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Three Ways to Show Employees You Care During the Holiday Season

Discover Three Ways on How to Recognize, Engage and Show Employees You Care in the Workplace.

The holiday season is upon us. I have no idea where January through October went, but alas, here we are. The holidays bring a mixed bag of emotions. For some they are a joyous occasion of family and relaxation. For others they are a dreaded time of loneliness, bitterness or heartbreak. While it might be preferable for workplaces to gloss over the holidays and continue on as though it were any other time of year, it isn’t practical.

One thing the holiday season does for all of us is give us an opportunity to show our appreciation for the good in our lives. For small businesses, that appreciation is often centered around the employees that have worked so hard in the preceding months to help the business get where it is. Or, those employees who have stuck it out even though the preceding months have been less than desirable. This time, maybe more than any other in the year, allows small business leaders the opportunity to show appreciation and that you really do care about your employees as people, not just cogs in the wheel.

Showing employees that you care doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. Often gentle, subtle reminders are best. The goal is to be deliberate about the fact that the holidays mean something different for everyone and that you as a leader, are empathetic to whatever that is for each employee.

Here are a few ways that leaders can show they care during the holidays with examples from our current client groups of businesses between 9-75 employees.

Help Them Hold Their Traditions
One year a client invited me to a Thanksgiving lunch with he and his executive team. During the lunch, he asked his team members to go around the table and share their most treasured holiday traditions that they share with their family or friends. Each had fun stories of Christmas morning breakfast or driving around looking at houses lit up for the season. These stories not only helped the team to get to know each other on a personal level, but as the leader could he would recall these stories and do his part to ensure that team members were able to keep them. For example, one team member talked about Christmas Eve breakfast and how the entire team pitched in to help make one thing to serve and then they all sat around eating. The leader recalled that last Christmas Eve he had called this team member during what was likely this breakfast time to talk about a client issue that had come up. After realizing that, he asked his executive team to consider what they would do this year to avoid calling this team member during his Christmas Eve breakfast.

He did this for his entire executive team. For each, he found ways to make sure they were able to honor their long held traditions without the worry of being interrupted by work.

Remember Thanksgiving and Christmas Aren’t the Only Two Holidays
I’m guilty of this one. There are so many holidays that happen in November and December outside of Thanksgiving and Christmas. As our workplaces become more of a melting pot of cultures, our employees are more likely to celebrate things that the business doesn’t shut down for. Traditionally, small businesses shut down for a day or two at Thanksgiving and the same for Christmas. Yet, some employees may not celebrate either of these holidays and would prefer time off at a different time. Last year a client with the most diverse employee population of all of our groups asked what they could do to accommodate everyone. I suggested that rather than state that an employee had to take off Thanksgiving, give employees a day to use anytime between Thanksgiving and New Years. Of course, their work allows for that and not all environments do. For them it worked brilliantly. The leader went to his team and told them that they all had 6 days to use between Thanksgiving and New Years that would be considered paid holidays. Employees who celebrate the traditional American holidays took two days at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, but the others were able to take the days around holidays that meant something to them. It worked beautifully and let employees know that the leader cares about all of the holidays and his employee’s ability to celebrate them.

More WorkFlex
I have clients who shut down between Christmas and New Year’s while others encourage employees to use built up vacation time to extend their time off. Many businesses face a slowdown during the holiday season making it the best time to encourage employees to take a break. Other clients do not necessarily encourage more time off, but they do soften the rules around telecommuting during this time. One client needed one tech support person to work Christmas Eve on the off chance there was a call. The first few years it was a fight for all employees to figure out who was going to be that person who had to be the only person working on that day. Eventually, the leader invested in the technology needed to allow the employee to work Christmas Eve from home. Now, the employees rotate and even when it’s their year they really aren’t too upset because they can be at home with their family and still be available to take a call if one comes in. This added workflex arrangement has made working on this day much more bearable.

All of these are simple things that can be done at little to no expense yet they go a long way towards letting employees know you care about them. For a time that is supposed to be filled with peace and joy, the added impact of feeling that from an employer can create a sense of loyalty that will be hard to shatter.

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Finding the Best Benefits Broker for Your Small Business

Finding the Best Benefits Broker for Your Small Business

Somewhere along my career I fell into benefits. I say that because most people don’t sign up to be in Human Resources to spend their Autumn combing through spreadsheets and meeting with the CFOs to have sometimes difficult conversations about the renewals. They also probably never dreamed they would be staying at the office late on Christmas Eve loading payroll deduction files or New Years Eve data entering Vision Enrollments. These are just a couple of examples of what I dealt with in the early part of my career prior to innovations in technology and before I realized the true power of a competent benefit broker and what they can bring to an organization.

Small businesses don’t have the time to get multiple benefit quotes let alone dive into their plan’s experience ratio, but they should. As a small business it’s also hard to play the numbers game when it comes to keeping costs down, and you can be stuck paying higher premiums because of one bad claim. If fact, many businesses big and small, just keep staying in the same plan year over year because it’s easier administratively, but little do they know their networks are lacking or employees don’t value the benefit or believe it’s too costly.

That is where benefit brokers can come in and help your small business manage the ins and the outs of your plan. You want a broker who understands that you are a small business and what risks you are able to take. You also what someone that provides more than the basic services of renewals, because let’s face it, benefits are so much more complex than they were even 5 years ago. It’s a constantly changing environment and the right broker can help steer you through the storm. So let’s get started on how you can go about and get the best benefit broker.

Get Referrals
Get referrals from your Human Resource network on who they would recommend for a benefit broker. I have worked with two of the largest US benefit brokerage firms but one got the job done a lot better than the other, and I sing their praises every chance I get. I have also worked with smaller brokerage firms, and where they might not have had as many bells and whistles as a larger firm, they had top notch customer service and resolved our employees benefit issues quickly and were more able to tailor their approach to our business needs.

When looking for referrals, try to get a mix of large and small brokerage firms. There are pros and cons to both. A smaller firm may have great customer service but lacks the ability to help you work through benefit strategy. Maybe a larger firm might lack in customer service but have a bigger toolbox of services they can offer. Regardless your network can tell you what they like the best and what is missing from their broker relationship.

Know What Services You Need
When you are searching for a benefits broker it’s important to know exactly what services they will provide. I have worked in the past with two of the larger US benefit brokerage firms. While both firms committed to us that they would help with our benefit renewals, compliance needs and plan administration, only one of those would go the extra mile and assisted us with our other human resource strategy needs.

A broker can help you with so much more than just benefits but only if you pick the right one for your needs. A broker can help you with Affordable Care Act and ERISA compliance as well as taking some of the administrative requirements off your plate. They can assist you in drafting open enrollment communications or help put together financial spreadsheets and premium scenarios. A good broker should also have strong relationships with your carriers and can help you solve insurance issues for your employees.

Know What Comprehensive Solutions They Can Offer
This seems easy enough, but many times benefit solutions you thought were included may be extra or the broker is a smaller firm and just offers compliance help etc… It’s important to understand how the broker will meet your needs. Ask questions like:

How many clients do they service per Account Representative?
Are they able to offer coverage from multiple carriers?
Are they employee centric?
How will they keep your small business up to date on compliance related needs?
As you grow how can they assist?

In my previous life we worked extensively with our brokers to look at our overall benefit strategy. We met with them quarterly to go over our plan performance but also, they would ask us questions about what we wanted to do in the next year and then help provide human resource solutions and ideas for us. They helped us get quotes on anything from human resource technologies to other benefit related services that could enhance our overall employee benefit strategy.

Remember You are the Client
The top brokers are instrumental in helping their clients look and think outside of the box. They take a partnership approach and want your business to succeed as much as you. It’s important to know when you have outgrown your benefit broker.

As your small business grows so will your needs. You may need more services and guidance around compliance than they are capable of handling. Or maybe some of the ideas they have are not aligned with your business needs. Regardless, if you are not getting the service level that you need then, it might be time to start the process again and start looking for a new broker. It can be hard if you have been with a group for awhile but in the end you are paying for their services and so you are client and they need to meet your needs.

Just remember as your wrap up your annual open enrollment period, a good broker will keep you compliant and give your a few quotes but a great broker will help you execute your benefit strategy. There is no one size fits all approach, but having brokers that are business partners will help take some of that burden off of you because let’s face it, you have other things to worry about.

So what characteristics do you feel are important in a benefit broker?

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New Ideas & Examples for Conducting Performance Reviews

Discover new ideas and examples for effectively conducting employee work performance reviews and appraisals.

This time of year brings thoughts of family, turkey, pumpkin spice everything and hopefully, a little time off to relax. This time of year is a joyous occasion for most and an opportunity to reflect. For many companies across the nation, part of that reflecting happens in an effort to complete annual performance reviews.

The bane of many a leader’s existence.

While there has been much talk for years about doing away with the annual performance review, many companies are holding on. Our HR services caters to small businesses and most of them are doing some form of annual reviews when we join their team. For the most part, they are what you expect from annual performance reviews: lengthy, hard to measure and lack the real ability to change behavior or performance.

The alternative that seems to be gaining momentum in many companies, such as Netflix, is real-time, ongoing feedback. A continual loop between supervisor and employee that eliminates the need for formality and offers a better opportunity to really move the needle forward. This approach is ideal in my opinion, but not always practical for small businesses. You may think it would be easier to deliver ongoing feedback in an organization where you only have 25 people. If you’ve kept that organization relatively flat however and you are wearing multiple hats as founder, it isn’t. Virtual workforces and the everyday stress, especially in a startup environment, can make this idea of a continual feedback look difficult to execute.

It can be done and to the leader who can be deliberate about it, I encourage them to go for it. We have set up several performance programs in small businesses that are centered around a continual feedback process. Again, I think this is ideal, but know that it isn’t practical for everyone. So for those small teams I have a few different ideas that might make the process more thorough while still allowing for the annual process to take place.

Involve Peers in the Process
There are multiple relationships in the workplace. Relationship between employee and supervisor, employee and company, and of course, employee and co-workers. Yet, annual performance reviews are always taken from the viewpoint of only one individual, the supervisor. If an employee interacts and works with multiple people, then their performance feedback should, at some level, include information from those people.

Facebook allows employees to pick three to five peers to review them. A client of mine, with 15 employees, allows every other member of the team to weigh in on the performance of others. There is something about the accountability to one another when you know every person you interact with is going to provide feedback.

It’s important to ensure that peers are providing feedback on relevant components and that subjectiveness (I don’t like her so I’m going to give her a low rating) is removed, but when done well, utilizing peer feedback in a review can be a tremendous step in improving performance.

Dial it Down
Last year I was hired by a company of 47 employees to restructure their performance review process. They wanted to keep their annual review, but wanted to update it and then look at how they could include more ongoing feedback sessions throughout the year. I always start this process by looking at what they were currently doing and was a bit shocked to see the form they were currently using to conduct reviews. It was 8 pages long and extremely labor intensive to fill out. Leaders had to leave extensive comments, explanations and examples for each category, of which there were many. This meant leaders either spent hours and hours filling out forms or didn’t put full effort into it. Either way, the performance feedback was not effective and highly unproductive on multiple levels.

We took their current form and modified it into the categories that were really necessary to impact performance. What was 8 pages that required extensive information, was decreased to 2 pages of highly impactful feedback. The form still accomplished its intended goal, but in a much easier to process format.

With performance reviews, more is not necessarily better. In this case, more often means least productive method.

Consider the Milestones Along with the End Goal
One of the most effective changes I have seen in a performance review process came a few years ago with one of my first clients. Their performance reviews were typical up to that point. Every employee had a list of goals and at performance review time they essentially received a pass or fail grade (ranking) to that goal. If they passed, they got a raise. If not, they didn’t. After reviewing the work that employees were doing, I made an observation. The goals assigned to many employees took a long time to accomplish. Some couldn’t even be accomplished in a year. Essentially, employees were tasked with goals they knew would take a long time and they would receive no reward until the task was completely finished. Further, due to the nature of the business, that goal could be one to two months out from completion and, through no fault of the employee, be eliminated. Imagine working on something for nearly a year, having it be a part of your formal review process and then have it be eliminated right before completion. Not very motivating.

We decided to build in milestones for the longer range goals that allowed employees to be rewarded for meeting smaller goals along the way. This accomplished several different things. First, it gave the employee incentive to make it to the next milestone knowing they didn’t have to wait until the project was completely finished before seeing any recognition. Second, it allowed leaders to keep better track of projects which prevented more projects from being cancelled closer to completion. Third, when projects did have to be cancelled, employees didn’t feel as bad because they had been recognized for the work they had done to this point and weren’t left hanging after doing a ton of work and no reward.

Sometimes goals take longer than a review period. Other times a goal wasn’t accomplished, but the progress towards the goal is just as important. Performance reviews that give a flat pass or fail grade without considering all factors are missing the motivation mark.

I believe the reality for most companies is that the review process is not being as effective as it could be. For true performance motivation and improvement, continual feedback that flows freely between supervisor, peer and employee is needed. In environments where that is not possible or not supported, making a few tweaks to the current process can make a huge difference in effectiveness and efficiency. Two things all small businesses need more of.

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Myers Briggs Team Building Workshop Exercises: Team Dynamics & the Struggle that an Imbalance in Personality Type Creates

Learn about Myers Briggs team building workshop exercises & MTBI group activities.

One of the biggest “a-ha” moments that happens when I am facilitating a Myers Briggs team building workshop activity is the moment when I have participants sign their name on the grid in the box associated with their personality type. It is an “a-ha” moment for several different reasons. First, it allows participants to see who is like them in type and explains why some individuals get along so well with one another. Second, it allows participants to see who is the complete opposite in type and explains where there could be conflict. Third, and most importantly for this post, it shows where the team has imbalances or gaps that could explain some of the struggles the team has a whole.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is a tool developed from the personality theory developed originally by Carl Jung. Jung’s theory proposed that individuals seemingly random personality traits are not random but a part of an innate preference. Individuals who take the Myers Briggs Type Indicator find out their four letter personality type. These four letters indicate how an individual gains their energy, how they take in information, how they make decisions and how they organize their world. Understanding a co-worker’s personality type in these main areas can improve communication and overall teamwork.

Because our work is focused in the startup and small business space, the resulting grid after a team has signed the box corresponding to their type often has a few gaps on it. There are sixteen types. Often the teams I am working with do not have 16 team members. It would be an anomaly to have every type represented and evenly distributed, even with larger teams. Gaps or uneven distribution aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they can be very telling.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

In my most recent workshop with a small business team of 14 individuals, there were 11 extroverts and 3 introverts. Being an introvert myself, I immediately sympathized with the introverts on the team. Once we talked through the differences between introverts and extroverts, several of the extroverts expressed how they now understood why certain team members acted the way they did in meetings. Others even apologized to the introverts for “likely driving them crazy with all the talk”.

Over the summer, I conducted a workshop for a team of 7. All 7 personality types ended with a P (perceiving). When it comes to deadlines, this type reports doing their best work at the last minute. That thrill of knowing that a deadline is looming cranks up their creativity and makes them more productive. The problem for this team is that their work required steps. One step could not be completed until the one before it finished. One employee could not start on their process, until the employee who owned the step before them completed their work. Until now, they had all viewed the final deadline as their deadline which meant everyone was running around the day before trying to get everything done. Their lack of a J (judging) type on the team who might have realized that deadlines needed to be incremental (as that is the way they like to work) had meant a ton of missed deadlines for this group. They thought it was a system problem or a product problem. What they really had was a personality gap.

Each individual on a team works in a way that is comfortable for them. This is why two people can have the same job but go about it in vastly different ways. If they are both accomplishing their goals then neither way is better. For this reason, leaders who try to force all employees to work in a manner that is best for that leader, struggle. It is always more productive to meet people where they are then force them into a way of working that is uncomfortable.

When you have personality gaps on a team, the team may be lacking the strength that the personality brings. My example of the team of 7 above is a perfect example of this. When those gaps exist leaders need to know how to tap into the talents of the team to fill that gap. They can also be more deliberate about hiring to a personality strength in the future. That isn’t to say hire to an exact Myers Briggs type, but the strength that the type brings.

Understanding the personality type of teams helps leaders to know how to best deal with each individual. It also highlights where the team has innate strengths based on personality which allows them to exploit those strengths to the fullest. Finally, understanding personality type helps a leader identify gaps or areas of imbalance and set a course to correct those areas through employee development or in the hiring process.

I’ve used Myers Briggs in this post because I am a certified Myers Briggs consultant and use it in my team building exercises and MTBI personality based workshops. It would be irresponsible of me to say that it is the only tool out there that allows leaders to understand personality type or that you even need a tool. Even if I do think they can help tremendously, I know they aren’t necessary for team improvement. The bigger picture is that leaders should take stock of the personalities around them and note the strengths, weaknesses and the differences between how each one prefers to work. Taking the time to study these things will only make the leader better. It will ensure that he or she knows how to lead each person as an individual and then together as a team.

It is much more effective than forcing all employees into one way of thinking or working. More effective and more productive.

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