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.



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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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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