raise wages with your, hopefully, well hired employees, then make an investment in them after the fact so they stick around. You may even find that paying higher than minimum wage and training them at a higher level allows you to hire less employees who produce at a higher level.

The point is simple. If small business leaders assume that the only thing they can do about a minimum wage increase is close their doors then they are missing a real opportunity to make creative changes, invest in employees and build an even stronger business. It is a setback? Sure, it could be. But one thing small business owners are notorious for is being tenacious in the face of adversity. Why would a pay increase be any different?

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