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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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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Three Steps to Having & Managing Difficult Conversations with Employees at Work

Learn about the three steps to having, managing, & dealing with tough, difficult & challenging conversations with your employees & staff at work or in the workplace.If there is one topic that new and seasoned leaders ask about the most, it is how to have difficult conversations. The reason for the conversation varies: performance issues, personality conflicts, behavioral concerns and even the most dreaded conversation of all, body odor. I find that one of the ways I spend at least part of my day, every day is coaching leaders through a difficult conversation.

The topic of how to have difficult conversations will be one of the first we roll out with our learning management system coming next year, but until then, I thought I would give three tips for preparing for and having even the most difficult of conversations.


I think one of the biggest mistakes made in having these conversations is that the leader goes into it without preparing. They want to get it over with so they bring the person in and just start talking. Because they haven’t thought it through ahead of time, they may not use the right words or be as direct as they need to be. For the employee it can feel as though the leader vomited a bunch of words on them that really don’t mean anything. A conversation where the employee leaves the room unsure of what was just shared or of what they are expected to do next is not going to fix anything.

While conversations should happen in a timely manner, it is ok for a leader to take some time to prepare. Sitting down and writing out key points that you want to cover, being specific about the exact problem and what you are expecting the employee to do after the conversation will help you stay on point later.

Potentially a more important part of preparation is thinking about the employee themselves and how best something like this should be communicated in a way they can hear it. What specific words does this employee need to hear? How direct can you be without shutting them down? Some employees need a bit more of a tender touch while others want no fluff. What type of employee is this? If your business has done any kind of personality workshops, like Myers Briggs, and you know the employee’s personality type, this is a great time to review how they like to be communicated to and use that in your discussion.

I firmly believe that when we communicate we should mimic the style of the person we are speaking too rather than expect them to adapt to our own. We need them to be able to hear our message in a way that it sinks in. Our normal style may not be able to accomplish that.

Focus, Specific and Action:

These are the three words I ask every leader to remember during the conversation. Tough conversations can get derailed very easily. Especially if emotions start to run high. Our natural defense when someone is giving us negative feedback is to deflect and start blaming other things. For this reason, a leader has to be able to focus and manage the conversation again and again. They have to be able to not start going down the rabbit hole of all the other things that may be brought up and remember to stick to the topic at hand. The employee isn’t going to do this so it is the leader’s job to bring the conversation back as many times as necessary.

Another pitfall that happens in these conversations is that the leader is not specific about the issue. They dance around or try to downplay the severity in an effort to save hard feelings. Indirect feedback rarely accomplishes anything. Employees need to be clear on what happened that is not acceptable. A leader should check for understanding several times throughout the conversation. If they feel the employee may not be getting the point, they should try to explain it in a different way until they are sure the employee understands the problem.

Finally the conversation has to included actionable items the employee can and should do to correct the problem. We shouldn’t always assume that the employee knows how to correct the behavior or that their way of correcting it is what we would prefer. We as leaders, must lay it out for them in a way that makes it clear what we expect.

Follow Up:

The reality is that no matter how much you prepare and follow the tips above, difficult conversations may still be very difficult. Emotions can get the best of employee and leader. Harsh words that shouldn’t have been said, can be. Desired outcomes may have not been as clear as needed. Both parties can leave the conversation angry and exhausted.

For this reason I suggest leaders wait a day or two and then follow up with the employee. Let emotions die down a bit and then do a quick check to see if the employee understood and knows what they need to do going forward. This isn’t the time to rehash everything and in the end, the employee doesn’t have to agree with the feedback, but they do have to understand it and be willing to work towards a solution.

Then of course, there should be additional follow up throughout the following weeks and months to make sure the employee is on track with the changes that needed to be made. This follow up should be full of praise when changes are made and slight course corrections so that the end outcome is highly positive.

In the training that will come out next year, we will walk through each of these steps in detail and give suggestions for what to say and do during each phase. For now, this simple guideline should put you on the path to better conversations, even when what you are saying is hard to hear. I don’t think anyone ever gets to the point of liking difficult conversations, but we can get to the point where we are comfortable having them. Like anything, it takes practice and experience. Experience that we don’t want to have, but helps us tremendously in the long run.


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The End of Year HR Catch Up and How to Do It

Discover how to catch up on tasks for the end of the year with the catch up list.As of the publishing of this post, there are 52 days left until Christmas. Fifty-two. If you find where 2017 went, I would love to have a chat with it about slowing down. If you are anything like me, hearing that we only have 52 days left brings about a small tinge of panic. Really, once Thanksgiving hits, it’s all downhill from there. Before we know it, it’s New Year’s and we are left with a huge list of goals to accomplish in 2018.

Along with all those things we didn’t accomplish in 2017.

In chatting with a long time subscriber last week, she mentioned her catch up list and how she was going to have to really buckle down to get a lot accomplished before year’s end. During our chat we worked through a few ways to tackle that catch up list and I thought I would share them with you today.

Write It Down
Obvious right? I have this love/hate relationship with lists. I will use them religiously for a few weeks and then get sick of being depressed by how long they are. I know they help me, but sometimes I just don’t want to see everything I have to do in writing. Regardless of my disdain, she and I both agreed that writing all the things that need to be accomplished by year’s end in a place you can see every day is important.

Remove the Waste
I can not remember where I heard her talk about this, but in a talk I heard of Arianna Huffington’s, she talks about giving up on goals that no longer matter. Her example centered around learning to ski I believe. It had been a long time goal of hers but over the years the importance had diminished. She would keep it in the back of her mind and often lament over not having accomplished it until one day she realized it really wasn’t important anymore. She let the goal go.

I know that I carry things on my to do list that are maybe not as important to me or others as they once were. I carry things that my ego may want to hold on to, but accomplishing them won’t really improve anything. As HR professionals or small business leaders, we put things on our lists that we think we should be doing or we think employees want, but in reality, accomplishing those things won’t really make that big of a difference.

Comb through your list and make sure that everything there really needs to be accomplished.

Use the Snowball Method
Finance expert Dave Ramsey touts the snowball method of paying off debt as highly effective. In this method you pay off the smallest balances and then, once paid off, apply that payment to the next smallest and so on until all debt is gone. I like to use this method for playing catch up. I start with the task that is quickest to accomplish. There are often projects that are in progress and may even be close to completion. Knocking the quicker tasks out helps me know a few things off my list in quick succession which is motivating to me.

Or you could….

Use the Eat the Frog Method
Time management expert Brian Tracy would probably disagree with that snowball method. He teaches people to “eat the frog” or start by accomplishing the most important task first, even if that task is something you really don’t want to do. I’m sure he would suggest looking at that catch up list and say that the most important tasks should be accomplished first, even if it will take the longest.

I think you could do either. Context around your list will likely dictate which method you use.

Review the Risks
As you look at that catch up list there are likely things that you know are in jeopardy of simply not being accomplished. Whether it be time constraints, lack of budget or any myriad of other factors that keep people from accomplishing what they need, there is likely at least one thing on that list that you know, even with your best intentions, may not happen.

I think it’s important we are honest about those things. Rather than have to answer on January 1st why we are still working on something from the previous year, I like to be honest about the possibility ahead of time that they may be carry over goals.

You may have to review the risks with your supervisor or support team and decide together which catch up priorities can be moved to the carry over goal list. We all have things that come up that prevent us from accomplishing all that we wanted and there is nothing wrong with carrying over goals from one year to the next.

Get Some Help
If your list is longer than 52 days worth of time (let’s face it, no one works between Christmas and New Year’s) then maybe it is time to get help. Can you outsource something from your list, even if it’s just a part of a project? Can you rally the troops inside your office to pitch in on some of the higher priority items? Most items on an employee’s to do list are not things they are solely responsible for. It’s ok to ask for help and now may be the best time to do it…when people are in the holiday spirit.

Reflect and Learn for Next Year
The hardest part of this whole thing may be reflecting on how you were left with a catch up list this year and how you are going to avoid that in 2018. There were likely extenuating circumstances or fires that needed attention that pushed back goals. It may be that there needs to be less goals in the coming year or at least less aggressive ones (in quantity not quality). Whatever the reason, it’s important to think about why things were pushed to the end of the year and how to avoid that in the future.

The end of year catch up can be overwhelming. It can make what should be a very happy time of year rather stressful. Take a deep breath, get it on paper and tackle it as best you can. And then start the new year fresh and ready to get ahead instead of falling behind.

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An Entire Human Resources Services, Support and Solutions HR Team for Even the Smallest of Businesses

Learn about the best human resources (HR) management, services, support and outsourcing solutions help for small businesses.

Discover the best human resources (HR) management, services, support and outsourcing solutions help for small businesses.

Any blogger who has been writing for a while can tell you that sometimes their brain just needs a break. Mine needed one in October. Instead of blogging on a weekly basis, I took the time to reflect on where the business has been in 2017 and where we want to go in 2018. I’m so excited at the opportunities ahead and the things Christine and I have planned. There will be more announcements coming soon, but for today I wanted to share a change in our business model that I think will better serve our clients.

First, I should say that 2017 has been a very good year. This business doubled this year. It is something I take zero credit for. I didn’t plan for it. I couldn’t even tell you how I did it. My answer about the success of this business is as true today as it was a few years ago. I stumble and fumble through every day and somehow end up on my feet. I am proof that anyone with nothing more than determination can start and operate a successful small business. I could not be more grateful to my clients, past and present.

Our current business model provides two different types of services and support: HR Consulting and HR Outsourcing. Consulting covers HR projects: team building, single-role recruiting, handbook creation and getting a startup through the first few months after launch to name a few. Outsourcing covers every day HR support. Our clients who outsource their HR services to us, work with me or a member of my team who serves as their HR point of contact. We are an extension of that business’s leadership team and function, as much as possible, as if they had an in-house human resources person.

At it’s core, that part of the business model is not changing. We will still offer HR consulting and outsourcing services. We are building a diverse team with a wide variety of experience that enables us to help small business clients with a wide variety of human resources management services. Of that, I am very proud.

It is the HR Outsourcing model that we will be enhancing in 2018. I have piloted this model with a few clients in 2017 and the success has been exciting and a bit overwhelming. It’s one of those things I wish I had done sooner.

Our HR Outsourcing clients are startups or small businesses who have 75 employees or less. They either have no HR presence or they have an employee (office manager or CFO typically) handling HR along with their other duties. This person is not an HR professional and often, HR concerns fall to the wayside or are not handled properly. This is not deliberate on the part of the employee, but nature of the beast. Our clients do not really have a need for a full time HR employee, but know they need something more than the employee splitting their time. That is where we come in.

The way the service has worked until now is that their HR Consultant from my team (and for a lot of older clients, that is me) handles everything. From recruiting to compliance to more strategic HR offerings, this consultant does it all. What I have found is that doing things that way isn’t really the best use of the consultants talent. Some consultants are great at compliance (especially in CA) while others have a knack for recruiting. My talent centers around leadership and training and development programs or team building.

In 2018, we want to better utilize the talents of our staff. Which means that depending upon a client’s total need, their may be more than one person who works with them.

Further, I have learned that once employers reach a certain threshold of employees, they really need an HR person to be onsite at least a day or two a week. Once that need stretches to 4 or 5 days a week, we know they are ready to make their own HR hire and have outgrown our HR services. Which may sound like a bad thing for our business, but we consider it as good. It is like watching our baby grow up and be able to walk on their own.

We have piloted this in 2017 in two distinct scenarios. First, with a startup with a very aggressive growth plan in the first few months after launch. For that client we placed a California expert level HR Generalist who is on-site two days a week as well as a full time recruiter focused on growth. The growth plan required that an onsite HR professional be hired directly for the company after month 3. Now, the Acacia team will help the HR Manager transition into her new role before we step out completely. This is a very different scenario than other startups who hire an HR person months in and this person has to play catch up with all the HR stuff that hasn’t been happening.

The second pilot has happened with clients who reach or are very close to the 50 employee threshold. Until this year, I had been their sole point of contact. I was way over capacity and realized very quickly that at 50 employees the proverbial stuff hits the fan. Not only are their more compliance concerns at this employee threshold, the number of employee relations issues seem to double. Employers close to or over the 50 employee mark really need an onsite presence once or twice a week. Therefore, our business model has shifted to allow for this. A generalist on my team is assigned to these clients. This generalist is local and can sit onsite as needed. I am still a part of the team, but this generalist becomes the point of contact for all day to day HR concerns.

In both scenarios, clients have loved having that onsite presence, while also having access to a larger team when needed.

Of course, when it comes to small businesses, we know there is no one-size fits all approach. We will continue to better understand the needs of each of our clients and find the best solution for them. We want to make HR as easy as possible. We want them to know we have it handled and will support them through their growth plan until it is time for their own HR employee.

Again, I am so excited about next year and continuing to find ways to better serve our clients, while exploiting the strengths of our consultants and recruiters. We will have another big announcement coming out in a few weeks that we think will help those small businesses who do have an HR professional on staff. We know that this population is a very large component of our subscriber base and want to make sure that we keep them in mind as we roll out new offerings.

Here’s to an amazing 2018.


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Employee Performance Plans that Actually Work

Employee Performance Plans That Actually Work

Employee Performance Plans that Actually Work

I don’t know a single leader who enjoys dealing with employee performance issues. Few things are more frustrating in a business setting than an employee who is either not performing or who has behavioral issues. It is an area where experience doesn’t really make it easier.

Yet, every leader, at some point or another, has an employee they have to coach and discipline.

Progressive disciplinary policies are common among organizations of all sizes. Most employee performance issues do not warrant immediate termination so policies are put in place to give employees an opportunity to improve. These policies vary but they usually have multiple steps that could include verbal warnings, performance improvement plans, written warnings, suspension, and eventual termination.

Out of all steps I believe the performance improvement plan may be the most crucial. If done well, and early, a performance improvement plan can map out the exact performance or behavior that the employer is not happy with, outline the behavior that is expected and give the employee a clear path to improvement. Unfortunately many performance improvement plans fall short of being worth the paper they are written on.

Here are our guidelines for performance improvement plans that we think actually help improve performance.

The biggest mistake leaders make when trying to improve performance is waiting too long. The longer poor performance or bad behavior goes on, the harder it is to fix. By the time the employee is told about the issue, the leader is so frustrated they have no patience left to try to help the employee overcome. All employee issues should be dealt with as soon as they creep up. For this reason we recommend employees receive verbal coaching as often as the opportunity allows. In weekly one on ones or regular performance meetings, employees should be cautioned about any issue that may create problems down the road if they continue.

Then, after that same issue has been coached on multiple occasions, it’s time to get serious. If regular performance discussions are happening, the time between first coaching and performance plan should be relatively short.

Complete Plan:
The second biggest mistake that leaders make when delivering performance improvement plans is only delivering half the plan – the employee portion. Leaders sit an employee down, tell them what they are doing wrong, tell them to fix it and ask them to sign the form. This leaves the employee feeling as though they are on their own and probably have one foot out the door so why bother even trying.

A complete performance improvement plan follows this outline:

Description, with recent examples, of undesired behavior.
Description of desired behavior.
Why desired behavior is important to the business.
How leader is going to help employee improve.
Milestones to improvement.
Next steps and check in dates.
Consequences for not improving.
Employee opportunity to comment.

The piece in italics is the most crucial. Hopefully all leaders want employees to improve. If so, they should be willing to do their part to help employees turn the issue around. Including this in the documentation provides accountability for the leader to ensure they are offering support and assistance as needed.

The Discussion:
Discussing performance issues with employees really is an art form. I’m not convinced there is only one right way to do it. I think it depends on the employee/leader relationship, the communication style of both and the egregiousness of the issue to be discussed. Here’s what I do think should be consistent regardless of style – preparation. Nothing is worse for an employee than feeling like they have just been the victim of a drive by where their leader vomited a bunch of bad news on them and then left.

Leaders should take time to think about the personality of the employee and how they will best receive the information. They should think about framing their words in a way that the employee will be able to hear and understand what is being communicated while, and this is key, being motivated to fix it. The discussion should take as long as is needed for the employee to walk out of the room focused on the issue at hand and understanding what they need to do to fix it.

Dealing with performance issues is a necessary task for most leaders. They are best dealt with swiftly and directly before they grow into something larger than they ever needed to be. Done correctly, they can often steer employees onto a better path, and if they don’t, at least the leader can say they tried to help and the onus for failure lies with the employee.

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Small Thinking that Holds Small Businesses Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so can your business.


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

Team Building Ideas for Small Businesses and Start Ups

Uncover team building ideas for small businesses and start ups at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Does Your Business Need a Social Media Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Encouraging Risk-Taking in Your Employees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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