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SHRM’s Workflex in the 21st Century and Why Small Businesses Should Take Note

Discover HR opportunities for small business using the SHRM Workflex in the 21st Century Act by the National Society for Human Resources Management.

Both Christine and I have talked about how we believe that workflex opportunities serve as a competitive advantage for our clients. With our startup clients, who are asking employees to work insanely hard for a while without a lot of perks until things get up and running, workflex is often the best thing they have to offer.

“Yes you are going to be working crazy hours and filling many roles for a few months, but hey, you can do it from the comfort of your own bed without any pants on.”

That is an actual selling feature I have heard a startup founder use. Here’s another.

“The great news is I don’t care if you have to leave to take your kid to the doctor or if you need to work from home one day because they are sick. The bad news is I still expect the full amount of work to be done at the end of the week so you have to figure out how to still get it done. We are a team and will help, but it’s your responsibility to make sure it happens and you ask for that help.”

In both of these situations the candidate has taken the job. Why? Because in 2018 and in the years preceding workflex is becoming increasingly important.

The government has tried to encourage employers to offer more workflex in the way of sick leave laws or through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). While their intent is good, the administration of these laws can become a nightmare. Especially if you have employees in different states and therefore under different laws.

In my home state of California even individual cities or counties have different laws. We have the state law and then cities (hello San Francisco) will often enact their own version which is often more generous. Meaning employers in California could have to worry about multiple laws even if their employees are all in the same state. Unlike the federally mandated FMLA, these state laws affect even the smallest of employers so it is something most of our clients have to deal with. They want to offer leave and workflex, but the state and or city mandated laws are often hard to administer and cost the business more than they make up for in competitive advantage.

Enter the Workflex in the 21st Century Act which is backed by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). The bill, introduced in the House in 2017 offers opt-in legislation that supersedes state and local leave laws. The ERISA qualified plan includes a federal standard of paid sick leave and options for workflex such as condensed work weeks or telecommute options.

It’s important to note that the act has not yet passed, but SHRM is pushing forward along with the support of a House Representative. They are pushing for a Senate sponsor to help introduce the bill there. They have the support of sponsors from additional states and appears to be gaining momentum since introduction.
Here’s what we like about the bill. First and foremost it provides a framework that, because it is more generous than state and local laws, can be applied uniformly across all employees. Rather than offer certain leave to employees in San Francisco than those in Denver, this framework can be used for all employees and will fulfill the requirements of whatever state or city the employee lives in.

Second, the act gives employees more paid leave than is currently offered. Many of our clients struggle with what the right amount of leave is. If they don’t have a legal reference because it isn’t required where they live, they often do not know how much is enough to give employees what they need and also be competitive. This bill will answer those questions for them. Employers who opt-in will know they are offering some of the most generous paid leave out there.

Third, it includes workflex. It provides several options for employer to include for employees as an opportunity to enjoy workflex arrangements. This encourages employers to think beyond paid leave and think about other ways they can help employees better manage work and home obligations. In fact, our clients who offer high degrees of workflex find that employees use less paid time off in the way of sick leave because they are able to better manage their obligations. The benefits far outweigh the struggle to implement workflex for those who have environments where they can offer it.

We will be keeping an eye on this bill and the activity around it. It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out. I am thankful to SHRM for pushing this forward as it’s a conversation we should have been having years ago.

You can read more about what SHRM and others are saying about this bill at the links below.

A New Approach to Paid Leave: WorkFlex in the 21st Century– Louis R. Lessig, Esquire SHRM-SCP SPHR

What is the WorkFlex in the 21st Century Act? Michael Haberman, Omega HR Solutions

Solving the Workplace Equation #WorkFlex- Lisa Horn, Director, Congressional Affairs and the Co-Leader of SHRM’s Workplace Flexibility Initiative

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The Small Business HR Time Killer

Discover basic strategic time saving tips for daily duties, functions and activities in human resource manager tasks to maximize hr management department roles, responsibilities, planning and process.

Remember when we rolled out our 2018 HR Audit Checklist last week and I said that I would be talking a lot about how HR practitioners can get out of the weeds this year? Well consider this post a primer.

Hands down, the thing that sucks the time (and often life) out of small business HR practitioners more than anything else is the day to day fire fighting that never lets them come up for air. Let me paint the picture.

In a team of 73, the HR department consists of a manager and a receptionist. The receptionist has to deal with all incoming traffic and phone calls as well as traditional admin tasks. She is technically an HR headcount but spends very little time on actual HR work. Which leaves the HR Manager to do what – everything else. Recruiting, onboarding, data entry, filing, benefit administration, terminations, maintain legal compliance and handle workers’ comp, FMLA, harassment and any other claim you can think of.

And then there are the questions. The endless questions from employees about their paycheck or their benefits or why their manager is a jerk. The HR role in a small business is the sounding board for every employee. A mediator. Judge and jury. Often feeling more like a tired parent than a professional practitioner, their office is a revolving door or person after person needing something from them….if they even have an office. The days are long. The years stretch on forever and before you know it burnout is something they are way beyond.

Sound familiar?

If it does you either are currently or have worked in an HR Department of One. I have filled in for enough HR leaders on leave or businesses in between leaders to feel the pain of being the sole practitioner in a growing business. One too small for a bigger HR team but too big for one person to handle effectively alone. One lacking a real budget that allows them to leverage help, either technologically or in an outsourced capacity.

It is these practitioners who are stuck in the weeds. The ones who can not get out from under the compliance and tactical blanket to be able to really affect change in their business.

In our work with these businesses, we have the luxury of a few things that have allowed us to cultivate ideas on how every practitioner can get out of the weeds. Those luxuries include:

A Bird’s Eye View:
As consultants we have the great luxury of offering an outside perspective. We didn’t create the policies and procedures in place. We aren’t close with any leaders or employees. We have no history with the company that could cloud our ability to look at things objectively. We take a look at all processes and can break down where we see opportunities for improvement without the burden of emotion. This allows us to lay everything out on the table. Sometimes, that act alone is very eye opening for the client.

A Large Community:
Being in business for a few years now, my brain is racked with case studies of what other small businesses have done in certain situations. A very common question I get is “what are your other clients doing around…”. Between our online community (subscriber and social media base) and clients, we have an ongoing list of things that have been tried and tested in nearly every aspect of HR, all in small business. Unless you are an HR Department of One that also has a strong network and is constantly reaching out for ideas, this luxury alone is worth it’s weight in gold.

The Ability to Focus: 
We are often working with a business on one specific project. Based on the way we schedule projects, we are able to give our undivided attention to a project. No HR Department of One can give their undivided attention to anything for more than a minute or two. This focused time is probably our greatest luxury. The fact that we come in for a set amount of time to work on one project, and one project only (most times) is the gift of time most practitioners will never see.

I tell you all of this not as a sales pitch (although if it works for you that way, great). I tell you so that as we roll out initiatives this year that are focused on helping HR practitioners get out of the weeds, you will take note. We know what we are talking about. We are culminating our years of business into the best advice we can give. We thought about giving the blog a theme each month or quarter, and while we may still do that to some extent, we have one overarching theme driving us this year – how to get out of the weeds.

To do that effectively we need your help. We need to know which area of the weeds, bog you down the most. We know that every small business HR practitioner faces different challenges. We want to focus on the areas that are most common – at least initially.

Earlier in this post we asked a question about the area of the weeds that fill your time the most. If you haven’t already, could you answer those questions now? It will help us make sure we are focused on the areas you need the most.

If you are a small business practitioner and want to be the first to hear about our time saving tips for daily HR duties and other human resource management tasks, join our mailing list! 

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2018 HR Audit Checklist

Get this sample human resource management internal audit report pdf and formatted compliance process checklist template for your HR department.

At its core, human resource management is a tactical function that was created to ensure compliance. Without diving too much into the history, the action of governments creating laws for employers to follow, created a need for a role within every company to ensure the law was being followed. Enter human resource professionals. Decades later, ensuring legal compliance is still a majority component of all human resource management professionals job description.

Whenever we take on a new outsourcing client, we go through an HR audit process with them. This allows us to identify areas of legal concern that we need to rectify immediately or face further risk. But our audit is more. Over the years we have developed an HR audit checklist that covers more than just compliance.

Since human resources is now more than just a compliance function, our HR audit questionnaire covers all areas regardless of whether they have legal concerns or not. We believe that a thorough HR audit process leaves the auditor with a roadmap that can help them set goals and establish areas of focus. It should highlight any gaping holes in their overall HR process and establish a process for filling them.

Download our 2018 HR Audit Checklist Now!

We offered a Human Resource Audit download in 2015 and it has been one of our most downloaded forms. We knew that it needed to be updated and have done so for 2018. The format is a bit different and hopefully easier to navigate. In addition, we know that many of our readers are not HR practitioners by trade. They may be office managers or CFO’s who have other responsibilities. HR terms and processes are a bit foreign to them. For those individuals, we didn’t feel right about just giving a download and wishing them luck.

So here’s what we’ve come up with.

Along with the download you will receive a series of emails helping you work through the audit. I promise this won’t be an inbox inundating series of emails that offer no value or only try to sell our services. We have packed as much info into as few emails as possible and there isn’t a sales pitch among them.

We wanted to keep the actual HR audit checklist as simple and user friendly as possible, however, we realize that some may not fully understand all of the terms or areas discussed. After the initial download, individuals will have the opportunity to download other documents that help better explain each area.

Finally, and maybe the most beneficial offering, individuals who download the audit will have the opportunity to contact us for a “what would you do” guide. Here’s how this works. After the HR audit process has been finished, an area of concern is identified. That area could fall in any facet of HR: compliance, recruiting, training and development etc. It’s not an area of expertise for you and you aren’t sure where to go from here. Well, we have ideas for you. Send us your area of concern and we’ll send you a detailed report of how we might go about fixing that area. As in, we will tell you exactly what we would do. You know your business best so our ideas may not be an exact fit for what you need, but chances are good they will set you off in the right direction or, at the very least, give you ideas for moving forward.

We believe our human resources audit checklist is a valuable document for auditing your internal HR processes. We know that doing so on a regular basis is vital to mitigating risk, establishing effective policies and procedures and creating effective HR strategy. But it does one more thing that you may not realize.

It helps HR professionals establish a plan for getting out of the weeds.

The “weeds” as we describe them, are the everyday HR needs that bog you down. They are the compliance issues that should be easy, but aren’t. The policies that actually make life harder instead of easier. The issues that crop up over and over crippling practitioners from being able to move beyond anything other than just staying afloat. In startup and small business HR, practitioners often feel as though they can barely get their head above water. Often, the reasons for that are actually more in their control than they realize.

Starting with a strong HR audit checklist template (download here) and answering the follow up questions that we mentioned in last week’s post provides HR professionals a birds eye view of what is holding them down. Beyond what is legal, this is the area that you should dial in on. As a practitioner who may be stuck in the weeds, look at what is holding you down and make a commitment in 2018 to get out from underneath it.

Even in businesses where the HR processes seem to be buttoned up, conducting an HR audit on a regular basis is still a good idea. Ensuring that you are compliant on any new laws and seeing if there are areas that could be improved, even if running well now, is never a bad idea.

One last note to those who feel they are stuck in the weeds. It may be hard to see how you can get out of them when you are in them. For this reason, we hope you will download the checklist and then take advantage of our “what would you do” offering. Sometimes, getting an outside perspective can help see what you aren’t seeing.

For those who would prefer an outside perspective over the entire process, we can act as your HR auditor. The process is painless and can be conducted over the course of just a few weeks. At the end you receive an HR audit report that details areas of concerns and ideas for next steps. Our process requires minimal time on your part as we do all the heavy lifting. If you are interested in more detail about how that works, please reach out to Sabrina directly.

We know you will find our HR Audit Checklist helpful and are looking forward to helping you implement more streamlined HR processes in 2018.

DOWNLOAD OUR 2018 HR AUDIT CHECKLIST NOW!


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Don’t Bring Down the Cheer with These Holiday Office Infractions

Make sure you don't bring down the cheer with these holiday office infractions

The holidays are a great way to get your employees together and reflect on all that was accomplished during the year and look towards the future. Businesses can use the holidays as a way to unite your workforce and celebrate cultural differences. You’ve made it through another year together as co-workers- whether it was good or not so great, but you are a team.

With that being said, office holidays are a lot like family gatherings, they are either loved or despised. As someone who used to organize company events, I noticed throughout my career that as much as the holidays bring us together, they can also divide and create morale issues in the office especially if year after year individuals feel left out. So, if you want to celebrate the holidays at your business, remember a few of these tips to help keep it a truly upbeat time of year.

Be Mindful of everyone’s workload.
While some departments are spending their days taking two-hour lunches and counting down the minutes to 5pm, not everyone is able to do that. Many departments have clients to attend to and projects to launch despite the holidays. Before scheduling anything like an office wide party, make sure that you are doing it when the majority of people are not bogged down trying to meet a deadline. People feel stressed out enough around the holidays, and making it so they feel they have to attend a party at the worst possible time, when they really don’t have the time to do it, won’t make it fun, it will add to their stress. While you can’t plan for everyone’s schedule, trying to make sure you know of any big department initiatives going on beforehand, so you can include more people in the holiday fun. And if you can’t find any time to celebrate, then put it off until January.

Don’t forget about your remote employees.
Whenever I would go and submit our events budget to the Senior Leadership staff, we would always talk about what we were going to do for our remote staff during the holidays. Would we invite them in? Usually not feasible because we were watching travel costs at the end of the year… or would we send them a small gift basket or gift card for lunch. It never failed, every time I would have at least one Senior Leader question why we were doing something for the remote employees at all.

“They have it easy! They get to work from home in their pajamas.”

“They don’t have a long commute to the basement.”

While remote employees may have a lax dress code or short commute, that doesn’t mean they have it easier than anyone else—ah but that’s a post for another day. For remote employees, the holidays can make them isolated or not a valued part of the team. That can really bring down the morale of a team.

Remote employees are likely trudging through their list of to dos, unbeknownst to them others are taking long lunches or lingering at the coffee station talking about their holiday plans. And while there are many perks to working from home, one of the most challenging aspects of it is feeling including as part of a team. If you let your onsite team off early for the day to do some shopping, or allow them to take a long lunch, extend that offer to your remote employees during the holiday season too.

Make Sure your Leadership Staff is Still Present
No one expect the CEO to be working the day after Christmas, but that doesn’t mean the entire leadership team should be MIA during that time. And if you are the business leader and are working the day after Christmas hats off to you!

Most businesses have expectations that departments need to have appropriate coverage during the holidays, so make sure that you also have some leadership team members around too. First, there may still need to be decisions made by Leadership that week. Second, if you want bad morale, allow all the leadership team to be off enjoying their time off or available only by phone in an emergency but none of the other employees. Just remember, actions speak louder than words.

Remember Christmas isn’t the only holiday going on.
The neat thing about the holiday season is that there are so many different holidays that employees celebrate and many different ways they celebrate it. Maybe they celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanza or maybe they do St. Nicholas Day instead of Christmas. In fact, some people choose not to celebrate any holidays and businesses should be mindful of that and respect their wishes if they don’t want to attend a specific event. If you let your employees off early on Christmas Eve but that employee would rather get off on New Year’s Eve, be flexible. At the end of the day, today’s workforce is diverse and that’s a great thing to have, so embrace it and find different ways to help your employees celebrate this special time of year.

Don’t forget to Pay Your Employees’ Holiday Pay Correctly
Okay- seems like a no brainer, but people get distracted during the holidays with all the hustle and bustle of trying to get everything done beforehand, things can and will get goofed up from time to time. But employees need paid correctly no matter what. One way to ensure everyone is paid correctly is go through every possible scenario that could happen and sure you have proper backup. If you need a person that can cut a manual check or a Senior Leader can only sign a check, make sure you have coverage. Remember actions speak louder than words.

And finally, if you aren’t sure if you are paying Holiday Pay Correctly, check out our post from earlier in the year on How to Calculate Holiday Pay Correct. If something gets mixed up, the holidays are not a time to short people pay and fix it later. People are depending on their checks more so this time of year.

Hope you enjoy this special time with your teams. We certainly appreciate our readers. Happy Holidays to all from the Acacia HR Solutions Team!

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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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